Surprise Ballpark

A morning in Surprise

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I complained a bit earlier about how long of a drive it is to get to Rangers camp in Surprise. And it is far if, like me, you prefer to stay in the Tempe/Scottsdale area.  But if you’re coming out to Arizona to specifically see the Rangers or the Royals, you’ve got a really nice complex to come to. Surprise is pretty nice.

It’s different, though. Both superficially and for purposes of fan/player interaction.  The superficial differences can be seen in this picture:

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That’s the Royals’ clubhouse/office complex down the third base line. The Rangers have an identical one down the first base line. The white railing and all of those sliding glass doors remind one of a beachfront motel that has seen better days but which is still kept up for the budget traveler. I almost feel like I’m visiting my grandma when I approach these places. Whatever the case it’s quite the contrast to the professional and almost futuristic office/clubhouse buildings at Camelback Ranch, Salt River, Goodyear and places like that.

As far as substantively, Surprise gives fans the opportunity to get way closer to the morning action than most other spring training complexes. The batting cages abut the concourses inside the ballpark. The back fields are well-arranged and fans have much greater freedom to roam among them than you typically see. There are actually stands near a lot of them so you can camp out and watch warmups, drills and the like up close.

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Well, not that up close. But pretty close.

Wandering around the workouts I came across a couple of things of note. Like catchers playing catch with a catcher’s mitt.

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How very “Inception” of them. After seeing this I can’t get this song out of my head.

Also: either hitting coaches get personal model gloves or else Magadan takes good care of his old one from his playing days:

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It’s been three days since I saw an equipment bag on grass. I was getting the shakes, so forgive me:

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Ahhhh.

Back towards the press box, I noticed some plaques on the wall of the concourse. Members of the Surprise Recreation Campus Hall of Fame:

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Just look at how professionally that plaque is hung. That plaque just knows how to hang on a wall the right way.  Also:

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If your Hall of Fame has room for the guy who literally bankrupted the franchise, I’d say you have a “big Hall” mindset.

An hour and a half until game time. I’m gonna be busy until then:

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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)
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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.