Spring Training trip wrap-up

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Press pass and booze small.JPGMy spring training trip ended with a flight back home yesterday afternoon.  The tale of the tape:

  • Five games, one rainout;
  • One meal with my mother-in-law;
  • One meal with, and four pieces of new media from, Old Gator;
  • A couple dozen awkward conversations with ballplayers who didn’t know me from Adam;
  • A dozen or so conversations with front office/management/PR types, a couple of whom did know me from Adam, but none of whom would tell me all of their deepest, darkest organizational secrets. Yet;
  • Something like 600 miles on the rental Corolla; no sudden accelerations;
  • A serious shortage of fresh vegetables and salads. It’s hard to eat healthy on the road, especially in Florida, especially when you’re in ballparks all the time;
  • A good 15 anecdotes from writers I was told I couldn’t repeat, and a half dozen dirty jokes that I can repeat, but not on this website;
  • A distinct impression that, Joe Nathan’s injury aside, the Twins are going to be pretty good this year;
  • A distinct impression that the Red Sox, Rays and Phillies are going to do more or less what everyone expects of them;
  • A distinct impression that the Pirates may be even worse than people realize, even if they’re a little better off organizationally speaking now that they’ve accepted reality and allowed themselves to hit bottom;
  • A new found appreciation for how tough a job the beat writer has, especially the ones who have to deal with Tony La Russa every day;
  • An affirmation of what I’ve long suspected but never knew for sure before now: watching games from the press box, while interesting, is nowhere near as cool as watching games from the stands or, in some cases, your own living room;
  • An affirmation of what I’ve long suspected and pretty much knew for sure but was glad to have affirmed anyway: watching games from the press box is 100 times better than working in an office;
  • A chance meeting with the son of a famous, now-retired major league umpire, who is absolutely hilarious. The son, I mean. No idea if the umpire is hilarious, though I kinda doubt it.
  • The surprising realization that gang bangs really aren’t all that fun or, to be honest, satisfying.

Most of all, and most importantly, is that I got a much closer look at the way teams prepare and train for games, approach their jobs and execute in an up-close and personal fashion. There are so many little things you see while watching these guys that impact the way you view what they do on the field. No, not nearly as many as some crusty old beat writers will tell you — contrary to what some of them say, you don’t have to be on the field to understand the game — but enough stuff that I think it will better-inform my writing and analysis going forward.

Anyway, it was a good week. Hope you enjoyed the dispatches from the road. Assuming the content and sheer size of my reimbursement requests to NBC don’t get me fired, maybe we’ll do this from Arizona next spring.

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.