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2017 Spring Training Trip

March 30, 2017

This past weekend my wife and I crossed off another Bucket List item by making a trip down to Arizona for some MLB Spring Training action. I have to say it was a pretty surprising development. Last month I went to Vegas for some WSOPc events and when I landed in Nevada, I received an email confirmation for a flight to Arizona – something we had literally never talked about doing this year. And then as the time of our trip grew nearer, we started to wonder if Arizona was a place we might actually want to live some day, so we were really excited about checking the area out.

Obviously the main focus of our trip was to check out the Mariners complex in Peoria and take in a couple games. It was amazing! Everything is so relaxed and accessible that it all has more of a minor league vibe to it. If you arrive early enough, parking right next to Peoria Stadium is free (and even if you arrive after the parking attendants, it’s still only $5) and the practice fields open at 9 A.M. Unfortunately, the MLB squad didn’t come out of the M’s clubhouse until past 11, so we were just kind of standing around doing nothing for two hours. When they did come out, it was pretty cool. A number of players would come right up to the fence and sign autographs and Mike Zunino was catching pitches from a machine right in front of us, carrying on casual conversation with the onlookers – although I must note while he replied to all the stupid things people were saying to him, I could tell he would rather everyone just shut up. Arguably my favorite current M already, Kyle Seager is now #1 without a doubt. While Zunino seemed like he would rather do without the fan interaction, Seager’s social skills were incredible. Not only did he sign plenty of autographs and take pictures, but he was funny and genuine, making fun of a little girl wearing Blue Jays gear and telling me he didn’t want to ruin my 40th Anniversary Sports Illustrated cover by signing it. Leonys Martin was also great with the fans. He signed more autographs than anyone, took a crazy amount of pictures, and did it all with a huge smile on his face. You can tell he truly loves what he does, including all the obligations that come with being a major league baseball player. I also got to witness some interesting banter between newcomers Jarrod Dyson and Danny Valencia. Fans were speculating how many steals Dyson would get this year and Valencia asked him “you gonna steal 100 bags?” and Dyson snapped back “you gonna hit 100 homeruns?”

As far as the actual games went, it was a great experience. I always like to get good seats, so we were right next to the Mariners dugout for both games and the view was fantastic. When the Mariners played the Rangers, Felix Hernandez was trolling his WBC Venezuela teammates Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos for the entire first half of the game before taking his leave and getting a cup of water in the face courtesy of Odor. The Mariners beat the Rangers 3-1 on Saturday and then lost to the lowly Padres 2-12 on Monday.

Some notes from the games:

-Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz were both entirely absent this weekend, staying in their rooms with the flu.

-Dillon Overton has pitched well this spring and is a surprising member of the current MLB camp.

-Taylor Motter hit two homers this weekend and seems to have locked up the Mariners utility spot.

-Yovani Gallardo got blasted by the Padres to the tune of 9 hits, 7 ER, 2 BB, 3 HR, and only 2 Ks in 4.1 innings. He carries a 9.24 ERA this spring and while spring stats should always been taken with a grain of salt, this is a spot on our roster we should be worried about. There’s always a chance Gallardo will thrive in the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him either released or optioned to Tacoma before the All-Star break.

-There was a great moment in the Mariners-Padres game where someone hit a routine grounder to short with a runner on 1st and the second baseman blatantly dropped the throw from the shortstop and the umpire ruled the runner out, claiming that the miscue occurred during the transfer. It did not. Without question, the fielder never had control of the ball. At this point in time, the Padres were winning 7-0 and the sun was burning a hole into my neck, so the call seemed whatever to me, but the Mariners fans, including the KIRO 710 ESPN radio guys that were sitting two rows in front of us, gave the ump hell for the rest of the inning. I told my wife that ump would have a conversation with the third base ump after the inning, but he took it one step further and came right over to our section of the crowd and asked everybody if they wanted a “free lesson” on the rules. Just as he was about to “school” us, Leonys Martin stopped by, tapped him on the shoulder, and pointed to the M’s dugout, where manager Scott Servais was standing on the top step, with a big smile on his face, summoning the ump over with his finger.

-I have faith in Jean Segura, but you have to wonder about the make up of a guy that strikes out for the second time in a Cactus League game and slams his bat on the ground, splintering it.

-It’s pretty hilarious watching all the fans try to get autographs from players when they have no clue who they are. Some random, light-skinned minor league player came to sign and the entire section called him “Segura” the whole time. I tried to inform them that it wasn’t Jean Segura, but my claim was promptly denied by a number of fans and I honestly don’t even know what to say in a situation like that. I watched everyone refer to Tyler Smith as “Valencia” as he signed a number of autographs and finally after the 100th time he finally said “Danny’s twice my size.” Also, every dark-skinned player that walked by was “Heredia” and after being wrong about five times, it really was him! All of this, plus a plethora of incorrect “facts” stated by random fans all around me during both games I attended really made me wonder about something: part of me was dying to provide everyone with the correct information and another part of me was realizing how douchey that actually is. So I learned to just shut up and treat it like all the crazy things I hear people say at the poker table.

-I ended up getting four autographs on my Mariners 40th Anniversary SI cover: Kyle Seager, Danny Valencia, Leonys Martin, and Hisashi Iwakuma. I could have gotten many more, but I realize that I’m in my mid-30s and leaning over kids to get signatures from random guys that are younger me is kind of weird and stupid, so I don’t push it. This passivity has cost me autographs from Mike Trout (I eventually got him though), Max Scherzer, Jose Altuve, and Felix Hernandez over the years. On the other hand, I think baseball will always bring out the 12 year old in me and I don’t think that’s something to be ashamed of.

Moving on from baseball, the rest of our Arizona experience was great as well. We loved the scenery and while 80 degrees felt like 95 to us and I still got burned even with two coats of sun block on, I think that’s something we can get used to. It’s certainly more palatable than the constant rain and cold weather that we experience in the Marchs and Aprils of Seattle. Also, the highways were mostly free of traffic, with the exception of Monday morning and even that wasn’t too bad. We ate at a couple of really good restaurants and enjoyed playing poker at Talking Stick Resort. Even on a Sunday night, the room had 37 poker games going, so the game selection was immense. The 20/40 game was pretty good, although not amazing, but Sunday night isn’t exactly one of my target playing times, so I’m curious how the action is during prime time hours. The 2+2 locals pretty much universally insist the 20 game is great, so I’m inclined to believe them.

All in all, we are still on board with relocating to Arizona in five years or so. While I love Washington and being close to family, the Arizona vibe is more appealing to us and its location relevant to my favorite poker stops (L.A., Las Vegas, Denver) is incredibly ideal.

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