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For a baseball beat writer, the season is long. It starts in mid-February (early February for the D-backs and Dodgers this year) when pitchers and catchers report and it stretches through September and into October if the team you cover makes the playoffs.

Along the way there are deadlines to meet, endless airline flights, car rental counters, expense reports to do and multiple stories daily.

In other words, it’s a grind.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a column that complains about any of that, because this is the life that I’ve chosen and one that I love. My point in the above is to say that at times we all get a little worn down by it all no matter how much we love the game or our jobs.

And man was I there on the final day before the All-Star Break.

But I work for a company that encourages us to use a week of our vacation time at some point during the regular season. For the last few years I’ve chosen to take All-Star Break week off and the routine is fairly predictable.

First there’s relief Monday in turning off the phone and not checking Twitter every few minutes to make sure I’m not missing a D-backs trade rumor. But as the week wears on, though, I find myself turning the computer back on and checking on baseball not because I have to, but because I want to.

All of this is a long way of saying I’m back on the beat starting today and looking forward to another two-plus months of baseball. Sure the D-backs are out of the postseason race, but there is still plenty to watch out for in the second half as the organization tries to figure out who will be part of the team going forward.

My hope is to bring all that to you. Thank you for reading,

Steve

Some quick thoughts on Tony La Russa hiring

A few quick thoughts on the D-backs hiring of Tony La Russa as Chief Baseball Officer. Obviously we will have plenty more at dbacks.com following this afternoon’s press conference.

La Russa missed the wins and losses

La Russa had a great job with the commissioner’s office, but my guess is we’ll hear him say today that he missed the wins and losses that come with being involved with a particular team. He was a candidate for the Seattle Mariners team president position not too long ago and that was a good indication that he was itching to get back.

He’s not going to manage this team

From every indication La Russa is done managing and I would also believe that he is not interested in being a general manager either. Overseeing the entire baseball operations seems to fit what he has been looking for — a chance to put his stamp on an organization.

He will be fair in his evaluations of GM Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson

Keep in mind while La Russa has never held a position like this one he is extremely bright and you can expect that he will attack this new challenge very meticulously. He is a big believer in “doing things the right way” so you can bet he will be very even handed when it comes to deciding what to do with the baseball ops department going forward.

D-backs Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson address job status

CHICAGO — Kevin Towers looks at the team that he put together and the D-backs general manager is as perplexed as anyone at the dismal start.
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“I’ve been a part of some bad clubs, but most of the time I knew they were bad clubs, knew going into the season that we were going to struggle,” Towers said.
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The D-backs had far higher hopes for this season with a club-record payroll of $110 million, but they entered Wednesday afternoon’s game with the Cubs with a Majors-worst 5-18 record.
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With that payroll came expectations and Towers knows that managing general partner Ken Kendrick and team president/CEO Derrick Hall might be running short on patience.
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“I’ve talked to Derrick, Ken and they’re [frustrated] — rightfully so,” Towers said. “They should be. This organization has committed a lot of money. That’s what’s even more disturbing. You’ve got a payroll that exceeds $100 million and we’re off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. That’s tough to swallow when you’re an owner and you care and you’ve invested in a product and the product isn’t performing. I’m sure they’ve grown impatient and I don’t blame them.”
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D-backs manager Kirk Gibson knows that there has been speculation about his job status, but he is trying to remain focused on getting his team turned around.
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“I don’t worry about that part,” Gibson said of his job status. “I just come in here and am positive every day. We try to analyze what we can do [better] and we just prepare and try to get the guys to prepare and have a positive day and a good game.”
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Regardless of how positive they are, or what Towers or Gibson do, the reality is that it is up to the players on the field and Towers issued a bit of a challenge Wednesday.
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“It’s a team that should be performing a lot better than they are and it’s not like help is on its way,” Towers said. “These guys are the guys who are going to have to get it done. If not, your legacy is that you were part of one of the worst teams in Diamondbacks franchise history. To me, I’ve got incredible pride — and hopefully they do and they’re going to have to find a way to turn it around or that will be their legacy.”
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When asked if he thought that he would be given a chance to continue as GM and be given a chance to fix what’s wrong with the team, Towers deferred the query to Kendrick and Hall.
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“That’s a question you need to ask them,” Towers said. “I don’t think they dislike Gibby or myself. They’re good people. They’ve been great to us. But Gibby and I are smart enough to know that this is what you get paid to do. You get paid to hopefully go out and win ballgames. But I think we’re all accountable. Everybody. It’s players, it’s us, it’s coaches. We all should be wearing this right now and finding a way to turn this around.”
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When he took over as GM in Sept. 2010, Towers inherited Gibson, who had been named interim manager in July.
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The two quickly formed a bond and Towers elected after that season to rehire Gibson. The pair won a division championship together in 2011, which was followed up by back-to-back .500 seasons.
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After last season the organization declined to pick up the contract options on the pair for 2015, but then announced extensions of unspecified lengths for both just before the start of Spring Training.
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As of Wednesday, Towers was still standing behind Gibson.
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“I think the world of Gibby,” Towers said. “He’s a fierce competitor. He cares. But ultimately, it’s how do they respond? Players may ultimately get GMs and managers fired, but they don’t do it, it comes from up above. But how they respond to different things, our livelihood kind of lies in their hands. That’s just the truth and it does. They perform good, we have job security. They don’t perform well, we don’t have job security. That’s probably what makes it tough on Gibby and myself. You can’t go out and swing the bat or throw a ball. You’re sitting and evaluating, watching. You try to find different ways to get it done but you can’t go out and play the game for them.”
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Gibson, for his part, continues to stand behind his players in terms of the effort they’re putting forth.
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“Yeah, they’re busting their [butts],” he said. “When you don’t score runs it looks bad. When you don’t pitch, it looks bad. It always will. It always has. Things are magnified when we make an error and somebody hits a home run. It looks bad. Anybody going to question anybody on our team’s attitude and dedication and how they prepare when they make an error? They better not.”

