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.

Diamondbacks name Dan Haren as pitching strategist

PHOENIX - APRIL 05:  Starting pitcher Dan Haren #15 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the San Diego Padres during the Opening Day major league baseball game at Chase Field on April 5, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Padres 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Diamondbacks announced on Tuesday afternoon that former major leaguer Dan Haren has been named the organization’s new pitching strategist. The role will include working with the front office, the major league coaching staff, and the analytics department.

Haren, 36, ended his 13-year playing career after the 2015 season. He finished with a 153-131 record and a 3.75 ERA across 2,419 2/3 innings.

Since retiring, Haren has been one of the more enjoyable players to follow on Twitter. He promised to teach his disciples how to tweet as part of his new responsibilities.

Pablo Sandoval is in the best shape of his life

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For a guy who won a World Series MVP Award and has been to a couple of All-Star Games, it’s amazing how many stories have been written about Pablo Sandoval‘s off-the-field exploits compared to his on-the-field exploits. Specifically, stories about his conditioning. Or lack of conditioning. Of him getting into shape, falling out of shape and getting back into shape again. It’s been this way since he emerged as an everyday player in 2009.

And it continues anew:

There is no claim here that Sandoval is, in fact, in The Best Shape of His Life. However, longtime BSOHL fans know that the claim is not about the magic words being used. The idea is that, in the offseason, players with something to prove will routinely make an effort to create the impression that they are a new man. Often it is from claiming that one is in The Best Shape of His Life. Often it comes from surrogates talking about how many pounds of fat one has lost or pounds of pure muscle one has added. Sometimes — as here — it comes in the form of showing post-workout photos.

Whatever the purpose of the photo, Sandoval is certainly looking good compared to where he was last spring:

FORT MYERS, - MARCH 14: Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox makes the throw to first on the ground ball from Jason Rogers (not in photo) of the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning of the Spring Training Game on March 14, 2016 at Jet Blue Park at Fenway South, Florida. The Pirates defeated the Red Sox 3-1. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Or at the end of the 2015 season:

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 31: Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox warms up prior to the first inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on August 31, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox won the game 4-3. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Even if this is part of a plan to get Sandoval some good press heading into the 2017 season, I’m happy to see that he appears to be recovered from shoulder surgery and appears to be taking good care of himself and is thinking about his baseball futrue.

Either way, expect the Panda Weight Watch to continue at Red Sox spring training come February.