Royals all about the Jayhawks, while Francona is wild about his Cats
By Doug Miller
All across Spring Training, hardball turned its attention to hardwood.
The players of Major League Baseball looked up from their lockers and tuned in to Selection Sunday for the anticipated details of the upcoming NCAA men's basketball tournament. They wanted to know where their favorite schools were headed and what their seeds would be. They were ready to root along to the rhythms of the Big Dance.
Royals rooting for Jayhawks
The defending World Series champions were ready to pitch in for the local basketball heroes from the University of Kansas. The Jayhawks were one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tournament.
"Yes, that's my team," said infielder Christian Colon, a former first-round pick from Cal-State Fullerton. "I root for KU. Fullerton is never too good in basketball. I think a couple of years ago we snuck in and won a little bit. But it's not a real basketball school. For me, it's KU."
Outfield prospect Bubba Starling agreed, even though the Kansas native was committed to play football and baseball at Nebraska until the Royals made him the fifth-overall pick in 2011 and lured him to the professional ranks.
"I've been a KU fan since I was a kid," Starling said. "They look strong again this year."
Indians skipper a proud Arizona alum
Over in Indians camp, Tribe manager Terry Francona, a proud alum of the University of Arizona, said he was hopeful that his Wildcats could add a second national championship to their 1997 crown. He also enjoys the annual celebration of hoops that livens up the days during Spring Training.
"We have a lot of fun with that tournament," Francona said. "You are always looking for things to do during spring to create some personality with 65 guys and some that don't know each other. And that's one way. It's fun and the guys enjoy it. I think it's good.
"There's nothing better than going to a Spring Training game, going home and getting a pizza, lying in bed and watching seven games."
A's loyalties lie with Cal, Hoosiers, Cavaliers
The A's, meanwhile, have strong rooting interests from each corner of their Mesa clubhouse.
Fittingly, the adjacent-to-Oakland Golden Bears of the University of California-Berkeley were a hot topic, with manager Bob Melvin, shortstop Marcus Semien and outfielder Mark Canha having Cal ties.
"They can beat anybody," Semien said. "It's just those close games that they have to win. It's just like us. It's just like the A's. You've got to win the close games."
Catcher Josh Phegley hails from the Indiana University, a legendary basketball program that has been ranked in the Top 20 all year under head coach Tom Crean. He likes the chances of his alma mater as well.
"Hopefully they can make a run. I think they can beat anybody. I like watching Coach Crean. We've talked a few times when I was in school, so I'm always pulling for him. He's a good guy."
Reliever and University of Virginia product Sean Doolittle has similar admiration for Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett, who has taken Virginia back to prominence, with deep NCAA runs the last two years.
"He's developed an identity for the team," Doolittle said. "And it's been fun to watch the teams over the last several years turn some heads and play that tough, hard-nosed style of basketball."
White Sox ace hopes Florida Gulf Coast is sweet again
In White Sox camp, staff ace Chris Sale was readying to root for 2013 Cinderella Sweet 16 team Florida Gulf Coast University, where Sale played baseball and where he met his wife, Brianne.
"It's one of those things where they could win the national championship and I don't know if it would be as important as what happened a couple of years ago," Sale said. "It would be like winning another World Series. … It had such a big impact."
The impact of the tournament brackets being announced hit all over the Cactus League and Grapefruit League. Three players from different teams were rooting for the same school, even though one was in Arizona and two were paying attention from Florida.
"When you go to a school, especially like Fresno State, you have a lot of Bulldog pride," Fister said. "For these guys to make it to the tournament this year, it's such an uplifting time and the students get involved. It's a goosebumpy-type feeling for a lot of people."
Added Judge: "Maybe a little Cinderella action. You never know. Small school, but we'll see what they've got. They showed a lot of heart, and that's what you look for. They're getting hot at the right time, the end of the year, so that's good."
That sentiment was shared by players all over the big leagues readying for some serious roundball.
Family ties bind serious allegiances
There are family ties, too, when it comes to baseball players rooting for college basketball.