Category Archives: Spring training

Mets beat Braves to open spring with hope

All in all, the New York Mets’ 8-2 win over the Braves on Wednesday was an outstanding way to start the 2015 season.

Although it means less than nothing, it always feels good to beat the Braves anytime.

Here’s a Grab Bag from the first day of exhibition games:

  • Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis sure looks like he wants to make the team with his 4-for-4 performance and one of the better beard growths during the offseason.
  • It was disappointing to hear Daniel Murphy’s comments about homosexuality after former player Billy Bean (no, not the Moneyball Billy Beane … I already looked it up) visited the Mets to talk about “inclusion.” But I felt better about the whole thing when I read Bean’s amazing response to Murphy.
  • I know I’ve said it before and I really hate jinxing it, but I just have a really good feeling about this season. The law of averages are on our side, right?

Here’s why I love Mets, Cowboys, Jacks & Suns

by Jason Stone

People have sometimes asked me to list my favorite teams. I’ll do it one better. I’ll rank them.

Here are my favorite teams in each sport, with an explanation why.

1. New York Mets (MLB)

The Mets top my list because for some reason they are the only team that still makes me cry as an adult. I am more of a fair weather fan with my other favorite teams (Yeah, I’ll admit it!). But for some reason I follow the Mets from afar no matter how crappy they are — which is most of the time.

I began following the Mets in the late-70s after living in Flushing and visiting there every year. I didn’t really become a big fan until 1983, right as the monster teams were coming. By the time “Doctor K” Dwight Gooden was dominating the world in 1985, I was hooked. And we all know what happened a year later.

I feel the team is on the verge of something special again in the next year or two, but I don’t want to openly jinx it yet. After all, the exhibition games haven’t even started yet.

2. Dallas Cowboys (NFL)

It’s really hard to be a Cowboys fan. Mostly because of the harassment that comes from other people. It’s usually better to keep it on the down low.  But this has been a lifelong love since living outside of Dallas for a good part of my childhood.

They were the first team I was ever exposed to in the late 1970s, and I can’t seem to shake them now — no matter how frustrating the fan experience has become in the Jerry Jones era.

One of my favorite personal moments was being a reporter during Super Bowl XXX when the Cowboys beat the Steelers. I got to be in the locker room as my favorite childhood team celebrated their fifth championship.

Unfortunately I kind of made a deal with the football gods that experiencing that was enough.  Twenty years later I’m kinda wishing I never made that deal.


3. NAU Lumberjacks (NCAA — alumni division)

Well, I did drop a lot of money at the place as a student for four years, after all.

Nobody really cares about NAU sports, but for some reason there I am every Saturday in the fall listening to that week’s football game, or picking up whatever midweek basketball game happens to be going on during the winter.

I figure since I actually go out of my way to find NAU content, that must mean they’re high up on my list. I just wish more people cared because it sure is lonely being a fan of a team nobody even knows exists.


4. Phoenix Suns (NBA)

I can’t even watch the NBA unless it’s a Suns game. But I’ve invested so much emotional energy over this team — John F-ing Paxson and Robert F-ing Horry’s hip-check into Steve Nash to name two — that I just can’t bail on them yet.

Because of years of near-misses and the above-mentioned bad fortune, they deserve a championship more than any of the teams that I follow.

The 1992-93 season was the peak. Even living 150 miles away in Flagstaff, cars all over the town had windows painted with support for the Suns. I can’t even imagine what it was like in Phoenix that summer.

If there is anything right in this world, the Suns will win it all — someday.

5. ASU Sun Devils (NCAA — non-alumni division)

I began following the Devils’ football and baseball teams when my family moved to Arizona in 1984. That was just in time to catch the 1986 and 1996 Rose Bowl seasons, which were thrilling.

I still think Jake Plummer was ASU’s best player ever, but what do I know. Just seconds away from a national championship in ’96!! Oh, the agony!

As for ASU baseball, I used to love going to those games in high school in what is now former Packard Stadium. I went to most of the home games during the 1990 season. I thought for sure center fielder Mike Kelly was going to be a major league Hall of Famer. I still have never seen a player that good who wasn’t in the majors.

6. Arizona Coyotes (NHL)

I never really followed hockey closely until the Coyotes moved to Phoenix in the mid-1990s. Prior to that I had always lived in places that didn’t have hockey, and before the Internet, you needed a local team to get any kind of regular content in the daily newspapers.

