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Friday, April 27, 2007

This Just In...Hill Looks Like Big Leaguer!

Shawn Hill had a nice game yesterday. Eight-plus innings, 4 hits, 2 BBs 3 Ks and 2 earned, lowering his YTD ERA to 2.76. Makes me wish he was the Nats rookie pitcher I drafted in my NL-Only league (unfortunately, that honor went to Matt Chico). All in all, a very nice performance for young Mr. Hill.

These Nats are going to have their problems all year long-there simply isn't enough talent. But there will be things to watch, as in the development of Hill, Ryan Church finally proving he is a full-time big leaguer, Zimm's fighting the sophomore slump, and finally--and for the long run most important--whether Manny Acta is a big league manager or just talks the part. So far, he's proven to be able to get the players to back him, but he's made a couple of head-scratchers that we'll chalk up to newness, but by the all-star break better be taken care of.

First, Chad Cordero must NEVER be allowed to hit under any circumstances. Wanna bring him into a jam in the 8th inning with the pitcher spot due up in the 9th? Fine, but pinch-hit and let Rauch clean it up. If it's a close game that you're bringing Cordero into, don't throw away the out. Period.

Second, Brain Schneider must be given the day off against lefties. The past three years he's hit .249/.309/.332 against them. That's not just bad, it's Guzmanian. Flores has already shown some patience at the plate, as if he has an idea about what to do with the bat in his hands. Let him play a little. It's not like we're talking about sitting Johnny Bench here. If a Rule V catcher can't play a little bit for this team, where could he?

Here's my last pet peeve for the new manager, for today anyway. No more Bob Fick in the OF. Especially starting Bob Fick in the OF. I can sorta understand why the Nats want Fick around--he's willing to play wherever they put him since he's not good enough to command time in any one place. Quite simply, Fick is the worst type of anonymous "Utility" player in the game. He's a no-power, no-speed, moderate-defense corner outfield/first base/emergency catcher. He's a lifetime .259/.328/.411, and so far this year his Runs Created sits at a whopping 1.35 per game. To put that in perspective, in 2005, Guzman's RC was 2.62 per game.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

All-Star Ballot Available Near You!

So MLB has already started promoting their All-Star ballot, sponsored by Did anyone bother to mention to Bud's minions that we're only 20 games in? Right now, Cody Ross belongs in the mid-summer classic. Something's gotta give on this. Either they go back to having this be a great exhibition game in the middle of the season, or they get serious about how players are selected for the teams. If it's going to determine HOME FIELD FREAKING ADVANTAGE for the World Series, there's gotta be a better way than the system that has made Robert Fick and Mark Redman previous all-stars.

All-Stars Line-ups Based on 20 Games Played:

AL: Cs Pudge Rodriguez and Joe Mauer;
1Bs Ty Wigginton and Jason Giambi;
2Bs Ian Kinsler and Aaron Hill;
3Bs Alex Rodriguez and Mike Lowell;
SSs Carlos Guillen and Juan Uribe;
OFs Vlad Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez, Michael Cuddyer, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter;
Ps Johan Santana, Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Ramon Ortiz, Mark Buehrle, Felix Hernandez, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon and Al Reyes.

NL: Cs Brain McCann and Russell Martin;
1Bs Adrian Gonzales and Prince Fielder,
2Bs Orlando Hudson and Marcus Giles,
3Bs Chipper Jones and Miguel Cabrera;
SSs Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins;
OFs Carlos Beltran, Barry Bonds, Jeff Francouer, Carlos Lee and Eric Byrnes;
Ps Aaron Harang, Braden Looper, John Maine, Brad Penny, Jake Peavy, Randy Wolf, Francisco Cordero, Jose Valverde, Takashi Saito and Bob Wickman.

Ok, so maybe Cody Ross doesn't make the NL squad. But he didn't miss by much. And I'm not sure by these rosters I'm really making my point, but it was kinda fun to compile. I certainly didn't fulfill the requirement of having an All-Star from each team. Left out from the AL were BAL and OAK, from the NL were WAS, CHC, PIT and COL.

