Judging the Royals

Getaway day and a minor-league umpire cost Christian Colon a needed at-bat

Kansas City Royals infielder Christian Colon
Kansas City Royals infielder Christian Colon jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Wednesday the Royals and Rangers played their last spring-training game in Arizona. After the game, both teams flew to Texas, where they’ll play a couple of exhibition games in Arlington before starting the regular season on Monday.

When a team plays a game and then travels, it’s known as getaway day.

And if you got a peek behind the scenes of the Royals’ spring-training complex, you saw a team preparing to travel.

The clubhouse attendants were packing up boxes, a room was filled with suitcases ready for shipping, moving vans were being filled with all kinds of gear and the players’ cars were being loaded on trucks to be driven back to Kansas City.

Wednesday was the last game after a long spring training and everybody was anxious to play a quick one; even the umpires.

It was a very quick game

The game was scheduled to start at 12:05, but the umpires jumped the gun and started it at 12:03. The whole affair took 2 hours and 11 minutes. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, but the teams didn’t have enough interest to stick around to play even one extra inning.

That’s the kind of game it was.

Minor-league umpires are often used in spring-training games and one of those minor league umpires, Billy Cunha, was behind the plate Wednesday.

If I counted correctly, 64 batters came to the plate and 22 of them saw the first pitch called a strike. If the umpires wanted a quick game, the hitters were cooperating; 27 of them swung at the first pitch.

If it sounds like everyone was trying to speed things up and finish a fairly meaningless game because they had more important things to do, you’ve got the picture.

But to Whit Merrifield and Christian Colon — a couple guys fighting for a roster spot — this game mattered a lot.

Colon’s eighth-inning punchout

If you trust those strike zones we see put up on our TV and computer screens, the first pitch to Colon was a strike on the outside corner. But strike two was inside and it wasn’t even close to the zone.

With the count 0-2, Colon had to swing at a fastball up and missed it.

Colon gestured to both sides of the plate and generally that means if the umpire is going to give pitches on the outside corner, he can’t give pitches off the plate inside; he’s making the zone too big. Colon wasn’t the only guy to have a questionable pitch called a strike, but a questionable call on Eric Hosmer isn’t going to hurt his chances of making the team.

It might be getaway day with a minor-league umpire behind the plate, but to some guys those at-bats still matter.

And Christian Colon had one taken away from him.

On my way back home

It’s Wednesday night and I’m in a shabby hotel near the Phoenix airport. The room in kind of depressing — the AC doesn’t work so well and a fly the size of a B-52 just went by — but if it gets too bad I can always step out on my balcony and enjoy the spectacular view of the dumpster behind the neighborhood Denny’s.

Man … it didn’t look like this on the website.

Nevertheless, the room is clean. I’ll get up at 5 a.m., shuttle over to the airport and catch a 7:35 flight back to Kansas City.

Spring training is over.