By Jeff Montgomery
Watching young Yordano Ventura earn his first Major League win against the Houston Astros was certainly enjoyable. Every pitcher who plays long enough will get his first win at some point but Ventura earned his at age 22. He certainly deserved to have accomplished the milestone in one of his earlier starts when he pitched equally as good as he did against the Astros but it didn’t happen. To Ventura’s credit, he did not allow this to alter his approach on the mound.
He has demonstrated that he is able to pitch effectively in high leverage situations when he needs to. He has the confidence and the composure of a much more seasoned veteran on the mound, which is something that is very difficult to teach. These traits normally come with years of experience in the major leagues and at times even veterans do not reach the level of poise that Ventura has displayed.
There will be games when “Ace” does not have his best stuff and may end up backing up the bases more than he cares to. It could be after one of these type games that we truly learn what Ventura is made of. But if I were betting, I would bet that he would rebound just fine and possibly even be better.
The biggest reason I am so excited about this kids future is because of the “stuff” he possesses. He is able to effortlessly generate fastballs that leave his hand at 100 miles per hour as well as keep hitters honest with a knee-buckling curveball and very well developed change-up that he is brave enough to throw in any count against any hitter in any situation.
The Royals have been criticized for years about their inability to develop starting pitchers that are able to contribute once they arrive in the Major Leagues and rightfully so as there have been only a small handful of consistent starting pitchers that have come through the system in the past several years. Ventura’s success and the pipeline of other starting pitching prospects that are likely to hit the Majors in the next 2-5 years could quickly erase the criticism that has surrounded the organization for years.
Since it appears that James Shields will likely be able to capitalize on a mega contract following this season, it will be important to see pitchers like Kyle Zimmer, Miguel Almonte, and Jason Adam fill the shoes of some of the veterans as they move on. It could be a fun ride for many years if any more “Aces” are dealt into the Royals hand.
By Jeff Montgomery
Although the Royals were on the short end of the stick on two plays that were reviewed and overturned in Game 2 of their opening series in Detroit, the new rule should be good for the game overall.
The umpires will be held to a higher level of accountability than ever before, as replays will now be shown in MLB ballparks as part of the new Replay Regulations. Having witnessed the first challenges in Royals history at Comerica Park, it was evident that fans were enthralled during the review process that was taking place in a studio somewhere in New York City. Video shots from every available angle were being shown on the in-stadium televisions as well as the video portion of the scoreboard.
There has been a significant amount of discussion as the new rules went into effect on Opening Day but whether you are a fan, a player, or even an umpire, at the end of the day you just hope the plays are called right. With the amount of cameras that are in ballparks today there should be at least one viewing angle that will allow the Replay Umpires who will be sitting in the control center in New York to make the proper ruling for the plays under review.
The only issue I can see as being a negative will be the time factor involved in making decisions on whether to overturn a ruling on the field or not. Time issues will be eliminated to some degree, as each Club will only have only one (1) Manager Challenge to start the game. If the Manager challenges a play and it is not overturned he will lose the right to challenge another play. If the challenged play is overturned, the manager shall retain his Challenge, which is why Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was able to challenge two plays during the Wednesday’s game. After two Challenges, the manager will not have the right to another Challenge, regardless of whether his second play was overturned. If the Manager does not have a Manager Challenge available the Umpire Crew Chief may at his discretion review a play.
There are certain plays, such as Balls and Strikes, that cannot be reviewed and it will take fans some time to get familiar with all the rules, but in general the list of plays that are able to be reviewed is as follows: Home Runs, Fair/Foul Balls, Boundaries, Force/Tag Plays, Catches in the Outfield, Base Running, Hit By Pitch, and Collisions at Home Plate. There are entirely new rules regarding Collisions at Home Plate that are being instituted to protect both Catchers and Base Runners.
So, as we move forward into a New Era of Baseball with a new set of Replay Regulations someone will be keeping score on how many plays are overturned. I think it will likely show just how good Major League Umpires are, regardless of how many fans let them know they are “Bums”. It will also allow them to do what everyone hopes will be the case anyway, and that is for them to get the plays right.
