I had my father join me in Arizona with my sister's laptop, fully intending to do Bad Altitude updates after each and every spring training game we attended. As it turned out, the computer required a password neither of us knew, and my sister Megan was on a beach somewhere in Portugal (of all places), incommunicado. What she was doing in Europe a week before baseball season started, AND while her school, Boston College, was very much alive in the NCAA tournament, I don't know. In many ways my sisters and I are very different people.
So I'll do this once quickly and perhaps longer tomorrow. Remember, of course, that you can't really form any useful opinions about teams from seeing most but not all of their regular lineups for five innings in March.
Friday afternoon: White Sox at Mariners, Peoria. Afterglow seasons must be a lot of fun. The aura of the south siders' championship run was enough to get 12,000 people out to this game, and on Sunday in Mesa the scalpers were already beginning to get a dreamy look contemplating Monday's White Sox-Cubs contest. Unseen forces have long been conspiring to maintain my father's opinion, usually left unstated, that despite my piles of reference books and fancy website, I don't actually know anything about baseball. Every time we go together to see a team featuring a player that my father likes despite my statistical arguments against him, like Mike Matheny, that guy invariably has a banner day. Friday it was Adrian Beltre, who clubbed an RBI double and made a couple of nice plays at third. Jamie Moyer pitched exceedingly well (six innings, one hit, two walks) and the Chicago offense remained more or less inactive until someone named Emiliano Fruto took the mound. Still, I like the White Sox pretty good this year, and I'm not sold on the Mariners. They've already lost Jeremy Reed for some time with a broken wrist, and that Betancourt/Lopez keystone combo strikes me as alarmingly punchless. Kenji Johjima didn't play, which is too bad. Ichiro stretches more pregame than any other MLB player I've seen.
Friday night: Padres at A's, Phoenix. After Moyer and Freddy Garcia in the day game, we got Barry Zito and Jake Peavy in the nightcap. That's four pretty good pitchers to see in one day. Neither was particularly sharp in this one however. Mike Piazza caught the whole game, how about that. My dad was a lot more excited about the middle of the San Diego lineup (Brian Giles, Piazza, Ryan Klesko, Vinny Castilla) than I was. We both were psyched to see Mark Bellhorn get in there, though. Dad and I are big Bellhorn backers: we once saw him, in person, hit home runs from opposite sides of the plate in the same inning for the Cubs in a game in Milwaukee. He homered again in this one, hitting righty off of Zito. Between Bellhorn, Dave Roberts, and Geoff Blum the Padres are loading up on bench players from the last two world champs. Neither Frank Thomas nor Eric Chavez played for Oakland, but with their pitching and a healthy (knock on wood) Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis up the middle, you have to like them in the AL West. I'm not so sure about the Padres' chances of repeating in the NL West, but out of respect for my father I will allow that they might be better than I thought when I last wrote about them.
Saturday afternoon: Rangers at Rockies, Tucson. The Rangers didn't bring a single regular south for the game at Hi Corbett, unless you count Ian Kinsler. Perhaps Rockies brass should consider that fact before giving Miguel Asencio the fifth starters' job based on this outing. Asencio looked good, Brian Fuentes looked good, even Jose Mesa looked pretty sharp, but Jaime Cerda had control problems. Todd Helton went 3 for 3, causing my dad to break out the line he uses every time we see the Rockies together comparing Helton to Ernie Banks -- great ballplayer, stuck with a bad team for life. Well, Todd's young yet. Garrett Atkins homered off of Texas starter Vicente Padilla (have fun in Arlington, Vicente). Ian Stewart got in late and managed to scorch a single and make a fabulous play at third. Oh man, I want it to be September already. If this is the Rangers' bench (four hits total, two by Erubiel Durazo), their bench is pretty bad. I really liked the way Brad Hawpe was working the count in his at-bats. The Rockies let Texas use a DH while Asencio batted for himself, though only the one time. That was pretty nice of Clint Hurdle. Speaking of Hurdle, I realized flipping through the Rockies' spring program something I didn't know before: Clint Hurdle's older daughter from his previous marriage is pretty hot.
Saturday night: Ducks at Coyotes, Glendale. No night baseball on Saturday so we took in a hockey game instead. I only sporadically follow the NHL, especially with the Blackhawks trapped in an everlasting yawning pit of despair as they are, but my dad is a hockey guy and it's fun to go to games with him. Anaheim is a lot better than Phoenix, and Teemu Selanne is a great player. For a team coached by Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes play a whole lot of dump-and-chase. The Ducks' defensemen were so dominant at keeping the puck in the offensive zone that it appeared as if Anaheim was on the power play for the whole game, except during the numerous actual power plays for the home team. My dad and I are both pretty positive about the new-look NHL, but there's a fine line between encouraging offense and blowing whistles for every little ticky-tack infraction imaginable. We think, and I imagine most hockey fans think the same, that it won't be until the playoffs start that we'll really see if the new officiating guidelines are here to stay.
Sunday: Diamondbacks at Cubs, Mesa. Maybe the D-Backs aren't silly for keeping the old geezers around; Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green looked sharp in this one. My father isn't the sort of fan who pores through prospect books but the buzz on Stephen Drew and Conor Jackson had reached even his ears. He wondered aloud, not without reason, why the Cubs don't have any guys like that. Yes, the Cubs. Danger alert. My feelings for Chicago's NL franchise since 2003 have been the usual ones reserved for ex-lovers: contempt mixed with mild disgust. But let's put that aside for a second. Even speaking objectively, this is a flawed team without a coherent plan. By now they have to assume that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior will never be healthy again. Around Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez they've assembled a lineup of huge OBP sinks. Their bullpen is made up of a lot of guys who need to be handled extremely delicately in order to assure maximum returns, and their manager is, well, indelicate. I wasn't going to do a HAP for the Cubs because I thought it would be too depressing, but now I feel almost compelled to do so. It could be crater city for Chicago in 2006, and Dusty Baker's firing will be only the first nasty explosion. What's more, my dad, who's still a fan, thinks so too.
Monday: Royals at Giants, Scottsdale. I wanted to come away from this one with something nice to say about the poor Royals, and I did. Their defense will be a lot better this year. That's usually faint praise, but Kansas City's defense was slapstick-level awful last year, and at the very least it won't drive (any more) starting pitchers completely insane this season. The Giants are still real old, and they don't have any good young position players anywhere in the system. Matt Cain started and was not sharp. The real story in this game was one we missed, because we had to cut out around the sixth to go catch our plane -- Armando Benitez came in and gave up ten runs. Ten runs! How funny is that?