Sunday, March 26, 2006

Spring Training 2006: The Case of the Missing BBQ

Friday night, the game was at night at Phoenix Municipal. I got to the parking lot at 4:45 pm, 15 minutes before the gates to the park opened. I bought a new spring training hat in the shop (open from the outside). When the gates opened, I moseyed over to the BBQ, held in a fenced-off grassy area over by left field.

The folks at the BBQ were very friendly. We kind of had to be, as we all had to share the limited number of tables. As soon as others joined me, the gentleman with the old A’s cap in front of me immediately started in, telling me about the site where the Oakland Coliseum is today. “I worked for EBMUD back then. EBMUD sold that spot to the Oakland A’s back in 1966.” I don’t remember much about what he told me; there was so much noise around with the Boosters talking and the music from the live band next door, it was hard to hear. Something about the Coliseum’s lower levels being below 22 feet sea level.

The woman next to me – I’m guessing she was close to 80, as her husband will celebrate that mark in a year – told me she keeps score for every A’s game, even the away games. “I do it over the radio,” she said proudly. “Whenever my family wants to give me gifts, I tell them to give me score cards. You know, it takes 7 books to get through an entire year.”

When our table got up to go through the BBQ line, we were disappointed. They were out of beans. They were out of potato chips, mustard, catsup -- well, most things except for hot dogs and hamburgers. The seniors were starting to get angry (as angry as they get, murmurring in the crowd). The server when I was up there was murmurring, too -- about how much seniors eat. "The beans are all gone," he said, shaking his head and talking to nobody in particular. "These people -- they eat too many beans." Candi worked with the caterer, who promised to come up with more food in a hurry (but not beans, because, as we know, "the beans are all gone"). Finally the A's coordinator came up to talk with her. He explained to her that they hadn't expected to run out of food only halfway through the line. "Hey, these people can eat!" she told me later that she explained it all to him. "Have you ever seen my mother at a banquet? She brings her own doggie bag." She said she didn't want to piss off these people and lose the Boosters' $18 tickets and all the other perks they give us, so she tread lightly. The servers finally brought over all the brownies and grapes from the A's pre-game meal, but by then almost all of us had gone to the game. (The food was available from the A's because the players had to go to the game, too!)

I must admit that I left every game early, either because I was too hot, too tired, or I had to go to the airport (twice). Every time it looked like I was leaving, the people around me would frown and question me. While spring training urges a laidback attitude, apparently that doesn’t apply to attending the games. I would arrive two hours early before every game to be assured of parking and observe the players on the field as they loosened up, but I didn’t get any points for that among this tough crowd.

On this particular night (Friday), pitcher Barry Zito, the ace of the A's squad, did not look sharp. He gave up hit after hit. While it's hard to tell if Barry was working on something, it's tough not to be worried that Uncle Charlie (his nasty curveball) is suddenly hittable.

On Saturday morning, after my friend Val flew in to join me in one game for Spring Training, we drove to Hohokam for the A's vs. the Cubs. Hohokam Park is in Mesa, Arizona, a good 10 miles southeast of Phoenix. I’m sure there’s lots to see in Mesa, but when you’re standing in the stadium there, there doesn’t seem to be anything surrounding the place for miles. Just brownish-red mesas and blue skies. The park itself is 9 years old, has a little underground passageway behind the grandstand, a cool place to shop for souvenirs. And almost all the souvenirs were Cubs-related. LOTS of Cubbie fans strolling around. And you’d never know this was a spring training game, a game where not much mattered. The Cubs fans were out in their colors, and cheering on their team. The Cubs ended up winning this game, 1 – 0, in a pitching duel.

Rich Harden of the Oakland A’s looked particularly sharp, giving way in the fifth inning for Jay Witasick. Rich’s pitches were rarely even hit; very few balls had to be fielded. The A’s hitters couldn’t do much against the Cubs pitcher, flailing away at breaking ball pitches or trying to catch up to a steaming fastball.

I did get my first glimpse of Milton Bradley. Milton took his whacks, but ended up walking most of the time. That showed me that he wasn’t above the A’s philosophy, and as long as he could get on base, even in spring training when he’s working on his swing, he’d be satisfied. Marco Scutaro put in his first appearance since his injury (in the four days I have been in Phoenix), and looked fine. Bobby Kielty appears to be over his injury as well, and, although he didn’t get any hits, he did flag down a few tough fly balls.

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