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Hanley Ramirez has ‘hunger of a rookie?’ It’s about time

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Look out world, Hanley Ramirez is ready to play hard this season.

No more fooling around for this kid. No more treating ground balls with that special Roger Dorn flair. No more strutting around like he taught Abner Doubleday the nuances of the game. No more spotting the pitcher a pitch or two in each at-bat.

Ramirez, the star shortstop of the Florida Marlins, is ready to rebound from a sub-par 2010 season in which his average dropped 42 points, his RBIs plummeted from 106 to 76 and his defense regressed from casual to careless.

With spring training only two weeks away, the enigmatic star is ready to return to the form of 2009 that nearly netted him the NL MVP award. He says he “has the hunger of a rookie,” and started his offseason workouts a month early, according to a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

“Everyone will be very surprised with the new Hanley and his whole makeup,” manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He is very motivated. He was very disappointed in his season. He knows the whole offense revolves around him.”

Good for him. It’s heartwarming to see a three-time All-Star who is about to make $11 million decide that unlike last year, this time he really means business. These sorts of stories always make me wonder why he wasn’t motivated before? Perhaps it’s a matter of being too good too soon, and you just assume you’re going to hit .340 and drive in 100 every year. It just comes that easily. Or maybe it’s a matter of looking at the prospect of making $57 million over the next four seasons and feeling pretty happy with yourself.

Either way, Marlins fans are going to be facing years of frustration if their best player has to remember to be motivated every of couple of seasons. Ramirez is obviously a great talent, and even a down season like 2010 translated into an OPS+ of 124. But he’ll have to realize at some point that you can’t get by on talent alone. Otherwise you end up like Shawn Kemp, and nobody wants to see that.

Jackson reports that last year, opposing pitchers figured out that a steady diet of sinking pitches down-and-in would hold Ramirez in check, and the Marlins star never adjusted. And then there is the issue of his attitude, which some teammates perceive – according to Jackson – as moody.

Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson put it this way late last season: “When he’s struggling, he’s humbled and more approachable and communicative and you see a different makeup. When he’s on a hot streak, you see a lot of swagger. Some players don’t like that and call it selfishness or ‘hot dog.’ … You have to always show interest in teammates when they are struggling.”

There’s nothing wrong with a little humility. And knowing what a joy it is to watch Ramirez at his best, one can only hope that his new-found motivation has a lasting impact.

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Jake Peavy is having a bad go of things right now

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 25: Jake Peavy #22 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the San Diego Padres during the first inning at AT&T Park on May 25, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Veteran hurler Jake Peavy has not signed with a team. It’s not because he’s not still capable of being a useful pitcher — he’s well-regarded and someone would likely take a late-career chance on him — and it’s not because he no longer wishes to play. Rather, it’s because a bunch of bad things have happened in his personal life lately.

As Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports, last year Peavy lost millions in an investment scam and spent much of the 2016 season distracted, dealing with investigations and depositions and all of the awfulness that accompanied it. Then, when the season ended, Peavy went home and was greeted with divorce papers. He has spent the offseason trying to find a new normal for himself and for his four sons.

Pitching is taking a backseat now, but Peavy plans to pitch again. Here’s hoping that things get sorted to the point where he can carry through with those plans.

The AT&T Park mortgage is paid off

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This is fun: The San Francisco Giants recently made their last payment on the $170 million, 20-year loan they obtained to finance the construction of AT&T Park. The joint is now officially paid for.

The Giants, unlike most other teams which moved into new stadiums in the past 25 years or so, did not rely on direct public financing. They tried to get it for years, of course, but when the voters, the city of San Francisco and the State of California said no, they decided to pay for it themselves. They ended up with one of baseball’s best-loved and most beautiful parks and, contrary to what the owners who desperately seek public funds will have you believe, they were not harmed competitively speaking. Indeed, rumor has it that they have won three World Series, four pennants and have made the playoffs seven times since moving into the place in 2000. They sell out routinely now too and the Giants are one of the richest teams in the sport.

Now, to be clear, the Giants are not — contrary to what some people will tell you — some Randian example of self-reliance. They did not receive direct public money to build the park, but they did get a lot of breaks. The park sits on city-owned property in what has become some of the most valuable real estate in the country. If the city had held on to that land and realized its appreciation, they could flip it to developers for far more than the revenue generated by baseball. Or, heaven forfend, use it for some other public good. The Giants likewise received some heavy tax abatements, got some extraordinarily beneficial infrastructure upgrades and require some heavy city services to operate their business. All sports stadiums, even the ones privately constructed, represent tradeoffs for the public.

Still, AT&T Park represents a better model than most sports facilities do. I mean, ask how St. Louis feels about still paying for the place the Rams used to call home before taking off for California. Ask how taxpayers in Atlanta and Arlington, Texas feel about paying for their second stadium in roughly the same time the Giants have paid off their first.