Thursday 16 February 2012

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Sicamous, Surprise, and Spring Training

You wouldn't think that attending baseball spring training would be very high on my to do list. Where I grew up it was all about hockey. That's what you did from the moment you got home from school until your Mom yelled for you to come in, and then for about another 10 minutes after that while Mom wondered if you heard her or not (See kids...there's some disadvantages to technology too.). The extent of my exposure to baseball was my Dad's annual work baseball tournament that we had to attend in Sicamous, British Columbia every Labour Day weekend.

Now Sicamous (It's pronounced "Sick-a-Moose". I know, I know...I didn't name it) is a nice place, but it's probably the reason that I wasn't fond of baseball for the first 30 years of my life. You see, Sicamous averages 18 inches of rain annually, 75% of which fell between our arrival to and departure from town each year. My memories of baseball are all of muddy fields and soaking wet clothes. Throw in the one year that Dad thought it would be a good idea for us to bring a tent trailer up instead of staying at a hotel, and you can imagine how much I looked forward to this weekend every year. Essentially I just tagged along and wished that my parents would have left me at home.

Fast forward 30 years. I'd already recovered from the tent trailer incident enough to give camping another shot, so now it was time to give baseball another go. This time though, I was doing it in 90 degrees weather on perfectly manicured fields. Surprise, Arizona (I didn't name that one either) is where the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals conduct their Spring Training camps, and it's also just down the road from the house of my good friend. This meant that not only did my kids have perfect weather and comfortable accommodations for their first exposure to baseball, but they had a private pool to relax in after a day of basking in the sun and playing in the fields alongside some of the best baseball players in the world. To me, this seemed like a no-brainer winning situation. So why did my kids have that same "Why couldn't Dad have left us at home!" look that I was sporting 30 years ago?

It's a mistake I've made before, and unfortunately one that I'll probably make again, but I forget that just because I'm interested in something, doesn't mean everybody is as excited about it as I am. Baseball is a great sport; the finesse of throwing a hundred mile an hour fastball to an exact location over a 17 inch wide plate, the raw power and brute force of a swing designed to send a ball hundreds of feet in the opposite direction from the one it's traveling, and the gazelle like speed and grace of players trying to catch balls in positions that would easily qualify them for Cirque du Soleil's next show. There's a ton of artistry to the sport, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that it can be a little slow at times and downright boring on occasion. Watching groups of players rotating around four different fields in order to practice such riveting things as base path running or ground ball fielding is something best left to those who truly follow and understand the sport. For my kids, it was leaving them with the same impression of baseball that I'd formed at their age, although at least they didn't have to wade through a foot of mud to get it. We stayed for a couple hours, but eventually we decided that the "training" part of Spring Training was probably best left to the diehards.

There's two parts to Spring Training though, and the next day the boy and I headed out with our friends to take in an exhibition game. This is where you want to be if you're anything lower than a complete baseball fanatic. We bought tickets to sit on the grass hill in the outfield, but the stadium was half empty so we were free to roam about throughout the game, and since it was a minor league stadium you had a perfect view of the game no matter where you went. For a while we stood over top of the bullpen where the Kansas City Royals pitchers were warming up, and on occasion the players would even talk with the fans who were hanging around (although to take the conversation any deeper than "Throw me a ball?" you'd better know some Spanish). There was even a merry-go-round set up on one concourse to entertain the littlest of fans. It was the most relaxed atmosphere I'd ever experienced at a sporting event, barring that time I fell asleep at a soccer game (which wasn't good as I was playing midfield), and an absolutely perfect way to enjoy a baseball game. This is the part of Spring Training that you want to bring your kids to.

So what will my kids tell you about Spring Training if you ask them? The boy will tell you that the practice field was boring, but the game was okay because the concession had great stuff. My older daughter will tell you that the field was conveniently located across the street from a Ross outlet store, and my youngest daughter will give you a confused look and say "Oh, you mean that place where everybody was named Rodriguez?" (In her defence, there were eight players named Rodriguez in one group. You might want to split them up a little.) It's not quite the glowing impression I was hoping they'd leave with, but it's still better than the rain, mud, and tent trailer outings that I endured. On the other hand, nobody in Surprise asked me to pitch an inning while they finished their beer. You could count on that almost hourly in Sicamous.