A Not-So-Quick Recap (Part 1)

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, April 03, 2007 | 0 comments »

For all those who couldn’t make it to spring training this year, I would like to provide a blow-by-blow account of our six day, six game, five stadium tour of the Grapefruit League. My wife, Cheryl, and I have a partial season ticket plan for both the O’s and the Nats so we see a lot of baseball every year. We plan these trips so we can catch games with both teams, and since we have attended spring training for five years running now and are well familiar with the charms of Fort Lauderdale Stadium, spring home of the Baltimore Orioles, and Space Coast (Space Ghost) Stadium, spring home of the Washington Nationals, we enjoy traveling up and down the east coast of Florida to see other facilities, and this year we even made it over to the gulf coast! Since both teams are among the bottom feeders in each league, it’s not especially hard to get tickets.

Wednesday, March 21: We arrived in Florida under the cover of darkness, flying into Ft. Lauderdale International Airport. After a mix-up with the rental car agency (the names have been hidden to protect the guilty), we settled into our Chrysler 300, which would be our home away from home for the next six days. It was supposed to be a Ford Mustang convertible, but since we arrived so late they were all out. Didn’t Seinfeld do a routine about reservations? Anyway, it was 1:30 am by the time we got to our hotel. We stayed at a place close to the airport for the night since we had our first road trip in the morning, 129 miles to Vero Beach, our first stop of the trip.

Thursday, March 22: Our wake-up call was 7:00 am, a half hour earlier than we get up for work most days. With a two hour road trip ahead of us, we got an early start. The ballpark opens two hours before the game, and you will soon realize Cheryl and I utilize every available minute possible at the park. We finally pulled into “Dodgertown”, the spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the past sixty years! Holman Stadium, in use since 1954, is unique in that there are no dugouts for the players. They sit on metal bleachers and bake under the sun just like the rest of us! It makes a great place for taking pictures of your favorite players, and it is here that my wife starts on the almost one thousand photos she’ll take on the trip. Our “thing” is to get Cheryl’s photos signed by the players, and we then display them in our rec room. We don’t sell anything. We had never traded anything, until this trip, and I’ll explain that later. But at Dodgertown we took 163 pictures, had three pictures and six baseballs signed in total, but the last one was the best.

Former Oriole Larry Bigbie is trying to make the Dodgers as a reserve outfielder. We were lucky in that he played and was in at the end of the game, since once the starters leave a spring training game they shower up and go home. At the end of the game, we worked our way down into the right field corner of the stadium, where the players must go to leave the field and head to the locker room. The
section was full of elementary schoolers on a field trip. All I got for a field trip in elementary school was the planetarium or public library! They were all screaming “HEY YOU!” or “CAN YOU SIGN?” to any ballplayer, coach, groundskeeper or trainer that would walk by. When Bigbie approached, Cheryl held up a very nice close-up photo of him she took a couple years ago when he was with the O’s. He saw the picture and came over to sign it, and he said that he remembered us and our two friends we were with the season the photo was taken. He wished us a good time this spring and proceeded to sign for every single little kid that held their ticket stub out. He must have been there for half an hour.

Two Dodger Dogs, one sunburn and a Tommy Lasorda sighting down, we were back in the car for the 69 mile trip north to Cocoa Beach.

Friday, March 23: We got to sleep in since Space Coast Stadium was only six miles from our motel. We got up at 9:00 am, grabbed some breakfast, and headed to the park for the first of two games with the Nats against last year’s World Series teams, the Detroit Tigers today and St. Louis Cardinals Saturday. The gates opened at 11:30 am, so we missed the Nats batting practice, but Space Ghost has a great autograph rail on the far end of either dugout, so we bee-lined down to the Nats side. We chatted up the other autograph hounds there, sharing war stories and showing off our bounty. The Nats starters returned to the field about fifteen minutes before the start of the game to stretch and prepare for the game. Dmitri Young, new to the team this year was among the starters, and he was the one guy I really wanted to sign for me.

You see, on top of other on--and off--the field problems last year for Young, he was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes last fall, actually being hospitalized for a time. When I was diagnosed three-plus years ago, my blood sugar number was “only” three and a half times higher than normal, which in all seriousness is very high. Young’s number was eight and a half times too high! He could have gone into a diabetic coma at any time. I wanted to express my support and let him know that if he controlled his diet and followed his doctor’s other or
ders he could deal, live and hopefully thrive despite the diabetes. We were lucky enough to get his attention after he was done stretching and he came over to sign for the group along the rail. When he got to me, I did tell him the things I wanted to and we had a very nice two minute conversation, which doesn’t really happen too often five minutes before the ballgame. He signed a ball and then posed with me while Cheryl snapped a very nice photo of the two of us. He’s the one on the left.

After the game we left the stadium and went around back to the walkway between the clubhouse and the players lot. All the players have to go by here and most stop and sign on their way out. Robert Fick, a back-up catcher-first baseman was signing for a group of kids and one wanted a bat. Fick told the kid if he came to the game the next day he’d get his bat. It was a very good day for getting baseball signed after the game as almost all the players stopped. We took 195 pictures, had two pictures and thirteen baseballs signed for the day.

Saturday, March 24: Game Two at Space Ghost and the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals are in town. The atmosphere had a little more drama than usual due to the arrest of Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa the day before for driving under the influence. Also, Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight, a long-time friend of LaRussa’s, was there for the game as well, wandering around the batting cage during pre-game. I guess membership has its privileges. Once again we ventured to the back walkway after the game to see what autographs we could muster. Well, the kid that was bargaining for Robert Fick’s bat the previous day was indeed there, and Fick came through for him. He was proudly showing off the personalized game-used (including pine tar) Louisville slugger. There aren’t too many better souvenirs than that, but apparently for this kid there was one better. It happened to be the glossy 8x10 photo Cheryl took of Nats centerfielder Nook Logan the day before and printed out to get signed. Truthfully, it was a great photo, but this kid went bananas when he saw it. “I GOTTA HAVE IT!” he screamed over and over, “NOOK IS MY FAVORITE!!!.” This ten-year-old kid actually offered my wife cash for an unsigned photo of a career .270 hitter with a grand total of two home runs. Then one of his buddies suggested to him to trade the Fick bat for the photos, and he thought it was a GREAT idea! Cheryl didn’t want to, as she treats these photos like she would a child, but after five minutes of all this she made the trade. We were afraid for the kid’s sanity.

Saturday’s tally was 139 photos taken, two photos and six baseballs signed. And one personalized Robert Fick bat.

After the game, we load our booty (and booties) into the Chrysler 300 and headed back the 170 miles to Ft. Lauderdale.