Get to the Chopper!
DUNEDIN, Fla. — An Arnold reference there in honor of today’s events at Knology Park. After a light, breezy, Spring Trainingy workout at the Jays’ home ballpark — miles away from where the "B" squad was taking on the Twins in Fort Myers — Alex Rios came out of the clubhouse with a gasoline-powered, remote-control, four-foot long helicopter.
Rios and Jeremy Accardo set the thing up in the warning track in right field and Rios manned the controls, taking the helicopter for a spin around the park. When they were setting it up, Aaron Hill and David Eckstein headed up to the pitchers deck behind the right-field wall to watch — safely behind netting.
"It’s a little dangerous down there," said Hill, when Lyle Overbay walked out and gave a look of curiousity as to why the middle infielders were watching from above.
Shawn Camp came out to run some laps along the warning track and stopped when he saw the players setting up the helicopter.
"Jeremy, am I going to be in the hot zone running here?" Camp asked.
"You know he’s going to chase you with that thing," Hill quipped.
Rios flew the chopper for a bit, making it climb high, dive quick, nearly do a flip and steering it near the light towers, giving the local ospreys a scare. Roy Halladay — known flying remote control helicopters and planes inside the Rogers Centre — manned the controls for a bit and took the thing a lot higher than Rios was willing to go.
Rios started this hobby in November and has three such helicopters now — two smaller than the one he brought out on Sunday. He said the large one ran him about $2,300 and he noted that Halladay’s helicopter is even bigger.
Oh, baseball, right. They did have a workout thingy today, too, where players played catch, took batting practice and did some fielding work. Reliever Armando Benitez also threw for roughly 10 minutes in the bullpen and is scheduled to throw a live BP session on Tuesday before the Jays begin working him into a game.
Frank Thomas stood in as a mock batter for Benitez’s session and he walked away very impressed with the life on the pitcher’s slider, splitter and sinker.
"I’m telling you guys," Thomas said as he walked back on the field, "he’s ready to go. It’s the same guy I’ve seen over the years. I thought he was behind. Wow."
Later, in the clubhouse, Thomas expanded, saying, "If we can keep Armando healthy, he’s going to be someone who can surprise a lot of people. He’s hungry right now and he’s a little frustrated with the system, closing in on 300 saves and he doesn’t have a job. He’s always been one of those guys that pitch well under pressure and that adds something to this team."
Bullpen coach Bruce Walton didn’t have a radar gun on Benitez, but simply from his years of experience, Pappy estimated that the pitcher was hitting around 91-92 mph. I stood behind the bullpen for the session and was especially impressed with the late movement on his sinker.
I talked to Thomas some about the hitting slump he’s going through this spring and you can read that feature later today on bluejays.com. Here’s a few leftover quotes that didn’t make the cut:
"Right now, I just feel a little off. I’m a little jumpy. I just haven’t hit enough balls in the sweet spot. Guys have predominantly stayed out of the zone, so it’s been tough. But I’ve been through this plenty of times in the spring. I just take it for what it’s worth. You take your at-bats and try to get your timing right, because that’s all I can do right now.
"For me, right now, yeah, I’m not happy. I’m not getting any hits, but you’re going to have those periods. It’s Spring Training and once the lights turn on it’s a different ballgame and I have to be prepared like I’m always prepared."
Players heading to Bradenton for tomorrow’s tilt against the Pirates include: Thomas, Rios, Hill, Eckstein, Overbay, Zaun, Barajas, John McDonald, Scott Rolen, Marco Scutaro, Reed Johnson, Vernon Wells, Matt Stairs, Shannon Stewart, Jeremy Accardo, Brandon League, B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett, among others.
Catch you all tomorrow.