Showing posts with label Spring Training. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spring Training. Show all posts

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Breaking down Mets spring training with Bill Whitehead

Bill Whitehead, AP and MLB writer covering the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, checked in with the Baseball Happenings Podcast to break down the hectic first week of 2018 Mets spring training.

Tim Tebow / Bill Whitehead
Whitehead gave us the inside scoop on Dominic Smith, and why his late arrival to practice was out of character for their young first base prospect. He covered Smith extensively during his 2015 season with the St. Lucie Mets.

During the 30-minute interview, Whitehead also provided updates on the myriad of injuries during the first week of camp, his thoughts on the Mets new manager Mickey Calloway, where Tim Tebow fits in the Mets plans, and why Peter Alonso and P.J. Conlon are two upstarts to keep your eyes on during the spring. 



Monday, February 17, 2014

How Jim Fregosi resurrected Dave Gallagher's major league career


Dave Gallagher defined the blue-collar, lunch pail toting types that populate spring training every year. He did not have the one dominant skill that made heads turn during batting or fielding practice, but quietly got the job done with his steady play across the board. In 1988, Gallagher entered the Chicago White Sox camp with one last chance to make it in professional baseball; he just needed a believer. He found one in manager Jim Fregosi, but his conversion did not come easily.

“He believed in me in the time that I needed it,” Gallagher said via telephone from his home in New Jersey about Fregosi who passed away Friday morning in Miami due to complications from a stroke he suffered earlier in the week.

Dave Gallagher with the White Sox
By the time Gallagher reached the White Sox, his baseball career was on life support. He had the type of résumé that scouts had long written off. He was a career minor leaguer of eight seasons, who hit a paltry .111 in a 15 game trial with the Cleveland Indians in 1987. Scouts weren’t the only ones to turn away Gallagher’s prospects, he passed on himself too, quitting before the end of the 1987 AAA season after a trade to the Seattle Mariners organization. Only after a chance encounter with White Sox scout Ed Ford while working at a baseball camp, was Gallagher convinced to put his energies back into the game.

Gallagher flew to Florida to meet with the White Sox brass, who offered him a non-roster invite to their 1988 spring training. Teams often hand out these invites to see if they can find a buried treasure or bolster the reserves in their minor league system. After being told by general manager Larry Himes on the first day of spring training that he, along with the rest of the non-roster invitees, were in the latter category, Gallagher felt he had to do something drastic to ensure he was noticed. He headed straight to Fregosi’s door.

“I told him, ‘You don’t know me from anybody, but I’d really appreciate it if you could take me to every possible game,” he said. “I’m towards the end of my run and if I don’t make it, I’m done. I don’t care if you take me and I don’t play; I just want you to see me.’”

Gallagher did everything but beg Fregosi for an opportunity: however, he could not get a commitment from his new boss.

“He said, ‘I can’t promise you that. Everybody would want that.’ My reply was, ‘Not everybody asked.’ So I closed the door and walked out.”

While Fregosi’s response lacked the affirmation he sought, Gallagher felt that he had at least separated himself from the rest of the unknowns.

“I thought, man, he may love me or hate me, but at least he knows who I am.”

After a strong showing in spring training, Gallagher finally had the full attention of his manager. He was called into Fregosi’s office three days prior to breaking camp to be told that the team was trying to trade outfielder Gary Redus and that his fortunes with the club hinged on that deal.

“He wasn’t traded, so I went down to Triple-A for one month,” he said.

Gallagher responded by hitting .336 with Vancouver and was recalled in the middle of May. Immediately his call-up paid dividends. On his second day with the White Sox, he hit a home run in the 11th inning to beat the Toronto Blue Jays. His quick witted manager remarked, “He’s been here two days, it’s about time he hit one.”

It was this type of humor that Gallagher felt Fregosi used to take some of the pressure off of his players.

“There was a game in Texas and I’m about to lead off,” he said. “I walk past him to get to the on-deck circle and he’s got his arms crossed and he said, ‘C’mon Gallagher, do something, will ya?’ That was his humor … his way of relaxing you. I said, ‘I will carry us today on our shoulders.’ That was my relationship with him; he threw a sarcastic comment at me and I threw it back.”

Not known for his power, Gallagher deposited an early offering flying into the stands for a home run. He now had more ammunition to continue their exchange.

“When I circled the bases and came back in, he was staring at me. I said to him, ‘Why wouldn’t you ask me to do that more often?’”

For that entire 1988 season, it seemed whatever Fregosi asked of Gallagher, he delivered. He batted .303 in 101 games, committed zero errors in the outfield, and finished 5th in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Still, Gallagher had his doubters within the organization.

“I hit every day with our batting coach Cal Emery,” Gallagher said. “He told me, ‘David, they don’t think you can do it.’ He was trying to tell me not to let up. They didn’t think I could sustain it, that I didn’t have the skill set to continue doing what I was doing. It crushed me.”

Deep down Gallagher knew that Fregosi, while pleased with his play, was also skeptical of his ability to maintain his performance over his entire rookie campaign. The way Fregosi kept whatever questions he had about Gallagher’s abilities in house, spoke volumes about him as a professional.

“He never said it publicly,” Gallagher said. “He never made a statement in the press that would have really hurt my career. He kept it under his hat; he kept it in the meetings. What a professional he was, he could have killed me right there and knocked me out if he went public with that kind of statement.”

