DUNEDIN ó Itís 10 a.m., a smattering of hardcore baseball fans relax in the sun-splashed seats at Clearwaterís Brighthouse Stadium. By its very nature, springtime baseball is a laid-back experience but this casual setting takes mellow to a whole different level.
Itís a B game, a more or less impromptu scrimmage that allows teams to find innings for players, especially pitchers, as they search their way through their rosters to find out who can and who might be a piece to the puzzle.
But while the ambience might be sleepy, these are anything but routine moments for the people with jobs on the line.
Scott Richmond, the B.C. native who, at 31, is trying to get back to the major leagues after an injury-plagued season. Two years ago, the late-blooming Richmond made 24 starts, won eight games and pitched 139 innings for the Jays but 2010 was a near wipeout. He spent most of the year rehabbing a shoulder strain and made only a few minor-league starts. So, donít try to sell Saturday morningís game between the Blue Jays and Phillies ó lineups populated mainly by prospects ó as an irrelevant bit of business.
ďI was twitching out there,Ē said Richmond, after pitching two scoreless innings, allowing only one baserunner, a hit batsman.
ďI was like an elastic band, so ready to go. It was just that itís the first time out. It had been awhile since I was on the mound. Itís nerves but more just anxiousness. Iím just anxious to pitch. Itís anticipation. Itís such a rush, just to get out and do it again.Ē
Richmond touched 91 m.p.h. on the radar gun and filled up the strike zone for the most part, notching a couple of strikeouts in two innings of efficient work.
Richmond and six others are in the mix to win one of two spots in the Blue Jaysí rotation. He has been in this position before, back in 2009, and he made the grade that time.
ďLast year was rough,Ē he said. ďI came off not throwing for three-quarters of the year and had six or seven minor-league starts, never got back to 100%.
ďNow Iíve had a full off-season and been able to lift heavy again and do all the upper-body I hadnít been able to do all season last year. I was able to get stronger and eat better and prepare because this is a big spring training and a big season for me. I need to bounce back and show them Iím healthy.Ē
The North Vancouver native has no difficulty seeing himself winning a spot as a starter on this team, despite the intense competition that will play itself out here.
ďI have goals,Ē he said. ďI donít sell myself short. I plan on being there all year. You make steps toward that. Baby steps. Little goals, all the way to big goals. You set goals and if you keep achieving them along the way, you end up hitting your big ones. Itís nothing new.
ďItís just baseball. Iíve played it my whole life. Iím older than these guys and I take a different approach. I just control what I can control and after that, let the chips fall where they may.Ē
Richmond was followed on the mound by 2009 first-round pick Chad Jenkins, who also pitched two scoreless innings and then by Deck McGuire who gave up a run in his second inning.
McGuire said his nervous anticipation was not unlike Richmondís. He, too, hasnít pitched in a game since last spring when he was a college star at Georgia Tech.
After being picked by the Jays, it took until mid-August to get signed and by that time it was too late to join a 2010 team. He said he didnít sleep much Friday night.
ďIt was a big-time rush, not just because of the atmosphere but it has been a long time since I played in a game. It was good to get my adrenalin under control and have fun.
ďRight now itís a matter of getting a feel for everything again and working off that. Iím just trying to learn from some of these guys and pick up on how they go about their daily business.Ē