Kansas City Royals Photo Day

Scenes from Spring Training: I get the Jeff Francoeur love

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This isn’t going to change my view of his ballplaying skills or anything, but I’m gonna be honest and say it: Jeff Francoeur is a nice guy. So much so that it made me spend some time thinking this morning about my place in the baseball writing world.  But I’ll get to that in a minute. For now, a rundown of my morning:

I got to The Surprise Recreation Campus just before 8AM. And it is a campus. It’s the first complex where it was hard to find the actual ballpark, what with the apartments, hotels, water parks, schools, fitness centers and everything else in the area.  There’s a lot of land out here in the far northwest side of town, but the city fathers of Surprise decided that the recreation was gonna be right HERE.

Nice place, though. Very friendly staff. As is usually the case I got lost seventeen times and each time an extremely patient person steered me in the right direction. The only hiccup came when I asked someone if I could walk to where they were directing me. There was a look of horror on her face when I suggested walking. “Oh, my, no, you wouldn’t want to do that.”  My destination ended up being less than a quarter of a mile away. Clearly the walk would have meant my end.

As I walked past the players’ parking lot and toward the ballpark to drop off my stuff I heard footfalls behind me. I turned, and there in the flesh was my white whale, Jeff Francoeur. I stopped him with a “hey Jeff,” and I’ll be damned if he didn’t flash a million dollar smile and say hello.  I asked him if he had a minute and he said he needed to get inside but that I should catch him later.

I dropped my stuff off in the press box and then followed the K.C. Star’s excellent Sam Mellinger into the clubhouse. Sam has a great piece on Francoeur in today’s Star.  So great that I was a bit flummoxed when I read it this morning because it pretty much covered everything I find interesting about the guy so I was at a loss of what I would ask him when I met him.

I went into the clubhouse. Francoeur was sitting in front of pitcher Blake Wood’s locker for some reason, eating.  I figured I’d let him eat while I checked out the scene.  And the scene was relaxed, as all clubhouses have been pretty relaxed.  Maybe it’s just an early spring thing. We’re a couple of weeks from managers really cutting the rosters down so the stress is not yet high. I was in Florida last year a week or so later than I’m here now and things seemed more tense. Other stuff:

  • Lots of talk about Charlie Sheen. One player was telling another that he was going to answer postgame questions with some variation of “winning” for the rest of the year.  I suppose this will get old soon, but it was a big laugh line among his teammates;
  • Pitcher Jesse Chavez was the only player who has anything decorating his locker: a 2008 Topps Heritage card — the ones that look like old 1959 Topps cards — of Robinson Tejada.  I suppose there’s a story there, but Chavez wasn’t around to tell it.
  • Indeed, the clubhouse was a lot emptier than others I’ve seen. Some guys were already taking hacks in the cage as early as 8:30, with is somewhat unusual. One pitcher had his arm all iced up as if he had already done his throwing for the day. Things get going early in Ned Yost’s camp.
  • I scanned the lockers and, though I realize how young the Royals are and know who is on their team, it really is shocking to see so few veteran names. The Indians are the youngest team in the league and they at least have Grady Sizemore and Orlando Cabrera in there. With the Royals you have Joakim Soria, Jason Kendall and the kids. Everyone else with some service time under their belt is more or less a journeyman or a guy who has been up and down from the farm as opposed to anyone who has held a set full-time job on a major league roster before.

And there’s Francoeur. He has been a major league regular. He will be again this year.  He is veteran presence now.  I decided that I’d ask him about that.

I wish I had a juicy quote for you, but I don’t. You probably wish that I had some of my patented Francoeur-snark, but I don’t. We just chatted for a minute about it and he — most likely because I’m simply not that good at asking a question to a ballplayer in a way that leads to a good quote — just explained that, yeah, it’s kind of different being one of the older guys on a team.

It didn’t seem like a big deal to him, though. He seems to know the score. There’s a good chance he won’t be here next year and perhaps because of that he didn’t try to play up the whole be-a-mentor-to-the-young-studs thing. He hopes he can impart some advice to them, but he’s under no illusions that he’s Yoda or anything.

Between Mellinger’s piece and what he told me today, I get the sense that Francoeur is aware that he’s in a transitional period in his career.  He probably knows that if he’s halfway decent this year he’ll get a contract from someone next year. He probably knows that if not, he’ll join the journeyman brigade like so many guys with his skills have done in the past.

