Chamberlain wins Tigers inaugural rag ball championship
FEB 17, 2014 2:32p ET
LAKELAND, FLA. -- Joba Chamberlain raised his arms in the air and ran past his teammates, yelling in victory.
Chamberlain won the Tigers inaugural rag ball title Monday afternoon, beating out Kyle Lobstein for the crown.
Rag ball is a drill using a softer version of a baseball called an Incrediball. A coach, in this case Omar Vizquel, stood about 25-30 feet away from the pitcher and sharply hit it to make the pitcher react quickly to catch it.
"Winner, winner, chicken dinner," Chamberlain said. "There's no not winning. It's tough. It's not only yourself, you gotta represent your group. So I couldn't let my group down."
The Tigers pitchers have been split into four groups. For the rag ball competition, each group had two finalists who faced off to determine the group champion.
The four group champions -- Max Scherzer, Eduardo Sanchez, Chamberlain and Lobstein -- competed until it was just two.
"Omar hit us balls," Chamberlain said. "It was me and Kyle Lobstein. I caught my first one, he missed his first one."
Said Lobstein: "He just outperformed me. It was fun. I think it was a healthy competition between all of us. Even though we're going up against each other, we're still cheering for each other. If a guy makes a good play, you give him props for it. Just something like that, a hop goes your way, some don't. It was fun though."
As Lobstein talked about the competition, Chamberlain appeared over his shoulder, sticking his tongue out.
"He just doesn't want to let it rest," Lobstein said with a laugh.
Manager Brad Ausmus, who brought the rag ball drill from San Diego, said he was surprised Chamberlain won.
"He was not my pick," Ausmus said. "Somebody said he was the first 12th seed to ever win a championship."
Both Chamberlain and Lobstein had done the drill before, Chamberlain with the Yankees and Lobstein in the minors, but neither had done it as part of a competition.
"As long as I won, that's all I'm worried about," Chamberlain said. "It was fun. We had a blast. It creates a different dynamic for PFPs because sometimes PFPs get a little mundane and stagnant."
Lobstein said Vizquel was not taking it easy on them.
"They were hitting them pretty hard at us," Lobstein said. "It was nice though, because it's like a game situation, having a ball hit to you that hard. It's nice to kind of see that right off the bat and you can kind of just jump into it. Once you get into the game, you feel comfortable with it."
Chamberlain does get more than just bragging rights.
"Everyone pitched in some money. He wins the pot," Ausmus said. "Trust me, not huge dollars. It's more about the pride."
For the record, Justin Verlander did not participate in the competition, although he did do the drill Sunday.
CATCHERS GET THEIR OWN COMPETITION
Not to be outdone, the catchers had a competition of their own.
Bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer had them taking simulated throws from the outfield at the plate.
If you didn't catch the ball, you were eliminated.
Starting catcher Alex Avila did not win.
"Middle of the pack," Avila said. "I had a nice little tough one, did what I was supposed to do but I didn't catch it."
It came down to Victor Martinez and non-roster invitee Craig Albernaz in the finals.
It was a regular shootout for catchers.
Martinez dove for a ball, nearly had it and slammed the ground with his glove when he couldn't corral it.
So Albernaz won that one.
"It's something different to throw at us, gets the camaraderie going, the competitive juices going. It's just fun."
Albernaz said he wasn't surprised Martinez was upset at losing.
"No, he's a competitor," Albernaz said. "He takes it seriously. Gotta go out there every day. He brings it every day."
Ausmus said he's considering holding a catchers' Olympics.
"(It's) something I did with the catchers in San Diego, multi-event, working on drills, throwing to bases, blocking balls in the dirt," Ausmus said. "Rather than just going through the doldrums of PFP or blocking balls in the dirt, adding in the competitive factor, playing to win something changes the intensity level, even if it's just pride."
Ausmus said it would take place after the pitchers have faced live hitters but before the games begin.