So this is the kind of thing perfectly suited for spring training, the kind of camp joke that might find itself in a bigger story down the road, but is too good not to be shared right now.
So here goes. All around the Royals clubhouse, people have noticed this: Jason Hammel looks exactly like Luke Hochevar.
“Every time I see him, I think of Hoch,” Royals manager Ned Yost says. “… He looks just like him.”
Hammel, of course, is the Royals’ new starting pitcher, the former Cub who signed a two-year, $16 million contract in the final weeks of the offseason. And Hochevar is the former Royals pitcher who remains a free agent after undergoing surgery last summer to address thoracic outlet syndrome.
And yes, there is some weird symmetry here. For the first time in 11 years, Hochevar isn’t here in Surprise with the Royals. And now the club has gone out and acquired somebody that could be his stunt double.
In truth, Hammel and Hochevar are not quite twins. But there is an uncanny similarity in their hair, beard, gait and mannerisms. On the latest SportsBeat KC podcast, Joel Goldberg and I break down the differences. So go ahead and listen to that. But we’ll finish this inane intro with this thought: Hammel, a Pearl Jam-loving native of the Seattle area, is essentially Hochevar if he was from the Pacific Northwest.
Let’s start here: Kyle Zimmer is in camp and throwing well. He’s returning from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome — a procedure that includes the removal of a rib, which sounds awful. All in all, he’s battled an array of shoulder issues and other injuries since being drafted No. 5 overall in 2012.
Zimmer has remained remarkably optimistic and determined through all his injury problems — and despite repeated kicks to the gut, year after year, setback after setback, he remains open, honest and accessible about his career. Spoiler: It’s been insanely frustrating.
This will all be the subject of a longer story at some point during camp. But for now, we know this: Zimmer is slated to start on Sunday in the Royals’ second game of the spring. Earlier this week, he said he experienced some normal soreness after throwing live batting practice, but that’s to be expected.
Is there genuine reason to be optimistic? We’ll see. We’ve been here before. But for now, Zimmer is optimistic. So there’s that.
1. A $10 bill found in an old pair of jeans
2. A bar tab that is much cheaper than you think it’s going be
This is a yearly topic around spring training, and I’ll say it again: Surprise is not exactly a culinary destination. It’s mostly chain restaurants and strip malls. But there are some decent spots.
Saigon Kitchen is a Vietnamese place with good food and a good vibe. And Little Sicily is a little pizza place in a strip mall with good pie. It’s also BYOB. It’s not just good pizza for Surprise, either. It’s just good.
Yes. Definitely yes. I don’t want to tell anybody how to spend their money, but the weather is great. The sight lines at the smaller stadiums are solid. The whole atmosphere is fairly laid back and relaxing.
Don’t expect to see a ton of your favorite players in games, of course. They’re usually done after a few innings, especially early in camp. But I think the best fan experience is probably just showing up to the workouts in the mornings. In the weeks before the games begin, you can watch batting practice up close on the practice fields. Once minor-league camp starts, you can do the same with the club’s younger prospects.
If autographs are your thing, there’s an opportunity for that. Just be polite.
And, of course, you may run into scenes like this.
Tweet of the year.
Bonifacio is almost certainly ticketed for Omaha again, and I haven’t watched much of him this spring. (It’s early.) But he coupled a strong performance in camp last year with solid numbers at Class AAA.
For now, he’s blocked by a deep outfield. But so was Brett Eibner last season, and he got an opportunity after a rash of injuries. In a perfect world, the Royals will not see similar injury issues this season. But Bonifacio could position himself to be next in line with a strong performance in camp.