Greetings from Tempe, Arizona

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I’d have a nice picture of an Arizona sunrise here for you, but as I am typing this it is 5AM local time and it’s still dark. Stupid body, thinking it’s still on Eastern Standard Time.  I’m guessing the sun will be up soon anyway. It’s the desert. The sun tends to shine here.

I got in to Phoenix late yesterday, somehow resisted the urge to immediately go to In-N-Out Burger, to get a gigantic plate of Mexican food or a Sonoran hot dog. I may fall off the wagon later this week, but I’m at least attempting to be healthy for now.  Of course given that the hotel gave me a smoking room for some reason and my lungs and nasal passages are already burning with the rich tobacco flavor of the furnishings of my room, I probably shouldn’t get too hung up on health. Heck, I should probably go buy a pack of smokes and just go with it, right? Then it’s settled.

Enough of that. I’m here for baseball.  And a little later this morning I’ll be heading to the other side of Tempe, to Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Which makes them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Tempe for the next month or so. Stuff I hope to figure out:

  • How the big splashes this offseason by Jerry DiPoto are fitting in. You know, guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Chris Iannetta.  Wait, what? Why are you looking at me like that?
  • How good Kendrys Morales looks. I know he’s supposed to be good to go this year, but one of the most striking things of last spring was seeing Morales barley be able to walk around, all the while the team’s official position on him was that he was doing OK.  That changed pretty quickly after the games started. I’m sure he’s fine now — it’s been a year — but I do want to see the difference.
  • I also would like to anger all of my analytical friends and delve into the world of intangibles and mood-analysis and see if there’s a different feel around Angels camp this year. Last year there was a sense that the Angels were in for a dreary season. They overperformed spring expectations, but in early March it seemed a little quiet and almost dour at Tempe Diablo. Will things seem more upbeat, both among players and fans and the overall zeitgeist now that they have Pujols and Wilson and buckets and buckets of hope?  My normal left-brained self is not ashamed to admit that I care about such things.

Finally, it looks like I’m going to get a chance to interview Torii Hunter for NBC SportsTalk tonight.  If you have anything you’re dying to know from the man, leave it in the comments. And don’t worry: I already plan on asking him what kind of tree he’d be if, in fact, he were a tree.  This isn’t my first trip around the block with this Media Professional thing, you know.

I’ll check in with you from Angels camp later this morning.

Alex Bregman shows how easy it is to manufacture “controversy” in baseball

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In most sports it takes legitimate trash talk to create off-day “controversy.” In baseball, it takes the weakest sauce. We saw how weak that sauce was yesterday.

Alex Bregman and the Houston Astros are going to face off against Nate Eovaldi and the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS tonight. It’s worth noting that earlier this season, they hit back-to-back-to-back home runs off of Eovaldi when he was pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Yesterday, in an act which was likely somewhat inspired by self-motivation, somewhat inspired by getting in Eovaldi’s head and somewhat inspired by a simple interest in having fun, Bregman took the video of those back-to-back-to-back homers off of Eovaldi and posted it to his Instagram:

Of course, since this is baseball, where even farting off-key can be construed as “showing up” the opposition or somehow disrespecting the game, it became a thing. Or at least people tried to make it become a thing.

Indeed, it took them a bit to find someone who would help them make it a thing, because Eovaldi himself didn’t care about it a bit, nor did Astros manager A.J. Hinch or Red Sox manager Alex Cora. Eventually, however, they hit pay dirt. Here’s Sox infielder Steve Pearce talking to WEEI.com:

“Wow. I don’t know why he would do that. We do our talking on the field. If he wants to run his mouth now we’ll see who is talking at the end of the series.”

My guess is that almost no one on the planet, Steve Pearce included, would care about this in a vacuum or if they allowed themselves to think through it for more than a second. Baseball culture, though — and let’s be clear about it, baseball media culture — has conditioned most of its players and participants to think that stuff like this is supposed to be controversial, so it actually takes effort not to start dancing to this kind of tune on auto-pilot.

Kudos to Hinch, Cora and Eolvaldi for exerting that effort and not dancing to it. To the press that automatically sought out comment on this and Pearce who dutifully gave it: hey, I get it. It’s hard to resist one’s conditioning. Maybe you’ll be able to resist it next time.