P.J.R.: Arizona Fall League -- where only the baseball matters
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
PHOENIX -- Major League Baseball had some ambitions for the Arizona Fall League when it started in 1992. There was some hope that a thousand or more year-round retirees or early-arriving snowbirds would show up across the Valley to see some of the game's top prospects through October and into November.
Most of the games were scheduled at night, so that the folks could hit the early special at Denny's, head for a conveniently located ballpark, and pay a few bucks to watch a ballgame among players with a strong chance to be in the big leagues in the next couple of years.
This never happened. They still charge for Fall League ($7; $6 for us seniors), but it's hard to figure out why they do so. These games are played for scouts; not for the public. The Fall League is strictly an expense for MLB - and as much money as the teams are bringing in these days, not a large one.
My son Chris and I went to a pair of games this week: Wednesday at the Dodgers/White Sox complex in Glendale, and Thursday at the outstanding Rangers/Royals complex in Surprise. There are five of these two-team complexes in the Phoenix area, and five more teams with single complexes.
On Wednesday, there might have been 50-60 non-scouts in the audience at Glendale. On Thursday, the number was double that in Surprise.
The Fall League is everything a person who goes to a ballgame to watch the baseball would want. Pick out a section in the sun and stretch out. Listen to low-key announcements on the P.A. and low-key music. If there's an argument, the manager simply expresses his disagreement from the dugout and the umpire responds in kind ... and in voices barely raised above conversational.
The 30 MLB teams are all entitled to send seven players to the Fall League. They might as well do so, since the cost of the AFL is shared equally. There are 35 players per team, plus two or three "taxi-squad'' players who can be used only for games on Wednesday and Saturday.
"Huh?'' you ask. Yeah, that's what we also said.
The Reusse delegation was not happy on Wednesday when Byron Buxton wasn't in the lineup for the Glendale Desert Dogs, the team where the seven Twins players are assigned.
"He had played few games in a row, so he's not in the lineup,'' Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "That's the way it works down here.''
A cynic might have said to Terry, "That's the way it works with the big club in Minnesota, too,'' but why pour salt in old wounds on a beautiful, 78-degree, blue-as-a-choking-man's-face day in Arizona?
Eddie Rosario was playing left field on Wednesday. He hit a hard-bouncing single to right in his first at-bat, and hit similar ground balls for outs. Max Kepler was playing first, and looked good in the field, and overmatched at the plate.
Kepler was called out on a bogus check-swing in at at-bat. And one of those arguments took place, with the Dogs' dugout speaking unkindly to the third-base umpire, and the young umpire warning the complainers to "Stop it!''
And the Glendale crowd could overhear the conversation as if we were waiting at a bus stop.
Buxton was leading off when the Dogs played at Surprise on Thursday. As everyone who watches him has noted, he has the look of a ballplayer. Not oversized but 6-foot-2 and supple. Limber, flexible, lissome ... supple.
Buxton lined out in the first. That was the lone time in six at-bats that he hit a ball hard. He walked in his second at-bat ... and was picked off first by the catcher. He had an infield hit when a shortstop made the mistake of looking at second for a potential forceout before throwing to first. An infielder has to make up his mind quick when Buxton is running.
Buxton's not-yet 20, which is extra-young for the AFL. He's not tearing it up, striking out a lot, but also showing power. He likes to take first pitches, even cookies, and we could make another joke about the similarity to a star back home in Minnesota, but a guy once said:
"Why pour salt in old wounds on a beautiful, 78-degree, blue-as-a-choking-man's-face day in Arizona?''
The Twins' A.J. Achter pitched in relief and gave up a two-run bomb. Another reliever, Zack Jones, has been pounded in brief work, but then again, Caleb Thielbar was pounded down here last fall and wound up as the Twins Rookie of the Year.
Now, we could make another joke about that being a sad commentary on the 2013 Twins, but why pour ... ah, never mind.
Trevor May pitched in relief on Wednesday. Good fastball, supbar curve. And we didn't see the most-important pitcher down here, Alex Meyer, who figures to pitch in Saturday night's AFL All-Star Game. Buxton and Rosario are also in the game.
One more item: Players come from five teams for each club in the Fall League. This is done haphazardly. Now that MLB is aligned with five teams in each of six divisions, wouldn't it make sense to have players assigned to the six teams in Arizona by division?
It would give us 75 civilians in attendance on these glorious afternoons to have some sense of the teams we were watching.
That said, I am now the proud owner of a Surprise Saguaros' fitted hat ... chosen for the subtle logo. The purchase also increased by Spanish speaking by at least 10 percent.
Did you know saguaro is Spanish for cactus? Well, I do.
--PATRICK JAMES REUSSE.