For some reason, this year is a little different than years gone by. Well, I guess last year was too, but I wasn't stuck up in Southern Siberia last year either.
Anyway, today's topic is one of the truly great Sports times of the year. No, I'm not talking about Super Bowl week or the NCAA Tournament, though those are both special times. Really, what has me reminiscing all week is baseball's best time of the year: Spring Training.
((1st day BP//Courtesy: Me))
Growing up in Florida, Spring Training was always special. When I was a kid, most baseball teams trained down there. When I was really young, we had the Yankees and Orioles who at the time were in Ft. Lauderdale. As a teenager, there was the Twins in Orlando, Astros in Kissimmee, the Royals in Haines City and the Reds in Tampa. And when I first started in TV, I got to cover the Red Sox in Winter Haven and later in TV, my favorite, covering the Braves at Disney World.
We always went to games when I was a kid. Usually it was with school, but sometimes I could talk the Chief into taking me. One of my favorite memories was as a teenager. For my 14th birthday, we drove to Tampa and saw the Reds and Pirates play in Spring Training. We sat right behind the dugout and talked to the Pirates catcher Edd Ott for pretty much the whole game. He was very funny and we had a good laugh and thoroughly enjoyed it.
((Mark and I posing//Courtesy: Eric Hager))
My other memories which always make me smile were professional. My 1st TV job was in Lynchburg, Virginia and we had a Red Sox Minor League team in town. My boss, the Sports Director talked his way into he and I taking a week to go down to Florida with them. We had a blast. For those who remember, it was also the week that Wade Boggs was in the news for some to do with his wife and believe it or not, we saw Barbara Walters at a game sitting with the wife, watching Wade play. Funny stuff.
Perhaps my favorite professional memories though were in Atlanta. We got to go down and spend the first few days of Spring Training with the Braves. One, they were my favorite team since I was old enough to follow baseball and two I was getting paid to be with them for 4 days with all the access I could ever use.
The trips were always simple. Intrepid Sports Anchor Mark Harmon and I would load up the Sports Van and drive 6+hours to Orlando. We'd get there the night before the whole team reported. The next morning, we were up and at 'em, at the Ballpark at 8am. We might wander into the locker room to talk to a couple of the guys but usually we just waited in the dugout. Me and Mark, Sam and Kenny from the NBC station, Eric and Chuck or Bill from the ABC and Blaine and Buck from Fox. We'd sit there and laugh, waiting for everyone to roll in. Chuck would bring a box of donuts for everyone and then it was time to get started.
((The gang eagerly awaiting getting to work//Courtesy: Me))
As it got closer to 9, the guys would start filing into the dugout. Some would come over and say hello, most were just joking, laughing like kids on the 1st day of school. At 9am and 9 exactly, with a crowd in the stands, they'd take the field...well, they'd run out of the dugout and take a lap or so around the field.
I could go on for a long, long time about the traditions. Bobby Cox giving his state of the team, he always wanted to talk before BP and get it over with. He retires after the 2010 season, a good man, the ultimate baseball lifer, he will be missed. He presided over the whole scene from a golf cart. Going out to the bullpen, raised over the right field wall and watching the pitchers. Just seeing the fans roll in on a sunny late winter morning...it is really hard to describe something so visual.
We had traditions. We would all go out as a group to dinner. The Columbia restaurant in Disney Celebration. Usually 6-8 of us together, laughing. We'd always run into a couple of the Braves players. They'd come by and share a laugh and go on to have their dinner. The best dinner was probably my last, in 2007. Bill Hartman, longtime TV Sports Guy in Atlanta was there for the last time. He sat and told stories, things like interviewing Mohammed Ali and old school Georgia stories, we had such a great time just listening.
As I sit here right now typing away on my computer here in Cincinnati, I can't help but smile a bit thinking about those memories. I know that the rest of the guys are there, right now, today, as I type this and I am not. I really miss that but I also know that the cycle of things works like that. You can't do things like that the rest of your life, as much as you might have wanted to, sometimes things change. Though I'm not real happy with the situation I'm in at the moment, I know that too will change, things always do...you just have to be patient, keep plugging away and moving forward...and eventually the good will come back...I know it will.
((Mark and I actually working//Courtesy: Eric Hager))
Here is one of my favorite stories that Mark and I did down there, from 2007. I don't know how it got on the You Tube...but it did. Enjoy it.