There aren’t many spring training complexes like the Orioles’ complex

27 Comments

SARASOTA — Dear lord, this place is a palace. Really, it’s probably the nicest spring training park I’ve been to in either Arizona or Florida. But before I get to that, I need to tell you something important: rattlesnakes can swim 20 miles out to sea.

At least that’s what I was told this morning by two men in a McDonald’s somewhere off of I-75 on my way to Sarasota. The men were easily in their late 80s or older and were wearing WWII veteran caps. They were drinking coffee, newspapers in front of them and were engaged in deep conversation. I listened in:

Man 1: Those rattlesnakes or what you call ’em. Nasty, I tell ya what. They can swim real well, too.
Man 2: I heard they can swim.
Man 1: We saw one out on the boat one day. We were 20 miles out. He was just swimmin’ along.
Man 2: Hoo, boy.
Man 1: 20 miles.

I couldn’t decide if I should thank them for stopping Hitler or if I should yell at them for giving me swimming rattlesnake nightmares. Either way, it was an emotionally-affecting few moments.

Into Sarasota and to Ed Smith stadium which, as I said, is a palace:

source:

It has the amenities of the newest Arizona complexes such as a separate building with offices, clubhouses and training facilities. The clubhouse itself has a ping pong table, cornhole setup and a bumper pool table for the players. Flat-screen TVs everywhere. Tons of room and nice plush carpeting. The larger complex provides close access to all of the back fields with well-marked directions and walkways for fans — but, like a lot of Florida places, is situated in a neighborhood and feels more human-scaled. And the actual stadium may be the nicest I’ve seen. A feeling of permanence and luxury and major league quality, but unlike Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, is still on the scale of a minor league or spring training park.

There are all kinds of nods to history here, such as this cool banner/bat thing hanging in the area behind the home plate seats.

source:

Also, signs and posters detailing Orioles history. Blown-up copies of tickets from the 1979 World Series, programs from 1966. Stuff like that. And history lessons too, like this poster. Which is in the press box bathroom of all places:

source:

One always thinks of the O’s just having the cartoon bird and the ornithologically-correct bird, but there are a ton of different cartoon birds. Like these two psycho birds:

source:  source:

A closeup of the top one — the  “cuckoo bird” — above each of the players’ lockers in the clubhouse beside their name. I feel like we should see more of that one than the smiling bird. It’s pleasantly unsettling.

But not quite as unsettling as this:

source:

That’s wonderful for the sake of conservation, but I really would like to meet the person who was going to drink out of the toilets and urinals but for this warning about reclaimed water. The person who says “well, if it was fresh toilet water, fine, I might’ve been in business. But I really don’t care for the reclaimed stuff.”

Oh well. Down to the field to watch the O’s work out and listen to Buck Showalter hold court in a little while.

Free agents who sign with new teams are not disloyal

Getty Images
12 Comments

Most mornings my local newspaper is pretty predictable.

I know, when I navigate to its home page, that I’ll find about eleventeen stories about Ohio State football, even if it is not football season (especially if it’s not football season, actually), part 6 of an amazingly detailed 8-part investigation into a thing that is super important but which no one reads because it has nothing to do with Ohio State football and, perhaps, a handful of write-ups of stories that went viral online six days previously and have nothing to do with anything that matters.

Local print news is doing great, everyone.

I did, however, get a surprise this morning. A story about baseball! A baseball story that was not buried seven clicks into the sports section, but one that was surfaced onto the front page of the website!  The story was about Michael Brantley signing with the Astros.

Normally I’d be dead chuffed! But then I saw something which kinda irked me. Check out the headline:

Is Michael Brantley “leaving” the Indians? I don’t think so. He’s a free agent signing with a baseball team. He’s no more “leaving” the Indians than you are “leaving” an employer who laid you off to take a job at one of its competitors. This is especially true given that the Indians made no effort whatsoever to sign him. Indeed, they didn’t even give him a qualifying offer, making it very clear as of November 2 that they had no intention of bringing him back. Yet, there’s the headline: “Michael Brantley leaves Indians.”

To be clear, apart from the headline, the article is unobjectionable in any way. It merely recounts Ken Rosenthal’s report about Brantley signing with the Astros and does not make any claim or implication that Brantley was somehow disloyal or that Indians fans should be upset at him.

I do wish, though, that editors would not use this kind of construction, even in headlines, because even in today’s far more savvy and enlightened age, it encourages some bad and outmoded views of how players are expected to interact with teams.

Since the advent of free agency players have often been criticized as greedy or self-centered for signing contracts with new teams. Indeed, they are often cast as disloyal in some way for leaving the team which drafted or developed them. It’s less the case now than it used to be, but there are still a lot of fans who view a player leaving via free agency as some kind of a slap in the face, especially if he joins a rival. Meanwhile, when a team decides to move on from a player, either releasing him or, as was the case with the Indians and Brantley, making no effort to bring him back, it’s viewed as a perfectly defensible business decision. There was no comparable headline, back in early November, that said “Indians dump Brantley.”

Make no mistake: it may very well turn out to be a quite reasonable business decision for Cleveland to move on from Brantley. Maybe they know things about him we don’t. Maybe they simply know better about how he’ll do over the next year than the Astros do. I in no way intend for this little rant to imply that the Indians owed Brantley any more than he owed the Indians once their business arrangement came to an end. They don’t.

But I do suspect that there are still a decent number fans out there who view a free agent leaving his former team as some sort of betrayal. Maybe not Brantley, but what if Bryce Harper signs with the Phillies? What if Kris Bryant walks and joins the Cardinals when he reaches free agency? Fans may, in general, be more enlightened now than they used to be, but even a little time on talk radio or in comments sections reveals that a number of them view ballplayers exercising their bargained-for rights as “traitors.” Or, as it’s often written, “traders.” I don’t care for that whole dynamic.

Maybe this little Michael Brantley headline in a local paper that doesn’t cover all that much baseball is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an example of how pervasive that unfortunate dynamic is. It gives fans, however tacitly, license to continue to think of players as bad people for exercising their rights. I don’t think that belief will ever completely disappear — sports and irrationality go hand-in-hand — but I’d prefer it if, like teams, athletes are likewise given an understanding nod when they make a business decision. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that such decisions are not misrepresented.