As the next nine days unfold I’ll be talking a lot about the differences between Florida and Arizona spring trainings. But for now I’ll give you a preliminary observation: the fact that all of the Arizona spring training complexes are located in the same major city is convenient as all hell, but also a bit of a drag. At least so far. Let me explain.
The drag: last year when I made it to my first stop — Port St. Lucie — the whole area seemed kind of Mets crazy. The hotel clerks were wearing Mets jerseys. The clerk at the liquor store (I was there for research purposes) was telling me which players had been in that evening. There was a vibe, man — apparent within the first six hours of landing — that we were all there for a singular purpose and that there was nothing going on but baseball.
Within six hours of landing in Phoenix and I merely felt like I was in a big city. The Angels complex is right outside my hotel door, but there aren’t Angels fans milling about my mountain bunker. The only surprise I received at the liquor store — again, conducting research — was that there were still Christmas gift packs of my house pour for sale (Arizona State University area, consider yourself to be on notice).
Maybe this is a silly observation given that I haven’t been to any parks yet — and maybe it’s more about my excitement level last year as I embarked on my first spring training trip — but there is less of a buzz in the air. This is a big sprawling city going about its business. That’s cool and that may very well lead to many unexpected wonders over the next few days, but there is something fun and weird about places like Port St. Lucie and Viera and Bradenton. Their parks are old and far apart, but if you’re making the trip there at this time of year, you’re doing it for only one purpose and everyone’s pretty giddy about it.
Maybe I’ll find some giddy later this morning. I’ll be sure to let you know.
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.
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.