Managing twins and baseball

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Vanen High graduate Kris Negron is in his first year as the Rainiers manager.

Wednesday is hump day and time to travel for Triple-A West teams such as the Sacramento River Cats. For Tacoma Rainiers manager Kris Negron, those 24 hours often provide enough time for the Vanden High School graduate to take a detour and go home to Napa before rejoining the team at its next destination.

When the Rainers head home Wednesday after six games in Sacramento, however, Negron will be on the flight with his players. The drive to Napa is a little more than an hour from Sacramento, so the 35-year-old Negron raced home Monday after the Rainiers scored twice in the ninth inning to beat the River Cats 6-4.

The game ended at 10:39 p.m., so it had to be well past midnight by the time Negron showered and hit the road. Negron joked before Friday’s game that he went home after the Rainiers’ 10-7 win Thursday and did not get to Napa until 2 a.m.

That was just in time for Negron to assist his wife Allison in feeding their sons, Johnny and Lorenzo. The twins were born in June and spent two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Negron was anxious to return to the Rainers once his sons could go home, but the Rainiers’ parent club – the Seattle Mariners – told him to take a third week off to help Allison adjust to being a mother.

“I couldn’t think of leaving (Johnny and Lorenzo) while they were in the hospital. That was something I was dead set on,” Negron recalled. “The Mariners organization is amazing. They’re really big on family. They were open with me and told me to let them know if I needed more time.”

Tony Arenich, the Mariners’ Minor League Field Coordinator, filled in for Negron. The Mariners acquired Negron from the Arizona Diamondbacks for cash in August 2018. He appeared in 18 games with Seattle, hitting .207 with one home run and three RBI. Negron began the 2019 season with Tacoma and played in 82 games, hitting .310 and 12 homers and 61 RBI. His batting average was the highest at the end of a minor-league season in his career.

The Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Negron on July 29, 2019 because they were in need of a versatile fielder with Kiki Hernandez (sprained left hand) and Chris Taylor (fractured left forearm) on the injured list. Negron announced his presence with authority in Los Angeles by homering in each of his first two games.

Negron went from playing for a last-place team in the Northern Division of the Pacific Coast League to being doused with champagne after the Dodgers clinched their seventh consecutive National League West title Sept. 10. The Dodgers finished the regular season with a franchise-record 106 victories by winning their last seven games, including a 9-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants in the finale Sept. 29. Negron will never forget that game for one reason.

It was his last. Negron entered the game in the sixth inning, got an infield single in the seventh and then was replaced by Austin Barnes. That he managed to end his 14-year professional career with a hit was the perfect parting gift.

“We’re in San Francisco. My very last at-bat. It was just an infield single, but I had a feeling,” Negron said. “I was standing on first base. I could see all my friends and family in the stands. I just kind of knew right then and there. I could end my career on a single, so I thought that would be the way I ride off into the sunset.”

Retirement crossed Negron’s mind whenever he and Allison discussed starting a family. They have been together since meeting in 2005 at UC Davis. That would be Negron’s only year in Davis. He lost his baseball scholarship when he struck out with poor grades. Allison suggested he attend Cosumnes River College.

“We met only a couple of weeks before I had to leave Davis, so the timing wasn’t the greatest,” Negron said. “I tried to come up to Davis to see her as much as I could. With summer school and summer ball going on, she was by my side the entire time. She straightened me out. She was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Negron was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2006 and married Allison in 2010. He made his major-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds on June 6, 2012. He played in four games with the Reds before being sent to Triple-A Louisville. His season ended July 5 when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee.

His best season in the majors was 2014 when he played in 49 games with the Reds. He hit .271 with six homers and 17 RBI. Adversity struck again in 2015 when Negron tore the labrum in his left shoulder and fractured his scapula. There were plenty of times when he wondered whether he would make it back to the majors. a

“It was the vulnerability,” Negron said. “A lot of times you think you’re invincible, especially when you’re younger. The game can taken away from you at any second. You have to play like there’s no tomorrow.”

More tomorrows are in store for Negron now that he has traded his glove for a lineup card. He impressed Andy McKay, the Mariners’ director of player development, last year by running the team’s alternate training site at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

“Andy McKay took me under his wing. I knew I could learn a lot. I had a blast at the alternate site,” Negron said. “About halfway through, he asked me I was interested in managing at Triple-A. It was intriguing, so I decided to go for it.”

Negron has no idea where he would be today without Allison.

“It definitely takes a special woman to deal with the lifestyle we go through. Baseball is tough, but it’s even harder on our significant others,” he said. “(Allison) means the world to me. Twin boys are no joke, but my wife is absolutely crushing it. I call her super mom. Without someone as strong as her, it would be impossible.”

