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Scenes from Spring Training: A surprisingly good game in Tempe

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These early games are supposed to be sloppy, but no one told that to the Dodgers and Angels.  Epic? Nah. Outside of Hiroki Kuroda, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier the Dodgers had a bunch of third and fourth stringers playing today. But no matter who they were, it was surprisingly well-played. The Angels won 4-1.  Random observations:

  • The starters — Kuroda and Trevor Bell — actually looked like they were pitching rather than “workin’ on stuff,” which is what you hear so often this time of year. Kuroda allowed a run and a hit in his two innings. Bell gave up a lone run, but that was a function of Kemp’s hustle more than anyone really getting to him.
  • There was a surprising amount of good defense too. Or maybe it just looked good after watching the Giants and Diamondbacks kicking it all over the yard yesterday.  No errors in this one and no boneheaded plays that got scored hits that I can recall. The game ended on a diving catch in right that was a lot of fun.
  • The running was fun.  it was a split squad game for the Dodgers, with Don Mattingly and half the team playing up in Scottsdale.  Davey Lopes came with the team here to Tempe, however, and he and acting manager Lorenzo Bundy had the Dodgers running a lot, stealing some bases and doing some hit and run. It wasn’t necessarily successful — the Dodgers lost after all — but it made for much better aesthetics than you usually see at these things. The Angels ran a lot too.
  • It was nice seeing Mike Trout play even if he was 0 for 2.
  • It was even nicer seeing Rubby De La Rosa pitch for the Dodgers.  He gave up a home run to Mark Trumbo in his second inning of work but before that he had fairly electric-looking stuff. There was no radar gun on the scoreboard here, but he had to have been rocking the upper 90s. He probably starts the year at Double A, but bookmark the guy.
  • Speaking of those two: in their one-on-one matchup in the third inning, De La Rosa looped a curveball at Trout’s head and made him bail. If it wasn’t for the fact that De La Rosa was  green himself I’d say that it was an example of someone sending a message to the fresh meat.
  • Cool thing: I got to meet longtime reader Loren, who was here with his family to catch the game. Multiple games, actually, as Loren’s wife sprung a surprise Cactus League trip on him. They flew in last night and will be here with their two boys for a few days.  Both Loren and Mrs. Loren are nice folks. And she sprung for some choice seats.  Feel free to copy-and-paste this paragraph and email it to your wife with the comment “hint hint.”

And while we’re on the subject off meeting readers, feel free to shoot me an email, a tweet or a comment if you’re going to be bopping around the Cactus League in the next week, because I’d love to meet you if you’re around.  Tomorrow I’m going to be in Goodyear for some hot hot Reds-Indians action.  On Monday it will be Brewers-Cubs at HoHoKam, on Tuesday it will (probably) be the Brewers-White Sox at Camelback and on Wednesday it will be the Indians-Athletics at Phoenix Municipal. I haven’t decided what Thursday will hold.  I fly home Friday.

Now I’m off to find a food truck selling Sonoran hot dogs because I’m just not into the whole long life expectancy thing.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.