Anyway, it's meaningless voting on All-Stars after three weeks of the season. One of my favorite activities after the ballots are released is to compile the "All Injured or Cut" All-Stars. As a reminder, all of the following players are ON THE ALL-STAR BALLOT, currently available at

AL: C Greg Zaun, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Howie Kendrick, 3B Chone Figgins, SS Bobby Crosby (a stretch), OFs Reed Johnson, Rondell White and Scott Podsednik

NL: C Jason Bard, 1B Nick Johnson (NICK JOHNSON IS ON THE FREAKING BALLOT), 2B Kazuo Matsui, 3B Craig Counsel, SS Cristian Guzman (are you kidding me?!?), OFs Alajandro De Aza (who?), Nook Logan (wha?), and Jeremy Hermida (huh?)

As you can see, these ballots need a little more time in the cooker until they're done. There's no way a legitimate discussion of All-Star ballots can be conducted if Nick Johnson, who may never play again, Cristian Guzman and Nook Logan are on them.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

My fantasy team sucks

This is the first of what might be too many posts about my fantasy teams. I play in three money leagues and three free leagues. Two of the money leagues are the AL-only and NL-only versions of the Chesapeake Bay League. I've been playing in the AL-CBL since 1989 and the this is the inaugural season for the NL-CBL.

I won the AL-CBL last year for the very first time. I've had a couple of close calls but not until last year did it all come together. I'm fairly confident that I will be competitive again this year, but the NL-CBL I'm just not so sure about. I kind of have a "stars and scrubs" thing going, having spent much of my budget on four players: Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez and Brandon Webb are the first three. It's the last of the four that's the problem.

See, I'm one of the unfortunates that drafted Brett Myers. Well, not drafted him. The CBLs are auction leagues. So I spent $22 on Mr. Myers, which by the way I was pretty darn happy about. His opening day start was perfectly acceptable. Even his two bad starts were mostly bad luck. He's struck out 20 in 16.1 innings so he's still got his good stuff. He's the ace of the Phillies staff. Except now Charlie Manuel, in all his baseball wisdom, decides since the Phils' pen is so bad (overall 4.00 era, so it's not really all that bad) he's gotta move Myers to the pen and put Jon Leiber back in the starting row. Don't get me wrong, Leiber is a serviceable starter, but he's not even close to Myers skill level. But not only is Myers in the pen, but he's going to be a 6th-7th inning guy, not even the set-up. Simply incredible. This is the biggest head-scratcher out of an MLB manager I've seen in a long time.

What does this mean for fantasy? A couple of things. First, don't waive Myers. He'll have some value while he dominates in the 6th and 7th innings, and he won't stay in the pen for ever. Moyer is 80, Garcia just got off the DL, and Hamels is like a Waterford Goblet, ready to crack at the mere hint of damage. Second, go pick up Leiber if you need a starter. Now that he's starting he'll have some decent value.

It's just tough to take when you think you're getting one thing and the MLB team goes in a radically different direction.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Win Under the Sunshine in Florida...uh, wait a minute

The O's just completed a 6-4 victory over the young but still hapless D-Rays. Bedard got touched for 4 earned in 5.2, but the New and Improved (c) bullpen shut em down the rest of the way. Bradford got one out, followed by John Parrish, Danys Baez and Chris Ray.

Parrish is a particularly excellent story thus far. Left for dead after elbow reconstruction, he's come all the way back and throwing harder now that before the injury. And he has really seemed to harness both the control he lacked earlier in his career and the maturity on the mound needed to succeed at this level. Parrish has always been a hyper guy on the mound, bouncing around and fidgeting between pitches. He's still a bit manic, but seems to have found a way to "slow the game down" enough to throw strikes. His K/BB rate is 14/2 at this point, in 8.2 innings, which by anyone's measurements is getting it done.

And nice to see Jon Knott get called up and immediately produce. He homered in the loss the other night, and had two hits and a ribbie today. He went .280/.353/.572 last year in Portland with 32 homers and 113 rbis. With the O's lack of production against lefties, they gotta find a way to keep him on the team.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

In Search of the Elusive W

After nine games, the Nats have scored 21 runs and allowed 61. By the averages, they are not only the lowest scoring team in the majors, but also have allowed the most runs per game. This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. I'm not breaking new ground here, but could this team actually challenge the ignominious title of "Worst Ever"? Yea, verily. All winter long we heard about how the Nats were upgrading the pitching by getting rid of the dreck they had last year. The reasoning espoused by many was that it couldn't be worse. So far, so wrong.

