A Postcard From Port St. Lucie

Piazza Cespedes

Well honestly folks, it just doesn’t – it could not possibly – get any better than this.  Watching our beloved National League champions go through their paces in the light breeze and 75 degree temperatures of Florida’s Atlantic coast, with the promise of spring and a memorable season dead ahead.  Free of charge.

But wait, that’s not all.  If you send before midnight tonight, we’ll also throw in – our newly minted Hall of Famer schooling our monster La Potencia.

Yes, indeed – Mr. Piazza in a pow-wow with Mr. Cespedes.  It was just the kind of spontaneous moment unique to the ST workouts I have made a priority since the team moved to St. Lucie from St. Petersburg.  (Did I mention you get in for free?)

We knew Mr. Mike was on the schedule for three days, but the coaching was obviously unstaged, with much of it appearing to revolve around YC learning to lay off those high pitches that bedeviled him in the World Series.  Mikey looks mahvelous.  Like he could still launch one 450 feet.  And he was ribbed by fans for refusing to get in the cage.

cespedes conforto

I have long preferred the up close, unscripted and interactive nature of spring training workouts over the essentially meaningless and dull spring training games, when you get to see your main men take a meaningless at bat or two or rehearse from the mound for a couple of innings before hitting the links and leaving us to a bunch of guys with high numbers, some of whom might at some point be intriguing, but most of whom will amount to little.  And you have to pay up to $50 a seat for the privilege.

But at the workouts, you get an intimate look at the players actually being coached, hitting in the cage, pitching on the side, taking fielding practice, doing calisthenics (Bartolo is the most entertaining at that – shocking, huh?) and actually interacting with the two or three hundred fans who are well within earshot.

But beyond that, the beauty of these workouts is all the number of things you see that happen in no other setting and no other time.

On Monday for example, there was Jeurys Familia pitching to Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Lucas Duda et al. (and he looked in almost mid-season form.  Very little contact.)  Those matchups happen only in fantasy leagues.

Of course, there’s the classic spring training ritual – PFP (pitcher’s fielding practice).  (Dario Alvarez needs some work on his throws to bases.)

Yes, you can form your own scouting report on young guys, or new guys you haven’t paid much attention to in the past.  Today, Neil Walker was raking as a righty hitter, leaving me to wonder why his career numbers vs. LHP are so poor.  And our other new switch-hitter who has also struggled against LHP, Asdrubal Cabrera, also showed good power the other way.

You can see certain players from yards away and reminisce – unfortunately for me today, one of the first things I saw upon arrival was Lucas Duda throwing home.  Ouch.  But that was soon offset by a flow of good memories – DW and the fist pump in DC, Jacob and his heroic work vs. LA, Thor and his 60’6” dare, and on and on.

And then there are those plentiful light moments, like Bullpen Coach Ricky Bones loudly ringing up the Captain on a devastating slider from another new guy, Antonio Bastardo.

david wright 2

You can attempt to answer lingering questions.  How, really, is David’s back?  You can assess as he stands, walks, jogs, runs, bats and fields (I was particularly looking at how he bends – encouraging, if you ask me).  Does Lagares looked really slimmed down without those 20 extra pounds?  (for sure – and he even made one of his patented routine/sensational catches circa 2014)

You can see experiments in progress.  Kevin Plawecki was playing 1B with the starters on a side field and looked free and easy there.  I think TDA ought to get some reps there as well, but not today.  I was also able to witness the solid arm, soft glove, slow feet and poor range of Wilmer.

And there are some things that bring to mind the proclivities of certain players, even though they’re not in game situations.  Duda went an entire round in the cage without swinging at a single pitch.

One gets a sense of the almost tribal nature of the workouts, with outfielders, infielders, pitchers and catchers all working and moving about as individual units.

And you see all manner of bottle washers on the field joining the chief cooks.  Overeager low level employees are ubiquitous, presumably intent on not wasting a moment of their time in the sun, literally and figuratively.  Not unlike the privilege a rank and file fan enjoys just being there.

All in all, it’s the five W’s – an experience that makes a…winter’s worth of waiting well worthwhile.

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About Tim Donner 30 Articles

Tim has been a Mets fanatic since the very first pitch in ’62, when he was seven years old. He went to four games at the Polo Grounds (a 4-0 record!) and practically lived at Shea, where he attended four World Series games in ’69 and ’86 (including the ’86 clincher), and was there when Swoboda made The Catch and Endy made The Catch Vol. 2 . He is a graduate of the Syracuse University Newhouse School, spent seven years as a sports talk host and radio voice of Holy Cross College football and basketball, and eight years as co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Talkin’ Baseball. He lives courageously behind enemy lines in Nationals’ country, northern Virginia.