Farewell, Arizona

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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:

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.

Onward, ho.

The Indians are unveiling a Frank Robinson statue on Sunday

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The Cleveland Indians will unveil a Frank Robinson statue at Progressive Field on Saturday.

Robinson’s tenure in Cleveland was not long, but it was historic. On April 8, 1975, he became the first African-American manager in Major League history. He was a player-manager. One of the last ones, in fact. He spent two years in that role and then a third year — a partial year anyway — as a manager only. Robinson would go on to manage the Giants, Orioles and the Expos/Nationals, compiling a career record of 1065-1176 in 16 seasons. He is now a top MLB executive.

Robinson was, of course, a Hall of Fame player as well, lodging 21 seasons for the Reds, Orioles, Dodgers, Angels and Indians. He won two MVP awards and hit for the Triple Crown in 1966. Overall he hit 586 home runs – 10th all time – and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. For an inner-circle Hall of Famer with that kind of resume he is still, strangely enough, underrated. I guess that happens when your contemporaries are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.

Anyway, congrats to Frank Robinson for yet another well-deserved honor in a career full of them.

Hey kids: don’t swing a weighted bat in the on deck circle

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Here’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal. It’s about some studies of hitters who use weighted bats or doughnuts on their bats in the on deck circle. Turns out that, contrary to conventional wisdom, using a weighted bat for practice hacks does not speed up one’s swing when one uses a naked bat in the batter’s box. In fact, it slows it down.

There are lots of caveats here. The sample size in the studies are small and they all involve college and high school players, not big leaguers. The results, however, are consistent with previous studies and they do make some intuitive sense. This is particularly the case with batting doughnuts, which add weight to a very concentrated portion of the bat, thereby changing the center of gravity and thus the swing mechanics of the hitter.

Whether this is applicable at large or to higher level hitters or not, I still find it kind of neat. I always like it when people scrutinize ingrained habits and ask whether or not that thing we’ve always done is, in fact, worth doing.