I arrived in Phoenix and had a choice to make. I had to either go and see the Royals big club play a game in Tempe against the Angels or head to Surprise and try to find my way around the Royals camp and hopefully get a glimpse of some minor leaguers. Since I will soon be able to see the Royals in action in Kansas City, I decided to head to Surprise. When I arrived in Surprise, there were lots of cars piling into the parking lot and so I figured the Rangers were playing. What I really wanted to do was see the Royals minor leaguers which people had told me was easy to do, but I was a little confused. I bought a ticket for the game because I figured that I would need it to get into the spring training facilities.
The ballpark in Surprise is reminiscent of many AA ballparks. The facility is extremely nice with a large grass outfield for lounging. I bought myself an adult beverage and set out in search of minor league camp. I made my way completely around the stadium and the closest I came to my goal were a couple of batting cages . The Rangers vs Rockies game was about to start so I hit the outfield grass to watch my first game of the year.
After a few innings of the game I decided to ask one of the many friendly ushers how I could get to the back fields. He told me to walk outside the gate and down a ways I would find a gate in the fence, which would be the entrance. I got my hand stamped for re-entry and was on my way.
I found the barely marked gate and began walking into the Royals spring complex. I was hoping that there was still some baseball being played on the back fields. I heard some gloves popping and knew that there was at least something to see. I saw some activity on a couple of fields and as I got closer I could see there were two games against Padres minor leaguers going on.
When I arrived at the games, I felt like I had stepped into a private party. Frank White was the first face I recognized. He was talking with some Royals front office folks and not far from him stood John Wathan. The stands at the fields are literally smaller than the ones at the stadium where I play softball. They may have room to hold 50 people or so. However, you can stand right up against the fence and get extremely close to the action. The group of people watching was an odd mixture of Royals employees, attractive young women and baseball nerds.
I am not a particularly good scout of players, but here are some quick notes on what I saw:
Ernesto Mejia and Clint Robinson are huge. Johnny Giavotella and Kurt Mertins are not. However, the four of them look like they would make a pretty good basketball team with Giavotella and Mertins manning the back court with Mejia and Robinson in the front court.
I noticed that recently signed Nicaraguan prospect Cheslor Cuthbert was playing on one of the fields. I had never seen him and wanted to get a close look for myself. He was playing third and I only saw one ball hit to him. He didn’t field it cleanly, but he knocked it down and threw the runner out at first. His arm seemed average, but I only got to see him make that one throw. He was about average height, and he wore his jersey a little baggy so I could not really tell what kind of build the kid had. At the plate he looked lost. He flailed pretty wildly at pitches out of the zone and seemed like he had major problems hitting off-speed pitches. I contacted Greg Schaum at www.royalsprospects.com to check my report against what he knew. He agreed with the scouting report, however he said that Cuthbert hasn’t seen much quality pitching and is very much a diamond in the rough. It is worth remembering that Cuthbert is only 17 years old or so and will take some time to develop. He will likely have some struggles in the next year or two adjusting to a higher level of competition and American Culture.
The experience for me was second to none. If you are at all into watching prospects, then spring training is a slice of heaven. I got to chat briefly with Omaha Royals Manager Mike Jirschele, Special Advisor Ned Yost and former Kansas City Athletic and current pitching coordinator Bill Fischer. Fischer was hilarious and seemed to have something to say about every player on the field. He and Ned Yost traded stories of being inducted into the Wisconsin Hall Of Fame.
With the small amount of people who are at the camp hanging around, it is pretty easy to snag a foul ball. One literally bounced right in my hands, so I grabbed it with the intention to bring it home to my son. When I was standing next to Bill Fischer, he asked me if I wanted him to sign the ball. I said “go for it.” He took it and signed it:
“Bill Fischer, Wisconsin Hall of Fame.”
It kind of summed up the casual nature of the whole experience. Players are just wandering around and if you are an autograph kind of person, they are very easy to approach. Coaches, managers and former players are just milling about. It was kind of like being able to step into their world for a brief moment, being allowed into the back halls of the exclusive professional baseball society. I know not everyone gets a chance to spend some time at Spring Training, but if you ever can you absolutely should. It is truly an experience like no other.
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Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)