A sure sign of summer: Mustangs galloping across the field
Season's 1st practice includes 27 players, with more set to arrive in the coming days
By MIKE SCHERTING
Of The Gazette Staff
While nearly everyone else had retreated to the clubhouse after the Billings Mustangs' first official workout, left-hander Don Joseph was still on the field at Dehler Park, throwing phantom pitches in the third-base bullpen.
Wednesday's afternoon thunderstorm was just rolling in as Joseph, the third-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, worked on his delivery without using a ball.
Joseph stayed out there for only 10 minutes or so before the heavy rain began to fall, but the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder was eager to get in as much work as he could.
"It's been a while since I've thrown, and my mechanics have changed so much since high school, it's a daily routine for me," said Joseph, who was drafted by the Reds out of the University of Houston after going 3-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 50 innings this spring. "If I don't do it then I'll get all screwed up, so I have to make sure I do it every day." Joseph was one of 27 Mustangs players in camp for the workout, with more expected to arrive in the next few days. The team took infield and outfield practice, worked on pick-off moves and bunt coverage and had its first session of batting practice in preparation for its Pioneer League season opener. The Mustangs start the season with a three-game series against the Great Falls Voyagers beginning Tuesday night at Dehler Park.
Manager Julio Garcia is back for his second season after guiding the Mustangs to a 42-32 record last season. Also back are seven players who have seen time with the Mustangs, including pitcher Leonardo Astorga, outfielders Tony Brown and Tyler Stovall and catcher Chris McMurray, who each spent all of 2008 in Billings.
Brown had 258 at-bats with the Mustangs last season, and he batted .283 with a team-high 47 RBIs. His long home runs - he led the team with 12 - made him a fan favorite.
The 21-year-old was assigned to Class-A Dayton, Ohio, after spring training, and he spent some time at the high-A level in Sarasota, Fla. But a couple of hamstring injuries set him back, and he finds himself now returning to the Mustangs.
"Usually you don't want to repeat, you always want to move (up) every year," Brown said. "I got a little taste of high-A, and I think I did pretty good up there. I started struggling a little bit at the end, but I know I can compete up there. There's going to be a lot of motivation to get back up there this year."
As for the remainder of the team, it's an unknown, for now. Garcia and his new coaches - first-year hitting coach Delino DeShields and first-year pitching coach Bob Forsch - have some experience with the players who were at extended spring training. But the players selected in the draft earlier this month are unfamiliar to the coaching staff.
"That always makes it tough, because I'm bad with names to begin with," Garcia joked. "I haven't seen them enough. We went through a little bit of a workout today where I got to see their physical abilities somewhat. That'll go on for this whole week, and then throughout most of the season, I imagine."
Joseph likened the day's events to his first day of practice at Houston, where he didn't know any of the players, either. But he said he was eager to tackle the challenge of a compacted summer season, a schedule of 78 games with just five scheduled days off, with games in places he never thought he'd play in.
"A new experience, a new place. I'm excited," Joseph said. "I'm glad I'm out of my comfort zone because that's how it's going to be the rest of my career, the rest of my life.
"Looking at the schedule, there's not many days off. But you get to play the game you love every day, so I'm excited, looking forward to it. I'm just ready to start playing."