Maryvale

Scenes from Spring Training: Leave Maryvale Baseball Park alone!

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Until today I had been to every single Cactus League Park except for Maryvale Baseball Park, spring training home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Everyone who had been here before told me I wasn’t missing much. That it was a dump and in a crappy neighborhood and that my time would be spent better elsewhere.

Well, screw them. I like this place. A lot. Indeed, it’s up there with another hated-on Arizona place — The A’s Phoenix Municipal, where I’ll be tomorrow — on my favorites list.

It’s not as fancy or as architecturally interesting as some of the new places. And sure, the surrounding neighborhood is a bit on the rough side. But there is something unsettling about the Glendales, Surprises, Goodyears and Peorias of the world. They sit out in these wide open spaces in suburbs that seem to have no organic reason for existing. Really: it’s a mega sports complex, some strip malls and some chain restaurants and miles of wide open desert.  It’s enough to throw my gravity off.

Maryvale, in contrast, just fits into the area in an unassuming manner. The trees are bigger, as the place is about a decade older than the others. The team office and the minor league facilities blend in nicely, rather than stand out with huge team logos on them. It reminds me of an oldish professional park. The kind you went to see your pediatrician in back in, oh, 1978 or something. I can’t really explain it, but complexes like this comfort me in a weird way. It’s warmly institutional. I’m not joking. I dig it.

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The park itself is cozy and utilitarian. It kind of reminds me of New Comiskey in some ways, in that it was built just before people started building palaces. But it’s clean and has good sight lines and as long as you’re here for the baseball and not a ten-point entertainment immersion, it’s spiffy.  I’m here for the baseball, so this will do just fine.

After I set up in the press box — a nice one, by the way, in that the windows totally fold up and back and open to the field without walls and partitions and stuff — I wandered.  I get to the park early and usually there aren’t any players out on fields yet when I arrive, but this morning I came across Norichika Aoki working on his bunting:

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Some Japanese reporters and photographers were there too. Like the institutional buildings, I have come to love the presence of the Japanese media everywhere I’ve gone the last two springs. It’s gotta be the roughest beat around. They’re far from home and they’re in pitched competition to get something — anything — new every single day from maybe one player. I really admire them and I feel strange if I go someplace and they’re not around.

After watching Aoki for a while I went into the Brewers’ clubhouse. Not much happening there. Ryan Braun seems to have the day off and both of his lockers were unoccupied. Corey Hart came in on crutches — he had surgery the other day — and gingerly put on a pair of workout shorts and shoes. Dude has a tattoo on top of his foot, by the way. That probably hurt worse than the surgery. Saw Zack Greinke too. He had two cinnamon raisin bagels on a plate and was wearing a polo shirt with baseball pants as if everyone wore that combo all the time. I like Zack Greinke a lot.

I saw Brooks Conrad sitting alone, so I went over there. As a Braves fan I obviously have some mixed feelings about Conrad — he hit some big homers but also made some big errors while in Atlanta — so I wanted to talk to him just to see what he was like. I didn’t tell him I was a Braves fan because I thought that would be strange in that setting, but I did say I follow the Braves closely. He lit up a little bit, as he knew that I was going to ask him about the differences between the Braves and Brewers organizations.

I was told by someone later that he had some not-so-nice things to say about the Braves the other day. On this day, however, he skewed diplomatic, talking about how positive the environment is in Brewers camp. I asked him a bit about the approach to hitting in Milwaukee, hoping he’d say something like “the Braves think walks are for communists.” He didn’t say it in so many words, but he suggested that, yeah, Johnny Narron is a bit more interested in Brewers hitters working the count than Larry Parrish was in Atlanta. Which, honestly, wouldn’t be that hard.

When I got done in the clubhouse Ron Roenicke was getting ready to make himself available to the media. As I waited outside of his office in the lobby, I couldn’t help but notice this gigantic mural behind the receptionist’s desk:

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Doug Melvin had me lol’ing for ten minutes.  Did I mention that I really like it here in Maryvale?

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.

Diamondbacks hire Mike Fitzgerald to head Research and Development department

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Mike Hazen, new Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Red Sox, addresses the media during a press conference to announce his promotion before the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on September 24, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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According to an official announcement, the Diamondbacks have acquired former Pirates quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald as their new Director of Research and Development.

Fitzgerald joined the Pirates’ front office in 2012, where he frequently accompanied the team on the road to help breach the divide between analytics and the clubhouse. According to a profile written by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh in 2014, Fitzgerald’s multifaceted approach brought balance and perspective to the organization, whether he was assisting coaches in making statistically sound decisions, optimizing the batting order, weighing in on scouting and personnel decisions, developing more effective defensive positioning, or keeping players and personnel appraised of the latest developments in sabermetrics.

In the wake of Fitzgerald’s departure, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington praised the Diamondbacks for a smart acquisition and said that the club has every intention of finding a replacement analyst, albeit one who will have some big shoes to fill.