Saturday, March 1, 2003
Updated: March 2, 11:46 AM ET
Spring is definitely in the air
By Jayson Stark
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- You know you can stop shoveling snow pretty soon when you can click on your morning box scores and see this:
Bonds LF 2 1 1 1 ... HR -- Bonds (1)
Yep, spring training is back, friends. And so is our first regularly-scheduled edition of Spring Fever.
Best injuries of the spring (so far)
First prize: Of all the ways for an American League pitcher to get hurt, twisting a knee in a sliding drill is about the most challenging. But it happened to Devil Rays rookie Dewon Brazelton Wednesday.
"I've heard of (AL) pitchers working on their sliders in spring training," chuckled one scout. "But never on their sliding."
Second prize: Brewers bopper Richie Sexson twisted his neck Tuesday -- while trying to stretch out his cap on Photo Day. No kidding.
Brewers PR whiz Jon Greenberg immediately confessed to the crime, after realizing he'd given Sexson a 6 5/8 size cap instead of a 7 5/8. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Drew Olson, Greenberg denied an initial diagnosis that Sexson had gotten big-headed from his All-Star appearance last year.
Third prize: A's third baseman Eric Chavez missed a workout with what the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser described as "a post-pizza stomach ailment." Pretty cheesy excuse if you ask Spring Fever.
Fourth prize: Pirates pitcher Mike Lincoln hurt his shoulder -- but not by throwing.
He was getting his running in on the warning track at Pirate City -- when he stepped on a golf ball, which had sliced onto the track from the golf course next door. He fell, landed on his shoulder and couldn't throw for 10 days.
"I didn't think it was a driving range," Lincoln told the Beaver County Times' John Perrotto. "I thought it was a baseball field."
We're just glad the Spring Fever staff hasn't been spotted golfing in Bradenton lately.
Highway man of the spring
Usually in spring training, when they tell a guy to "hit the road," that's not good. But Jim Thome gave that term a whole new meaning when he became the first Phillie ever to hit a batting-practice home run that landed on US 19, the highway running behind the right-field fence at Steve Carlton Field, in the Carpenter Complex.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Bob Brookover was so determined to figure out how far away that was, he borrowed a tape measure, started from the guard rail on the highway and started measuring.
It was 82 feet to a stream behind the fence, 35 feet to cross the stream, 33 feet from the stream to the fence that outlines the complex, another 33½ feet to the outfield fence and then 355 feet from that fence to home plate. Which comes to 538½ feet.
"I told Jim, 'We just got a request from the department of transportation,' " Phillies GM Ed Wade told Spring Fever. "'They don't want you to hit during rush hour.' "
"We're thinking of stationing a cop up there," said special advisor Dallas Green. "He's going to hold up a sign: 'Hold on. Thome's hitting.' "
Finally, when asked by Spring Fever if he'd ever given up a home run that landed on a highway, Phillies broadcast-comedian Larry Andersen replied: "No. The home runs I gave up usually hit a plane before they could hit a highway."
Rain game of the spring
Out in weather-challenged Arizona, the A's and Brewers got rained out Friday -- but played anyway.
For reasons only their grounds crew knows for sure, Oakland's field in Phoenix was unplayable. But 15 miles away at the Brewers' ballpark in Maryvale, there wasn't a drop of water for, well, miles.
So they simply moved the game to Maryvale and let a couple of thousand surprised fans in for free.
"Then they made an announcement," Brewers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly told Spring Fever. "They said, 'If it rains here, use your rainchecks.' So 2,000 people started looking in their pockets. But they didn't have any tickets -- because they didn't sell any.
"Later, they started calling out lucky numbers on the tickets -- and 2,000 people were all looking for their tickets.
"At one point, I went over to the stands and asked a guy, 'Hey, do you have a ticket for that seat, sir?' He said, 'No.' And he moved."
Renovation of the spring
Perfecto of the spring
In his first start of the spring, Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez ripped off a 1-2-3 first inning Friday against the Tigers in Lakeland. But Perez never made it back to the mound again -- because a monsoon hit in the bottom of the first and the game got rained out.
So Spring Fever congratulated Perez on becoming the first Dodgers pitcher since about 1908 to throw a complete game in his first start of spring training.
"Complete game?" Perez retorted. "No-hitter. Perfect game."
He then turned to address the Dodgers' clubhouse.
"Hey guys," he announced. "No-hitter today. 1-0 win. Perfect game. Thank you very much."
"Next time," teammate Ron Coomer told him, "try and do it for two innings."
Friday's rainout in Lakeland was supposed to have been the first game in the newly renovated life of one of our favorite spring-training places, Joker Marchant Stadium.
