Harley Race

Greetings from Tempe Diablo Stadium


There’s a reason for that Harley Race pic. Just read.

Day three of my Cactus League tour takes me to Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels, the team with perhaps the most star power in all of baseball. Just check out the banner:


Of course, bringing in an MVP-caliber hitter and the big free agent pitcher last year didn’t mean the playoffs. Baseball is a funny game that way.

I went down to the clubhouse, where things seemed pretty relaxed compared to my last couple of years here. It’s hard to put your finger on why — I suppose reporters who are with this team every day have way better insight — but there seemed to be more joking and cross-talk and guys facing out of their lockers instead of in towards their lockers than there used to be.

One change, obviously, is where Mike Trout sits, both literally and figuratively. When you walk in the clubhouse there’s an area off to the left (it was off to the right in previous years; they changed where the media enters) where the NRIs and minor leaguers who have yet to be sent down huddle in pretty tight quarters.  On the other side of the doorway is a stretch of larger lockers where the superstars like Albert Pujols reside. For the past two years Trout was over in the crowded area. Now he’s on Veteran’s Row.

And he’s clearly comfortable. Rookies and minor leaguers tend to clutch bats while they sit in their folding chairs or stare intently at their smart phones. Trout did this the past couple of years. He now takes on the veteran posture: leaning back, smiling, and joking with his teammates. What a difference a gigantic breakout year makes.

Still, he’s not the center of attention here. Despite five or six reporters in the clubhouse, no one was bothering him. When Albert Pujols walked in, however, he was swarmed by reporters, all asking about his health and when he’s going to run on the field — he’s already running on a treadmill and says he feels good — and whether he’s going to DH more and that sort of thing. Mike Trout may be the best young player in the game, but he’s still young and, it would seem, not yet as interesting to everyone as others.

The most interesting thing in the clubhouse: Scott Cousins Downs (oops) who sat at his locker with a WWE championship belt draped over his shoulder like it wasn’t a thing. I walked over to him and said “really?”  He just smiled. He let me hold the belt. It’s heavy and I want one. Another reporter came over and asked where he got it. “Internet,” he said, clearly enjoying this. Eventually he explained that he collects wrestling belts. I asked him if he had the old-school, Harley-Race era NWA belt — my favorite, by far — and he said he didn’t. He does have that big one they created for Ric Flair, though.

I asked him if anyone ever throws down, wrestling-style in the clubhouse. He said no. I prodded him, observing that there were, like, 50 folding chairs in the room. It could be awesome. He said “yeaaahhh …” either strongly considering the idea or else trying to humor me while thinking I was an escaped mental patient. But hey, he’s the one with the belt so it’s not like he can get all high-and-mighty with me about it.

Outside where today’s lineup was posted:


The visitors, for the second time in three days, are the Dodgers. And I’m going to see them at Camelback Ranch on Sunday. I think I’m gonna be pretty sick of the Dodgers soon.

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played a four hour and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.