Sunday, March 25, 2007

 

Notes from a Spring Training weekend

Below are nine ten quick stories from the past three days in Arizona, where I attended three spring training games with my dad. For those of you who aren’t baseball fans, I apologize in advance. For those who are, I thought these were worth sharing.

1. Friday in Mesa, the Cubs’ wives had an auction and used equipment sale for charity. Part of the sale was a box of paper bags for $20 bucks each. Each bag held an autographed baseball inside. The guy in front of me in line got Billy Williams, a Cubs Hall of Famer. Guy behind me got Mark Prior, the Cubs’ star young pitcher. I got Sean Marshall, who apparently is in the minor leagues somewhere.

2. But, alas, karma smiles on this blogger. Mere minutes later, down on the field, Cubs right-fielder Jacques Jones finished a particularly disappointing round of batting practice, and proceeded to break his bat over his knee. A member of the ground crew was going to throw the bat away until I intervened. Couldn’t get it autographed, but the pine tar still smells (and feels) fantastic.

3. Saturday in Peoria, I followed a crowd down the first-base stands to a locked gate. Turns out this gate is right across from the visiting locker room. Two minutes later, Mike Sweeney (captain and star of the Kansas City Royals) walks out and spends 20 minute with a local Little League team that had come to see him. He signed autographs, took them on the field for a picture, made them feel very special. Mike’s one of the nicest guys in the majors, and he proved it (yet again) this day.

4. A few minutes into his visit, Sweeney asked the team to wait a second, and disappeared back into the clubhouse. Two minutes later, he emerged with Hall of Famer and career Royal George Brett (who spends each spring with the Royals as a hitting instructor). Brett did an impromptu clinic for the kids, then led them in a quick team cheer before signing autographs for everyone. Classy guy.

5. He got a bit more classy when he came over to the fence I was at, and signed a few more balls for some kids. Somehow my ball ended up in the mix as well.

6. In the middle of the ensuing game between the Mariners and Royals, Jarrod Washburn is pitching for the M’s. He’s in the middle of a face-off with a particularly testy Royals batter. Man on first, one out. 2-2 count. From behind me somewhere, a fan yells, “Hey Washburn, throw him the heater.” Washburn stands straight up, looks directly at the fan, and breaks an enormous grin. He takes that grin into his delivery, and pitches what became a 6-4-3 double-play to end the inning. He gave that fan another smile and wave as he walked off the field.

7. Sunday, again in Peoria for a match-up between the Padres and Giants, we arrive early to get a good parking spot, then walk over to a local sports bar to watch part of the early March Madness game before the first pitch. Halfway across the parking lot, a baseball almost hits us, as if it fell from the sky. Turns out, the Mariners minor league teams are taking batting practice across the fence at one of their practice fields. Half an hour later, we had collected nine home run balls that had made their way over that fence.

8. While fielding gopher balls, a tall skinny man walks up, on his way back from a workout. I stop to shake his hand and wish him luck this season. Bill Bavasi, general manager for the Seattle Mariners, thanks me and completes his post-run walk back to the Mariners office.

9. Spring Training is clearly about the kids. I’ve never seen so many balls thrown into the stands by players and coaches, and never seen the same players and coaches so meticulous about getting those balls to kids.

Update!
10. I typed this list-of-nine while waiting for my flight to leave Phoenix, only to learn later that Mariners legend Edgar Martinez was on our flight, flying back from a weekend of teaching Mariner prospects how to hit. He arrived at the gate 20 minutes before boarding, and was amazing with the kids. Answered every question, signed every autograph, posed for every picture. Classy guy. Especially when he signed two balls from story #7 above.

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