There's a statistic used in fantasy called VORP, Value Over Replacement Player. Basically, it provides a player's worth above the run-of-the-mill player that would be available if the Big Leagues had a free agent pool like fantasy leagues generally do. Well, guess what? The Nats starters last year were below replacement value. That means they could have signed any free agent off the street and they would perform at least as poorly as those that were already here. That combination left the team with a 71-91 record, good for last place in the NL East and 6th worst in MLB.

Well I'm here to tell you, after nine games it looks like the brain-trust was incorrect, that they could go out and get anybody and they would be better than what they had. John Patterson is a shell of his former self. Control of his fastball is almost non-existent, his velocity is down, and his confidence is going down with it. Jerome Williams is what he is, which is a moderately talented thrower who never learned how to pitch and was overhyped by his first team to the detriment of his development. Shawn Hill and Matt Chico grade out to 4th-5th starters in the bigs and are learning as they go. Ask Mike Maroth circa 2003 or Zach Grienke circa 2005 how that usually works out. The rest, unfortunately, aren't even really worth debate. The truth of the matter is that NONE of these guys would be on any other big league roster, including Kansas City, except this one.

If you believe in "The Plan", you expected to suffer this year with the promise that in a few years things would be better and the team would be competitive. Time will tell on that. Mr. Kasten's track record speaks for itself, but then again, so does Mr. Bowden's. What they didn't tell you is just how bad this team really will be this year, and realistically, for the next 3-5. Cause it will take that long to draft and develop enough talent to be major league ready. MLB's amateur draft is the freakiest of all player entry drafts, the most volatile and unsettled. There's really NO WAY to decide who will be a good major league player until they get there.

History is filled with 1st round draft busts and 62nd round Hall of Famers. So the lesson there is that it will take several-to-many drafts to unearth enough talent to have a core to build on. By that time, Patterson's arm will surely have finally fallen off, Zimmerman will have reached free agency, and all the one-year free agents signed this year, and for that matter, the next several, will be history, mere footnotes in the chapters of the biography of the Washington Nationals.

Basically, what I am preaching here is this: Love Baseball for what it is. Not for the promise of a contender, because that is well down the road, if ever. It's taking your kid to the park for the first time, and hopefully many times after that. It's the green of the grass and reddish brown of the infield dirt. It's fooling a hitter with a called strike three. It's a 60 year old manager in stretchy pants getting the boot for arguing with the ump. And it's the crack of hardened ash connecting with a 90 MPH fastball.

So don't get wrapped up in how bad the team is for now, because in the grand scheme, that why there wasn't a team here for 30 years.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I Swear...

I did not read Roch Kubatko's blog on the O's before writing that first piece about Wright/Penn. Seems Hayden Penn was scratched from his start last night due to "stiffness in his forearm", which literally translates into "elbow surgery" at some point. Just ask Nats "ace" John Patterson.


Big surprise Jaret Wright's shoulder is ailing him. I feel for him on a human level, I certainly don't like to see people getting hurt. But it's these kind of signings by the Orioles that have kept them near the basement of the American League for the last nine seasons.

Wright has missed part or all of 3 of the last 5 seasons due to injury of his right shoulder. It certainly didn't take a genius (or even a mediocre GM) to forecast more shoulder problems for Wright. Considering how badly Wright stunk it up in Spring Training and in his first start, the first few innings of last night's game were a revelation--maybe the O's could get something useful out of the former Brave and Spankee. But what they actually got was more reliable than a Jorge Julio blown save--more arm trouble for the vet.

The O's should consider themselves fortunate that it happened this early. This allows them to call up Hayden Penn and allow him to learn how to get big league hitters out. Penn has all the talent in the world, and his minor league numbers translate into being a very effective big league pitcher, at least a number three type starter. He has nothing left to learn in AAA, still the O's insisted he start the season in Norfolk, every pitch thrown another one wasted in what could be a good major league career.

There are those in fantasy baseball that say, "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect (TINSTAAPP)". And while that oversimplifies the subject quite a bit, the gist of it is that by the time a pitcher develops enough to be considered a prospect, he should pitching in the bigs learning how to get major leaguers out, not still in the minors reinforcing the fact he can get minor league hitters out, and wasting precious pitches in his right or left arm. Unless your name is Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens, every pitcher has arm problems at some point, and every single pitch is one pitch closer that particular pitcher is to the end of his career. Whether that pitch is thrown in high school, rookie-level, a bullpen session, or in game 7 of the World Series is immaterial.

