The past two years of spring training trips have followed the same pattern: early in the trip I get to the ballpark early, acting all professional and reportery with my notepad and the desire to tell stories. By the end of the trip I’m just grooving on it all, realizing that most ballplayers don’t have interesting things to say, taking pictures and soaking it all in.
Since today is Day 1, I got to Tempe Diablo Stadium early, raring to go, only to find out that the clubhouse was closed due to an MLB Security meeting. Seems that you still have to tell ballplayers not to do drugs, mmm-kay? I cooled my heels and vowed to sleep a little later tomorrow.
The clubhouse opened up a bit later and I went in with the other scribes. The most noticeable thing: it was loud, raucous, happy and loose. Such a change from last year’s Angels clubhouse which seemed practically funereal. Either their “don’t do drugs” lecture was hilarious this morning or else this is a team in a very, very good place.
Among the highlights of the morning’s rounds:
- The first player I saw: Pujols. He was standing in the hallway leading to the clubhouse, eating a big bowl of Lucky Charms. I don’t know why this amused me but it did.
- In other dining news, Jered Weaver had an entire sleeve of Thin Mints girl scout cookies. This is a team that knows how to eat.
- When you walk into the clubhouse, the first five lockers along the wall to the left are: Bobby Abreu, Pujols, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Kendrys Morales. That’s nearly half a billion dollars worth of ballplayer meat. The reporters all flocked to this area, obviously, while the rest of the team was able to sit generally undisturbed. I guess it’s appropriate that the stars pay that price.
- Hunter is clearly the guy most comfortable with the media. Or else the media is most comfortable with him. He held court for a good half hour, talking about everything from high school football to how weird it is that these shiny new spring training facilities sit empty most of the year. “Wow, what a waste of real estate,” he said.
- Hunter was asked how Pujols was fitting in. Hunter said “he doesn’t talk much.” Then he said he was kidding — “I MAKE him talk,” he joked — and said, almost awestruck, to the point where it didn’t sound like the usual cliche, that Pujols works hard.
- Last year Kendrys Morales looked like a deer in the headlights, likely realizing that he was hurt bad and wouldn’t be able to play. Today: he hopped and danced around as music played in the clubhouse. And he joked around too: Alberto Callaspo shoved a laundry cart in his general direction in mock anger, and Morales fell back into a chair, holding his previously-broken ankle, yelling “Ay! Ay! Ay!”
As the reporters were winding down with their work, two huge carts full of toys were wheeled into the clubhouse. Like, actual toys: Barbies, Nerf guns, Hulk Hands (Hulk Hands!) and Star Wars stuff. Players pounded on the carts, laughing, joking and taking toys. It’s apparently part of a team charity drive, and the players get to pick what they’ll sign and give to kids.
But based on how happy and loose the Angels seem to be, if I didn’t know better, I’d guess that everyone just wanted to play.
If tonight was his last night in a Cardinals uniform, Matt Holliday made the most of it.
After sitting out most of the second half with a fractured thumb, the 36-year-old was activated from the disabled list on Friday and slotted in as a pinch-hitter during the seventh inning of the Cardinals’ 7-0 shutout. What happened next could hardly have elicited more sentiment had it been scripted:
The solo shot was Holliday’s first home run as a pinch-hitter, and his first home run of any kind since August 9. The triumphant moment might have been the last of its kind in St. Louis, as it was reported earlier today that the Cardinals do not plan to exercise Holliday’s option in 2017.
Prior to the game, the left fielder released a statement in which he expressed his gratitude for the past eight seasons with the Cardinals’ organization:
I would like to thank Mr. Dewitt, Mo and the entire ownership group for the opportunity to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.
I am proud of what we have accomplished on and off the field during the past seven years. I have also been humbled by the incredible support and participation in our Homers for Health program.
It has been an honor to play in front of such great fans and for such a historic organization. I can honestly say it has been a dream come true.
While I’m disappointed this could be it here in St. Louis, I understand that it might be time to move on.
I’d like to express my love and admiration for Tony, Mike and all of the coaches and staff that I have had the pleasure to do life with these past seven-plus years.
The most emotional part of this is my teammates and the relationships I’ve built with some of these guys over the years. Particularly, Adam and Yadi, to be considered part of the core with two of the finest human beings I’ve ever known.
Finally, I’m eternally thankful for the Lord bringing me to the city of St. Louis in August of 2008. Lots of cool stuff has happened since then. On behalf of my wife Leslee and our children Jackson, Ethan, Gracyn and Reed: Thank you!
Don’t interrupt Angel Pagan in the middle of a wild card race. Better yet, don’t interrupt him at all.
A fan learned that the hard way during Friday’s Giants-Dodgers game. In the fourth inning, a group of fans ran onto the field with white flowers in their hands, presumably to hand to Giants players. According to eyewitness accounts, one player was reprimanded by San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner, while Buster Posey fended off another.
Angel Pagan, however, took more extreme and inventive measures.
On-field security started closing in on the fan as he approached Pagan, but didn’t appear to pick up the pace until the outfielder dropped him on the field.
Vin Scully, who was wrapping up the third-to-last game of his career, provided play-by-play of the incident.
A couple of kids, trying to steal a moment, slow down the game, running on the field and just taking a big moment on the big stage. They’ve got one of them in right field, and the other one is nailed down by Pagan in left field. And the crowd loved that! They went up to do something with Angel Pagan, but [Pagan] grabbed him and slammed him to the ground, and they’re taking him off the field. […] Doesn’t that bring you back to the ’60s, and the flower children? Oh what, you don’t remember the ’60s? Okay.
The next time you want to send a message to a player, maybe try a tweet (throw in a flower emoji or two if you feel so inclined). Just don’t make a showy display of affection in the middle of a game. It’s bound to go badly, at least where Angel Pagan is concerned.