Scenes from Spring Training: Even the phenoms pay their dues

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Last night I was on a radio show, and the host asked me why we don’t tend to see prima donna baseball players making demands on their teams the way we do in the NBA and the NFL.

There are a lot of reasons, of course. For one thing, no one baseball player is as important to a baseball team’s prospects as a single basketball player or skilled NFL player can be to their teams, thus depriving a would-be baseball diva of any real leverage. Another is that, by virtue of college and prep baseball having a very low profile compared to college basketball or football, no one comes to professional baseball already a superstar.

Finally, there’s just the cultural difference: baseball tends to breed and reward conformity and tends to punish non-conformity.  That’s partially for the reasons stated, but partially because that’s just the culture of the game. The upshot: even if you’re the number one prospect in all of baseball, you gotta pay your dues.  And Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is no different.

Not that he would be if the culture of baseball were different. He seems like a nice young man who is polite to his elders (who is everyone) and respectful of his place in the hierarchy. But even if he were inclined to be a hotshot, outside of a handful of prospect hounds and hardcore Angels fans, there really isn’t anyone telling him (or any other hot prospect) that he’s all that.  It’s quite the contrary, actually, as is readily apparent based on a scan around the Angels’ clubhouse.

When you walk in, you notice a nice spacious area to the left with wide lockers and plenty of room to relax.  In front of those lockers sit Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and the other veterans, all in seeming comfort.

Trout’s locker, in contrast, is crammed in a corner where 15 guys share very limited real estate, and some of them even share a locker.  On this morning in Tempe, the limited space was even further limited by the fact that the clubhouse attendants were using the floor in front of rookie corner to stage and fill equipment bags. This despite the fact that there was much more room over in the Hunter/Abreu/Wells section.  As Trout and his fellow youngins sat in preparation of the day’s activities, their arms were drawn in to their sides and their knees were up, much like passengers on an overbooked flight.

The NFL has rookie hazing in training camp. The NBA probably does too.  But I get the distinct impression that young baseball players pay higher social dues over a long period of time.  This doesn’t make baseball any better.  Indeed, this socialization program is what makes ballplayers a lot more boring and cliched than their counterparts in the other sports. It also likely the basis for a system in which the boat is rarely if ever rocked anymore, even if the boat needs a good rocking.  It’s just a different scene with different good and bad points.

After taking in the clubhouse atmosphere a bit I walked over to Trout, climbing over equipment bags in the process.  We engaged in the most cursory of chitchat before he said the most significant thing I imagine he’ll say all spring:  He’s happy to be here. He just wants to help the ballclub. He’s looking forward to learn whatever he can from Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and the other veteran Angels.

What, you were expecting a demand that he be traded to the Knicks?

Carlos Santana left last night’s game with back tightness

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Andrew Miller leaving last night’s Indians-Red Sox game got all the press, but the Indians lost another key player in the game as well: Carlos Santana. He was forced to leave after going 0-for-3. There was no followup announcement after the game, so he’s likely being reevaluated.

Santana is hitting .250/.355/.446 on the year, but he’s been pretty hot of late, hitting .375 with a couple of homers in the past week.

Bruce Bochy calls the Phillies Hector Neris “an idiot”

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On Sunday Phillies reliever Hector Neris hit Buster Posey in the back. Posey thought it was intentional and, after the game, said  “I guess he didn’t feel he could get me out.”

Was it intentional? There’s a lot to suggest it wasn’t. Mostly the game situation: the Phillies had a two-run lead, but Neris was called in with two men on base and hitting Posey put the tying run in scoring position, which is not something a reliever usually wants to do with his first pitch of the game. Beyond that, while Neris and former Giant Eduardo Nunez had a bit of an incident earlier this season (Neris blew a kiss at Nunez after some words), there was no bad blood between Posey and Neris. When the pitch hit Posey in the back Neris seemed to react negatively, as if he didn’t mean to do it, and said as much after the game.

Oh well, it’s not uncommon for guys who get hit to be angry about it, even if it was uninentional. It’s not uncommon for guys who hit someone to say it was an accident, even if it wasn’t. You can file this one in the “unsolved” drawer forever, where it will be forgotten.

Or at least you could until Bruce Bochy weighed in yesterday, after the Phillies left town:

“It wasn’t just a little inside. The same guy — I’ll say it, he’s an idiot. He showed it in Philadelphia when he was having words with (Eduardo) Nuñez, so I think that caused the radar to be up a little bit on what happened there. It wasn’t a glancing blow. It was at his ribs and on the backside of his ribs. I’m not surprised. I would have been upset, too. You never know for sure, but it certainly didn’t look good. Anyway, that’s behind us.”

I guess it was, anyway. The Giants don’t face the Phillies again this year, but remember it for next year.