Greetings from the Cactus League

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I write to you from a strange place, my friends.

  • For one thing, my hotel is carved into the side of a mountain. Really. Picture a fortress built by a 1960s Bond villain, add some down comforters and complimentary toiletries and you’ve got the idea.  Once I’m acclimated to my new environment I intend to search the premises for the room with the giant map where Dr. X will reveal to me his secret plans prior to strapping me into some complicated killing device and then leaving me unattended.
  • Even stranger is the Mountain time zone. The East sets the tone and the Central hangs back ever so slightly, almost apace. Those Californians are so far behind that they may as well be their own country and we all ignore them anyway as they complain of our biases. But the Mountain time zone: too close to what we’re used to to ignore but not quite close enough to communicate seamlessly. And likely not to be trusted because of it.
  • For example, I have no idea what time this post is going live for you people back east. The clock in my mountain bunker reads “$G:4#” and it’s blinking, blinking, blinking.  I may be in the future. I can’t be sure. My posts for the next nine days may appear at the most random and ludicrous of hours.
  • Finally, it’s beautiful here — mid-60s and sunny — yet commercials on the radio ask listeners if they’d like “a cure for the winter blahs.” I’ll study these Arizonans all week and I may make contact with some of them, but I don’t know if I’ll truly understand them.

Environment aside I’m happy to be here. My trip yesterday went relatively smoothly, with the most unusual thing about it being that, sometime en route, Jonny Gomes became the most hated man in America.  I processed that news over a fine meal, and I believe I understand it all now.

But enough of that: it’s all about baseball going forward.  The games start tomorrow and I’ll be at Scottsdale Stadium that afternoon as the Diamondbacks take on the Giants. Today, however, has been set aside for loitering. As I hit “post” at whatever ungodly Mountain time zone hour this is, I still don’t know which complex I’m headed to.

I may go to Surprise and see what the AL Champion Rangers and the Royals and their best-farm-system-in-the-game are up to. I may go up to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and see baseball’s newest, most grandiose and most ridiculously-named spring training complex, home to the Rockies and Diamondbacks.  I’ll let the car make it up to the freeway interchange and see what it wants to do.

No matter where I go, I think my primary mission for the day will be to grok the differences between spring training in Florida — where I loitered last year — and spring training in Arizona. I’ll tell you what I learn in subsequent posts, but to get real-time observations follow me on Twitter.

And now, onward into spring training.

The Indians are unveiling a Frank Robinson statue on Sunday

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The Cleveland Indians will unveil a Frank Robinson statue at Progressive Field on Saturday.

Robinson’s tenure in Cleveland was not long, but it was historic. On April 8, 1975, he became the first African-American manager in Major League history. He was a player-manager. One of the last ones, in fact. He spent two years in that role and then a third year — a partial year anyway — as a manager only. Robinson would go on to manage the Giants, Orioles and the Expos/Nationals, compiling a career record of 1065-1176 in 16 seasons. He is now a top MLB executive.

Robinson was, of course, a Hall of Fame player as well, lodging 21 seasons for the Reds, Orioles, Dodgers, Angels and Indians. He won two MVP awards and hit for the Triple Crown in 1966. Overall he hit 586 home runs – 10th all time – and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. For an inner-circle Hall of Famer with that kind of resume he is still, strangely enough, underrated. I guess that happens when your contemporaries are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.

Anyway, congrats to Frank Robinson for yet another well-deserved honor in a career full of them.

Hey kids: don’t swing a weighted bat in the on deck circle

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Here’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal. It’s about some studies of hitters who use weighted bats or doughnuts on their bats in the on deck circle. Turns out that, contrary to conventional wisdom, using a weighted bat for practice hacks does not speed up one’s swing when one uses a naked bat in the batter’s box. In fact, it slows it down.

There are lots of caveats here. The sample size in the studies are small and they all involve college and high school players, not big leaguers. The results, however, are consistent with previous studies and they do make some intuitive sense. This is particularly the case with batting doughnuts, which add weight to a very concentrated portion of the bat, thereby changing the center of gravity and thus the swing mechanics of the hitter.

Whether this is applicable at large or to higher level hitters or not, I still find it kind of neat. I always like it when people scrutinize ingrained habits and ask whether or not that thing we’ve always done is, in fact, worth doing.