Eats, M's, Major Leagues, Oddity

Spring Training – Mariners

Surprise.  Again.

Yes, same stadium, two days in a row.  Surprise Stadium is shared by the Rangers and the Royals, and this time the Royals were the home team against the Mariners.  And, yes, I am still a Mariners fan.  So we go from the sublime (the Cubs and Indians, fresh off their epic World Series battle) to the ridiculous (the M’s may have the longest current streak of not making the playoffs).  I can’t help myself.

I’ll start by saying that I was delighted when the M’s got Jarrod Dyson from the Royals.  The fellow I sat next to (a KC loyalist) did not share my happiness but agreed that M’s fans would be pleased.  He had a very good day against his former team.

At the outset, it looked like the varsity against the scrubs.  The Royals started many of their vets, including Jason Vargas (a former Mariner), Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas and their compensation for giving up Wade Davis to the Cubs, Jorge Soler.  Seattle, on the other hand, was missing 14 players who were competing for various countries in the World Baseball Classic, so their team was largely no-names and a couple of recently acquired guys who are supposed to make them great again (wait, were they ever great?).  Soler, by the way, didn’t look so good for the Royals.

But lo and behold, the scrubs not only won, they dominated and looked very good.  The Mariners played the best baseball we saw this week, with a couple of stellar defensive plays and very good pitching by Chase De Jong.  De Jong, so the rumor mill has it, may make the starting rotation even though he’s never made the big leagues.  He’s just 23 years old, but showed a lot of poise and definitely kept the Royals off balance during his four innings of work.

The M’s may also have the player with the most unpronounceable name Marc Rzepczynski (zep chin ski), a veteran who has bounced from team to team for several years.

Now for the mystery – the arm sleeve.  It is all the style these days for athletes in many sports to wear an arm sleeve on their dominant arm.  It supposedly helps in recovery from injury, prevents swelling, keeps the muscles warm, etc., etc.  But riddle me this – with the temperature hovering at 95, who needs to keep their arm warm?  I don’t get it.  And one sporting the accessory, Seattle’s Dan Vogelbach (acquired from the Cubs last year), isn’t yet making waves in spring training.

Oh yes, did I mention the monster dog?  A foot of hot dog delight!

Eats, Major Leagues

Spring Training – Indians

The first two games on this trip featured the two teams in last year’s World Series – the Cubs and the Indians.  The Indians were actually the visiting team at the Texas Rangers’ Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona, founded in 1938 by Flora Mae Statler, who named it Surprise as she “would be surprised if the town ever amounted to much”.

Before the game started, I witnessed a poignant moment at home plate when the Indians manager, Terry Francona, gave a big bear hug to Mike Napoli, who played first on the Indians 2016 World Series team before being traded to the Rangers in the off season.  Most of the veterans in the big leagues know one another and many friendships cross team lines.

Not many stars played for either team, though the Indians starter, Trevor Bauer, he of the unconventional training techniques, did reasonably well, getting the Indians out to a 7-1 lead after three innings.  That said, this was not a particularly well-played game. For example, early on, the Rangers had runners on first and second with no outs.  The batter hit a long drive to deep center and the runner on second naturally tagged up to go to third.  The center fielder, making a rookie mistake, threw to third (he had no chance of getting the runner), which enabled the runner on first to tag up and advance as well.  So instead of having runners on first and third with one out (which would have been the result had he properly thrown to second), thus keeping the double play a possibility, they had runners on second and third.  There were other errors as well and a whole lot of offense.

That’s not surprising in spring training, since pitchers are honing their skills for the regular season and taking care to avoid injury, whereas the hitters are freer to swing away.  So this game saw 31 hits by the two teams and a final run by the Rangers in the bottom of the ninth brought them from behind to win 12-11.

One tidbit you don’t see much in the regular season is the bat boy taking water to the field umpires a couple of times during the game.  Makes sense, given that these games are played in the afternoon in 90 degree weather.  Remember too that most regular season games are played at night.

A word about food.  Finally, a decent bratwurst!

