Continuing this post with more baseball info, last week Friday spring training for the Chicago Cubs started at Fitch Park here in Mesa. Thankfully for me, I only live about 13 minutes drive time from the fields, and I can pretty much go there whenever I want to after I drop my sister off at school in the mornings. Thus far, I have been out there three times, and done pretty good for myself.
Now, for my money, I'm a baseball hound, not an autograph hound. Most people I know go to spring training games solely to watch the players and put themselves in position to get autographs from them. Truth be told, it IS a lot easier to try to obtain signatures from players and coaches like Ryne Sandberg, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto, and Lou Pinella at a complex like Fitch Park or Hohokam Park than it is at, say, Wrigley Field. So I understand it. I just don't typically go nuts over trying to get an autograph. I like to use spring training as an opportunity to get free (used) baseballs to have players sign at Chase Field later in the year, or when the D-Backs come up from Tucson to play here in the valley.
Now let's not kid ourselves: these free baseballs, while they are actual major league balls (as opposed to "training" balls or non-game usable baseballs), they're not the best quality. They get hit, thrown, smudged, wet, smashed into dirt and grass, and whacked multiple times before they leave the park and I get the chance to grab them. The ones I've got are no different: they're brown and green stained from grass and dirt, they're smudged from the ink on the logos running due to water on the grass or streets, and they sometimes get run over leaving nice tire marks on the leather. But they're free, and as long as they're presentable, I don't mind using them for autographs.
Anyway, Friday was wet and cold. It rained the night prior, and it was raining at 8am when I got to Fitch Park. Fortunately, I brought a fleece sweater with me, and wore that while I walked around. When I first drove up, I immediately spotted a baseball lying in the middle of a commercial driveway. So of course, I immediately turned in, parked in their parking lot, and grabbed the ball, which was actually in good shape - one little grass stain and a bat mark. Peering across Center Street, I saw another ball lying on the street up against the curb. So what did I do? Ran across and snagged it! After that, the players were still practicing on the field in the sprinkling rain, so I stayed and chatted with a fellow die-hard braving the rain. Sadly, no more baseballs came out of the stadium, and when it started to rain harder, the players called it a day. Upon walking back to my car, I found a third ball back across the street in a flowerbed. Considering I was the only one out there searching, I think I did decently - and in the rain no less; I was SOAKED when I was done!
Tuesday was the first day of full spring training for the Cubs, when every player was supposed to be in attendance doing drills and getting set for the season. So of course, I was there too to watch. My goal for the day was, if possible, to get Ryne Sandberg's autograph. When I was about 7 or 8, I remember going to a card show at the mall and my folks letting me get ONE baseball card. I chose a '92 Fleer Ultra Sandberg card, worth all of about $0.40 today, but I still have it as my very first baseball card. So I kind of wanted his auto to go with it in my display.
It was cold when I got to Fitch Park. And I do mean C O L D. About 38 degrees, which, when you're not expecting it feels colder than it is (and yes, I know you DC folks are thinking "38 degrees? That was the high temp for all of January!") and I was wearing a nice warm jacket. I got there about 8:10am, long before anyone else showed up, and sat in the bleachers (after checking around the stadium for baseballs - I got two more in really ugly shape after sitting in puddles all night). Around 8:40, more people started to filter in slowly, expecting a 9-9:30am start time for the players to show up. I sat and talked with a guy named Charlie, who was telling me stories about playing golf with former Detroit Tigers players, and considering buying a house here in Mesa. (And Charlie, if you happen to read this, I still have your Sharpie!)
Unfortunately for me, Cubs' practice started late - or, rather, later than in past years - at 10:30am. I did stay and watch drills for about an hour, but I also wanted to meet up with Scott for lunch, so I left to do that at noon. We went to this cool little sports bar place called the Diamond Grille (I think) off of Centennial and Main St. near the Marriott Hotel. Good sandwiches!
Upon my return to Fitch Park, I was slightly saddened to see that batting practice was in full swing, and I had missed some good opportunities to snag some balls. Three other guys were also out there with their sweater pockets stuffed full of round white spheres that they'd caught. I was only able to catch about 15 minutes of BP before they ended for the day, but I still managed to get two baseballs. The first bounced on the street and nearly smashed the hood of a white minivan before a second car kicked it back across the road. I ran over and got it, but it had a big black tire mark on it, so it's not too good for signatures any more. While I was standing there examining my prize, another ball plopped down on the grass about one foot from my head. Yes, I jumped about out of my skin from nearly being beaned, but I did recover my wits and caught the ball on the first bounce. Lesson learned... watch the sky, not the ground!
That brought my ball total to seven so far this spring. This morning, I went back out there, but sadly, I couldn't find a single ball. I imagine either none were hit yesterday, or that there were others out this morning before I got there who got them first. Either way, Sandberg and some of the players were on the practice infield doing fielding drills, so I watched them for a while. I got some good advice (by eavesdropping on the coaches) on how to field grounders, so maybe someday if I join a softball league I can use that.
Afterwards, I headed over to the sports card shop, where I like to hang out when I am bored, since sitting at home watching TV isn't doing me any good. I got the opportunity to help out around the shop with reorganizing their single card boxes and changing some fixtures on the roof of the building with the shop owner, Phil. Before leaving, I picked up a couple more packs of 2010 Upper Deck Series 1 baseball cards, and got 18 more cards for my set. I only need 6 more of the 600 card base set to complete it (though I do still need plenty of the insert cards)! Oh, and I got a Burke Badenhop autographed card, so that was a nice bonus.
I will be heading back to Fitch Park tomorrow with glove in hand, and camera in pocket, so I will hopefully be posting some pictures of spring training to go along with the tales I'm spinning. If you are so inclined, come out for a little while and join me! I'll be the only one there (most likely) in a Diamondbacks cap watching the Cubs!