"V-Dub, should I hit off this guy?" asks Catalanotto, a lefthanded batter.
Just then Carlson throws his first warmup pitch, a searing fastball in the vicinity of where a lefthanded hitter's head would be.
"Forget it," Catalanotto says. "Tom, get in there."
I swing at three of Carlson's pitches and make contact each time, fouling a fastball into the batting cage, hitting another fastball with some authority off the protective screen in front of Carlson and bouncing a curveball in the hole between third base and shortstop. And my bat is still in one piece.
My scariest moment actually occurs when hitting against Double A coach John Valentin. Players don't wear batting helmets for dead-arm BP because the coaches simply groove pitches over the plate. But Valentin lets go of one that is headed straight for my head. It's the last place I'm expecting it, so I freeze for a moment, then finally duck and cover. The ball whacks off the back of my left shoulder. Valentin later apologizes profusely.
"Don't worry," I tell him. "Better you hit me than Halladay or Batista."
Butterfield gives us another baserunning clinic, in which he slips in a mention of an "orange gopher." We all look at each other, perplexed.
"What's an orange gopher?" Menechino asks.
"'Bout 15 cents a slice," Butterfield replies in his best deadpan.
After practice most everyone hits the weight room for conditioning and strength training. Zaun is twisting his hands in a bucket of uncooked rice to make them stronger without the stress of weights. I am running on a treadmill. The smell of meat loaf is wafting into the room from the players' lounge down the hall, part of the daily breakfast and lunch service that is known simply and affectionately around baseball as the Spread.