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GRAPEFRUIT DIARY: Double your fun

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FOXSports.com contributing baseball writer Bryan Hoch is in Florida this week to check out the action of the Grapefruit League. He will be filing daily reports from the Sunshine State:
  • Sunday, March 9
  • Friday, March 7
  • Thursday, March 6
  • Everybody made a huge deal out of the fact that the and played a day-night doubleheader in opposite stadiums back in July 2000, but that wasn't all that big of a news story to anyone who's experienced the strange and fun scheduling of spring training. Today, Stephanie and I were all too happy to indulge in a baseball double-dip: the and the , meeting up first at New York's Port St. Lucie training complex for an afternoon contest and then re-engaging in battle under the lights at Los Angeles' storied Dodgertown complex. The logos and some of the players may have been the same, but otherwise these separate venues played host to two very different games, with two separate storylines and conclusions.

    Game 1: Port St. Lucie — 2, 1

    Today's pitching matchup out at Thomas J. White Stadium was an intriguing one, with a pair of hurlers trying to prove to their respective clubs that they're ready to make a jump to a new level. After dumped by the the day after the season ended, lefthander — who missed all of the 2000 and 2001 seasons due to shoulder surgery — is making an effort to show Los Angeles that he could merit consideration as either a starting pitcher or a middle reliever. The ' hasn't had any trouble of that sort, but with righty likely to begin the season on the disabled list, he could use a good performance to prove to the team's braintrust that he's more than capable of taking Astacio's spot as the third starter and doing a bang-up job at it. Pre-game: Thanks to the fact that the are playing as a split-squad today due to the day-night doubleheader (and as such, half the roster isn't expected to arrive until around 11 a.m.), a wooden barricade prevents any non-essential personnel from entering the back practice fields at the usual 9:30 a.m. opening. Instead, we hang around outside and shoot the breeze with fans until the gates to the park open at 11 a.m., at which point it's our pleasure to indulge in one of the best buys in St. Lucie County: two foot-long hot dogs and a huge (64 oz.?) soft drink for just ten bucks. Inside, the ' is putting on one heck of a batting practice exhibition, bombing the swamp behind the right-field fence with ten to twelve long balls in the round, but it's former Met who gets the cheers from the locals. After hitting just .199 over two years in a uniform, Hundley's probably experiencing his last shot to stick around The Show: too many late nights in his twenties have led to the one-time power hitter possibly being a goner at the young baseball age of 33. On the mound: Both Alvarez and Trachsel are impressive as they get their work in, with Alvarez going a surprising five innings and allowing just one run on three hits. He shows he's still got the form that tabbed some to dub him a future star so many years ago, consistently pounding the zone with a hopping fastball and throwing one beauty of a change-up to send back to the bench. Meanwhile, Trachsel works efficiently and quickly — a welcome change of pace from the deliberate speed at which the majority of his starts take place at. 's drop of an easy pop fly in the second inning leads to an unearned run, but otherwise Trachsel is sparkling, scattering just three hits around a walk and a strikeout. However, the big story comes in the fifth inning, when 40-year-old David Cone takes the hill for New York and promptly sets down the first three batters to face him in order, using a seemingly effective assortment of 87-mph fastballs and breaking balls. Then, to prove it was no fluke, Cone returns to the hill in the sixth and gets the ' , and in order without a ball leaving the infield. He looks good, very good: possibly even enough to warrant a roster spot when the come north. Mo's Miscues: I hate to keep piling on the ' for every little thing, but it seems that every time Maurice does something great (like his monster solo homer against the on Saturday), he'll do something negative to even it out (like failing to run hard on a drive to the outfield wall or avoiding fans by taking the golf cart). Today, Vaughn loses track of the outs in the middle of the third inning, jogging off the field after a routine groundout to second base for the second out, and then looks ridiculous in the sixth when a hard ground ball catches the burly first baseman off guard and knocks him flat on his back. To his credit, Vaughn did complete the toss to Cone at first base to record the out. Flashing the leather: The defensive play of this game comes in the third inning, when the ' laces a two-out drive down the left field line for what should be an extra-base hit. Third base coach Matt Galante waves around to score from second, and the ' scoops up the ball on one hop and throws a strike to home plate, where Hundley is waiting to slap the tag on in plenty of time. shortstop looked sharp with the glove, scooping grounders with fluid motion and throwing seeds to first base, but he still has some kinks to work out at the plate before thinking seriously about a call-up: reliever gassed Reyes with an eye-high fastball for the first out of the eighth. Flexing that Muscle: Light-hitting utility infielder Jorge Velandia is certainly making his case to make the out of camp. Velandia belted his second home run of the week off of Alvarez in the fifth inning, a no-doubt shot over the wall in left-center field. Velandia has been little more than an afterthought in years past, kept around simply because he's a guy who knows how to handle the glove, but now the man who couldn't even dislodge from the shortstop position is finally showing he can use a bat, too.

