Citi Field

Greetings from Citi Field, the Futures Game and All-Star Week

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I hopped on a Delta Connection flight to New York yesterday morning. There were eight people on the flight, including me. I was asked to move up to first class, not because I am special, but because they needed to balance out the weight. No mistaking it, baby: this is the big time. My first All-Star Game. And I’m so excited for it that I’m willing to overlook the inconvenient fact that it’s in New York and actually enjoy myself.

Nothing personal against New York. I’ve enjoyed myself often here. And I have the utmost respect for the city and its people. It’s just not my cup of tea. I am reminded of this every time I get in cab leaving LaGuardia and almost die ten times before I get to the Queensboro Bridge. I am reminded of it every time something happens which makes me have to be defensive and on guard and all of those things that New Yorkers tell you you have to be so the city doesn’t eat you alive. I live in Ohio. In a near-rural part of it, for cryin’ out loud. I get by OK when I have to come to New York, but my natural state is not best described as “on guard.” Especially since I began working at home. Putting me in New York is like putting a dairy cow in the middle of the African savannah. The novelty of my presence here will likely keep me alive long enough, but it’s by no means a natural state.

And this is where baseball has taken me this week, so on we forge.

I am staying at the Library Hotel, which is a little boutique joint based on the Dewey Decimal System. Really. My room number’s digits correspond with the classification for 20th century history and so my room is 20th century history-themed, right down to a book about Hitler and Stalin on the shelf and picture of Neville Chamberlin on the wall above the bed. It’s as if the hotel read all of my work about A-Rod and Braun and decided that I needed to be in the “appeasement of history’s greatest monsters” suite. Well-played, Library Hotel.

source:  There’s a media shuttle from Midtown to Citi Field, but I decided that, for my first trip to Citi, I’d do it up John Rocker-style and take the 7 train.  I’m glad I did. I always assumed it was the case, but now I know for certain: John Rocker was probably the most disgusting thing on the 7 train. Beyond idiots like him, the 7 train consists of more or less normal people trying to go about their day. Including the drunk guy and the guy with purple hair and the guy who looked like he just got out of jail for the fourth time and whoever else Rocker decided to attack in that article all those years ago. They didn’t bug me, I didn’t bug them and that’s how non-sociopaths get on in this world, Mr. Rocker.

As for Citi Field: it’s OK. Kind of a mish-mosh of styles and a more fragmented route is required to get around it than a lot of new parks, but it’s nice enough once you get to your seat and watch the game. And the food selection is pretty fantastic. Maybe the best I’ve seen in a big league park. There are many parks I like better than Citi — including ones that don’t have a bunch of scary as hell looking chop shops right outside the park that look as though they chop up way more things than cars — but it’s a fine enough place to take in a game. Like The Futures Game, which is the reason I was there yesterday.

I’m not really a prospects guy and don’t pay as close attention to scouting analysis as some other writers do. I figure the big leagues is a lot to cover so I end up reading Keith Law and Jason Parks and all of those guys for that stuff just like all of you. But I went to the Futures Game because, well, why not? I’m really glad I did.

For one thing, it was a nice, relaxed way to see Citi Field for the first time. I figure it will be hard to move around the place at the Home Run Derby tonight and the actual All-Star Game tomorrow, but yesterday Citi Field was probably only half-full and it made it easy to get to know the place a little bit. Starting with the Rotunda:

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When Citi Field opened this was the most obvious nod to Ebbets Field — an ire-inducing nod for those who thought Fred Wilpon was a little too taken with Dodgers history — but for someone who was born a long time after Ebbets was knocked down it’s hard to get too worked up about it. It’s essentially a Jackie Robinson memorial, and while he was a Dodger, he sort of belongs to all of baseball now. As it is, the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum and the team store is right off the Rotunda. It feels Metsy enough to me. I mean, check it out. The second edition of Mr. Met. With hands so uncomfortably human-like I at first thought it was a real person pretending to be a mannequin:

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After a lap around the park I settled into the auxiliary press box (located behind the glass in the air conditioned Acela Club behind the left field foul pole). Good seats for the game, although it was a bit of a sensory deprivation tank, insulated as it was from the ballpark noise. I assume I’ll be out there for the Derby and for the game, so I’ll have to get used to it. If that’s the worst thing that happens this week, well, good for me.

The Futures Game itself wasn’t transcendent but there were some interesting points. I was upset that USA manager Mookie Wilson didn’t put Byron Buxton into the starting lineup, but then he came in late and struck out in his first two at bats so maybe Mookie knew something we didn’t. Diamondbacks prospect Chris Owings had at least three slicker-than-slick plays at short. He’s hitting .353 for Reno, but I could find no numbers about his GF (grit factor) so it’s hard to say when we might see him in Arizona.

source: Getty ImagesDodgers prospect Joc Pederson fielded a fly ball in deep left in the top of the fourth and attempted to throw out Xander Bogaerts. He didn’t get him — Bogaerts showed off a pretty slick arm’s-length slide — but Pederson’s throw was a laser. Kid’s got a hose. You can say that about prospects, by the way. Stuff like “kid’s got a hose.” Say that about some kid who isn’t a prospect and you could go to jail.

Something also cool about prospects: most of us haven’t seen them before. I know that sounds like a shallow statement, but when you watch something like the Futures Game, you realize just how large a percentage of the players we watch on a daily basis are known quantities. We don’t watch them to see what they’re capable of. We know what they’re capable of. We just want to see them perform. Later on that fourth inning Jesse Biddle came in to bail Anthony Ranaudo out of a jam. He bent off a crazy-good curveball. I heard someone say he had a good curveball once. I’ve never seen it. Seeing stuff like that or like Pederson’s arm for the first time is exciting and fun. Now imagine seeing that a couple of years before a guy is good enough to make it to the Futures Game. When he’s playing out in East Jesus, Texas or Bumfuccaracas, Venezuela before anyone has heard of him. That’s gotta be the thrill that keeps the fire alive inside a scout.

The U.S. team beat the international team 4-2. The results kind of don’t matter, of course, but if you care about them go here.

I took the media shuttle back after the game. Taking a big bus from Queens into Manhattan is different from taking a cab in that you still think you’re going to be involved in multiple collisions, but since you’re in a bus you view it all with a tad more detachment, thinking of everyone else’s impending death rather than your own. “Oh, I wouldn’t have changed lanes there, but I suppose I’ll get a good view of him being smashed from this vantage point.” That sort of thing.

Today: there will be a parade.  Players will be made available for the media. Kay and I will have an HBT Daily for you from the ballpark. Then there will be a home run derby. My choice will be staying in my deprivation tank where I’ll likely have Chris Berman’s commentary piped in or else going out into the park, braving the crowd and hearing Mike and Mike do the play-by-play over the P.A. system. I’m thinking Mike and Mike will get the nod.

Follow me on Twitter for real-time updates and random photos. Keep coming back here to HardballTalk for posts as the day and evening wears on.

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)
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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.