Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spring Training, Day 2: The Wearin’ of the Green

We immediately agreed upon seeing each other the next morning that we were both having fun and just as eager for this second day of spring training to begin.

At the Embassy Suites breakfast that morning, a buffet affair that is really pretty marvelous, we saw Candi. Candi arranged this whole outing for the Oakland A’s boosters, something that arose several years ago simply because her husband refused to do spring training unless it was cheaper. I was amazed to hear that 142 boosters had come to Arizona under her plan! Candi is a high-energy woman of 60, large in life in personality and body, with glorious white hair in a pixie cut. “The hair is just beginning to come in. It used to be blonde,” she said, almost wistfully. “I just ended my year of chemo. My next operation is the day after we get home from Phoenix.” When we said how sorry we were to hear that, she added quickly, “Oh, well, putting this trip together was wonderful therapy. I’d sit at my computer in my underwear at night when I couldn’t sleep or eat, and pound out the details of the trip. It kept my mind off my body.”

The boosters were quite upset when the Oakland A’s decided to abandon the Embassy Suites for the Marriott. The Embassy Suites gives a free breakfast, a suite containing two rooms and two T.V. sets, and free happy hour (for 2 hours) plus snacks. It was hard to beat. So, the boosters just let Candi do her thing in putting the package together and went with her rather than the official Oakland A’s program.

We weren’t exactly celebrity hunting at spring training, but one fan in our section pointed out Peter Gammons, the sportswriter and columnist, sitting in the press box just above our section. He was obviously by himself, working hard on his laptop. I was wondering what he was doing at a spring training A’s game. Which player caught his interest? I looked up at the press box in the 7th inning, and he was gone.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and apparently it’s a celebrated day in baseball. There are actually St. Patrick’s Day hats issued by the teams. I had a fun time trying to spot the different ones, all green with the team moniker on the front and maybe a shamrock on the back. But the surprise for me was that the Cubs had green hats on when they played! The A’s, of course, already wear green hats, so no change for them. When I mentioned to Rick that I had never seen this nod to the Irish before, he said, laughing, “Well, you’ve never been to spring training before.” That’s right – St. Patrick’s Day would only occur during spring training.

Everyone at Phoenix Municipal Stadium today seemed to be in a festive mood. It was a little warm at game time, but the sun disappeared behind the clouds in a couple of innings, and the game went on during coolish weather, still in the high 60’s. The stadium seemed bursting, and they were mostly Cubbie fans.

We actually witnessed a real game this time. We were impressed that the A’s were able to get 2 runs off Greg Maddux in the 3rd, but disheartened that the Cubbies scored 5 runs against Rich Harden, one of the stalwart starters for the A’s. The Cubs won the game, 6-4. I was thrilled to see that we would watch Keiichi Yabu, a Japanese player that the A’s picked up during the break. The reliever told us at Fanfest that “I am not afraid to pitch inside.” However, he was hit a bit during the two innings we watched him today. Closer Dotel came into the game in 9th, and shut them down, but the A’s players, who were mostly invitees at this point, could not make up the two-run deficit. Still, seeing new guys Bobby Smith and Jermaine Clark, two minor leaguers who have been running around in the league for a good nine years apiece, was worth the price of admission. And rookie Bocachica made a spectacular catch in the outfield.

There were frequent conversations in the section today about the A’s players, which ones should stay, who should be sent down to AAA. The woman in front of us, Norma, was probably in her 70’s with a hairdo that reached for the sky and never moved. I figured she would never place a cap on that hair. Her opinion was that Byrnes should stay, because she liked him, and that we should definitely keep Marco Scutaro, one of the three vying for the 2nd base position, because he was the best looking guy on the team. Rick really stirred things up, though, when he mentioned that Eric Byrnes was on the chopping block, that he’s being shown in spring training as trade bait. The fans in Section K were really angry about this, and fought to keep him. However, Rick’s argument was that we have three established players in the outfield; in fact, the A’s brought up right fielder Nick Swisher from Triple A at the end of the season in 2004, and transferred in outfielder Charles Thomas from the Braves. Norma thought that Nick was lame and should be sent down….maybe even to Double A. She would be a cruel but swift manager, and didn’t see the need to wait and see what each player could do.

But in fact, we’re all managers. The average age of the Boosters is probably 65+, and they’re all opinionated about each player’s abilities and place in the A’s organization. We’re all experts, and we take these things personally. We get personally involved in these players’ careers. We may not know all the information revealed in Billy Beane’s office, but we act as if we have all the facts when we have an opinion about his moves. Hey, we can read stat sheets, too.

We attended the buffet dinner in the Embassy Suites Courtyard, put on by Candi and her committee, after the game. We found the table with our names, and helped ourselves to the free drinks which are served in the Embassy Suites bar every night between 5:30 and 7 pm.

During dinner we all talked about the players we had seen. Ken, the A’s Booster Club President, sat at our table and had tons of opinions about the players. Ken, in his longish graying hair and prominent mustache, used to be in law enforcement, a cop in Washington State, for over a decade when, as he put it, “I just burned out.” He is now a biker, and proudly showed us his business card which featured a picture of him on his Harley.

After dinner, they had a raffle of at least 30 items, and Rick won an A’s watch while I won a Mark Ellis-signed baseball cap. By the time we got back to the room at 9 pm, I was exhausted.

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