Scenes from Spring Training: Meet The Mets Part 4

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empty dugout.jpgEver been to a gang bang? I hadn’t until yesterday.  What is it? It’s what beat writers call it when five or six of them gather around a single interview subject, usually in the locker room and just fire the questions.  My first gang bang was with Jim Riggleman after the game.  A most peculiar beast.  But I should back up.

Once the game ended, my buddy Knox and I looked at each other and almost simultaneously said “well, what are we supposed to do now?”  I’d been in and out of the Mets clubhouse earlier that day, but there weren’t a lot of people hanging around and there was far more interesting stuff happening elsewhere. What’s the etiquette for the postgame?  Realizing we were total newbies, Knox and I decided to simply follow the other dudes leaving the press box and do what they did.

Our little procession took the elevator down to the main level, and then walked around to the other side of the stadium, past security through a nondescript gate and into the Nats’ clubhouse. Which probably shouldn’t have been surprising given that the group included the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore (nice guy!) and MLB.com’s Nats beat writer Bill Ladson (didn’t say much, but he tweets about liking Otis Redding, and that makes him OK in my book).  I was actually happy we were going to the Nats side of the place because I hadn’t been in there earlier.

Our group — led by the Nats media guy, who apparently did make the trip after all, and never once said anything about me sitting in a press box seat reserved for him — went back to manager Jim Riggleman’s office. Riggleman talked about the Santos grand slam, explaining that Taveras didn’t simply throw his hands up and say the ball was stuck in the fence because he thought the umpire had already seen the ball and ruled it was in play, mooting any appeal. Turns out that the moment Taveras tried to pick up the ball is when the ump truly ruled, figuring that since Taveras didn’t throw his hands up, the ball was playable.  Hard call. Taveras’ instincts understandably took over, and you’d think the ump would be a bit more vocal about where things stood.  Baseball, she is tough game.

Beyond that there was nothing enlightening. Riggleman thought Marquis was just fine despite walking everyone, essentially saying it was spring training and all he cared about was the guy getting work.  No argument there.  He was asked if Ian Desmond — who once again looked great — has a chance to break camp with the club. Riggleman said “we have to wait and see.”  Other than the Santos inside-the-parker there wasn’t a question asked that everyone didn’t already know the answer too, and not a question that seemed all that interesting to ask sprung to mind.

This continued as the Riggleman gang bang broke up and the reporters filtered out to the clubhouse, where we were met with a dozen or so Nats players in their underwear (at most) eating pizza and looking tired after a long game.  It struck me at that moment that the last thing any of these guys wanted to do was to answer media questions. They just wanted to eat their pizza, shower up, get on the bus and head back to Viera.  I felt like I was imposing, even if I had a right to be there.

It also struck me at that moment that, no matter what I’ve ever said about beat writers in the past, they have the hardest jobs in sports. Unlike opinion writers like me, they’re all expected to extract something — anything — interesting from the underwear and pizza crowd. And like me, they know 99% of the answers to the questions that are going to get asked before they ask them (and really, the mood of a postgame clubhouse just isn’t right for off-the-wall questions; too businesslike).

Yet they have to ask them because they have to write a game story. And unlike me, who has the luxury of chewing on some answers for 12 hours to see if I can’t gain some odd insight to them, the beat guys are all on a hard deadline. They need to bang out the copy, make it good, and start all over again tomorrow.  I said earlier this morning that writing about baseball is the best job going. And it probably is. But I could see, in that clubhouse, how it could quickly become a grind.  We love our baseball. We love to watch our players. But the time and manner in which the media is expected to talk to them and learn from them is limiting in the extreme.  All of it gave me a new found respect and sympathy for the beat writer. They have a much, much harder job than you can imagine.

After a quick walk through the clubhouse Knox and I left, our work basically done for the day.  I went back to my hotel to write a bit, then grabbed a sandwich and a beer at a big silly sports bar near the ballpark.  David Wright was in there, as well as a few of his teammates whose names I couldn’t put with their faces (it’s a lot harder to tell who’s who when they’re not in uniform). The people at the surrounding tables kept gawking at the group, and many stopped by to say a word or two or to get an autograph. Wright was friendly and pleasant with all of them, despite the fact that he was simply trying to eat some dinner.

After my sandwich I walked next door to a movie theater and watched “Shutter Island.”  It was a good, weird movie. But not as weird as the fact that Oliver Stone has apparently made a sequel to “Wall Street,” the trailer for which I saw.

