Scenes from Spring Training: Random observations from Salt River Fields


Earlier updates from today’s doings can be found here and here.  And now here are some other random observations from my day at Salt River Fields:

I watched the Dbacks’ catching drills.  I caught a little when I was a teenager and I found it to be very difficult. These guys get their butts beat simply training.  But they also seem to be enjoying it.  I’ve never watched a defensive drill that was louder and more lively than this one. Each ball in the dirt was met with whoops and cheers and taunting by the other guys.  If it wasn’t for all the bruises they were getting, I’d guess that they didn’t do anything more fun in their lives.

Miguel Montero, Henry Blanco, Kirk Gibson, Kevin Towers and a bunch of other guys were hanging around the batting cage. Montero was complaining that he never “gets the green light” to swing away when it’s 3-0.  Towers said “don’t complain to me about it.”  Montero went on, naming other guys who got the green light, acting as though he was disrespected.  When he was done, Gibson said “Hank gets it too. I even give the green light to Hank,” referring to Blanco.  I get the impression that picking on Miguel Montero is a major pastime in the Dbacks’ clubhouse.

Speaking of Blanco: he was doing a drill in which he got out of his crouch and ran down to first base.  He’s probably one of the slowest guys in baseball, but when you’re right next to him you realize that even the slowest guys in baseball are way faster than you are. Remind me of that next time I make jokes about the Molinas and Blanco and others who are not so swift-of-foot.

The big white buckets full of baseballs during BP and fielding drills had “Dbacks” written on them with a marker.  I got a mental image of someone having to do that after the Rockies stole their baseballs.  Really, this place is wonderfully designed and I’m sure they’ve thought of everything, but I wonder if there are any territorial issues that crop up between teams who share facilities.  I asked one of the ballpark workers about it. These guys know absolutely everything about this place and made it a point all day to tell me about its features, even when I wasn’t asking — did you know that at all times, at least 85% of the seats are in the shade? It’s true! — but this guy claimed to not know anything about problems arising over equipment and stuff.  Not sure if I believe him. My skeptical side is skeptical.

Matt Williams was hitting grounders during infield practice.  This is not newsworthy, but I like to point out that bald guys are awesome.

It was kind of hard to find the Colorado Rockies out here today.  The Dbacks had access to the main stadium field today — their first workout in the stadium itself — so it’s understandable that they were easier to find.  Sorry if I gave your team short shrift here, Rockies fans, but one thing I’m finding about these shared spring training facilities is that it still takes a full day to capture any one team’s zeitgeist.

As I write this the Diamondbacks have left to go to a team-wide golf tournament. The Rockies are slowly leaving as well, off to enjoy one of the last few afternoons on which they won’t have a ballgame in a while.  Tomorrow I go to the Giants’ joint in Scottsdale to hang around the World Champions and then to enjoy a real live game between these Dbacks and those World Champs.  In the meantime, I’m going to do a lot of this:

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

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I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.