Sights and sounds of spring training take you back
Published: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.
Spring training is here and spring training is like no other sports tradition. I am talking about Arizona. I don't know about Florida.
When Roger Craig was managing the Giants, he would meet the beat writers after spring games and play pickup basketball at a nearby playground. His wife Carolyn brought the beer.
Bruce Bochy plays poker with the writers.
When Frank Robinson was managing the Giants, he and I had a standing date — one night every spring at a bar and I could ask any question I wanted about his team, not that he always answered.
Marty Lurie and I would have dinner with Art Howe and, after him, Ken Macha and talk and talk.
I even went out with Sandy Alderson one spring night and he filled me in on the A's. That was a long time ago.
Mark McGwire once waited for me at a picnic table at the A's minor-league complex and we talked ball.
Will Clark stayed late in the clubhouse one afternoon and gave me his recipe for gumbo.
You can come to Arizona this week and you will see Brian Sabean walking around the stands. Thinking. When games start he sits quietly in the stands. Watching.
Billy Beane is all over the place, greeting people, appearing happy. Always wears shorts and sandals like he's about to enter a gin rummy tournament at the country club.
You can see the A's play in the afternoon and drive 10 minutes and see the Giants play at night. Or vice versa. A writer can cover one Bay Area team in the morning for workouts, and the other in the afternoon for the game.
It is a baseball cornucopia.
You can see the Reds and the Dodgers and the Angels and the Brewers. I could go on. All within driving distance. You can see Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy and Bob Melvin and Don Mattingly. I could go on. You probably could talk to them. Ask where they're having dinner.
You could go to dinner at Don and Charlie's, where all the baseball people hang out, or go to the Italian Grotto on Scottsdale Road. And you'll see players and managers and umpires, all friendly. It's the baseball subculture. The in-place used to be the Pink Pony where Billy Martin was always on a bar stool in the evening.
And the spring ballparks are small. Human-size. That means the players are human size, not the big stars they will become in April in those big parks. You can sit in the stands at Scottsdale Stadium or any stadium in the Phoenix-Scottsdale-etc. area and see the players' faces and hear their voices and actually get an autograph. The sounds are clearer, more distinct in Arizona – the pock of bat on ball, the soft shush of leather engulfing ball.
And you love those sounds. And they bring you back.
The air is dry and batted balls travel a mile toward those red-orange mountains so close you could touch them, and everyone is relaxed, except for the players trying to make the squad, the fringe players who aren't relaxed at all. Reality has a way of intruding even down there. But you try not to notice.
You see the players running wind sprints on the warning track when the game is going on. Talk about informal. You notice baseball uniforms again and remember how good looking they are. Maybe you forgot. The A's green and the Giants' orange. And Dodger blue. Yes, Dodger blue.
You see baseball caps. And you see sweat. And you fall in love with sweat all over again.
And you see the greenest grass and the tidy dirt and the sprinklers. And you feel there is something old-fashioned about the whole thing, something that links you — all of us — to the past, and that feels good. It brings you back.
And you see players working on pickoff moves and double plays and relay throws — the basics. And you see pitchers in games, not caring about the score or who's on base or who's at bat, pitchers going through their pitches, working on sliders and curves, just to do the work. And sometimes the sliders and curves get crushed because balls don't curve and dip as well in the dry desert as they do in the moist Bay Area air.
And as you revisit this place, perfect this time of year, you are revisiting yourself, remembering who you were years ago and where you were and what you wanted and what you got. And you think about who you are now. And you tend to reflect because the spring rhythms are slow and the sun rides across the sky for hours and hours, and the days are long and you reflect. And you take stock of yourself while you take stock of the team and while you keep score with all those strange little symbols.
And it brings you back.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn, cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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