They have always called it The Car Wash, a kind of whirlwind, multimedia interview and promotion session that Toronto Blue Jays players go through early in spring training. But on Tuesday the team’s owners, Rogers Media, went all in: a sound stage under a huge, enclosed tent in the parking lot beside left field at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, replete with extras as “fans,” a lighted stage and all manner of whiz-bang electronic gimmicks and what-have-yous.
You could buy a million-dollar player with what the thing costs, and still have enough left for another player making the major-league minimum. Maybe two.
“I had to act and narrate stuff,” Mark Buehrle said, peeling off his jersey in the serenity of an empty clubhouse. “Two things I’m not really good at.”
The session took less than an hour, which on some days is enough for five innings work on Buehrle’s part. That’s significant for catcher J.P. Arencibia. There’s been much hand-wringing about whether he can handle R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, but the bigger issue might be how he adapts to Buehrle’s pace.
“Sometimes I’m already in my motion when the catcher’s just got his knuckles in position to put the sign down,” Buehrle said. “I mean, I know A.J. [Pierzynski, who caught Buehrle with the Chicago White Sox] had to learn not to look down before he got set for each pitch. He’d do that, I’d already have my hands going and you could see him thinking ‘Uh-oh, I better throw a sign down right now.’
“I like to get the sign as fast as I can,” Buehrle added. “I don’t like to be out there and be ready and have the catcher kind of sit down and take a few seconds to think. So, it’s big that we [he and Arencibia] get on the same page.”
Arencibia is aware of all this. He’s reminded of it every day by somebody with a notepad or a microphone. Indeed, the guess here is that Arencibia and Dickey will enjoy their time away from the Blue Jays during the World Baseball Classic (both are with Team USA) because spring training is just a few days old and already they’re part of what seems to be a freak show.
Arencibia – bless him – still answers all the questions about catching Dickey. Dickey – bless him, too – still seems understanding of the newness he has brought to the team.
“R.A. adds something different to our team,” manager John Gibbons said Tuesday. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe he just brings attention to the team.”
Which means attention is transferred to Arencibia, the 27-year-old, four-year major-league veteran who does not receive enough credit for the strides he’s made defensively. Arencibia is aware of what people say and think about him because, well, because he cares. He chafed a bit this off-season when he went from being a guy about to be traded, to a guy whose pride was hurt by projections of doom and gloom about his ability to catch Dickey.
When it came to pace last season, Dickey was the fourth fastest pitcher in the majors per plate appearance; Buehrle was the fastest at 1 minute 3.6 seconds, according to Fangraphs.com. Pace is a big deal, since it keeps fielders on their toes and messes with a batter’s comfort zone.
In his previous 12 years in the American League – before his one-year stint with the Miami Marlins in the designated hitter-less National League – Buehrle’s average time per start of 2 hours 37 minutes 4 seconds was faster than any other pitcher with at least 75 starts.
Buehrle is not a big fan of pitchers and catchers meetings to go over that day’s opponent.
“I won’t say I’m not going to go if they tell me I have to,” Buehrle said, “but in Chicago, Coop [pitching coach Don Cooper] and A.J. would do it themselves. I’d stay away. Didn’t want any part of it.”
But nothing aggravates him more than shaking off a catcher.
“I won’t do it unless, you know, it’s a situation where it’s 3-2 on a hitter and he calls for a curve and I’m not that confident with the pitch on that day,” Buehrle said. “No way I want to walk a guy.”
This will be a test for Arencibia, to be sure. No longer is he catching guys he came up with, no longer is he catching potential. This time it’s all pedigree and track record and perfect games and Cy Young Awards.
Time’s a-wasting. Welcome to the fast track. Welcome to the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays.