VEGAS DIARY (ON THE ROAD): SCOUT PARTY IS A SCOTTSDALE FIELD OF DREAMS
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—It has become one of the most coveted party invites in the Cactus League. David McReynolds’ annual poolside Scout Party at his home is an invite-only affair for the unsung heroes of baseball. No. 7 was held last week. There are no speeches, no fundraising. Just a big steak, Caesar salad, drinks and story swapping about their hits and misses and the latest buzz.
One of several sportswriters on hand, Hall of Fame inductee Tracy Ringolsby, was holding court after dinner. He was raving about Colorado Rockies 19-year-old pitching prospect Riley Pint, the fourth overall pick in the amateur draft last June.
“He’s throwing 101 miles an hour in batting practice,” said Ringolsby, a Wyoming native known for his quick wit, cowboy attire and quite possibly the most extensive contacts list in baseball, built over a 40-year career.
A nearby group was discussing one of the big questions of the Cactus League: What’s wrong with Zack Greinke? His fastball had barely topped 90 mph this spring. That after a disastrous debut in 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who gave him a six-year, $206.5 million deal to leave the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Arizona, Greinke’s ERA ballooned from 1.66 in 2015 to 4.37 in 2016.
A few feet away, I joined a circle of scouts who agreed to address some hot topics as long as their names weren’t mentioned. In the scouting industry, loose lips often equal pink slips.
Scout No. 1, on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s goal to speed up the game: “To take away the intentional walk, that makes no sense. That’s 45 seconds per game.” Scout No. 2: “Enforce the rules that the batter stays in the box, and limit the walk-up music. Some guys want to hear the whole part. Then they get up there and fidget with their gloves.” Scout No. 3: “I think the game has changed as far as how people try to take pitches and try to get the pitcher out of the game by running up the pitch count. Everybody’s doing it, and to me that’s why the games are running longer. They’re playing the game more scientifically. Before it was a lot of free swingers.” Scout No. 4: “Make ‘em take pitches. That’s fine. But don’t let ‘em step out of batter’s box.”
Scout No. 1, on Manfred’s recent announcement that Las Vegas is a “viable market” after his predecessor, Bud Selig, said as recently as four years ago that it would never happen: “I think gambling is a non-issue, but I don’t think Vegas has the population right now to support it. Scout No. 2: “I’d build a stadium on the Strip so a lot of the fans would have to walk through your casino.” Scout No. 3: “Phoenix waited until they had a larger population. They (MLB) may be worried about the transplant situation. So many people from other cities. Put a baseball team in Vegas and the out-of-town support may outnumber the local support. When the Cubs play in Phoenix, Cubs fans overwhelm D-backs fans.” Scout No. 4: “Start working on a stadium plan. Baseball doesn’t work in Oakland. You might have the Raiders AND A’s before long.”
McReynolds hosts the party in mid-March at his four-bedroom mansion. He bought the house with extra rooms so friends could have a place to stay during spring training.
“It’s basically a small four-room hotel,” he said. “The whole idea behind it was to have friends stay here and enjoy it.”
Those friends include prominent Denver names. Among them: former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, concert promoter Chuck Morris and Denver Broncos All-Pro receiver Demaryius Thomas, who was in town rehabbing an injury.
Last weekend, it was Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who was attending his first spring training. It was a working vacation. He brought along lobbyist Josh Hanfling.
McReynolds, a lifelong sports fan, was vice president of sales and marketing for the San Jose Diablos pro volleyball team in 1979 before moving back to Denver, his hometown, in the 1980s. One of his hobbies was a radio sports-talk show.
His connection with scouts began after he bought a winter home in Scottsdale in 1999 as a base for spring training.
For years, he has purchased season tickets for five spring training clubs: four each for the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants; eight for Arizona Diamondbacks games and 12 for the Colorado Rockies. That’s 450 tickets.
“I take the ones I want and give the rest to friends,” said McReynolds.
The Scout Party got its start as a going-away party for Vern Followell of the Minnesota Twins. “There were seven of us,” said McReynolds. “Vern, Bill ‘Yogi’ Young, Kenny Compton, Bob Hegman, Bob Schaefer and Larry Corrigan. Vern was leaving spring training early.”
McReynolds met most of his scout friends while socializing at the Italian Grotto, a Cactus League hotspot in Scottsdale’s old town.
“We had such a good time at Vern’s party,” said McReynolds, “we held one the next year and had 10 to 12 over. We hold it on a night when no night games are scheduled.”
The fourth year was a game changer.
“It was supposed to be a 60th birthday party for ‘Yogi,’ then we got a call from Jim Fregosi’s son (scout Jim Fregosi Jr.) asking if we could hold the West Coast tribute for his dad,” said McReynolds, who conferred with Young. They immediately agreed. A beloved baseball guy and six-time All-Star and manager, Jim Fregosi died a month earlier.
More than 200 showed up, with McReynolds hosting it by himself. He even makes a “secret” steak marinade: a concoction of soy sauce, yellow mustard, garlic and various seasonings.
“Dave doesn’t ask for a penny,” said Young. “He doesn’t expect anything. If you can find a better man than David McReynolds, point him in my direction.”
Last year about 100 attended, including a documentary team that was chronicling the scouting life. They heard about it through the famous scout grapevine, got McReynolds’ approval to attend and tape hours of interviews. McReynolds ended up making a donation to the project, titled “Scouting for Diamonds,” which includes actor Bill Murray as a main investor and narrator.
This year’s turnout was 80, a dropoff attributed to numerous scouts being assigned to the World Baseball Classic.
“Every year there’s more interest,” said Young. “More front office people, more media.”
McReynolds’ support means a great deal because, “It’s rare that we can all get together like this,” said Schaefer, special assistant to the general manager of the Washington Nationals and former bench coach for Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre. “There’s a lot of camaraderie in the baseball community.”
Many of them have been hanging out together for 40 years but they’re in work mode, and then off to file their reports back to the mothership.
Among the regular attendees is another champion of baseball, Scooter the Beer Guy, a cult figure in baseball parks in Denver, Seattle, Scottsdale, Houston and El Paso.
The leather-lunged, wisecracking beer vendor met McReynolds in 2011, when Salt River Fields at Talking Stick opened as the shared home of Diamondbacks and Rockies.
“Here’s how generous David is,” said Scooter. “Last year he ordered 104 ($8) beers from me, and not one for himself.”
Missing from this year’s soiree were two of the scouting fraternity’s biggest characters, and regulars at the previous parties, Gary Hughes and Larry Corrigan.
Hughes and Corrigan went through tough times in the past year.
Hughes, a top talent evaluator with the Boston Red Sox, lost his wife, Kathy, last summer when she died unexpectedly. Corrigan, a longtime scout who spoke at last year’s shindig, had a stroke two months later while on assignment in Little Rock, Ark. He was in the press box when he started slurring his words and had trouble walking.
“I had just started writing the number 16 when the pen fell out of my hands,” said Corrigan, whose right arm and right leg were paralyzed.
During his three-week stay in a Little Rock hospital, one of his regular visitors was Russ Meeks, owner of the Little Rock Travelers of the Double-A Texas League.
“He brought me a Wendy’s double-double about every other day,” Corrigan said in a telephone interview from Fort Myers, Fla., where he was scouting a game.
“Baseball is tight-knit fraternity,” said Corrigan, 66, who has recovered enough that he no longer needs a cane.
One day in July, while convalescing at his home in Mendota, Illinois, Corrigan got a call from McReynolds, who was in Denver, where he lives most of the year and runs a health care company.
McReynolds asked Corrigan how he was feeling and if he was up for some company. When McReynolds showed up, Corrigan took him on a tour of Mendota, population 7,200. Corrigan, who was born and raised there, gave McReynolds a tour of the city known for its corn festival.
“He drove past his school, the church he went to and where he got married,” said McReynolds. “One of the coolest things he did was stop at a city park for no apparent reason.”
Corrigan led McReynolds into the park and said, “stop.” Then he said, “You’re standing on home plate.’ Then he pointed to a tree and that was first base.’ He was showing me where his baseball career began,” McReynolds said.
Corrigan went on to a stellar career at Iowa State, earning first-team all-Big Eight and All-America honors two years in a row, first as a pitcher and then as a hard-hitting catcher. He was a fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972.
After the tour of Mendota, Corrigan took McReynolds to lunch. When McReynolds picked up the check, Corrigan insisted. “He took the check and put it on his credit card because he wanted to show me he could sign his name,” said McReynolds.
In December, Corrigan was honored by his peers as the Midwest Scout of the Year at the baseball winter meetings in the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor near Washington, D.C.
During his trophy acceptance speech, Corrigan said, “Don’t not appreciate friends.”
McReynolds has kept in touch with him through every step of the recovery.
“He’s a part of our baseball family,” said Corrigan. “If there’s ever a Hall of Fame for baseball fans, he should be one of the first people in it.”