Santo's Spring Training Baseball Odyssey Part 2
I was at the ballgame, got back about three hours ago, wrote about one third of my report and had my laptop totally fritz out on me and lost it all. This thing is a piece of junk.
So many things of an interesting nature happened today, within and without the ballpark. For instance, we saw a 53 year old Manatee in Bradenton named Snooty who absolutely loves the inner wall of his aquarium and seems to spend a lot of quality time with it, if ya know what I mean. The aquarium has both an upper surface area and a lower glassed in section, but I think the South Florida museum should seriously consider an id check for the part me and wifey found ourselves in today.
Quick impressions about the game:
- Thank Gawd Junior didn't fracture a wrist diving after a check swing texas leaguer by Beltran. You'd have thought he had been gunned down in cold blood, and my own blood ran cold when he seemed to be totally wrecked for several long seconds. Of course, he rose to his feet and demonstratively waived off the always availbable Deion Sanders before finishing the balance of the game.
- Pete Harnisch was better than I have ever seen him in person. I think he wants to be here, or at least WANTED to. For the middle innings of his outing, I actually forgot it was a practice game.
- Donnie Sadler played excellent d. The diving stop and perfect throw he made on a laser beam up the middle was a thing of beauty, and he also took a screamer directly in the palm of his glove off the bat of Mike Sweeney. I know he is not as offensive as Tom Green, but he can do some things that Castro can't with the stick and flashed some leather tonight as well. I like it!
- Junior had a couple of hits, and might be about ready to break out of his four for tweny start. Michael Coleman messed with him big time during warm ups. I bet he's a magnet for that type of thing.
- Dennys Reyes stunk that badly. That is hard to admit since I am on his bandwagon as a member of this rotation. But, he was nowhere near the Koufax clone I saw last summer strike out the heart of the Cardinal order with a minimum of pitches in a crucial ballgame.
- Pokey dropped a routine popup in foul territory behind the first base bag and it resulted in Pete having to sweat out an inning for the only time this evening. I know it was an anamolay for the two time gold glover, but so is seeing the men in Red shutout for the first time in over 200 ballgames (as I did on Monday in St. Pete). His mit seemed to be constructed of SOME sort of alloy on that play for sure.
- George Brett threw batting practice for the Royals then bellied up to the fans around home plate for about twenty minutes. I don't think these guys care for obnoxious fans who come up and snap candid pictures without asking, but he's going to have to deal with it because he's a hall of famer and by the latest census most Americans are not.
- Wifey spent most of the evening commenting on the virtues of the player's behinds. I tried to stop her running monologue by saying that I was marching down to Velva Sheen as soon as we got back to Cincy to have a t-shirt created in her honor, to which she reminded me that Velva Sheen went out of business fifteen years ago and resumed her comprehensive analysis of each batter's hammer. It was her way of reminding me that my reports have been a little top heavy on the babe watching, but that's ok because I know she has been having a secret affair with Brenden Fraser since George of the Jungle debuted. I guess we're just Jungle people all around
The ribbing resulted in wifey grabbing a couple of Hooters girls who were soliciting the crowd with coupons and cute tooshies of their own, then "forcing" me to stand between them while she took a picture. Not too shabby at all for a reprimand. They smelled like roses, but I had to stretch the truth a bit and say that the blond had dark roots and fat ankles .
- Speaking of wifey, she assumed a position in stadium security when the guy on guard explained to her that he was a professional and was totally non-plussed by these over-priced, overhyped prima dona ballplayers. Then, Prime Time was announced into the game and he risked his job to her while he fled to a good vantage to see Deion's first ab of the affair. If security were this lax at the Pentagon, we'd all be corresponding in Arabic right now and toting pictures of Sadam Hussein in our billfolds.
In short, it was the best night of all. Spring training is not about wins or losses. It is about soaking in some rays, or in this case some cool, moist, mild south Florida mist, taking positives from the performance of your club and making a nuisance of yourself in the race to be noticed as the most pathetic tourist in southern Florida. I think we are holding up our end on all fronts.