By Jeff Montgomery
Recently Anheuser-Busch’s petition to make Opening Day a National Holiday had its ticket punched to the White House by gaining the required 100,000 signatures. President Obama and his administration will now have up to 60 days to consider whether or not to make the unofficial holiday a national day of observance.
The petition's text highlighted the role of baseball -- and the start of the season -- as a day for Americans to come together:
MLB Opening Day is more than just the beginning of the season. It’s a symbol of rebirth. The coming of spring. The return of America's national pastime. It’s a state of mind where anything is possible. You can feel the electricity in the air. Opening Day brings with it the promise of a new beginning. Every fan is in good spirits. It’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of hope. It’s a day that, for generations, has been looked forward to by baseball fans every off-season. It’s an American tradition, and it deserves to be recognized as an American holiday. Join us in our quest to make sure every American can exercise their inalienable right to celebrate the day those two magical words are uttered for the first time: “PLAY BALL!"
For 138 years Americans have celebrated Opening Day in their own way in their own city. That tradition will continue throughout the years but having our nation recognize the importance of baseball to our country would appropriate. For the 26 cities in the United States that have a Major League Baseball team it is easy to experience the warm feeling that baseball brings every spring. Especially in those cities that typically experience long, cold winters.
However, in the thousands of small towns across our country the experience is not quite the same. I grew up in a small town in Ohio and never had the opportunity to attend an Opening Day until 1989 when I made my first Opening Day roster with the Royals. That was a special day and one I’ll never forget. As a youngster I would find a way to have the “flu” each spring when the Big Red Machine would start their season. Since the Reds were descendants of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, which was the first professional baseball team in existence dating back to 1869, the first pitch in Major League Baseball was thrown in Cincinnati for many years. A tradition has fallen to the way side as teams now open abroad on an annual basis.
I think it is a great idea to make Opening Day a National Holiday, as it would help insure that our country’s rich history with baseball would continue to grow. It would make sense to televise baseball during the day, evening and nighttime on over-the-air channels available to as many Americans as possible. I believe it would help give countless Americans a sense of pride not often felt too often these days.
As a reminder of what baseball can do for us, I encourage you to take a look at the brief video:
By Jeff Montgomery
As the Boys in Blue work through the March portion of Spring Training 2014, I think it is important not invest too much into the results of the team or most individuals. As we have seen so many times in the past, the Royals have been Cactus League Champions only to fail once the bell rings in April.
It is always better to win rather than lose. It is always better to hit rather than struggle. And, it is always better to get hitters out rather than not. However, this years Royals have much less to prove in Arizona than teams in the past. This 'spring is about getting ready to start the season on the right foot. As we have learned, a miserable April can bury a team for the season much like the month of May almost did last year. With fewer jobs up in the air, the spring training schedule should allow the players who are certain to break camp with the team to prepare for the grind as well as allow the new players such as Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante to settle in with their new clubhouse mates.
Teams who have several jobs unsettled normally win many more games in Spring Training than teams that don’t for the reasons mentioned earlier but there will be a few players who are going to be in the Opening Day lineup that will be worth watching as training camp progresses. None of these players will be more closely watched than Mike Moustakas who spent some time playing Winter League Baseball and is trying to rebound from a difficult season in 2013. Moose is off to a great start this Spring but it should be noted that he had an incredibly successful Spring in 2013. Again, it’s better to see Moose hit rather than struggle.
Other than Salvador Perez’s backup, which will include competition from Brett Hayes, Francisco Pena, and Ramon Hernandez, there won’t be many other battles being held for roster spots other than the fifth starter job. If Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar open in the bullpen it looks like the battle will likely be between Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura although veteran Brad Penny could be in the mix as well.
With optimism at one of the highest points the Club has experienced in the past few decades it is important for this team to be ready to begin the season against their biggest divisional foe in the Detroit Tigers later this month (31st) and prove the optimism is no Mirage.
By Jeff Montgomery
I’m aware that in Royals County we are all programmed to hate the Yankees based on the rivalry that was created decades ago when the Yanks were an obstacle to the Royals winning the American League. Not to mention that one of the most storied moments in Royals history occurred when Billy Martin challenged George Brett’s home run in Yankee Stadium because of just a little too much pine tar.
