Before we get to the baseball, should perhaps mention the other major pro sports in Phoenix. Even I, who hates the NBA with a passion, tuned in for a moment tonight to see Shaquille O'Neal's debut for the Phoenix Suns. He couldn't help them, as they went down to the Lakers. He did seem to give them more of a physical presence. The difference was obvious when he stood anywhere near the willowy Steve Nash, who often seemed in danger of being sucked in to Shaq's gravitational well, never to be seen again. Will it prove enought to get the Suns over the top? I tend to think not, but as mentioned before, I also hope that's not the case. I like having the Diamondbacks as the only team to have won it all in the state. And, no, the Rattlers and Mercury don't count, being both poor imitations of 'proper' sports.
Went to see the Coyotes play last night at Glendale Arena. Headed out there early, to hang with the Snakepitette, who is working at the Sandbar, out on Northern and 99th Avenue. She was busting her butt off behind the bar, showing an impressive work-ethic - it seems like only yesterday, her energy was largely devoted to posting comments on her friends' MySpace pages. Now, our little baby is comping us dinner and is all grown-up. Perhaps a little too grown up for Mrs. SnakePit's taste; "That man is looking at our daughter's breasts!", she muttered disapprovingly as one of the customers she was serving, failed to maintain his gaze at a maternally-acceptable height. I had to explain to her that the Snakepitette was working in a bar and, like all the female employees, was dressed in a manner carefully calculated to drive men to drink.
Much the same could be said - though in a significantly less enjoyable way - for the Coyotes performance, as they crumbled to Calgary, 4-1. Even though our knowledge of the finer points of the game is largely confined to a fondness for the movie Slapshot, we had entirely to concur with the Great One's assessment after the game. Gretzky said, "We lost the game because they played like it was a playoff game, and we played like it was an exhibition game in September. They beat us to every loose puck, they took hits to make plays and we played with no grit tonight whatsoever... We only had a handful of players who showed up tonight." There were a couple of good fights early on, but after the opposition took the lead, Phoenix were very rarely in it. I was pleased to discover that our own Daniel Carcillo leads the league in penalty minutes, with almost an hour more than the next guy. Still, the team will have to play an awful lot better if they're to find post-season play.
Enough of these temporary diversions, designed merely to tide us over until Opening Day. Another step down the line for the Diamondbacks, with the arrival today in camp of the rest of the position players. That just leaves the man of a thousand faces [and at least that many visa applications], Tony Peña, as the only man missing from camp, and there is now barely a week to go until the first meaningful pitch of the 2008 season is thrown. Well, as meaningful as any spring training pitch can be, but after four months where just about the only baseball was on ESPN Deportes, and being played largely be people I've never heard of, I'll take what I can get.
Where to start? Nice review of our bullpen from top to toe, though it mostly concentrates on new closer Lyon, and new man entirely, Chad Qualls. Lyon is looking forward to getting the ball at the end of the game, saying "The energy you feel on the mound in the ninth inning is one of the best feelings you'll ever have." It'll be interesting to see what he does with the energy after getting the third out: Valverde was (in)famous in the league for his...let's just say demonstrative behavior. Lyon is generally thought of as being somewhat more laid-back, but we'll see if that's maintained when he nails down his first save with the tying run at third-base. Actually, I hope we never see that; I'd be perfectly happy - no, make that delighted - if the tying run never reached base. That would certainly reduce the amount of...let's just say, demonstrative behavior in the living-room at SnakePit Towers.
Speaking of Lyon, Steve Gilbert explains why he was chosen as the closer over Peña. He describes the decision as 'solid', and bring up an interesting point: "You won't hear Bob Melvin necessarily say this for obvious reasons, but should Lyon falter in the role it will be easier to move him out of it and put Pena in there, whereas if Pena starts in that role and falters, moving him out of the role could have much more of an effect on him mentally because of his youth and inexperience." That's something I haven't heard brought up before, but is a valid thought. Gilbert also gives his picks for D-backs team of the decade: certainly a couple of choices I'd disagree with, though he seems to be basing it on best individual season, rather than overall career.
Looks like the team have offered a contract to Trot Nixon. However, this is apparently a minor-league one, with an out clause for the out-fielder, if he isn't on the roster at the end of March. All being well, he will be using that clause, since he's mostly there as coverage in case our other more or less injured, left-handed bats on the bench [Tracy and Montero] are not ready. Speaking of contracts, I see that Byung-Hyun Kim has signed with the Pirates, for an $850K base salary, and another million possible in bonuses. I'm not sure how attainable those are going to be, since the team has made it clear, he'll be a reliever and not a starter. My colleague over at Bucs Dugout is mildly-stoked, saying, "I must admit feeling a bit of excitement when I heard about this - I've always liked Kim in a Kip Wells, I-really-should-stop-liking-him sort of way. The movement Kim gets on his pitches is really funky; he's a really fun pitcher to watch." Those who saw him pitch for AZ last year might have a different opinion...
Conor Jackson is getting ready for a full-season at first, without Tony Clark to take some of the heat. Said Jackson, "Hopefully they've got faith in me that I can go out there and do the job every day. It instills a sense of confidence in yourself, knowing that you're the guy. But on the flip side, competition definitely breeds a player." If he can maintain the form he showed after the first month last year, he could be one of our most productive players. Melvin seems to agree: "I really expect Conor Jackson to improve this year and kind of solidify himself and establish himself quite a bit this year." I think we may well look back at our efforts to trade Jackson this winter and wonder, "What the hell were we thinking?" Fingers crossed that's the case, certainly, though with Tracy in the mix, Jackson may once again find himself platooned to a degree.
And that will do, I think. Tomorrow sees the first full workouts down in Tucson. I imagine the players will be just as keen to get out on the field as we are to see them there.