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Tag Archive: Cactus League

Mar 08

From my archived columns: Baseball and the Royals, a hope that springs eternal

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True.
And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” – George F. Will

Surprise Stadium

I might just burst with excitement if I don’t say this before I start waxing poetic about baseball. How about those Royals!

I feel better. Now, on to my story.

Baseball fever is here, and many of us have the bug. It happens every spring.

More than flowers or sunshine or April showers, it is baseball that is our true April love. It has been that way as long as most of us can remember.

After all, baseball is America’s game. Granted it may have gone global, but we invented it, and we love it.

In fact, we love it so much, that when opening day of baseball season finally arrives, folks take off work often braving bitter temperatures and cold rain just to watch. You know the drill.

Some of us have to be there. Period.

Others of us prefer the coziness of our homes or offices on opening day, but make no mistake, we are paying attention just the same.

Each spring, baseball makes us believe all over again that all things are possible (i.e. how about those Royals), for a few weeks at least.

Any team can win the Pennant on opening day, maybe even the World Series. The worst team in the league can be at 500 in mere days. The coaches have winning records, and the pitchers have great stats. Every batter can be Babe Ruth, every fielder Jackie Robinson, on opening day.

If they can be all things, then so can we. At least that is our hope each and every spring.

To be on the safe side, we throw up a silent prayer along with our hopes, “Please do not break our hearts this season!” How well we remember last year when our home team had an indescribably miserable and embarrassing record, we lament.

Let’s face it. Some years, it is nearly impossible to be a fan. We pray it will not be such a year. We pray hard.

“No more 3 to 2 losses in the ninth, please,” we beg.

“No more pitchers losing their groove.”

“No more batting slumps by our star hitter.”

Ernest Lawrence Thayer understood our baseball psyche, our worries, and desperate baseball prayers such as these as long ago as 1888. That is when he wrote “Casey at the Bat”, the single most famous baseball poem ever written. “Casey at the Bat” was first published June 3, 1888, in the San Francisco Examiner.

Another writer Albert Spalding once wrote of it, “Love has its sonnets galore. War has its epics in heroic verse. Tragedy, its somber story in measured lines. Baseball has Casey at the Bat.”

In his legendary poem, Thayer describes a baseball hero, the mighty Casey who is advancing to the bat just in time to save the day for Mudville’s home team.

It is fun to remember some of the poem’s perfectly written verses. Here are some excerpts:
“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play…
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.
The rest clung to the hope that springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that,
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat…
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped,
‘That ain’t my style,’ said Casey. ‘Strike one,’ the umpire said…
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, ‘Strike two’…”

Thus the legendary story goes, but let us pretend we don’t know how badly the game ended.

After all, it is April. Baseball season has just begun and all things are possible once again.

Case in point. I have the fever and cannot for the life of me resist saying one more time “How about those Royals.”

Mar 15

Surprise Stadium turns 10

“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!

Mar 17

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.

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