Sights of Spring
I thought it would be fitting to bring my camera with me to the Bobby Mattick Training Center today for the Blue Jays’ photo day. My wife bought me a nice digital camera for Christmas, and one of the reaons I wanted a new one was to occasionally take some photos for this blog. Between interviews, I watched some fielding drills, batting practice and bullpen sessions, and snapped some shots along the way. Here’s some pictures from Friday’s walk around camp:
No Spring Training workout is complete without the watchful eye of the manager. Here’s Jays skipper John Gibbons surveying a few of his infielders turning double plays. Royce Clayton, John McDonald, Jason Smith and Sergio Santos workout out at shortstop, while Aaron Hill, Russ Adams and Ray Olmedo covered the ground over at second base. Believe it or not, The Big Hurt — Frank Thomas — was digging out throws over at first base.
You probably didn’t realize that the big man could still get down so low, huh? Here’s Thomas (right) getting ready to scoop up a throw from short. After practice, someone asked Gibbons if he’d consider using Thomas at first at all this year. The answer, accompanied by a slight chuckle, was no.
I have to say that Royce Clayton (left) looks younger than his years. He’s lean, athletic, and from what I’ve seen in practice, is still smooth with the glove at short. He also seems like a really good guy, and a player that the fans should have an easy time liking. You have to respect a man who has four kids ages three and under — that’s including a set of triplets! Needless to say, Clayton is plenty busy during his offseasons in Arizona with his wife, Samantha. The Jays brought Clayton in with a one-year deal, which means the middle infield will likely take on another new look next season.
Here’s Aaron Hill (right) turning a 4-6-3 double play. Hill can finally come into camp knowing that the Jays don’t have any plans on moving him in between positions this season. But, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’d be back at shortstop in 2008. Toronto hasn’t given up on Adams, yet, and he’s receiving continued training at second base.
Here’s a shot I took of Alex Rios (left) getting ready to make contact with a ball during batting practice. One of my favorite times during a baseball season is when the big leaguers start taking batting practice in the early weeks of Spring Training. That’s when it really starts to feel like baseball season is back after a long winter.
Here’s The Big Hurt (right) watching BP. He hit in the first group with Reed Johnson, Rios, and Vernon Wells. Could that grouping be an indication of who the first four hitters in the lineup will be? Perhaps. On paper, that appears to be who will be in the Nos. 1-4 slots. Both Thomas and Glaus are fine with the other being the cleanup hitter. It’s possible that Lyle Overbay could hit fifth, and Glaus sixth, too.
Here’s Thomas (left) connecting on a pitch during BP. I don’t know how many times we can all reiterate this, but the man is gigantic. I’m only 5-foot-8, but I feel about 4’3” whenever Thomas walks by me. I had a good conversation with him this morning. When we both sat down on the same side of a picnic table to chat, part of me wondered if the table might tip over. I survived.
Here’s center fielder Vernon Wells sporting some shades and waiting for his turn in the cage. Players began stretching for the workout today a little before noon and Wells was delayed by a few minutes due to a photo session. When Wells walked onto the field, Matt Stairs — quickly becoming the vocal joker on the squad — chirped, "What, you get a $100 million contract and you think you can just show up whenever you want?"
The big story of the day, though, was the arrival of 36-year-old Brazilian pitcher Jo Matumoto, who is of Japanese descent. After years of toiling away in the Japan industrial leagues and then gaining little notice with the Brazil national team, Matumoto’s wife sent a desperate e-mail to agent Randy Hendricks, who represents Roger Clemens. Hendricks arranged a tryout for an Independant League team, but they were so impressed, they decided to let Matumoto try his luck in front of Major League scouts instead.
On Wednesday, the Jays watched Matumoto (left, pitching in front of Toronto coaches Ernie Whitt and Brad Arnsberg) throw at Jesuit High School in Tampa and they decided to give him a chance. Friday marked just his fifth time on a mound since December. Matumoto had no one to catch him in Brazil, so he whipped baseballs against a wall in order to keep his arm in shape. He needs to build up his arm strength, but Toronto plans on starting him at either Double-A or maybe even Triple-A. Matumoto speaks three languages, but not English. So his wife, Maria Fernanda De Luca, translated for reporters in an emotional interview with the pitcher today. Matumoto was about to give up his dream of pitching in the Majors only a year ago. Now, he is on the verge of realizing that dream with the Jays.
Matumoto doesn’t have high velocity, but he has a unique sidearm delivery that can be deceptive, especially against left-handed hitters. He also throws a changeup that he described as being more like a screwball — he learned it from a Cuban pitcher.
The best line of the day came from his wife, who said, "If he succeeds and this becomes a movie some day, it’ll start with him living in the jungle, throwing coconuts. Matumoto definitely is the type of heartwarming underdog story that you truly hope has a happy ending.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the photos. I’ll try to do more picture taking throughout the spring. But probably not as much once games begin. Stay tuned for more…