Today was supposed to be another baseball-less day, but wifey is the best! I am at her mercy when I navigate strange lands, my captain to her first mate. She examines the road maps like Ponce DeLeon, examines the climatic conditions and plots our course while I steer the vessel and faithfully obey the captain's orders. It's precisely why we have not found ourselves in the Florida Keys asking directions to Ed Smith field from Richard Simmons or some struggling, misunderstood writer wrought with angst. Anyway, when we sailed for Tampa Bay today I left with the notion that the Florida Aquarium was our lone destination. Turn left, veer right, turn around you missed our street... and we were almost there, she said.
Up ahead were the unmistakable vision of field lights hovering over the buildings of an extremely crowded and bustling city. Uh oh, I thought. We had stumbled upon Legends Field, home of the Yankees. As these reports indicate, I have been totally defenseless to the very sniff of a ballpark since we arrived, and this was no different. I refused to say anything about it until we were almost on top of it, when I said, "Looky here, looks like some sort of sporting facility... Hmmmm."
"You're welcome." She replied, laughing.
See what I mean. The bestest EVER!!!!!
I was thinking, my GAWD, not only does this club and it's fans think they invented the game, they built the most colossal monument to the stupidity of exhibition baseball ever dreamed of. This ballpark was HUGE, and with no cracks in the edifice to see the field or anything. The damn thing must have held 60,000 plus and if they filled it as often as you hear about enough revenue from a handful of spring games could be generated to run five or six other clubs in the major leagues for an entire season. Wifey noticed it too, and we both chatted about it for several moments before I noticed a certain emblem on the side of the building.... Red Jolly Roger flag... this was the home of the NFL's Bucs.
She apologized, but she didn't need to. I appreciated her gesture and fully intended to seek out the Aquarium thingy and tuck baseball away for the rest of the day... but again we were lost.
One wrong turn in Florida can be fatal. I have no idea how some gas stations stay in business, because you can almost never make a left turn into one and almost always have to turn around two or three times to access it's one entrance. I could see where we needed to be, but there seemed to be no path to it.
We drove around in circles for a few minutes looking for a way to the main thoroughfare, when I noticed her opening up the camera and aiming it at a street sign. I figured she was just marking the street in case the film was developed before we actually found our way again.
"Steinbrenner Lane" She muttered.
Oh, really? I looked at her, and saw the ballpark in her background. We had lucked into another haven .
Nothing was happeneing at Legends field. Security is so tight there that even when there is no game some little guy in a wheel chair and a Yankees hat is running people out of the parking lot. I told him we were there to buy tickets (yeah, right) and he gave us twenty minutes before he called in the goons.
Legends field was no better, no worse than the other parks I have seen. Pretty sterile, really. The brim of the upper deck was garnished with a cheap likeness of the white trim that hangs like icicles at Yankee stadium, coming off as something you can buy in bulk at HQ for lawn ornamentation. We walked through the gift shop and, like all the other gift shops at these parks, you can only get merchandise for the home team. I strolled over to a small practice field and took some shots, and wasted the last five or so of that roll on the makeshift "walk of fame" that outlined the entrance of the place (just the tributes to my favorite Yank of all time Lou Gerhrig, Ruth, Mantle, Dimag and Thurman Munson).
All that took a little more than twenty minutes, but the guy hadn't called for the storm troopers yet and we escaped with out lives.
I figured that we were done, but while leaving I noticed that the practice field was just down the block. I had been wondering why there was no Yankee personel on any of the fields around Legends Field. Turns out, they were down the street, and as we drove I noticed that a practice was in progress. In jeapordy of getting totally lost again, I turned left down an adjacent road and pulled into what looked to be the parking lot I needed to use.
Only, it was not the parking lot I needed to use. My first clue was that all the cars seemed to be considerably more impressive than the Mirage I had rented from Alamo. The second clue was that all the signs read, "trespassers will be prosecuted". The third was the signs that read "players only", and the fourth was the fact that Reggie Jackson was walking alongside a friend and directly in front of my car when I killed the engine and parked.