The whole conversation lasted, like, two minutes. He was polite and friendly, stopping what he was doing to talk to me rather than sort of talking over his shoulder at me as he fidgeted in his locker like so many guys do.  I don’t talk to many ballplayers, but he was easily the most approachable. If you have to go into a locker room and get quotes from ballplayers every day I can totally see why he would be a guy you’d want to talk to and why so many in the Atlanta and New York press seemed to fall in love with him.  He’s friendly but seems pretty b.s.-free.

All of which makes me pretty ambivalent about the whole talk-to-players thing. At least for a guy like me.  In those two minutes I could see that I would probably like Jeff Francoeur if I worked around him each day. And I can understand that, if you like someone — and if you depend on someone for quotes and stuff — that it may be harder to be critical.  And to be fair, it’s not the job (usually) of the guys who go into the locker room to be critical, it’s their job to report.

But it is my job to be critical. Not personally, of course, and I at least hope I’ve been fair to Francoeur as a person even if I’ve ripped him as a ballplayer. But I do have to be critical of ballplayers and, more often, ballclubs.  There are guys more experienced than I am who can walk that line, working with the players by day and writing sharp stuff by night, but I don’t think I could do it.  Something would give, either in terms of me pulling my punches or the players shutting me out because, on some level, that which we don’t think is personal, ballplayers take very personally.  Their identities are tied up far more in their playing skills than we typically assume.

Having met him, I’m not going to treat Jeff Francoeur the ballplayer any differently than I would have before. But I am feeling strangely contemplative this morning about the whole media-ballplayer dynamic. What do we as fans really want and expect from these guys?  What is someone saying if someone is “great in the clubhouse?”  I have this feeling that the answer to the former has very little to do with the stuff that goes into the latter.  I also have this feeling that the latter stuff doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot.

San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus asks for fired DJ to be reinstated

SAN DIEGO - APRIL 06:  The grounds crew works on the field before the start of the game between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres during Opening Night at Petco Park on April 6, 2007 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
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OK, I lied. Earlier I said we had the final word on the National Anthem dustup in San Diego from over the weekend. The final word, it seemed, was the Padres apologizing, the revelation that the screwed up Anthem thing was a mistake by a DJ hired to run the music and the DJ then being fired. Oh, and then the DJ apologizing.

Now a new twist! The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus said today that they’d like to see the DJ rehired by the Padres! Their statement, in relevant part:

We also would like to publicly accept the sincere apology of DJ ARTFORM and recognize his support for the LGBT community and equality for all people. We do not wish to see him lose his job with the San Diego Padres and kindly ask the Padres to reinstate him. Everyone deserves a second chance.”

That’s quite a shift in the past few days, as all of this was came into the public eye via a Facebook post by a Gay Men’s Chorus official saying that this whole thing was part of a pattern of troublesome homophobia. Now we’ve come full circle. Or maybe around the circle a few times and back again. I don’t know. I’m dizzy.

Whatever the case: everyone’s all happy now, and that’s way better than everyone being all mad.

Great Moments in Dealing with Hecklers: Bartolo Colon edition

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 7:  Bartolo Colon #40 of the New York Mets pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on May 7, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Last week the news broke that a lawsuit was filed against Bartolo Colon for back child support for two children he apparently fathered out of wedlock. As we noted repeatedly at the time, the case was sealed and the facts were mostly unknown. Still, the possibility at least exists that Colon has been a deadbeat dad to some degree. And the underlying facts are no doubt a sensitive matter to his family, right? I hope we can all agree on that.

As we’ve all seen in the past, this sort of stuff is what hecklers thrive on. Ask Chipper Jones or any other athlete who have been caught up in scandal, especially sexual scandal, in the past. Fans of the opposition are going to pounce on it. And the fans in Washington for the Mets-Nationals series are no different in that regard:

I wish fans didn’t use stuff about the personal lives of ballplayers like this, especially when it involves their families, but I suppose it’s inevitable. And hey, Colon got him back right? Quickly showed the heckler that he couldn’t be gotten to. The first impulse in reading this is to laugh for just that reason. Indeed, the first impulse in reading a lot of things dealing with Colon these days is to laugh because he’s become a pretty popular and affable figure.

