LOS ANGELES – Before anyone was thinking about Mike Schmidt again after the Hall of Famer said he wouldn’t build a team around a player who speaks Spanish, the volume on the portable stereo beside Gio Gonzalez’s locker was turned up Monday afternoon, and the beat was of the islands, and Oliver Perez danced, and Stephen Drew clapped along, and Michael Taylor grinned at the whole thing.
Had you, too, been standing there, observing, you’d perhaps have summoned the same idle thoughts.
Two of them.
This team, the Washington Nationals, needs to loosen up a little.
And that, right there, a clubhouse awash in Latin music, heads of all colors bobbing along, an African-American manager down the hall, laughter the common language, is what baseball is, or should be, or could be.
Maybe some of them were leading and others were following, maybe not, as pregame tends to spread itself along 25 routines. Most, however, prepared themselves to face a pitcher from South Korea who was managed by a man half African American and half Japanese, and maybe you, too, would ask yourself why we keep having to have these conversations.
The benefit, then, is to remind ourselves it’s hard to walk out of one’s living room at 16 years old in order to travel to another world, where the first challenge is to get on the right bus or explain to the cab driver where you need to be. That that journey leads one day to the middle of a batting order in a major league ballpark is a tiny miracle in itself, given the hundreds of chances it has to run off in the wrong direction. The path has become cleaner over the years. A little wider. And still every one of those young men go it alone, no matter how large the crowd around them, and only a small percentage will ever stand in the middle of a batting order in a major league ballpark.
So, you don’t have to like the player. You don’t have to like his effort. You don’t have to like his future as a ballplayer. But that has nothing to do with where he’s from or the language he speaks. In fact, it’d be more honest, when you go to list his attributes, you start with those.
When Dusty Baker tilts his head and one side of his mouth glides into a smile, it’s story time. He’s spooling back over the years, recalling this day and that, putting them into context with the people who were there, including himself.
Take Clay Bellinger, Cody’s dad. Clay was at the top of the San Francisco Giants’ farm system when Dusty managed the Giants. He wouldn’t reach the majors until 1999 with the New York Yankees, but Dusty knew him, as he managed him in spring training and in the Arizona Fall League.
A few years later, he estimated this was the winter after the 2000 season, Dusty drove up to the Princess Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, and handed his car keys to the valet. The valet was Clay Bellinger.
“I admired him because he was such a hard worker,” Dusty said. “He parked my car. And he told me about his son.
“He was a good kid, man. I imagine his son is, too.”
Cody would’ve been about 5. On Tuesday night, Cody was starting in left field for the Dodgers against Dusty’s Washington Nationals.
“Boy,” Dusty said, “life goes by quickly. You know, you really like to see former players’ sons make it. Most of the players’ sons fall in love with baseball a long, long time ago. And I have one. I look at [Cody] and I look at hopefully my son.”
Darren Baker is a senior second baseman and outfielder at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California.
Cody said his father has told him about all the odd jobs he held between baseball seasons, back when a fringe big leaguer would pull in $200,000 or so in a year, pro-rated.
“That’s awesome,” Cody said of Dusty’s remembrances. “He’s been around a long time.”
Sam Dyson is a San Francisco Giant, which could be interesting, because Dyson still has plenty of arm to go along with plenty of ERA. A player who’d caught Dyson in the past said recently he’d watched a lot of Dyson’s innings this season and believed he was fixable. The two-seamer is flat, he said, and therefore is spending too much time on the same plane, resulting in hard contact, resulting in Dyson losing confidence in the pitch and pushing it to the plate. The circle of 10-ERA life. Pitching coach Dave Righetti has made more of less. Even if a normal Dyson doesn’t begin to address the Giants’ larger issues today, he’s a more than reasonable risk over the longer term.
Bartolo Colon has been on the brink of finished before. In 2007, a decade ago, the Los Angeles Angels allowed him to walk after consecutive seasons that saw him make a combined 28 starts and pitch to a 5.90 ERA. He’s won 89 games (for the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland A’s, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves) since. He’s not, however, ever been 44 before, and now it seems he hasn’t missed a bat in weeks. He is on the disabled list because of what the Braves are calling a strained oblique. They could try him in the bullpen when he returns.
Twins catcher Chris Gimenez has a 7.71 ERA in seven career appearances, which is the pitcher equivalent of batting, like, .290.
Well, didn’t see this coming. We’re a week into June and the sexiest series of the weekend is in Phoenix, and that’s because the Arizona Diamondbacks are there, and because the Milwaukee Brewers are, too.
Maybe you believe they’re in a little over their heads, what with the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs nearby, but we’re about 60 games in and it’s not about reputations or payrolls or assumptions. It’s about who plays better and who stays upright and who puffs up at the trading deadline.
If the schedule holds, the Diamondbacks on Sunday face Chase Anderson, the right-hander they traded to Milwaukee two Januaries ago for Jean Segura, who they flipped after a season to Seattle for Taijuan Walker. The D-backs counter with Robbie Ray, the left-hander who’s drawing comps to Mark Langston. In three starts before Tuesday’s against San Diego, Ray had averaged nearly eight innings, hadn’t allowed a run, and had 25 strikeouts and three walks.
Friday: Zach Davies vs. Randall Delgado
Saturday: Junior Guerra vs. Taijuan Walker
Sunday: Anderson vs. Ray