Harley Race

Greetings from Tempe Diablo Stadium

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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:

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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:

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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.

Must-Click Link: The Turbulent Final Year of Yordano Ventura’s Life

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 23:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals reacts in the sixth inning while taking on the Toronto Blue Jays in game six of the 2015 MLB American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 23, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Kansas City Star has covered the death of Yordano Ventura and its aftermath in a thorough, thoughtful, respectful and admirable fashion and it has all been compelling to read, even if it’s often been difficult to read. Their latest story may be the most difficult, though it is nonetheless essential.

It covers the final year of Ventura’s life which, sadly, was tumultuous. He had become estranged from his family. He was married to a woman who, at the time of the ceremony, was still married to her first husband and whose family, allegedly, later made threats against Ventura that we’re only now learning about. This includes allegations of armed men accosting Ventura at his home near the Royals spring training facility a year ago. An incident which led to him missing time due to “flulike symptoms,” but which, in reality, caused him considerable mental distress. He was again threatened, it is claimed, in Kansas City during the season. There is also an allegation that Ventura attempted suicide via an overdose of Benadryl, though that is disputed.

Beyond that, there is an arc to the end of Ventura’s life which sounds unfortunately familiar. It’s a story of a young man whose life changed dramatically in a very, very short period of time and who struggled at times to process the changes. Were it not for a fateful drive on a dark and winding road one night in late January, they all could’ve been things that, as his career matured, he could look back on as learning experiences. Now that he’s gone, however, they form the final, tragic chapter.

Report: Royals and Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals and the American League rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the National League in the 2nd inning of the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals and first baseman Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension. However, Hosmer also indicated that he will head into free agency if a deal is not consummated by Opening Day.

Hosmer, 27, avoided arbitration with the Royals last month, agreeing to a $12.25 million salary for the 2017 season. He is one of four key Royals players who can become a free agent after the season along with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer does reach free agency, he would arguably be the top free agent first baseman.

Hosmer finished the past season hitting .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI while making his first All-Star team.