So, I adopted the team that was the Winnipeg Jets, who became the Phoenix Coyotes, and then this season, the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes’ playoff run to the Western Conference Finals three years ago was about as fun of a couple weeks of sports as I’ve ever experienced. Anxiety was high during every game. I would pace up and down aisles at sports bars — and even got to see a couple of the games in person for their famed “White Out.”

7. USA men’s soccer team (other division)

This is a weird one, I know. Not to sound non-patriotic but I don’t generally care if any USA teams or athletes win anything in the Olympics or whatever. I figure, we dominate everything anyway, what does it really matter if we win another.

It’s different with the U.S. men’s soccer team, though. They are still the ultimate underdogs. (I mean, U.S. fans are typically out-numbered even in home games!) Plus, every four years there is a team to root for in the World Cup, which is probably my favorite non-annual sporting event.

Best of the Rest

Arizona Cardinals (NFL)

It’s much easier to be a Cardinals fan since they moved out of the NFC East more than 10 years ago. It was an unbelievable month in January 2009 when it appeared for about 51 seconds that the Cardinals were going to win the Super Bowl. It still seems weird that they were THAT close. I have seen most of this team’s games since they moved to Arizona in 1988, so it’s hard not to like them.

Texas Rangers (MLB)

I don’t follow them on a day-to-day basis, but from the late-70s until the early-90s they were my favorite team, alongside the Mets. This was back in the days when you could have a favorite in both the American and National leagues.

Teams I Used To Like

Dallas Mavericks (NBA)

Before moving to Phoenix, I was a big Mavericks fan during their first three or four seasons in the league. Of course, they were the worst team in the NBA during that time, so I never got to enjoy them winning anything. And since I became a big Suns fan, they became the enemy quickly.

New York Yankees (MLB)

I liked the Yankees for exactly one year. During the 1981 season, I attended my first game at Yankee Stadium, which just so happened to be the first game after the infamous players’ strike that year. Between 1977 and 1981, the Yankees played the Dodgers three times in the World Series, and because I identified with the East Coast more at the time, I sided with the Yankees. Of course, the one time I root for the Yankees is the one time they don’t win.

Phoenix Giants/Firebirds (MiLB)

Yeah, I actually had a favorite minor-league team back in the day.  The Giants (later named the Firebirds) were the AAA affiliate for the San Francisco Giants and they played their games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium when the first pitch temperature was usually around 107 degrees. The best part of those games: the nachos! I can still taste them 30 years later.

spring training baseball

Cactus League returns in full force

by Jason Stone

Spring training is a time for players to earn roster spots, fans to fight for autographs and newspaper reporters to get used to writing about foul balls instead of technical fouls.
It’s also the time Mary Marsh of Elma, Wash., brushes off the rust when it comes to cheering on the Seattle Mariners.
The Mariners’ exhibition season wasn’t even an inning old last week when Marsh was already yelling at a lazy line drive that was dipping in front of Padres left fielder Xavier Nady.
4c50a115ddab6.image“Get down!” Marsh yelled at the ball from her seat behind home plate at Peoria Sports Complex.
When Nady made the catch, Marsh let out a groan and made the notation in her scorebook.
“I’m keeping track of everything,” the 54-year-old fan said, while wearing a Mariners visor and draped in a Seattle Seahawks throw blanket.
Marsh and the rest of the large contingent of Mariners fans probably thought they were still in Washington last Thursday as the Cactus League kicked off its 11th season in Peoria with a charity game between the Mariners and San Diego Padres, Peoria’s two tenants.
With temperatures hovering in the 40s, and rain spitting on the proceedings throughout the day, the opening of the season had an ominous feel to some.
But to others, it was just another day at the ballpark.
“It’s pretty cold, but it’s like Seattle,” said Eric Russell, 32, a former Seattle resident who now lives in Avondale. “It’s OK, though. The Mariners are going to win the AL West (Division).”
Despite San Diego’s closer proximity to Peoria, the Sports Complex has always been Mariners territory, thanks to the large number of fans who make the trek down to escape the cold weather.
Beer vendor Ron Fasnacht, 38, is one of them.
Fasnacht is famous in Seattle for his beer sales and is known as the “Beer Poet.”
For the last three years, he has worked every Mariners game, home and away, including spring training.
“Unfortunately, I think I brought the weather with me,” Fasnacht said while looking around for thirsty fans.
“I can’t do anything about the weather,” Fasnacht screams to fans sitting in Section 211, “But I can get you a beer. That should make you feel better.”
Spring training isn’t just for out-of-towners.
A pack of students at Peoria’s Santa Fe Elementary School made a field trip to the opening game and did their best to come home with a souvenir.
“If I get hit in the face with a ball, it would be worth it to get a ball,” said 10-year-old Dominic Diaz of Peoria.
As outfielders shagged fly balls before the game, packs of children swarmed to whatever area a ball rolled on the field.
When a player picked up the ball, the screams went out for the souvenir.
Occasionally, the magic word “please” would elicit a ball.
Children aren’t the only fans who pack spring training games. It appears kids are matched by the number of Japanese photographers who are there to document every move of the country’s favorite son n right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.
Japanese photographer Ryo Yabushita, who is now based out of Los Angeles, parked himself in the outfield during the second inning to get a good shot of the Japanese celebrity for Sankei Sports, which is considered one of Japan’s top media sources.
“I think he just left,” Yabushita said. “One inning. Then gone.”
Of course, in many spring training games, fans might miss the stars if they show up late — especially with the opening game.
Games are played nearly every day at 1 p.m. at Peoria Sports Complex and eight other sites in Arizona.

