What you’re looking at here is the typical crowd for an Arizona Fall League game. Of the people who are here, a lot of them are scouts and front-office types from various clubs. The actual paid crowd is usually around a hundred or so. The atmosphere in the ballpark is pretty much non-existent, although they still play music over the sound system between innings and stuff like that. Occasionally, after a really nice play, you might hear a smattering of hand-clapping, but that’s about it.
Yesterday, when I sat down with Dodgers prospect Corey Seager for a 10-minute interview at the far corner of the dugout during batting practice, at one point one of his teammates with the Glendale Desert Dogs, Cincinnati Reds first-base prospect and former Boise State basketball player Travis Mattair, came off the field and stood in front of Seager for a minute with a big grin on his face, trying to get his attention — basically, giving him grief for being such a big deal that he is asked for interviews. They still do stuff like that in the AFL, where there is so little media around that when someone does an interview, someone else makes a joke out of it. In big league clubhouses during the regular season, if a player sees another player giving an interview, usually that player is just happy it wasn’t HIM who was asked for an interview.
Batting practice is usually taken in complete silence at these games, at least until somebody shows up to play the music, so you can actually hear the banter between the players. Everything is kind of casual and relaxed.
At another point during BP yesterday, Dodgers catching prospect Chris O’Brien hit a wicked line drive to left that was headed straight at the groin of White Sox outfield prospect Jared Mitchell, who initially didn’t see it coming but when he finally did, was able to do some lightning-quick acrobatics to somehow completely avoid getting hit at all. The ball came within inches of causing a major injury, but it didn’t, and so everyone made a big joke about it.
“I’m comin’ after you!” O’Brien shouted, pointing his bat at Mitchell as he exited the cage and walked toward the dugout.
One of the weirdest things about the AFL is that while there are six teams, each of which has a handful of players from five different major league organizations, the only part of the uniform bearing the logo of one of those six teams — the Glendale Desert Dogs, the Surprise Saguaros, the Peoria Javelinas, the Mesa Solar Sox, the Salt River Rafters and the Scottsdale Scorpions — is the headgear, the caps and the batting helmets. From the neck down, each players wears the major league uniform of whatever organization he comes from. So at any given moment, you can have as many as 10 different big league uniforms on the field at once during an AFL game. Thankfully, there are no alternate jerseys. They stick to home whites and road grays here, because with so many uniforms running around, it’s confusing enough already.
Today at Camelback Ranch, Seager, who has been struggling with the bat since he got here, hit a beautiful, opposite-field home run, into the leftfield bullpen. Went down and got a low, outside pitch and just went with it. One Dodgers official who was seated near me, as the ball was sailing through the air, stood up and yelled, “Get up! Get up! Get the f–k up!!!” And the ball, as if on command, stayed up, just long enough to get up and over.
There were so few people in the stands today that as the game moved from the bottom of the eighth to the top of the ninth, even though I had moved back to the press box by then, I could hear the two base umpires talking to each other in the brief sliver of time before they started playing between-innings music. Couldn’t hear what they were saying, but could definitely hear their voices. And in the bottom of the ninth, when it appeared the Desert Dogs had won on a walk-off sacrifice fly but the run was waved off when the other team touched third base because the umpire agreed the runner had left early, I could hear the third-base coach arguing with the umpire.
When the Dogs finally did win in the 11th, I discovered that the celebration music they play — you know, like I Love L.A. when the Dodgers win at Dodger Stadium — is Who Let the Dogs Out? Stunningly, the “crowd” didn’t exactly break into any kind of dance in response. Most of these fans would have risked pulling something had they done so, or possibly falling and breaking a hip.
I love the AFL. I love the atmosphere, love the fact there are so many high-ranking baseball officials just sitting in the stands taking in the games. But mostly, I love it because it is a chance to see a bunch of guys who stand a really good chance of becoming major league players, certainly a better chance than the average minor leaguer, and you also know that a few of these guys probably will become stars.
You may have read yesterday that Seager and Dodgers pitching prospect Yimi Garcia have been named to Saturday’s AFL Fall Stars Game. It will be televised nationally on MLB Network, beginning at 5 p.m. West Coast time, if you’re interested. Keep in mind, this isn’t an All-Star Game, per se. A lot of players will appear in it who aren’t having especially good seasons in the AFL. It used to be called the Rising Stars Game, but they changed the name this year due to a sponsorship change. The players who get named to this thing are the most highly ranked prospects in the AFL, the players the fans want to see, not the players who are putting up the best stats. It’s a showcase league, and the Fall Stars Game is a showcase game, and rightfully so.
Seager, for instance, entered today hitting .146. Garcia, by contrast, has been solid, giving up two runs on four hits in 7 2/3 innings over six appearances.
Seager has a chance to be a star player in a few years. Garcia probably will be added to the Dodgers 40-man roster this winter and could be on the big league club sometime in 2014. I was told a few days ago that he was close to major league-ready. So this Saturday is a good chance to get a good look at both of them.
On another note, just a heads-up, don’t forget that MLB Gold Glove awards will be announced this afternoon, in about two hours, in fact, on ESPN2.