This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: March 11-17, 2013
Bud Selig Faces the Alternative Music A (Fleetingly) Good Time in Arizona
Baseball's Sleeping Giant KO'd Again at the WBC The Union's Latest PED Idea

Cold Leverage Service
The Miami New Times, the weekly newspaper that blew the lid on Biogenesis, its founder Anthony Bosch and the numerous major leaguer clients it outed for PED use through the facility, refused Major League Baseball’s request to hand over documents related to the story. But in doing so, the New Times showed off its edgy, more alternative slice of journalistic principles so ordinary for such periodicals. Rather than for New Times editor Chuck Strouse to simply state that he had an ethical obligation to deny handing over the documents (as most mainstream newspapers would do), he felt it better to publicly admonish commissioner Bud Selig for baseball’s “horrible, racist history” (citing former owners Marge Schott and Calvin Griffith), its “unjustly” banishment of Joe Jackson following the Black Sox Scandal and, more currently, the sport’s failure to tame and/or oust vilified Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria (referred to by Strouse as a “pudgy art collector”)—intimating that maybe the documents can be handed over if Selig forced Loria to sell. Sports Illustrated called Strouse’s rant “unhinged,” while NBC Sports’ website called it “quite amusing.”

Yahoo’s Jeff Passan immediately wrote that Strouse’s denial forced the Florida Department of Health to act and seize the records as part of an investigation on Bosch, as if the government was coming to the rescue. But many others believe that the investigation will focus on Bosch only and won’t become a vehicle to verify which major leaguers took steroids and which ones didn’t. So don’t expect MLB to luck out as a result.

It All Starts With a Minor
Cesar Carrillo, a Detroit farmhand who’s struggled for eight years at the minor league level, became the first official casualty of the Biogenesis scandal this past week when baseball suspended him for 100 games—50 for being connected to Biogenesis and another 50 for lying that he didn’t know Bosch. Because he’s not on the Tigers’ 40-man roster, Carrillo is not given the same shield as major leaguers per the current Basic Agreement between players and owners. It was suggested at some point that, under a threat of suspension, Carrillo would squeal and rat out other names. Apparently that did not happen.

Can’t You Hear the Noise?
There was no Justin Verlander, no Buster Posey, no Prince Fielder, no Troy Tulowitzki, no Mike Trout, no Matt Kemp…and no advance for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, as the Americans bowed short of the final round by losing on consecutive nights to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in Miami. The crowds and enthusiasm for these games were fantastic, though it appeared there were more fans rooting for the opposition. And say this: The U.S.-D.R. game alone generated more energy from the packed house than you will probably see for all 81 Miami Marlins games combined this season at Marlins Park. And yet, the lack of American star power as one A-list ballplayer after another prioritized the upcoming regular season more still serves to remind us that, until more players choose country over club, the WBC will remain a second-tier event.

A Certain Kind of Nirvana
A day-plus of soaking in the warming Arizona sun along with some spring training became less than a day when pressing matters back home forced an early return, but it didn’t keep me from checking out a few of the spring camps on the west end of Phoenix, away from the more hustle-and-bustle atmospheres of Scottsdale, Mesa and Tempe east of downtown.

spring training picturesSpring training images at left, from top to bottom: A peak into Goodyear Ballpark from behind the left-field fence; Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly and friend head to the practice fields at Camelback Ranch; a Chicago White Sox fan watches his team warm up at Camelback.

Amid the emerging, outlying reaches west of town where one block of development was followed by a block of undeveloped desert, relatively idle boulevards led me to Camelback Ranch in Glendale (spring home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers) and Goodyear Ballpark, home for the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians.

Increasingly expensive tickets to spring games may be starting to test people’s patience, with sales reportedly down 15% this year; one returning Cactus League tourist called into a sports talk station to say he paid $78 for he and his wife to sit on the outfield lawn at a San Francisco Giants exhibition in Scottsdale. But there’s great and totally free value to be had just by walking around some of these new, expansive and beautiful new facilities such as the two I frequented above and checking out the players.

At Camelback Ranch, three hours before a scheduled game, I was pleasantly surprised to be given free parking in order to walk around; both the White Sox and Dodgers were in full drills on separate fields, as a small group of fans (many of them loyally decked out in their team’s colors) watched in the emerging warmth of the morning. On one of 14 practice diamonds at Camelback, the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley was throwing off the mound while a cache of coaches and others looked on to make sure he was progressing well from recent injury; manager Don Mattingly, walking out in a dressed-down assortment of a blue shirt and shorts, soon joined them, as fathers behind the ropes goaded their young ones to get an autograph. The docents who casually guarded the gates to the complex were all smiles and were happy to answer any questions; all that was missing was a hotdog and soda in my hands. It may not be everyone’s idea of entertainment, but between the warm, relaxed desert atmosphere, the sprawling, park-like facility and the presence of so many major leaguers with a speckling of fans watching, it all added up to a certain kind of nirvana.

Next (and last), I ventured even further west to Goodyear, which put itself on the map a few years back by luring the Reds and Indians to a new spring training facility there. With less time to spare, I checked out Goodyear Ballpark, which is separated a few blocks from the training facilities that house 16 ballfields (take that, Camelback!). In the open-air concourse near the left-field corner, concessionaires were readying their kiosks for the day’s coming game between the Reds and Giants; the ticket booth was open and fans were already lining up, three hours before first pitch, to collect on numerous seats yet to be sold. With an early flight to catch, it was a painful sight; I had planned to be one of those ticketholders, but now I was on the clock and Sky Harbor was calling.