Oh, well. Even Joker Marchant might not recognize his own park, which is now 100 percent charming. One new feature is a Dodgertown-esque berm behind the left-field fence for fans to sit on and hang out, picnic-style.
So Booth Newspapers' Tigers beat man Danny Knobler wondered whether there was any connection between the berm and this spring's shift of outfielder Bobby Higginson from left field to right.
"That's why they're moving me," Higginson said. "They don't want me talking to the fans out there. They want me to pay attention to the game."
Party watch of the spring
Lou Piniella already has marked Aug. 28 on his personal Devil Rays calendar. For one thing, he'll turn 60 that day. For another, in a perfect twist of the schedule, his team will be (where else?) in his old haunt, Seattle.
When Spring Fever suggested that was one place where he was certain to get a birthday cake, Piniella laughed.
"Yeah," he said. "They'll put it on my head."
All-American absence excuse of the spring
Diamondbacks left-hander Eddie Oropesa missed workouts Wednesday and Thursday -- because he flew to Miami to be sworn in as a United States citizen.
He was supposed to be back to pitch Thursday -- but never quite made it.
Asked by the East Valley Tribune's Ed Price if Oropesa would be fined, manager Bob Brenly replied: "Nah, that's special circumstances. It's not like he's been missing camp to get his car washed."
Hairstyle of the spring
While most of the media has focused on the refusal of Red Sox masher Manny Ramirez to talk to the press this spring, the Boston Herald's Jeff Horrigan zeroed in on the biggest Manny issue of the spring -- that new dreadlocked coiffe under his cap.
"We never know what to expect with his hairdos," quipped manager Grady Little. "But we do know what to expect when he swings a bat."
Vacation tales of the spring
One great feature of every spring training is to hear players report on the highlights of their winter.
Arizona reliever Mike Myers told Spring Fever emissary Ed Price that he caddied for teammate Mark Grace last month in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
"I raked about 72 traps," Myers reported.
Tigers second baseman Damion Easley told Spring Fever correspondent Danny Knobler that his wife gave him a Hummer for a birthday present -- which "definitely beats a necktie," he said.
"My kids love it," Easley said. "They always want me to run over something."
But nobody had a wilder offseason than those World Series champs, the Angels.
The Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna reports that David Eckstein had dinner at the White House with President Bush and assorted dignitaries. Mike Scioscia addressed the California legislature. Tim Salmon flew with the Blue Angels. Troy Percival, John Lackey, Scott Spiezio, Salmon and Eckstein did Jay Leno's show. And Spiezio did Letterman, too.
Then there was pitcher Jarrod Washburn, the pride of Webster, Wis.
"I got asked to speak to the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association," Washburn said. "That's the first time they've ever called."
Parking job of the spring
In their first game of the spring Thursday, the Reds' Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Austin Kearns made the drive together from Sarasota to Tampa, to play the Yankees. They rode in Griffey's SUV, but Dunn was driving.
When they arrived at Legends Field, though they had trouble finding a spot. So the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay reports they finally pulled into the first unoccupied parking place they found.
Only one problem: It had a sign on it that read: "George Steinbrenner."
The good news was: Steinbrenner didn't have the car towed. The bad news was: He did have it moved.
"I don't care," Dunn said. "It's not my car."
Car poolers of the spring
So in the next installment of the Reds' Automotive Guide to Florida, the same carpool group (plus Barry Larkin) headed the next day for Fort Myers, where the Reds played the Red Sox.
This time, not surprisingly, Griffey drove. And, like Dunn -- who had hit a grand slam the day before -- Griffey homered in this game.
"Whoever drives hits a homer," Griffey told the Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy. "We're going to start driving the airplane during the season."
Long pass of the spring
But the Reds haven't just had trouble in the parking lot this spring. They also had a little problem in the passing lane Friday.
Third baseman Brandon Larson hit a ball over the center-field fence against the Red Sox -- but don't write that "HR" on your scorecard too fast.
As he was admiring his blast on the way around first, Larson accidentally passed teammate Ruben Mateo, who was making sure the ball wasn't caught. So scratch that home run. Score it a single. And an out.
"That's one for the Guinness Book of World Records," Larson said. "Fortunately, it is spring training, but it still didn't look good."
Rerun of the spring
This dialogue was overheard this spring on an A&E rerun of the NBC TV show, "Third Watch:"
Officer John Sullivan arrives at the scene of a purse snatching in New York City.
Sullivan: "What was in the purse?"
Victim: "Pictures, credit cards, two Mets tickets for tonight."
Sullivan (sounding annoyed): "Was there anything of value lost?"
Headliner of the spring
Finally, no spring headline better summed up the insanity of the Yankees' camp than this classic from the tremendous online parody site, Ironictimes.com:
Steinbrenner accuses Jeter of being in Al Quaeda
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.