Most people, when talking about the Padres and their struggles last season, mention that elusive word: Chemistry.
Chemistry, like mixing two liquids in science class and getting a gas. Chemistry, like that thing I hear two people have sometimes when they are on a date. Or DON’T have (See: “Woman fakes illness and exits date during middle of dinner”).
Chemistry is an intangible, and you either got it or you don’t. Clubhouse swag, if you will. Mojo.
We don’t know if the Padres will find it or not this season, but any manager will tell you it helps. A lot. It’s usually paired with winning, and I think it’s a chicken or egg situation … Does the chemistry come first, then the winning? Or vice versa?
In the short time I’ve been at Spring Training, I’ve felt it. Swag. It’s not loud or egotistical or pretentious. It’s quiet, comfortable in its own skin.
Buddy Black does a lot during the club’s time in Peoria to encourage camaraderie. During the team’s morning meetings, he introduces new players by sharing something that most teammates wouldn’t know (like the fact that the player used to dress up for rodeos or be on his high school dance team or WHATEVER). He also is part of the annual basketball shoot-out, a tournament-style competition (a la “March Madness) between coaches and players.
Lest any of you tweet or Facebook me and say something silly like, “These players should be in the batting cages instead of on the basketball court,” … Sit down, take a deep breath, hit yourself in the head once and RELAX. This happens before practice starts and doesn’t cripple the team — it builds it.
Today, the tournament came down to two teams: The starting pitchers against the coaching staff. To see who won, scroll to the bottom.
Enjoy the pics!
Okay, so this one was taken yesterday, when the teams were still being whittled down. I love this shot. Remember — Will Venable played basketball for Princeton University. Cory Luebke was a hoops star in high school (along with baseball and football).
The players don’t really “defend” … they sorta stand there and raise their arms (c’mon, no one wants to get hurt). What they DO do is distract. Mark Kotsay is mostly in charge of this. Here he is with a leaf blower, which he aims at players as they take their shot.
Then there’s the bullhorn. Self-explanatory.
But nothing compares to the truck. I don’t know who the truck belongs to, but I can tell you it has a horn on it that is unlike any horn I’ve ever heard. My ears are STILL ringing from it 10 hours later. Big Truck Must Have Loud Noise, I guess. Anyways, it gets blasted whenever a player is about to shoot.
The only time there is silence is when Buddy has the ball. If the Skipper is shooting, there are no horns, no leaf blowers, nothing. Just respect.
Teammates watching the game held face signs, just like this Dave Roberts one.
So who won? The starting pitchers. Cheers to Joe Wieland, Tim Stauffer, Corey Luebke, and Dustin Moseley!
So here I am, back in Peoria, for Round Two of my Spring Training adventure.
Ahh, Peoria. Thank you for not closing down any of your 3,927 chain restaurants and shops. Thank you for driving up prices in hotels near the Peoria Sports Complex, so that I have to stay in a seedy neighborhood in a shady part of Phoenix where some dude asked me if I wanted to see his knife while I was pumping gas at a nearby station. Thank you for making your stoplights into a Russian Roulette game. And thank you for being sticky icky hot, so that I’m sweaty and wondering if I smell or have makeup running down my face or hair sticking to the back of my neck.
But I digress.
No, really … I like Peoria. I do. I like Spring Training. I like the drive on 8 East to get here (just me, my music, my random thoughts and usually an obscene gesture from a trucker at some point) … I LOVE being at the complex, because it’s pretty and fresh and it’s just a bunch of guys playing baseball. It’s awesome. Honestly, if you’ve never been here but you like baseball even REMOTELY, you need to make it out next year. You’ll love it. I feel like it’s the way the sport is meant to be — just a bunch of fellas out on the grass, playing the game they love. The clubhouse is happy, the coaches are happy, the fans are happy.
It’s a hopeful time. I’m a fan of hope.
I like this group of Padres. There is character, there is scrappyness, there is a blending of old traditions and new Mojo. I dig it. You’ve got Mark Kotsay organizing some player bonding time, you’ve got Tim Stauffer pranking Huston Street, you’ve got new catcher John Baker getting into intelligent debates with Carlos Quentin. Like I said … character.
Oh, and they can play a little, too.
While we know Spring Training games are “meaningless”, it’s still worth pointing out that the Padres won 12 of their last 15 games before being blanked today by Chicago. It’s important because of MOMENTUM. I like momentum. I’m a fan of momentum. When I’m shopping, and I find three or four cute things, it gives me the momentum to keep going and find some more. And that’s always fun.
Again, I digress.
Will Venable told me this morning that while he doesn’t like to look back, he remembers Spring Training of 2010, the Spring Training before the season in which the Padres went 90-72 and placed second in the NL West. He said the team won a lot of consecutive games during Spring Training 2010, and that got things rolling for the season. In 2011, the team never got it going during their time in Peoria, and never got it going during the regular season either. So again … Spring Training wins are good for confidence, for camaraderie, and (say it with me now) for momentum. FEELING what it feels like to WIN. (Something I don’t do a whole lot, but I hear it’s awesome. Just ask Charlie Sheen.)
Since we’re talking about Venable, let’s point out how he got two more hits against the Cubs today and raised his batting average to .372, the best on the team. He told me he fixed a few mechanics and feels a lot more control at the plate right now, and also said working with new Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier has helped. Plantier focuses on the positive, Venable said, and when he encourages players to concentrate on the things they do RIGHT, it’s easier to form and maintain good habits. We all need a little Phil in our lives, dontcha think? (By the way, during Round One of Spring Training, Plantier and I talked hitting.)
Lots more to come this week. I’ve got come cool photos and videos, but my internet connection at Hotel Shady is not the best, so it’ll wait for now. I can feel you all on the edge of your seats. Simmer, simmer. Patience.
View from the Press Box during the Padres-Mariners charity game.
One of the best things about Spring Training are the mornings. They are so crisp, so fresh in Peoria, and this year, it seemed like the grass was greener … Cause it was. Arizona got more rain, which meant prettier fields. It’s such a cool, relaxing feeling.
Jonathan Galvez getting his hair cut by a barber that Cam Maybin brought to Spring Training. More on that later.
One of the reasons I enjoy reliever Andrew Cashner.
This is what I do for kicks during Spring Training.
This is another thing I do. I bought these during my stay. They were calling my name. It’s an exciting life I lead, huh?
Nick Hundley’s locker. Every season, the players compete in fantasy football. Former eighth-inning specialist Mike Adams started the trophy tradition. Hundley (and pitching coach Darren Balsley) were the 2011 winners.
The starting lineup for the second Spring Training game.
Ok — normally these two rows are EMPTY in the press box. But during the Mariners games, there is a contingency of Japanese press there for Ichiro Suzuki and Hisashi Iwakuma. As soon as those two are out of the game, the Japanese press disappears too.
Me after a ridiculously long drive to Peoria, in which my phone had a hardware malfunction in the middle of the desert and wouldn’t turn on. I lost everything — all my contacts and self-proclaimed wonderful photos of mountains and such that I had taken on the drive up. Anyways, I used a payphone at a rest stop in the desert three times. THAT’s kinda cool, right? Then I went to a Sprint store in PHX, where the employee took one look at my phone and proclaimed, “You’re screwed.” … ‘Nuff said.
Okay, here’s one difference between the Chargers’ locker room and the Padres’ clubhouse: You are allowed to shoot video in the Padres’ clubhouse. You are NOT allowed to do this with the Chargers.
Being able to shoot video means you get to witness awesome little moments like this:
This is Cameron Maybin’s son, Trent. He has more swag in his pinky than I will ever have in my lifetime.
Note the matching hair, too.