Jaret Wright might have thrown that pitch last night, and Hayden Penn should be on the mound for the O's in four days to start getting the benefit of his limited number of pitches, whatever that number may turn out to be.

Monday, April 9, 2007

O's Home O-pener

Just got back from the O's home opener. Cabrera looked really good, mixing in a good hard curve with fastballs of 92-97 mph, depending on the situation. If he can control two different fastballs, to go with the slider and hard curve, he'll be tough any day he pitches. He didn't walk anyone, and the only really hard hit ball was Granderson's triple in the 8th.

Crazy Sammy left him out for the eighth, and a total of 122 pitches, and after the game basically said, "Daniel's a horse, he can handle it." I'm not sure you want to set a precedent in a guy's second start, but it show confidence in the guy to out there and win the game for you.

The O's still really aren't hitting all that much, but if they bunch it up like they did today, you can get the W just the same.

And call the fire department, Kevin Millar is on fire! First with the Ray-Ray dance on his intro, then he clubs another first-pitch homer. I guess he hopes Jay Payton spends another couple weeks in Sarasota rehabbing that hammy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


How bout that? Down 6-4 in the bottom of the 9th, they scratch out 3 runs against the Marlins soon to be former closer Jorge Julio and win their first of the year, 7-6. Ryan Church had a 3-run shot, and Casto, Schneider, Fick and Da Meat Hook all had ribbies, Young's providing the clincher. Matt Chico, making his first start, gave up three dingers and 8 hits in just four innings, but didn't walk anyone and struck out three. The bullpen kept the Marlins at bay, giving up only two hits and a walk over five innings. Ray King again looked less than his best today, maybe he's just getting used to the mound?

Another bad hop in the game, this time spoiling a grounder to Florida SS Hanley Ramirez in the 9th inning. This infield is bouncier than--nope, not gonna do it. Suffice to say that with all the bad hops in this infield, no one will be winning a gold glove until the Nats move.

Is that all there is?

It seems to me this summer is going to be interesting in comparing and contrasting the two local ballclubs. On the surface, the O's seem like they have more in the way of actual talent, but those in charge have very little idea how to utilize it. For instance, take the current configuration of their bench. They decided to bring 13 pitchers north, which leaves three bench spots. Back-up C Paul Bako is one, Utility Infielder Chris Gomez is two, and Freddie Bynum is three.

Since Ramon Hernandez tweaked his side in BP Sunday, he's unavailable for the week. The O's won't DL him, so they needed another catcher, and called up the ubiquitous Alberto Castillo, the very definition of a 4-A player, and sent out Brain Burress, the third lefty pen guy. Burress has some talent, but why did they think three lefties were necessary? Regardless, he's on the train to Norfolk now anyway.

So, in back-to-back games against the Twins, the O's need a pinch-hitter in the 9th inning against Joe Nathan, and they summon Bynum. Understand, I like Freddie Bynum. He can play just about anywhere, is fast, and not attitudinal. But he's not particularly skilled with the bat. So when pinch-hitting for .215 hitting catchers in the 9th against one of baseball's best closers, the O's must rely on a career .220 hitter. Wither Jon Knott?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Opening Day with the Nats

Cheryl and I went to opening day with the Nats yesterday. I gotta tell ya, things just aren't any better at RFK at all. We heard all sorts of complaints and problems with traffic and food. There was a pathetic showing of walking vendors, and those that were about only had beer. We sat in a 200-level section and didn't see a single soda/water vendor all day. When I went up for a hot dog in the 4th inning, the first stand I went to was out of buns! The second stand I went to the hot dogs weren't done cooking! Cheryl went to a stand that boasted of "Garden Salad $6" and "Fruit Salad $5.50". When she asked the cashier if she could see one of the salads, the cashier looked at her like she had three heads. The manager of the stand said he didn't know about the salads either.

With 17,000 season ticket holders and yesterday's attendance at 40,000, we're looking at 23,000 "casual fans" that came to opening day. If they had anywhere near the experience I did, the Nats can expect them to stay away until the new ballpark opens up. There's just not much fun to be had at RFK, and that's even before we get to the team on the field. They can have all the Big-Head Presidents they want, but if you can't get a hot dog in the 4th inning, casual fans aren't coming back.

