Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Time called as the FBI goes out to arrest the right fielder

I always have to do a disclaimer when I do a baseball-related post.  THIS IS EVEN INTENDED FOR YOU NON-BASEBALL FANS. 


Spring training is in full swing. Those Grapefruit and Cactus League races are really heating up. Some crucial split-squad games are this week. Check your local listings. I’ll be heading to Arizona very soon to begin broadcasting for the Seattle Mariners. I can’t wait. It’ll be the stretch drive.

So today I thought I'd share some amusing incidents involving spring training.

A few years ago a young man played winter ball in Venezuela. Then he had to report to spring training in Florida. But before he left he mailed himself a whole shipment of cocaine. And addressed it to himself at the team’s spring training headquarters. When it arrived the receptionist was a little leery. Something was a little suspicious about it. So she told her supervisor who told someone else and well…

The next day the team is playing a game. This ballplayer is in right field. It’s the 4th or 5th inning, the game is in progress, when suddenly time is called and six federal agents march out into right field and lead this guy off in handcuffs. Players don’t like being sent down. They really don’t like being sent away for ten years.

A number of teams have “talent” nights where their rookies are required to perform. The Dodgers stage their own American Idol. Well, American/Dominican Idol. And if you think Simon was tough. There’s no tougher music critic than a veteran baseball ballplayer. However, those veterans will all get theirs. During the season they’ll have to listen to 162 bad renditions of the National Anthem.

Speaking of the Dodgers, it feels very odd not hosting Dodger Talk this year. I was kind of hoping the team would refuse to play the games as a result, but apparently I meant nothing to them.

Every year there are three or four players who report to camp late because of Visa problems. They have five months to arrange for their trip to the U.S. and still they screw it up.

There are always freak injuries. First, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Brad Bergesen injured his shoulder recently while filming a commercial for the team. And then, (this one is not funny), a Boston Red Sox coach was hitting some balls on a practice field and one accidentally struck pitcher Josh Beckett in the head. He’s okay but that’s a little scary. And how’d you like to be that coach?

When I was broadcasting for the Orioles we played a spring game against the Pirates at their facility in Bradenton, Florida. ESPN’s Dick Vitale was taking in the ballgame. He got hit by a foul ball. He wasn’t hurt. A few innings later he and wife left the game. As they were walking away from the park he was hit by another foul ball.

Meanwhile, hard throwing Randy Johnson was pitching in a spring game when a bird happened to fly right in the path of a pitch. The bird literally exploded.


Teams like to play practical jokes. Brett Myers of the Philadelphia Phillies pulled an elaborate one on his teammate Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick was called into the manager’s office and told by the manager and assistant general manager that he had been traded to Japan. He believed them.

St. Patrick’s Day always falls in the middle of spring training. One year to celebrate, Mickey Hatcher painted himself green, and even played a few innings like that. Unfortunately, he had used enamel paint and his pores couldn’t breathe. He had to be doused with alcohol to strip the paint.

And finally, a story I’ve told before. I was with the Mariners in 1992 and we went into Palm Springs to play the Angels. Because the Angels were televising that game there was no room for us in the press box. So they set up tables in the stands and that’s where we broadcast to a thirty-station radio network. I’m on the aisle, calling the game, there’s an exciting play, and as I describe the action I feel a tapping on my shoulder. It’s a vendor wanting me to pass three Diet Coke’s down the row. I do, continue announcing and a few seconds later I’m handed some money. I give it to the vendor who taps me on the shoulder again. Would I please pass the change?

Sports Illustrated cooked up a story in 1985 about a New York Mets’ pitching prospect named Siddharta "Sidd" Finch who could supposedly throw a ball at 160 m.p.h. Lots of folks bought that tale. If the Mets were smart they would have traded him.


And finally, I'll leave you with this (compliments of my friend Mike McCann): A lot of venues offer photo ops where you can get your picture taken next to a cut-out of a ballplayer.  But who can the actual ballplayers get their pictures taken with? 

If you ever have the chance, go down to Florida or Arizona during spring training. It’s a great vacation, a great father-and-son bonding trip (or mother-and-son, or son-and-father's mistress), and you get to keep all foul balls that hit you.

23 comments:

hbmom5 said...

Father/son trip?? What about us women who live for baseball?? I have five kids (2 boys and 3 girls) and my game buddies are the girls. My 12 year old daughter knows WAY more about baseball then your average man!!
She and I drive down to San Diego for the day when the Dodgers are there!! My 14 year old son is excited to go back to Camelback in a couple of weeks! He can't wait to eat the great nachos, then he will ask me every five minutes "When can we leave?". Sorry Buddy, but your sisters and I want to stay!!!
Jo Wiseman

Kaitlin said...

