There’s a foot of snow on the ground, the wind chill at 20 degrees, Christmas eight days and the Dolphins crushing the Jets. What better time than this to think about spring training?
Spring training has always been one of my favorite times of the year, for reasons both on and off the field.
From landing in Florida and taking off for the chill that’s still in New York, it’s a great time and a terrific experience.
The best part was the time you could spend with the players. Earlier in his career, the ten minutes David Wright said he’d give you could turn into a half-an-hour with the conversation touching a wide ranging variety of subjects, to playing the bunt, to going to the opposite field, to watching North Carolina play Duke in the ACC Tournament, to dozens of other topics.
I remember a long conversation with Carlos Beltran, who told me of his rookie season while with Kansas City. His eyes watered when he spoke of not being able to speak English.
I used to love talking pitching with Mike Mussina and David Cone, with Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. With Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner.
How great is it to go to work wearing shorts and a windbreaker?
I remember running laps around the fields after practice in Port St. Lucie. That was, until somebody on the grounds crew told me snakes came out at dusk.
Better still was playing basketball after practice, then going out for seafood and a movie. I played a lot of miniature golf and went to the dog track.
You never knew who would show up to spring training. Sandy Koufax was terrific. I ran into him one day told him of the time my dad told me “you have to see this guy pitch.’’ When he asked what game, I sheepishly told him of a game the Mets shelled him at Shea Stadium, 10-4. His response? “I remember that game, too.’’
There were others, too. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.
There have been dozens of cross-state drives passing through places like Yeehaw Junction, a truck stop of a town with a population of 240. There is also the long drive across the state on Alligator Alley, named for the obvious reason
It was a lot of fun to sit in the stands behind the plate and talk with scouts.
There was so much more. Countless hours watching the NCAA Tourney … picking my Home Run Derby team with the other writers … eating at hole-in-the-wall barbeque joints. … it is Florida, so good pizza and Italian was hard to find.
By my calculation, I spent over 120 weeks in Florida for spring training. I’m looking forward to going there again next year.