My friend Mark surprised and spoiled me, taking me for a two-day vacation to Surprise,Arizona. From our first take-off to our final landing, the entire trip was phenomenal. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t strip-searched, poked, or prodded passing through security in the airport. Both of our flights actually arrived early. The weather in Arizona was perfect. There is no possible way to fully share my experiences at Spring Training. However, here are some highlights from that 48-hour pilgrimage:
*Being in the right place at the right time out of pure ignorance and getting the opportunity to witness the PCL Champion ring ceremony.
*Having conversations with Dick Kaegel, Toby Cook, and Bob Dutton.
Kaegel, “There’s always a good story to find out here.”
Cook, “I got this job because I was a TV anchor who emcee’d a Royals’ Charities event and got a serendipitous call from Mr. Glass. How can you ever plan that?”
Cook’s son, “I want to be the GM of the Royals when I grow up.”
Dutton, “Right now, we’re looking at a .500 team. With a little luck on the pitching mound, some good things could happen this year.”
*Getting pictures with Duffy, Hosmer, Moustakas, Wathan, and Brett.
*The sound of wooden bats echoing all over the complex.
Brett and Myers were working on balance. Brett took his stance like he was getting ready to field a ground ball and then picked up his bat, demonstrating the importance of remaining balanced throughout the swing.
*Omaha manager Mike Jirschele hitting blistering backhands to Billy Butler at first base.
*Calling out to Aaron Crow with “M-I-Z” and having him respond “Z-O-U, baby!”
*Conversations with Kevin Seitzer, one of my childhood heroes.
*Watching Seitzer’s “extra-batting practice game.” On day one, Seitzer pulled Billy Butler, Johnny Giavotella, Lorenzo Cain, and Yuniesky Betancourt aside to play the game. The rules were simple: five swings to hit the ball to the opposite field with power. One point for a single; two points for a gap shot that rolled to the fence; three points for a ball that landed on the warning track; four points for a home run. Anything pulled, hit too high, or that could potentially be fielded by the most amazing infield ever was an out. After ten rounds, Gia and Yuni tied for the victory, one point ahead of Cain andButler. I called out to Cain as he was leaving the field, “That’s a great number you’re wearing for your position.”
He smiled and responded, “You better believe it.”
On the next day, the players were paired up for the game—Hosmer and Jarrod Dyson against Mitch Maier and Clint Robinson. The wind was blowing out slightly; Hosmer and Maier were hitting bombs. Hosmer once scored 10 points in 5 swings. On the following at-bat, Maier scored 11. Dyson proved to be the critical difference, helping solidify the victory in his final at-bat. As they gathered the balls on the field, thanking Seitzer for the time, Dyson called out, “Me and Hosmer take on anyone, Seitz, anyone. We are unstoppable.”
I called out to Dyson and told him that he was in my Royals book from last year. “Lemme guess,” he said, “it was the game when I scored on the pop-out to the shortstop.”
“You got it, dude.”
“I gotta use my speed every chance I get.”
*Meeting Elliott and his family. (See that story here.)
*Watching an outfield-assist game. The players were Gordon, Maier, Cain, and Francoeur. Each player got two throws to each base. Points were awarded on the “friendliness” of the hop and the accuracy. Gordon took a quick and impressive lead. Frenchy could potentially catch him if his final throw to home plate was perfect. Frenchy released a cannon-like throw that short-hopped Perez and tailed up the third-base line. He the cussed loudly and conceded the victory to Gordo. Then he demanded a one-throw rematch later that day.
During that day’s game, Alex recorded his first assist of the season on a play at the plate. I bet that’s the throw he submitted for the rematch.
*Hosmer’s ridiculous defensive plays at first base—one of them made ESPN.
*Witnessing Gordon’s second home run of the spring.
*Meeting Darren and Tyler, Bob McClure’s nephews. Tyler will be one of the ball boys for the 2012 All-Star Game.
*Driving by Luke Air Force Base and watching the jets practice “touch-and-go’s.”
*As we were walking into the stadium, David Glass was walking right behind me. I slowed down for a minute and said, “Mr. Glass, thanks so much for the gift of baseball in KC.”
He looked at me, nodded, smiled, and replied, “You’re welcome, son. So good to see you out here supporting the team.”
*On the way back to the airport, I ate my first In-N-Out Burger—it was incredible. Someone really needs to bring that franchise to KC.
I know that numerous KoK readers have also made the sacred pilgrimage to Surprise. What are some of your highlights?
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