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Second Voluntary Workout for Pitchers and Catchers, February 17

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I. Colder Than A Witch's Teat

What they were saying was the most severe cold front in three years rolled in over South Florida on Friday, and it intensified overnight. I was kind of prepared for the cold, and was wearing my Astros turtleneck--the one with the old logo-- under my Crawfish Boxes T-shirt. But still, as I stepped out the door into the predawn South Florida air, it was freaking cold.

An hour up the road, as the sun came up, I could begin to see the condensation rising from the drainage canals on the side of the highway as an eerie kind of mist, and it looked like the Scottish moors or something to me. I began to imagine that I saw patches of frost on the embankments, and finally, I couldn't resist: I had to stop at a rest stop to check it out. I pulled over quickly and grabbed a few pieces of clover from the ground, and sure enough, they were covered with tiny ice crystals. I don't believe you get that at temperatures over 40 degrees.

When I got into Kissimmee at 8:00 AM, I stopped to see about a room next weekend, and in the hotel's lobby, there was a news broadcast going that told us the temperature in downtown Orlando, maybe twenty miles away, was 35 degrees. And the sun had been up for an hour and a half. It must have been into the 20's overnight in Central Florida.

If you're reading this up north, you probably don't think this is a big deal, but for us Floridians, it is strange in the extreme.

And the citrus growers are freaking, believe it.

II. My iPod & 190 miles of Florida Turnpike: A Very Good Match

Ten Greatest Hits of the drive up:

  1. "Here Comes A Regular" by the Replacements - Sometimes this seems sappy, sometimes it seems heartwrenching. Sounded good, yesterday.
  2. "Fake Tales of San Francisco" by the Arctic Monkeys - Snotty brats, they're great.
  3. "Smack My Bitch Up" by Prodigy - I was so relieved to find out this wasn't about domestic violence, but was rather about shooting up. Can't tell you what a relief that was.
  4. "Pain/Sick People" by die kreuzen - Able to amp up even an old fart like myself
  5. "Plight (The Spiraling of Winter Ghosts)" by David Sylvian and Holger Czukay - Twenty minutes of ambience, and yeah, good cold weather music, too
  6. "Rocks Off" by Pussy Galore- I'll give the Stones their props anyday, but this version--which has all the fidelity of a $9.95 tape recorder--dusts the Stones' original easily.
  7. "Charm (Over Burundi Cloud) by Brian Eno and Jon Hassell More obscure ambient stuff. I've learned that this is a lot more Hassell than Eno.
  8. "More Human Than Human" by Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine - They should give this guy a McArthur Grant, 'cause what he does is fucking genius
  9. "Helpless" by Metallica - Heard the Diamond Head original, too, but, of course, this is the version to have
10. "The Sheltering Sky" by King Crimson - I guess it'd be ambient if it weren't so noodly.

III. Postponed

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After taking pictures of the sign at the entrance to Osceola County Stadium, and more than a couple snapshots of the stadium's facade, I talked to a couple gentlemen at the front gate, and they told me that because of the cold weather, the workouts had been postponed. Alyson Footer had written that workouts usually started at 9:00, but today they would be pushed back to 10:00 or 10:30 because of the cold.

To kill some time, I drove over to Old Downtown, and along the lakefront. I'd eaten two packaged cinnamon buns on the drive up, and wasn't all that hungry, but in the interests of killing further time, I pulled into an IHOP, and ate breakfast anyway. Lucky I had my copy of Deadball Stars of the American League with me. The scrambled eggs were runny, and the English Muffin was drenched in crappy margarine, but I learned some stuff about Chick Gandil and Napoleon Lajoie.

IV. Back to OCS

I had taken the step of applying for spring media credentials with no real hope of being granted them, and that was good, because I didn't get 'em, either. But director of Media Relations Jimmy Stanton had written me a kind rejection email, and suggested that he'd seek me out when I came up, and that he might even get me an interview. So I had that going for me. But it was the fan entrance I would be using.

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The gates still weren't open, so I plopped my Shooting Star duffel with my camera and my recorder and my tripod and my Chris Sampson baseball card under a tree, and shot the bull a bit with a couple of guys from Texas who were waiting as well. They were autograph hounds, come down every year at this time, because it's easier to get players to sign during the workouts than during the Spring games, even. They told me and each other stories about how crazy the workouts had been in '04 and '05 when Clemens came down with the club, and also how difficult a sign Roy Oswalt is. I told 'em I was a baseball card collector, and had 21,000 different Astros or whatever it is, and then it was mutual: each thought the other was crazy.

Waiting in line for a player or a coach who may or may not want to sign seems to me to be close to begging, and I just ain't down with that. Then again, I'll pay 100 bucks for a card that has a signature they got by waiting fifteen minutes in line. To each his own.

Finally, the gates opened.

