“Spring Training-Hope Springs Eternal”
It all begins today, at various places in the Cactus League and the Grapefruit Circuit, the start of spring training baseball.
There’s nothing like it, whether you were a 10-year old kid collecting baseball cards on Long Island, or you were a retired minor league pitcher, who still loved the game. We both relished the opening of camps in Florida and Arizona. We being me, and him, my late father.
I remember waiting for the first televised spring training game I ever saw, the Mets-vs-the Cardinals, that first year of the (40-120) season under Casey Stengel. It was snowing outside where I lived, , but there was the radiant sunshine coming off the TV from the telecast in St. Petersburg, Florida.
You never forget the smell of leather as they unwrapped all the new gloves. You always remember the whif of Pine Tar as you walked near a bat rack.
There was the sound of bat meeting ball, that first morning of batting practice. The thud of 90 mile an hour fastball hitting the catchers glove as pitchers threw their first sessions. There was a ping in the batting cages on the side fields.
There were veterans holding court talking to reporters. There were the kids, the rookies, the ones who wore uniform numbers like 72, sitting in corner stalls, keeping quiet, taking it all in.
There was music blaring loud, reporters with notebooks, some camera crews doing group interviews. Managers meetings with the media, and TV crews shooting BP.
My biggest thrill of going to spring training came at Vero Beach, historic Dodgertown. My dad was there in 1947, as a minor league pitcher with the Athletics. I was there in the 1990s, doing my talkshow back to LA, from the same building where he probably got dressed in.
I walked the fields where he walked before I was born, tried to imagine him playing an exhibition game in what would be Holman Stadium there. Wondered how disappointed he was when the sore arm never went away as his career went away, stalled in “B” league baseball. He died much too early for us to share all his baseball knowledge.
I reveled being on the same field where Jackie Robinson walked and the Boys of Summers practiced. Meeting George Steinbrenner and his Yankees entourage.
It took me back to my days growing up on Long Island, and reminded me of heroes and why I loved the games.
I remember the aging Willie Horton lecturing Cleveland Indians rookies about taking pitches and hitting the other way, in his final season there after that great career with Detroit. That first trip to Tucson was my first experience out West.
It’s where I met Mexican League slugger Andres Mora, who introduced me to Tex-Mex food.
It’s where I met great broadcasters I listened to growing up. You never foget interviewing Howard Cosell or Harry Caray, Bob Prince or me introducing myself to Vin Scully the first time, only to find out he knew who I was, because he was a listener.
I recalled Yuma, and the first time I went to camp with the Padres, and how cool it was to be amidst so many players with so many hopes, listening to Jack McKeon telling stories of his first camp in 1946 in New Orleans.
Peoria will always be special too, sitting and talk old-time Yankees baseball with Jerry Coleman, about his era with Mantle-Maris, Allie Reynolds, and Joe DiMaggio. The stories went on-and-on.
It wouldn’t be spring if I didn’t hear the laugh of Tony Gwynn in the corner stall, or the smile and handshake I always got from Adrian Gonzalez and more recently from Chase Headley.
It was a spring time tradition to listen and learn from Bud Black and Bruce Bochy and Greg Riddoch giving longtime baseball answers on any and all questions.
You never forget the blueness of a clear and cool Arizona sky in the early morning, or the beauty of a desert sunset in the spring, before the 110-degree temperatures arrive.
Whether your team won the World Series the year before, or finished in last place, this day, opening day of spring training was a memory of a lifetime because hope always springs eternal in places like Pirates City, Lakeland, Winter Haven and Scottsdale..
I close my eyes and I see snapshots of players I followed. I remember laughter in clubhouses. Sounds of the game. Interviewing both Bowie Kuhn and Bud Selig. Talking to beat writers of other teams and the national columnists.
The Q&A sessions with Tony Gwynn, the free-spirited quotes of Eric Show, the bruskness of the Dodgers Kevin Brown, the insight of the Angels hero, the one armed-Jim Abbott, and the storytelling of Tommy Lasorda.
I close my eyes and remember seeing Tony Gwynn hitting the first pitch of the first batting practice session thru the 5.5 hole. Vintage.
I reflect back now on those baseball cards, of the Orioles Willie Miranda, and the White Sox Jim Rivera, the pictures I had of Early Wynn, and the action shot of Bill Mazeroski’s home run and the Jackie Robinson steal of home.
I see the old patch of Chief Wahoo on the Indians jersey, the old English D for Detroit, the Orioles bird, the Red Sox stockings logo, the Cardinals on the bat jersey and the Yankees pinstripes.
I’ve had this love affair with spring training since 1957. It’s now 2016. And I still love the sound of the words ‘Pitchers & Catchers Report’.