It is with a heavy heart that I get on a plane this morning and leave Arizona. No, it’s not a paradise. But for a few weeks in late February and on through March it is pretty damn close to it. The weather is perfect. The baseball is plentiful. Hope is ubiquitous. Friends — at least my friends in baseball — are all over the place.
Yes, it’s been a wonderful week here in the Valley of the Sun. A week that has re-energized me and has made me anxious for the regular season to start. That has made me realize that no matter how many baseball seasons I’ve lived through, each one begins anew, unspoiled and wonderful. It has been a week that has made me remember that, even though life has its ups and its downs, baseball is always there for us. As a diversion or, if we need it to be, as something more.
It’s been a pretty rough, dark winter in a lot of ways. But it’s a winter that ends now. Ends with the dawning of a new morning. A morning in which we learned a few things. Such as:
- Brian Wilson has no idea about how the universe works, but OH MY GOD he inspired something wonderful.
- Sometimes you walk into a room with three Hall of Famers just sitting at a table reading newspapers and shooting the breeze;
- Sometimes you walk down a concourse and see two Hall of Very Gooders.
- Sometimes you get accosted by some weirdo with a head wound at a seedy bar on the unfashionable side of town;
- Yoenis Cespedes is pretty freakin’ awesome, even if your momma could hit a homer off Jeff Francis;
- Yu Darvish is pretty freakin’ awesome, even if your momma could hold the San Diego Padres scoreless;
- To be successful, first you see the ball, then you hit the ball;
- Coco Crisp thinks it’s funny that I’m bald;
- So too does the Indians’ beat writer from MLB.com, but at least Manny Acta has my back;
- For some people, the Expos will never die;
- Robin Yount needs a bigger cap;
- Ron Roenicke is a neat guy;
- Maryvale Baseball Park may be in Phoenix’s most gang-ridden neighborhood, but it’s still pretty nice;
- At some point you get too old to hold on to souvenir baseballs;
- Chief Wahoo sucks, and I’m never gonna get tired of talking about it;
- Talking to baseball players may make me not want to rip them as much, which probably means I should stop talking to baseball players;
- Lots of reporters wanted to see Yu Darvish in person;
- Torii Hunter has gone to the Crash Davis school of not telling nosy reporters anything of substance;
- A person actually bought an orange Marlins’ cap;
- Bobby Abreu actually thinks he can pitch; and
- The Angels are a happy bunch.
As you read this, I’m at 30,000 feet. Next time you hear from me I’ll be back in my fortified compound on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, refreshed by my travels and primed for a new baseball season.
The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.
Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).
A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.
The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:
A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.