Greetings from Peoria, AZ
My six-day journey through the Cactus League officially kicked off today at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, AZ, and boy what a start it was. Today’s game between the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants featured all the great Spring storylines…a Cy Young award-winner getting roughed up, a host of new faces trying to make good first impressions, a late four-run rally, a future star tying the game in the bottom of the ninth, and a pair of former LumberKings getting hurled into some unexpected duty.
Where to begin? Well, not more than 20 minutes after my arrival, I ran into some old friends.
That’s left-hander Anthony Vasquez (left) and 6’10″ right-hander Kenn Kasparek (right), both members of the Clinton starting rotation last season. I spoke most with the 2009 Midwest League ERA champ Kasparek, who told me that he and Vasquez were essentially the ”emergency” guys for the game. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, various pitchers from minor league camp are asked to sit in the bullpen for big-league games in case the team burns through its scheduled pitchers or the game goes to extra innings. More on that later.
After catching up with Vasquez, Kasparek and former pitching coach Lance Painter, I settled in for the start of the game. I shot some video on both the Peoria Sports Complex, the Mariners taking the field for the first time and right-hander Doug Fister’s first pitch of the Spring:
Fister didn’t fare well after that first-pitch strike, yielding a three-run homer to Aubrey Huff in the first inning for a 3-0 Giants lead. That lead would be short-lived as the Mariners responded with a three-run home half on the strength of a Ken Griffey Jr. sac fly and a pair of RBI singles by Jose Lopez and Casey Kotchman. By the way, all that damage came against an erratic ace in Tim Lincecum (pictured below, staring down Ichiro).
The Giants built a 7-3 lead thanks in part to a two-run double by shortstop Emmanuel Burriss, but the Mariners fought back with two runs in the sixth and two more in the ninth. Former Wisconsin Timber Rattler Michael Saunders doubled to help set up the late rally, and the game-tying run came across on an RBI groundout up the middle by super-prospect Dustin Ackley.
That’s when Kasparek was suddenly summoned to warm up. Pitching coach Rick Adair had used all seven of his scheduled pitchers, leaving only former LumberKings in the pen for the 10th. That meant it was Kenn’s turn to jog to a Major League mound for the first time.
Despite Painter’s “just have fun” advice, Kasparek looked a bit nervous while struggling to find the strikezone. He walked all three men he faced before getting the hook from Manager Don Wakamatsu. The only arm left in the cupboard? Vasquez.
The other former King couldn’t strand the bases full, yielding the game-winning RBI single to pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman. He did, however, execute a brilliant 1-2-3 double-play (unfortunately no video of this) to end the inning. The Mariners then went quickly in the bottom of the 10th for the 8-7 loss.
Kasparek took the loss in his first pro appearance, but today still must have been a thrill for both he and Vasquez. If not for them, it certainly was for me. Any taste of the big leagues, even if it’s only an early-March Spring Training game, has got to be sweet.
One “LumberBlog Programming Note” to pass along…
Unfortunately, due to $14.95 internet access here at the hotel in Scottsdale, I will likely be postponing the rest of my Cactus League blog updates until I return to Clinton. Still, expect plenty more pictures and video, including more from Peoria as the Mariners take on the San Diego Padres this Friday.