Scenes from Spring Training: Even the phenoms pay their dues

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Last night I was on a radio show, and the host asked me why we don’t tend to see prima donna baseball players making demands on their teams the way we do in the NBA and the NFL.

There are a lot of reasons, of course. For one thing, no one baseball player is as important to a baseball team’s prospects as a single basketball player or skilled NFL player can be to their teams, thus depriving a would-be baseball diva of any real leverage. Another is that, by virtue of college and prep baseball having a very low profile compared to college basketball or football, no one comes to professional baseball already a superstar.

Finally, there’s just the cultural difference: baseball tends to breed and reward conformity and tends to punish non-conformity.  That’s partially for the reasons stated, but partially because that’s just the culture of the game. The upshot: even if you’re the number one prospect in all of baseball, you gotta pay your dues.  And Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is no different.

Not that he would be if the culture of baseball were different. He seems like a nice young man who is polite to his elders (who is everyone) and respectful of his place in the hierarchy. But even if he were inclined to be a hotshot, outside of a handful of prospect hounds and hardcore Angels fans, there really isn’t anyone telling him (or any other hot prospect) that he’s all that.  It’s quite the contrary, actually, as is readily apparent based on a scan around the Angels’ clubhouse.

When you walk in, you notice a nice spacious area to the left with wide lockers and plenty of room to relax.  In front of those lockers sit Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and the other veterans, all in seeming comfort.

Trout’s locker, in contrast, is crammed in a corner where 15 guys share very limited real estate, and some of them even share a locker.  On this morning in Tempe, the limited space was even further limited by the fact that the clubhouse attendants were using the floor in front of rookie corner to stage and fill equipment bags. This despite the fact that there was much more room over in the Hunter/Abreu/Wells section.  As Trout and his fellow youngins sat in preparation of the day’s activities, their arms were drawn in to their sides and their knees were up, much like passengers on an overbooked flight.

The NFL has rookie hazing in training camp. The NBA probably does too.  But I get the distinct impression that young baseball players pay higher social dues over a long period of time.  This doesn’t make baseball any better.  Indeed, this socialization program is what makes ballplayers a lot more boring and cliched than their counterparts in the other sports. It also likely the basis for a system in which the boat is rarely if ever rocked anymore, even if the boat needs a good rocking.  It’s just a different scene with different good and bad points.

After taking in the clubhouse atmosphere a bit I walked over to Trout, climbing over equipment bags in the process.  We engaged in the most cursory of chitchat before he said the most significant thing I imagine he’ll say all spring:  He’s happy to be here. He just wants to help the ballclub. He’s looking forward to learn whatever he can from Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and the other veteran Angels.

What, you were expecting a demand that he be traded to the Knicks?

José Altuve records hit in 10 consecutive plate appearances

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Astros second baseman José Altuve recorded a hit in 10 consecutive plate appearances between Friday and Sunday against the Indians. If the Astros were still in the National League, that would tie a league record, but the AL and overall record is 12 consecutive hits, which was accomplished by the Tigers’ Walt Dropo on July 14 and 15 in 1952. Altuve’s 10 consecutive hits did set a new Astros record, however. The previous club record was eight, set by Altuve last season.

In his third plate appearance on Friday, Altuve grounded out to shortstop. Here were his next 10 trips to the dish:

  1. Two-run double
  2. Double
  3. Infield single
  4. Two-run home run
  5. Single
  6. Triple
  7. Single
  8. Infield single
  9. RBI double
  10. RBI single

This was hit No. 10:

In his final at-bat in the top of the ninth on Sunday, Altuve lined out to center field to end his streak. Teammate Josh Reddick, currently on the disabled list, was impressed with the streak:

After Sunday’s performance, Altuve is hitting .332/.378/.459 with three home runs, 28 RBI, and 31 runs scored in 239 plate appearances this season. His OPS was .760 after Thursday’s game and is now .837.