I spend a lot of my time on social media these days, and by doing such, find myself drawn into those personality quizzes. “What background character from The Simpsons Are You?” Or “What Color is Your Aura?”
I’ve become pretty good at just letting my eyes gloss over as I skim past them. Recently, however, was one that caught my eye and wouldn’t let go. The question posited was the following:
“Who is your favorite MLB players by position during YOUR lifetime…this is pretty tough if you’re a fan.”
I initially looked at it and assumed it would be a lot easier than it wound up being. Most of the “starters” were who I expected, but some of the competition was a LOT closer than I would have imagined. With the All-Star teams being announced today, in that same spirit, I present the Trippin’ Baseballs All-Time (so far) Team of My Lifetime.
C – Catcher was initially one of the more difficult positions for me to fill. Remember, we are looking to favorites, not necessarily “best.” I had almost settled for Mike Piazza, who once signed a baseball for me until I remembered another catcher who signed my baseball. The most beloved backup catcher in MLB history “Grandpa” David Ross. Ross always seemed to come through in the clutch, be it a meaningless Arizona spring game or Game 7 of the World Series. His presence and contributions during the Series certainly didn’t hurt his candidacy.
Runners up: Geovany Soto and Willson Contreras. Sense a theme yet? I promise the rest of the list isn’t ALL Cubs, but having a Rookie of the Year credit for the former and a World Series ring for the latter are pretty hard to argue against.
1B – First base was almost a slam dunk. Anthony Rizzo gets the nod here. Again, World Series credit, but here’s the thing. I’ve loved Rizzo since he was in the Red Sox system. I don’t know where I would have read his story, but I have an ex-roommate who was a diehard Red Sox fan, so I’m assuming he had something to do with it. When Rizzo was traded to the Padres, I told my brother to keep an eye on Rizz. That he would be a good one. (The rest of my family are Padre fans. I don’t know how to get them on the right (Cub) side.) In fact, I saw Rizzo’s last at bat as a Padre when he struck out against Andrew Cashner–who he would be traded for within a few brief weeks.Enough background. Anthony is an amazing team leader who is one of the type first basemen in the league. He stuck it out during the Cubs’ 100 loss seasons and led the team to the promised land in 2016 and for that, I salute you, Mr Rizzo. All that and I didn’t even touch on his amazing charity and community service work for sick children, a cause very close to my heart.
Runners up: Mark Grace and JT Snow. At my very first Cubs Convention ever I was an ill prepared, awkward 14 year-old. Unlike these days, there was a special pre-convention luncheon with many of the current and former players in a much less crowded setting than at the convention itself. At the time I had a PE and Study Skills teacher who had spent some brief time in the majors, which to me made him the coolest guy ever. He had also played baseball with Mark Grace at SDSU. When he learned I was going to the convention he told me to use his name if i got to meet Grace. I got my chance at this luncheon, and though its entirely possible Grace didn’t remember this guy at all, he was very kind to me and treated me like my teacher was his best friend who asked him to take care of me. It was a great experience. J.T. Snow was the Angels first baseman when I was working on a project for my church and contacted the Angels to see if they could set me up with something from him since his uniform number was significant to our pastor and the fact that he was an Angel tied into that. In addition to the item for the pastor (which I cannot, for the life of me think of) enclosed in the envelope was a signed card addressed to me. While I’m now sure that was courtesy of the PR/Community Relations Department, at the time I’d swear it was from Snow, himself. In other news, it broke my heart when he signed with the Giants. Still stings a bit.
2B – Second base was really no contest at all. For a long time my all-time favorite player was Ryne Sandberg…things may have slightly altered that ranking in the intervening years, but he is very strongly in my top-3 players of all time, which does have a certain amount of fluidity to it. I’ve already explained how i became a Cubs fan, in large thanks to the unknowing contributions of Mr Sandberg. I still collect his cards when I can find them and one year at the Cubs Convention I had the good fortune to get a jersey signed and had about 30 seconds to let him know what he meant to me. I think I managed to convey that without looking too stupid. Hopefully that won’t be the last chance I get to talk to him.
Runners up: Roberto Alomar and Javy Baez. I grew up in San Diego and was starting to get into baseball in a big way almost around the same time that Roberto Alomar was getting his first at bats with the Padres and I was a fan from the beginning. I even rooted for him in Toronto, which made me, more or less an ancillary Blue Jays fan. I remember hearing that he lived i the hotel that overlooked the field in the SkyDome (yes, SKYDOME! I don’t need no Rogers Centre) and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. Not that he would get to ever watch a ballgame from his apartment, but the idea of it all. I got to meet Robby a few weeks ago and while not overly chatty, he was perfectly pleasant and signed my ball and posed for a photo, so he’s aces in my book.
I liked Javy Baez when the Cubs drafted him and lot of those human interest stories came out and I learned about his MLB logo tattoo and his overwhelming confidence in himself. That hasn’t changed at all, but this year he has become a more complete ball player, and I only slightly hesitate when I claim that he has become one of the elite players in the league. If he is not a 2018 All Star I will riot,
SS- We finally reach one of the players that I didn’t ever get to see on regular basis, Cal Ripken. I do distinctly remember his chase to Gehrig’s consecutive games record. For the record-breaking game I know I made sure to get my tiny baby brother and hold him in front of the TV and told him what it was that he was watching and that it was doubtful that any of his friends could honestly tell him that they had seen the game as well. I have since learned a lot more about Ripken and read his autobiography and it’s nice to know that I was a good judge of character, even way back in my youth.
