Hey! You'll never believe it, but I went to Royals Fan Fest! Again!
First a few general notes:
If you are thinking of going to Fan Fest in the future, I highly recommend going on Friday if possible. There are just so many more people there on Saturday than Friday. On Friday, the lines are shorter, chairs are easier to find, there is more free stuff at booths because they haven't run out yet.
Whoever does their lighting design would be doing me a huge favor if they didn't have the dancing lights hit me in the eye ever. I know several people who also feel this way.
The "Profesor Salvy" bits are my new favorite thing in the world.
Royals Charities has announced they are setting up a program - the ACE 30 Memorial Fund - to benefit youth baseball projects throughout the Dominican Republic. More details, including how to donate, at royals.com/yordano.
I think the Royals did a fabulous job on the Ventura memorial. It was just inside the entrance and featured a regulation pitching mound with a framed jersey on the rubber, two walls for fans to sign (with several staff standing by with sharpies ready), a loop of Ventura highlights, 3 ginormous flower thingys that I don't remember what they're called, including one shaped like a blue baseball glove with a baseball in the mitt that I have instructed Mr. Gross(est) should be replicated for my gravesite should I die before him, and another wall where fans could leave items. This last area is where I went from tearing up and biting my lip to full on crying. Someone had done a huge painting of Ventura's smiling face and I just completely lost it.
Every panel I went to started with talking about Ventura, but I didn't take many notes. Some of the guys were eloquent, some struggled to find the words and were clearly wrestling with some strong emotions. Gordon started off the outfielders panel talking about that what he would miss most are Ventura's "smile, his energy" and that was echoed from most of the players as well as Ned Yost and Dayton Moore (more in his section below on what this means for the rotation). They all emphasized what a sweet kid he was. How he would cry in the dugout if he felt like he was letting the team down. Moustakas was especially moving when speaking of Ventura and what his loss means to the players and the Royals family (including the fans).
A few other stories about Ventura the guys shared:
- Colon laughing about being Ventura's de facto interpreter: Ventura would call at 2 in the morning to get help ordering food. And it was never easy. He always had a lot of particulars. The sauce on the side, not on the wings, that kind of thing.
- Dayton talked about learning about Marte and Ventura Sunday morning. He had gotten a call about Marte and then a little later Jon Heyman called to confirm Ventura and he thought it was a mistake. Heyman told him no, he'd heard reports of both of their deaths. So DM said he'd find out and the next call he got was from MLB telling him it was true. When asked how the team would handle his death, he said, "Major leaguers adapt. That's what got them here." So they'll grieve together and then they'll move forward together as a team.
- Ned Yost talked about Ventura's reputation as a hot head and how wrong that was. He said this was a kid who dropped out of school at 14 so that he could work to help support his family. He came from a really poor community, a little fishing village in the Dominican Republic. He had to fight for everything he had and that's all he knew. He said, you don't come down hard on someone like that. You love them and you mentor them, and that's what he and the coaches and others in the Royals did. And Ventura returned that by always wanting to give his best and protect his team. And then he said, there's an idea that big sports is like a meat market, but it's not. It's like a family. (Which I don't think is always true and some of the guys who've been with other organizations said it's not always true, but based on the way all the players were talking all weekend about how all their success is due to Dayton Moore and that they feel like he not only really cares about them as players but as people, but also creates an environment in which they can care for and take care of each other, they seem to think that's the case here. Go Royals!)
- Denny described Ventura as having a "hockey mentality" which, from Denny, is about as high a compliment as he can give to a baseball player. He says he found out during the 5 o'clock news on Sunday. He turned it on to check the weather and instead there was a picture of Ventura with 1991-2017 across it and he says his brain just couldn't quite grasp what that meant.
- Ryan says that while preparing for the Celebration of Life service Saturday morning, he just kept thinking back to that feeling he had in 2014 driving up to the K for Game 7 of the World Series, that he was going to get to broadcast his team at home for Game 7 of the World Series and how rare and wonderful that was and one of the biggest moments of his career that a lot of other broadcasters never get, and Ventura made it happen, Ventura gave him that.
- Steve Stewart reported that Dave Eiland once said to him "No one aspires to greatness like Ventura" and that seeing his bullpen sessions between starts was a thing of beauty.
- Mike Swanson made a point of saying one of the first messages he got on Sunday after the official announcement was from Manny Manchado. And then he got really choked up and had to compose himself before pointing out that the stuff on the field was on the field only.
Okay - enough crying for now, on to baseball.
Best Shape Of His Life Alerts
- Physioc says Kyle Zimmer told him he's throwing with no pain and is heading to Arizona tomorrow.