My family and I used to go to the Dodgers' spring training when I was a kid until Murdoch bought the team. My folks still talk about when I cut Darryl Strawberry in line for pizza at the Christmas in March party. I also got a whole box of baseball cards from Billy Ashley on one of those gift giveaway days. Pretty much broke my heart to read about him in your post about the Real Housewives of Whoville.

The Curmudgeon said...

Baseball certainly is father/son stuff -- but not exclusively. It was my grandmother who first took me to Comiskey. The older female fans are among the most knowledgeable of any who haven't played the game at a high level themselves. And they get to know and identify with the players in a way the rest of us really never do.

It was 1993 and the White Sox and Orioles were playing a Sunday game. Before the game there was a 10th Anniversary reunion for the 1983 playoff clubs. We got to the park early to sit in the corporate seats and watch. Cal Ripken, of course, played in both games. Tito Landrum wasn't there. If only he'd not been there in 1983.

The old ladies were great. "Oh, look at Britt," said one, referring to ex-Sox pitcher Britt Burns. "He looks so much better now he's cut his hair." As the exhibition went on, more and more of the assigned seatholders began showing up and the old ladies were displaced. Now the comments became, "Who are these guys?" And, "Can you believe how the market closed on Friday?"

Eventually we went to our assigned seats, much further down the right field line.

My wife and I had seats in those days. And we'd take the kids. Then we began paying Catholic school tuition in earnest -- and the seats were surrendered. Now my oldest boy has his own seats -- and he's taken me a couple of times.

Enjoy Arizona. The weather should be nice -- because we're not going.

A few years back, my middle son's college team had spring training in Arizona and we went down to watch. It snowed in Scottsdale. We weren't invited back.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Everytime I hear the words baseball and National Anthem together, I can't help but think about The Naked Gun. Leslie Nielsen's rendition of the anthem gets me every time.

Chris D said...

Credit where credit is due. Sports Illustrated didn't cook up the story about the Met's phenom pitcher. Phenom writer George Plimpton

dgwPhotography said...

The opening paragraph was the most brilliant part of the Sidd Finch article:

"He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga—and his future in baseball"

The first letter in each word spells, "Happy April Fools Day"

Carlos M Hernandez said...

Lots of good familiar and new baseball stories, Ken. Definitely my favorite time of the year.

You've got a strong knack for story telling. Wonder if you ever heard that before...

chuckago said...

Here's some fun with baseball cards that even non-baseball fans can appreciate.

http://www.youtube.com/tseanshannon#p/a/u/1/K58_sOvkFFg

VP81955 said...

When I was broadcasting for the Orioles we played a spring game against the Pirates at their facility in Bradenton, Florida. ESPN’s Dick Vitale was taking in the ballgame. He got hit by a foul ball. He wasn’t hurt. A few innings later he and wife left the game. As they were walking away from the park he was hit by another foul ball.

Reminds me of a famous (true) story involving Phillies Hall of Famer Rich Ashburn, who was renowned for his ability to foul off balls (just as Luke Appling did in an earlier generation): In a game at Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium in 1957, one of Rich's foul balls hit a woman in the stands. Medics were called and the woman was taken out on a stretcher -- and another Ashburn foul ball hit her as she was being escorted.

What made it especially unusual was that the woman who was hit was the wife of the Philadelphia Inquirer sports editor -- and her young son, who was at the game with her, was thrilled to get the foul balls (and reportedly asked her to take him to an Eagles game so he could get a football!).

After his playing days were over, Ashburn of course became a Phillies announcer, about the only thing he had in common with the blowhard hack Dick Vitale (Rich's on-air banter with Harry Kalas was legendary), and he also wrote a baseball-related column for the Inquirer's sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News.

Baseball certainly is father/son stuff -- but not exclusively. It was my grandmother who first took me to Comiskey. The older female fans are among the most knowledgeable of any who haven't played the game at a high level themselves. And they get to know and identify with the players in a way the rest of us really never do.

It was 1993 and the White Sox and Orioles were playing a Sunday game. Before the game there was a 10th anniversary reunion for the 1983 playoff clubs. We got to the park early to sit in the corporate seats and watch. Cal Ripken, of course, played in both games. Tito Landrum wasn't there. If only he'd not been there in 1983.


Or if Jerry Dybzinski hadn't stumbled. (Chisox fans will get the reference, even if most casual fans only know players who made notorious blunders if they were on the Red Sox or Cubs.)