Fregosi never did knock out Gallagher; in fact, he became one of his biggest advocates. Fregosi was fired as the White Sox’s manager after the 1988 season, but knew if he had the chance to manage again, that he had the perfect role for Gallagher. Seven years later, while Fregosi was managing the Philadelphia Phillies, that opportunity arrived. At 34, Gallagher was no longer a minor leaguer trying to make it, but now an established veteran who was valued for his versatility on the field and leadership in the clubhouse. His old manager gave him another year under the sun.

“I think he saw me years later with the Phillies in 1995 as an excellent complementary type player,” he said.

Gallagher played that 1995 season as a reserve outfielder and pinch-hitter. He rewarded Fregosi by batting .318, and played flawless outfield defense. Grateful for another year in the big leagues, Gallagher felt this reunion cemented their kinship.

“The relationship with Jim," he said, "I don’t know if I ever had that kind of a relationship with anybody. I admired a man who didn’t think I could do it, but didn’t say anything publicly. He gave me a shot to empty my pockets to try and play and see if I could do this, and I did it.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rare footage of Ralph Kiner interviewing Roger Craig during Mets 1962 spring training

A predecesor to Kiner's Korner, this is rare footage of the late Ralph Kiner interviewing newly minted New York Mets pitcher Roger Craig in 1962 during the team's first spring training. Craig entered the majors in 1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Kiner's last year in the majors. They never faced off in a major league game, as Kiner was in the American League with the Cleveland Indians.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Long Island native Evans Killeen was a favorite of Stengel in Mets first spring training

Fifty years ago in February, the New York Mets opened spring training with a hodgepodge of players cast off by their respective organizations, some looking to prolong their careers, others looking to start theirs.

One of those upstarts was a local product, Evans Killeen; a 26-year-old right-handed pitcher from Elmont, N.Y. Killeen had seen action in four games with the Kansas City Athletics in 1959, winding up in Mexico before the Mets gave him another lease on his baseball career after pitching in a local semi-pro league.

Evans Killeen
“I had been with Kansas City in the AL in 1959,” Killeen said from his home in Long Island. “I hurt my leg in my fourth game in the major leagues; I stepped on a catcher’s mask backing up a play in home plate in Cleveland. In 1960, I played in the Mexican League, just going through the motions. In 1961, I was home and people talked me into playing semi-pro baseball again. I guess I dazzled them out there. St. Johns coach Jack Kaiser saw me pitch against his team and recommended me to the Mets.”

Killeen was part of a group of pitchers that arrived early to spring training that included high-priced signings such as Jay Hook and Bob “Righty” Miller. Despite not being one of the Mets prized recruits, manager Casey Stengel liked what he saw in Killeen.

“It’s got at least five promising youngsters … who will make it big in the future. When we started I didn’t think we had a single prospect. But I liked what I saw in Evans Killeen,” Stengel said to the New York Times.

He quickly gained the favor of Stengel by combining with Roger Craig to throw the first shutout in Mets history, when they blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 on March 13th. Killeen threw four no-hit shutout innings in relief. His performance not only earned him a headline in the New York Times, but more importantly the praise of his 72-year-old manager.

“Wasn’t he great? He was fast, all right, but I was particularly pleased with his slow curve. Yes, sir, that young fellow’s got a chance around here,” Stengel said.

Just as Killeen’s stock was rising, he encountered a cruel twist of fate the day after his sparkling performance. A wayward foray into his grooming supplies gave a sudden u-turn to his spring training progress.

“I had a freak accident; God must have wanted me not to be a ballplayer,” Killeen laughed. “I reached in my shaving bag and cut my right thumb. I cut it pretty good and was bandaged most of spring training.”

Killeen was relegated to short relief after his injury, pitching well enough to stay with the club until they broke camp. Just as they were to travel north, he was notified he was going to Syracuse.

“The handwriting was on the wall.” he said. “You knew they weren’t pitching you. … It was a money thing. … I had a minor league contract and they had a lot of money invested in all of those players they got in other organizations. I got caught in a numbers game.”

Killeen spent the 1962 season between Syracuse and Quincy before calling it quits. His frustrations after his ambitious spring training were mounting from the pressures of his family for him to move on.

“I didn’t even want to play after I left spring training," he said. "I asked myself, “What am I doing here?’ I was 26 years old, making no money. You couldn’t ask a girl to marry you. It’s terrible. All my friends were becoming doctors and lawyers. With all of these things, how can you hang in there? What kind of confidence do you have to want to play ball?”

The final straw came at the end of the 1962 season courtesy of general manager George Weiss.

“What kicked me in the face, George Weiss offered me to come back the next year with a contract for $700 [a $100 reduction from the prior season]," he recalled. "[After that] I said to myself, ‘I’m done, that’s it.’”

Despite leaving the Mets organization soured by Weiss’ offer, his fond memories of that inaugural spring training season have persisted a half-century later.

“It was phenomenal, just the people that were there, from Gil Hodges, to Richie Ashburn, Gus Bell, Casey Stengel, Rogers Hornsby, etc. The whole fanfare was so exciting, so tremendous.”

As the Mets dedicate the 2012 season to celebrating the 50-year history of the franchise, Killeen would welcome the opportunity to get together with his teammates.

“It would be nice, [even though] I didn’t play on the main team, to be invited to a Met reunion for their 50 years. They forgot about guys like me. We’re forgotten people. I would love to see the guys again.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fort Lauderdale Stadium empty in spring training for the first time in 50 years

Fort Lauderdale Stadium 2008

Fort Lauderdale Stadium 2008Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Vistadome 
With the departure of the Orioles from Fort Lauderdale, 2010 will mark the first time in 50 years that Fort Lauderdale Stadium will be empty during spring training. To read more information behind the vacancy in Fort Lauderdale, click here.