- Zimmer himself said "Hopefully this last surgery did the trick." He then described the surgery and told us all that he saved the rib bone that was removed and is drying it out so he can make it into a necklace. No confirmation on if he would or would not be wearing it when/if he makes his MLB debut. He said before that surgery, it felt like a sledgehammer to the arm every time he pitched.
- When talking about the extra month of rest the team got this off season, Ned Yost said, among others, "Moose looks as good as I've ever seen him. Salvy looks as good as I've ever seen him."
- While we're on that, several of the players, when prompted by Ryan, said they think as much as it sucked not making the post-season last year, that they did benefit from the extra month off. Two years in a row had taken it's toll and lot of them didn't get the rest they usually got before getting back into their routines, and many were dealing with nagging injuries.
- Cain said he's feeling "tremendous, feeling 100%."
- Gordon said while he doesn't think any guys wanted to admit it, they were pretty tired last season and now he at least is feeling refreshed for 2017.
- Chris Young on his surgery. He said the training staff ("best in the league") told him they'd been monitoring it and thought he should consider the surgery. Got it checked out and decided to. (Sports hernia, I think?) He then said "We all deal with so many aches and pains over the season, it's hard to know" about injuries just from how you feel.
- Whit talked about his crazy ass diet which involves like 6 meals of chicken, rice and vegetables a day plus 9 eggs for breakfast.
- Scott Alexander was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a year or two ago. Luckily his fiancee is a nutritionist! He plans to do some work in the community around diabetes, working with kids, and the Royals are helping him do that.
Dayton Moore's Main Stage Q&A
Says the Jarrod Dyson trade was the most emotionally difficult he's ever done.
On Karns, "think Meche's curve ball" and points out Karns is 29 so in his prime. (Hmm, maybe this should have been under BSOHL.)
On Duffy’s contract: Danny drove those negotiations in a way to let his agent know this is where he wanted to be and his agent needed to make that happen. "We were surprised to get it done this close to his free agency." At some point while he was talking I wrote "JIN WONG ALERT!" but of course didn’t write down what his contribution was.
On Soler: There’s no doubt in Dayton’s mind that Soler will hit a lot of home runs the next four years. You’re going to enjoy him. Thinks his defense will get better with Rusty. He’s getting to spring training 10 days-2 weeks early to begin work.
A young (like 7-8?) female catcher asked Dayton if the Royals would ever draft a girl. The crowd cheered and Dayton said, "That day is coming. You keep practicing and maybe it’ll be you." (or something to that effect)
"You want to be very proud of your processes." (PROCESS ALERT!)
On the rotation: He listed these guys starting with the locks and ending with those expected to compete for the remaining spot(s) and I couldn’t tell if Karns was in the "locks" or in the "competing" category. "Duffy, Kennedy, Vargas, Karns, Young, Strahm, Minor." He then said once the season begins, they know they’ll have to do things along the way to massage the roster. (MASSAGE ALERT!)
Ned Yost Q&A
When he and DM talked, they said they’re not sweating the hole in the rotation. Someone will cover it. He thinks the fun thing about spring training is the curiosity to see who will it be this year?
Regarding a rotating DH: "I’m more than comfortable with it." Seems to see it as an advantage because it will allow him to get some guys in the lineup more often and allow him to give some guys some rest without losing their bat. Specifically said it would allow them to develop Drew more so that they will be more comfortable giving Sal a day off from behind the plate because they can still keep him in the lineup.
On Rusty: Rusty loves to teach and really wants to work with the minor leaguers. But Ned and DM want him at the MLB level because in addition to his regular duties, he’s their "quality control" coach, identifying what they need. Then he gushed about all the coaches and how it’s the best staff he’s ever had and he wants to keep it as long as he’s the manager.
When asked if the players realize how much they mean to the fans, he said they do. That when he called Wade after his trade, Wade was mad. When he called Dyson, Dyson was in tears.
A kid asked if all his starters were off the disabled list now and Ned practically screamed, "YES! Thank the lord they are all off the disabled list."
WBC: It’s a bit of an inconvenience, but it’s done with care. The MLB teams work with the WBC teams to coordinate players workload , some of the players are coming to training early to be ready. And then, "It’s a pretty neat thing" and is growing and celebrating the game world wide, which is good for baseball.
He doesn’t miss arguing with umpires and then told about how he got thrown out last year after an interaction with a home plate umpire. He got his letter from Joe Torre about the fine, but instead of the usual $300 or whatever, it was $2,500 for delay of game. So he went down to the video room and timed it and called Joe Torre. After getting Joe to admit that a delay of game would be something like 30 seconds, Ned says his "delay" was 9.7 seconds and all he did was say to the umpire "You stink. You’ve stunk all day. You still stink." And then he was tossed and left. He may not miss arguing with the umpires, but he sure liked telling that story.