Runner up: Nomar Garciaparra. In the crop of young talented shortstops that all sort of burst onto the scene at the same time, including Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada, I was always partial to Garciaparra. I’m sure part of it was his wacky name, but even more, he was a great 2 way player. He could hit up a storm and then go out and make some amazing plays in the field. In fact, I was so taken by “Nomah” that somewhere in the back of my closet is a #5 Red Sox jersey. I’m not overly proud of owning the jersey, since I now hate the Sox, if you could keep this just between us I’d appreciate it.
3B -Here’s the slam dunk. Easiest entry on the list, right? Welllll, not quite. I mean, once I got my head on straight yes it was simple, but initially one of my runners-up gave me a reason to step back and reexamine things. So yes, my third baseman is quite obviously my man-crush, Kristopher Bryant. I had a chance to meet Bryant after a USD alumni game and he couldn’t not have been nicer to the few of us waiting for him. He signed anything and everything with any inscription you wanted and posed for photos for everyone who wanted one. He was continued this benevolence to the fans even now as a bonafide superstar. The only difference is the size of the crowd and accessibility. Deep down he’s still just the kid from Vegas, playing in Chicago by way of San Diego. By the way, it also doesn’t hurt Bryant’s case that 4 of my siblings are USD alumni,.
Runner up: Ken Caminiti. Cammy was the Padres third baseman during their improbable World Series run in 1998. He was a creature of almost mythical tales. The Padres had a series in Mexico agains the Mets and something that Cammy had done (nothing in small measures) left him lying on the trainer’s table with IVs in both of his arms.yelled for a Snickers bar, downed the candy, proceeded to pull out the IVs and go out and hit 2 home runs. He was a “gamer” and the kind of player that ran out every ball like their hair was on fire. When we lost him to a suspected cocaine overdose (remember, nothing in moderation) I was heartbroken. He was playing for Houston and wasn’t the same ball player, but he played with the same intensity. I miss that.
OF -My main outfield consists of Tony Gwynn, Mike Trout and Steve Finley. I know, one of these things is not like the other. Gwynn is a genuine Hall of Famer. Trout is certainly building a career with an eye toward Cooperstown and title as an all time great, and then there’s Steve Finley. I loved Steve Finley as a Padre and hated him whenever he played for another team, which happened a lot. Finley was one of those scrappy ball players who always found a way to win, be it a walk, a home run or a highlight reel catch. He quietly went about his business but there was a fire that burned deep. Like Gwynn and Caminiti Finley was a keystone to the Padres teams I used to go and watch almost every Friday night in early high school.
Tony Gwynn should be obvious. If you were a kid in San Diego with even the most minimal interest in baseball and were born between 1975 and 1990 and Gwynn isn’t on your list of favorite players you have seen, there is something wrong with you. I’m not even going to sugarcoat that. You’re just wrong.
Mike Trout is quite possibly the most exciting player in the game today. Javy may give him a slight run for his money, but Trout has been doing it all longer and more constantly. I was at the game where Trout hit for the cycle and the palpable nerves and excitement when he came up only needing the home run to compete it was absolutely electric. I cant even begin to describe the feeling in the park when that ball left the field of play.
Runner up: Tim Salmon. Speaking of fishy-named Angels outfielders, one of my very favorites is Salmon. I wanted him in my starting lineup, but there was no one to remove to find a place for him. In fact, the runners up/bench players can probably thank the KingFish for their inclusion. I wasn’t going to make this list and completely leave Mr Salmon off. He came to the majors about the same time as JT Snow, which was when I decided to add the Anaheim Angels to my fandom. Timing worked out well.
DH -Vladimir Guerrero is one of the most fun players that I have ever seen play. Putting him at DH kind of cancels one of the most fun things about his skill set, which is his absolute cannon of an arm in right field. Again, around the time that Vlad was destroying the American League my ex-roommate and I were attending a lot of Angels games and Mr Guerrero was the most exciting guy on the field. He is a well deserved, if surprising (at least to me) second ballot Hall of Famer.
SP -Seeing Greg Maddux in anything other than a Braves or Cubs jersey was alway unsettling to me, yet thats how I saw him the most. As a Padre or Dodger. He may have bee older and lost a bit of spring in his step but he was still obviously the smartest guy on that field and an amazing pitcher. Of course with WGN and TBS being the cable behemoths that they were in my youth I had plenty of chances to watch him pitch for both Atlanta and Chicago. I loved that he looked nothing like a professional athlete and yet, he would go out to the mound and dominate all of the hulked up hitters of the mid-90s. I imagine he would throw a “Maddux” (compete game of under 100 pitches) and then go sit in his personal club chair in the clubhouse wearing a smoking jacket and read Tolstoy or something while sipping on tea in a china cup with his initials in the cup design. If I’m wrong, don’t tell me. I like my Greg Maddux fanfic as is.
Runner up: Andy Benes. One day soon I will get around to writing about the Padres coming to visit me in the hospital when I was 11. Benes was the big name of the group that came to visit. No Tony, sadly. The experience was surreal and actually served to cheer me up, in the exact way that most cloying hospital attempts to do so do the exact opposite. I always liked Benes, but now that we had a bond I had to root for him. Even at the end of his career when he became a godless Cardinal. That was hard.
RP -Here’s where I cheat a little bit. My choice for reliever is Kerry Wood, but I’m mostly including him for his work as a starter or closer. He did work as a middle reliever briefly so I can count him. My list, my rules. Kid K was supposed to be the miracle worker who brought a World Series to Wrigley Field. He wasn’t able to, and many of the villains in his story shared a dugout with Wood. His inability to bring a Series to the Friendly Confines was not due to lack of effort or heart. I’m happy to note that when the Cubs won it all in 2016, Kerry was a part of the organization and got his ring.
