Scenes from Spring Training: Arrrrgh! The Pirates! Part 3

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Pirates Pen.jpgThis was an ugly, ugly game. Highlights, such as they were:

  • As I sat down in the box I realized that the netting behind the backstop was lower than the already fairly low pressbox level.  During the course of the game three or four foul balls came in my general direction, each time banging loudly on the metal roof or facade of the box, scaring the tuna salad out of me.
  • As the National Anthem was being sung, the Pirates’ employee who seemed to be in charge of everything going on that day saw that one of the padded panels on the outfield wall had fallen down. He jumped on his walkie talkie and started stage managing. In the space of, like, 25 seconds, he had (a) dispatched a couple of members of the grounds crew to fix the wall; (b) got someone else to go tell John Russell and the umpires about the panel and to not start the game yet; (c) spotted a plastic bag floating across the field and got someone else to run out and retrieve it; and (d) watched the guy retrieve it and reminded everyone on the line to NOT walk over the pitcher’s mound if you have to go out on the field. The dude was just hyper-competent. If they could bottle whatever moxy he has and distribute it throughout the rest of the organization the Pirates wouldn’t be in nearly the dire straits they’re in these days.
  • In the top of the second, Jose Tabata badly misplayed a fly ball to center, allowing the batter to circle the bases for what was ruled a single and a three base error. The next batter hit one right back out to him, he was once again turned around, the ball dropped for what was called a double simply because Tabata didn’t get close enough to even really say that he made a play on it.  To be fair to Tabata, the winds were whipping terribly yesterday, but none of the other outfielders seemed to have the kind of trouble he was having.
  • Carl Crawford hit a long, long home run to left centerfield. Almost landed in Tampa. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Yankees’ camp to get the lay of the land before he starts training there next spring.  The next batter, Pat Burrell, hit a home run to the same part of the park, also a long shot. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Tampa too. There are a lot of senior citizen communities up that way so maybe he was scouting his 2011 spring home too.
  • Though the writers in the box said that the Pirates’ media lunch was
    good as far as those things go, I skipped it. Even if the food is
    decent, these catered, chafing dish affairs remind me too much of those
    rubber chicken lunches at political events I used to have to attend for
    my job and those working lunches in law firm conference rooms. I went
    down to the concourse and got a hot dog and a Pepsi instead. Bonus: I
    talked baseball with a couple of fans who were eating too.  Columbus,
    Ohio is not a baseball town, and though I “talk” baseball all day with
    you guys here, I don’t get a chance to chat casually and face to face
    about the game that much when I’m home. This was a treat.
  • Because the Rays were playing with a split squad — the rest of the team was playing the Blue Jays yesterday — the bullpen
    coach,
    Bobby Ramos coached third base. Between innings one time they did the
    old t-shirt launch thing along the third base line. One of the shirts
    misfired and landed near Ramos. He picked it up and started walking it
    toward the stands. Then he put it behind his back. He did this, like,
    five times, taunting the fans who soon began to boo him. Ramos had a
    huge grin on his face. Any chance he had at becoming my favorite
    bullpen coach was dashed, however, when he gave in and threw the shirt
    into the stands.  We don’t have enough heels in baseball. I think we’d
    be better off with a few Mr. Fujis or Bobby Heenans.

  • As the game dragged on there were a lot of substitutions. They led to near-bedlam in the pressbox. Overheard: “Jonson’s in.”  “Wait, is that Dan Johnson?” “No, I think it’s Elliot Johnson.” “Too damn many Johnsons around here.”
  • Top of the fourth, Sean Rodriguez pops a foul behind the plate. He audibly registers his disgust at himself. The wind whips, however, and catcher Hector Giminez can’t get it.  Rodriguez then does some little nod-with-a-fist-pump thing that seemed a bit out of line. Rodriguez took the next pitch which seemed to be way inside from where I was sitting. John Hirschbeck rang him up anyway, and I can’t help but think he did so as a means of getting Giminez’s back. Not that he’d ever admit it or anything.
  • Around the sixth inning the game just flew off the rails. Lots of home runs — understandable with the wind — but it was dragging in every other possible way as well.  The best thing that happened during the game after the sixth: someone sent me this picture to remind me of what the Pirates were like back when they were totally cool.
  • As the game drew to a close, a man in the pressbox said “I’ve been doing this for seven years, and this is the absolute worst game I’ve ever seen.”  I think I have to agree with him: worst game I ever saw too.  The final score was 16-15 in favor of the Rays. There was bad defense.
    Nearly every count went 3-1 or 3-2, sometimes because the pitchers
    didn’t have control, sometimes because Hirschbeck’s strike zone
    seemed rather erratic. The game lasted three hours and forty-one
    minutes and actually felt longer than that.

But here’s that epiphany I mentioned earlier this morning: I am damn, damn lucky to be able to do what I’m doing. The worst baseball game of my life was 100 times better than the best day I ever had in an office.  It was awful baseball, sure, but it was baseball. In a nice, unassuming little park, with the smells of hot dogs and beer and fresh cut grass and the sounds of the bat cracking and, jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, I could go on with those cliches all day.

As I drove back to Tampa, I was tired and weary and stuck in traffic. And you couldn’t peel the grin off my face.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.