As a kid, I remember Jackson as being a huge guy as baseball players go. Not tall, but strong looking and a little ominous with the glasses and all. Today, he seems small by major league standards and almost scholarly. I guess when you remove the classic swing in which his trailing knee scraped the turf you remove a portion of Reggie's mystique. But, he is still a legend and I was as shocked to see him as I was Piazza my first day in Florida.
I didn't bother him for an autograph because, one, I didn't have a pen or paper and, two, I had no business being there and ending up the victim of a citizen's arrest by a man with over 500 home runs would be a sad side note to this tale. So, I just sat there and watched him and his buddy climb into a car and drive off before I got out.
Wifey stayed in the car and I told her I would be back momentarily. Meanwhile, two groups of cars pulled up beside me containing what looked to be a group of extras from "A Bronx Tale", young Italian kids with heavy New York accents. Obviously, they had followed the Bronx bombers all the way from second street, because they proudly and rudely honked their horns at us and began to give me a hard time.
Some Yankees were practicing sliding drills on a mat on the closest field and as I moved in to try and get pictures, one of the Beasty Boys yelled "Get outta dere!" and his buddies laughed. I turned to look at them and thought: Forget about being prosecuted and start looking for escape routes in case the kids haven't eaten breakfast yet.
The boys got out of the car bearing baseball bats and gloves. I decided to play it cool and just wander around to the other side of the complex, looking for an opening to the fields. At one point they passed right by me and the six of them said nothing in unison. I got to the end of the fence without finding an opening, read one too many threatening signs, got back in my car and left the lot thankful that neither the boys nor Reggie Jackson screwed up my entire vacation .
Leaving the lot and turning on to the next street I could see where the fans were expected to park. I wanted so badly to turn in and relive the events of the other day in Sarasota, but wifey had had enough. She didn't care for the Yankees (she was actually heckling a guy in an NY t-shirt at last night's game) and she wasn't entirely comfortable with those boys either.
Besides all that, the boss was getting hungry and ready to see some tropical fish. Still, y'all would be fortunate to have a lady like mine. She does things of this nature for me all the time and this post would read the same way even IF she didn't proof every single word of them .
As for the hated Yanks, I can proudly report that I have never felt more unwelcome or out of place at any other site during my trip.
The last day in Florida. I know I keep talking about this day was better than the last, but I'll have to say it again. This day was definately better than the last. There.
We got to Ed Smith stadium around thirty minutes before game time. On Wednesday night, wifey had been openly admiring the stand alone seats that were set up for handicap fans behind the lower tier of seats ("openly admiring" being code for nagging). Well, she has been such a peach this entire week I just had to reward her with something, so I slipped the ol' usher behind home plate a ten and, presto, we both were practical parapelegics.
The usual milling around the field, and the Reds were just beginning to emerge from behind the right field fence towards their dugout on the first base side. That was kind of uninteresting after having seen it once. The players seem to walk out in pairs, sometimes waving to folks pining for attention from the bleachers and sometimes ignoring them altogether. Not much to see really, except that you do get your first closeup looks at them as they step down into the dugout.
A couple noteworthy things about the day were the flashbacks. The first one came when I noticed Tim Foli, Bill Madlock and Phil Garner huddled behind home plate and chatting it up. I half expected Pops to come over and hand each of them a star, followed by Sister Sledge creeping up behind in sequin dresses and chirping "We Are Family". AAAAAHHHHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!!!! To this day I can't STAND that song. The 1979 Reds were a superior club to that softball team, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Could you imagine if we had just one more World Championship under our belts in that decade...? The ancient Buccanears seemed kind of harmless in their new threads and were prolly just standing around telling dirty jokes. But, I hated those guys, every last one of them, with a passion for years after the 79 NLCS.
Marty B. was on the field without a mic, so I knew the game wasn't being broadcast today in Cincy. In fact, he was the one who went over the provincial Pirates and broke up their pow wow. Give em hell, Marty! This is Red land.
