Down on the Farm: Spring training
With fifteen major league baseball teams training in the Phoenix area, you would think that a baseball fan would be in heaven, racing from ballfield to ballfield collecting autographs and taking in the atmosphere.
On that premise, I looked over the map of stadiums last week and decided to drive to see the Dodgers practice.
The Dodgers recently were purchased by former basketball legend Magic Johnson and friends. The group is plush with money and throws it around as if they are the Yankees.
I looked forward to possibly sighting the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, Sandy Koufax. Now in his 70s, Koufax shows up at training camp to dispense advice to young pitchers.
Phoenix goes on forever. It took me an hour-and-a-half to reach the complex which the Dodgers share with the White Sox. Although I was chomping at the bit to see baseball, I decided to quit acting like a 12-year-old for a bit and stop for a leisurely lunch on the way.
When I pulled into the complex at quarter past noon, the fields stood empty. I asked one of the guards if there was any activity.
"Nope, they finished at noon."
Well, I asked, when do they start?
Not a bad life, I would say! Multi-million dollar salaries for three hours of work per day!
I walked around back where some minor leaguers were running base-stealing drills. I heard the thump of the ball hit a glove. I heard the crack of bat on ball. That was good enough for me. I jumped back in the car and headed back to the house.
I wish I could say the return trip only took an hour-and-a-half. However, the only highway out our way is Highway 60, and if anything odd happens, it slows to a crawl.
The something that happened was President's Day and a two-for-one ticket sale at the Renaissance Festival, I found out later. You couldn't get me into a Renaissance Festival if you handed me the tickets for free. But the rest of Phoenix thought otherwise, creating an 18-mile traffic stop-and-go traffic jam on Highway 60.
For eighteen miles cars lurched forward, stopped, switched lanes for a brief advantage––only to have the other lane go faster––honked, pulled off to the side to see far ahead, jockeyed for position.
A traffic jam is a test of one's equanimity. Teachers of inner peace often use the traffic jam as an example of something out of our control which anger will do nothing to improve. Through enduring a traffic jam, we learn acceptance.
If you have the calm of a Zen master, you will accept the traffic jam as part of life, even learn to embrace the traffic jam and hold it in a place of wonder.
Or something like that.
I didn't attain inner peace, but after an hour of not knowing how long this fiasco was going to go on, I gave up hoping the jam would end and started to ponder why I was out on the road in the first place.
What was I hoping to see at the spring training? The teams weren't yet playing actual games. From what I have seen of practice before, baseball players mostly stand around, spit tobacco juice and swear.
"You really get to see the players close up," is one spring training enthusiast's explanation to me.
HD television allows us to see where Joe Mauer missed with his razor and other details best left blurry. If I want to see players close up, I can count their pimples on TV.
Say I ran into Sandy Koufax. What in the world would I say to him? Why would I want to bother the poor man?
"It was kinda cool," is what people always say when they run into a celebrity. "Pretty cool."
To my thinking, there is nothing "cool" about panting like a needy puppy around a celebrity, no matter how famous or talented.
The coolest response for an adult is to let the ballplayers play ball and don't abase yourself by pestering players for attention even when you have a chance.
The traffic jam, I finally decided, was a karmic teacher.
Enjoy the game of baseball, the traffic jam told me. But don't turn into a geeky 48-year-old who thinks his obscure existence will be glorified by a moment of proximity to the overpaid lunks who play it.