Sunrise Cactus

Heading to Arizona for some Cactus League action

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It’s gonna be a lot of radio silence from me today as, by the time you’re reading this, I will be on an airplane heading west. Yep, it’s that time of year again. I’m off to spring training for the fourth straight year. And for the third straight year I’m doing it up Cactus League-style.

Some folks have asked me why I keep going back to Arizona instead of down to Florida. There are two answers, really. The first and most direct one being logistics. All 15 of the Cactus League teams play in the Phoenix metro area, and life is way better when you can stay in one hotel and not burn so much time crisscrossing a state to get to the next park.

But the better reason is simply the vibe, man. Sure, if you’re a partisan of a specific team and only want to check them out during spring training you’re best served going where your team is. And, having been there, I can tell you that it’s all kind of fun going to Fort Myers for the Sox or Twins, Clearwater for the Phillies, Lakeland for the Tigers and on and on.  But if you just want to soak up any kind of spring training action, Arizona is the place to go. You can wake up each morning and say “hmm, which park do I want to hit today?” and make up your mind over your huevos rancheros. You can also simply rack up a larger number of places and teams seen. And if you find a cool bar, a cool restaurant or a cool greasy spoon, you can keep going back, time and time again, if that’s what you’re into.

I’m into that. And this year — while still leaving some room for that breakfast spontaneity — I’m going to do my best to hit every park. The tentative schedule is as follows:

  • Today: Hohokam Park for the Cubs and Dodgers in Mesa, assuming no flight delays;
  • Thursday 2/28: Scottsdale for the Giants and Mariners;
  • Friday 3/1: Tempe Diablo for the Angels and Dodgers;
  • Saturday 3/2: Salt River Fields for the Rangers and Diamondbacks (grit warning);
  • Sunday 3/3: Camelback Ranch for the Dodgers and Indians;
  • Monday 3/4: Surprise for the Rangers and Padres;
  • Tuesday 3/5: Phoenix Municipal for the Athletics and … the Italian WBC team! Which should be fun;
  • Wednesday 3/6: Goodyear for the Indians and Dodgers;
  • Thursday 3/7: Maryvale for the Diamondbacks and Brewers;
  • Friday 3/8 Day: Probably Peoria for the A’s and Mariners; Night: Chase Field for the USA vs. Mexico WBC game.

Yes, that’s a lot of Dodgers, but I can’t really control who the visiting team is and, frankly, 85% of my time at a park is spent with the home team. And yes, I know I’m missing some teams — unless I change my mind I won’t be able to see if Jeff Francoeur is truly in the BSOHL or watch Shin-Soo Choo attempting to play center field — but those are the breaks. Like I said, this is all subject to change and, as has happened in years past, it may very well change. Except the pictures of equipment bags on the field. That never changes. Yes, I know I have a problem.

And by the way: if you’re in Arizona and find yourself at one of these places on one of these days, by all means, let me know and we can pull an impromptu HBT meetup. Probably the best way to track my movements and/or stalk me is to get my attention is on Twitter. You can follow me and reply to me here.  You can also send me an email by clicking the “Feedback” button on the upper right corner of the HBT main page. No love notes, though. Gleeman reads those emails too.

So that’s that. Next time I talk to you it’ll be on Mountain Standard Time, live from the Valley of the Sun.

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)
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)
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.