Runner up: Turk Wendell. When Cubs fans didn’t have much to look forward to, getting the ultra-superstitious Wendell into the game was one of those few bright spots. He wore “lucky” #13, refused to step on the chalk foul lines and chewed black licorice. Don’t worry though, he brushed his teeth in the dugout between innings. He was a solid reliever, but sometimes its fun just to have an oddball on the team to root for. Wendell isn’t going to be the last one that makes my list.
CP – Much Like Tony Gwynn, if you were of a certain age and a Padre fan, there was no way that you didn’t love Trevor Hoffman with every fiber of your being. If “Hell’s Bells” doesn’t give you chills and make you think of Hoffman you might be dead inside. When he was in line for save 479, to give him the all time most saves in history, my roommates and I watched the story of him getting 478 in the Padres second to last home game, turned off the tv, looked at each other and decided we were going to get in the car ad drive to San Diego for the game the next day. There was no guarantee that the Padres would win, or even that if they won there would be a save opportunity for Trevor, but dang it, if there was a chance, we’d be there. We all blew off work and Trevor rewarded our boldness with save 479. Luckily my manager at the time was a huge Padres fan and when I told what i had done, he just sort of rolled his eyes at me and I still had a job.
Runner up: Rod Beck. Beck, to me, was initially just the Giants closer. I had no feelings toward him, one way or the other (I hadn’t cultivated my hatred of the Giants and their fans yet.) Later, as his career was winding down the Cubs signed him as a cheap gamble. He lived in a trailer behind the outfield walls in Iowa and he would greet the fine folks of Des Moines in that trailer after games, cold brews in hand one for “Shooter” and one for whoever his new friend was. I love that story oh so much. Like Cammy, we lost Beck far too soon.
Manager- It’s really hard to not put Joe Maddon in this spot. How do you decline a man who brought the World Series to the North Side? I made it easy on myself. I didn’t. I know a lot of Cubs fans have issue with Joe constantly fiddling with lineups and some of his antics, but bottom line. Strip all of that away and he is a great manager. He takes chances and challenges things that are expected to be boiler plate to his advantage. I think Joe is a lot of fun and a very smart baseball man and a very smart man in general. Easily my favorite manager that I’ve ever watched.
Runners up: Bruce Bochy and Mike Scioscia. These guys were the keys to my second and third favorite teams as I was growing up. Now Bochy has moved to the Giants, which makes it really hard for me to root for him, but Scioscia is still here in Anaheim. Both are brilliant baseball men who have had many members of their staffs move on to managerial roles of their own (including Maddon under Mike Scioscia) which is the mark of a truly great leader and teacher.
There it is. My totally subjective, biased Hall of Fame–this round solely for players I saw play (or manage) in person. If this turns out ok, maybe there will be a meeting of the Veteran’s Committee and another installment. If that happens, please let me know the criteria you’d like to see the Committee to have to operate under. After all, its no fun just adding Willie Mays Bob Feller, Babe Ruth etc. Thin about it and if you’re out there please let me know!
Until next time,
Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!
David Ross has had a busy 12 months. He was a finalist on “Dancing With the Stars”, got a job as a commentator with ESPN, traveled the country for personal appearances…oh, and he did that ‘win the World Series’ thing too. With so much going on, even hardcore fans of the former Cubs backup catcher could be excused for missing the fact that in his ‘spare time’ Ross managed to write a New York Times best-selling book, “Teammate” as well.
Framing his baseball story through the lens of World Series Game 7, Ross discusses how he emerged from the ashes of being released by the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 to the high of winning the 2016 World Series, and in the process becoming one of the most valuable teammates in the game and certainly the most beloved backup catcher that baseball has ever seen.
As Ross says in the book, “I realized character could be as valuable as a home run, and my behavior and that attitude helped extend my career.”
It started with a small comment from Theo Epstein, after the 2008 season. Ross had joined the Boston Red Sox after being let go by the Reds and as he and Epstein discussed his future in Boston, Epstein felt he needed to inform Ross that he had gotten a reputation around the league as a bad teammate. That was the turning point for Ross.
Part autobiography, part self-help tome and even part journal kept during the 2016 season, “Teammate” had me anxiously turning to the next page to continue Ross’s remarkable story. In fact, I read the 272 pages in a single sitting.
I may have been slightly predisposed to like the book as a diehard Cub fanatic and David Ross fan, but my affection was more than just a fan service courtesy.
On the one hand, Ross provides insight and behind-the-scenes info on some of the Cubs biggest stories of the 2016 season, from the creation of the “Grandpa Rossy” persona to the emotionally charged meeting during the Game 7 rain delay. That in and of itself gives the book a great deal of value, but it was some of the other aspects that stuck with me.
After the meeting with Theo Epstein, Ross made a conscientious effort to be the best teammate that he could be and provide any team that he was a part of with more than just his baseball talent, but also the intangible benefit that provides. Throughout the book in between the insider stories of his career and personal life Ross shows practical examples of the key things that create a good, or even bad, teammate.
Though often based with a focus towards sports, the lessons Ross teaches in “Teammate” are equally appropriate being shared in a board meeting or classroom as they are on a ball field.
“Teammate” is a great book for anyone with an interest in some of the nitty-gritty of the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs or their beloved backup catcher. Beyond that, the morals and ‘teachable moments’ make the book valuable for anyone who want to be a better part of a team, be it athletic, business-oriented or even a family. Ross proves that even at the lowest low there can be lessons to learn and a chance to achieve more than ever seemed possible.
“Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages” by David Ross and Don Yaeger is available in print and digital and earns 8/9 baseballs from Tripping Baseballs. Highly recommended.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping Baseballs.
The 2013 draft was an exceptional one for the Chicago Cubs. Not only did they reap the benefits of suffering through a dismal 61-101 record in 2012 by getting to draft future superstar Kris Bryant with the 2nd pick, but they managed to snap up Trevor Clifton as well. Clifton was expected to be drafted in approximately the 5th round. However, a strong commitment to the University of Kentucky had many teams wary of spending a draft selection on the tall right-handed pitcher out of Tennessee. The Cubs liked what they saw in Clifton enough to take a chance on him in the 12th round and offer him a large signing bonus of $375,000, which was enough to break with Kentucky and join the Cubs organization. It’s looking like a good investment for the Cubs, so far.
Standing at 6’1 and weighing in at 170, with room to grow, Trevor Clifton draws comparisons to another right-handed hurler who was once in the Cubs system but found success elsewhere, Chris Archer. Like Archer, Clifton had a bit of a slow start to his career, but has learned from early adversity and spends every season trying to improve on his success.
“My goal each year is to be better each year in every part of my game,” says Clifton. “That’s the only way for a steady climb.”
Moving thousands of miles from home to begin a professional baseball career is an intimidating concept. When you combine that with barely turning 18 and graduating from high school, it is downright overwhelming and Clifton reasonably struggled in his first professional season, posting no wins and a 6.97 ERA in 8 games and 10 innings pitched. That was the last time that any numbers put up by Clifton would be referred to as ‘gaudy’ in a negative sense.
Over the next 3 seasons, Clifton’s ERA would never finish above a 4.00 and he averages just about one strikeout per inning pitched. Oh, and about those innings? Clifton has thrown over 100 of them for the past 2 seasons, so his durability, often a concern with pitchers drafted straight out of high school, doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Clifton’s slow and steady progress paid real dividends during the his 2016 campaign with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans where he was named Pitcher of the Month twice, earned the save in the All-Star Game and ultimately was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. He also just so happened to lead the Pelicans to the Carolina League Championship and is currently ranked in the Cubs’ top 10 prospects. Not a bad resume for a young pitcher who is still just 21 years old. Aside from the natural maturing process, what changed for Clifton in 2016?
“A whole lot of stuff, from mechanics to preparation to arm care. My biggest change, by far, was the mental side of the game. I went in to last season with confidence in my pitches and slowing the game down.”
Given his steady rise through the Cubs system it seems likely that Clifton will at least begin the season with the Tennessee Smokies, conveniently located about 4o minutes from his hometown of Maryville.
“I’m very excited about this upcoming season and seeing my family in the stands,” says Clifton. “A lot of players don’t get to experience that. My family means the world to me.”
That’s not to say that Clifton is going to take it easy in front of the local fans. “I enjoy seeing everyone’s support from my hometown. It makes me feel accountable.”
Clifton received an award this off-season from his hometown before even throwing a professional pitch there when his former high school retired his baseball number.
“I’ve had a lot of awards throughout my career, but having my number retired around the closest people to me was by far the best. I loved getting to spend that success with Heritage [High School] and my hometown.”
Clifton’s dedication to his family and friends gives insight into the man behind the athlete and fits in perfectly with the Cubs’ character-driven mindset.
“My family means the world to me and they’ve always been really supportive from t-ball until now, so I guess I don’t know any better. I think as a player you have to earn the fans’ respect and attention. I also have some great fans and followers I see throughout my social media and love conversations with them.”
Cubs fans, if you don’t know Trevor Clifton yet, consider this your introduction. It’s very possible that Clifton will be called up to AAA Iowa at some point this season, and from there a September call-up would be certainly within the realm of possibility.
“Now pitching for your Cubs, Number 25, Trevor Clifton!” may be heard at Wrigley Field sooner than we all may think. With his raw skills and positive attitude, Clifton has every chance to be a Wrigley Field stalwart.
“The region is altogether valueless. After entering it, there is nothing to do but leave.”
Lt. Edward Beale, Congress report on Arizona, 1858
While I don’t completely agree with the good lieutenant, I must say that I am glad to be home. You see, we weren’t intending on going to Spring training this year. My health is still a bit dodgy and being away from our home base is a bit scary right now. We aren’t habitual Spring Training junkies, but have been a few times and I’ve always had a good time. I had a lot of fun this time as well, but it was a little different from I had expected.
The impetus for even going down at all was the wedding of two of our closest friends, who happened to be from Phoenix. Which happened to be on my birthday. Which happened to be over the weekend of my birthday. When the universe clearly wants you to go Spring Training, you go!
For my birthday gift, my wife gave me her credit card and let me get tickets to all of the games I wanted to attend, which–after I restrained myself–wound up being 4 games. I found a Motel 6 close to both Sloan Park and the dialysis center that I would be utilizing twice during our short stay and booked our room.More details on that to follow.
That is far too long of a prologue, so lets just jump right into day 1.
We ended up leaving our house a bit later than intended, but other than one issue with CD selection (Yes children, old people still use physical media to listen to music) the drive was uneventful. Traffic was easy until we hit the outskirts of Phoenix, but we still made it to Scottsdale Stadium just a little bit after the Giants v. Puerto Rico game had begun. We immediately saw an issue. After driving around the ballpark and nearby environs there was literally no parking. All the lots were either full or blocked off with “Non Event Parking” sign. We even tried to find a place to park away from the ballpark and having a car service take us to the game with no avail. By this point it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten anything for many hours, so we cut our losses and changed our quest to find lunch.
