Three cool things that happened today:
1. At a game between the Astros and the Indians in Kissimmee, I had a chance to talk to Indians firstbaseman Ryan Garko, who I knew pretty well back at Stanford when I was a baseball broadcaster and he was the star catcher for the Cardinal. Garko is one of those players, like a Mark Teahen or a David Ortiz, who doesn’t really have a natural position defensively, but has forced his name into consideration for a roster spot thanks to his hitting. (Admittedly, Garko is much closer to a Teahen than an Ortiz at this point). It’s still a coin toss whether Garko will make the opening day roster for the Tribe, but even if he doesn’t he’s bound to be up sooner rather than later. It was good to catch up with him a bit, after four years.
2. We saw a Phillies-Reds game at Bright House Field in Clearwater. Bright House Field is far and away the best ballpark we’ve been to so far on this trip, and probably one of the best ballparks I’ve been to ever (and I’ve been to a lot of great parks). It had everything you could want – a gorgeous field, great food, comfortable seats with lots of leg room, amazing sight lines, palm trees around the outfield, “berm seating” in both left and right, very intimate bullpens surrounded by fans on three sides, a “tiki bar” integrated into the leftfield bleachers… I could go on. Everything about the park was tasteful, or at least as tasteful as a park can be in this age of extreme commercialization. Plus we saw a very exciting game played by two quality teams. Both the Phils and the Reds appear to have very solid lineups and some good pitching this year, and I expect both teams will make strong runs at the postseason.
3. Ryan Freel made one of the most amazing catches I have ever seen. In the bottom of the first inning, on an screaming, sinking liner to the wall in left-center, Freel raced over from centerfield at top speed, and caught the ball in mid-air while diving headlong face-first into the wall in a cloud of dust, somehow, miraculously, holding onto the ball! He was down for a few minutes, and got up wobbly, so I’m pretty sure he had a concussion, but he was able to finish out the inning before giving way to famous former crack addict Josh Hamilton in the second.
On one hand, I wanted to yell at Freel about how moronic it is to dive straight into walls in a meaningless spring training game when your spot on the team is 100% secure. But on the other hand, the reason Ryan Freel is my current favorite baseball player is exactly the fact that he only knows one speed, and that is all out, and he is going to give his all on every single play, whether it’s game 7 of the World Series, or a February 28 split-squad scrimmage against the University of Central Florida. Ryan Freel is almost certainly a bit crazy in the head, if you’ve ever heard him get interviewed (perhaps from crashing into all those walls), but it’s a good kind of crazy, and I wish we had more ballplayers like him. I’m sure the Reds wished Freel were still out there later in the game when Hamilton couldn’t run down two very similar line drives which fell in for a double and a triple.