I got all warm and fuzzy when Mr. Brenneman walked past Junior and said something apparently witty as hell, and the two ROFL'd all over the carpet. Little buddy might be here before and after the kid, but at least they are coinhabiting the state of Florida without starting a hard core wrestling match these days.
Right before the National Anthem, Jim Bowden took a seat four rows in front of me, just out of ear shot. Doc Rogers and his wife followed, and three older fellas crowded around him in the scout uniform, silly wide brimmed wicker hats and Hawaiian shirts.
Of course, I immediately went down to Jimbo and started by asking him if the Reds were really the biggest tightwads in baseball, or were they going to light a fire under their sorry asses and sign Pete Harnisch, trade for Gary Sheffield, get a pitcher for chissakes and....
Wait a minute, that was a hallucination induced by the promiscuous Florida sun
. Seemed so real at the time.
A couple of fans would try to get down to them throughout the course of the game, but I guess they were working and the ushers really patrolled the area. Jim was making a scene by being on the cell constantly and you had to wonder if he really DOES work on deals in the middle of games or if his wife was just reminding him to stop for milk and eggs on the way back to the Queen City.
The guy sitting next to me was a vehament Tiger fan who said nothing the entire game except for when Junior hit, at which time he would break out with "I wish his bat would break and get stuck right up his ass", or something just as unoriginal. He was kind of bitter, so maybe that is precisely what happened to put him in that wheel chair. Or maybe he just said the same thing to Carl Everett once. (One note: Someone on the Redszone board was concerned that these remarks were insensitive to people with disabilities. I just want to add that they were not intended to be, and that my brother in law, who is wheelchair bound, prefers to be treated just like anyone else. The anyone else next to me was being obnoxious).
The guy in front of this man was a Reds fan who said absolutely nothing except for when Junior came to the dish, when it was "This kid is a pretty good ballplayer", or something equally as astute. I rather liked this guy .
My observations of the game.
- Rob Bell was not great, but looked a heckuva lot better than he did on Monday in St Pete. After a rough first inning in which he allowed a couple of runs, he was actually starting to mow them down like a big leaguer. The fastball was consistently faster and the curve had more consistent break than it did against the Rays. Don't get me wrong. I have never envisioned Rob as an era champ or strikeout King, but more of a solid pitcher with a long career like Tim Belcher. An innings eater who can accumulate wins just by keeping his club in games. He avoided the gopher ball jinx today, so he was starting to work on a pretty good outing when a tracer off the bat of Jermaine Clark drilled him in the upper arm in the fourth inning. Hope the boy's ok, because he had to turn the pill over to Clayton Andrews to get out of the two on, two out jam. The scouts got pretty intense and scribbled a lot of **** in their notebooks with Andrews on the mound. Guess you can't have enough lefties, and he did a decent job getting out of that and the rest of his assignment for the day.
- Donnie Sadler made another diving stop in the hole. Not a dazzling play, but he was apparently unware that Rawlings was setting a land speed record today and the play demonstrated good reflexes by the fielder. He hasn't done much with the stick of late, but Sadler is showing me some'm. I've played ss with adults and it ain't as easy as he makes it look.
- Chris Sexton should make the cut.
- Hal Morris should not. In the top of the ninth inning a thirty two hopper down the first base line somehow eluded Hal even as he guarded it. When your back is too sore to bend over and pick up a ball like that it's time to take a seat alongside Bill Doran and Ron Oester.
- I LOVE John Riedling. I mean, not like I loved those Hooter girls that showed up again today. But, in a purely masculine and baseball oriented way, this guy is a real charmer. One of the only things I heard out of the scouts today was when the one who was holding the radar gun turned to the other and said, "Wow. 94". Plus, the kid has great movement on his junk. He was a little wild today, but that just goes with the retro uniforms with this club, I think. Good work by Johnny.
- Dmitri took a swing today. Even my wife said, "isn't he a little chubby"? Not chubby in love like Snooty the Manatee from the Florida museum in Bradenton, but bearing some gerth. "That's my guy" I told her, "pull down your hat a little I think the sun's makin' ya see things". But, she was right. It takes the hitman a couple months to get down to playing weight, maybe a little longer now that his injury has left him more time for hamburgers. Oddly enough, Young topped a ball over the mound and legged out an infield hit. I was crazy go nuts for The Man, and chanting "Steal! Steal!" I feel horrible about that in retrospect, because I think he was straining to understand my request when the catcher picked him off first base.