Dodgers keep Gonsolin around

Tony Gonsolin is no longer a one night stand for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2012 Vacaville High School graduate has moved beyond flirting with the Dodgers by pitching in one game and then being sent away the next day. The relationship must be getting serious because his latest stay is at  five weeks … and counting.

The Dodgers swept aside the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League wild-card playoffs and are facing the San Diego Padres in the divisional round. The best-of-five series began Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas with the Dodgers winning 5-1.

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(Courtesy photo/Oklahoma City Dodgers)
Tony Gonsolin is 2-2 in 2020 with a 2.31 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

For the sake of neutrality, the NL divisional playoffs will be in American League parks. The two AL series are in NL cities The Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins are in Houston as the Astros battle the Oakland A’s at Dodger Stadium. The Tampa Rays and New York Yankees are in San Diego with the Padres in Texas. Nothing makes much sense in this bizarre season of cardboard fans and nasal swabs.

The yo-yo manner in which the Dodgers have treated Gonsolin also makes little sense, although he would rather go back and forth instead of not going at all. The right-hander made his major-league debut on June 26, 2019 in Arizona and returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City on June 27. His second start was July 30. He was sent packing a day later.

Gonsolin returned Aug. 2 and earned his first major-league victory Aug. 5 by allowing two hits in six shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. He then packed his bags and returned to Oklahoma City on Aug. 6. The Dodgers recalled Gonsolin on Aug. 18 and retained him for the final six weeks of regular season.

This season brought more of the same. Gonsolin joined the Dodgers on July 31 to start in Arizona and left the next day for the team’s alternate training site at USC. He returned Aug. 12 and made two starts before again being sent away Aug. 19. When the Dodgers recalled him for good on Aug. 30, he could only assume he was staying because no one told him otherwise. So much for any pomp and circumstance of making it to the big leagues.

“They really don’t tell you anything,” said Gonsolin, who won two of his five starts in September to even his record at 2-2. The 26-year-old finished the regular season with a 2.31 ERA and struck out 46 in 46 2/3 innings.

Not only did Gonsolin impress the Dodgers in 2019 with his pitching. He also batted .308 with one of his four hits coming against former Vallejo High star CC Sabathia in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Aug. 24. Gonsolin singled in the third inning and scored on a home run by Justin Turner. 

That proved to the difference because Gonsolin and three relievers combined to allow just five hits. Gonsolin yielded two hits and one run when Aaron Judge blasted a ball well beyond the center-field fence. 

With the NL adding the designated hitter this season, Gonsolin can leaves his bats in the clubhouse. He does not miss batting in games as much as taking batting practice with the other pitchers. Batting practice often turned into a home run derby with pitchers trying to prove they can go deep.

“It’s always fun watching the balls getting launched,” said Gonsolin, who hit seven homers of 11 homers at Saint Mary’s College as a senior. He has yet to go deep since being a ninth-round draft pick in 2016. 

“Getting in the (batter’s) box is fun,” Gonsolin said, “In this abbreviated season, it’s probably better to have a guy up there that can put together a good at-bat. We’re facing some pretty tough pitchers in the playoffs.”

Whether the Padres will face Gonsolin in the NLDS remains to be determined. Five games in five days leave little chance of Walker Buehler (Game 1 starter) and Clayton Kershaw (Game 2) making two starts in the series. Gonsolin’s availability to start might come down to whether he is needed out of the bullpen.

Gonsolin had a solid start against the Padres on Aug. 12, surrendering three hits in 4 2/3 shutout innings and striking out eight. He needed to finish the the fifth inning to be eligible for a win, which he would have earned after the Dodgers scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth to pull ahead in a 6-0 victory.

The Dodgers loosened Gonsolin’s leash on Sept. 26  after the Los Angeles Angels rallied for four runs in the third inning to erase a 3-0 deficit. Gonsolin walked to the mound in the fourth because no one told him not to. He blanked the Angels in the next three innings as the Dodgers came back to pull out  a 7-6 victory.

Gonsolin knows nothing of the Dodgers’ pitching plans for the NLDS other than “Buehler’s going in Game 1.” All he can do at this point is hope to remain with the Dodgers until the last out of their season. The Dodgers can alter their 28-player roster before the NL Championship Series and the World Series.

They did just that for the NLDS by dropping catcher Keibert Ruiz and adding pitcher Dylan Floro. They also swapped position players with backup first baseman Edwin Rios injured by adding infielder Gavin Lux. After all of his one night stands, Gonsolin has learned not to count his chickens or any other birds.

“It’s out of my control. All that stuff is way over my head,” Gonsolin said. “It could be dictated by matchups. All I know is when I go out there, I am going to do the best I can do.”