Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Baseball's Yesterdays

With the game-time temperature expected to be near 90 degrees, we lingered in the shade outside HoHoKam Park in Mesa, AZ, before the Cubs - Giants game Wednesday.

"The strongest thing that baseball has going for it today are its yesterdays." ~-Lawrence Ritter. Maybe so. Having George Foster, Rollie Fingers (right), and Ferguson Jenkins at the autograph table created a lot of conversation among the early arrivals and these larger-than-life figures. Rollie was one of Kate's favorites, or rather Rollie's handle bar moustache was.

I spent time hanging around the table of Fergie Jenkins. After learning that part of the fee charged for a Fergie Jenkins-autographed baseball would go to the "Field of Dreams" fund in Iowa for assistance in repairing flood damage, Kate offered to pay the fee for the ball. Still part kid, I got in line to shake Fergie's hand.

As I waited in line, we lined up the shot and readied for the meeting. Once I arrived at the front of the line, the kid took over. Forgetting to look at the camera and wait for the shot to be lined up, I thanked him for the years of enjoyment he provided me and moved on. That really is my hand that Fergie is shaking. One more "yesterday."

We also found shade in the concourse under HoHoKam. Programs, scorecards, and apparel galore--all essential ingredients to enjoying the game--were available in shops and tables along the walkway.

Both of the "Cubbie Holes," featuring Cubs' souvenirs, clothing, caps, mugs, pillows, etc., were wall-to-wall people and left us wondering: "What price fandom?"

And, of course, the food stands play a featured role in any pre-game preparation. This booth featured the Mesa Nacho dog (with chili, cheese, fritos, and jalapenos), the Cincy Chili Sky dog, the Chi-Town dog, and the NYC dog.

I don't know if it is the fact that the Cubs' Triple A minor league affiliate is in Des Moines, IA or that the demand for a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is so strong that it's worth the trip to Mesa, but Chuckie's kitchen on wheels made it in from Dewitt, IA to provide a touch of home for the snowbirds and transplants from the Midwest.

But in a prime location opposite the autograph table was a newcomer to the hot dog, popcorn, cracker jack, and beer quartet of the ballpark. This stand featured soba noodles, but these were not your ordinary soba noodles. Not only were they award-winning soba noodles, they were wok-fired, award-winning soba noodles.

"Watching a spring training game is as exciting as watching a tree form its annual ring." -~Jerry Izenberg. Maybe so. But try telling the HoHoKam Park record crowd of 13,024 that this spring game was not exciting. Now a five-run Giant ninth inning, featuring a grand slam by Nick Noonan, a guy who not only was not listed on the 40-man roster but was not even on the list of non-roster invitees, may not have been exciting for Cub fans, but thanks to Nick, the game did have a Hollywood-type ending.

"A critic once characterized baseball as six minutes of action crammed into two-and-one-half hours." --Ray Fitzgerald. The critic making this comment was obviously not a scout. Seated in the middle of two rows of seats about 15 rows behind home plate was a small troop of scouts armed with radar guns, clipboards, and pens. All half dozen of this troop could be writing or engaged in conversation, but as the pitcher began his wind-up, the guys raised the radar guns in unison to record the speed of the pitches--six minutes of action, indeed!

"I don't love baseball. I don't love most of today's players. I don't love the owners. I do love, however, the baseball that is in the heads of baseball fans. I love the dreams of glory of 10-year-olds, the reminiscences of 70-year-olds. The greatest baseball arena is in our heads, what we bring to the games, to the telecasts, to reading newspaper reports." -~Stan Isaacs, "Diamond-Studded Memories," Newsday, 9 April 1990

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