SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Can Bud Black steer the Rockies in the right direction? That remains to be seen, but the new manager is taking the bull by the horns with a variety of team-building stunts.
On a gloomy Tuesday morning here, the Rockies got up close and personal with General, a 1,600-pound Longhorn Watusi Steer. The Rockies were given a breakdown on various cuts of beef. The high point of the morning came when outfielder Gerardo Parra climbed atop General for a short ride as teammates cheered him on while dodging General's enormous horns.
It was the latest of Black's camp capers as he looks to build a bond within his new team. "It's a way to create some oneness," he said.
Early in spring training, Black assigned new pitcher James Farris the job of mapping out the origins of all of his new teammates. The project took Farris two attempts and more than 16 hours to complete, but the maps are now displayed in the hallway outside the clubhouse in the team's opulent facility at Salt River Fields.
The maps are adorned with brightly colored stings, pushpins and Farris' neat handwriting. Players can follow a string on the map and know that Carlos Gonzalez, for example, went to Montessori High School in Maracaibo, Venezuela. They discover that pitching coach Steve Foster was a Fighting Eagle at Desoto (Texas) High School, and that pitcher Jeff Hoffman hails from Latham, N.Y. where he pitched for the Shaker High Blue Bison.
"I wanted to do a really good job on it, not something mediocre, because Bud said it would be out in the hallway for everybody to see. That's why I started over ... the first one wasn't any good," said Farris, who was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on Feb. 1. "Now, a lot of guys have said they like it, or they say it's cool, or 'good job.' It's helped me feel more like part of a new team."
Tuesday's beefy project began with an edict from Black, who wanted the players to know more about the history of the team and the background of owners Dick and Charlie Monfort. So Black told pitching prospects Kyle Freeland, Yency Almonte and Ryan Castellani to explore the Rockies' meaty past.
"He assigned us a project on the history of the Monfort family's meat company, as well as a display of all the cuts of meat that come from a cow," Castellani explained. "From the start, we jokingly talked about bringing in a live cow to really emphasize our topic."
Unbeknownst to Black, Castellani, who grew up in Phoenix, had connections.
"It wasn't a reality until I realized that I had a family friend who is a well known veterinarian in Phoenix with a connection to cattle," Castellani said. "After a few calls, it came to fruition."
That's how General — under the command of Mark Rovey from Rovey Dairy — showed up on the lawn outside the Rockies' weight room. Freeland, Almonte and Castellani explained to their teammates where a rib-eye steak comes from and where to locate a rump roast. But it was the General and his enormous horns that stole the show.
"I didn't know about the bull until a couple of days ago," Black said. "That was the guys who did that. Tremendous."
Black learned the value of team building while he was the Angels' pitching coach under manager Mike Scioscia from 2000-06. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon also was a part of that staff and he's become well known for his clubhouse high jinx.
One of Scioscia's legendary moments came in 2000 when Angles pitchers Scott Schoeneweis and Jarrod Washburn attended an ostrich festival in Chandler, Ariz., then brought a live ostrich into the clubhouse. A terrified teammate, Ramon Ortiz, leapt into his locker, howling in Spanish about "the biggest chicken he had ever seen."
Black is serious about his team's frivolity.
"We focus so much on baseball, all of the time, so this gives us a brief period in the day when there in a little levity," Black said. "And I think on a day like today, with rain and everything, it was a good day."
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