Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes homers, drives in another run in a spectacular spring training debut

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Yes, I know it’s spring training and that spring training doesn’t matter. But I believe in Yoenis Cespedes. I am, officially, a Cespedesphile.

Wait. That doesn’t sound quite right. We have time to work on it, though. It’s spring training for wannabe members of the not-yet-invented Yoenis Cespedes fan club, too.

Anyway, a full house — or close to it — here in Phoenix today saw A’s center fielder Yoeins Cespedes make his spring training debut in Oakland’s 6-3 win over Cincinnati. And it was a great one.

His first at bat was not, technically, an at bat. He walked on six pitches, never once taking the bat off his shoulder. I suppose you could say that was anti-climactic . But you could also say that it was good that he was willing to take pitches and look and see what a guy he’s never faced before — Johnny Cueto — had to offer.

And heck, I would too, as Cueto seems to have changed his delivery and now does the full-blown Luis Tiant thing, which is pretty cool. Lots of crazy looks from him these days. Love it.

Cespedes’ next plate appearance came in the second inning. One out, runners at the corners. This time he swung the bat twice. First to foul one off, the second time to knock a single up the middle, driving in the A’s third run of the game. Welcome to the majors, Yoeins.

The big at bat came in the fourth, leading off. He fell behind Jeff Francis 1-2, and then was way ahead on three straight sliders, fouling them hard past third. People in the press box made noises about him being set up for high heat (never mind the fact that Francis doesn’t have high heat). Nope: Cespedes waited and jacked the next pitch over the left field wall for a homer and his second RBI of the day. It was not a cheapie. Not by a long shot.

On the defensive side, he had his first defensive chance in the third inning, snagging a Brandon Phillips fly ball. It didn’t require any serious ranging or anything. Another fly ball from Daryl Jones in the fourth. I’m still wondering if he’s gonna stick at center field. Hard to justify it with Coco Crisp around unless — as Crisp says — he’s a demigod. As it was, there was nothing in today’s game to give us any indication. Which was frustrating because I want to know the answer to every conceivable question about the guy now, in one spring training game. DON’T MAKE ME WAIT FOR THE REGULAR SEASON.

Sorry. Got a little carried away there. I think the Arizona sun is getting to me. Or maybe it’s Cespedes Fever.  Because, guys, I have it.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.