V. Oracle: The Dream Finally I Get To Take Some Pictures of the Players

If you've never been there, the OCS complex has a cloverleaf of four practice fields behind the main one. Each field is surrounded by a fence and each is connected to the other by a concrete path.

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After the initial exercises, in which everybody in camp participated, the players were broken up into groups of seven or eight, and they'd go from field to field for drills that lasted between 20 or 30 minutes. Watching them hurry between fields with their duffels reminded me of college students on their way to class.

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So that's what I did: I hopped from field to field, taking pictures as I could through the fences, and using the zoom when the players appeared too far away. At the time, I was real doubtful that I was getting very much in the way of good pictures at all. The players were behind fences for the most part and were far too distant, it seemed. But I didn't know how good a camera I'd purchased. This Canon S3 is a badass, no question about it. As you look through the pictures, keep in mind that the camera in all cases is better than either the photographer or the shot taken.

For example, check out this picture here, and you really need to open it in the new window:

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It looks like I am on Mark McLemore's back, but I'm probably 40 feet away. The machine is baaaad.

VI. The Processional

After about an hour of this, Drayton McLane and Tim Purpura made an entrance. Purpura seems like a low-key guy to me, but McLane of course is the quintessential businessman. As he came through the gate that separated a players-only area from the sections where the fans could roam, he began calling out to fans, making small talk, shaking hands, the whole nine yards. As soon as I saw Drayton and Tim coming my way, I struggled to get the camera on its tripod positioned so that I might take their pictures. Drayton stopped to speak with a little girl, and Purpura separated himself from McLane, so I lost my picture of them. But when McLane walked past me as I kneeled in front of my tripod, he stuck his hand out at me, too. I grabbed it, and told McLane perhaps too loudly that it "was an an honor and a pleasure."

I told him the truth, too.

VII. Another Big Name

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Later on, while taking pictures of Lou Santangelo, and Brad Ausmus I think, Alyson Footer came up to me and introduced herself. I found her very gracious, and I tried to effect the air of an internet pro while talking with her about the way baseball coverage was changing. I said good and sincere things about how well I think MLB.com is put together, and she said she found The Crawfish Boxes to be "intelligent." It certainly seemed as if she had read the site, but she had no idea about the by-now huge SBNation network of which we are part. She asked how many people were involved with TCB, and I told her two, now that Thomas has joined up, but that there were 110 other blogs, each with at least one blogger, some with as many as four or five. She had no idea.

The conversation was nearing the end of its natural lifespan, and Ms. Footer said another complimentary thing about Crawfish, and I told her that that was nice to hear, 'cause I have a real lack of . . . ." and then my brain locked. I could not for the life of me figure out what word I had meant to use. My stammers turned to silence.

It was only after she had stepped away, and was gone, that it came to me: self confidence. I have a real lack of self-confidence, is what I was trying to say.

VII. The Interview

In his first email, Mr. Stanton had invited me to call him, and I had done that Friday. If you could say the conversation with Footer had ended poorly, then the only way to characterize my phone call with Stanton was disastrous. I had no idea what to say to him, while he--a terse man, it seems--was obviously waiting for me to ask for something so that he could respond.

At any rate, I had eventually hooked up with Stanton about midway through the workout, and he was certainly polite to me, and it was he who had pointed Ms. Footer in my direction. Things were beginning to wind down, and he caught up with me again, and told me that he believed he could find some time for me to interview Chris Sampson.

After a short time, sure enough, out came Chris Sampson, and I've got to say: I believe in the questions I had, think they were rock-solid, but for the rest of my life I'm going to give Chris Sampson the benefit of the doubt. Because as my hands held my personal recorder, as they shook as if I had Parkinson's from my nervousness, the man stood there and pretended none of it was happening, pretended that he didn't see my hands shaking life a leaf, and just answered my questions as professionally as he could.

I hope you read my interview with him as soon as I get it posted. If you look at it on your computer, all my trauma will be drained, and it might offer you a few insights.

But this morning as I write, I'm just not that sure about this plan I may have had about pursuing interviews. The next player may not be so charitable as Sampson had been. I would love to cultivate sources, so that I can have an idea of what's coming before it happens, but you know what? Maybe I should leave the interviews to Thomas . . . .

VIII. Aftermath

It took me six hours last night after I got home to edit my photos, and I posted the roster thingy this morning. Fact was, I faced a choice this morning. Post content at Crawfish from yesterday, or drive up this morning for Sunday's workout, and see no new content at TCB til Monday, if I could work it in.

So I decided to skip today's workout, but I'll be there both days next weekend.

You've seen a few of my pictures, but I took over 200, and at least 150 of them came out well enough to post. If you'd like to see more photos, there's a complete link page here. I might have gotten a couple names wrong, and for some, I don't even venture a guess. If you know something I don't, just let me know and I'll correct/update.