Regardless, Royals fans and baseball fan across America should roll out the Red Carpet for Jeter as he bids farewell to baseball as a player. He will surely be a first ballot Hall of Famer, which goes without question. But he is more than a Hall of Famer; he has been the face of Major League Baseball for many years. He was fortunate to arrive in the Majors just as the Yankees were turning their franchise around and becoming perennial winners again. He has five World Series Championship rings as evidence and support to what he meant to baseball as a player. But playing his entire career in the largest market in the country and maintaining the perfect image is truly a small miracle, especially since his career spanned almost the entire Steroid Era.
I am hopeful that Jeter has recovered from the leg injuries that hampered him last year and kept him from playing at the elevated level everyone around the game has grown to expect. It would be great to see Jeter be able to perform at an All-Star level and make his last season one similar to his long-time teammate Mariano Rivera. Like Rivera, Jeter is well respected among players around baseball.
There are certain things you remember about players you have a chance to compete against and two stand out about Jeter to me as I look back. First, he hit an inside-the-park home run against me in his first year or two in the Majors. It was a fly ball to deep right-center field that Johnny Damon did not catch and caromed almost back to the infield. With Jeter’s speed and hustle he was able to score easily.
The other memory was from Spring Training the following year when I faced Jeter in an exhibition game and drilled him in the back. It was on a pitch I was working on where I would drop my arm angle to near Dan Quisenberry’s arm slot to try to create some deception. The pitch sailed into Jeter and he dropped his bat and immediately ran to first base. After the game I saw Derek outside the clubhouse and he smiled and asked, “Are we even now?” He thought I was drilling him for the home run he had hit the year before. Being a pitcher who couldn’t reveal the fact that it was an accident I replied, “We are even now”, even though it was totally an accident that I had hit him.
Let’s hope Derek Jeter is able to go out of baseball with the same style, grace, and flash that he possessed during his arrival.
By Jeff Montgomery
I remember the hype surrounding Alex Rodriguez when he was called-up to the Big Leagues at age 18 by the Seattle Mariners, just a year after they drafted the high school player from Miami. It was evident that after watching him play for the first time that he was going to be a special player that lived up to his billing and could possibly surpass the expectations the scouts had put on him.
After becoming a free agent at only 25 years old everyone knows he signed a record contract with the Texas Rangers worth somewhere in the Quarter of A Billion-Dollar range in 2001. It was one of the most discussed contracts in sports history. Rodriguez however lived up to the gaudy contract with gaudy statistics to support the commitment by the Rangers. Since the original free agent contract he signed with the Rangers he as signed lucrative contract extensions with the New York Yankees, the team he was traded to in 2004.
The reason for discussing the contract situation with Alex Rodriguez is not to suggest that he is not worth the money. In fact I believe he is worth every penny of the salary he negotiated with his former and current employers. He received the contracts because the teams were willing to pay the large salaries for his services. No one forced the Rangers to commit $252 Million for Rodriguez. One reason he was able to negotiate a contract that paid him a salary that his team felt he was worth was because of the sacrifices and the stances that players who preceded him were willing to make. Those players fought for a free-market environment that allowed teams to spend as much as they desired on their product on the field without any cap or limitation.
I would feel comfortable in stating that Alex Rodriguez has been the single largest beneficiary of the free-market environment the Major League Baseball Players Association has fought for over the past several decades. For this reason I think it is a joke that Alex Rodriguez has filed a lawsuit against the MLBPA. I am writing this blog from the Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp in Arizona and have had a chance to hear opinions from over a dozen Royals Alumni and I can assure you that none have expressed any sympathy for Rodriguez’s claims against the Union.
It would be great to see Alex Rodriguez come to grips with reality and take ownership for his actions. He was a gifted player that probably never needed PED’s in order to accomplish Hall of Fame credentials but now that he has been exposed it is time for him to serve his punishment. I think baseball fans could easily make it through a baseball season without ever hearing Alex Rodriguez’s name. I know I sure could!