2/6/14: A few thoughts

A few thoughts from report day…

– They really shouldn’t call it report day, because the pitchers and catchers don’t actually have to show up at Salt River Fields. They simply need to check in to say they are in town.

In addition, almost all the guys — even position players — have been working out at the complex for days if not weeks.

– Speaking of which, the quote of the day on that subject came from pitcher Brandon McCarthy: “It’s just good because in the last month is when you start to hit that boredom point of you’re done with the offseason, you’re sick of your loved ones, you want to get out of your house, you kind of want to get back at some competitive outlet.”

– And while we’re on the subject of McCarthy, his comments about the determination in the clubhouse this spring really jumped out at me. You can read them here.

Look every team sounds optimistic during Spring Training especially early in camp, but this sounded different, there was an intensity and specificity about what needed to change that caught my attention.

Maybe it means nothing, but in listening to McCarthy and then to manager Kirk Gibson later, it seemed like things are quite different than they were last year.

Here’s a link to today’s notebook with information on the closer competition, Mark Trumbo’s signing and Henry Blanco.

– The D-backs will go out to stretch and begin Friday’s first workout at 9:30 and they will be on the field until close to noon.

– All spring long workouts are free and open to the public. Fans can park in the Desert Parking Lot.

– For photos, schedule updates and news throughout the spring, follow me on Twitter.

44 days until opener in Sydney
53 days until opener vs. Giants at Chase Field
234 days until the end of the 2014 regular season

What to expect today

Today is report day for D-backs pitchers and catchers so I wanted to give a quick rundown of what you can expect today on the site and at the ballpark:

Pitchers and catchers will  not necessarily be there today: Report day is a bit misleading, because all players have to do to “report” is to call the organization and let it know they are in town. Pitchers and catchers don’t have to be at the ballpark until Friday when the workouts start.

Nothing to see here: That means there’s a good chance there won’t be any activities out on the fields. Now, that being said, there are players who have been working out at the complex for months so I’m not sure if they will be there or not, but your best bet is to come out Friday.

Site content today: They will open the clubhouse to the media mid-morning today, but there is no guarantee there will be any players to talk to. However, Kirk Gibson will be meeting with us at 11 a.m. so you can check back this afternoon for his thoughts as camp opens.

Arroyo watch: As always, we’ll be on top of whatever breaking news there is throughout the day. The D-backs are planning on meeting with Arroyo (not sure when) but it’s something we’ll keep an eye out today and going forward.

Workout times this spring: I will try and have the blog updated daily during the spring, but your best bet for staying on top workout times and any changes to them will be to follow me on twitter.

Spring Training preview: Here’s my preview of the D-backs as they head into Spring Training.

 

Angels and Padres among those teams intersted in Kennedy

ST. PETERSBURGH — You can count the Angels and Padres among the teams interested in D-backs right-hander Ian Kennedy according to a baseball source.

Kennedy is scheduled to start tonight’s game against the Rays and how serious the trade talks are involving him could become clear as he would be scratched if something were imminent.

ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Cubs could also be a possible destination for Kennedy.

Both the Angels and Padres have people in their organization who have a history with Kennedy. Padres GM Josh Byrnes traded for Kennedy when he was GM of the D-backs and Angels GM Jerry Dipoto was interim GM of the D-backs during Kennedy’s time there and was assistant GM in Arizona when Kennedy won 21 games in 2011.

– Steve Gilbert

Why I went to work Tuesday

I got the news when I was 35,000 feet up in the air on my way to New York. On my way to a big series with the Yankees, because every series in the ballpark in the Bronx feels big.

Headline: Explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Suddenly the series with the Yankees felt small.

Watching the news coverage that night in my hotel room I couldn’t get my mind around it. Three people dead, one of them an 8-year-old, whose 6-year-old sister lost her leg in the explosion. Lives shattered, ripped apart.

