This time of year, a certain type of creature flocks to the desert like the swallows to Capistrano. And much like the birds, they’re going for a feeding – but this one is to feed the heart and soul of a baseball fan.
Spring Training is the transition from No Baseball Season to Baseball Season (see March 3 blog). It gives fans a chance to see how the veterans look after the long winter hibernation, and to check out the up-and-coming youngsters trying to make the team.
Last year the Giants veterans looked tired after 2 World Series rings in 3 years, and an intense post-season followed by more than a few aches and pains. Add to that the World Baseball Classic before the season started — a number of players participated to represent their countries, thus shortening the winter rest. The result: a tired team. The fans weren’t feeling very chipper either.
But baseball is a game of hope, which springs eternal once the pre-season starts. The Giants draw large crowds to Scottsdale Stadium in Arizona, with a representative showing of their fan base: kids in families with wise parents who know that everything isn’t learned in the classroom, working people who love the game enough to use hard-earned vacation time, contingents of retired folks who have grown up with the team and now have more time – and money – to enjoy all aspects of it, and all those single – and married – ladies just waiting for a close encounter of the baseball kind with one of the players. It’s a known fact that putting a guy in a uniform will make a gal’s heart beat faster, and baseball uniforms are no exception. Ah, the allure of the game.
The kids who attend are usually hoping for some sort of player contact – and I must admit, more than a few of us who would be considered closer to the middle of our lives are looking for the same. That could be an autograph or picture while hanging out near the dugout during batting and fielding practice. A quick conversation and actual eye-to-eye contact with one of the guys is a thrill to be discussed for months. Or it can be waiting for a sighting of
one of the players going in and out of the clubhouse on their way to and from work. Yes, baseball is a game, but to these guys, it’s their job. Hard to remember that sometimes.
I was with a small but hardy crowd waiting for the players to board a bus to Mesa for a game with the Cubs. Pitchers George Kontos and Brett Bochy (the boss’s son) stopped to sign and chat.
Hensley ‘Bam Bam’ Meulens, Giants hitting coach who recently became a US citizen, carefully wrote ‘Bam Bam’ under each autograph, prompting one of the kids to say, ‘Thank you Mr. Bam Bam.’
There was plenty of hollering of player names and jockeying for position for autographs. Some of the players took a side door and jumped into their cars, giving fans a chance to see the kinds of wheels they drive. Giants players must have gotten a bargain on double cab trucks, which many of them drive. We saw Buster Posey drive away in his, protective tinted windows and all, and rumor has it that a similar white truck belongs to Matt Cain.
An amazing thing happened when Tim Lincecum came out to board the bus, sporting earphones to block out any distractions. The crowd suddenly hushed, and he stopped to sign autographs in a silent cloud of respect and adulation. People obviously love our Timmy.
Once Tim boarded the bus, the shouting of player names picked up again as the new team fire-ball, Michael Morse, got to know some of the Giants fan base. There’s more to say about him later, so stay tuned.
But in the meantime, plan a trip to the desert next year. Take your kids to the School of Baseball; treat your grandma to an experience you’ll both treasure forever; form a group of your closest friends for baseball, beer, and buddy time; and enjoy the start of Baseball Season. You won’t be sorry!
There’s more to come about Spring Training, including a shocking truth about Cubs fans and an encounter with a former Giants nemesis. So come back soon.