Scandals, Economy Distract From Spring Training In baseball they don't have points, they have runs. They don't have locker rooms, they have clubhouses. And they don't do training camps — they call it spring training. Much nicer. As the players warm up for the season, there's plenty of news to keep their minds off the game.
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Scandals, Economy Distract From Spring Training

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Scandals, Economy Distract From Spring Training

Scandals, Economy Distract From Spring Training

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We're going to talk sports now with NPR's Mike Pesca, who's in Florida for spring training. Mike, good morning. Thanks for being with us.

MIKE PESCA: Oh, you're welcome.

SIMON: We have some breaking news this morning because the general manager of the Washington Nationals, Jim Bowden, says that he is resigning. This comes a week after it was reported that he's part of a federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses given to prospects, baseball prospects, youngsters from Latin America, mostly the Dominican Republic. He apparently has met with FBI investigators, and he said this morning, I've become a distraction. What can you tell us?

PESCA: Well, Jim Bowden, we should be clear, there's another famous Jim Bowden in baseball, who wrote the memoir "Ball Four." This is a different…

SIMON: That's Jim Bouton. This is Bowden, B-O-W-D-E-N.

PESCA: Right, correct, yeah. This Jim Bowden was the former general manager of the Reds, and then he served with the Nationals. And he got caught up, as you say, with this burgeoning scandal. It seems to be a widespread practice that is newly being investigated by federal agents. In the Dominican Republic, it seems to be widespread, where players who were often very, very poor get signing bonuses.

And the practice has been for the team representatives to skim off the top of these bonuses. So, a player maybe will get a million dollars and a team representative will get $100,000. The Nationals got caught up in this, and they had to - they released a - Jose Rijo, who directed their baseball operations in the Dominican Republic.

They essentially moved their baseball operations out of Jose Rijo's backyard. He owned the complex they used to run baseball out of. And now, as general manager of the Nationals, who was ultimately in charge of all of this, like Jim Bowden says, he's just a distraction, especially now in spring training. Without a game being played, he thought the time was right to step down.

There's so much media attention being put upon him. And we'll have to see what legal consequences arise out of this whole investigation.

SIMON: Of course, as we mentioned, Mike, you're in Florida. More and more teams are leaving Florida, aren't they? The Dodgers have left Vero Beach, their famous training complex. They have now joined with the White Sox in a complex out in Arizona. Why are so many teams leaving Florida?

PESCA: Well, and this year, the Reds, the Cincinnati Reds, it's their last year in Florida. And the Indians left just recently. In fact, once the Reds leave there will be 15 teams in Florida and 15 teams in Arizona. And the reason is that Arizona, Maricopa County in Arizona, passed a tax, and they tax rental cars and some other things, and this goes into the building of baseball facilities.

And in Florida, the local counties and the local stadiums are just left to their own devices, and a lot of teams see it as a sweeter deal to play in Arizona. Plus there is the snowball effect - once more teams come, there's more opportunity to have a game every day, which is what the teams like. And the grapefruit league is being squeezed by the cactus league. There's a lot of concern.

Like I said, next year it will be 15 teams in each state. It should be noted that the most popular teams - excepting your Cubs, Scott - the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Cardinals, the Mets, they're still in Florida. Florida still holds psychological sway. When you say spring training, I think most people still think of Florida.

And things like the World Baseball Classic, which is the international competition, their team will be training in Clearwater. But yes, this state, especially in these bad economic times, are very concerned about losing their teams to Arizona.

SIMON: Mike, we've got 15 seconds left. Who's looking good?

PESCA: I want to just mention one guy, Chris Carpenter. He won the Cy Young in 2005, did well in the playoffs in 2006. The Cardinals pitcher has been out for two years. He made one appearance - it's just one appearance - he looked brilliant over two innings.

SIMON: Okay. NPR's Mike Pesca on duty for us at spring training in Tampa, Florida. Thanks very much for being with us, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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