Finally, a word about base coaches.  The Indians first base coach, Sandy Alomar, had a very distinguished playing career and a very short managerial career, but rumor has it that he’s been on the short list for a managerial post several times.  Tony Beasley, the Rangers third base coach, never played in the majors, but has a long coaching and managing career in the minors and several years of coaching in the bigs.  Typically, third base coaches become managers and first base coaches don’t.  These two may not fit the mold.

Major Leagues, Travel

Spring Training – Cubs

My friend Ira and I drove two days from Portland to bask in the Arizona sunshine and, more importantly, start the 2017 season right.  Ira is a lifelong Cubs fan, having grown up in Chicago, so it was only fitting that we begin with a Cubs game.

But first we had to get there – to Mesa, that is.  We drove south through Oregon on I-5, which is okay after you get past Salem, but not entirely inspiring.  So after we convinced the border guards in California that we were not vegetables (good thing they didn’t ask some of our family members!) and therefore not subject to confiscation, we turned east just past Mount Shasta and headed towards Nevada.  That went pretty well – beautiful and not too many people.  But the second day wasn’t so great – some traffic in Las Vegas and a one-hour halt south of there for road construction put us off our schedule.

Because of the winter that the west coast has had this year, Nevada and Arizona, which are congenitally brown, were eerily green everywhere we looked.  There were even wild flowers growing beside the road.

But I digress.  We went to Sloan Park (sadly, the Cubs no longer live at Hohokam Stadium for spring training) early to watch BP.  You may wonder how hitting 60-70 mph pitches can really help hone a batter’s skills.  I don’t know the full answer to that question, but as you can see, the BP pitcher is almost halfway to the plate from the mound, so the batter has to decide pretty fast.

We were joined by my son Eli to watch as the Cubs played the Brewers on a beautiful, if hot, day (game time temp was 91 degrees, and the field announcer took great delight in pointing out that it was 22 degrees and snowing in Chicago).  Nearly all the Cubs stars started the game and Kris Bryant got it off to a good start with a dinger.  The Cubs dominated, despite three caught stealing, and led 6-2 at one point.  But the Brewers came back and, thanks to a throw from left by an unnamed rookie that was airmailed into the stands, went ahead 7-6 in the top of the ninth.  Cubs tied it with another homer in the bottom of the ninth and that’s the way it ended.  Can you imagine –  they don’t play extra innings in spring training!

One interesting feature in spring training is the mixture of veterans and rookies.  Typically the veterans start and play a few innings before the rookies get a chance to show their stuff.  You can tell who’s who by their numbers – rookies have high numbers and, at least for Milwaukee, don’t get their names on the back of their jerseys.



Just a quick trip for meetings, but I managed to snag a few hours to play tourist in what might be the most culturally vast (for many Americans) city in the world. There’s a trove packed into a relatively small geographic space.

I’m not writing a guidebook but simply providing a glimpse of a some interesting attractions.

I started with dinner with a friend at Fuller’s Red Lion Pub, where we enjoyed the house pie (cubes of steak in a rich sauce cooked in a dough container with a dough lid on top – it looks a bit like a round African thatched hut) and a beer (Oliver’s Island ale – it tasted flat, even though we could see the bubbles). The pub is just a stone’s throw from Parliament, off the Westminster Bridge on the north side of the Thames.

Very close by, between Parliament and 10 Downing Street, are the Churchill War Rooms, part of the Imperial War Museum. This warren of underground rooms served as the headquarters for the British government’s conduct of World War II. People lived and worked in a sunless environment that apparently did not feature the best air quality (the ventilation wasn’t great, so naturally fetid underground air coupled with tobacco smoke made things interesting). Map rooms, communications systems, bedrooms, dining areas – it’s all there and genuinely fascinating.

On the art front, the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House is a gem. It isn’t large, but it has a splendid collection of impressionist and other paintings by many of the masters. It will only take you a couple of hours to see everything but it offers rich rewards.

I also made a very quick visit to the British Museum. It doesn’t do much for me because it is mostly what I no doubt wrongly think of as archeological. Yes, there’s art, but a lot is ancient and not paintings, and thus isn’t my favorite. That said, in the print room, I found this brochure left lying on a counter by a previous visitor, which somehow struck me as the right comment for an artistic setting.