Fortunately nearby was a restaurant serving Cornish pasties–as well as air conditioning, so we went in for a fine lunch topped off with an amazing banoffee pie and began to feel human again. at this point it was late enough to check in to our motel, so we headed in that general direction.
After a quick trip to the Walmart, which was decked out in Cubs merchandise, we arrived at our temporary home.
Do you ever get a strange feeling that things aren’t good and might soon get much worse? That was the feeling in my gut as we checked in. Don’t get me wrong, all the staff that we dealt with during our stay were perfectly nice. Very helpful and professional, even “upgrading” us to a handicapped room with no extra charge.
The room though? Not so good. The sort of place that you’d expect Norman Bates to work at, were “Psycho” set in 2017. Upon walking into our non-smoking room we were hit by a cloud of nicotine–something that persisted throughout our stay minus the one day when nicotine was swapped for pot smoke. There was a dirty boot print in our shower and the whole place looked like it had been cleaned by a disinterested teenager. Yes, I should have complained, but I was afraid any other room would be worse, so we soldiered on and kept the room.
Eventually we fell asleep and were not murdered in the night. I set those odds at 50-50.
Today was exciting because we were going to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I never get tired of saying that and love getting to refer to them as such) at Sloan Park, a ballpark I had yet to see since it opened only a few years ago. With Arizona ignoring Daylight Savings Time, I mentally thought that the game started at 12:05, the same as at home, so we arrived an hour sooner than expected. Oops. They soon opened the gates and we found our way inside and immediately grabbed some hot dogs, pretzels and water. We headed down to our seats and ate our lunch, fortunately, in some of the rare shade. The game against the Mariners was fun, not counting the final score, and it was good to see Bryant, Rizzo and the rest of the crew at it again, as well as see prospects like Eloy Jiminez in person.
Sloan Park is gorgeous and I do wish we had explored it a bit more, but the shady seats were too tempting to leave and so we remained sedentary for the length of the game. The timing worked out perfectly for us to enjoy the ballgame and get to my dialysis appointment in Mesa on time.
I did manage to get my photo with the Sloan Park marquee before we left though. I DO have my priorities after all.
After my 4 hours getting my blood cleaned we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to the motel of doom for the night. As you can no doubt tell, we are some late night party animals. Like the kids in the pool. Right outside of our room. Until after midnight.
Today we were headed to Tempe to see the Padres play the Angels. Looking back on it now, I don’t know why we didn’t just go and see the Cubs play the Mariners in Peoria, but seeing 2 of my favorite teams play each other was not a bad option either.
On the way we stopped for breakfast at a Whataburger, which I had never tried before. It had been described to me as “the Texas In ‘n Out” so I had to try it. Though it was breakfast time I felt the need to get the eponymous burger, but lo! On the breakfast menu was biscuits and gravy…one of my all time favorite meals. Decisions, decisions. In the end, although my appetite has been waning as of late, I ordered both. And finished them too.
While eating, a woman at a table across from us asked me about my cane and other, increasingly personal questions, which I answered, since I generally don’t know when to shut up. We finished our meals, ended the conversation and continued on to Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim…who train in Tempe, Arizona. Why not add a few more locations for the poor Angels?
Unfortunately unlike Sloan Park there were virtually no shaded seats at Tempe Diablo Stadium and I started to bake from the moment I sat in our seats watching the teams warm up. Kindly, Lauren went and got us a huge frozen margarita concoction to try to cool us down. Yes, I realize that alcohol probably has an adverse effect on remaining hydrated, but it was delicious. More importantly it was cold.
We downed that sucker fast enough that I didn’t even have time/ presence of mind to get a photo. The bottom of the drink vessel was actually molded into a baseball which Lauren wanted to keep, but was rebuffed by an usher as we left and forced to throw it away. We will never forget you, margarita baseball.
By the second inning the sun was beating down on my poor little body and we decided to leave the seats in favor of shade. It turns out that many people were doing the exact thing that we were and the mass of humanity clogged the concourse and made it extra hard just to walk around, let alone pop into the team store.
We decided that for the sake of my health (we still had a wedding reception and yet one more game to attend on our Arizona adventure) we should leave and go back to the air-conditioned motel room, to rest before dialysis.
I must have looked the way that I felt, because a kindly usher had me sit down for a moment and called to have a cart come to drive us over to our car. Unfortunately, once at the car we were blocked in by a fire truck parked directly behind us. We sat in the car for at least 20 minutes until a firefighter came back and moved the truck and in doing so, free our car.
We drove back to the motel where I had a short and cool nap. Our room hadn’t been cleaned yet, nor would it be that entire day.
I had my dialysis and then immediately began my backslide with dinner at The Cracker Barrel. We only recently got one in California and it’s a bit of a drive from our home–not that Phoenix isn’t–so on the rare occasion that we find one we are there!
We returned to our uncleaned room, got new towels from the front desk and looked forward to a long sleep in, since the following day was baseball-free.
I’ll try to keep this short since there is virtually no baseball connection. Today was my birthday, as well as the reception for our friends’ wedding. They had done a real wedding ceremony, very small, the day prior and then had their reception at a local barcade. For those unaware, a barcade is a combination bar and arcade, generally featuring older video games for those of us that grew up playing them.
There was lots of good food, good drinks, virtually unlimited free games and so a good time was had by all.
