Reporting from Colombia: Xavier Scruggs

St. Louis Cardinals first base prospect Xavier Scruggs files the first of his reports from winter ball in Colombia.

Editor's note: welcomes St. Louis Cardinals prospect Xavier Scruggs as our new winter ball correspondent. Having recently arrived in Colombia, the Palm Beach Cardinals' 2011 first baseman is taking the ball from Sam Freeman, whose weekly reports have concluded along with his play in Venezuela. Special thanks go out to Sam, as the left-handed reliever recently earned a spot on the Cardinals' 40-man roster.

To learn more about Xavier, who tied the Palm Beach team home run record this past season and was named our June 2011 system-wide Player of the Month, click on his highlighted name to be taken to his player page, where a wealth of information, past and present, is logged. You can also follow his daily activities via his Twitter feed, @Xavier_Scruggs.

When I arrived in Colombia to play for the Tigres de Cartagena, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. First off, I regret not paying a little bit more attention in Mr. Easter's Spanish class back in high school. The language barrier is no joke. My manager told me a lot of people here speak English. I haven't met one yet. The good thing is I'm picking up the words quickly (rapido) and I'm having better luck ordering my food. I can now branch out from eating chicken, rice, and French fries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.

Other than that, things are going quite well here. Cartagena is the most beautiful, but also the nastiest place I have ever been. What I mean by that is the fact that you can be staying at beautiful hotel right on the beach, but then when you walk out of your hotel lobby you can see a shack with 10 people living in it and three or four homeless people sleeping outside. There are quite a few nice high rise buildings adjacent to nasty, run down looking homes (I guess that is what some would call them). The city is just different from anything I have been around, but there are quite a few hidden beautiful attractions.

Our first team practice was on a field that is similar to an American Little League field. The conditions weren't the best (grass, infield, dimensions) but I quickly got past that and became more interested in getting to know my teammates. To my surprise I quickly saw a familiar Colombian face. His name is Ronald Ramirez. We played together in Palm Beach this past season for a short period of time until he was released by the Cardinals. Boy was I glad to see him. Now I had a friend on the team as well as someone who could show me the "ins and outs" of this new country.

The rest of the guys were all very friendly and welcomed me with open arms to "their" team. I say their team because most of them had been playing together for a period of time before the Americans arrived. I joined the team with five other players from the States, two of whom are in the Yankees organization and two from the Orioles system. The other one was previously in the Braves organization and is now playing independent ball.

We ended up having three short practices on that field before our first game in the town of Sincelejo. The travel took us about four hours by bus. During that time, I noticed random guys getting on and off the bus. Someone informed me that we had picked up hitch hikers as well as vendors selling hot empenadas and drinks. I had never seen anything like it. I was confused and wasn't sure if we were getting more players or coaches. Ha!

We made it to Sincelejo with the right amount of players and had three games there. Their field was horrible; however they probably had several thousand people in attendance. The fans are rowdy, reminding me of a professional soccer match being played in Spain or England.

Scruggs with Palm Beach in 2011
In the initial game, we lost 3-2 in the 10th inning in walk-off fashion. I was 1-for-4 with a walk. It was weird seeing live pitching again, but good to get the first game under the belt. Before the second game had even started, I suffered a minor injury. While taking ground balls during pre-game, I took a bad hop from a ball off my mouth that cut my lip pretty badly. Like I said, the field was horrible. The dirt infield was more like sand. My lip swelled up but I would be alright. I ended up going 1-for-3 that night in our 12-1 victory.

We lost the next night and then took the bus ride back home. It was horrible. Between us not showering after the game (due to a lack of showers at the field), losing, watching movies in Spanish, and a flat tire, it was dreadful. After riding on the flat tire for 30 minutes and arriving back in Cartagena, everyone had to take taxis the rest of the way home. That was brutal only because I had no idea how to explain where I lived. I couldn't even tell you in English. But we eventually made it and it is nice to be back home.

Wow, I just said Cartagena, Colombia is my home. I guess I can say that my winter ball experience so far has been quite eventful. Pictures coming soon!

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