Chances are, if you do get the opportunity to visit Camelback Ranch in Glendale Arizona, you may not get a minute or two to visit the back fields at spring training. After all, it is very difficult to be away from Dodger baseball!! Those back fields are where the minor league games are played. Most will stay along to gaze upon MLB talent, and I do not blame them one bit. For me, however, there is something exciting about watching these players chasing their dreams. Since most may not make the trek to the back fields, I will attempt to describe the scene there. Come along!
Here is one example of the back field charm, how often have you had the chance to say hello to and possibly converse with, a Manager at any level in professional baseball? I was fortunate enough to speak with Jeremy Rodriguez and Mark Kertenian, two of the most knowledgeable baseball minds that you will ever meet, and two of the nicest human beings as well. Jeremy Rodriguez, the former Field Coordinator (Dominican Republic) with the Padres is now the new Manager for the Great Lakes Loons in Midland. I am very excited the Dodgers got him away from the Padres. Mark Kertenian is making a transition into his new role as well. Mark has been a coaching in college baseball for years, most recently with Florida International University. He will now become the new Manager of the rookie league affiliate Ogden Raptors. The Dodgers organization is full of class and dignity throughout. These two men exemplify these qualities in abundance. The Dodgers organization is not only scouting players, they scout instructors as well.
A proper description of the back fields could not take place unless I spoke of the lack of shade and seating in the shade. For this reason, most who take the stroll, do not linger because of the desert sun beating down. Sunscreen, hat and lots of water is advised, it is the desert after all. With this landscape, you naturally migrate into the shade, or at least I do. You sometimes find yourself standing next to a Dodger coach or a scout or some players waiting to shag the next foul ball. Or in very rare cases, your standing next to a Dodgers Legend like in the picture below.
I had a conversation with Charlie Hough about the knuckleball and his early career, how he didn’t learn the knuckleball. He was shown it, he threw it, and he did it as naturally as most people throw a fastball. So as Charlie explained to me, he didn’t “learn” the knuckleball, he just threw it. I asked him why he thought it came so naturally to him? I will omit his answer, so if you ever get the chance to speak to Charlie, you can ask him yourself. It was fascinating to speak with someone with whom I had watched pitch as a child, and I never forget the knuckleballers, for some reason. It was pretty cool to get to chat with Mr. Hough. I do want to caution readers, these coaches and players are very busy, if they happen to be standing next to you, make sure that you are polite and brief, they are in the middle of evaluating talent. I would never dream of interfering in that mission.
I had the opportunity to interview Joe Broussard. Interview with Joe Broussard Then spoke to him for another half hour about baseball, life in the minors and regular day to day life, really enjoyed that time with Joe, really cool young man. If you know me, I was delighted to talk pitching with Mr. Broussard!! Joe did not need to take the time to hang out with me after our interview, but that shows a lot about what kind of man he is, and the kind of organization the Dodgers are!
Another example of the classiness of the Dodgers organization, and one of the main reasons people venture out to the back fields, autographs. Gavin Lux is another in the system who is very gracious with fan requests. Although, he may have writers cramp by now, he has signed that name quite a bit this spring! Gavin Lux Interview from ST
If a pitcher reaches his pitch limit per inning, in these back field minor league ST games, the inning is over. Most arm injuries do not occur from overuse, they occur from pitching in stressful situations. To limit any potential for young pitchers to have arm injuries, the inning is limited to a certain number of pitches. It is early in spring, the pitch count limits will increase as the games do.
Those who do stay the whole game at the back fields are usually family of the players, or scouts. It is no wonder why so many of these young men are such humble and likeable players, they come from tremendous families. I have personally met several of the Dodgers brightest prospects, and some of their parents and grandparents. Great people! They are excited to be able to make the trip out to see their boy’s play baseball in a Dodgers uniform, that must be incredibly special. Scouts are pretty easy to spot, radar gun, clipboard, stopwatch and lanyard with a badge that says “Scout” on it. One very nice scout from the Braves and I spoke for most of the game on Wednesday. I am sure he was just being polite, but he was asking me questions about the Dodgers prospects. At one point, very early in our conversation, I had asked him if he was there to scout the next player they want for Caleb Dirks (already 3 trades between Dodgers and Braves involving Dirks), he laughed and we were fast friends from there. If you ever want to gain some valuable insight on the game of baseball, hang out with a scout at a baseball game, which I don’t think is really even possible to do, yet somehow, I hung out with a scout pretty much all game on Wednesday. Again, pretty sure he was just being polite…and staying in the shade!!
If you consider the back fields a tad more enticing now, just don’t forget the big floppy hat, drink plenty of water, watch out for foul balls and enjoy watching the future of Dodgers baseball! Go Dodgers!!