That evening, Lauren and I planned on going to a charity function to raise money for clean drinking water in the Dominican Republic and reportedly featuring many baseball players in attendance. Since I had been virtually shut out of autographs the whole trip, I thought this would be a fun way to celebrate my birthday. The universe had other plans and struck Lauren down with some sort of bug, so we got halfway to the venue and turned around to go back to the motel. We grabbed some Sonic for me and called it a night.
Today was our last day in Arizona and we were pumped to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I told you I loved saying it) take on the Oakland A’s at the Cubs old ballpark, Hohokam Stadium. I was primed and ready to go. Earlier I had visited the Walmart again and gotten all sorts of defense against the sun. Cooling towels, sunscreen and a big floppy hat were amongst the items purchased.
We took a little bit of time before going to the ballpark, which was very impressive to me. No, it isn’t as pretty or nicely designed like Sloan Park or Camelback, but it has a lot of charm and I would choose it ahead of the Brewers park in Maryvale or even Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The A’s have really made it their own, with history on display throughout the concourse. There was even some living history as Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, George Foster and Blue Moon Odom were on hand to greet fans and sign autographs for a small donation. The Cubs and the Fergie Jenkins Foundation do a similar thing at Sloan Park and I think opportunities like that are really a cool thing for fans.
I grabbed a basic hot dog, which was at least a foot long, and we got to our seats. Stamper the Elephant was cavorting around and playing with kids as we waited for the game to begin. Once again we really had no shade and I literally went through 2 bottles of water before the first pitch was thrown. I tried to tough it out, but the unjust kicked my butt, even with all of my sun gear in place.
We saw Jake Arrieta pitch a few innings, watched my boys hit and slowly made our way out of the park and began our long drive to my parents’ house in San Diego.
The one big benefit of driving to San Diego rather than Orange County is the fact that you travel by way of Yuma, Arizona, home of Chretin’s Mexican Restaurant. I’ve known about Chretin’s since I was a child. One of my pajama shirts in childhood was a Chretin’s t-shirt.
My dad used to fly for the Navy and there was a landing site in Yuma. Whenever they’d land there, they would head over to Chretin’s for magaritas and the famous Chretin’s “killer nachos.” It got to be a competition as to who could eat the most nachos, with the reigning champ getting his name painted on the wall. Sadly, the old building is no more, but the “killer nachos” live on in a new location.
Had we not stopped in, I think my family may have disowned us. The nachos were amazing and the margaritas were good, cold and cheap. We left perfectly content, even ordering a dozen nachos to-go for my family.
We got to my parents’ house safely and were thrilled to sleep in a bed that we knew had clean sheets.
Overall, it was a good time and I’d like to head down again next spring. I’ll need to find some defenses and new strategies to fight the sun and begin collecting my pennies so we can stay in a place a slight bit better than the Mesa Motel 6. Next year I’d like to get out to the back fields to check out the minor league guys and maybe check out some “B” games as well.
I’m already looking forward to it!
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
Full set of edited photos is found here!
Today would have been the 77th birthday of Cubs Hall-of-Famer, Ron Santo, and, as possibly the biggest Cubs fan ever (present company excluded) it’s fitting that the first game of Spring Training falls today.
Ron Santo is probably my all-time favorite Cub. When I was a lot younger, it was Ryne Sandberg–and I still love him–but then something happened in my life that gave Santo the edge. Allow me to ramble for a moment and I promise, it’ll all come back to baseball in the end.
I was 11 years old in 1993 and a fairly normal kid–health-wise, anyway– until the fateful day in December when my parents took me to the doctor after I had been exhibiting flu-like symptoms. We left that appointment not with a new prescription, but with a new diagnosis. I was diabetic.
That is somewhat earth-shattering, particularly to a kid with an insanely wicked sweet tooth, but I remember my mom telling me that she remembered that a player for my beloved Cubs from years ago had been a diabetic too. I took quite a bit of comfort in this knowledge and tried to find out everything I could about this new kindred spirit. You see, kids? Representation DOES matter.
Fast forward a few years to 1997. I was a freshman in high school and I struck a deal with my mom that if I achieved a certain GPA we would go to this “Cubs Convention” that I’d been hearing about all summer on WGN. I buckled down, got the required marks and we were off to the frozen tundra of Chicago in the middle of January–one of the main reasons my mom had moved to California in the first place.
Many stories from that first convention still stick out in my memory, but none more so than the moment that cemented Ronnie in my heart forever.
I was standing in the hotel lobby where the convention was held, trolling for autographs when a large mob of people began making its way to the elevators. I looked more closely and saw that it was Ron Santo with autograph hounds in tow.
I managed to make my way to the great man and handed him my baseball. He signed it and started to move on. My mind working a mile a minute managed to allow me to blurt out “I’m diabetic too!”
It was as if the world stood still.
All of a sudden Ron forgot about everyone else surrounding him and focused all of his attention on the nerdy 14-year-old that was me.
“How is it working out for you? How are your blood sugar numbers?”
I answered that I was doing ok and he nodded and told me that it was really important to keep everything under control. He then went back to his many admirers.
Th whole encounter couldn’t have taken more than a minute but it still resonates in me to this day.
As I get older and the complications of the disease continue to ravage my body like they did to my idol, eventually taking both of his legs, one of my calming techniques is to think back to Ron and his optimism. I’m not stupid enough to think that every day was sunshine and butterflies for him, but overall he handled himself with grace and kindness, never giving up the fight for a cure one day, and hey, if the Cubs can finally win a World Series and Santo can finally get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a cure for diabetes can’t be too far behind, right?
Happy Birthday, Ronnie. I miss you a lot.
If you are interested in more details about Ron Santo’s story, his son made an amazing documentary called “This Old Cub” and you can find it on iTunes and here!
