The Common Man was disappointed on two counts this morning. The first was when he found out that he wasn't the only blogger in the stands yesterday when Japan visited the Chicago Cubs. Of course, the other reason The Common Man is disappointed is that he had the chance to meet the KLaw, and tell him how impressive the body of his work is and how influential he has been on The Common Man's understanding of the proper balance of statistical analysis and scouting.
Keith was undoubtedly right behind the plate in typically awesome (and shaded) seats. Meanwhile, The Common Man was sitting just to the leftfield side of the batter's eye, on the lawn. In part, it's because The Common Man bought tickets at the box office the day of the game, but also because it is awfully fun to sit out on the grass. Like watching games in days of yore, when fences were a luxury most teams couldn't, or didn't afford. Anyway, here are The Common Man's observations from the action:
Before the game, the Japanese media was out in full force, and it is an intimidating group. Lined up down the leftfield line, they looked to number close to 100. And during the game, this is the view The Common Man had of RF:
After finishing his pre-game warm-ups, Daisuke came over to the stands and signed autographs. Watching the Japanese and American fans swarm him for autographs and pictures reminded The Common Man of seagulls fighting over scraps on the beach. And when Daisuke abruptly turned and jogged 10 yards down the line to reach other fans, the mob flocked with him, stumbling over itself as it negotiated the span and the bench seats. But give Daisuke major credit, he was the only Japanese player signing for the crowd, and he definitely made an effort to honor the fans' desire to be close to him, within reason.
The Common Man chose a more dignified approach, heading to the Fergie Jenkins Foundation tent and donating $20 to meet Rollie Fingers and get his autograph (Fergie, Pete LaCock, and George Foster (who didn't say a single word, and looked relatively lonely out on the end of the table)). Rollie still looks good and still sports the most recognizable 'stache in baseball (world?) history. "So you still haven't shaved that thing off?" The Common Man asked him, because he's a dufuss.
"I'd be too afraid of what I'd look like without it," he replied.
Pete LaCock, signing next to him, then asked, "Do you still use the same wax?"
Rollie: Yeah, same wax I've always used. ___________.
LaCock: You should get an endorsement deal.
Rollie: Nah, I just like it. I did endorse Just For Men about five years ago. But then they dumped me and went with Hernandez and the other guy. What's his name, the black guy?
TCM: George Gervin. Basketball player
Rollie: Yeah, I guess they liked them better.
TCM: Well, there's no accounting for taste.
Both teams used their everyday lineups (though Fukudome played for Japan). Presumably, the Japanese wanted to get their work in, and stay sharp. And the Cubs wanted to be good hosts. The upshot was that Soriano, Theriot, Lee, Bradley, Ramirez, and Reed Johnson each got three ABs in for the Cubs (and Fontenot got two), and Carlos Zambrano worked four innings. Almost all of the Japanese players, including Ichiro, Fukudome, Kenji Johjima, and Iwamura played the full game. Red Sox prospect Yu Darvish satred and went 3.3 innings.
Though he only gave up a run in those 3+ innings, Darvish did not look sharp. Location was a problem throughout his outing. He walked two and uncorked a wild pitch (which led to the only run he gave up), and sent several other pitches into the dirt or to the backstop. He did strike out 5, but The Common Man attributes most of that to the Cubs' lack of familiarity with Darvish and his stuff. Like many Japanese pitchers, Darvish's delivery is non-traditional from an American perspective. He works exclusively from the set and has a hitch in the middle of his motion, in which he seems to double-pump with his glove and pitching hand together. This hesitation may have also been throwing off the Cubs' timing, but The Common Man was not impressed with the overall quality of the outing.
After dominating in the first inning (a pop to third, a strikeout, and a nubber to the mound), Zambrano also underwhelmed, giving up three hits and two runs in his four innings. Two of the hits, a double by 1B Michihiro Ogasawara and a triple by Munenori Kawasaki, were hard line drives to the left-centerfield gap. Kawasaki probably should have been held to a double, but Alfonso Soriano took a bad route to the ball, and it got past him to the wall. Zambrano also had a wild pitch, which allowed Kawasaki to score. At the plate, Zambrano wasn't much better, striking out twice with runners on base (his first K was with the bases loaded, and Big Z almost came out of his shoes twice trying to hit the grand slam).
Ichiro had another poor game. He saw few pitches (except for one at bat, in which he walked) and didn't make good contact, popping up twice and grounding weekly to second base. Ichiro has been somewhat lost this spring, aside from a couple of games in the first round of the WBC, looking uncomfortable and slow. He just seemed off yesterday.
Mike Fontenot, on the other hand, had a terrific game, getting two very solid hits off of Darvish, both hard line drives to right and right-center. He also made a nice (but not overly impressive) play at second, jumping and backhanding a soft liner up the middle off the bat of DH Shuichi Murata.
The best moment of the game (frankly, the game itself was pretty underwhelming) was Milton Bradley's final at bat. After striking out against Tetsuya Yamaguchi, Bradley snapped his bat over his knee. The sharp crack resounded throughout the ballpark. In a word, awesome. Who says players don't take spring traning seriously? Bradley didn't come out for the top of the 6th, but was presumably done anyway after getting his third AB in. He did have a sharp single to right in the 3rd off of Darvish.
Finally, a final observation from The Common Man. If you are planning to go to a spring training game in Arizona, and sit in the sun for hours. You should wear sunscreen. Also, you should not forget your Expos hat in the car.