- Reds lost 5-4, but then you know that. I never feel like leading off these reports with what the final outcome of the game is because that really isn't the "thang" down here. The game would have been tied going into the bottom of the ninth with Casey in there in lieu of Morris, so that's what you get in spring training. Men who would not be there in game situations when game situations occur. I hate it that I was 0-3 down here in the Reds games I saw, but I have seen enough to realize that the first string is just fine thengyewvaddymuch, and guys like Sexton, Sadler, Tucker and Stinnett provide decent depth. I have tried to zero in on the pitching with what minimal serious baseball commentary I have made, because as we all know that IS the "thang".
A couple more notes before I close this crappy laptop and head north to Porkopolis. Marty took a seat not too far from me, and I kept glancing over to him. I was wondering, "what in the hell is this guy doing with a day off and at the game?" He gripes about the length of games during the season, hates double headers, can be ornery as a rattle snake sometimes and just plain dresses bad for an older man. Periodically, somebody would come up to him and say something, and Marty would laugh like Ed McMahon embroiled in a Carnack skit, shake hands and play celebrity. Then, for long periods of time, he just sat there with noone coming up and he seemed a little sad, if you can believe that. Bowden had his entourage around him and would have opportunity to cut up, but here is a hall of fame broadcaster sitting by himself and appearing to almost sulk a little. Now, I'm not big on autographs. I would have liked to talk to some of these people a little more, just never having the opportunity. But, watching him over there, I suddenly wanted Mr. B's autograph. I went to a stand, bought a 20 cent pen for two bucks and then headed for his seat.
"Marty" I said, extending my hand to shake his. "My name's Phil, and I was wondering if you would sign my hat."
And, it was no ordinary hat. I had scowered the entire state for that sucker and was essentially retiring it for him.
"Sure, Phil" He said, taking the hat from me. "Do you want it on the outside or the inside?"
While he was writing on the underside of the bill I told him "congratulations on making the hall of fame. It was well-deserved."
"Thank you, Phil". He replied handing the hat back to me.
You know, that was pretty cool. I have grown up with this guy. I have records, lp's of him and the old lefthander chronicling the 1975/76 seasons. He's a legend. THE voice of my team. He can be grouchy and you don't always agree with him, but he is part of your life and it feels purty damn good to be able to let him know how you feel about him in person. I told Marty to have a good afternoon, and he thanked me for that as well. Class act.
Lastly, the final flashback. Mike Piazza, Reggie Jackson be damned, Jose "Blame it on" Rijo himself came down the steps in the bottom of the eighth inning, shook hands with Doc, Jimbo, the Scouts and a couple others in the stands there. In many ways, the 1990 club means more to me than the teams of the 70's, and Jose was my man. I love Jose, and I don't mean in the way that Sigfried and Roy love leopard print decor. This guy was the most infectious personality of my 90 world champs, and the man that took that club on his shoulders and carried it to the promised land. In my heart, I was praying that Bob Boone would go out to the mound and make a call for the Dominican dandy one last time, right there in his Bermuda shorts, flip flops and fishing cap. And, I was certain he would have tamed those kitties wtih that devastating slider if he had. Rijo was THAT good, he is THAT good! And, he's still "got it" too. It was amazing to see the grim faces and boredom of Bowden and the scouts completely morph into expressions of utter joy as Jose cut up with them. THAT was great, priceless as the commercial goes.
Until now, every part of these reports have been written by me. I have tried to capture the mood of my woman throughout, but it has always been through my own take. I thought it was only fair to let her close this game, since it would not have happened for me without her sacrifices and love.
Wifey: When planning a spring training vacation for your man, remember to factor in travel to and from stadiums in your itenerary. Otherwise, you may miss Snooty the Manatee and his touching love affair with the wall of his aquarium.