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Spring Training: What a Glorious Place to Be, Unless Your Name Is Carlos Lee

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Spring training is an experience that every baseball fan should experience. The games don’t count. Most of the guys who play will never make the majors. The stars barely play. But there’s just something about the atmosphere. Something about sitting in the Florida sunshine in March and watching baseball.

I’ve gone twice. For a week each time. And I didn’t have a bad experience. Even the bad games were good. But the best thing about spring training isn’t necessarily the games. It’s the people.

The very first game that I attended was at Kansas City’s spring training complex between Tampa and Orlando. The Astros were the visiting team. I don’t remember much about the game. I think Bagwell played, but not Biggio. I remember Larry Dierker and Vern Ruhle sitting on lawn chairs by the dugout. The skies were a fantastic color of blue and there were no clouds.

Sitting next to me were two guys originally from St. Louis but living in Orlando. They were taking the afternoon off to watch baseball. I asked why they didn’t go to Disney and watch the Braves or Lakeland and watch the Tigers, and they said that since they were from St. Louis, they felt they should come watch the team from Missouri, and the Cards complex was too far from Orlando to make a game.

About three innings into the game, I noticed these two blondes sitting in the row in front, their long legs thrown over the seats in front of them. And since it was Florida in March and in the sunlight, they were wearing shorts. Did I mention they were blonde? And gorgeous. And they were from Houston.

So we all got to talking since the stars were out and the game was being played by the scrubs struggling for a spot on the 40-man roster. The women were teachers. And they were in their mid 20s. And they were on spring break. But instead of hitting the beach, they came to watch the Astros – though the teenage sister of one of the women was on the beach at Daytona, probably flashing her boobies and getting drunk.

There’s no further point to the story. It kind of ends there. We didn’t hook up – I’m kind of dork and I was about a decade older than the teachers. But I just wanted to give an example of how fun spring training can be. I think the Astros even won the game.

So if you ever get the chance to go to spring training, you really should go. You’ll really have fun. And later, I’ll try to remember to tell you about the Tigers fan in Lakeland and the Mayo Smith Society.

And speaking of spring training, it was good to see that Woody Williams was in mid-season form, surrendering five runs in 2.2 innings. Brandon Backe also got beat up a bit, but Dave Raymond politely told me that this didn’t matter because it’s only spring and maybe Backe was just working on specific pitches.

In some ways, Raymond was right. For some players, spring really doesn’t matter. It’s a time to see how new pitches look under game conditions, so it’s no big deal that Roy Oswalt gets beat up. But if none of it matters, why play the games? Why do they make roster decisions based on spring stats?

Spring stats might not matter for some players, but for guys like Williams and Backe, spring stats do matter because they’re not guaranteed spots in the starting rotation. They’ve actually got to be able to perform at some point. They can only go so long saying they’re just working on the changeup. So, yeah, Dave, if Roy Oswalt’s getting beat up, it doesn’t matter. But if Williams and Backe get beat up every time they go out to face opposing batters, then yeah, it does matter.

But it good to see that spring training doesn’t matter to Carlos Lee. Carlos is back in Houston at the moment, paying a visit to the rodeo so he can buy cattle. I know this annual break is in his contract, but just what kind of idiot allows this? Okay, Drayton does. Just like Roger Clemens only had to be with the Astros on the day that he pitched. This is just a bad way to run a ballclub. What next, does Lance Berkman get to miss games to attend prayer sessions at Second Baptist? Does Oswalt get to miss a game to go to a Monster Truck rally? And it’s nice to know that Lee feels preparing for the season takes second place to going to the damn rodeo.

I learned a little something during yesterday’s game. Milo Hamilton broadcasts games the way he does because that’s how blind people ask him to do the game. Well, I’ve got a favor to ask you blind Astros fans: Do you think you can ask Milo to give the inning, the ball/strike count, the number of outs, and the score every now and then? Thanks.

I also learned when I tuned to 790 to listen to yesterday’s game, that the people at 790, for some reason, thought they had to broadcast the Brett Favre press conference. Now, remind me please, when he did play for a Houston team? Did he play for the Cowboys at any time, and I’ve just forgotten it? I didn’t think so, so why take that press conference? I mean, I don’t think we live in Wisconsin.

And if any of you are worried about Rocket’s post-jail career, don’t worry, the Huntsville Stars of the Southern League have a position for him. Maybe they can find a little something for Rusty. – John Royal

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