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March 1, 2005
Your Guide to Spring Training
Do you know why I love this gig? (I mean, apart from the non-stop flow of lingerie-clad women dying to have someone come over and explain VORP to them in person.) I'll tell you why: it's because I get to help people. That's right, help them. Make their lives better. How so? Well, take this letter:
Jim,Noah, you have come to the right place--and not a moment too soon, I might add, as I had absolutely no idea what I was going to write about until I got your note. So, you helped me with a column idea, and I will now help you with a handy guide to proper spring training travel.
Because spring training games don't "count"--whatever that means--tickets cost pennies on the dollar compared to their regular season counterparts. What's more, teams are only too happy to have fans come visit so that players won't be able to goof off because nobody's looking. It is best to announce to a team that you intend to come to spring training to watch the squad get ready. Use the following letter as a guideline:
Dear (team General Manager name here):
Recent government studies show that hitchhiking is still the safest way to travel--just as it has been since the invention of the automobile. A catchy sign is recommended: "Cactus League or Bust" is sure to get you plenty of rides from fellow fans who would like nothing better than talk baseball as you while away the miles. Offer to pay for your ride by way of entertainment value, like reciting the "Who's on First?" routine in Mandarin. People love that sort of thing. You can also regale your driver with tales of your days on the prison baseball team.
The great thing about both spring locales--but especially Florida--is that there are plenty of elderly people in the area. Now, some elderly people are sharp as tacks and can and will recite their report cards from the first grade back in 1935. Others aren't so with it, and it is this latter group upon which we'll be relying for your lodging needs. This is all you have to do: identify someone who is of the same race as you and knock on their door. When they open it, shout "Grandpa!" or "Grandma!" They will be overwhelmed and invite you in. Soon, they will be offering you lemon cookies and a place to stay. If you are too old to have living grandparents, just announce "Uncle, it is I" when they open the door. That should be good enough.
If being around doilies and old, fuzzy-looking televisions forever tuned to Lawrence Welk reruns is not your speed, why not ask one of the players on your favorite team to put you up for a couple of days? Modern ballplayers now make enough money that they no longer have to live in dormitories or sleep in tents next to the field, as was once the custom. Now they rent condos for the duration of their spring stay and would be more than happy to accommodate you and your buddies or loved ones for a couple of nights. An offer to wash the breakfast dishes will be welcomed, but is not required.
There are so many players on spring rosters that nobody will notice if you slip into line at the players' buffet table--unless you weigh 350 pounds and you don't look like Calvin Pickering. Wear an extremely high number to call even less attention to yourself.
Interacting with players
Spring training is far more relaxed than the regular season. Because of this, you will be allowed a lot more access to the players. It is also understood that you are there to help them get ready for the season. Players love it when fans offer hitting, fielding and pitching tips. You may even be called upon to explain your tip right there on the field. Players often hand their bats over to helpful fans who give on-the-spot demonstrations of technique. It's a wonderful chance to bond with your favorite players.
Other baseball-related attractions
Why concentrate only on games? Florida and Arizona both have their fair share of things to do and see. Since you're in the area anyway, why not drop in on some of these places? (note: fee paid for placement)