Diamondbacks believe spring training culture will help team find identity
PHOENIX – The Diamondbacks opened spring training without some of last season’s most productive players, who left the team through trade and free agency.
Goodbye, Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock.
With those departures, however, come opportunities for the next generation of players. A family atmosphere with welcoming attitudes in the clubhouse is helping new faces feel comfortable.
Infielder Kevin Cron has been with the organization for more than five years. In that time, he has navigated the minor leagues — Missoula, Visalia, Hillsboro, Mobile and more — and has seen many players come and go. He is able to find the silver lining in losing teammates.
“I think that’s the beauty of having turnover,” Cron said. “One of the bigger parts of spring that goes unnoticed is just the way a team can come together in camp.”
Cron said that in his time with the team the organization has talked time and again about the culture of the clubhouse and treating it like a family.
By instilling that sense of connection as an organization, Cron said players can be free as individuals and feel comfortable with what they bring to the table.
“That’s something that really hits home with me and that’s a credit to management and the coaching staff in allowing us to be ourselves and generate those relationships,” Cron said.
The message from management is apparent in the clubhouse as players dance to music at their lockers and play cards alongside conversation about the day’s game. The way the team interacts makes it difficult to tell who is a veteran or a younger player, which Cron is happy to see.
“Your age doesn’t necessarily dictate your value in terms of what you can bring to the table for your teammates,” Cron said. “You can be a young guy or an older guy, but you might say something or know something that the guy next to you hadn’t heard before.
As one of those younger players, pitcher Nick Green, 23, said the positive nature of the clubhouse has made it easier to transition and work on his own progression.
“That’s huge for me,” Green said, “because I’m from a completely different team. Coming over and just being welcomed in that sense has been amazing.”
“Now, instead of worrying about meeting people, I’m worried about pitching,” Green added. He said the chemistry in the clubhouse makes it easier to focus on his job and work toward his goal of making the team.
New players like Green say downtime in the clubhouse gives them a chance to get to know each other better. Last weekend, the team spent time out of the ballpark and outside the country as they traveled to Mexico for two games against the Colorado Rockies.
Manager Torey Lovullo told reporters he likes the opportunity to get out on road trips during spring training and that it gives his players a chance to come together as they get away from the daily grind.
“I think it helps build a little bit of camaraderie,” Lovullo said. “There’s a dinner and we will get a chance to connect a little bit more personally, and I like those moments as well.”
After four years playing in the Korea Baseball Organization, pitcher Merrill Kelly is grateful for the moments he’s had among his new teammates. Although some worry about what to say or not to say in the clubhouse, Kelly is just grateful to be conversing in English.
“It’s funny going from a clubhouse where I can’t understand really anything that’s being said around me to come into a setting where I can understand everything,” Kelly said.
That understanding has accelerated the learning curve on getting to know his new teammates, he said.
“When you don’t speak the language it’s hard to pick up on people’s personalities sometimes,” Kelly said. “Here it’s been awesome because I can talk to everybody.”
“I can find out where they’re from. I can find out if they have a family. So that aspect has been much easier,” Kelly said.
For Kelly, the opportunity to bond with his teammates so easily also gives him a chance to relay his own experiences playing in the KBO.
“I would say if anything it’s a different perspective,” Kelly said. “I was there for four years and played a different brand of baseball and witnessed a completely different culture, and I think that I can offer something to the younger guys.”
With an influx of younger talent and players leaving for other teams, the Diamondbacks face many questions. But for a clubhouse willing to reach out and come together as they embark on an uncertain campaign, one thing these players say they don’t need to question is whether they are there for each other.