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Tag Archive: Cactus League

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 6 — Spring fever, baseball and trying to focus. First published March 17, 2011, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Spring fever, baseball and trying to focus

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache,you want it so!” ~Mark Twain

Last week about this time, I was soaking up the desert sun while watching the Kansas City Royals play spring ball in Surprise, Arizona. Today, I am sweeping slush from the driveway and watching the snow melt.

It does just fairly make your heart ache.

Since, I promised to write some more this week about spring baseball, I will. However, I have such a bad case of spring fever right now or whatever it is that I want, it is difficult to focus on or even remember last week.

I am far more smitten with the idea of anything associated with the month of March. Crocuses and daffodils pushing up through the snow, the frogs in my backyard pond singing their mid-March “spring is here” song, St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness and green grass.

But I will try to remember.

Here are some things I didn’t tell you about in last week’s column about spring ball in the Cactus League. There I discovered curious surprises in Surprise, some of which left me puzzled.

* For example, I realized that I knew the words to all the songs played at the Royals game. Such as Dizzy, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and 59th Street Bridge Song. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Sun City is just across the road, I wondered?

* Another question: why do the outfield billboards at Surprise advertise such things as urgent care, hospitals, rehab centers, lift chairs, scooters and $8.88 oil changes? No Hooters or sports bars advertised there. I think I just answered my own question.

* A puzzler: why did the Royals’ coaches leave the ballpark in the middle of the fifth inning? We were sitting close to the field in the first row behind the dugout and overheard one coach give an order to the others, “Come on boys, we’ve got work to do. Let’s go.”

And with that a herd of coaches quickly picked up their clipboards and walked past left field, let themselves into the bullpen and out through a rear exit, leaving the third-base coach Rodriguez alone to finish the game.

What’s up with this? Almost the same thing happened the following day when we were at the Angel’s game in Tempe. Most of their team packed up their duffels and left the stadium, again in the middle of the fifth. Only a skeleton crew of Angel players remained in the dugout waiting for their turn to bat.

* But back to Surprise where the players occasionally toss a ball to the kids in the crowd. Kids? There were only a few people under the age of 60. I wonder if that was because school-age kids were in school that day and the stadium sits next door to Sun City?

I think I said this already.

* Observation: in spring ball, mistakes happen. On one occasion, a Royals player sprinted excitedly from the dugout to substitute for the injured second baseman. As he reached second base, another player ran onto the field yelling, “Hey, not you. I’m the one supposed to go in.”

Mistakes were the order of the day for the public relations team as well as players.

Early in the game, the gargantuan scoreboard proudly announced that Willy Blumquist, formally of the Kansas City Royals, would be batting next for the Diamondbacks. The only problem was that the Diamondbacks public relations office apparently did not get a photo of Willy in a Diamondback uniform in time for the game. There was Willy on the Royals big screen proudly wearing his Royals uniform but batting for the D-backs.

Later in the game, the same thing happened when Juan Miranda, formerly of the New York Yankees, came up to bat for the Diamondbacks. The photo of Miranda on the scoreboard showed him in his former #46 Yankees uniform.

There were more examples of similar peculiar mistakes, but it’s spring ball after all, and details do not matter. Baseball is beautiful, it’s spring, and it’s the sound of a bat on a ball that makes our hearts sing.

I am going back next year.

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 10 — It’s the statistics, why I love baseball. First published March 1, 2012, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

It’s the statistics, why I love baseball

A baseball fan has the digestive apparatus of a billy goat. He can, and does, devour any set of diamond statistics with insatiable appetite and then nuzzles hungrily for more. 

–Arthur Daley (1904-1974) N.Y. Times sportswriter?

“You are going to Surprise for spring baseball training, again? Do you really love baseball that much,” asked my young friend who was clearly incredulous.

 

There was only one answer I could honestly give her, yes. But I added this disclaimer, I am blaming my lasting love of baseball on my Great-Aunt Ida who lived, incidentally, to the age of 98 and spent the last summer of her life watching baseball and spouting stats like she had every summer since the early 70s.

 

It rubbed off, I guess.

 

Aunt Ida was an unabashed lover of all things baseball from the first moment the Kansas City Royals became a team in 1969. She liked the Kansas City Athletics just fine, but when the Royals emerged on the scene, she was smitten.

 

My great-aunt lived in Denver where the Kansas City Royals were considered the home team and the favorite of most people who lived between Kansas City and California. This was long before anybody had conceptualized the Colorado Rockies.

 

My family visited her every summer, but if the Royals were playing when we arrived, we kids knew to sit quietly and watch the game with her. That was not the time to suggest going out to dinner or to make small talk. She recited baseball stats as well as Jack Buck, Harry Carey or Bob Uecker and her prowess left us speechless.

 

Not being a math aficionado myself, it is strange to me how I picked up Aunt Ida’s love of baseball statistics.  However, I learned over the years that the brain handles statistics a little differently than it processes those pesky eighth-grade math word problems that never made any logical sense to me anyway.

