SARASOTA, Fla. - By the time I left the clubhouse this morning, I had spotted pitchers Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Alfredo Simon, Pedro Strop, Tommy Hunter, Jason Berken, Brad Bergesen, Jason Hammel, Oliver Drake, Pat Neshek, Matt Lindstrom, Jon Link, Dana Eveland, Zach Phillips, Dylan Bundy, Darren O’Day and Wei-Yin Chen, and catchers Matt Wieters, Taylor Teagarden and Brian Ward.
Pitcher Steve Johnson and first baseman Joe Mahoney have corner lockers next to the big fridges that are stocked with water and sports drinks. Sounds like a good location until somebody opens the door, which slams into their chairs. They might want to relocate.
Chen played catch outside, returned to his locker and was greeted by a small contingent of Taiwanese media with two video cameras. His every move will be closely scrutinized.
Chen’s interpreter (we know him as “Tim”) assisted the U.S. reporters who wanted a few minutes with the left-hander, who seemed to be impressed with his new surroundings.
“I feel really good here,” he said. “It’s a beautiful ballpark and I’m really excited to be here. Especially I like the ballpark very much. It’s so beautiful here. Everything’s great. The weather in Florida is beautiful. Not like in Japan because it’s so cold over there right now. I feel very comfortable to be here.”
Chen said he lifted weights over the winter to get stronger.
“I did a lot of early preparation in Arizona because I know American baseball is totally different than Japan. I did a lot to prepare for that,” he said. “I will be ready before the season starts and I hope I can get in the rotation. I hope I can be here at least 10 years or longer. When I was in high school, a lot of my classmates and teammates went to the states to play baseball, so that’s always been my dream to play in the MLB.”
The Orioles have 31 pitchers in major league camp, so Wieters will stay busy.
“I’m going to have to try to soak in as much about these guys as I can as fast as possible,” he said. “It’s a little bit different than in years past because almost every single one of these guys has a chance to make the team. They’re all fighting for a spot in that bullpen or rotation. And you’re really going to have to learn a lot because it’s probably going to come down to that last week or two to decide who’s going to travel north with us.
“I get excited for spring. I get excited every January when you start thinking about spring training. The good thing is we’ve had a lot of guys show up early this year and we’ve gotten to see Jake (Arrieta) and Zach and Matusz. It’s good to get to see them and meet all the new guys who filtered in.”
Wieters will need to break down the communication barriers that separate him from Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.
“I haven’t been working on my Korean or Japanese very much, but I’ve met them both and they both seem to grasp pitching, which is what our relationship will mostly be - the pitching-catching relationship. And that’s what this spring will be about, learning new stuff and also just learning how they like to communicate and how they like to pitch. You can get through a game and get through a year once you learn their secrets and tendencies, and each game I catch them, it’ll get easier.”
Wieters doesn’t have to worry yet about communicating with a Korean pitcher. Wada speaks Japanese and Chen speaks Chinese and Japanese.
Wieters also will bond with his backup, Taylor Teagarden, who came to the Orioles this winter in a trade with the Rangers.
“Yeah, I met Taylor up at FanFest and have seen him,” Wieters said. “He’s been down here the last couple days. I always liked watching him catch on the other side, so it’ll be good.”
More to come.