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Tag Archive: spring training

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 5 — A surprise in Surprise. First published March 10, 2011, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

A surprise in Surprise

A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz (any old day). ~Humphrey Bogart

Hello Kansas City.

There is a surprise in Surprise, Arizona, and it is your Kansas City Royals and their breathtakingly beautiful spring training stadium.

If you have not been there dear readers, go if you can. Add it to your bucket list. It is that good, and I do not say this lightly.

I was in the land of the Cactus League this week visiting relatives and used the opportunity to take in as much of the spring training atmosphere as I could.

We watched the Kansas City Royals play a little ball and in the process discovered the joys of spring baseball training.

In the Phoenix metro area, there are 10 spring training ballparks shared by 15 Cactus League teams, and that means there is a lot of ball to see.

Besides, it is March and if one travels to Phoenix in March, it is written somewhere that one must see some spring ball.

We did our best to oblige.

Our plan, our personal baseball trifecta, was to see three games in three days.

On Day One, the Giants versus Mariners; on Day Two, the Royals versus Diamondbacks; and on Day Three, the Angels versus Rangers.

On Day One, we struck gold at the Scottsdale Stadium as we watched the world-champion Giants defeat the Mariners while Tim Lincecum pitched. We had no idea he would be pitching when we bought the tickets online. They don’t tell you these things in the spring. You may remember that Lincecum is the two-time Cy Young Award winner with a 25-mil contract who blew out the Rangers in last year’s World Series.

Skipping to Day Three, we watched the Angels beat the American League champion Rangers at the Tempe Diablo Stadium in a game that was mostly defense, a rarity in spring ball. Most of the games have more home runs than base hits, along with a high number of errors. But hey, it’s pre-season, and no one cares.

But let us go back to Day Two and the team we came to see—our Kansas City Royals.

My expectations were not high as we drove along Bell Road after eating lunch at the highly acclaimed In–N-Out Burgers in Peoria, Arizona, not far from the Billy Parker Field in the Surprise Recreation Campus.

As a Midwesterner, I didn’t know much if anything about In-N-Out burgers. We don’t have them because this small franchise of less than 300 stores serves only the western part of the country. Suffice to say In-N-Out is a fast food chain with a “loyal customer base”, a.k.a. California cult that loves animal-style burger and fries.

I’m in.

I learned quickly that nothing tops lunch at In–N-Out.

Nothing; therefore, after that high point we were intent only on enjoying the day soaking up sun at the ballpark. That would be enough.

We were about to be surprised, however, and I never saw it coming.

Here is some of what surprised me, besides In-N-Out:

Before we were out of the car in Surprise (very near Sun City), the picturesque Surprise Stadium, some say the best ballpark in the Valley, left us speechless. The Royals share it with the Texas Rangers, but this day, the stadium belonged to the Royals. The stadium alone is worth the trip.

We were surprised when the Sundancers (Sun City greeters) welcomed us as though we were their long-lost cousins from Pittsburg. In fact, one of them thought we were from PA due to the fact we looked like we were “from the north”. She said she can always tell Northerners because they are wearing shorts and tee shirts on what the Valley folks consider to be a cool day in March.

Pittsburgh and K.C. are in the north? That surprised me.

Seats galore, so take your pick. That surprised me. We found perfect ones right behind the Royals dugout and cheered loudly for each batter, whose name we never heard before, as if it were a Little League game.

Autographs and close-up pictures with the players–easy as pie to obtain. Granted, we never heard of them, but it’s spring ball. Did I mention that already?

Furthermore, I was surprised at the lack of formality in the ballparks, the absence of vendors hawking the crowd, little music or announcing and players wearing jerseys with no names on the back. It is sandlot ball, pure and simple, and I loved it.

Dear readers, there is so much more to tell about spring baseball in the desert that I have to stop now and write about it in part two. So stay tuned next week for the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.

By the way, spring ball confirmed something I long suspected: “There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.” ~Al Gallagher, 1971.

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!

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