Saturday in Viera – Mark Langill

Mark Weidemaier looked relaxed on a quiet Saturday morning after the Dodgers arrived at the Washington Nationals spring training complex in Viera. Sitting in the dugout before batting practice, Weidemaier wore a Dodger uniform and held a fungo bat. In just a few minutes, Weidemaier would pitching a round of batting practice, following by hitting grounders to the infielders.

As the Special Assistant to the General Manager, Weidemaier knows what’s coming around the corner. "The marathon starts soon," he says, referring to his schedule as an advance scout, watching and monitoring future Dodger opponents while they play in other cities. "In 2004, from February 12 until October 10, I was home 14 days in eight months." An expert traveler, Weidemaier keeps three suitcases in Pittsburgh, Denver Chicago. He gives the bellman a tip and says, "I’ll be back."

Weidemaier had an extra assignment on Saturday during a 2-1 loss in 10 innings against the Nationals, marking the changes on the dugout lineup card while coach Rich Donnelly stayed behind due to the flu. Weidemaier will leave the Dodgers on March 14 and start scouting the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.

… One of the most prolific collectors of Dodger memorabilia, Sal La Rocca, has been a visitor this week to Dodgertown and to Viera on Saturday. "Captain Sal" lives in Tennessee and was reviewing some of the recent errors in certain baseball card sets. For example, an Upper Deck card had Hall of Famer Billy Herman’s photo and a signature "cut" (attached signature from a paper product, such as a cancelled check or autograph book) by Babe Herman. Billy Herman was a Dodger infielder (1941-43, 1946) and Babe Herman was an outfielder (1926-31, 1945). The other mistake was a card of Dodger Hall of Famer Zack Wheat (1909-26) which had a photo of his younger brother Mack Wheat (1915-19), a backup catcher. "I should know it’s Mack Wheat," La Rocca said. "Because I have the original photo!"

… Saturday mornings in spring training mean another exhibiton game, but for players and coaches, chances are a younger relative has an early-season Little League game back in their hometown. Those 6 and 7 years of age and just learning the game might ask, "What’s a National?" when receiving their Washington uniform.

Opening Day ceremonies are fun, and taking the team photo is a great tradition. But sure enough, it won’t take long for a parent to start pacing the grounds or furiously puff on a cigarette, wondering why their seven-year-old "phenom" in a baggy Mets uniform is playing second base instead of first base instead of just sitting back and letting the kids play the game. It also might make anyone think twice before volunteering to coach a youth league team.

It’s one of the scenes most people could do without as the real spring training is conducted as the same time. Want to see a future major leaguer? Check out a minor league game or spring exhibition. Want to see a future doctor, lawyer, police officer, teacher or poet in action, stop by any Little League or youth softball field.

David Vincent, baseball historian and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, is considered the leading expert on the home run in Major League Baseball, having compiled a computer data base of the more than 235,000 home runs hit since 1869.

When asked about youth league baseball on Saturday, Vincent noted the significant changes from the sport compared to kids growing up in the 1950s. "There is a change of talent level — it’s better organized, better fundamentals and better instructors. Kids who are 8-9 can do things that weren’t being done by older kids of previous generations. That’s not necessarily a good thing. There’s a certain amount of innocence lost and not having fun. And if you don’t do it right, you’re not going to play."

Vincent is currently making the final edits on his new book, "Home Run – The Definitive History of Baseball’s Ultimate Weapon," which will be released in March 2007.

… For those interested in Vincent’s research, check out retrosheet.org, a web site created and maintained by David Smith which features boxscores, play-by-play and career records of every Major Leaguer, past and present. It’s one of my favorite web sites and if you’re a fan of baseball history, you will bookmark this site.   

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