Craig Calcaterra

Atlanta Braves players stretch during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Associated Press

Clubs are getting fined for not following spring training road game lineup rules

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Major League Baseball’s spring training road trip rules require that, for road games, clubs play “a minimum of four players who were regulars on the previous year’s Major League team or who were platooned on the previous year’s Major League team on a regular basis, or who have a reasonable chance to be regulars on the Major League Club’s squad during the upcoming season.” The regulars are supposed to play “a minimum of three complete innings.”

Clubs are fairly routinely flouting this rule, reports the Fort Myers News-Press, and when they’re not explicitly flouting it they’re doing the bare minimum in terms of putting recognizable names on road rosters. An MLB spokesman tells the paper that many teams have been fined as a result. The fines, one presumes, are not exactly excessive and don’t appear to be changing team behavior all that much.

The reason for the rule is pretty obvious: butts in seats. The home team is probably more responsible for drawing fan interest at any given game, but fans don’t necessarily want to see minor league rosters from the road team. Given how prices of spring training games are escalating — and given how much money local governments are investing in spring training facilities — the mere fact that a baseball game is happening is not enough. They need to be entertaining baseball games with at least some degree of star power from the visiting squad. The reason for teams flouting the rules is pretty obvious too: player health and fatigue is a big thing they worry about, as is the convenience and comfort of star players who aren’t big fans of bus rides.

We’ve written a bit lately about the conflict between the original purposes of spring training — teams getting ready to play in the upcoming season — and what spring training has become: a cash cow and tourist attraction for Major League Baseball as well as communities in Arizona and Florida. This tension isn’t going to dissipate any time soon. Nor are the road rosters full of dogs, at least until MLB finds a more effective way to enforce the rules.

Rangers send top prospects Profar, Gallo, Mazara to minors

Jurickson Profar AP
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SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) The Texas Rangers optioned slugger Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielder Nomar Mazara – their three top position player prospects – to Triple-A Round Rock on Monday.

The 22-year-old Gallo hit .286 with a team-leading three home runs in 28 at-bats. The third baseman has led three different minor leagues in home runs, but his path is blocked by All-Star Adrian Beltre.

Profar, who was the youngest player to appear in the majors in both 2012 and 2013, had been limited to 12 games the past two years because of a shoulder injury that required surgery last February.

Mazara, 20, hit .358 in 20 games last season after an August promotion. He hit .375 in 12 spring games.

The Rangers also assigned non-roster invites outfielder Lewis Brinson and infielders Ryan Cordell and Drew Robinson to minor league camp.

With MLB in Cuba it’s hard to avoid political landmines

Students march carrying Cuban flags during a march against terrorism in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Youths marched today through downtown Havana in protest against the United States policy towards the island nation and demanding the that U.S. free three Cuban agents imprisoned there. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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Major League Baseball — and President Obama and ESPN and large parts of the sports media industrial complex — are in Cuba this week. They’re there for an historic game between the Rays and the Cuban National Team tomorrow which is serving as the opening ceremonies, more or less, of a thawing relationship between the United States and Cuba.

But while this marks a whole new chapter in both the world of baseball and international relations, and while everyone is adopting the language of reconciliation and rebirth, there are still a lot of potential rhetorical landmines. For example, how does one refer to Cuba’s no-longer-ruling but still-living dictator, Fidel Castro?

Baseball has gotten into controversy with this in the past. Or at least one guy in it did. A few years ago, just weeks into his tenure as the Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen. found himself in hot water when he was quoted saying that he has “love” for Castro and respected that he stayed in power for so long. That kind of sentiment does not fly in Miami, home to thousands upon thousands of refugees from the Castro regime and orders of magnitude more of their relatives and descendants. Guillen was forced to apologize and there’s a good argument to be made that his managerial stint with the Marlins was doomed from that moment on as a result.

So, the lesson for baseball: be careful with your praise of Fidel Castro.

Unless you’re in Cuba, of course, in which case you need to be careful of your condemnation. ESPN learned that over the weekend when, as a part of its multi-platform coverage of the Cuban trip, it tweeted out a promo referring to Castro as a “savior and scourge” and mentioning his “love for sports.” The tweet, since deleted and apologized for, likely didn’t please ESPN’s hosts in Cuba due to the “scourge” language. At the same time, the “savior” bit and his reference of his “love of sports” probably didn’t make victims of Castro’s brutality and repression feel too cheerful. “Oh, really? He loved sports? Well, in that case I’m no longer upset that my family was destroyed and I had to leave my homeland . . .”

ESPN was transparent about the change, and I don’t envy them being in the position they’re in. After more than 50 years of cold war, the beginnings of normalization are going to be fraught with sensitive feelings and diplomatic dilemmas. It’s a fact that ESPN (and baseball and all things U.S.) is an invited guest in Havana and that the Castros and their allies still run Havana. Some level of . . . diplomacy is required. At the same time, to tell the story of Cuba and Cuban sports accurately, which is a big part of what ESPN is there to do, requires that one be honest about history. That honesty requires seeing Castro for what he was and is just as it requires seeing the U.S. and the Soviets and everyone else who had an impact on Cuban history for what they were and are. That goes for the bad and the good, however one wishes to characterize those things. It’s a thorny as hell task, I am sure.

History has shown that sports are a great tool of diplomacy. Sports networks aren’t quite as well-suited for it. At least if they want to avoid controversy of some kind, which they always, always do.