This past trip was so jam packed that I needed more than a day to process everything and put the words down on paper. The three day spring training trip that we just embarked on was truly a Johnny Cash song.
Sunday started with a two-hour drive from the Disney Complex to Vero Beach. How do you know you're leaving Disney? When you see billboards that read "Vasectomy.com: It's Easier Than You Think!" or other gems that advertise an "Lunch Buffet/Adult Cabaret". See, Florida can be fun even outside of Disneyworld!
We got to Dodgertown at about 11AM and immediately pulled over to take pictures by the sign (like the one you see above) on the way in ... all the while thinking our rent-a-car was going to get plowed by somebody on the side of the road. Luckily, the closest thing to a catastrophe occurred when the zipper on my bag ripped apart my finger and caused me to bleed all over my Todd Zeile jersey.
Yes, you heard me, I own a Todd Zeile jersey. But more on that later.
After two days of mingling amongst Braves and Dodgers and Tigers and Indians, it was nice to be surrounded by my own kind, and that included incomparable Mets bloggers such as Matt Cerrone, Zoe Rice, and "The Coop" who I was fortunate to run into just in front of the walkway into Dodgertown, along with Stefi Kaplan later in the game. The four of them were on their own spring training odysseys, and you can read all about their adventures here and here.
Here's the thing about Dodgertown: It's freakin' awesome. Disney and Tigertown both provided unique experiences in terms of watching a ballgame. Disney provided, well ... Disney, along with the opportunity to heckle Larry Jones (yes, that loud voice you heard during the bottom of the fifth with a 1-2 count on "Chipper" was, in fact, yours truly). Tigertown provided the oldest spring training home in the majors, and the opportunity to sit on a hill of grass with about 1,000 other people. Dodgertown didn't fail in providing yet another unique experience in terms of fan enjoyment. For example, how many people can say they were almost run over by a golf cart being driven by Mariano Duncan, with Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa riding shotgun? Not many.
I, am one of those people.
But such is the experience of Dodgertown, where players walk right past you and give you high fives if you ask nicely. And if you go to the practice fields, you never know who you're going to run into. And that brings me to the story of the weekend:
It actually started on Friday, when my buddy was wearing the hat you see to the right, a St. Andrews Old Course hat, while trying to get Tommy "Come Down From The Tree" Lasorda's autograph. Lasorda was in the stands that day, willing to sign autographs but only between innings. At the end of the game, he failed in getting Tommy to sign his ball, but asked Lasorda's handler if he'd be around on Sunday when we got to Vero. The guy basically told him that if he wore that hat on Sunday, he would be recognized and given an autograph.
Fast forward to Sunday on that Vero Beach practice field, where Tommy was about to be driven away by the handler when my friend starts waving his hat yelling "Old Course! Old Course! Old Course!" True to his word, Tommy's handler stops the golf cart, takes my buddy's ball and gets it signed by Lasorda (and afterwards, drives Lasorda away, making everybody who had failed to get an autograph before even more angry that the guy who just shows up in a golf hat gets a signature at their expense.)
But fear not, there were plenty of autographs to be had ... as for one day only, fans got to go on to the field and get autographs from basically every single Dodger on the team (except Jeff Kent, who was nowhere to be found when I got there. Gee, what a surprise! Oh, and Nomar Garciaparra left early too.) I told Andruw Jones that I was happy that he wouldn't be killing the Mets nearly as much from the N.L. West. Everyone else got a laugh out of it, but I couldn't wipe the smirk-like smile off Andruw's face.
Andre Ethier even remembered it was a sinker that he hit off of Ryan Dempster to win a game in Wrigley last September. Weird.
After the scrum, I have to admit that I was too exhausted to make my way to right field to see if any Mets were doing some signing ... and considering that pretty much every big player either stayed in Port St. Lucie or was injured, there weren't a lot of players available to autograph (but one guy who my buddy was able to get was Fernando Martinez, which was pretty cool.)
Then the game started, and it started with a whimper as Martinez, Ruben Gotay, and Angel Pagan played "I got it you take it" on a pop fly which should have ended the inning but instead put two runs on Ollie Perez's spring ERA. But I couldn't be too upset over that, because I'm sure those players all saw what could happen when you pursue a pop fly too hard in spring training ... you get knocked out with a concussion.
I'll say this: I hope that Carlos Delgado's injury isn't serious ... because I could swear I saw Michel Abreu swing at everything thrown to him, including a hot dog wrapper that was thrown across home plate. In fact, when I got home, I threw an empty cup at a garbage can, and I could swear I felt the breeze of Abreu's bat swinging at it. Here's a sampling of Abreu's greatest whiffs from Sunday:
But speaking of hot dog wrappers, Dodgertown provided me with the fulfillment of a lifelong dream: I ate a Dodger Dog. I'm still not sure that it was the authentic Dodger Dog that's sold at Chavez Ravine, but as I told the vendors: If you're not sure, just tell me it is and don't destroy the dream.
And while on line for that dog, a guy who was with ESPN ... no, I don't know who ... gave me props for being the only guy he's ever seen with a Todd Zeile Mets jersey. I don't know if that means I'm special or insane. Probably the latter ... but I got a warm feeling inside much the same.
Update: Lest you thought I was kidding about the Zeile jersey, it looks like the lens of justice caught me for Straight Cash Homey, a website dedicated to finding unsuspecting folk sporting obscure jerseys, or as they put it: "an international ridiculous jersey scavenger hunt". The funny thing is, I have about 10-15 jerseys that would qualify for this website, and always thought that one day I might make this site. Alas, this is the one that gets me on the site. To whoever snapped the shot, great catch. And thanks to the anonymous tipster that found me on the site. I hope the jersey doesn't make my butt look big.
By the way, did I mention the other oddity about Holman Stadium in Vero Beach? Stadiums like Wrigley Field have pillars to obstruct your view. But Holman obstructs your view while going green at the same time: with trees right in the middle of the stands!
There was a guy at the game behind the stands who could have used a tree as took a foul ball to the head ... it hit him with such ferocity that it bounced back towards the stands and rolled under the seat next to me. It was pretty bad, but he wound up getting the ball as a souvenir.
The game ended with three Met runs in the ninth, capped by Pagan's two -out two-run single (captured below). Before the game, I wasn't convinced that there was a roster spot for Pagan. After the game, I started to come around. And now with the various injuries to Ruben Gotay, Ryan Church, Marlon Anderson, Moises Alou (especially Moises Alou), Joel Youngblood, George Theodore, and Amos Otis, Pagan may be as big a lock for a roster spot out of camp as Jose Reyes is.
But Sunday, like the rest of the weekend, really wasn't about who won or lost. It was about drinking beer, throwing down hot dogs, and experiencing baseball in an entirely new way ... not necessarily in that order. It was about getting a tan in February. It was about chatting with major leaguers. It was about acquiring a whole new appreciation for games that don't count in the standings. It was about appreciating the fact that some people go through their whole year living off the money they make for six weeks out of the year. Unfortunately, that money runs out as the Dodgers move their spring operations out of Vero Beach for good as of the 17th. It runs out for the people that served my ice cream in a plastic helmet, imploring me to think of them, root for them to get a new team so they could make a living, and never forget the ice cream.
Not anytime soon, I promise.