When I was a freshman in high school I somehow convinced my mother that if I achieved a certain GPA my reward should be a trip in the middle of January, away from the mild clime of southern California to attend the Cubs Convention that I’d been hearing about all summer on WGN. What a Cubs Convention was, I didn’t really know, but if it involved the Cubs I knew I wanted to be there.
That first convention was a whirlwind. I met Harry Caray, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and many more great Cub legends and had them all sign my Cubs branded baseball as my mom snapped away with a disposable camera to preserve the memories. I loved every minute of it, not counting the sub-zero temperatures and every winter I long to go back.
I’ve attended three more times since my initial Con, and only this year have I gotten a companion willing to attend a second time. I try not to take it personally.
While each Convention has been different, this year provided some new bumps in the road. First, the obvious. The Cubs are the reigning World Series champions. Yay! Which leads to opportunists and bandwagon fans. Boo! It also leads to the Cubs selling more admissions than in years past according to many of the team employees I spoke with. The Convention-related areas of the Sheraton Hotel were a teeming mass of humanity the entire weekend, which leads into bump number two. Due to medical issues, I don’t move around very well these days, which necessitated my acquisition of a wheelchair for the weekend. While most people were very helpful, there was a select portion of the conventioneers who were completely oblivious to the fact that I was trying to travel through the common areas. That got very old very quickly. Overall, these were minor quibbles and I feel like the Convention was probably my most successful yet. Had you asked me about it on Friday night, my opinion might have been a bit more bleak.
Opening Ceremonies weren’t scheduled to begin until six in the evening, with Con registration beginning at noon. Since Fridays are still workdays for most people, Lauren and I figured that we could relax, make our way from our hotel to the Sheraton (a ten to fifteen minute trip at the longest) by mid-afternoon and still beat most of the crowd. A glance at Twitter upon waking soon told me that was not going to happen. Supposedly by ten in the morning a line was forming for the Opening Ceremony and growing longer by the second. This blew my mind. While I had never been at the very front for the Ceremony in the past, I had always been able to walk in and find a viewing spot with minimal waiting around. While the prospects of getting a spot weren’t quite as dire as I had been led to believe, we still needed to register for the Convention before we could even think of doing anything else. After forty-five minutes or so, we had officially logged our attendance and gotten our SWAG bags and weekend schedules. We went to the Cubs Charities room and browsed some game-used merchandise, but nothing really caught my eye. We did, however, donate money and got a “mystery autograph” baseball. While I didn’t quite hit the lottery and get a Kris Bryant autographed ball, I did get one signed by several players from the AAGPBL, the women’s baseball league started in WW2 and featured in “A League of Their Own” that I’ve become pretty attached to.
I was still wary of waiting in line for the Opening Ceremony with several hours to go and no guarantee of admission, so Lauren and I wandered around deciding what to do next. We met Bill Buckner and didn’t even mention 1986 and purchased our Convention shirts, since the last time we had attended they sold out before we got them. We decided that we were willing to skip the Ceremony that night and instead get dinner and return for the “autograph hunt” immediately following. Once again, it seemed like we would be ahead of the crowd, since certainly most of them would be attending the ceremony. Once again we were wrong.
According to the misleading information on the schedule, the autograph hunt was to be in the same area that we had registered earlier. On returning from dinner we saw that we weren’t the only ones prioritizing the autograph hunt, so he stuck ourselves in what seemed to be a ragtag line well over an hour before the hunt was due to begin. In spite of the fact that our line mates asked the ushers in the area several times about how the line was formed, how the hunt would work and even the fact that we were in a line to begin with, no one seemed to have any answers as to what exactly was going on and kept repeating that no one had told them anything. This was the most egregious to me, having a very strong customer service background. You can’t just say that you are ill-informed and expect that to be the end of discussion. You need to find a way to get the information you require.
As the scheduled time for the hunt came and went, our line mates began leaving as well, and eventually, even my eternally optimistic self gave up too. There was one final show/panel going on as we left, but there was a very early autograph signing the next morning we wanted to attend, and honestly, I felt so defeated by the rest of the day that I didn’t want to try to do anything else that night. I was ready to swear off of the Convention, now that the Cubs had become the “it” team, it felt like they had forgotten the long-time fans who had always supported them.
We were up almost before dawn the following morning in the hope of getting to attend a meet and greet with the recently retired David Ross and were at the Sheraton well over an hour before the session was to begin. We were trying to navigate our way down to the area that the meet and greet was being held when a man associated with the Convention saw that we needed help and escorted us not only to the elevator, but to the meet and greet area as well. We chatted the whole way over and discussed our disappointment about everything that had, or had not, transpired the night before. As we began to approach our destination, the escort asked which of the meet and greets we were hoping to attend. We told him and he said he would see if he could help us. The curse of the bad Con employee struck again as the woman manning Ross’ line screeched to our new friend that David Ross’ line was full and there was no way that we were getting in that line. He didn’t seem bothered and told us to hold tight for a moment.
He disappeared but returned a few minutes later and told us to follow him and not draw attention to ourselves. We did and he snuck us through a “behind the scenes” area and put us in the very front of the David Ross line. We were astounded, as there were people waiting in the line who had been there since eleven pm the night before. Our new friend next handed me his card and said if I had any trouble getting into any of the panels that day to text him and he would help us. As it turns out, our friend was the hotel manager. We thanked him profusely then and every time we saw him for the rest of the weekend.
David Ross was wonderful, showing up early, thanking us for being there to see him and taking photos and signing autographs, including signing my baseball as “Grandpa Rossy!” All of the trials and tribulations of the previous night were forgotten and a new day dawned for the Cubs Convention.
