One of the reasons that day games are fun for sportswriters (beyond not having a deadline staring you in the face) is that you get a chance to really watch batting practice.
You can learn a little something on occasion by watching a slumping hitter try and take everything to the opposite field to get his swing back. It’s fascinating to watch Ichiro hit five balls to left, five to center then five to right. Every swing is as precise as a surgeon’s scalpel.
Hideki Matsui played shortstop for a few minutes today, racing after grounders with a smile on his face as Derek Jeter egged him on. I wanted to ask Matsui later whether he had ever played shortstop in high school. But after the Yankees lost, it didn’t seem like the right time.
Watching Alex Rodriguez is always interesting. A-Rod doesn’t hit the towering fly balls like Mark McGwire used to. He tries to hit the ball on a line. When he’s in the cage, there’s a steady thump that echoes through the park as the balls bounce off the outfield walls.
A-Rod, who is itching to get back in the lineup, was mashing the ball today. On his last swing, he hit a liner that seemed destined to either hit the top of the wall in center or sneak over it. But at the last second, a teammate raced over, made a Spiderman leap to the top of the wall and caught the ball. It was one of the best catches I’ve seen this season.
Rodriguez walked a few feet in front of the cage and flung his bat in mock disgust. “He did it again,” he said.
Who was that masked man? Johnny Damon? Melky Cabrera? The thief turned around and he had 42 on his back.
Mariano Rivera? The great closer loves to chase down fly balls to keep his legs in shape and delights in taking hits away from his teammates, particularly Rodriguez. It’s sort of a running competition between the two of them.
“Mo could play center in a game,” A-Rod told me as he walked into the clubhouse. “No question about it.”
As our postgame interview with Ian Kennedy was breaking up, I saw Mariano at his locker and just had to say something.
“Nice catch in BP,” I said.
“You saw that?” he said. “Not bad for a pitcher, huh?”
Mo then smiled and walked away. “See you tomorrow,” he said over his shoulder. “Keep watching.”