More from the players’ Q&As
Outfielders: Dozier, Burns, Cain, Gordon
Pitchers 1: Strahm, Young, Vargas, Herrera, Duffy
Infielders: Butera, Colon, Merrifield, Moustakas
Pitchers 2: Alexander, McCarthy, Mills and Zimmer
Dozier on transition to outfielder: "I feel like I’m still a 3rd baseman" because he hasn’t gotten much time in the outfield yet, but he’s getting into it. Says it’s refreshing because at 3rd, the ball is on you before you notice it. Gordon echoed this saying he doesn’t know how Moose and Cheslor do it sometimes, and that’s probably why he’s in the outfield now and they’re still at 3rd.
Burns is ready to play a bigger role. Talked about how much he learned from Kuntz and Dyson last year. The guys teased him about being more than the "Keeper of the Mantis."
Gordon’s gum: He puts in 3 pieces of sugarless gum at the beginning of the game and leaves them in until the game is over, and that it’s usually pretty gross by the 5th or 6th inning. He also says he’s often not aware that he’s blowing a bubble, so he gets surprised when seeing a highlight and he is while sliding into home or whatever.
Gordon’s hat: It’s stinky. Like really. The guys complain about it. He sprays it with Axe but apparently there’s only so much that does. When asked what he does with them at the end of the year, he said the HOF had a few, he had one behind a glass case where you can’t smell it, and one year he burned it and the flames were all green and weird.
The hardest thing about being an outfielder: Gordon said running into walls. Cain said the same and added, "We have a big outfield at Kauffman. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that."
Cain on getting 3rd in MVP voting: It "felt amazing, but really that whole season felt amazing." (Big grin which made this lady very happy.)
The younger pitchers, Burns and Butera were asked about what it was like joining such a close knit group in the Royals clubhouse. All said they were welcomed right away, not like in the old days when rookies were to be seen and not heard. Burns said "From day one, Dyson was ragging on me" so he felt like one of the guys right away. Ned welcomed them and made them feel relaxed, so that helped them just focus on the baseball. Mills talked about being in the bullpen and Hoch jumping up and down when Whit got his first hit and that made him feel like the veteran guys really were rooting for the new guys, and helped him relax.
Mills also talked about how the Royals preach a family atmosphere as a path to success, but when he was drafted the MLB team wasn’t actually all that successful, so it was hard to buy into that, but now that the team is winning and seeing how they’re winning, he believes. (Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing.)
The young pitchers panel was asked about the difference between AAA and MLB. Their answers included: that 3rd tier of seats, louder, better food, there is never a "dress-like-a-seat" night.
When most of the guys were announced, they’d come out and soft toss a t-shirt. Duffy brought a whole box and was throwing those things far. One got caught in the lights, in fact. I was legit worried about how this is how his first injury post-long-term contract would come. Also, I did not get a shirt. :(
Kelvin cracked me up describing his first major league pitch, i.e. hitting Ryan Rayburn: "I tried to throw it down the middle, but as soon as it left my hand, it started curving towards him and…[big what-are-you-gonna-do shrug]."
Vargas also amused me when talking about a batted ball the defense has a chance at and one they don’t. "I’ve given up my share of home runs so I know that they sound like."
Vargas said he wasn’t expecting to pitch for Royals last year but was really glad he was able to. He didn’t have the whole winter to wonder "what will it feel like."
Matt Strahm on attending Neosho Community College. He really wanted to get out of North Dakota. Eight months of what feels like winter is not good baseball weather. His mom was always on the lookout for showcases and saw one down here. There drove down, Neosho made him an offer. It was the only offer he got not in North Dakota so he took it. Ta da!
A little 5 year old asked Danny how to throw a curve. He said, "You’re too young to know. Just take care of your arm." Several of the pitchers, when asked what their advice to young pitchers was said to just work on throwing strikes, not speed of throw, not different pitches, just strikes. And others also said to not try curves until later, but none as emphatically as Duffy to that little kid.
Butera said part of his off-season regime involved improving his Salvy Splash. He also talked about giving his dad (who works for Toronto Blue Jays) a hard time about beating them in the post-season. Also that he has more home runs and a bigger world series ring (though his dad has played longer).
Colon on that fake bunt, then triple in Cleveland: Pedro had talked to him about that as a possibility before and while he was at the plate Colon felt like, well, if I’m ever going to do it, now’s the time. Then he forgot he wasn’t fast and got thrown out going from 2nd to 3rd.
Zimmer said he looks forward to facing his brother so he can either strike him out or hit him.
If you haven’t seen it elsewhere, Ryan Lefebvre won an Emmy!
Ryan told the story of Jonathan Broxton’s revenge on Collins and Teaford for the pants photo. On the last day of spring training, he put 500 crickets into each of their cars. So...don’t mess with Broxton’s pants.