Craig Calcaterra

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Gio Gonzalez feels good “right meow”

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Spring training is the best. Take this interview of Nats starter Gio Gonzalez in which he uses the word “meow” instead of now multiple times, clearly egged on to do so by Max Scherzer, who was counting each time Gonzalez said “meow.”

Pranks and things can be fun, but absurdist humor is something I can really get behind.

A-Rod hit a home run, you guys

Alex Rodriguez
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For a guy who has been described as a near-invalid, barely able to walk and engaged in an epic game of chicken with the Yankees to see if he’ll retire before the Yankees release him, he’s hitting pretty well.

Rodriguez just hit a 3-1 Brandon Workman pitch over the left field wall at Steinbrenner Stadium in Tampa. It’s his first homer of spring training and his first homer in any competitive setting since September 2013. Folks on the scene are saying that the crowd roared its approval at A-Rod’s solo shot. Which puts lie to another favorite A-Rod narrative about how everyone hates him and wishes he’d just go away. Really, it’s just a handful of media types and the people who actually sign his checks who feel that way.

With the caveat of “it’s still early in spring training” always applied, let the record reflect that Rodriguez is now 5-for-11 (.455) with that homer and two RBI thus far. That’s a line of .455/.538/.818.

Cubs fans: Wait ’til next year? “Screw it, it’s our year.”

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source:

MESA, Ariz. — “Wait ’til next year.” That’s been the Cubs’ motto for more than a century. It’s gone from a sincerely held belief to a ironic philosophy to meta commentary on the existential dilemma of what it is to be a a Cubs fan. At its very bottom it’s a verbal identifier for members of the same sad tribe. So much losing for so long has caused Cubs fans to build up all manner of psychological defenses, a motto which tells them their reward will come not now but later chief among them.

Walking around the Cubs’ gorgeous new spring training facility in Mesa, Arizona this morning, however, and I found some people who are committing what’s tantamount to a thought crime among Cubs fans: present optimism.

There’s good reason for it. The Cubs have undergone nothing short of a transformation in the past few years. The organization is rotten with top hitting prospects like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are superstars, each only entering their age-25 seasons and each around whom a serious contender can be built. The acquisition of Jon Lester this past winter was a free agent coup no one would’ve dreamed the Cubs could pull off even a year ago. The same could be said of the hiring of Joe Maddon away from the Rays. The amount of positivity surrounding this organization right now is pretty staggering, especially considering that they’re coming off a 73-89 season.

source:  I asked Don Myers of Cary, Illinois — here with his wife Joyce (a White Sox fan) and daughter Nicole (non-committal, but wearing a Cubs shirt) — if they’re excited about the 2015 Cubs. Or if, after a lifetime of disappointment as a Cubs fan, maybe it’s a good idea to temper one’s enthusiasm. He rejected the notion.

“Screw it. It’s our year,” Myers said with a chuckle. He’s not deluded of course. He knows the NL Central is tough and ballclubs can take a while to gel. But Myers said that it’s baseball and what’s the point of being a baseball fan if you don’t think positively? “I’m quite optimistic,” Myers said. When I told him about Soler, Baez and Bryant going back-to-back-to-back yesterday he smiled and said offered a low, happy “wooo!”

More tempered in her optimism is Diana Jaworski of Joliet. Jaworski — visiting Mesa with her husband Jeff, also a White Sox fan — said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the new-look Cubs. Jaworski is more what you expect from a Cubs fan. She has had her heart broken pretty consistently since the 1969 collapse. “When the ball went between Leon Durham’s legs [in the 1984 NLCS] I sobbed,” she said. She remembers being crushed when Steve Bartman happened in 2003. “We were six outs from the World Series. It just wasn’t our turn,” she says. Though she sounds like, even more than a decade later, she’s trying to convince herself of that.

Jaworski’s hesitance to fully buy-in is not merely a product of those heartbreaking moments, however. When talking about Joe Maddon and his positive attitude she said, “we were supposed to get excited about Don Zimmer. Don Baylor. Dusty Baker. Lou Piniella.” She noted that, under those regimes, it was more typical for the Cubs to “put together a bunch of old players who were famous but whose careers were almost over” while the new Cubs are all about young up and coming players. She is aware that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer transformed another one time sad sack organization into a champion and thinks it can happen with the Cubs too.

But she’s not in the bag just yet. Jaworski has four children, three of whom are Cubs fans. “I’ve told them all, ‘honey, I’m sorry I ever did this to you.'”

If Don Myers is right, however, she won’t be sorry soon.

The Rays sign three-time Tommy John surgery veteran Johnny Venters

Washington Nationals  v Atlanta Braves
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Johnny Venters was a truly great relief pitcher there for a while. But last year he was hit with his third torn ulnar collateral ligament and required his third Tommy John surgery. One assumed, when one read that, that his career was over. And it may, for all practical purposes be over. But he’s not giving up just yet, and baseball teams are not yet giving up on him:

Venters, a lefty, hasn’t pitched in a game since October of 2012. He had his first Tommy John surgery in 2005 when he was a 20-year-old at low Single-A. His second came in May of 2013 after a spring training filled with elbow soreness (and a couple of years of major overuse by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez). Before that second surgery, however, he had a 2.22 ERA and 258 strikeouts in 230 innings for the Braves from 2010-2012 while averaging 94.5 miles per hour with his fastball.

Have left arm will travel. And best of luck to one of the unluckiest guys in the game.

The Yankees are “lucky” they didn’t land Cliff Lee? Really?

cliff lee getty
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Joel Sherman in the New York Post, where all stories in baseball are viewed through the lens of Yankees fandom whether it has anything to do with the Yankees or not:

The current rotation concerns of the Yankees and Rangers could be worse — Cliff Lee could have accepted one of the two highest total bids in December 2010.

The argument is that, now that Cliff Lee is breaking down, it sure would’ve been a bad thing to have signed him. Which, frankly, is kind of silly.

Cliff Lee’s contract is not fantastic — and as I mentioned yesterday, giving anyone an option buyout of $12.5 million is silly — but it’s not like Cliff Lee has been chopped liver over the life of his deal. Between 2011 and 2013, Lee averaged 31 starts, 222 innings, 222 strikeouts and a crazy-low 34 walks. His ERA over that span: 2.80. Do you not think that the Yankees could’ve used that in 2011 when they lost in the LDS or 2012 when they lost in the LCS? You don’t think one more ace may have gotten them to another World Series?

More fundamentally, would the money left on the back of Lee’s deal plus whatever was lost last season when Lee had to have been shut down really changed the Yankees’ fate today? They already have tens of millions in bad money sitting on the books. Would a few million more make a difference?

Sometimes it’s not all about the Yankees. And even if it is, it’s not always as dramatic as the all-about-the-Yankees crew likes to make it sound.