Pitchers and catchers report to spring training this week. There is hope! Baseball is on its way.
I would rather watch the Minnesota Twins, but they train across the continent in Florida. Here in Tucson, the Colorado Rockies play a couple of miles down the street.
I don’t know much about the Rockies, but last week I headed over to their complex of six perfectly groomed baseball diamonds to watch a little baseball.
Baseball on the radio or television is just fine, but there are a few things about the game which you have to experience in person to understand.
First, a lazy fly ball to left field is a non-event over the airwaves, but in person the same fly ball is a thing of beauty.
The first fly ball of a game always draws oohs and ahs from the crowd, particularly those who haven’t been to a game in a while.
One non-fan I dragged to a game was utterly bored — until the first fly ball was hit. The ball was easily caught by the right-fielder, but as the ball slowly climbed its grand arc, I heard a gasp next to me and my previously bored friend said “Oh for pretty!”
Announcers never call, never describe lazy fly balls as pretty. But that’s what they are when you’re actually in the park to see one.
Second, television gives a person no feel for how close the pitcher’s mound is to the batter’s box. Sixty feet is not that far, especially with these over-sized athletes. Some of these lanky pitchers could practically take one step forward and slap the batter on the face.
Instead, they fire 100-mile-per-hour fastballs at the hitter. Frightening.
Third, you get no feel on television for the strength of the arms of professional players. When some of these outfielders unleash a throw from the corner, they’ve got enough stuff on the ball so it floats like a frisbee.
It becomes apparent in person that the most basic baseball skills — hitting the ball, playing catch, throwing a curve, reacting to a line drive — are beyond the reach of 99.4% of us.
Yes, I can still play catch. But these guys stand 120 feet from each other and hit the glove every time. If baseballs were allowed by the DNR, these players could use them to hunt grouse.
Despite my lack of knowledge about the Rockies, I hoped to experience some of these simple baseball pleasures at their spring training camp.
So far, no luck. I have been over there three times. The first day, the players were all getting physicals. The second day, they were on a very extended noon break.
The third day I got there early in the morning only to spend an hour watching the grounds crew rake the infield dirt.
Each day, I walked through the players parking lot. Obviously, there were many millionaires inside somewhere. But they weren’t playing ball. I haven’t seen a player yet.
What I did find, however, were about a two dozen middle-aged men standing outside the entrance to the locker room. Hands in their pockets, rocking back on their heels, shooting the breeze; these men had either taken early retirement or were using their vacation to experience spring training.
Which I understand. But what I simply didn’t understand is what I figured out next: These guys were waiting to pester the players for autographs.
The men looked to be lawyers, bankers and doctors. But I don’t care how dignified your profession, when you wait hours to get an autograph from somebody half your age, you become more pitiful than a German Shepherd that stares through the patio window at its owners as they watch Wheel of Fortune, American Idol and the local news.
It isn’t pretty.
Later, I checked the baseball news online. His Greatness, Joe Mauer, had appeared at the Twins camp in Florida. The picture showed him signing autographs.
But who were the autograph seekers, starry-eyed children wearing gloves and over-sized caps? Awkward junior-highers with jerseys and mops of hair? Giggly potential Mrs. Mauers?
Nope. The autograph seekers were middle-aged men, successful enough to take a week off, trying to win the attention of a 26-year old kid who can hit a ball.
I am going to keep trying to see some baseball this week before heading back north. And I am on the Joe Mauer bandwagon as much as anybody.
But if you ever catch me trying to get an autograph, shoot me.
(Visit Eric's weblog at www.countryscribe.com.)