February 28, 2010

Goodbye Tempe; until we meet again

Our time in Tempe went way too fast. It always does. The rain today made it even more brief than usual. The Angels had an abbreviated workout for just a handful of pitchers. We didn’t really get to see much or do much; however, the day wasn’t completely lost.

We ran into our friend Joe, who works at the stadium every spring. He and his wife are snowbirds who travel to Arizona each winter from Somers Point, New Jersey. They both work at Tempe Diablo Stadium during this time of year.

Baseball must be in their blood. Up until last year, they spent their summers working for the Atlantic City Surf; a professional baseball team formerly affiliated with the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball; however, the Surf ceased operations in March 2009.

Joe’s favorite National League team is the Philadelphia Phillies (don’t worry Joe is also an Angels fan). That Philly connection has apparently bonded Joe and Mike Scioscia (who is originally from Philadelphia). As Scioscia was leaving the practice fields, he commented about the weather to Joe and said something to the effect at how mild this was compared to the winters they had in Philly (it was raining ever so slightly).

I’ve bonded with Joe too. You see; Joe is my shoe twin. Yes, you read that right.

Last year I noticed that he and I had the exact same pair of Nike tennis shoes. We joked about it every time we saw one another. We had our own little shoe club. When Cheryl and I ran into him today, he dangled his foot to make sure I saw that he still had the shoes. I kind of half expected him to not even remember that, but he didn’t forget. Unfortunately, I was a party pooper because I wasn’t wearing the same shoes this time (although they were in the car).

Joe is the kind of guy who has a million stories. I could listen to him all day long. His tales are usually funny and always entertaining. Like Bob (who I wrote about recently) they’re part of the reason spring training is so special; in fact, they’re a big reason.
Lucky for us, Joe even told us a story today.

He told us about the time Arte Moreno was walking out to the practice fields and stopped to say hello to Joe and let him know he had a “buddy” coming to the field and asked Joe if he would let him on the field. Joe told Cheryl and me that he thought to himself, “You’re the owner and you’re asking me if I’ll let him on the field?” It was clearly not something he expected to be asked. Most people in Arte’s position probably would have just told Joe to let his buddy on the field when he arrived; however, that just clearly isn’t Arte’s style.

In any case, Joe told Arte he would direct the gentleman his way. Arte’s buddy showed up, Joe pointed him in Arte’s direction and then the man left a short time later. Joe later learned that Arte’s buddy was actually his pilot.

Joe was very impressed. Not because Arte had a pilot, but because he never let on that he even had a pilot, let alone that this was who was coming to the stadium. That’s how modest Arte Moreno is.

Personally, I think Joe and Arte are cut from the same cloth. They’re both respected gentlemen. All the regulars that come to Tempe Diablo Stadium know Joe and he knows them as well.

Joe had more stories to tell, but Cheryl and I had to run. The few players that had made their way out to the practice fields were headed into the stadium and Cheryl and I wanted to make sure we caught up with them. We were hoping to see Joe Saunders and Sean O’Sullivan one last time.

We told Joe we had to run, but would be back out to say good bye before we left.

Our trip into the stadium proved to be for naught as neither Saunders nor O’Sullivan appeared to be in the group headed to the clubhouse. As we were standing around, Joe came walking down to the field level.

You see Joe is old school. He was ready to leave for the day and instead of leaving without saying good bye, he came and found us to wish us a safe trip home. That made our day because that’s the kind of guy Joe is.

A short time later, Cheryl and I headed out of the stadium and as we were walking to our car, Joe came driving up with his wife. He made it a point to stop and wish us well one more time. Joe introduced us to his wife and I had to ask her about a story Joe had told Cheryl and I last year.

During last season’s spring training a man who works for the company that demolishes old stadiums and builds new ones brought Joe a special present. He gave him a piece of artificial turf and some dirt from the home plate area at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia. Joe loved the idea that guys like Lenny Dykstra and Mike Schmidt probably spit on that dirt. He wanted to proudly display the jar of dirt and piece of turf on his coffee table, but his wife wouldn’t let him.

I asked her about that story and she confirmed it for us today. She told us, “He kept telling me about all the guys who had stepped on that dirt and I looked at him and said, it’s still dirt!” She told us his little trophy was still in the house, but not on the coffee table.

With that they said their goodbyes and sadly, spring training had come to a close for Cheryl and me.

If you make it out to the games this spring, be sure to find Joe, who will be working out in the lawn seating section in left field. He’s the guy with the warm smile, a firm handshake and a gleam in his eye. Tell him James sent you and ask him about that dirt from Veteran’s Stadium.

One more story before we close – Cheryl did make good on catching Mike Scioscia “later.” She let him pose for a picture with us today (I’m kidding, of course). Joe was kind enough to snap it for us. As we were posing for the photo I had to tell Scioscia that I had recently discovered the Baseball Boogie Video. Scioscia said, “That was a long time ago.”

I’ll end this post with a video of Torii Hunter.

I guess we can file this post under the letter “C” as in “class.” As this post is all about class individuals: Joe, Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia and Torii Hunter who is featured in the video below.


BallHype: hype it up!

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