Major League baseball may just be easing into the start of spring training, but college basketball is in full conference swing as the calendar nears the month of March and the glorious madness it brings along with it.
Typically, that’s good news for huge University of Arizona fan and alum Terry Francona.
But college hoops was obviously still a sore subject Saturday around noon when the Indians manager sat down for his daily chat with the media and his No. 2 ranked Wildcats’ stunning loss was brought up as an ice breaker by an idiot reporter.
Ok, so it won’t go down as my best idea ever.
But in my defense, it was a thoroughly entertaining game. It went into double overtime! And Francona and Tribe GM Chris Antonetti watched it all from prime seats a few rows up from the floor at mid court. I mean, how heart-poundingly cool would that be?
Apparently, not very in defeat. Turns out the Tribe’s second-year skipper was still in no mood to discuss the tough loss yet.
Man that guy needs to develop tougher skin. I mean sheesh, imagine how long it must have taken him to get over the Indians crushing wild card playoff game defeat by Tampa Bay that ended last season’s magical late run?
Well, ok, that one still hurts me, too. But Francona still being grouchy about the loss didn’t stop one of his players from poking the bear.
That, of course, came from Tribe second baseman Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) - a Sun Devils alum. When Francona, who doesn’t “do Twitter”, was informed of Kipnis’ jesting, he warned with a scary glare: “It’s not a funny subject at the moment for me.”
Alrighty then. Guess we’ll just have to get back to the subject tomorrow…maybe.
LET BYGONES BE BYGONES– One of the things I’ve noticed and always appreciated while covering the Indians organization from top to bottom over the last decade (this spring marks my 13th year), is how much the Tribe’s brass values communication.
Another example of it came up Saturday when I noticed Antonetti and pitcher Josh Tomlin smiling as they headed to Antonetti’s office for a chat. Word had just come down that the Indians won their arbitration case against Tomlin. That meant the right-hander would earn a salary of $800,000, instead of the $975,000 he sought.
In an effort to make sure there were no hard feelings, Francona mentioned that Antonetti met with Tomlin (and reliever Vinnie Pestano before him) before and after the hearings to make sure the lines of communication were left open.
“Anytime there’s communication, I think it’s important,” Francona said. “I’m sure it helped. It’s a weird dynamic. They’re your guys and (yet) for that period, you’re kind of in adversarial (roles). I’m glad I’m not part of that. I wouldn’t want to have any part of that.”
ROYAL & SILENT TREATMENT– Francona and his players have shared plenty of admiration for New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter the last couple days since the shortstop announced he will retire at the end of the season.
“I texted him up and said when he gets to the 216 we'll roll out the red carpet for him,” Tribe first baseman Nick Swisher told the Plain Dealer in his patented vernacular.
But the competitor in Francona (who watched Jeter put a stake in the heart of his former team in Boston far too many times) won’t allow himself to become too touchy feely this season as another Bronx Bomber makes his farewell tour around the majors like Mariano Rivera did last season to much - albeit deserved - fanfare.
So how’s this for a happy medium? Francona said he’s good as long as Jeter “goes 0-for-28 against us.” Yeah, good luck with that one, skip.
ALL HANDS ON DECK–You know there’s a glut of pitchers in camp when Bart Swain is throwing batting practice. Not that the Indians director of media relations minds lending a helping hand like he did Saturday towards the end of the team’s shortened morning workout.
Figure if I’m not careful, Francona might try to drag me out there – sans an L screen for protection. What? That’s not so unbelievable is it? Come on, I used to pitch and play shortstop – with the boys!
In fact, I only gave up playing baseball on principle. That was back in the day when girls were forced to switch to softball after a certain level of Little League. I hated softball. Despised how the larger ball felt in my hand, how it barely went anywhere when hit. So I quit and told that gender-biased league in Brookpark, Ohio, to stick it. I was 10.
Then I got the last laugh and went on to become a baseball writer.
SHOW ME THE SIGN– The name tag in front of my seat at the media work room table in the Tribe’s Spring Training complex still reads “Sheldon Ocker, Akron Beacon Journal.” Don’t get me wrong, Shelly’s a legend in my eyes to have been on this beat for decades before his recent retirement. But trust me, I do not look nor sound anything like Shelly. (At least not yet.) Surely, someone has to have noticed this by now, no?
In summary: No respect. Heck, makes me right at home, just like I'm back in the minors. I’ve been in Goodyear a little less than a week and I’m already getting the feeling it’s just gonna be that kind of spring for me.
Perhaps I should have gone to the dark side with softball after all. Think it's too late?