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February 22, 2009 at 8:44 PM

Working the fundamentals

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Don’t forget to watch Geoff Baker Live! in its new time slot, starting tomorrow at 10 a.m.
The Mariners engaged in some more drills involving fundamental baseball earlier today, chasing down some infield pop flies in which screaming “I got it!” was just as important as actually catching the ball. In a real game, the shouting part is important because with 30,000 fans yeling in anticipation, fielders can sometimes not hear each other and get caught off guard.

There’s an art to this. As the video above shows, it’s not just a humble suggestion of catching something that a fielder has to make. Said fielder has to be confident and take charge. Sort of like those signs in New York City that say “Don’t even THINK about parking here.”
A fielder has to use the tone of voice that tells another approaching glove man, “Don’t even THINK about catching that ball.”
When you call someone off with a less-than-authoritative voice, bad things can happen. Anyhow, the Mariners did reasonably well.
They also did a sliding drill. Sliding is one of the more under-appreciated arts in this game. Not all players participated though. Anyone with ongoing leg issues was exempt.
Someone asked me for my impressions of Ken Griffey Jr.’s batting practice session. I have to say, after years of seeing the same old thing, BP tends to bore me at times. Not that I don’t appreciate a good home run ball. It just blends into the background when you see it over and over again. But not today.
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There was something about Griffey’s swing that made me stop my video taping for a second and take notice. Just for a second, mind you, but it was enough. Later on, I was chatting in the clubhouse with Mike Morse and he described what it was like watching Griffey shag fly balls.
He described it as “smooth.”
And for me, that’s what Griffey’s swing looked like. Not all of his swings. But there was one sequence where he sent three or four balls in a row screaming over the fence in right center with what appeared to be an effortless flick of his wrists.
“Wow!” I went, at least with my inner voice, since I’m supposed to be an objective observer and there were plenty of fans around.
Funny that I’ve spent over a decade covering major league baseball but I’ve rarely had the chance to witness greatness up close. At least, with a bat. I saw Mark McGwire take BP once or twice. Saw Barry Bonds do it more than once, including from the bleachers before all seven games of the 2002 World Series. But it wasn’t the same as witnessing it on a quiet, spring-like morning in Arizona, with only a small crowd around. A crowd so sparse that you could hear the hitters talking in the cage. But greatness is what I saw today. In BP, everything slows down and hitters can do what comes naturally. They just hit. And that’s what Griffey did today. What he’s done naturally for so many years, without even thinking about it. I could see, just by watching him in the cage, how he’s managed to amass 611 career home runs.
In this business, we tend to focus on what a player has done lately. Obviously, in games, pitchers are throwing much harder than in BP and it’s a lot more difficult to launch balls over the fence at age 39. Bat speed gets slower and time catches up.
And while there are bat speed issues in BP for some players nearing the end of their careers, there was none on the sequence of a few pitches I’ve just described. It was pure greatness. A brief flurry that will stay with me forever. And whether or not Griffey ever does it again in a game, I saw up close today what it is that will have him going to the Hall of Fame in the not-too-distant future.

Not every day you see that in batting practice. And since not all of you could be here, I thought I’d share it.
Speaking of Griffey, Garret Anderson just agreed to a $2.5 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. Anderson, of course, became the consolation prize once Griffey signed with Seattle. We’ll have to see how that goes for both.



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