Delightfully Different, eh?

I’ve just lost my job.  Evidently my bosses spent too much money attending business development conferences at posh beachfront resorts and flying to Dubai to meet our Afghan clients, that there was not enough left for all the technicians who actually generated our product.  This is not as disastrous as it sounds; I was going to quit in twelve weeks anyway.  But it was still quite a blow and, as most of us do when life pelts us with foul maggoty lemons, I turned to my faith for solace and support.  Amen, this may be one of those blessings in disguise, for my newfound freedom puts me in a position to partake of the free, daily springtime communion offered by no less than five big league teams within the range of a gallon of gas (certainly a better choice than sitting at home crying, sloshed by noon).

I began my therapeutic regimen this morning in “delightfully different Dunedin” – an apt though unoriginal slogan from the Chamber of Commerce.  Dunedin is well off the beaten path, a modest maze of quiet shady neighborhoods and bike trails fanning out from the small but eclectic downtown waterfront.  Its Main Street is strangely reminiscent of Disney’s “Main Street, USA” and refreshingly different from the vast suburban chain-store wasteland that typifies most other Grapefruit League cities.  Dunedin embodies a strange fusion of Norman Rockwell and modern progressivism – a homemade banner stretched across Main Street welcomes a native son home from the war, while right below it a gay bar advertises its upcoming drag queen competition.

The Blue Jays have called this little postcard village home every spring since their inception in 1977, always accompanied by a flock of Ontario snowbirds.  When I arrived at the Bobby Mattick training center – a cloverleaf-cluster of high school quality ballfields – in the cool early dewiness, a group of snowbirds was already engaged in a polite, restrained Canuck debate.  A comparison of the futures of Kyle Drabek and Stephen Strasburg soon transmogrified into a collective soul-searching odyssey toward the elusive fatal flaw in their star-studded Olympic hockey team (periodically punctuated with an authentic “eh?”).  Shortly after 9:00, the Jays began to emerge from their clubhouse building beyond the outfield fence to warm up.  The day soon did the same; the fresh piney air, the chirping of the songbirds, and the Blue Jays made me feel blessed in a way, to be there instead of in a sterile, caffeinated, capitalistic cubicle.

After the obligatory loosening of the arms, the Jays split among the four fields, passing through our midst at their nexus and occasionally offering a pleasant “mornin’ folks” or “hey, how ya been?” to an especially devoted fan.  I was in the restroom, taking a piss, when I heard the door open, followed by the resounding clatter of spikes on the concrete.  Before I knew it, there was Marc Rzepczynski standing silently next to me, his eyes focused on the cinderblock wall in front of us.  Only in spring training!

Just the pitchers and catchers are in camp as of yet, so I was lucky enough to witness a ritual as ancient as the church itself – big league pitchers’ fielding practice under the Florida palms.  None of the pitchers were scheduled to throw off the mound, so their day was done before 11.  I’m sure they all worked out inside afterwards, but I was more than a little surprised.  What was the point of bringing these guys all the way to Florida just to spend an hour and a half on simple fundamentals?  It almost seemed like they were performing an ancestral ritual, rather than a purposeful drill.  Then again, many of the Jays’ 162 games this summer will be played more out of professionalism than hunger, and I suppose that going through the motions for their own sake is a significant component of the fabric of baseball.

The morning ended with the catchers’ batting practice.  John Buck was, by far, the most remarkable of the bunch; the man has some serious power.  Travis D’Arnaud, one of the promising young buds acquired in the Halladay deal, looked comfortable and eager to make an impression.  Matt Liuzza was back; I saw him last year when he was one of the oldest players in the Florida State League.  Now 26 years old, he’s wearing #75 and has exactly zero hits above A-ball.  What goes through his head on a morning such as this, I wonder.  Does he still consider himself a prospect?  Or deep down in his subcockles does he sense that he’s just an organizational filler destined for an unglamorous coaching job here in Dunedin?  These and all our other questions will be answered in due time; this day, for me, was all about just soaking in the moments.

Jose Molina connects

Buck Martinez gets acquainted with Brian Jeroloman

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