 

Statistics, now that is another matter.

 

Curious about this weird trait I have of loving baseball stats and hating math, I wandered around the web and found a blog written in 2009 on this very subject titled “Why I Love Baseball: Statistics”.  It is written by a blogger who calls himself Sixty Feet, Six Inches (in baseball ‘stat speak’ that is the exact distance between the pitcher and the batter).

 

Sixty Feet, Six Inches says it better than I can:

 

“I’m horrible with numbers. In fact, I can’t do basic math without at least having a few minutes to figure out the answer. Yet, there’s something different about baseball statistics that allows my brain to completely utilize its potential and come to a quick answer… Statistics describe baseball; they are the language of the game. Stats let us know who is a great hitter (.300) and who is below average (.200)…Statistics add to the dramatic story that is a baseball game. If each game were a movie, then the player’s stats would be the character development. When the bases are loaded in the bottom of the ninth people want the hero who is batting .315 with thirty home runs to step up and save the team, yet without stats, most of us would not know who that person is. While we all love seeing the improbable happen with a walk off blast from a career .168 hitter, we would not fully understand the rarity of that underdog moment without stats.”

So off I will go to Surprise, Arizona, one day this spring to take in the sunshine, watch the Kansas City Royals in spring training and pay attention to the stats, which you know by now that I love.

Fair warning. Last spring, I wrote three columns about spring ball, so I can’t make any promises how wordy I will get this spring.

After all, baseball is, as writer-cartoonist Saul Steinberg once noted, “an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”

And I might add, about statistics.

Play ball!

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 11 — Surprise Stadium turns 10, first published March 15, 2012, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Surprise Stadium turns10

“Baseball? It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”
–Ernie Harwell, “The Game for All America,” 1955

Last year, I attended our Kansas City Royals spring training in Surprise, Arizona, my first visit to the Cactus League. This, year I went back to what is clearly becoming my spring birthday week pilgrimage to the desert to take in the joys and surprises of spring ball. I don’t mind saying that I am hooked.

And just like a year ago, I found plenty of surprises in Surprise. Here are my three favorite surprises of this year:

Top of my list is the realization that the Surprise Recreation Campus is 10 years old this year. The stadium is the centerpiece, the jewel, of the complex that serves as the spring training home to the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. The Royals have been there 10 years and that fact alone surprises me. Furthermore, the stadium itself is indeed a sight to behold, but there is much more to Surprise than the stadium.

A decade ago, the Surprise area was nothing more than a small community surrounded by desert.

On its 10th anniversary, the Surprise Recreation Campus now includes a public aquatic center, a tennis and racquet facility that hosts American and international championships, a public library for visitors, a stocked Surprise Lake for anglers, Dreamcatcher Park (full-accessible facility for athletes with special needs to enjoy baseball, soccer and football), and doubles as an exciting location for high school football events and community programs.

I might be guilty of sounding like an exuberant travel agent here, but certainly, the complex surprised me again. Each year, the area grows and adds new recreational attractions.

Second on my list of surprises this spring has a lot to do with seat location and ticket prices. I’ll explain.

If you want to see the Royals in spring training, there still is time. The last KC game at Surprise is March 31st. Ticket prices range from $7.00 on the lawn to $35.00 for the lower dugout. Simply visit cactusleague.com or surprisespringtraining.com, select your seats and print out your tickets.

And speaking of selecting a seat, there is not a bad seat in the house. However because it was my birthday pilgrimage to spring training, I decided to buy my family and myself a birthday present. Good seats, nah, great seats!

The Royals game was almost sold out on the day we wanted to attend, but there to my surprise on the online ticket site were some seats left in Section 102, right behind home plate, $30 apiece.

When we got to the game, we were even more surprised to learn that we were sitting with the major league scouts. How fun was that! We bantered about with them, watched their radar guns record the pitcher’s speeds and eavesdropped as they suggested trades and recommendations for which players should be moved down or kept. Fascinating stuff.

So for $30, one can sit with the scouts in Surprise. I guess I just spilled the beans, but still what a surprise.

My third surprise is more of a quick observation. One meets the nicest people from all over the country at spring training games. Typically, fans visit several ballparks and watch as many teams as they can on their spring ball vacations to the Phoenix area.

For instance, sitting behind us this year were fans from the San Francisco Giants who were just delightful to meet– mom, dad and two grown sons, Barbara, Chuck, Pete and John. I told them I would give them a shout out in my column. So hello Giants fans!

Scenes like this repeat themselves over and over at each of the 11 ballparks in the Phoenix area. Everyone seems to be having a great time, no one really cares who wins, and most of us are there for the fun of watching pure baseball without any hype.

Oh, and did I mention that the grilled peppers and onions and Arizona-style ballpark food are irresistible?

I am blocking off the calendar for this time next year, as we speak, to see what new surprises are in store in Surprise. Hope to see you there Royals fans!

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