February 27, 2012

One door closes; another opens

Every time we head out to Tempe in the spring, we (Cheryl and me) go with huge expectations. We are always hopeful that we can have some fun interactions with players; be it with an autograph, a photo opportunity, a conversation or by simply seeing them interact with one another. There’s nothing like spring training – the players are more accessible, generally relaxed and in a good mood.

It doesn’t always work out that way and there are times when things don’t like we hope. This trip had its moments, but almost turned out to be nothing close to what we expected.

First – not as many position players were in camp early as we had hoped for and those that were weren’t very accessible. The spring training facility is less fan friendly than it has been in the past. Let’s just say that Albert Pujols’ impact was evident.

If you’ve been to Tempe you are probably familiar with the path the Angels take from the practice fields to the stadium. The barricades that line the path are now doubled – meaning that if you want to have your picture taken with a player – there’s a bigger gap between you and them. It’s nothing horrible, but it’s a lot less intimate.

As Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Vernon Wells and others took batting practice on the back fields near the minor league clubhouse, we were only allowed watch from beyond the outfield area. In the past fans were allowed to walk between and behind the fields. That’s not true any longer. One rumor floating around was that someone walked into the minor league club house and stole some bats – so security is now taking extra precautions. Bummer.

Those things made the experience a little less enjoyable, but our trip still had some bright spots; however, our last day – Sunday was almost a disaster.

We arrived at the stadium around 10 a.m. – a little later than usual, but normally a good time to accomplish the things we want to do. As I was heading towards the practice fields – I saw Morales and Mark Trumbo on a cart heading back to the clubhouse. I looked out and the practice fields were empty…

“What is going on?” I thought to myself.

I met up with Cheryl and we walked into the stadium to find that the catchers and minor leaguers were taking batting practice. Everyone else was done. We asked around and found out the players were pretty much done for the day. Turns out the rest of the position players would be arriving, checking in, taking their physicals, etc. (I would learn today that Mike Scioscia also happened to be sick and didn’t even come to the stadium).

What to do?

The day was looking like a total disappointment.

And then I had an idea – I asked Cheryl if she wanted to head out to the Diamondbacks facility? She was up for it and off we wet (the great thing about the Cactus League is that you're just minutes away from most of the stadiums)...

The day prior – Saturday, we took a trip out to the Fields at Salt River to have a look see. We had heard that it was a beautiful complex and it was. That trip turned out to be good recon. We knew exactly how to get there, where to go to see the Diamondbacks (they share the facility with the Rockies), etc.

Turns out our little journey to Salt River Fields would be the highlight of our trip.

As we walked from the parking lot to the practice areas, I caught sight of the pitchers working out. Cheryl was wondering why I was walking so fast… as she would soon learn, I was on a mission. As I got closer to the area, the pitchers were leaving the field (panic started to set in) and then I realized what was happening… they were walking to an area where fans were waiting to interact. It was at this point that I spotted… you guessed it, Joe Saunders (regular readers of this blog know about our history with Joe).

I pointed and turned back to Cheryl and said, “There’s Joe!” We made our way over, and much to our delight, got to spend a few minutes with Joe.

I asked Joe if he had gone golfing yet with Tom Glavine? He said that was “still in the works.” Turns out – he’s actually going to be golfing with John Smoltz sometime in the future. I read this article in 2010 about his wife Shanel setting up a golf date for Joe to play with Smoltz. Joe was too nice to correct me about the names - which is just like Joe.

Joe signed a few things for us, posed for pictures and basically “made our trip” as Cheryl would tell him. The day looked a little bleak at first, but it’s amazing what a little prayer can do. If we had been ten minutes later, we probably would have missed our small window of opportunity.

We hung around for a while, got a few autographs, pictures, etc. before heading to Hillside Spot Café (where we had breakfast earlier) to pick up an order of blondies (cookies) we had ordered and then headed home.

Photo opps (above) with Ian Kennedy, Kirk Gibson, and Ryan Roberts x 2. By the way - Ian Kennedy shares our affinity for one of our favorite restaurants - Jongewaard's Bake 'N broil in Long Beach. Bake 'n Broil made his wedding cake and he told us he always has his mom pick up some red velvet cake whenever she comes out to see him.

We had a blast with the Diamondbacks and Cheryl and I agreed, we could easily adopt the Diamondbacks as our National League team.

By the way… check out our breakfast: “Hit the Spot” pancakes (Two Flapjacks served w/ sliced Bananas, Caramel, Whipped Crème Fraiche & Peanuts) and an Egg Torta.

On our drive home, Cheryl proved once again how wise she is. She asked me "Where's Bartolo Colon?" I couldn't remember (it's hard keeping up with all the ex-Angels around the league these days) and I told her as much. Her response? "He should go to Oakland?" Why Oakland, I asked? She said, "That's where all the players seem to end up when they're on their way out."

Well, as you probably already know and I learned today - Colon is indeed in Oakland. When I told Cheryl this today - she laughed and then said, "John Lackey needs to go there next." Hey, the girl speaks the truth. Just saying.

Be sure to check out the posts about the rest of our trip (below)...

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