And not as good — not by damn sight — as a day at the ballpark.

Chapman has trouble remembering convo with Cubs management about off-field behavior

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CHICAGO — Star closer Aroldis Chapman joined the Cubs on Tuesday, arriving to a mixed reaction in Chicago and saying he couldn’t remember what management told him about off-field expectations and behavior.

After Chapman’s awkward introductory news conference, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein insisted Chapman understands what the Cubs expect of him after an offseason domestic violence incident.

When the Cubs announced the trade with the New York Yankees on Monday, the team released a statement from Chairman Tom Ricketts saying they were aware of his 29-game suspension to begin the season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy.

Ricketts said he and Epstein talked by phone with Chapman before the deal was completed and “shared with him the high expectations we set for our players,” adding that Chapman was “comfortable” with them.

But when asked repeatedly about that phone conversation before Tuesday’s game against the crosstown White Sox, Chapman said through an interpreter that he couldn’t recall details because he was taking a nap at the time the call came in.

The question was asked several more times. A Cubs spokesman once asked the question himself to the interpreter, coach Henry Blanco.

“It’s been a long day,” Chapman said. “Trying to remember.”

Asked again several minutes later during the group interview if he could now remember what Ricketts said, Chapman shook his head.

“I still don’t remember,” he said in Spanish.

Epstein called it a misunderstanding and that Chapman was “pretty nervous” as he faced seven cameras and more than two dozen reporters.

“I was on the call, Tom was on the call, Aroldis was on the call and Barry Praver, his agent, was on the call. It happened and it was real,” Epstein said before the Cubs’ 3-0 loss to the White Sox.

Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing eight gunshots in the garage of a Florida home in October. The woman later changed her story and no charges were filed.

“You learn from the mistakes that you make,” Chapman said.

The case caused the Los Angeles Dodgers to back out of an offseason trade for Chapman. Cincinnati eventually traded him to the Yankees, and after his suspension, the 28-year-old Cuban converted 20 of 21 save chances for New York.

The Cubs have long boasted of stocking their roster with high-character players, helping earn the “lovable losers” label they’ve carried for decades since their last World Series title in 1908.

But the Cubs (59-40) have retooled their roster under Epstein and have the best record in the major leagues despite Tuesday’s loss in which Chapman didn’t pitch. Chapman, who threw a 105 mph fastball last week, fills perhaps the team’s largest hole as he replaces Hector Rondon as closer.

The Cubs sent four players to the Yankees, including shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, to get one of the game’s top relievers. Epstein said they wouldn’t have made the deal if not for the phone call he and Ricketts had with Chapman.

“Tom laid out the exact same standards that he lays out to everyone in spring training,” Epstein said. “He said, extremely clearly, `Look, Aroldis, I tell all the players this in spring training and it’s important you hear it and I need to hear from you on this. We expect our players to behave. We hold our players to a very high standard for their behavior off the field. And we need to know you can meet that standard.’

“Aroldis said `I understand. Absolutely, I can.'”

The Cubs activated Chapman before Tuesday’s game and designated left-hander Clayton Richard for assignment.

Reaction to Chapman’s acquisition in Chicago has been tepid. While there were supportive fans on talk radio, the Chicago Tribune carried a front-page column Tuesday criticizing the move. The back of the Chicago Sun-Times tabloid read “Spin City” over a picture of Epstein.

Chapman said he expected a “good reaction” from Cubs fans. He was also asked during the 20-minute meeting with reporters in the visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field if we would consider working with organizations looking to prevent domestic violence. Chapman said no.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon defended Chapman.

“He did do a suspension, he has talked about it, he’s shown remorse,” Maddon said. “Everybody else has the right to judge him as a good or bad person. That’s your right.

I want to get to know Aroldis. I think he could be a very significant member and he’s got the potential, yes, to throw the last out of the World Series. And if he does, I promise you I will embrace him.”

Report: Padres working on trading Andrew Cashner

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 21: Starter Derek Norris #3 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on July 21, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports and MLB Network reports that the Padres are working to trade starter Andrew Cashner. He notes that a deal may be consummated before he takes the hill for Tuesday’s start in Toronto against the Blue Jays. The Marlins, Orioles, and Rangers have had reported interest in Cashner.

Cashner is 4-7 with a 4.79 ERA and a 61/27 K/BB ratio in 73 1/3 innings. He missed over three weeks between June 11 and July 2 due to a strained neck.

The right-hander is earning $9.625 million this season and will be eligible for free agency after the season.