    Game 2: Vero Beach — 7, 1

    It's about a thirty minute drive from the parking lot of Thomas J. White Stadium in Port St. Lucie up to Dodgertown and Holman Stadium in Vero Beach, and Stephanie and I hit the road immediately following the ' 2-1 win in the afternoon contest. We made our way into historic Dodgertown at around 4:45 p.m., plenty of time to explore the complex and just what makes it one of baseball's treasures. The first thing you notice about the pace is the distinctive coloring everywhere: upon driving in, you're welcomed by a large white sign featuring that beautiful blue swoosh lettering. Holman Stadium was built in 1951, and aside from the huge modern clubhouse recently erected in right field — gone are the days when players would have to mix in with the paying crowd to fight their way back to the bus or the locker room — it's probably still very similar to when Ralph Branca and Johnny Podres called this place their spring home. The seats are painted in similar yellow, blue and red shades to those that are so famous at Dodger Stadium, and one's willing to forgive the narrow aisles when you realize how close you are to the action: Holman Stadium appears something like a high school game, with just open-air metal benches and low chain-link fences separating the crowd from the major league talent. Just like the afternoon's contest, tonight's game presented a pair of pitchers from two opposite sides of the road, pitting the nasty and surgically repaired right arm of the ' against roster hopeful of the . Pre-game: Seriously, how often have you seen a bicycle at a baseball stadium? Is there a more foreign object you can think of? Not if you're former major-league Manny Mota, who, we're told, takes his bicycle everywhere. Today was no exception, as Mota pedaled in from the right field clubhouse and paraded his wheels around home plate before parking the bike at the bench. A couple of fans were proudly displaying their zest for closer , wearing t-shirts that bore a likeness of the flame-thrower with the words "Game Over." The shirt even included a fuzzy tack-on of blue felt, hanging freely from the fans' belly areas to represent Gagne's facial hair. On the mound: After appearing in just seventeen games (10 starts) for the and being only mildly effective (3-4, 4.81 ERA), Los Angeles can't be quite as sure that Brown is still as much money in the bank as he was when they bestowed that $105 million contract upon his checking account. Still, finances aren't the name of the game tonight: Brown's two-seamed sinking fastball and cutter are. He appears absolutely overpowering out of the gate, working leadoff hitter to a very defensive 3-2 count before blowing him away, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of his mound tenure. This time out, Brown went three strong innings, ringing up three strikeouts and allowing a run on four hits. It was far better than his mound counterpart Middlebrook could muster, who almost certainly took a step back in his hunt for one of New York's vacant rotation slots. Middlebrook threw hard, touching the low-90's with his fastball, but he was also hit hard: the put a four spot on the board in the first inning, with the big blow being rookie 's three-run triple to the gap in right-center. Keeping the faith: The have two devoutly religious players in infielder and first baseman . The neat thing about Holman Stadium's setup is that when the players are in the dugout, they can see and hear everything that's going on in the stands, so we took the opportunity to greet a few of the guys before the first pitch. Asking Johnson how he was feeling, he replied, "I'm doing just fine, praise Jesus," before continuing, "I do every day. Lord knows I've looked everywhere else for Him." Clark, meanwhile, inscribes each one of his autographs with the Bible verse Philippians 4:13 — "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Beating them out: didn't steal 45 bases for the last year by accident. He showed off those tremendous wheels tonight by legging out bunt singles in both the first and second innings, leaving Middlebrook and Clark with little time to do anything but race to the bag and wait for the safe call. Glove work: The ' has been impressive this spring in the field. Tonight, the Japanese-born outfielder turned in another highlight reel play, chasing down a drive into the right field corner in the second inning and firing a strike to relay man . Alomar then delivered the ball to catcher in time to cut down Roberts racing home with what would have been Los Angeles' fifth run. Making his case: If the Holman Stadium crowd has anything to say about it, utilityman has already made the roster. Kinkade was given a loud standing ovation after grounding out in the eighth, capping off a 4-for-5 performance in which he slugged three doubles, scored twice and drove in a pair of runs. He's batting .565 (13-for-23) on the spring. Tomorrow's adventure brings us down the coast to Jupiter's Roger Dean Stadium, where we catch up with the Florida and the Boston . Reading tonight's wire reports, it seems we missed the real fireworks with the Fish by one day — and teaming up to empty the benches up in Viera — but we could always try to create our own fiasco if all else fails. Bryan Hoch is a contributing writer to FOXSports.com. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.
    Tagged: Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Marlins, Rays, Guillermo Mota, Vladimir Guerrero, Brad Penny, Joe Thurston, Jose Reyes

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