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HILL: Hot dogs, hot prospects in spring training

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Randy Hill

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.
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PEORIA, Ariz.

The desert sun had a batting-practice fastball that was clocked in the low 80s. But my concession tab was in mid-season form. One Colossal Dog and one Tropical Cooler ¿ not exactly a double steal at 10 simoleons. The look on my face when that entrée arrived? Possibly priceless, but I was prepared to settle for the best offer. This was an alpha hot dog. According to its breeders, the Colossal dressed out as ½ pound of freelance meat product. Accessorized with the standard ratio of mustard, this thing could be mistaken for a taxi cab. By comparison, the celebrated Dodger Dog is an overachieving chihuahua. And the Colossal is a major-league conversation-starter. ¿I think you¿re gonna need a bigger bun.¿ That observation came from Jerry, husband of Nan. Jerry, of course, was paraphrasing Roy Scheider from ¿Jaws.¿ If you¿re keeping score, like they were, Jerry and Nan are ¿snowbird¿ Chicagoans whose Tuesday visit to the Peoria Sports Complex was just one stop in their 10th consecutive year of touring the Cactus League. I was visiting Peoria to witness a spring training game between the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres. By the way, I¿m assuming the Arizona edition of Peoria was founded after Peoria settlers figured out the rest of the United States was not nearly as damned cold as central Illinois. Back in 2002, the A¿s and Padres exist as two of 10 Major League Baseball teams that hold make seasonal preparations in Arizona. Chicago¿s Cubs and White Sox are two more of those 10, but Jerry and Nan (Cubbies fans) don¿t mind variety. In fact, the Cubs and White Sox squared off over in Mesa on Tuesday, but Jerry and Nan assumed tickets were scarce. I nodded and said that contradicts the hypothesis of several Phoenix-area residents, who told me the creation of the Arizona Diamondbacks has made the Cactus League seem less compelling. This notion had something to with compromising the novelty. ¿Why in the world would anyone think that?¿ Nan asked. I shrugged my shoulders and almost rhythmically nodded my head while Bobby Freeman, the official D-backs keyboard professional at Bank One Ballpark, favored us with ¿Brown-Eyed Girl.¿ As a big-league musician, Freeman¿s guest appearance seemed as blatantly cool as Robin Williams test-driving a few jokes at the corner comedy club. My excuse for being in Peoria was the unwillingness to avoid a hackneyed romanticizing of baseball. A cozy, beautiful ballpark with a lenient sun and appreciative witnesses can be just lousy with symbolism. You know, spring ¿ renewal ¿ ½-pound hot dogs. Tuesday¿s renewal angle was made manifest by the intersection of two ultra-hotshot prospects. I¿m convinced that these guys are ultra-hotshots because every baseball sharpie says so. Checking in for the Pads was third baseman Sean Burroughs. Sean is the son of former big-leaguer Jeff, and kingpin emeritus of a Long Beach, Calif. Little League powerhouse that achieved glory in Williamsport, PA. Many alleged scouting experts refer to Burroughs as the best third-base prospect in the game. Well, there is a militant crowd that backs Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers, and another faction supporting Houston Astro Morgan Ensberg. But those guys are working in Florida; like me, Burroughs is seeking his chops in the desert. The A¿s countered with first baseman Carlos Pena, another whippersnapper whose prevailing job description has an added goody. See, the first base gig in Oakland is up for invitation-only grabs because the Athletics were sort of abandoned by bona fide hit machine Jason Giambi. Right, the A¿s could¿ve re-enlisted Giambi with a righteous contract-extension offer a year ago and didn¿t. But the loot required to keep Jason was not much less than is needed to cover the entire payroll. So he and his middle-of-the-batting order threat are goners. To Bay Area fans, Giambi¿s free-agent jump to the New York Yankees is just another in a series of crucial Greater Oakland losses: Catfish Hunter, Rickey Henderson¿s mind (possibly borrowed by that third person he speaks in), Robert Parish and Kevin McHale (hello, Joe Barry Carroll), Mark McGwire, Vince Carter, the reverence for Al Davis (spelled P-S-L), ¿The Tuck,¿ Jon Gruden, etc. But the resourceful A¿s seem to have scored in their bid to ease the sting of Giambi¿s departure. The price tag was four prospects from their fertile farm system for Pena, who — along with Mr. Blalock — was the star of the Texas Ranger hatchery. Pena, a 23-year-old lefty, is as smooth around the bag as Giambi¿s Yankee-mandated face. He whacked 23 home runs in Triple-A, then cracked three more in 62 at-bats during last season¿s coffee break with the Rangers. According to my souvenir program, Pena was assigned jersey No. 15. A low number is good. It means the A¿s have immediate plans for this kid. A high jersey number, such as 139, would suggest that Carlos was going to begin this season with the Triple-A¿s. But I discovered a glitch. Nobody in Oakland colors seemed to be wearing No. 15. Pena was wearing No. 19. I considered having a word with Frank, the retired and transplanted New Yorker who sold me the souvenir program. Frank is part of an army of friendly volunteer ¿redshirts¿ at the Peoria Sports Complex. One of his cronies assured me that Tuesday¿s mediocre crowd would be dwarfed by Wednesday¿s turnout for the mighty Seattle Mariners, who share this facility. As for Frank, the guy had a souvenir-program sales pitch I couldn¿t handle: ¿One for three dollars, two for six dollars ¿ a New York bargain.¿ Tell it to Steinbrenner and Giambi, Frank. So this Pena kid came to the plate in the top of the first and ripped a seed right at Padres center fielder Mark Kotsay. Kotsay, a part-time closer while at Cal-State Fullerton, gunned the ball home, but not before Oakland¿s Mark Velarde tagged at third and scored. Pena¿s second plate appearance resulted in a line shot into a glove worn by San Diego¿s left-fielder. His last Tuesday at-bat delivered a solid single to left. Burroughs strolled to the dish in the first inning with accomplished Oakland southpaw Barry Zito on the mound and three Padres on base. The kid, who bats left-handed, was punched out swinging. In his second and last Tuesday at-bat, Burroughs flied deep, and out, to left. For the record, Oakland won this game, 10-0. ¿A stinker,¿ Jerry said, ¿but I had fun.¿ Before advancing on the PSC parking lot, I asked Jerry and Nan why they keep returning to watch baseball in Arizona. ¿We come here,¿ Nan said, ¿because Jerry throws up on cruise ships. It¿s really something to see.¿ It could be worse. Cruise ships could start peddling Colossal Dogs. Randy Hill can be reached at his e-mail address: rhill@foxsports.com.
Tagged: White Sox, Yankees, Athletics, Rangers, Cubs, Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks, Jason Giambi, Barry Zito, Mark Kotsay

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