A Not-So-Quick Recap (Part 2)

Sunday, March 25: We woke early again as we needed to drive north sixty-one miles to Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium, the crown jewel of the Grapefruit League and home of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins. We saw the O’s tangle with the Cards. That place is awesome and the food is great. Try the brisket sandwich, you know I did. Our tickets were in the second section above first base, otherwise good seats but of course when the gates opened at 11:00 am we moved down along the third baseline to get close to the field. The dugouts at Roger Dean are set back a bit from the playing field and the first two rows actually look into the dugout the entire game. Cheryl and I took our position to gather more photos and autographs and we chatted up a woman sitting in the first seat next to the O’s dugout. We quickly found out that she owned spring training season tickets for the Cards and Marlins and that those were indeed her seats. We shared with her our trip to this point and showed off Cheryl’s photos. To our surprise, she asked us if we would like to have her seats! She had a pair of seats in the next section over in the first row as well and her friends weren’t going to make it that day, so she gave us the tickets for the seat she was sitting in and at game time she slid over to the next section. Has that ever happened to you at Camden Yards? I managed to get Sam Perlozzo to sign a ball and I gave it to the nice lady as a thank-you.

Cheryl was in heaven for the rest of the day, snaping candids of the players in the dugou
t and interacting with the players as they trotted on and off the field between innings. We made friends with our usher, Al. Al’s got the greatest job in the world: dugout usher at spring training. Cheryl was wearing her Corey Patterson t-shirt, and she got some love from him when he saw the shirt, and she even captured the game winning run (left), showing without a doubt that Terry Tiffee was indeed safe under the tag of catcher Gary Bennett.

Sunday we took 216 pictures, had four pictures and six baseballs signed.

Monday, March 26: This was scheduled to be our “off” day. We could have played golf, or went to the beach, or driven down to Key Largo; you know, actually enjoy Florida. We scrapped that idea and decided to drive 140 miles to Ft. Myers to see the O’s face the Minnesota Twins. To get to Ft. Myers, you have to cross “Alligator Alley”, Route 75 right through the Big Cypress Nature Preserve and Indian Reservation. Do you know why they call it “Alligator Alley?”
Cheryl took this as we were driving 80 miles an hour and praying for no flat tires.

When we checked out the starting line-ups upon reaching Bill Hammond Stadium, we were delighted find out Sir Sidney Ponson was starting for the Twins. Sid was one of our buddies at spring trainings past. He always had time for us and always gave us a wave and a smile when he couldn’t get over to sign. We are fully aware of his problems and the comments he made earlier this spring about Baltimore fans being “idiots”, but he was only referring to the idiots when he said that. We were a little bummed that since he was pitching we wouldn’t get a chance to talk to him, but we will always wish him well, and he pitched dretty darn well that day.

So did the O’s starter, Adam Loewen. I have to admit, I’m partial to Loewen, since he’s on my “keeper” fantasy team in the Chesapeake Bay League, an auction style rotisserie league I’ve been in since 1989. But man, he looked AWESOME. The first batter he faced was Luis Castillo, a very credible major league lead-off hitter. The first two pitches were hard fastballs, and Castillo was waaaay behind. The third pitch was a nasty curveball so devastating the folks in the grandstand let out an audible sigh when Castillo’s knees buckled and watched it drop in for strike three.
The Red Sox train in Ft. Myers too and we realized that they were playing up the road in Sarasota against the Reds. Figuring they needed a certain amount of time to get back from Sarasota we made our way over to City of Palms Park, took a lap around the complex and parked near the entrance of the player’s lot. We saw the players who drove themselves to the game come and go. We were lucky to see Diasuke Matsuzaka, who pitched that day, and shortstop Julio Lugo, neither of whom stopped for us and the three other people gathered at the gate. However, we were extremely fortunate to get the one Red Sox we wanted to stop…Jason Varitek. Cheryl had a great picture of Nick Markakis taking a swing from a game we attended last April and Varitek was the catcher in the photo. We got Markakis to sign the photo earlier in the trip, and when we saw Varitek, Cheryl scrambled to find it in her bag. She held the photo out as he was leaving the lot and he indeed did stop and sign it, along with a ball for each of us waiting. As they say in Boston, good times.

On Monday, we took 186 pictures, had one picture and six baseballs signed.

