Note: This column appears in the 2/21 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/22 issue of the Peoria Times
The Padres’ Trevor Hoffman pulls up in a sleek, black, Mercedes Benz something or other. (Sorry, I am not a car guy…Mercedes I30? Sounds good.) Minutes later, Brian Giles pulls up in a different car I will never be able to afford, followed by hitting coach Wally Joyner. I was standing at the gates of the Padres’ players’ entrance, deriving an inexplicable joy from watching multi-millionaires report to their jobs, feeling fortunate that I was, at the moment, technically at mine. Next to me stood Scott, an autograph seeker from Kansas City who was giving me the rundown on which major leaguers were a hit with the fans because of their accessibility. He especially liked Padres’ ace Jake Peavy, as did the other four baseball fanatics standing with us. One of the guys, a regular at this spot, even knew what Peavy’s car looked like, and from which direction he’d be driving in from. He pointed: “He’ll pull in from over there, and he’ll be driving a black Hummer H2.”
On this day, pitchers and catchers -- and a few position players, as evidenced by Giles’ arrival -- reported to Padres camp, and at 8:30am on Valentine’s Day morning, I stood there, feeling like an eight-year old kid camping out for tickets to a Hannah Montana concert, hoping for just a glimpse. I’m not sure what other sport inspires this type of dedication. Or insanity. Whatever you want to call it.
The previous day, many of the Seattle Mariners had reported to spring training. I ventured over to their side of the Peoria Sports Complex, happy to see that they were already in full swing, or at least full sprint. On one practice field, Mariner hopefuls ran sprints in the outfield, absorbing the curious gazes of the fans walking by who wondered whether these guys were good enough to approach for an autograph later on. Apparently, they weren’t. At least not yet. Who knows what future stars were passed by without a second thought today.
One day, one of these guys will be good enough to pull a Strahan, and skip camp altogether
On another practice field, a large group of Mariners’ pitchers and pitching prospects -- remember, you can never have enough pitching -- stretched out and began tossing the ball around. I am consistently amazed by the effortless force with which a professional baseball player throws a baseball, and so I stood there in awe. Until, that is, an errant throw almost hit me in the head. Literally. Missed by about a foot, hitting the fence right behind me. I picked it up, tossed it back -- I participated in spring training! -- and glanced over to the judiciously gathered coaching staff, secretly hoping that the offending player would get cut from the squad right on the spot: Bedard, you’re out! Pack your bags. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and hey -- a little rust could be excused on this particular day.
If I were standing one foot to the right instead, this would be the last thing I would remember seeing
As I was walking back to my car, satisfied by the morning’s events, a Mariners’ player (I couldn’t see who) was just finishing off a pleasant conversation with an elderly woman. He shook her hand, thanked her for being there, waved goodbye, and caught up with a teammate who was on his way for some early batting practice. They walked together behind me, their spikes loudly clanging on the concrete sidewalk. The player turned to his teammate and marveled, “Man, that lady is here every year! I mean every year…
But why wouldn’t she be? It’s pitchers and catchers! This woman just shook hands with a friend, a ballplayer. Down the road, Jake Peavy was asking Scott, “Who should I make this out to?” There’s nothing better anybody could possibly be doing right now.
Alright maggots! If you can dodge a wrench, you can catch a slider!
Geez, I wonder why Clemens would lie like that...
Ya' know, Jack -- that white guy over there in the blue shirt looks pretty good...