I always have to do a disclaimer when I do a baseball-related post. THIS IS EVEN INTENDED FOR YOU NON-BASEBALL FANS.
Spring training is in full swing. Those Grapefruit and Cactus League races are really heating up. Some crucial split-squad games are this week. Check your local listings. I’ll be heading to Arizona very soon to begin broadcasting for the Seattle Mariners. I can’t wait. It’ll be the stretch drive.
So today I thought I'd share some amusing incidents involving spring training.
A few years ago a young man played winter ball in Venezuela. Then he had to report to spring training in Florida. But before he left he mailed himself a whole shipment of cocaine. And addressed it to himself at the team’s spring training headquarters. When it arrived the receptionist was a little leery. Something was a little suspicious about it. So she told her supervisor who told someone else and well…
The next day the team is playing a game. This ballplayer is in right field. It’s the 4th or 5th inning, the game is in progress, when suddenly time is called and six federal agents march out into right field and lead this guy off in handcuffs. Players don’t like being sent down. They really don’t like being sent away for ten years.
A number of teams have “talent” nights where their rookies are required to perform. The Dodgers stage their own American Idol. Well, American/Dominican Idol. And if you think Simon was tough. There’s no tougher music critic than a veteran baseball ballplayer. However, those veterans will all get theirs. During the season they’ll have to listen to 162 bad renditions of the National Anthem.
Speaking of the Dodgers, it feels very odd not hosting Dodger Talk this year. I was kind of hoping the team would refuse to play the games as a result, but apparently I meant nothing to them.
Every year there are three or four players who report to camp late because of Visa problems. They have five months to arrange for their trip to the U.S. and still they screw it up.
There are always freak injuries. First, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Brad Bergesen injured his shoulder recently while filming a commercial for the team. And then, (this one is not funny), a Boston Red Sox coach was hitting some balls on a practice field and one accidentally struck pitcher Josh Beckett in the head. He’s okay but that’s a little scary. And how’d you like to be that coach?
When I was broadcasting for the Orioles we played a spring game against the Pirates at their facility in Bradenton, Florida. ESPN’s Dick Vitale was taking in the ballgame. He got hit by a foul ball. He wasn’t hurt. A few innings later he and wife left the game. As they were walking away from the park he was hit by another foul ball.
Meanwhile, hard throwing Randy Johnson was pitching in a spring game when a bird happened to fly right in the path of a pitch. The bird literally exploded.
Teams like to play practical jokes. Brett Myers of the Philadelphia Phillies pulled an elaborate one on his teammate Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick was called into the manager’s office and told by the manager and assistant general manager that he had been traded to Japan. He believed them.
St. Patrick’s Day always falls in the middle of spring training. One year to celebrate, Mickey Hatcher painted himself green, and even played a few innings like that. Unfortunately, he had used enamel paint and his pores couldn’t breathe. He had to be doused with alcohol to strip the paint.
And finally, a story I’ve told before. I was with the Mariners in 1992 and we went into Palm Springs to play the Angels. Because the Angels were televising that game there was no room for us in the press box. So they set up tables in the stands and that’s where we broadcast to a thirty-station radio network. I’m on the aisle, calling the game, there’s an exciting play, and as I describe the action I feel a tapping on my shoulder. It’s a vendor wanting me to pass three Diet Coke’s down the row. I do, continue announcing and a few seconds later I’m handed some money. I give it to the vendor who taps me on the shoulder again. Would I please pass the change?
Sports Illustrated cooked up a story in 1985 about a New York Mets’ pitching prospect named Siddharta "Sidd" Finch who could supposedly throw a ball at 160 m.p.h. Lots of folks bought that tale. If the Mets were smart they would have traded him.
And finally, I'll leave you with this (compliments of my friend Mike McCann): A lot of venues offer photo ops where you can get your picture taken next to a cut-out of a ballplayer. But who can the actual ballplayers get their pictures taken with?
If you ever have the chance, go down to Florida or Arizona during spring training. It’s a great vacation, a great father-and-son bonding trip (or mother-and-son, or son-and-father's mistress), and you get to keep all foul balls that hit you.