I’m nearing my 41st year on this little blue rock, but this spring was the first time I went to spring training. The experience was certainly one of wonder and dreams that turned me into a kid once again.
This is a great example of how this trip turned me into a dorky kid. Monday night (March 28th), after a horrible plumbing incident related to what we’ll call “travel guts,” my friends Bridget, Cyd, and I went to Camelback Ranch to watch the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers play.
Some highlights of this evening, you ask? Seeing Champ Pederson, the loyal older brother of young Dodger outfielder Joc Pederson. Champ, and who I assume to be the rest of the Pedersons, walked right past me to seats a few rows behind where the above picture was taken.
An actual game-action highlight was Justin Turner hitting a grand slam off of Derek Holland to tie the game at four in the bottom of the fifth.
It was unfortunately marred by action off the field. We were chillin’ on the berm in the left-field corner, a place a lot of families with small kids go in hopes of a player tossing them a ball. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a problem with kids. Yet, this one little girl, bereft of much parental discipline, was raging because she couldn’t have a churro 10 seconds after she got nachos she barely touched.
Some really whiny kid REALLLY WANTS A CHURRO!!! Leaving that part of outfield grass. Her dad asked if we wanted a kid. #SpringTraining
— Gabriel D. Bogart (@Rev_Gabelicious) March 29, 2016
A temper tantrum is hard to ignore, even if you really are just trying to watch that “Ginger Wookie” hit a big bomb. And no, that is not Turner’s official nickname, but I came up with it that warm Arizona night and am hoping it sticks.
We left the game to return to Cyd’s grandparents’ place — thanks so much for the crash spot! As I drifted off to sleep, I slipped in and out of dreams of baseball and UFOs.
Yes, you have to deal with a quick aside about aliens.
So, I’m not going to proselytize you to my beliefs about the existence of extraterrestrials. You can stop worrying about that. I am, however, quite fascinated with the Phoenix Lights phenomenon, as well as the Triangles near Surprise. The triangles, oddly similar to the shape of the lights, are non-man-made structures in the desert. Back to that Monday night…ehhh, okay, Tuesday morning.
At about four in the morning, I awoke to a low, grumbling sound that seemed to be coming from the sky. It was immediately followed by the scrambling of F-22s from nearby Luke Air Force Base. Granted, they are frequently flying around for routine exercises, but I think they were tracking a UFO. I didn’t lose time or get abducted, but had super vivid dreams about aliens.
Despite being light on sleep, I awoke around eight and got ready for a day full of baseball.
Our first game of the day was a tilt between the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds at Maryvale Baseball Park. I learned that it is the only park in the Cactus League that is owned and operated by the Phoenix Parks Department. Thought that was pretty cool.
Infinitely cooler was walking in the main gate and immediately seeing Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers sitting next to one-time NL MVP George Foster. They were at a table taking charitable donations for autographs and pictures with them. Rollie looked a little bored, as most people were just taking photos of their own, but barely even engaging the legends. I caught his eye, tipped my cap to him, and he kindly replied with a nod and a wink. Again, the sense that I was in a dream flooded my mind and body. It was a kind of elation mixed with wonder, “Guys! Guys! Rollie Fingers just nodded at me,” I said, bubblingly, to my friends. It was as if I’d shrunken back in time and size to being a kid for a few vibrant moments.
We grabbed a beer — not a childlike activity — and headed to our seats.
Now, I’ve sat pretty damn close in major league parks before, but the spring training stadiums are much more like Minor League parks; everything seems closer, you are closer, but it is much more intimate. Within such close proximity, one will undoubtedly be impressed with the sheer size of some of the human beings that play baseball. Chris Carter was that guy for me on that Tuesday afternoon. The guy is immense!
The game was a relatively low interest-piquing blowout. The Reds stomped the Brewers 9-2, but man, are there some really fun Brewers fans. A couple sitting next to us were an entertaining delight as row mates. The guy made a number of steroid jokes when Ryan Braun had his two strikeouts, which stranded a total of three runners.
That evening, after a healthy diet of IHOP and Church’s Chicken (pretty darn good, cheap chicken), we went to Goodyear Ballpark to watch the Seattle Mariners take on the Cleveland Indians. The Mariners would have promising young right-hander Taijuan Walker on the mound.
He had a decent game. In five innings, he struck out seven, walked only two, but gave up a two-run homer to Yan Gomes for two of his three earned runs. Sadly, that would make most of the difference, handing Walker his third loss of the spring. The Indians beat the M’s 4-1.
The best part of being at an Indians game was the possibility of seeing the man who will eventually adopt me as his grown son, Indians’ manager Terry Francona. Francona has a special place in my heart from his days managing the Boston Red Sox. Oh, I forgot to mention, it was awesome catching a glimpse of Dave Roberts managing the Dodgers as well. Seeing as many guys from that 2004 championship team as possible will always put a smile on my mug.
Sadly, Francona did not hear my repeated chants of “Terrrryyyy” from our badass seats in the right field corner.
At least, I don’t think he did. He certainly failed to come out to where we were and talk to me about how many delicious dinners we’re going to have with Don Orsillo in the near future.
Also of disappointing note, Franklin Gutierrez neglected to wave back at me repeatedly.
Finally, from that evening at Goodyear, it’s possible they have the best Cactus League food available there. Bridget and I got something called a Cleveland Polish Boy. It is basically a Polish sausage with fries, coleslaw and BBQ sauce over the top of it. We decided it needed some relish on it, too.
Later, she also got some chili cheese fries with real chili annnnd Velveeta. They were also a culinary delight, or a gastric challenge, depending on your viewpoint.
On our final full day in the desert, we went to Peoria Stadium to see the Mariners battle their facility mates, the San Diego Padres. Felix Hernandez started for the M’s, but wasn’t very sharp — a sign of things to come? — giving up three earned runs in three innings.
Again, we had amazing seats for the low price of $13! One of the benefits of sitting so close is getting to hear players jaw with each other. King Felix and Matt Kemp exchanged numerous friendly barbs, pretty unprintable however, that recalled the verbal jousting between Felix and Adrian Beltre in any game they face each other.
Kemp gave our section the biggest laugh of the afternoon. In about the second or third inning, a vendor came down the aisle with peanuts and lemonade. She called out, “Who’s thirsty? Who’s got the munchies?” Kemp immediately popped his head up out of the dugout, “I’ve got the munchies. I’ve got the munchies for days.” I see you there, buddy.
All in all, it was one of the best “long weekend” vacations I’ve ever taken. If any of you adoring readers haven’t been to spring training yet, I implore you to go. It is an amazing experience and only about 0.26 percent of you will be abducted by aliens.
Unless you go to Florida. I can’t vouch for Florida.