Sunday, August 28, 2011

Warning Track Power

Day 1: The Morning Workout

Most kids dream of playing Major League Baseball the moment they pick up a bat and ball. But as they get older, what they are really dreaming of is the big league lifestyle. For three days, nearly two dozen men get to experience aspects of that lifestyle. And for the past two days, I have also gotten a taste by participating in the Lake County Captains annual Fantasy Camp.

The weekend started on Friday with a morning workout. The campers were split into three groups who were then sent to different position areas. Naturally, I started in the bullpen with Lenny Barker. At that point, each camper in the group threw a short bullpen, or a “short pen” for short. The short actually referred to the number of pitches thrown and not to the distance from which they threw. Pitchers are known to throw short pens between appearances, which are normally between 20-25 pitches. These are not to be confused with flat ground sessions which are normally thrown from the distance of 55 feet. The main goal in the flat ground sessions is to work on the command of each pitch in the repertoire. My session was much shorter than the 25 pitch norm of a short pen. I threw about ten pitches when I noticed my catcher showing signs of discomfort behind the plate in the catcher’s crouch. After each guy in the group finished his set, we convened in the outfield grass near the warning track where Lenny Barker was demonstrating the grips he used for his pitches.

We were in the bullpen for about 20 minutes before heading to the hitting shell with the 1980 American League Rookie of the Year. Joe Charboneau was sporting a navy blue Indians mock turtleneck with his game pants from that amazing 1980 campaign. It is often said that hitting a baseball is the toughest thing to do in sports. Teaching the art of hitting can be very difficult as well. But it can also be the easiest thing to do as it can always be broken down into the simple concept of “see ball, hit ball.” It is very difficult to discuss the intricacies of hitting in a 20-minute time span so “Super Joe” took the latter approach. Instead of getting too technical with the swing, the session turned into an open forum for campers to ask question regarding their swing or hitting in general. This was a common theme throughout the camp; the pros were eager and willing to interact with each camper.

The best was saved for last when I arrived at the third and final station was infield defense with Mike Hargrove. “Grover” is probably best known for the time he spent as the manager of the Indians during the 1990’s, but he put together a respectable 12-year career finishing with a .290 career average and also was named Rookie of the Year, six years prior to Charboneau winning the award. I was looking forward this session the most and was hoping to pick up a tidbit to take back to Lake Erie. Unlike the previous two stations, there wasn’t much time for shooting the bull because we got right to work and used every second of the allotted time.

The next part of the morning is usually what all players look forward to…batting practice. We remained in our three groups for BP; I would hit in the second group. This gave me time to talk to different campers who were scattered around the outfield. When it was my turn to hit, I was just looking to knock the rust off so I wouldn’t embarrass myself. There were a few occasions during the 2011 season where I took some hacks in the cage before a practice but those were few and far between and it had been at least four months since that happened so my worries were warranted. It took me a few swings to get my timing back and by the fifth cut I was making solid contact. It doesn’t matter how many days or months or even years are between swings, a hitter always expects a base hit, even in BP. So I was disturbed at the fact I kept rolling over on each pitch, resulting in a cluster of ground balls to the shortstop. Near the end of my round, I started to really connect and I think I short-hopped the wall. It definitely got a rise out of the guys in my group but I wasn’t sure the exact landing point because Barker was pitching and despite the fact he hadn’t played a Major League game since 1987, I had no doubt he would buzz me if I stopped to admire any of my hits.

The camp got a little more authentic during the second round of BP when Hargrove thought the group wasn’t hustling enough and gave us a piece of his mind about one of his biggest pet peeves. I’m not sure the group knew how to take the tongue-lashing but in a weird way, I think we all secretly enjoyed it. Nevertheless, BP resumed with a little more pep.

Lunch was provided in the picnic plaza in the right field stands. This may have been the best time for campers to mingle with the pros. Yes, they were on the field with us, and would be during the game as well, but here their guards were down as campers gathered around each pro like boy scouts around a campfire while the pros told different stories of their playing or coaching careers.

Up next: The Games