Archive for May, 2023
The Boys of Summer – Return to Spring Training – Part 2
Posted by 'lottasports in Baseball, Spring Training on May 7, 2023
Arizona continued to battle providing us with good weather as the second day started with overcast skies and below normal temperatures. My decision was either look cute and be cold or to layer and look twenty pounds more than I was! I chose the latter. Our first stop was Camelback Ranch-Glendale, home to the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. We had tickets to the White Sox-Royals early afternoon game.
We arrived a few hours before game time and proceeded to the practice fields. As we were greeted by Stephanie at the practice field gate, we could see the practice field behind her was under water. “We had quite a storm last night, but the main ballpark should be OK for playing,” she revealed. We visited a few minutes with her and found out that she and her husband were both retired and living in the Chicago area, but every February and March, Arizona became their home. They both loved baseball and were White Sox diehards so working at spring training was a fun way to earn extra income.
As we proceeded down the muddy pathway, we saw another practice field with workers trying to remove the water. We were just about to retreat back to the car when I spotted two White Sox players coming out of a building and proceeding down a walkway below us, to more practice fields. They looked up and waved. Rick was busy talking to another worker as I zipped by him and proceeded down to a fence by the walkway where several men were lined up with huge notebooks of baseball cards! I could tell this was the place to be! And what did I have for the players to autograph – — my Lotta Sports T-Shirt which only had Michele Vassalotti’s autograph and some Cleveland players.
The men were a pain as they attempted to monopolize the players with numerous cards to sign in each book and I was elbowed into the corner. Polite patience turned out to be my benefit as several players came over to me first instead of the shouting men. I was a kid in a candy store and my T-Shirt quickly loaded up with signatures. One of the last players to come out was no stranger — Joe Kelly, former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher. I almost didn’t recognize him as he wasn’t wearing the dorky glasses he wore when pitching for Boston.
Joe looked towards the line of us. As he signed, more fans infiltrated the area. By now I had people standing against me so there wasn’t room to even move. I left my cramped corner and moved to the other end of the fence. Much to my dismay, he appeared to be ready to leave. I shouted, “Hey Joe Kelly!” and waved. He came over to me. “Oh, there you are!” I laughed and responded, “You are one popular guy!” as he signed the cuff of my shirt. Joe turned out to be the nicest of all the White Sox players or maybe I was just partial to him being a former Red Sox.!
Near the entrance to Camelback Park, there was a pretty lake which separated the White Sox and Dodgers practice fields. Once inside the gates, there was a tree-lined pavilion which served as home to a giant statue of Frank Thomas AKA The Big Hurt, former first baseman for the White Sox in the 90s and early 2000s. Since I had already met several of the White Sox players at the practice field, I headed over to the left field side where some of the Royals were already stretching. The playing surface in the outfield was set down about 12 feet from the stands. It was fun yelling down to the players as they came out of the clubhouse alley. What can I say — baseball brings out the child in me!
By the time the game started at 1:05, the sun was attempting to override the cloud cover. The grassy areas in the outfield were sprinkled with fans on blankets taking in the ballgame. Our seats overlooked the on-deck circle for the White Sox. I was thrilled to see one of my former Red Sox favorites, Andrew Benintendi, batting for Chicago. It was a nice surprise because last year he was with the Yankees so I couldn’t allow myself to like him. Royals Bobby Witt Jr. wasn’t at the game since he was still in Miami at the World Baseball Classic for Team USA. Throughout the game, there were a lot of pitching and player changes as this was the week of determining who would play where. Kansas City edged the White Sox 4 – 3.
It was a doubleheader day for us since there was an evening game at Goodyear Park with the Cincinnati Reds hosting San Diego Padres. We would be seeing the Reds the next night also so I opted for the Padres side while the players stretched. The Padres bused in during peak traffic so they arrived a little later than normal. Because of this, they only had time to warmup instead of mingling with the fans. I spotted two familiar faces doing their pre-game ritual. The first was my hero of several years of fantasy baseball, Nelson Cruz. The other was former Texas Rangers Rougned Odor. I almost didn’t recognize him. He had gone from scraggly hair and beard to clean-shaven with a short haircut. Our seats were on the second row behind home plate. Behind us were several scouts. Vassalotti’s teammate at Team Italy, Brett Sullivan, was catching for the Padres. The game was going quickly with San Diego having several three up, three down innings and the Reds spitting out a run in the first inning and another in the second inning when the Reds did a double steal including Homeplate by Spencer Steer.
We only stayed half the game as we were going on ten hours of baseball and I was running on a tray of French fries at the first game. We swung by the hotel and picked up Michele. We voted for something close so Michele suggested Burros & Fries in the Glendale Entertainment Complex across from the hotels. I had a huge stuffed burrito and I believe it’s the best Mexican fast food I’ve ever had! As we gathered our empty plates up to leave, Rick grabbed his drink cup and slammed it down into my drink cup. There was just one small problem. Mine was still half full of water and it went all over the table and me!! It was time to call it a night!