I just spent a long weekend in Greeneville, Tennessee watching the Astros Rookie level farm team play three games. A few interviews will be coming out shortly, but in the meantime I wanted to jot down some random thoughts I had along the way.
First of all, Pioneer Park is a simply beautiful ballpark. I had no idea that it was located on the Tusculum College campus and that it had been built to lure the Astros into establishing a minor league team in the area. Here's a great picture of the entrance to the park to show you how impressive the facility is. There are banners throughout the concourse featuring former Greeneville Astros players who have made it to the bigs (along with the date of their debut), including J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve, Fernando Abad and others, which I found to be a really nice touch. David Lane, the General Manager of the Greeneville Astros, was terrific to work with and set me up with everything I needed as far as access to the park and talking to the players.
Having just been in Lancaster seeing the Hi-A JetHawks team two weeks prior, I was immediately struck by how young the Greeneville team is. The average age for position players is 20.3 and 21.1 for pitchers, but there are several players far younger than that, the 17-year old Carlos Correa and 18-year olds Rio Ruiz, Lance McCullers and Ariel Ovando, among others. The overall impression is one of unbridled, enthusiastic optimism with no trace of the cynicism you might see in a grizzled old minor league veteran of 21 or 22 who has been sobered by the difficult realities in front of him.
Dan Radison, newly minted first base coach for the Astros, was on the scene as I watched workouts and batting practice on Saturday and we had the opportunity to talk for a brief time. Little did I know that the next time I would see him would be less than 24 hours later on an online news conference announcing him as the new Astros first base coach. He looked tired and I'll bet he was. All I can really tell you about him is that he was very nice to me and seemed to have a good sense of humor which will come in handy over the next 6 weeks or so.
I also had the opportunity to (again, very briefly) chitchat with Cesar Cedeno. No matter how many ballplayers I have met or will continue to meet as long as I write this blog and get to talk to ballplayers, I will always be starstruck and in awe when it comes to the Colt .45's and Astros icons from the 60's, 70's and 80's. With that said, I CHITCHATTED WITH CESAR FREAKING CEDENO!!!! I was screaming inside like James at Astros County will when he one day meets Dickie Thon (which will happen because it is his destiny).
There were a couple of players that I didn't interview (yet) but who stood out for one reason or another. Daniel Minor started the Friday game and I must say I was impressed with the 9th round pick. He worked quickly and confidently. He would bear down when he fell behind in the count and didn't walk a hitter. He was in control the whole way. I only saw Mike Hauschild face one hitter but I was impressed because he sported the high socks look and, at 6'3" 210#, he looks like a big league pitcher already. Jordan Jankowski also rocked the high socks and rewarded my expectations with two strikeouts over the one inning I witnessed. He now has 49 strikeouts over 30 innings so I would have been disappointed with anything less.
And then there's Ariel Ovando, a man/child with the legs of a marathon runner. Steve (aka Appy Astros) and I discussed those legs and Ariel's gait at length. I'm not speaking for Steve when I say this, but Ovando doesn't appear to have figured out how to make those legs work to the best of his ability yet. I'll leave it at that.
One final observation. MLB could learn something from these guys. I was pleasantly surprised with a 2:12 game on Friday and I was downright flabbergasted when Saturday's game clocked in at 1:53. That's what happens when mound visits are a rarity by either catcher or coach and pitchers check the runners with a look instead of a throw. Can we please adopt more of that at the major league level?
Thanks again to David Lane and Steve (Appy Astros) for everything.