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An interesting night at the nerve center for the WBC

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When I got here last week I wrote some complimentary things about Phoenix which were somehow spotted by the folks at the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau. Those good folks asked me if I was interested in joining them for dinner, along with a larger media tour they were holding in connection with the World Baseball Classic. You don’t have to ask me out for dinner twice, so I as on board when it went down last night.

The location: The Hotel Palomar, a block or so away from Chase Field. The Palomar is home base for the WBC. Players for the WBC teams are staying there, as are all of the officials, media relations people and what not. And the whole hotel was festooned with WBC logos, like so:

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The Palomar is a nice joint. So nice, in fact, that it made me change my inner monologue about some of the WBC players I’ve seen around the Cactus League the past few days.  Before it went like this:

Look at those guys. They’re good baseball players, but they’re simply outclassed by the Major Leaguers. It must be so weird for them to find themselves on these fields, far from home, being humbled in this way. I feel like going up and hugging them.

Now it’s like this:

Man, a couple of hours of this game and then they get to go to that sweet hotel, sit in the cabana by the pool and chit chat with all of the beautiful women who, by pure coincidence, are walking around the hotel, looking hard at anyone who might be a baseball player.

Put differently: even the backup catcher for Team Italy has got it better than you this week.

Driving around from ballpark to ballpark in the Phoenix suburbs, the WBC feels far away. But downtown, in and around the Palomar, there is definitely a feeling of electricity. I spoke with a couple in the lobby who came to town specifically for the WBC. They were excited. As too were those women who, by pure coincidence, were walking around the hotel. There were signs for meeting rooms and administrative offices for the WBC, all suggesting a much bigger thing, for lack of a better term, than most of us take the WBC to be.

All of it makes me wonder if the WBC would consider making the event a one-site thing in the future, rather than scattering it around the world like it is this week. There are certainly enough fields here in Arizona to make it work. Make it a destination thing, condense the schedule a bit and have one mega-hella tournament and maybe some of that heat I felt downtown last night would grow, making it an even bigger event than it is right now. Super Bowl-esque, dare I say? True, that is normally a sacrilegious thought when it comes to baseball, but I think it’s quite appropriate for the WBC even if it isn’t for the MLB regular season or World Series. Just thinking out loud here.

After bopping around the hotel we went into the on-site restaurant, Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails. There I had a couple of Manhattans and some short ribs and talked about baseball for a long damn time with the head of the Phoenix CVB, who happened to be a big Braves fan back in the Rafael Ramirez/Pascual Perez days and a freelance wine and travel writer named Bob Ecker who once raced as the Hot Dog in the Miller Park Sausage Race. Joining us in conversation was another freelancer named Lisa Davis who, while having very little connection to baseball herself, is looking forward to the White Sox-Cubs game on Thursday because she’s convinced there will be fights in the stands.

Scenesters at a hotel pool. Travel writers. Italian baseball players. Civic boosters. For one evening I’m imagining and actually experiencing a world where everyone, in every walk of life, cares, in their own way, about baseball and has some connection to it, however tenuous. It’s a world I would very much love to live in, even if I know it only exists in these odd couple of weeks in the desert, appearing like a mirage and, necessarily, soon to disappear.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.