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Scenes from Spring Training: Random observations from Salt River Fields

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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.

Dee Gordon reinstated from PED suspension

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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The Miami Marlins have reinstated second baseman Dee Gordon from his suspension.

Gordon, of course, has missed the last 80 games while serving his drug suspension. He’s coming off a minor league rehab assignment and will be the everyday second baseman for the contending Marlins. He was hitting .266/.289/.340 with three doubles, two triples, five RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases in 97 plate appearances when he was popped. He was replaced by Derek Dietrich, who hit a nice .275/.366/.398 with 22 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 314 PA in Gordon’s absence, so don’t expect a tremendous upgrade at second down the stretch, even if they get a nice upgrade in the utility and depth department.

To make room for Gordon, the Marlins designated utilityman and sometimes hero Don Kelly for assignment. Sad jams.

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimized his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.