Tuesday, March 27: This was our single game at Ft. Lauderdale Stadium. Our day started with a 7:30 am wake-up call for a 1:05 pm baseball game. We showered, dressed, grabbed food on the way to the park, ate it in the car, and was in the stadium lot at 10:40 am in anticipation of the gates opening at 11:00 am. The fine ushers at the gate checked our bags, of which there were four. Cheryl had her camera bag, which holds three cameras, two digital and one film, and three lenses. She also carries a custom-made tote bag her mother made her, which holds all of her printed and ready-to-sign photos, plus picture sleeves for the signed ones, our two spring training guidebooks, sharpies and other pens, and other assorted necessities. I carry two bags for baseballs, one for unsigned balls and one to safeguard the signed balls. We took our usual spot down near the dugout and were able to get a few things signed, but the special part was Corey Patterson seeing Cheryl and coming over to her first to sign her picture. “I was the one at Jupiter wearing your t-shirt the other day,” she told him. “I know,” he said, “That’s why I came over here.” I don’t need to tell you how that made her day.

We left a bit early to get in good position at the player’s lot and we were the first ones there. As soon as the game finished we were quickly joined by about two dozen others, mostly parents with their children, but a couple of other adults and what appeared to be a couple of memorabilia dealers. Brian Roberts stopped on his way out and signed for everyone like he always does and no one even realized Kevin Millar was in the passenger seat except for us. Poor Kevin. Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora both stopped and signed as well. Leaving much later were Jon Knott and Mike Cervenak, both real good minor league players trying to make a name for themselves in spring training. We found out the reason they were leaving so late was that they had been reassigned to the minor league camp after the game. Being professionals, they were still nice enough to stop and sign for those of us that were left. Most had no idea who they were and all were completely unaware that they were just cut from the team. This is also what Spring Training is about, young men fighting for their job. We as fans must not forget about that when we are sticking a Sharpie in a guy’s face.

Tuesday we took 99 pictures, had ten pictures and four baseballs signed.

After all the players had cleared, we jumped back into the Chrysler 300 and headed for the airport. We’d been in Florida for six days and saw plenty of good things. We met a bunch of ball players, coaches, stadium workers and fellow fans. We took pictures, gathered autographs, collected other memorabilia and soaked in lots and lots of baseball. And as we boarded the plane, sunburned and exhausted, we both knew the memories of this trip will last a lifetime, or at least until Monday when Opening Day arrives.

A Not-So-Quick Recap (Part 1)

For all those who couldn’t make it to spring training this year, I would like to provide a blow-by-blow account of our six day, six game, five stadium tour of the Grapefruit League. My wife, Cheryl, and I have a partial season ticket plan for both the O’s and the Nats so we see a lot of baseball every year. We plan these trips so we can catch games with both teams, and since we have attended spring training for five years running now and are well familiar with the charms of Fort Lauderdale Stadium, spring home of the Baltimore Orioles, and Space Coast (Space Ghost) Stadium, spring home of the Washington Nationals, we enjoy traveling up and down the east coast of Florida to see other facilities, and this year we even made it over to the gulf coast! Since both teams are among the bottom feeders in each league, it’s not especially hard to get tickets.

Wednesday, March 21: We arrived in Florida under the cover of darkness, flying into Ft. Lauderdale International Airport. After a mix-up with the rental car agency (the names have been hidden to protect the guilty), we settled into our Chrysler 300, which would be our home away from home for the next six days. It was supposed to be a Ford Mustang convertible, but since we arrived so late they were all out. Didn’t Seinfeld do a routine about reservations? Anyway, it was 1:30 am by the time we got to our hotel. We stayed at a place close to the airport for the night since we had our first road trip in the morning, 129 miles to Vero Beach, our first stop of the trip.

Thursday, March 22: Our wake-up call was 7:00 am, a half hour earlier than we get up for work most days. With a two hour road trip ahead of us, we got an early start. The ballpark opens two hours before the game, and you will soon realize Cheryl and I utilize every available minute possible at the park. We finally pulled into “Dodgertown”, the spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the past sixty years! Holman Stadium, in use since 1954, is unique in that there are no dugouts for the players. They sit on metal bleachers and bake under the sun just like the rest of us! It makes a great place for taking pictures of your favorite players, and it is here that my wife starts on the almost one thousand photos she’ll take on the trip. Our “thing” is to get Cheryl’s photos signed by the players, and we then display them in our rec room. We don’t sell anything. We had never traded anything, until this trip, and I’ll explain that later. But at Dodgertown we took 163 pictures, had three pictures and six baseballs signed in total, but the last one was the best.

