It rained on our Day 1. The rain put a damper on our first full day of camp. We weren't able to spend as much time on the field as we would have liked, but we did get a chance to throw, bat and field fly balls in the afternoon.
But, I gotta start with last night. Our first group meeting was in one of the hotel conference rooms. Turns out that this Rookie/Veteran thing is a big deal. There are 50 rookies and 62 veterans who have attended at least 1 camp prior to this year. Veterans sat on one side of the room, rookies on the other. The basic message of the evening was that the Veterans knew everything and the rookies were clueless, but would figure things out as the week progressed.
The makeup of the group is amazingly diverse. My locker (more on that later) is next to a 26 year old who is attending camp with his Dad. He is young, strong and a good player. Then there are people in their 60's. I don't know how old the oldest camper is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was high 60's. There are also 4 women: 3 veterans and 1 rookie.
As rookies, we each had to stand up and tell the group a little about ourselves and take some good-natured ribbing from the staff. I was told that a few of the coaches would be up to my room later to play checkers on my plaid shirt. I got off lightly! We were also told hundreds of time to go slowly and build up speed during the week. One of the veterans present broke his wrist diving for a fly ball on his first day and first station last year. "None of you will be drafted to the majors, so don't try too hard to impress us" as the message.
This morning we headed over to the training facility. When we walked into the clubhouse, we found lockers with name plaques. In each locker was a beautiful creme color home jersey and a black away jersey (with the player's name on it). Everything that you needed to suit-up and play was in the locker including shoes (yes, and socks!).
The clubhouse is a wonderful room, complete with a dozen TV's, soft-drinks, water and, yes, even beer. We had the run of the facility including the training staff who was there to help anybody who needed body work. When I walked by, the training room line was out the door even with 3 trainers working as fast as they could. There were a lot of taped ankles walking around.
After dressing, we had a meeting in the main gym. Since the fields were too wet, and it was still raining, we were treated to stories from the coaching staff. Marty Lurie of KNBR was the facilitator, encouraging the some of the old timers as well as the younger ex-players to tell their stories. We heard from Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes who talked a lot about players still in the game. Jim Davenport and Vida Blue had many stories to tell about some of the legends of the game (yeah, legends telling stories about legends).
Hobie Landrith, a catcher with the Giants starting in 1958, is 84 years old and still dressing down in his uniform for these Giants camps. He told a story about what it was like to play with Jackie Robinson. He said that as a catcher he prided himself on his throws to second, both to catch runners stealing from first or those trying to steal third. He said that in a game, there was a runner who was on second who was dancing around taking a bit too long of a lead, so he called a pitch out and threw a beautiful strike to the second baseman who tagged the runner out. Later in the game, it happened again with a different runner and Landrith, being pretty sure of himself, threw another perfect strike to the second baseman. Just as the second baseman caught the ball, Jackie Robinson slid into third. What you could do against most players, you could not do against Jackie Robinson. (Reality check: I had lunch with a dude who played baseball WITH Jackie Robinson!!)
Later, after pictures, we met back in the gym for some instruction from the pros on all-things-baseball. Jim Davenport (Gold Glove 3rd Baseman), said that hitting instruction was simpler in those days. He said it was just "see ball, hit ball". When he hears people talking about technique today he is baffled by the language. When he was playing if you couldn't "see ball, hit ball", they just brought in someone else who could.
I was particularly impressed with Joel Youngblood. Not only his knowledge of baseball fundamentals, but also his teaching style. I'm secretly hoping that I end up on his team.
After lunch the skies were clear and the field was draining, so we headed out. A trainer ran 112 people through stretching and running to loosen up then we broke up into groups. We each got a round in the batting cage, and a chance to catch (or drop) some fly balls (I did both). We didn't get to do any infield today since the dirt was wet.
The field is incredible. Every much as green and perfect as AT&T park. In addition to the stadium field, there is another field, four batting cages and a host of other practice areas.
Oh, by the way, we have ball boys too! Four high school seniors who have straight A's and were given permission by their principal to skip school for a week. We don't have to shag our own foul balls. These kids spent the whole day out there with us getting equipment ready, cleaning up areas and generally being helpful.
I did ok today. I didn't catch every fly ball that came my way, but I did have pretty good range in the outfield. The balls that I did miss were difficult. One over my head that I tried to catch on the run, but didn't. Another that was really short and went in and out of the glove as I was running toward the infield. The good news for me is that I read the ball fairly well, so I either caught or touched every ball. When I needed to turn and run, I did. A small victory that I'll take.
At all the stations the coaches were hanging out with clipboards making indecipherable marks next to names. I imagine that what they wrote down was pretty simple. There were good strong players that are obviously going to be in high demand. Then there are many, many players who are in the middle. There were also a few whose outfield range was 10 ft to either side or missed every pitch in the batting cages. By the way, none of this affected how much fun everyone was having. From the best players to the ones who struggled, there were smiles and good times had by all.
Teams have already been drafted and are posted in the clubhouse. So, I'll know tomorrow whose team I'm on. And, then the games begin. Weather permitting we play 2 games every day from here on out. Should be fun!