The 2015 Tri-City Dust Devils didn’t get much sleep Sunday night, but they still hit the ground running Monday during the team’s first workout at Gesa Stadium.
Most of them awoke around 2 a.m. Monday for an early-morning flight out of Arizona and arrived in Pasco just after 10 a.m. After spending a few hours at the hotel, the team got its first look at the field it will call home.
The Dust Devils went through several drills and played a simulated game before finishing off the day with a round of batting practice. Knowing his team might be dragging a bit with sleep deprivation, Tri-City manager Anthony Contreras was sympathetic to their plight but still had high expectations for his players.
“Leading these guys, I’ve got to be there the best way I can. This is a good way to show them that there are going to be some days when you don’t feel good, but you have to work through it and just go from there,” said Contreras, 31. “Still, I felt bad for them. It’s a lot easier to be a coach on a day like that, throwing batting practice and hitting infield grounders.”
Contreras, an infielder who played for the San Diego Padres Triple-A affiliate in Tucson just two seasons ago, stressed the importance of the quality of the workouts rather than quantity of them, considering there are only two more days until the team’s season opener at 6:15 p.m. Thursday in Boise.
“We’re trying to take seven days of minicamp and crunch that into three days. It takes time to get to know one another and learn all the signs,” Contreras said. “We want to get the new guys on the same page as the guys who have been in extended (spring training) for the last two months.”
Tri-City, the newest affiliate of the San Diego Padres, will open the Northwest League season with a five-game series Thursday against the Hawks at Memorial Stadium. Boise will feature a handful of players who represented the Dust Devils last season before the Colorado Rockies entered into a new player development agreement with the Hawks last September.
Dust Devils players spent Monday getting used to the field they will call home for the next 2 1/2 months. Many of them spent last season with the Eugene Emeralds — now a Chicago Cubs affiliate — who play at PK Park on a turf field.
“The biggest thing is not so much for catchers but for infielders. The ball goes a lot slower on grass. On turf, you get more of a true bounce and a little faster,” catcher Michael Miller said.
Players expect a short adjustment period but are eager to display their talents for the Tri-Cities community.
“I’m not going to lie. (The adjustment) is weird, but I’m looking forward to it. We get to show off in front of new people,” said left-handed pitcher Griffin Russell, a two-year veteran of the Padres system after getting drafted out of Wichita Falls High School in 2012. “I’m still one of the younger guys, but I’m a salty vet.”
Miller, a 20th-round draft pick out of Dallas Baptist University in 2013, is another veteran intent on making sure the first-year players have a smooth transition to the professional game.
“The biggest thing is getting them comfortable and relaxed. My first year was really tense. You don’t want to do anything wrong,” Miller said. “(The transition) is huge, especially with the Latin guys. Building that team chemistry is important not just for the American guys, but for the Latin guys, too. It can really help out.”
Miller was impressed with the team’s performance in extended spring training in Peoria, Ariz., where the Padres share a spring training site with the Seattle Mariners.
“We played well in extended. We probably won 80 percent of our games. We’re probably going to have a good year,” he said. “We have a little bit of everything. We have some guys with power and some with good (pitching) arms. We’ve got guys who can throw strikes and some with good velocity. For some of them, this will be their first time playing in front of a crowd. We’ll see how they handle that.”
• One new improvement to Gesa Stadium is one most fans won’t see but will certainly be appreciated by the players in the Dave Lemak Clubhouse. A new player’s lounge has been constructed at the top of the dugout stairs, across from the locker room. It’s big enough to hold team meetings and features a leather couch and a 60-inch television, as well as full-size banquet tables for pre- and post-game meals.
“The new lounge is a great perk for them. It’s nice to have somewhere to go to kick your feet back instead of sitting in a box all day,” Contreras said.
• Dan Scheibe, a Hanford graduate and Whitworth College standout, has been signed as a free agent by the Spokane Indians. Scheibe earned a spot on the Division III Academic All America team in 2015 after going 9-3 with a 2.10 ERA while posting a 3.93 grade point average in the classroom. Scheibe also helped lead the Pirates to the championship of the inaugural Northwest Conference tournament.