We’ll be back in the future, with more comprehensive details and better stories to tell, but the one great takeaway from my brief excursion this time around was that spring training is more than about the game; it’s about the atmosphere, the openness and practices so inviting, you almost want to crash the scene and bat around in the cage. And heck, why not? With all those ballfields, they can’t all be being used… —Eric

Cry Me a River
We know that in Texas you’re told to pull yourself up by your bootstraps more than anywhere else, and new Houston owner Jim Crane played to the attitude and shoved sensitivity when he chatted with the Wall Street Journal this past week. In responding to criticism of the Astros’ $25 million payroll—by far the majors’ lowest—he spared no sympathy, saying, “…it’s not (the fans) money. This is a private company…If they want to write a check for 10 million bucks, they can give me a call.” Crane is relying on growth from within, building up his minor league system to produce better (and more inexpensive) homegrown talent.

Sorry, Next Idea...
The players’ union reportedly offered MLB an increase in PED penalties by creating a “two-tier” system of punishment, in which suspensions would be harsher for players found to be intentionally taking such drugs as opposed to alleged accidental usages by players like Guillermo Mota, who claimed to have taken cough medicine said to have offending characteristics of PEDs (it was his second PED penalty). But MLB saw the obvious potential for runaway litigation with accused players desperately trying to plead ignorance and gave a flat no to the thought.

Anybody up for Reemployment?
In a series of comments only George Steinbrenner would have dug, New York Yankee general manager Brian Cashman seriously suggested that he would love to get either Chipper Jones or Derrek Lee to jump out of retirement and replace the injured Mark Teixeira at first base. Both declined, with Jones tweeting, “Enough with the rumors!...I’m happy with life as a bad golfer!” Spurned, Cashman is now looking at his next options: Eddie Murray, Norm Cash and George Sisler.

Knuckle Down
Josh Booty, the winner of MLB Network’s “The Next Knuckler”, has visions of making it in the majors, he’ll have to work his way up. The 37-year-old former stud college quarterback was reassigned to minor league camp by the Arizona Diamondbacks after failing to appear in a single spring training game, but at least it was a sign that the Diamondbacks haven’t totally given up on him either. Another potential dilemma regarding Booty was resolved this past week when the Miami Marlins—who actually owned Booty’s rights after he played in their organization from 1994-98—officially “released” him.

A Reputation That Precedes Him
The Baltimore Orioles traded
Michael Flacco, brother of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco, to the Boston Red Sox for cash considerations or a player to be named later. (Does Tom Brady have a brother?) A first baseman, Flacco has played four years in the minors (mostly at the Single-A level) with a .253 average and fair power over that time; he did not participate in any spring training games for the Orioles.

Calling All Anger Management Services
One confrontation apparently wasn’t enough for Boston reliever
Alfredo Aceves. A week after the Mexican native got heavily involved in the brawl with Canadian players in a WBC game, he nearly instigated another when he plunked Tampa Bay’s Sean Rodriguez on the shoulder in an exhibition between the Red Sox and Rays in Florida. Aceves claimed that he didn’t mean to hit Rodriguez—shucks, of course not—but Rodriguez didn’t accept that version of events, particularly after he had parked a home run over the fence in his previous at-bat. No fisticuffs came from this latest scrap—just cleared benches, angry words and a whole lot of guys being held back.

Aceves is coming off a forgettable 2-10, 5.36 ERA campaign in 2012 made memorable by a number of internal clashes with Red Sox teammates, including the moment when he nearly came to blows with second baseman Dustin Pedroia after a heated dugout discussion.

The Return of the Art of Baseball
George Krevsky baseball artFor the second straight year, TGG’s Ed Attanasio will be featured as one of the artists for the popular San Francisco exhibition “Out of the Park: The Art of Baseball,” held at the George Krevsky Gallery located catty-corner from historic Union Square. Ed will be among 40 artists showing off their best (as shown here) with an opening reception on Thursday, April 4 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.; the exhibit will run through May 25. For more information, go to the George Krevsky Gallery website.

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekDavid Wright is being paid $11 million this season to play for the New York Mets—and substantially less for suiting up for Team USA in the WBC. This is one of the reasons why major league teams are reluctant to let go of their best (and/or highest paid) players to the tournament, and the New York Mets will think twice about it the next time Wright—whose terrific play in the WBC earned him the nickname “Captain America”—considers playing for the U.S. for the next tourney in 2017. Wright’s great play came at a cost for himself and the Mets; after feeling discomfort in his ribs, he was diagnosed as having suffered a moderate intercostal strain. His status for Opening Day is unknown.

Also hitting the Ouch Couch this week was Baltimore outfielder Nick Markakis, who is more likely to miss the start of the season after it was discovered that he has a slightly herniated disk in his neck.

It’s Here! TGG’s 2013 Season Preview
Lock the doors, batten down the hatches and head for the hills, because TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio are stormin’ through with their picks for the coming baseball season. Check it out now in our Opinion section!

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