Old Men of Summer
by Rick Langenberg
With the first pitch of the Colorado Rockies baseball season at Coors Field only days away, hopes are running high, especially with a somewhat decent spring training record, placing the Rocks in the top three in the NL standings (as of Monday morning). But that’s the great thing about spring training in the sunny Cactus League. There are no real losers. Optimism runs rampant.
As a mini-Rockies fan who recently visited the team’s incredible facility at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (just outside Scottsdale, Arizona), the first baseball facility constructed on Native American Indian tribal land, here are some of the preliminary winners of the Rocks spring season:
Best Feud-Troy Tulowitzki versus Ubaldo Jimenez. No questions about this one, as these former teammates-turned enemies saga has become the talk of the Colorado media crowd in recent days. I say just give them both boxing gloves and end the war of words. It’s hard to believe that just a little while ago, Ubaldo was viewed as the great humble, kid, who enjoyed hanging out with his mother and hurling pitches that his former manager Jim Tracy classified as virtually unhittable. He was regarded as a Cy Young award winner for possibly many seasons and the only pitcher who could effectively master the Coors Field home run derby charade. Now, Jim refers to his former pitching ace (who now plays for the Cleveland Indians) as an outright lazy coward and the most “gutless” human being on the planet, resulting from claims that he intentionally tried to bean Tulo with a pitch during a game last weekend. The incident almost led to an all-out brawl at Salt Rivers Field and has prompted an investigation by Major League Baseball. For several weeks, the two former teammates conducted verbal attacks against each other through the media. Bad craziness. Don’t know who to believe on this one, but it’s a sad state of affairs considering Ubaldo’s one-time impeccable reputation in Colorado. Everyone liked the guy from the media, to the fans, to his teammates, to the vendors at Coors.
Best Fan Friendly Players-Todd Helton and Jason Giambi. Anyone who witnesses any spring training action has to enjoy these great stars. Not only because of their amazing records and their ability to conquer Father Time (these players are 38 and 41 respectfully), but their desire to interact with the fans. During a game last week, Giambi (whose original trade from the Oakland As to the Yankees partially inspired the best-selling book and popular movie Moneyball), threw a youngster a personal bat during a pregame hitting session and gave him a few hitting pointers. Class Act. Moreover, the two are always patient with the fans and willing to dish out autographs. Moreover, the two can still smack a few balls into the next kingdom, despite the fact they both realize they are operating on limited time. During a game last week against the Texas Rangers, Giambi struck a home run that appeared headed into downtown Scottsdale. And Helton, based on his early performances this spring, appears ready to exceed another .300-plus hitting season.
Best Delusionary Leader—Rockies Manager Jim Tracy. Jim definitely has spent too much time in the sun in Arizona. Maybe, a little snow will be good for the Tracy man. It may get his mind off Arizona and Ubaldo Jimenez. As he was quoted in the Arizona Republic newspaper when referring to ultra-veteran pitcher Jamie Moyer, who this weekend will make a bid at becoming the oldest hurler to win a major league game, “It’s the same worker. It’s the same professional. It’s the same stuff, same velocity and same pitches. When he’s right, it’s the same type of effectiveness.”
Jim, get real, the guy is 49. Sure, it’s a great sentimental story. However, let the Field of Dreams myth be. The fact that Moyer made the final spot in the starting pitching rotation demonstrated one scary reality for the Rockies: They have gone from one of the best starting pitching units to the worse in a mere nine months. Maybe, that’s all part of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade fiasco, which in my opinion was a complete debacle. Sure, the Rocks got a few players in exchange, but they all stink. Things would have been better if Rockies Master Czar and Idiot Dan O’Dowd (Rockies General Manager) tried to work things out with Ubaldo. The only hope is that the Rocks can muster up some miraculous hitting through the likes of Tulo, Carlos Gonzalez and former Twins slugger Michael Cuddyer. Better yet, they need to pray for the fast recovery of veteran lefty pitcher Jorge De La Rossa, whose year-ending injury last year pretty much killed any hopes for the Rockies in 2011. One of the more unique pre-game spring training sights last week included Tracy fondly greeting former managerial rivals Joe Torre of the Yankees and Dodgers and Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals, who now serve in high ranking positions for the commissioner’s office of Major League Baseball. You could see the look on the faces of Torre and La Russa: “Good luck Jim, you’ll need it. We’ll give you three to one odds if your team finishes above third in the National League West. Or, make sure you get your contract-for life deal with the Rocks gets firmed up in writing, because this year your team may not venture above the cellar door.”
Best Unknown Talent—Outfielder Dexter Fowler. Dexter has had a unimpressive spring training, and is once again hitting with an unstable bat and inconsistent swing. Nevertheless, you have to like the lanky happy go-lucky guy who is a tribute to the old, speed-crazed days of baseball prior to the bulky, steroid era and time of fat free agent pay checks. The fact that O’Dowd and company stuck with him, instead of trading him off with most of the other players from the 2011 squad, displays some type of commitment. Hopefully, Dexter can return to his amazing rookie year style when he turned a single into a triple or even a home run, with his amazing speed and finesse.
Best or Worst Gambler—General Manager Dan O’Dowd. I still think he would have better luck at playing craps at the Talking Stick casino than bartering on the future of the Rockies. His plan to resurrect the Rocks through an infusion of older veterans is an interesting concept, but it is quite dangerous and may be short-lived. The Rocks are now graced with one of the oldest teams in the league with a number of guys over the age of 35. Plan to listen to a bombardment of classic rock songs across the Rockies loud speakers at games.
Best Sights Outside of Spring Training Baseball—Arizona women, the golf courses and the Talking Stick Resort. It’s hard to beat Arizona in the springtime, despite the 90-degree weather. There are plenty of great sights, outside of baseball. And if you want some hardship, try the Ben Crenshaw designed Talking Stick golf links just down the road from the baseball stadium, which has garnered a spot in the top 100 courses in the nation, according to Golfweek. Bring a hearty five iron for stray shots that land in the desert. Also, the Talking Stick casino is quite a tribute to the Native American Indian gaming movement. However, I must say the gambling atmosphere is still better at Cripple Creek casinos.