The Essence Of Spring Training

Only someone like me would work on vacation.

Well, I guess” work” is a relative term, especially when you write about sports for a living, and more importantly, when your vacation includes heading out to Arizona to lay in the sun, watch some spring training baseball, and spend your time- in general- just abusing your body with copious amounts of alcohol and Mexican food. Trust me when I say that after five days away, I’m carrying an extra 12 lbs, and am one chin and an 89 mph fastball away from being Bartolo Colon. I wish I was kidding.

Either way, the best part of the trip was undoubtedly the baseball. On Friday, my friends and I caught the second half of a Cubs-Royals game in Surprise, and then followed up with some Giants-Dodgers in Glendale. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a pen and paper to record everything from the second game. But I did for the first.

Here’s how it went down:
 

 

12:00 p.m.: After shaking off a hangover from the previous night, I’m rounding up the crew to head out to breakfast. Who knew all it’d take was four Advil, two glasses of water, a cup of coffee, a shower and one hour long episode of Ellen to get me feeling like myself again?

For context’s sake, here’s what you need to know about today’s baseball crew: I’m traveling with two of my college buddies Paul (our host and resident birthday boy) and Steve, as well as our friend Mallory.

Two important notes on Mallory:

1) She was the brains behind this whole trip, and I’m pretty sure none of us would’ve been able to even book the plane tickets without her. And…

2) She’s a huge Royals fan, hence why we’re going to the first game.

That second note is also important to give you further insight into our breakfast conversation, which consisted almost entirely of Royals and Kansas City related sports jokes. Honestly, I think even our waiter got in a few cheap shots.

While there isn’t enough space on this website to share them all (this column might end up 20,000 words if that were the case), just know that I got everyone laughing when I told them about the time Deion Sanders described Charlie Weis’ wearing a red Kansas City Chiefs polo shirt by saying, “My Gawd, it looks like Charlie is wearing a tent!” Needless to say, Mal didn’t find that joke nearly as funny as the rest of us did.

1:30: Time to head to the airport to pick up Paul’s sister Sarah, who is flying into town for his birthday. To kill time on the drive, all of us guys share stories, none of which can be printed here, and quite a few of which would land us in jail. In a related story, Mal is so disgusted she asks to get dropped off on the side of the road. I can’t blame her.

2:00: We get to the airport to get Sarah, and quickly help her get her bags into the car to try and get on the road to the game. Not surprisingly, Sarah abides by the commonly known rule that says, “Anytime a female travels, she’s obligated to pack at least 10 times more clothes than she can actually physically wear.” Although in her defense, she actually had been traveling before getting to Arizona. Still, after lifting two bags roughly the size of Delaware into the bed of Paul’s truck, I needed an oxygen tank and a hug. Again, I'm on vacation. And not in peak physical shape.

2:25: After a little traffic we arrive at the Surprise Baseball Complex in Surprise, AZ, site of today’s game. As we get out of the car, Paul quickly chirps, “The biggest Surprise would be if (today’s starter) Bruce Chen is still pitching when we get into the stadium.”

2:31: Bruce Chen isn’t still pitching when we get into the stadium.

2:33: Everybody grabs a few beers, and we head to our seats on the lawn, where the Cubs already have a 4-0 lead, it’s the fifth inning, and the Royals have one hit. Impressively, Kansas City is already in mid-season form.

2:34: By the way, did I mention it’s 78 degrees without a cloud in the sky? This once again proves my theory that when God retires, he’s going to get a winter home in Arizona.

2:37: With the game in between innings, I quickly scan the lawn, and am impressed with the turnout of Cubs fans. By the way, you know how I know they’re Cubs fans? Every male has a mustache and their shirt off. A few females too, come to think of it.

2:39: As we get set for the bottom half of the inning, the Cubs bring in hot shot free agent signee…Kerry Wood! Can you feel the excitement? To his credit, Wood looks spry and refreshed in a Cubs uniform, and definitely not a day over 50.

2:41: With Wood on the mound, I tell everyone about the time I was at Wrigley Field for Kerry Wood life-sized poster giveaway day. The girls are so intrigued…they decide it’s time to go hang out by the bullpen and ogle baseball players. The guys decide it’s time to grab another beer, leaving me on the lawn by myself.

What? All my stories can’t be gold, alright?

2:43: By the way, did I mention it’s 78 degrees and my skin is starting sizzle like an overcooked steak? I did mention that right? Ok, just making sure.

2:48: Wood retires the side, as we head to the top of the inning. Defensive changes are announced with the names “Mike Moustakas,” and “Eric Hosmer,” blaring over the loud speaker. Why are those guys important? Well, mainly because they’re two of the top 10 prospects in baseball. Also, they're the first real hope for Royals fans since sometime in the Regan Administration. No pressure kids!

2:49: And on the mound for the Royals, it’s Jeremy Jeffress! Wait, didn’t he pitch in the California Penal League last year?

2:57: Another half inning is in the books, still 4-0. Also, for those of you scoring at home, the Snack Wrap won the scoreboard race. Sadly, it’s the most exciting thing to happen since we’ve arrived at the stadium.

3:03: I return from a quick bathroom break to find the bases loaded, and only one out. I can’t lie, I’m impressed. I didn’t know the Royals had it in them.

3:04: Up next is Hosmer. You know how certain guys just “look,” like they should be in a big league uniform? This guy is it. Big, strong, athletic, with deep blue eyes that perfectly match his uniform. Wait, umm…never mind.