I loved old Comiskey; that place had such atmosphere, despite its decrepit status. Haven't been to the new one, though I passed it once while riding an Amtrak train, and while I understand the Sox have made some improvements to the place in recent years, something was lost in the move to the south side of 35th Street.

Also agreed about the older female fans. My mother is 90 and rarely misses a Nationals game on TV.

hapkidokid said...

That vendor story is priceless and hilarious, thanks for the day's laugh. And go Gigantes!!

Candice said...

The St. Lucie Mets spring training in Port St. Lucie is in full swing, and already the Mets have dirtied up their host city. It seems that this year the Mets wanted to replicate their home field. According to the NY Times, "The idea to replicate the Citi Field playing surface as closely as possible was first proposed by Chip Hale, the Mets’ third-base and infield coach. He suggested that the Mets should practice and play on the same surface they play half their real games on, and the notion was adopted after the Mets and the county of Port St. Lucie, which owns the stadium, agreed to split the $15,000 cost." Now that the news is out, some local residents are questioning the expenditure of $7,500 from the city's faltering budget on dirt. One local resident heard on the news said, "Dirt?!? They just laid off half our police force and they're spending money on dirt???" That's the ballgame ;)

YEKIMI said...

Here in the Cleveland area, I am wondering if parents could be charged with child abuse for taking their kids to see an Indians game. I think they would have psychological problems for decades for having to watch an baseball team who, by the end of opening week, have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Maybe the feds could swoop down and arrest everyone involved for "Impersonating a major league ball club".

Phillip B said...

Have seen games at the home stadiums of the Giants, A's and the Cubs over the last 4 days. Among other things, the Angels blew a 12-2 lead, losing to the Cubs 14-13 in 10 innings...

And in each one of the games, all the players on each team stood on the steps of the dugout - enjoying the afternoon sun and being back in the game.

Hope to see you here soon!

Cap'n Bob said...

How about a heads up the day before you're calling a game, Ken?

VP81955 said...

Maybe the feds could swoop down and arrest everyone involved for "Impersonating a major league ball club."

If the '03 Tigers and '08-'09 Nationals got off scot-free, no luck for you. Go out to the ballpark anyway while recalling the halcyon days of '95 and '97.

benson said...

@Mr. Curmudgeon and VP81955.. New Comiskey is okay, but you're right about the atmosphere and all. And McCuddy's across the street.

And if Dybber doesn't trip, you've got Dewey Hoyt pitching game 5.

Ken, you're right about checking out spring training with your kids, but the cheapskate in me really chokes on paying major league prices for games that don't count. I used to go in Sarasota and Bradenton, but what really surprises me is how many teams have migrated to Arizona.

KF-in-Georgia said...

Braves Minor League Manager Luis Salazar had to be air-lifted to an Orlando hospital today after he took a line-drive to the face off the bat of Brian McCann--you know, the guy who hit the game-winning home run in the All Star Game. Salazar has multiple facial fractures, but he's breathing on his own. The Braves players were plenty rattled, and McCann left the game and went to the hospital. http://tinyurl.com/4vyxpkr I think I'll feel safer as a television spectator.

VP81955 said...

Braves Minor League Manager Luis Salazar had to be air-lifted to an Orlando hospital today after he took a line-drive to the face off the bat of Brian McCann--you know, the guy who hit the game-winning home run in the All Star Game. Salazar has multiple facial fractures, but he's breathing on his own. The Braves players were plenty rattled, and McCann left the game and went to the hospital. http://tinyurl.com/4vyxpkr I think I'll feel safer as a television spectator.

Actually, I think McCann's pivotal All-Star hit was a double, but that's irrelevant here. Salazar will be here in Lynchburg, managing the Hillcats of the Carolina League (who signed a four-year affiliation with the Braves after one year with the Reds and several with the Pirates). Glad to hear he's OK.

DyHrdMET said...

Spring Training is great. I'm heading down to Port St. Lucie next week.

Ken, let me ask you this -- which do you like better ... the Cactus League or the Grapefruit League?

And can you post which game(s) you'll be calling this Spring so I can jump on MLB.TV Radio and listen to you?

analee said...

I'd never been a fun of baseball since birth but after reading your article and all the comments,I wish I am one of the fun so that I have something to share about.

John Royal said...

You would think that with the all of the Visa problems that they'd get smart and start using Master Card.

John Royal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Breadbaker said...

@Yekemi, the old joke goes something like this:

Judge (to child in witness stand): Do you want to live with your father?
Kid: No, he always beats me.
Judge: Do you want to live with your mother?
Kid: No, she always beats me, too.
Judge: Then who do you want to live with?
Kid: I want to live with the Cleveland Indians. They never beat anybody.