DUNEDIN, Fla. — Ah, the Bobby Mattick Training Center at Englebert Complex. Never has a place with a name of such stratosphericly ridiculous proportions been so welcomed by this reporter. I’m not one to bash honoring those worth of doing so, but that title is a proverbial killjoy to otherwise decent paragraphs.
I escaped the snow in Toronto on Wednesday, and arrived at the Bobby Mattick and Cecil B. Englebert Memorial Baseball Training Center Complex Site early this morning, strolling by the watchful eye of the elderly security personnel and into the media workroom at roughly 7:15. I supposed I was eager to get out in the sunshine on my first day here, considering I beat the other media types by a good hour or so.
By 9 am, gloves were popping and bats were cracking. The Jays don’t technically have to be present in camp until the first workout on Saturday, but early arrivals included B.J. Ryan, Roy Halladay, Aaron Hill, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Scott Downs, Casey Janssen, Jesse Litsch, Brian Tallet, Jeremy Accardo, Gregg Zaun, Sal Fasano, Brian Wolfe, among others, including recent first-round draft picks Travis Snider and J.P. Arencibia.
My first observation? It must be nearly baseball season, because McGowan had some light fuzz growing in, beginning to resemble the significant muttonchops he made famous in Toronto last season. Spring Training was officially underway when the topics of politics and baseball once again fused into one during manager John Gibbons’ first media sit-down of 2008.
The most notable nugget from Gibby’s first session came when he was asked if he had heard Halladay’s comments earlier in the week. To refresh, Halladay championed the additions of players like Scott Rolen and David Eckstein, because:
"I think there were times last year where there just wasn’t that sense of urgency, where things were kind of taken lightly. So that’s a huge difference for me. I think just those two … are going to make a big difference."
Gibbons response: "I didnt see [Halladay’s comments]. Hey, coming from him, that carries some weight. I think the more guys you can add who have been through the ropes and been on winning teams, that’s what separates teams."
Also of note from the skipper was some minimal insight into the potential lineup. Eckstein is going to leadoff, nothing new there, but Gibbons said he might be leaning toward putting the left-field platoon of Reed Johnson and Matt Stairs in the No. 2 spot. Gibbons noted that Lyle Overbay won’t bat second. The rest remains up in the air for now.
Gibbons also said he’d like to see the club put more emphasis on speed this season, naming Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Johnson, Eckstein and Rolen as guys who could swipe some bags. "Yeah I think we need to try to do a little bit more of that — no question. How much? I don’t know," said Gibbons, when asked if Toronto might steal more in 2008.
Besides between reporters, there wasn’t much talk about the Roger Clemes/Brian McNamee the day after the soap opera on Capitol Hill. I asked Jays catcher Gregg Zaun if he was willing to discuss his being mentioned in the Mitchell Report, and he respectfully declined, saying he’d address the matter "how I want to do it and when I want to do it." He wasn’t avoiding the media, though. Zaun was more than willing to discuss anything not Mitchell related.
On Ryan’s rapid recovery from Tommy John surgery, Zaun said: "I’m astonished. That’s the only way I can say it. He’s way ahead of where I expected him to be, based on what little I know about th einjury. The one thing I do know about that surgery is these guys seem to come back with a better elbow then they had before."
Ryan has thrown five bullpens, including one on Monday with Zaun, and he’s fully expecting to be ready to go by Opening Day. Ryan said on Thursday that’d there’s no doubt he’d be upset if the Jays told him he couldn’t head north with the club: "That’s definitely something we’ll have to look at and that’s a road that’s going to be crossed. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to go and work hard and put myself in a position to break camp with the team."
ABOUT THOSE HEARINGS: As for my reaction to the congressional hooey, I didn’t see the hearings with Clemens live, but I caught the highlights when I finally got settled into my condo last night. All I know is that I’m going to work the word "misremembered" into my vocabulary. No one is guilty until proven innocent, but I’m finding Clemens harder and harder to believe.
The fact that Pettitte corroborated McNamee’s story and Clemens’ response was that his good friend must have "misremembered" appeared a little weak on Clemens’ part. Then again, I think it’s funny how Pettitte admitted to initially lying about the extent of his HGH use, but he’s being painted as such an honest person.
And don’t get me started on Clemens signing autographs for some members of Congress. That is so blatantly wrong and just makes it look like he was trying to pull some of the congressmen into his corner. Then again, why are these idiots asking for his autograph under the circumstances in the first place?
The only thing Wednesday’s hearing accomplished was further establishing that one of these clowns is lying through their teeth. One of them has dug such a deep hole of lies that he can’t turn back. As of right now, Clemens is looking more like that person. He said it himself, whether he’s ever proven innocent or not, his image is forever tarnished.
Does that mean he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame? By no means. Unless he’s proven guilty, you can’t keep him out. You can’t keep a person out because you think he might be lying or he doesn’t seem like a good person (Ty Cobb, anyone?). Of course, I’m from the school of thought that Pete Rose, Barry Bonds — heck, let Shoeless Joe in while we’re at it — are Hall of Famers, too.
Pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin tomorrow. That just means they have to be in the area. I’ll report on any new arrivals manana. Until then…