When the Circus Came to Town

Perhaps one of the most hyped game in the Arizona Diamondbacks 2012 season was the July 3 game against the San Diego Padres. The middle game of a three game series against a division cellar team in rebuilding mode is not normally an attendance bonanza especially when your team has a three-game losing streak. The Diamondbacks though had a secret marketing weapon up their sleeve.

This game would mark the Chase Field debut of Trevor Bauer, the highly touted minor league prospect that had rocketed through the Diamondbacks farm system. Normally the amount of hype around a minor league call-up is tempered by the fact that the player has no experience at the major league level. There are a select few prospects where that doesn’t matter such as Washington Nationals phenoms Steven Strasberg and Bryce Harper and in 2007 the Arizona Diamondbacks Justin Upton.

When those players make their debuts people flock to the stadium to see for themselves what these players are like. I should probably point out that in this case “flock” may not necessarily be the appropriate word. It wasn’t like the Diamondbacks were averaging 10,000 fans per game and suddenly they were selling out Chase Field. In this case it was a modest boost of a few thousand people but in a depressed economy of a mid-market such as Phoenix that’s huge.

What was interesting about the Bauer call up was not the increase in walk-up or day of game ticket sales but the fact that the fans arrived at Chase Field so early for the game. On normal game days the gates open 90 minutes before first pitch to the general public and 2 hours prior to first pitch for season ticket holders.

When I arrived at the stadium there were already fans standing in line in over 100 degree temperatures well before the time the gates would be open. It wasn’t just that these fans were coming to see Bauer pitch in his home ballpark, they wanted to watch him warm-up. Yes, you read that right people were lining up in extreme heat to get a chance to watch a kid from the minor leagues stretch and play catch before the game actually began. To anyone unfamiliar with Trevor Bauer, that would make absolutely no sense. Why would anyone be interested in how a minor league pitcher prepares for a game?

Bauer has a rather how shall I put this, “unorthodox” method of getting ready for a game. He begins 90 minutes before the beginning of the game and goes through a series of stretching and workout routines before throwing his first pitch. It could probably best be described as a combination of Richard Simmons meets P90X meets Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

The process starts with a series of stretching moves then moves into a series of workouts using elastic bands. After the band workout he moves to what looks like a weighted ball that is rolled along the wall of the bullpen. Once those are completed then the interesting stuff begins. Bauer has a rather flexible pole that he waves and shakes around like something from the outtake reel of an early Star Wars rehearsal.

After all of the high-tech and low-tech stretching comes the fun part, his actual throwing routine. He begins playing catch at a distance of roughly 60 feet stepping backwards after each throw. Once Bauer reaches the center field wall he begins moving towards right field before finally reaching the opposite foul pole and tosses the ball from foul pole to foul pole roughly 466 feet. To put things in perspective; after Bauer tosses the ball to the catcher it takes one or two relay men to get the ball back to him for the next throw.

This pre-game ritual goes on before each start Bauer makes. I got tired and wanted to take a nap and I was just watching him. I wasn’t alone in the fascination this routine garnered. The bullpen and the outfield walls were lined with spectators all with their cameras and cellphones out documenting this unique workout.

I have not seen this much interest in a bullpen session since Randy Johnson walked down to the Diamondbacks bullpen in the eighth inning of game 7 of the 2001 World Series to warm up before coming in for Curt Schilling.

Sadly tonight the game did not go nearly as well for Bauer as it did for Johnson those many years ago. Bauer set down the Padres in order in the first inning but was gone after lasting just 3.1 innings and giving up 7 runs. Looking at my watch his pre-game workout lasted longer than his start, which can’t be a good thing if he plans on staying at the major league level.

The jury is still as to whether the Bauer call-up was the right timing or not. I’ll admit, I was against the promotion. While he had dominating statistics such as win-loss records and earned run average, the more telling sign for me was the number of walks allowed and the ease by which base runners advanced. These would fall under the term “game management” which Bauer bristles at when mentioned.

The other concerning fact for me was that Bauer seemed to shake off catcher Miguel Montero much too often. Montero has a lot of experience and Bauer needs to trust him if he is going to be successful. Clearly the talent is there for Bauer to be a major league pitcher. It’s going to be a rough road for the rookie and depending on how he handles the criticism and comments will determine whether this was a short call-up or whether he is here for the remainder of the 2012 season and beyond.

Fans still remember all the hype that came with Upton when he arrived and for many he has yet to reach the expectations everyone had of him. Hopefully those same comments won’t be directed to Bauer too as his career unfolds. In the meantime, enjoy the circus. All we are missing is a flying elephant in the center ring.

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