BRADENTON, Fla. -- Andy LaRoche feels the locomotive steaming toward him, but what's he going to do? Run?
He will open the season as Pittsburgh's third baseman.
Whether he closes it that way is an entirely different story.
Over there in the wings, Pedro Alvarez, one of the top five prospects in the game, is sharpening his defense, honing his hitting and preparing for a long future as Pittsburgh's third baseman (or, perhaps, first baseman -- Alvarez's bat is by far his most intriguing tool).
"No matter if I play with A-Rod, Pedro or nobody behind me, I have to get the things done that I need to do," LaRoche says. "It's not going to make me work any harder, or work any less.
"That's all I can focus on."
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Alvarez hit .288 with 27 homers, 32 doubles and 95 RBI in 126 games last season between high-Class A and Double-A.
He likely will not break camp with the Pirates and probably won't arrive until June, July or later -- partly because the organization thinks he still needs seasoning, and partly because stashing him in the minors until then will delay the clock on his major league service time and stop him from being eligible for arbitration until after the 2012 season.
"It's easy to get excited about Pedro," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington says. "You see the strength in his bat, and what he did last year. But it's also easy to forget that he hasn't swung the bat above Double-A. Triple-A pitchers are going to teach him some lessons he needs to learn."
So the good people of Indianapolis (locale of Pittsburgh's Triple-A team) are in for a treat early this season. How long he remains there -- and how long LaRoche remains in the lineup -- right now is only a matter of conjecture until what most people think is the most fearsome bat to come out of the draft for Pittsburgh since first-round pick Barry Bonds in 1985 is ready.
"Obviously, he's a great player," says LaRoche, 25, who hit .258 with 12 homers and 64 RBI last season for the Bucs. "All the publicity he gets, it's not just hype. He's the real deal. He's a great hitter and a solid third baseman.
"It would be nice to play on the same field with him one day -- even if he's at third base and I'm at second."
Sunblock Day? If things don't change around here, I'm going to have to remove this category from the blog entirely. Not to keep bitching, but according to the St. Petersburg Times, this is the coldest winter in the Tampa area since the 1950s. According to the newspaper, so far this season, "Tampa and St. Petersburg have had 26 and 28 days respectively that haven't climbed above 60 degrees — the second-highest number in recorded history. And we're only a few days away from the record, which was set in 1958 when St. Petersburg had 31 days below 60 and Tampa had 30." Brrr.
Likes: Love the blue and orange paw print pattern throughout the carpeting in the Tigers' Lakeland clubhouse. ... Pittsburgh's Pirate City, about a mile away from McKechnie Field in Bradenton, is totally first class. The Bucs have done a great job incorporating their history, with photos and nods to men like Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Danny Murtaugh and Roberto Clemente throughout. Love the Clemente quote painted onto the wall above the door through which the Pirates exit to head toward the fields: "I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give." ... If you're on vacation to see the Pirates and just couldn't find a pet-sitter, there's a place just down the very rural street on which Pirate City is located that offers dog obedience training. Lessons are Tuesdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Woof. ... Mixon's Fruit Farm also is just down the road from Pirate City, and it's a must-stop for lunch. The fresh orange juice is out of this world. The deli sandwiches are solid, but what's really a must-have is the orange swirl ice cream cone, made with Mixon's fresh orange juice. Mmmmm.
Dislikes: Not that I was ever tempted to watch, but sure am glad I missed The Marriage Ref the other night. Based on the awful reviews and some of what we've seen lately, this painful question needs to be asked: Has Jerry Seinfeld jumped the shark?
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
Exhibition games start this week, and in tribute to Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who would open the Tigers' first Grapefruit League broadcast each spring with this poem, I've gotta go with this today:
"For, lo, the winter is past
"The rain is over and gone
"The flowers appear on the earth
"The time of the singing of birds is come
"And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."
-- Song of Solomon
You can listen to Ernie himself recite this verse from the Song of Solomon here, from his Audio Scrapbook (a cool four-disc set that is extremely well done). Just click play and it's the first up in the Harwell tribute video.