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Thursday, March 17, 2011
A month of headaches and highlights

By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine

The "Baseball Tonight Bus Tour" ended as it began, with John Kruk complaining of a headache caused, presumably, by too much time with me. "How would you like to spend 31 straight days with a writer?'' Kruk would routinely tell this to any player when he was asked how the trip was going. But the journey, however painful, included many highlights.

Here are a few:

Giants closer Brian Wilson recalled the celebration on the field after winning the World Series: "I went up to Fordy [Darren Ford] and he was bleeding under his right eye. I said, 'Getting after it?' He said, 'Dude, you punched me in the face.' I was so happy, I blacked out.''

Giants outfielder Cody Ross played in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and met, among others, Jerry Rice. "A year ago, if someone had asked him, 'Who is Cody Ross?' he would have had no idea who I was,'' Ross said, laughing. Rice, the greatest wide receiver ever, was announced to the crowd and got a huge ovation, "then they introduced me and I got an even bigger ovation, it was unbelievable,'' Ross said. "And Jerry Rice is one of my heroes.''

Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson was insightful and funny. He is one of the greatest fans of the TV show "Lost," and in great detail, he explained what the hell happened in that show, especially in the final episode. "They use an element of non-linearity,'' he said. "I'd have 15 people over for a dinner party and we'd watch 'Lost.' No one talked, no one texted. In the commercials, we'd discuss it. I was drawn into that universe. When the show ended for good, it was like a relationship ending.'' He also explained the ending in the movie "Inception," and in doing so, he used the word "ambiguous'' and the phrase "spiritual zenith'' in the same complete sentence. As for the Oscars, Wilson, who could be a movie critic, said "Inception" or "Black Swan" should win best picture, saying "the sound design in 'Black Swan' was great.''

Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster has been tabbed as the Cubs' Opening Day starter.

Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster did an absolutely hilarious impression of motivational speaker Matt Foley -- actor Chris Farley in the famed "in a van, down by the river'' skit -- from "Saturday Night Live." When Dempster screamed the line, "Won't amount to jack squat,'' our camera guy, Jim Farrell, was laughing so hard, his camera shook. We all howled.

Cubs manager Mike Quade took the subway to Wrigley Field some days last year. "I was on the subway one day last year when, finally, the guy who drew the short straw came up to me and said, 'Are you Mike Quade?''' he said. "Then he said, 'What are you doing riding the train? You're the Cubs manager.''' Quade said, "I've been riding buses and trains for the last 30 years. I'm not going to change just because I have a new job title now.''

Rays pitcher David Price said the only thing missing from the bus is an X-Box. Price said his two favorite games are FIFA (a soccer game) and Call Of Duty, which he once played on a hook-up with Tigers ace Justin Verlander from 500 miles away. Price said when he's done with baseball every day, he often relaxes at home with his X-Box and his French bulldog, Astro. You mean Astro from the Jetsons? "Yes,'' said Price. "I love the Jetsons.''

Pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, the author of the best-selling book, "The Bullpen Chronicles," is in Rays camp. He's working on a second book, which is due to the publisher by April 15. "Every day is the same, I get to the park at 6:45 a.m., do all my work, then go home and write until 10:45 [p.m.],'' he said. "I have no social life. Johnny Damon invited me and bunch of players on his boat this spring. What an opportunity it would have been, but I couldn't go. I had to tell him, 'I would love to, but I'm on deadline.'''

Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer is a magician, he has been doing magic tricks since he was 12. He did two card tricks on the bus that were so good, they defied description. "When [second baseman] Luis Castillo was with us, I did a trick for him,'' Cuddyer said. "He's from right on the line between the Dominican and Haiti. He has some … I don't know, black magic thing going. He saw me do this trick and said, 'Whoooo.' The next day, he moved his locker across the room. He didn't want to locker next to me anymore.''

Cuddyer is the team leader in every way, including being the leader in pranks. This spring, he convinced center fielder Denard Span that infielder Ray Chang was actually the Twins' newest player from Japan, second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka. "Go introduce yourself,'' Cuddyer told Span. Span approached Chang, did a respectful bow, and said, "Hello, do you speak English?'' Chang said, "Sure, I'm from Kansas City.'' Everyone laughed.

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has a new haircut, short on the top, longer in the back. "I call it the convertible cut: The top is always down,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "You look like a moron.'' Francona took off his cap, pointed to his bald head and said, "This is curveballs. I'd get in the box, and when they'd throw curveballs, my hair would fall out in the batter's box.''

Pedroia and Francona play a card game called cribbage every day. Late last season, they invited closer Jonathan Papelbon to join the game. Pedroia called him "the worst cribbage player ever.'' Francona said with a laugh, "Pap helped me build half of my basement. We get Pap for one more week, and I can finish off the basement. Not all decisions are baseball decisions.''

Kruk played with Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez in the minor leagues in 1985. "I picked up his teeth one day,'' Kruk said. "The last week of the season, he turned the wrong way, and got hit in the mouth with a pitch. His teeth came flying out. I was on deck. I picked up his teeth and gave them to him.'' Rodriguez laughed about it 26 years later, saying, "Jose DeLeon was our first base coach that day. He came to home plate to see if I was all right. He saw all the blood pouring out of my mouth, and he fainted. They put him on a stretcher and took him away in an ambulance. But they didn't take me.''

Mets manager Terry Collins organized a bowling league this spring. "We have 40 professional athletes, and 38 of them stink at bowling,'' Collins said, laughing. David Wright is the best bowler in the league, he rolled a 259 his first game (the highest possible score is 300). "I was unconscious,'' he said. Wright's team is in first place. It's called Three And A Half Men, but they refused to divulge the teammate who is a bad enough bowler to be a half a man. "We have bowling shirts with our names on the front and our slogan on the back,'' Wright said. "It's very classy. Our shirts are very classy. Way better than Izzy's shirts.''

Jason Isringhausen
Jason Isringhausen is hoping to be included on the Mets' Opening Day roster.

Izzy is reliever Jason Isringhausen, the second-best bowler in the league, who has rolled several scores around 220. "He is good at any sport that involves beer,'' Wright said. Mets catcher Josh Thole is on Isringhausen's team. "He bowled an 88 the other day,'' Isringhausen said with smile. Thole is the primary catcher for the Mets, and they give him unlimited grief about being somewhat cross-eyed, which he not only doesn't dispute, he has fun with it. "He's the only guy I know that you can poke in both eyes with one finger,'' Wright said playfully. "When he bowls, he's not sure what lane he's going to bowl in because one eye is going in one direction and the other is going in the other direction.''

The bus tour ended Tuesday in Viera, Fla., at the Nationals' camp. We talked to Stephen Strasburg, who is obviously so much more comfortable than last year. He had a bet with pitching coach Steve McCatty: If Strasburg came to spring training with six-pack abs, McCatty would pay him $100, but if Strasburg didn't, he would pay McCatty $100,000, with no intention of paying McCatty if he lost. "I won,'' Strasburg said, "but I haven't seen the money.''

And with that, the bus trip ended. Kruk drove home alone, and he didn't have a headache.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.

Follow Tim Kurkjian on Twitter: @Kurkjian_ESPN