Tempe Diablo

Scenes from Spring Training: The Angels are loose

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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.

Bobby Valentine on short list to be U.S. Ambassador to Japan

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12:  Former MLB player Bobby Valentine attends Annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald, BGC and GFI at BGC Partners, INC on September 12, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)
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There is literally nothing you could tell me that the incoming administration is considering which would shock me anymore. As such, I saw this story when I woke up this morning, blinked once, took a sip of coffee, closed the browser window and just went on with my morning, as desensitized as a wisdom tooth about to be yanked.

Rob Bradford of WEEI reports that Former Red Sox, Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine is on a short-list of candidates for the job of United States Ambassador to Japan:

The 66-year-old, who currently serves as Sacred Heart University’s athletics director, has engaged in preliminary discussions with President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team regarding the position.

When contacted Thursday night, Valentine refused comment.

Huh. Given his history, I’d have assumed Valentine would be a better choice for the CIA, but what do I know?

Valentine managed the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s Pacific League for six seasons, leading the team to a championship in 2005. He also knows the current prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, as both went to USC. Assuming championship teams meet the country’s leader in Japan like they do in the United States, Valentine has at least twice the amount of experience with top political leaders than does, say, Ned Yost, so that’s something.

The former manager, more importantly, is friends with Donald Trump’s brother, with the two of them going way back. Which, given how this transition is going, seems like a far more important set of qualifications than anything else on this list.

Report: Dexter Fowler will take a physical in St. Louis on Friday

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after lining out during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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Update (8:51 PM EST): The deal is in place, according to Heyman.

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Update (8:27 PM EST): Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals made an “over-the-top offer” to Fowler to ensure he’d sign.

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Frank Cusumano of KSDK Sports reports that free agent outfielder will take a physical in St. Louis on Friday. Presumably, that means that Fowler and the Cardinals have gotten pretty far along in negotiations.

Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports recently reported that Fowler was looking for $18 million per year. The Blue Jays reportedly made an offer to Fowler in the four-year, $16 million range several days ago. The Cardinals’ offer to Fowler, if there is indeed one, is likely somewhere between the two figures.

Fowler, 30, is coming off of a fantastic year in which he helped the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908. During the regular season, he hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI, 84 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 551 plate appearances.

Fowler rejected the Cubs’ $17.2 million qualifying offer last month. While the QO compensation negatively affected Fowler’s experience in free agency last offseason — he didn’t sign until late February with the Cubs — his strong season is expected to make QO compensation much less of an issue.