A Postcard from the Cactus League

by Greg in


Fire Birds Skipper So I walk into a bar and grill at the Phoenix airport Sunday afternoon and strike up a conversation with a guy wearing a bright red Orleans Cardinals shirt. This sounds like the opening of a joke, but the guy turns out to be none other than the Orleans skipper, Kelly Nicholson, who had spent some time enjoying spring training with his pitching coach.

Kelly could not have been more warm and open to talking Cape League baseball even though it was March and we both had been making the rounds in the Cactus League. He had just left the new Dodger training facility, which is getting rave reviews.

I told Kelly I had just left the Arizona at Arizona State Sunday afternoon game, where the Sun Devils were up 16-4 when I left in the 6th inning after ASU’s Jason Kipnis (Kettleers) hit a grand slam with Hyannis rosteree Johnny Ruettiger and Orleans prospect Riccio Torrez on base. It was truly a Cape League cast of characters. Ruettiger and Torrez both singled to the left side to reach base.

I believe Kipnis was the player who left Cotuit early last season to return to school. He looked sensational on a sun-drenched afternoon before the Sun Devil faithful. After making a spectacular catch in centerfield he lifted a towering ball into the cloudless desert sky into deep centerfield.

The Orleans manager seemed unsurprised to hear of these exploits. He had lots of good things to say about Torrez and seemed genuinely excited about the Cape season ahead.

Arizona is like a baseball Mecca this time of year. The Major League training camps are full of talent. The Big League fields are always exciting, but I found walking around the AA and AAA training fields (the back fields) at Mariner’s facility in Peoria far more exciting. You stand right at the fence to watch minor league games as close up as if they were in your nearby schoolyard.

Arizona State’s Packard Stadium is an inspiring experience. In the outfield are the names of Sun Devil greats like Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds and Alvin Davis. Also in the outfield are signs commemorating their national championships in the late 1960s and again in the 1980s. The stands are mostly full with spectators wearing team colors and palm trees blow in the outfield.

Between Arizona and Arizona State I counted about 8 players on current Cape League rosters.

Look for a future CodBall Conversation with Kelly.