Anyway, after watching Cubs pitcher John Gaub (who very well could be selling insurance within six months) walk the previous three batters, Hosmer steps to the plate. For the first time all day, we’re actually paying attention to baseball, and Hosmer rewards us by driving a 2-2 deep to right field…for a Grand Slam!! The crowd goes nuts, as Hosmer slowly trots around the bases, and is greeted at home by a swarm of teammates. Wow. All of a sudden we’re tied at 4-4, and we’ve actually got a real life ball-game.

The only downer is that when I went to high-five Mal, I realize she’s gone. Probably flirting with the Royals bullpen coach somewhere.

3:08: The inning eventually ends on a hard hit ground ball that the Cubs shortstop makes a nice play on. I’d like to tell you more, but since every guy involved will most certainly be playing in the Montana League for the rest of the season, I really can’t.

3:10: Top half of the inning, and onto the mound steps Jesse Chavez! The guys and I are so excited we start talking about the NFL Draft. Meanwhile in the distance, the two girls are headed back our way with Sarah carrying a baseball in her right hand. It’s just a hunch, but something tells me it’s not one of the $12 ones they sell at the gift shop.

3:13: The girls are back, and tell us that a player known only as “Javier,” wrote down his phone number on the baseball. Part of me secretly hopes he’ll end up hanging out later so I can pepper him with stupid questions, and part of me secretly hopes he doesn’t come out, so I can steal the baseball and send him prank texts. I’m honestly torn.

3:14: We’re so intrigued by Javier that one of the girls pulls up the Royals spring training roster on her phone. There’s no Javier to be found. However, somehow there is a “Jason Kendall.” Wait, do you really mean to tell me that Jason Kendall is still playing Major League Baseball? Really? Man is he old. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure he was on the field for Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth,” speech.

3:16: The girls do a quick Google search of “Javier + Kansas City Royals,” and still nothing. It’s looking more and more like Javier is getting prank texts tonight.

3:20: End of the inning still tied, and back to the plate are the Royals. On a different note, a Cubs fan who looks like the guy that played “Coach Ditka,” on SNL just walked by me. If I had to give you a percentage, I’d guess that at this point, at least 96 percent of male Cubs fans are shirtless right now. Females are probably hovering around 12 percent. Give or take.

3:29: After a single and a sacrifice bunt, the Royals all of a sudden have the go-ahead run at the plate. Up steps Mitch Maier who quickly pokes a single to center, to give the Royals a 5-4 lead! Royals baseball, can you feel the excitement?!? No? Me neither.

3:31: The inning ends with the Royals clinging to a one run lead. Meanwhile I sneak off to get my second hot dog of the game, which in addition to the massive omelet I ate for breakfast has just pushed my cholesterol to somewhere around the 225 mark. This coincidentally will also probably be the Royals team batting average to end the year.

3:33: Umm, yeh, hot dog No. 2 isn’t sitting so well. So you mean to tell me that the hot dogs sold at Royals spring training games aren’t made with the freshest of ingredients? Really? Either way I think it might be time to lay down for a bit. Whatever, I’m on vacation.

3:37: With me laying down and the girls still trying to figure out if Javier really exists or is just a figment of their imagination, the guys again talking football. This time the conversation centers around what it would take for the Patriots to trade for current Arizona Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald.  

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate Patriots fans?

3:44: Bottom of the eighth inning and onto the mound for the Cubs comes Jeff Samardzija. Interestingly, Steve, Paul and I actually saw Jeff Samardzija pitch when he played for Notre Dame, and we were at UConn. Three more thoughts on that:

1) It was probably the biggest moment in UConn baseball history.

2) It was probably the biggest moment in Big East baseball history.

3) It was probably the biggest moment of Samardzija’s life since Brady Quinn stopped throwing passes to him sometime in the winter of 2006.

Regardless, I think we can all agree that somewhere, Charlie Weis is glumly sitting in the dark, eating a cold-cut sandwich.

3:49: To Samardzija’s credit, he puts down the Royals 1-2-3, which gives us all hope that he won’t be selling newspapers on a street corner in a few years.  We head to the top of the ninth with the Royals clinging to a one run lead.

3:51: In to close things out for Kansas City, it’s future Omaha Royal Steven Shell!!

3:55: Fast forward five minutes: Two outs, nobody on and Shell looking like Ricky Vaughn back in his prime, and well before all the hookers, coke and #TigerBlood derailed his career. Shell quickly works the count to 0-2, before the batter hits a slow grounder to Moustakas, who fires over to first…and Royals win! Royals win! Royals win!

They are now 5-1 on the young season, as “Glory Days,” plays in the background, and a fan wearing a George Brett jersey runs around with a Royals flag swinging overhead.

As we headed out of the stadium, I couldn't help but think how well “Glory Days,” perfectly describes Spring Training.

If you’ve never been, this is what you need to know: The sun is always shining, the food is cheap, the baseball is great and overall, the atmosphere is unlike anything else in sports. Hell, I went to a Cubs-Royals game that I had no interest in, no allegiance to, and didn’t see more than half a dozen guys who will start the year on a Major League roster. Yet it was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.  

I’m already planning my return trip next year. I suggest you do the same.

(Love the article? Hate it? Disagree with something Aaron said? Let him know by commenting below, or e-mailing him at ATorres00@gmail.com.

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.

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