Former Oriole Larry Bigbie is trying to make the Dodgers as a reserve outfielder. We were lucky in that he played and was in at the end of the game, since once the starters leave a spring training game they shower up and go home. At the end of the game, we worked our way down into the right field corner of the stadium, where the players must go to leave the field and head to the locker room. The
section was full of elementary schoolers on a field trip. All I got for a field trip in elementary school was the planetarium or public library! They were all screaming “HEY YOU!” or “CAN YOU SIGN?” to any ballplayer, coach, groundskeeper or trainer that would walk by. When Bigbie approached, Cheryl held up a very nice close-up photo of him she took a couple years ago when he was with the O’s. He saw the picture and came over to sign it, and he said that he remembered us and our two friends we were with the season the photo was taken. He wished us a good time this spring and proceeded to sign for every single little kid that held their ticket stub out. He must have been there for half an hour.

Two Dodger Dogs, one sunburn and a Tommy Lasorda sighting down, we were back in the car for the 69 mile trip north to Cocoa Beach.

Friday, March 23: We got to sleep in since Space Coast Stadium was only six miles from our motel. We got up at 9:00 am, grabbed some breakfast, and headed to the park for the first of two games with the Nats against last year’s World Series teams, the Detroit Tigers today and St. Louis Cardinals Saturday. The gates opened at 11:30 am, so we missed the Nats batting practice, but Space Ghost has a great autograph rail on the far end of either dugout, so we bee-lined down to the Nats side. We chatted up the other autograph hounds there, sharing war stories and showing off our bounty. The Nats starters returned to the field about fifteen minutes before the start of the game to stretch and prepare for the game. Dmitri Young, new to the team this year was among the starters, and he was the one guy I really wanted to sign for me.

You see, on top of other on--and off--the field problems last year for Young, he was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes last fall, actually being hospitalized for a time. When I was diagnosed three-plus years ago, my blood sugar number was “only” three and a half times higher than normal, which in all seriousness is very high. Young’s number was eight and a half times too high! He could have gone into a diabetic coma at any time. I wanted to express my support and let him know that if he controlled his diet and followed his doctor’s other or
ders he could deal, live and hopefully thrive despite the diabetes. We were lucky enough to get his attention after he was done stretching and he came over to sign for the group along the rail. When he got to me, I did tell him the things I wanted to and we had a very nice two minute conversation, which doesn’t really happen too often five minutes before the ballgame. He signed a ball and then posed with me while Cheryl snapped a very nice photo of the two of us. He’s the one on the left.

After the game we left the stadium and went around back to the walkway between the clubhouse and the players lot. All the players have to go by here and most stop and sign on their way out. Robert Fick, a back-up catcher-first baseman was signing for a group of kids and one wanted a bat. Fick told the kid if he came to the game the next day he’d get his bat. It was a very good day for getting baseball signed after the game as almost all the players stopped. We took 195 pictures, had two pictures and thirteen baseballs signed for the day.

Saturday, March 24: Game Two at Space Ghost and the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals are in town. The atmosphere had a little more drama than usual due to the arrest of Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa the day before for driving under the influence. Also, Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight, a long-time friend of LaRussa’s, was there for the game as well, wandering around the batting cage during pre-game. I guess membership has its privileges. Once again we ventured to the back walkway after the game to see what autographs we could muster. Well, the kid that was bargaining for Robert Fick’s bat the previous day was indeed there, and Fick came through for him. He was proudly showing off the personalized game-used (including pine tar) Louisville slugger. There aren’t too many better souvenirs than that, but apparently for this kid there was one better. It happened to be the glossy 8x10 photo Cheryl took of Nats centerfielder Nook Logan the day before and printed out to get signed. Truthfully, it was a great photo, but this kid went bananas when he saw it. “I GOTTA HAVE IT!” he screamed over and over, “NOOK IS MY FAVORITE!!!.” This ten-year-old kid actually offered my wife cash for an unsigned photo of a career .270 hitter with a grand total of two home runs. Then one of his buddies suggested to him to trade the Fick bat for the photos, and he thought it was a GREAT idea! Cheryl didn’t want to, as she treats these photos like she would a child, but after five minutes of all this she made the trade. We were afraid for the kid’s sanity.

Saturday’s tally was 139 photos taken, two photos and six baseballs signed. And one personalized Robert Fick bat.

After the game, we load our booty (and booties) into the Chrysler 300 and headed back the 170 miles to Ft. Lauderdale.