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Braun vs. the Collector: they could both be right, you know

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I was busy fighting crime yesterday afternoon when the sample collector from L’affaire Braun offered his statement. After that a bunch of people emailed me with some variation of “Ah-ha! Braun is a dirty stinkin’ lying cheater and the arbitrator was in the bag for him! Apologize now.”

OK, maybe the emails weren’t quite so extreme, but they were close. And they’re right about one thing: the statement of the collector does call for some response.  Here’s my response: Well, OK.

I say “well, OK,” because I’m not sure what else can be said. On the surface he seems to be offering a pretty sharp rebuke of Braun. And probably a not-underserved one. At the moment — and, as I’ll argue in a second, the moment matters — Braun’s statement the other day was a bit extreme for a guy who won a procedural victory, even if I still maintain that a procedural victory is significant.  He didn’t really need to point the finger so directly at the collector even if mistakes were made in the process.  It’s totally understandable that the guy felt the need to come back with a strong statement of his own.

As for the substance of the statement: look, there are a lot of things about all of this that seem like people calling each other liars, but it seems more like people talking past each other.

Braun’s people say there were a bunch of places open to receive the sample, the collector says that there weren’t any places that could ship the sample. Those things aren’t necessarily in conflict. The collector says that he followed the procedures set down by his employer, the arbitrator ruled that the procedures articulated in the Joint Drug Agreement weren’t followed. Those statements aren’t necessarily in conflict either. Indeed, the crux of it could very well be that the collector did everything he was told and trained to do by his employer but what he was told and trained to do didn’t conform to what the league and the players agreed upon when they set the system up.

Anyone who has worked in a large organization can relate to how that kind of thing happens. Mistakes and lack of adherence to formal protocols get baked into the process and become accepted procedures over time.  Which is fine when they’re just normal workplace rules, but which aren’t fine when they’re rules that were the product of sensitive, complicated and high stakes collective bargaining. If the union doesn’t object to that, they risk waiving what they fought so hard for in negotiations.

And it could be that those ad hoc procedures make sense.  Field experience trumping design, you know. Could very well be that the Joint Drug Agreement now gets amended to actually formalize the procedures that have been used, albeit in an unauthorized fashion, before now.  That doesn’t vindicate that unauthorized past use — rules are rules — but this could all be part of a healthy evolution of the testing system, with Braun’s specific example being but a footnote in the future.

The important thing at present, however, is that we won’t have ultimate resolution of the seeming discrepancies between Braun and the collector until we see the arbitrator’s decision. To see what, exactly, he took issue with in the procedures that were employed and why he found them significant.  Until then, anyone not privy to the decision who either (a) attacks the collector; or (b) belittles Braun’s procedural defense are just guessing.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.