February 15, 2010

Tales from Tempe

As the day pitchers and catchers report draws closer and closer, I thought I’d share a story from last year’s spring training that still brings a smile to my face every time I recall the event.

This is my 100th post on True Grich and I thought this would be the perfect time to recount one of my favorite stories.

It was the spring of 2009 and the Angels were taking batting practice and Reggie Willits was about to take some cuts. All of a sudden, as if on cue Torii Hunter pops out and yells out to the crowd “$500 if he hits it out.” This caught everyone’s attention and apparently Reggie’s as well.

Reggie played up the challenge, digging in and taking some serious hacks. The effort was there, but the results weren’t. Let’s just say he wasn’t looking like Albert Pujols or Big Daddy Vlady.

Hunter was looking pretty confident and then all of a sudden a ball started looking like it had a chance to go out. Reggie was giving it some body English and it ended up hitting the top of the fence and falling back in the playing field. Hunter breathed a big sigh of relief and Reggie buckled at the knees, his back arched backwards with his eyes looking up. It was as if his whole body was saying, “Oh man!" We all thought it was going out.

The fans began to cheer Reggie on; which of course got Hunter going as well. He started yelling “don’t cheer him on, he’s going to cost me money!” Reggie was soaking up the attention; which isn’t really like him when you think about it. More than anything he was being a good sport. He was definitely enjoying the moment.

And then it happened. Reggie put a charge in one and the ball sailed over the left field fence. Willits had hit one out. The fans cheered, Reggie took some bows and Hunter started laughing. He couldn’t believe what he had just seen and said, “I’ve been bamboozled. I didn’t think he could do it. Let this be a lesson to you kids, don’t gamble.”

It was a special moment and the kind of thing you can only see by putting time in at spring training. Reggie Willits has yet to hit a homerun in 804 major league plate appearances, but on that spring day he might as well have been Babe Ruth. Willits went yard and those are three words you just don't hear every day, if at all.

Pitchers and catchers report in three days.

BallHype: hype it up!

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