It’s Saturday night, and we’re in Scottsdale. Everybody told me that Salt River Fields, the spring-training complex shared by the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, is the nicest minor-league stadium down here, and I believe them. It’s a beauty.
The evening is cool and clear. The press-box windows are wide open and just to the third-base side of home plate. Off in the distance, behind centerfield, lies a series of mountain ranges, which change color as the sun sets.
Because this is a road game, there was no early work for the Royals. Because this is a night game, the team stretch was at 3 p.m. instead of 10 a.m. Back in Surprise, just before the team stretch started, Jeff Francoeur told stories from the night before and kept everyone in stitches.
One of the big pieces of news from the previous evening was this: Alex Gordon took a bite of cupcake. His teammates were astounded — and so was I. What’s the big deal? “Sooo … Alex doesn’t eat sweets?” Luke Hochevar told me he didn’t think Alex had eaten a pizza since he was 8.
First-base coach Doug Sisson told me that Alex was the most disciplined person on the face of the earth. Hochevar argued that there must be some Zen master on top of a mountain in Tibet who is more disciplined, but Hochevar and Sisson agreed Alex holds the title in the continental United States.
While his teammates speculated whether Alex kept the cupcake down or went to the bathroom and purged, Mitch Maier walked up and said he had someone who wanted to meet me. It was Royals outfielder Greg Golson. Apparently Mitch and Greg got on YouTube and found the video of me getting smoked by a 92-mph slider. Mitch said it was just as funny the 100th time he saw it as the first.
Golson wanted to know whether I would do it again. I said no, but I told him that the Royals catchers want to blow me up at the plate, the outfielders want me to crash into the wall and Eric Hosmer wants to take me out at second base.
Greg suggested I let an outfielder do the honors of flipping me on the double-play pivot because “we’re more ruthless.” I never thought of it before, but I guess an outfielder doesn’t have to worry about retaliation. Nobody takes out an outfielder on a double play. Chris Getz remarked that outfielders also tend to be bigger. These sound like excellent reasons to get an anemic batboy to do the job.
Man, study the game, work hard and the thing people are going to remember is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Well, I guess fame for being stupid is better than no fame at all—which explains every reality show ever made.
More on spring training stats
As I suggested yesterday, spring training stats should be taken with a grain of salt — and Chris Getz threw in some more sodium, saying “fields are rock hard.” Chris said he already had seen three balls pounded down in front of home plate that bounced over the third baseman’s head for a hit. “How often do you see that during the season?”
Then he made an even more telling point. In spring training, pitchers aren’t always pitching to a hitter’s weakness. They often are working on their pitches. Say a guy has a slider-speed bat. During the season, pitchers will blow fastballs past him. Here in Arizona, they will still throw him sliders if they need to work on that pitch.
There was some early batting practice going on, and I saw some players take their first six to twelve hacks at a ball with a weight still on the bat. I asked Mitch Maier if this was to make the bat feel quicker when he took the weight off. He said no. Mitch explained that the weight forces a hitter to use good mechanics and control the bat head. Get sloppy, and the bat head drops, resulting in a pop-up. Or getting sloppy might mean slinging the bat head out and away from the body, resulting in an easy “rollover” grounder.
So take your first few hacks with the weight on and see what it does for your swing.
The new closer
After Friday’s game, manager Ned Yost said the Royals were lucky to have several candidates for the closer’s job, and he might not name one before the season started. So there’s some evidence for you guys who were on the other side of the “people-perform-better-in-set-roles” argument we had a few weeks ago. Although I would be surprised if the Royals didn’t name a closer at some point.
Of course, Yost might not want to name a closer until he sees someone successfully handle that role (and there’s some evidence for my side of that argument). Yost might want to make sure Jonathan Broxton is totally healthy or Greg Holland is suited for the ninth inning — and several times since I’ve been down here I’ve heard people say the ninth is a lot different than the eighth.
Why announce a closer and then have to change things soon after? It might be better to go into the season and let people pitch their way into the appropriate roles. A lot of managers will tell you that the players make out the lineup. They play their way on to the field … or off it.
Speaking of playing your way off the field, that reminds me: I got to see an old buddy the other day, Jerry Dipoto. When I met him, Jerry was a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. Now he’s the general manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Back in the day, Jerry needed someone to throw long-toss, and I got elected. It was ridiculous. He would stand at one end of a soccer field and throw a laser beam to the other end with no apparent effort. I would return it with a running start, a crow hop and three joints popping. Then Jerry would want to face a batter and, once again, I was the guy. So I was getting to see pitches in the mid-90s with movement. And if you’ve ever sat in the stands at a major-league game and thought, “I was pretty good in high school. I think I could hit this stuff.” Trust me — you can’t.
Anyway, Jerry is without a doubt the funniest person I know — and I know people who are funny for a living. He’s a legend in my family, and once we start telling Jerry Dipoto stories, we can go on for a long time. Here’s the “playing your way off the field” story:
My family went to St. Louis to see Jerry and Tim Bogar play for the Mets. We were waiting outside the stadium for them, and Jerry came out first. Here’s what he said:
“Bogie’s starting to (tick) me off.”
“What did Bogie do?”
“Playing too much. As long as you’re on the bench, nobody knows if you’re any good. You might be terrific. The last thing you want to do is get on the field and prove you’re not… Overexposure— fastest trip out of the big leagues.”
This went along with Jerry’s philosophy that you didn’t want to make too much money. They might expect you to get someone out. And you don’t want to play for too good a team. Why not pitch for a franchise that would allow you to suck and still keep you around?
As you might have guessed by now, Jerry was not serious. He’s as competitive as anybody. For example: he refused to play his own card in Strat-O-Matic games because his numbers weren’t good enough. He didn’t want to get hit by anybody at any time — even if it was imaginary.
So the other day we got to say “hi” and exchange cellphone numbers. Jerry warned me to be patient. It might be awhile before he could return a call. I said, “Dude, you blew off when you were nobody.” Jerry grinned and said it really hadn’t gotten any better now that he’s a GM.
His success couldn’t happen to a funnier, nicer guy. I just hope he doesn’t get overexposed — I hear it’s the fastest trip out of the big leagues.
Today’s base running drill Home to first base and making the turn toward second. We have videos on both.