Obviously this all took significantly less time than I had originally assumed, so we were able to see many of the booths and exhibitions while we waited for the first panel we were interested in, which included prolonged visits with all of the Cubs minor league teams and enjoying their amenities, as well as taking the opportunity to swing an actual game-used Ron Santo bat at the Louisville Slugger booth.
We had absolutely no problem getting into the panels we wanted to see, as there was a designated wheelchair section that provided a great view. We saw a panel hosted by Joe Maddon and the coaches, one with Kyle Hendricks, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery and Wade Davis and the amazing “Cubs All Star Infield” with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo.
The nice thing about the panels is the opportunity to see the players as human beings and see their personalities emerge. All of the guys in question are character-first guys and very personable, which makes it fun and easy to root for them. During the All Star Infield panel, I noticed on Twitter that Anthony Rizzo’s charity was selling opportunities for a meet and greet with him, so Lauren volunteered to go and look into it for me. Unfortunately, it was $300 and at the time I couldn’t make myself pull the trigger. Looking back and having spent less at the Convention than I had budgeted for, I do somewhat regret not doing it.
In my SWAG bag from the day before I had won a spot in an autograph signing with Edwards Jr. and we headed to that next. Edwards was pleasant enough, but very quiet and didn’t really provide a chance for a photo so that was a bit of a bummer. At this point, the Convention was beginning to die down, so we did one lap of the sales floor and then headed out for some Chicago deep-dish pizza for dinner.
Even in a wheelchair and not walking very much at all the Convention wore me out every day. We didn’t stay until closing any of the three days and I was still exhausted when we got back to our hotel every night. It may have been the exhaustion that helped make this such a personally successful Convention, however. I realized from the start that I wasn’t going to be able to see everything and do everything, so I had to make conscientious decisions about the things I really wanted to experience and didn’t need to stress myself–and Lauren– out by trying to do every single thing. It was different for me, but overwhelmingly easier.
The final half-day of the Convention arrived and we had only one thing we needed to accomplish. Seeing the World Series trophy. It had been on display all weekend for people to take photos, but the line was consistently an hour wait or longer. We hoped with Sunday being a slower, more low-key day, the line for the trophy would reflect that…and it sort of did. We ended up waiting just under an hour to see it in the bizarre makeshift tent that had been setup in the parking garage of the hotel. The tent was fine, but it was a bit chilly and the single heater I noticed wasn’t quite warming the tent enough. Nor was the combined body heat of dozens of Cubs fans.
After we thawed out a bit we went to the Charity room again and met one of the all-time great closers, Lee Smith. He is a big man but sounds like “Boomhauer” from “King of the Hill.” He is a genuinely nice man, and it is honestly a crime that he is not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While we finished up with Smith I saw on Twitter that Cubs organist, Gary Pressy, was in the hotel lobby giving away some of the bobbleheads of himself that the Cubs gave away at a game the previous summer. We found him and lucked out and got one. He even signed it for us. With that, the Convention was pretty much over. There was some area with apparently tons of wiffle ball sets because–I’m not joking–we saw families walking through the hotel lobby all carrying 5-6 sets apiece. I want to know why one family needs 25 wiffle ball bats.
Overall, I’d give this World Champions edition of the Cubs Convention a solid B+. The first night was really hard and I questioned if I’d ever come to another one, but Saturday’s meeting with David Ross helped redeem that and there were very few, if any, issues from then on out.
The Cubs created the idea of a winter fanfest and still host the largest and greatest of them all, though most–if not all–teams do something in the same vein. I’m proud to have been able to go this year after having one, if not two, planned convention trips have to be cancelled in recent memory. Remember, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in less than a month!
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
I don’t even know what to say here. It seems like every few posts or so I am apologizing for my lack of content. Mentally, I’ve been overwhelmed with the World Series victory for the Cubs and physically…well, let’s just say that I’ve been better.
OK. That’s out of the way. Now to the good stuff.
- HOLY CRAP, THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!
- The fun thing is that I feel like a Cubs hipster this season. Not just because I’ve been a true fan for virtually my whole life, but Lauren and I attended the last Cubs Spring Training game of the year, as well as the 2nd regular season game. We were amongst the few to see a healthy Kyle Schwarber on an MLB field prior to the World Series.
- I’m astounded about the turnout for the Cubs victory parade. I don’t understand how this isn’t a bigger story. The largest gathering of people in the history of the United States? The 7th largest in recorded history? I realize that it is just a “guesstimate,” but it’s not like just getting a report from your drunk friend. ‘I mean it was real crowded! There were like…5 million people there!’
- Good riddance to Aroldis Chapman. Yes, I get it. He was a major contributor to the World Series win and for that I am grateful. Now, I never want to have to root for–or sweat over–him again.
- One member of the team that I am truly sad to see go is Dexter Fowler. That’s not just because of his landing spot, but I thought he was one of the key parts to the team, not only on the field, but his attitude definitely helped to create the personality of the club. I honestly wish him well. Except when he plays the Cubs.
- I like the addition of Wade Davis. I have always been a Jorge Soler apologist, but there is no denying the fact that he still has yet to come close to reaching his potential nor the pure logistics of a lack of place for him. Reliable bullpen arms, however, are always a good thing to stockpile.
- Barring any sort of unexpected calamity (the type that I am most known for), I will be attending my 4th Cubs Convention next week. I haven’t decided if I want to live tweet anything, or if I just want to do write-ups afterward. I guess you can find out if you follow me on Twitter and all of a sudden I hijack your timeline.
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!