The questions begin to fly through the mind — How does this happen? How could someone do such a thing? — and then heart aches for the people killed and the loved ones who are left behind to try and somehow pick up the pieces.

And so I woke up Tuesday and wondered. Why go to the ballpark tonight? For a baseball game? Who cares?

View from the press box during Tuesday's D-backs-Yankees game.

View from the press box during Tuesday’s D-backs-Yankees game.

And then I thought of Jack, as passionate a baseball fan as there is. He lives in China now, but he still follows the D-backs staying up late (or is it getting up early?) to watch their games. He needs these games to stay connected to his home to stay connected to his country.

There’s Jenny in San Francisco, her body confined to a wheelchair, but her passion for the game knowing no limits. She’s always got questions about why certain decisions are made and somebody needs to get the answers.

There’s Lubo here in New York. Sure he says he’s sworn off the D-backs since the Justin Upton trade, but judging by his interest level I have my doubts about that.

And there’s a 9-year-old in Phoenix, who is trying to make sense of what he sees on the news. He loves when I send pictures of the ballparks I visit. I can’t disappoint him.

I could go on and on.

But it reminds me again of baseball’s importance. Not because the games in and of themselves mean anything, but because of what they provide people — a way of dealing with the stresses and sometimes tragedies in their own lives.
I go to the ballpark and I talk with pitcher Ian Kennedy, who heard about the Boston bombings when his wife, Allison, called him.

“My thoughts and prayers are really, really with them,” Kennedy told me. “Allison and I prayed for them. It was all we could do.”

But it’s not all he will do, not really.

He went through his between-start routine Tuesday. He will do so again Wednesday and Thursday. There will be video study as well and scouting reports to pore over. And then, Friday, he will take the mound at Coors Field against the Rockies and give everything he has in pursuit of a victory.

Why? Because it will mean something to baseball fans. It will mean something to someone who drafted him on his Fantasy League team. Because it could bring a smile to someone’s face somewhere. Because it is a gift to be able to throw the ball like he does so he will share it with the rest of the world.

I can’t throw the ball like he can, but I have the privilege of access to places that fans cannot go. It is my job to be your eyes and ears and to provide you with information and make you smile.

No, it’s not as important as the emergency workers, who rushed to help the victims Monday. It’s not as vital as the runners, who continued to run to local Boston hospitals to donate blood in the aftermath.

But it’s my role, it’s my contribution, my one stitch in the fabric that makes up this country. It’s what I have to give and so I treat it as though it is important.

That’s why I went to work Tuesday.

And why I will again today.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Opening Day

Happy Opening Day, or in the case of the D-backs, Happy Opening Night.

I’m going to try and do a better job of keeping this blog going during this season. While there will be baseball stuff on it, it will also be a chronicle of life on the road and some personal observations. As always, your feedback is always welcome. Feel free to drop me an email at steve.gilbert@mlb.com.

Day or night, there is something special about the opener. Every team can seemingly convince themselves that maybe, just maybe, they will be the one left standing in October. Everything is fresh and anything seems possible.

Opening Day was always a holiday in the Gilbert house when I was growing up. My parents would allow me to miss school and we would head to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs. Those outings with my father, who passed away in 2004, are some of my most treasured memories.

There are plenty of things to keep an eye on this year for D-backs fans. Here are a few things that I’ll be interesting to watch:

– How will they handle the loss of Adam Eaton?
Losing Eaton for the first eight weeks or so of the season is a real blow. This was a guy they built their offense around having at the top of the lineup.
– Is the bullpen as good as we think it is?
J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, Heath Bell and Brad Ziegler at the back end with a pair of lefties in Tony Sipp and Matt Reynolds along with the versatile Josh Collmenter seems — on paper at least — to be one of the better pens in the league.
– Will they score enough runs?
No Justin Upton, Chris Young, or Stephen Drew. The team has made a decision to move away from reliance on the home run and towards a more contact-oriented lineup. Will they still score enough runs?

I could go on and on — Paul Goldschmidt’s development, does Trevor Cahill’s improved conditioning help him on the mound? — but you get the idea.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter.

Saunders wants to stay with D-backs

Spoke with D-backs lefty Joe Saunders this morning who said he’s still hopeful of returning to the team. Saunders is eligible for salary arbitration and could command a salary of between $8 million to $9 million. The team seems interested in signing him to a two-year deal more so than paying what it would cost to go through arbitration with him.

“I do want to stay here,” Saunders said. “It’s just a matter of if the D-backs want to bring me back.”

The D-backs have until Dec. 12 to tender Saunders. If they decide to non-tender him he would become a free agent.

– Steve Gilbert

Matt Williams suffers broken foot

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — D-backs third base coach Matt Williams said he has a broken right foot, the result of being hit by a ball during a soft toss drill.

Williams was spotted limping between practice fields Wednesday with a walking boot on his right leg.

The incident occurred he said a couple of days ago. How long it will prevent him from coaching third base is unknown.

This will be Williams first year coaching third base in the Majors.

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