But I also wish Colon, even if this was meant flippantly in order to deflect a jerk, didn’t respond this way in this situation. Why? Because it seems to diminish what, for his family and the woman with whom he fathered a couple of children out of wedlock, is a pretty serious and personal situation. And possibly one with some negative legal consequences in the offing. At the very least Colon’s comment will bring him an extra question or two at a deposition from the lawyer for the mother of his children, putatively to probe him for any other similar situations but, in reality, just to get under his skin. For that reason it was kind of a dumb comment.

More broadly, however, it just doesn’t look great to treat this whole situation flippantly. Maybe Bartolo Colon gets away with this way easier than someone else might because of his current popularity, but how would we feel if another, less popular player were accused of something unseemly and he treated it as a joke like this? I feel like the knives would be out for him in ways they’ll likely never be out for Bartolo Colon based solely on how we feel about the player in question.

It all goes back to what I wrote about all of this last week: we have a sliding scale for behavior for certain athletes and public figures based on their preexisting popularity. We shouldn’t have such a sliding scale. Personally, I think we should be far more hands-off and lenient when it comes to judging these men than we currently are because there is so little we truly know and so little of it is truly the business of fans. But if we do get in the business of judging these guys, we need to be fair about it.

I don’t think we should have the knives out for Colon over this, especially given how little is known about his case and his situation. But I feel like we’d treat someone who was not Bartolo Colon very differently under the same exact facts and that it would do us well to contend with that some.

Report: James Loney’s representatives to contact the Mets

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - MARCH 14:  James Loney #21 of the Tampa Bay Rays swings at a pitch during the first inning of a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium on March 14, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
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Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that representatives of Padres first baseman James Loney are expected to contact the Mets, who are in need of first base help after losing Lucas Duda to a back injury on Monday.

Loney, 32, has spent the season with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in El Paso. In 155 plate appearances, he’s hitting .333/.368/.417 with a pair of home runs and 23 RBI. Loney hit slightly below the league average last year with the Rays and has generally played a solid first base defensively. He wouldn’t begin to replace Duda’s power, but he would be a good stopgap on short notice.

Loney has the privilege of opting out of his deal with the Padres if he can find a major league job elsewhere. The Rays are paying the balance of his $8 million salary, so the Mets would only need to pay the prorated major league minimum.

Duda is dealing with stress fractures in his lower back and said “it will be a while” before he returns. The Mets had Eric Campbell start at first base on Monday, and he figures to be the club’s short-term solution.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 20:  Manager Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees watches batting practice before a game against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum on May 20, 2016 in Oakland, California.  The Yankees won 8-3.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
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Last Wednesday night, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gave a vote of confidence for manager Joe Girardi. The Yankees entered the day 16-22 in last place in the AL East. They beat the Diamondbacks that night to salvage the series. Starting on Thursday, the Yankees would go on to complete a four-game sweep of the Athletics in Oakland and enter tonight’s action in third place at 21-22, on a five-game winning streak.

The Yankees have been hitting well lately, but it’s the pitching that’s responsible for the turnaround. The starting pitcher in four of those five wins went at least six innings and yielded exactly one run, which gave the Yankees the privilege of handing the game off to Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman for the final three innings. That’s exactly the way the Yankees want to win ballgames — play to their strengths.

Nathan Eovaldi will toe the rubber for the Yankees tonight, opposing Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey at Yankee Stadium starting at 7:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Arizona Diamondbacks (Shelby Miller) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Francisco Liriano), 7:05 PM EDT

New York Mets (Matt Harvey) @ Washington Nationals (Stephen Strasburg), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jason Hammel) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 7:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa) @ Boston Red Sox (David Price), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Jimmy Nelson) @ Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran), 7:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) @ Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Jhoulys Chacin) @ Texas Rangers (Martin Perez), 8:05 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman) @ Houston Astros (Doug Fister), 8:10 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin) @ Chicago White Sox (Chris Sale), 8:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez) @ Minnesota Twins (Ervin Santana), 8:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Daniel Wright) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Mike Bolsinger), 10:10 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman) @ Seattle Mariners (Nathan Karns), 10:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Andrew Cashner) @ San Francisco Giants (Jeff Samardzija), 10:15 PM EDT