Published at • March 11, 2004


Rookies all around, including manager Steinmann

by Jason Stone

Rookie-level baseball is designed to be a development ground for some potential Major League Baseball prospects.
But Peoria Mariners first-year manager Scott Steinmann is learning lessons of his own the hard way.
“I learn something new every day,” said Steinmann, a one-time college player who made it to the AA level before going into coaching. “Today, it was keeping score.”
It is a 112 degree day at Peoria Sports Complex and the Mariners have just beaten the Arizona A’s 7-6.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr at least the Mariners thought they had won.
“What was the score?” a base coach for the A’s yelled to Steinmann as the 29-year-old manager exited the field across the pitcher’s mound toward the clubhouse.
“I checked five times. It was 7-6,” Steinmann replied.
“We have 6-6,” the A’s coach said. “We’re checking on it. We don’t want to protest or anything, but we just want to get it right.”
Steinmann joked, “Well, call us back out if you want to finish it.”
Rookie League baseball is not the most glamorous life. Peoria’s team is one of nine in the Arizona League, where most teams play without scoreboards, fans or big paychecks.
The Mariners’ 30-plus-member team — which constantly fluctuates with players coming and going throughout the 2½-month season — lives in a hotel across the street from the sports facility, eats at the Glendale and Peoria shops in and around the Arrowhead Towne Center and awaits the big call up to the next level of the Minor Leagues.
Steinmann is in the same boat. As a young coach, the one-time catcher at the University of Miami (Ohio) is trying to leave his mark in the Mariners’ organization.
“I’d like to move up, so wherever this takes me, it takes me,” Steinmann said. “Originally, I thought I might want to coach college, but when this offer came up to coach a professional team, I couldn’t pass it up. We’ll see where it goes. I might not like it in five years. Who knows?”
Before the season, Steinmann had worked as a hitting instructor throughout the lower levels of the Mariners’ Minor League system since 1998.
With stops in Lancaster, Calif.; Everett, Wash.; San Bernadino, Calif.; and Appleton, Wis., the Cincinnati native certainly can compare Peoria Sports Complex’s facilities with most Minor League stadiums.
“We’ve got everything we need here n batting cages, lights, a Major League clubhouse,” Steinmann said. “This is the best setup in the Minor Leagues.”
But unlike the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, winning is the least of importance at the rookie level, Steinmann said.
The focus is on development. If winning happens, Steinmann said, then it is “icing on the cake.”
“We want to develop a winning attitude, but we will never sacrifice a player’s future development for a win. To win is nice, but we’re all about development.”
The low importance of winning might normally throw fans into a fit, but these Mariners do not have many fans.
Steinmann joked, “If we have anybody at our games it is because they are forced to go through blood relation.”
Indeed, there were four fans folding up chairs and leaving the Peoria Sports Complex after the Mariners’ “disputed” win over the A’s earlier this week.
“Trust me. I don’t think they’re stragglers from the community coming to these games,” Steinmann said with a laugh.
The Seattle Mariners’ farm department assigns players to the various Minor League levels, but Major League Baseball puts guidelines on who is eligible for the Rookie League level.
Rosters are capped at 35 and no more than eight players can be 20 years old or older. Additionally, only two players 21 and older are allowed. At least 10 pitchers must be on the roster and players are only allowed two years of prior service.
While the chances of players at the rookie level making the big leagues is slim, some do slip by.
The same goes for managers. At least Steinmann hopes so.

Published at • July 9, 2003