2004 Spring Training Preview
We like spring. Sure, our allergies are killing us due to the pollen and it is already pushing 90 degrees. But spring means baseball returns, and for our group, this is the greatest time of year.
I’m not a one-dimensional sports fan. I follow the Dallas Mavericks, who look like they may not make it out of the first round of the playoffs this year. My son Joel and I are big hockey fans, too, but we feel the Stars will need goalkeeper Marty Turco to be “standing on his head” come playoff time if their new softer lineup (minus Derian Hatcher) is to make a run at the cup.
Baseball is a different matter. Emotion, tradition, and statistics form the core of baseball. It’s grandfathers, fathers, and sons, all watching the game together at a historic ballpark and citing stats from days gone by. Baseball’s moments are used as benchmarks for times in its truest fan’s lives; its memories are indelible, burned forever into the mind of old men, still kids at heart listening to Stan Musial or Mickey Mantle on the radio.
And that’s why we love Spring Training. The tradition is just as rich, the history is legendary, and the parks are unique. Kenny “The Lizard” Lattin is the trip pro in our group once again this year. We like to call him the “savvy veteran” because he knows where to find the Steak ‘n Shake from his years of experience. The Lizard is making his fifth trip, the fourth to Florida. He works for Texas Bank and Trust.
Dan “Blue” Wilson of Kilgore joins our group this year. A professional umpire in the Atlantic League during the summer months, Dan will make a great addition to the squad. We value his insights, knowledge of the game, and the fact that he, with several cups of coffee in him, can drive all night without our ending up in the Gulf of Mexico.
Another new addition this year is David “Big Jim” Powell. He has years of experience in sports officiating as well, having spent many a Friday night on the football field. Another interesting fact about David is how much he resembles Curly from the Three Stooges. That’s OK with him though because, as he put it, Curly was “the MOST likeable, the MOST loveable, the MOST adorable, and the MOST handsome.” Big Curly Jim hails from Hallsville, TX.
Newcomer Darin “Puke” Bradshaw rounds our group out this year. He works out at Texas Eastman, where he and Big Jim are both chemical operators. From what I hear, he has an unhealthy addiction to Fruit Loops.
You can read all about our exploits in Florida here in this space through next Monday. Also, I invite you to listen to David Smoak’s Sports Talk on 600 AM and 1430 AM every day at 5:00 this week, where you'll hear a live update from us in Florida. (If you thought my newspaper columns were bad, just wait until you hear my live reporting!)
The Third Annual Out of Bounds Spring Training Trip began with just the Lizard and me in the Tahoe. Dan “Blue” Wilson was calling an afternoon game over in Natchitoches, so we headed out about two o'clock in hopes of picking him up as the game ended at four.
David and Darin went on ahead of us to play a couple of rounds of golf. I asked the guys if there were any amusing anecdotes from the links they wanted to share with our readers. Puke responded that their scores were probably the most amusing things. As Big Jim put it, “it was a great day for bad golf.”
When they arrived at the 17th green, they had caught up to a foursome and were forced to wait patiently. This gave Big Curly Jim the opportunity to scout out some orange trees growing near the tee box. He decided to help himself to a quick citrus snack. “Improved my grip, too,” he said, “what with all that sticky orange juice all over my hands.”
The Lizard deadpanned, “I guess the green fees included the cost of produce.”
While Tiger and Vijay were out pillaging the land, we were finally on the way east. As usual, the vehicle was loaded down with the requisite snack and entertainment items. On the food front, we had the greatness of the pimento cheese sandwiches, sausage balls, the famous baseball cut out cookies, and a variety of other high-quality delicacies. We also had two full cases of IBC root beer and some water.
We spent a good portion of the drive down this time making good use of a new toy, the portable DVD player. We watched a variety of sitcoms and movies for the bulk of the trip. The most entertaining part of this endeavor came when I saw the look of terror on Lizard’s and Blue’s faces while I was driving and watching movies at the same time. I was behind the wheel through all of Mississippi and Alabama, but I don't actually remember going through either because I wasn't watching the road anyway. I’m joking, wives. (Mostly).
We anticipated being pressed for time to arrive in Vero Beach by 1:00 the next day, but actually arrived in Kissimmee before 7:30 the next morning. The lounging golfers were certainly thrilled when we called them up at this hour to let us into the condo.
This left us a little time to eat some breakfast and play some Tiger Woods Golf on the big screen TV before we had to depart for game one. We had a great group together and were ready to head out, but our traveling companions from previous years were sorely missed.
Clayton Pecot called me up just before we were leaving for Vero Beach. He didn't have the opportunity to make the trip this year because of some poor family planning. His second son T.D. arrived just a few weeks before. He called, and it was good to hear from him. He immediately asked if we had been to a Perkins Restaurant yet.
We missed “Big Jake” Hudgins too, but he is scheduled to be married in just a couple of months. I guess the fiancé must have seen the pictures of his previous trips on the website (www.oobsports.com) and laid down the law. He wasn't going to be scanning the Florida beaches for chicks this year. And of course, the only way to ensure that was to keep him back home.