A Conversation with
Spring Training 2005
My son, David and his wife, Kristin, had a trip planned to Arizona over spring break. Son Matt, wife Lori and four-month-old daughter, MaKenzie Margaret were planning on joining them for a few days as well. After some arm-twisting it looked like an opportunity to spend some time with my family. David lives in Olathe, Kansas and Matt in Redondo Beach, near Los Angeles. Two of my wifeÕs sisters would be down there as well. It looked like a good opportunity, family and baseball.
Matt, David and I had done this before in 1999. We saw games for the Cubs, Giants, AÕs, Angels and Rockies. This time we would see two games northwest of Phoenix in Peoria and Surprise, ballparks weÕd never been to before.
I left Ames about 2:30 Wednesday (March 16) afternoon and drove directly to Economy parking lot A at the Kansas City airport. I parked in lot A6, took the shuttle to the airport. Soon I was flying Frontier Airlines to Denver and then on to Phoenix. David and Kristin picked me at the airport. It was a late night as we checked into a Holiday Inn. We also met Matt, Lori and MaKenzie there as well.
Plans for Friday called for a drive to Mark and Pam MathewÕs home in Scottsdale, a ball game in Peoria and dinner that evening at Don & CharlieÕs in Scottsdale. Mark Mathew had been our Channel 5 Sports Announcer in Ames for nine years, leaving in 1991. He was involved in coaching baseball while there. He was my assistant when I coached freshman and sophomore baseball at Ames High. He also had coached Matt and David. He left Ames for a job in Norman as the voice of the Oklahoma Sooners. While there he got involved coaching youth baseball. Eventually he hooked up with Vern Ruhle, former major leaguer. From that evolved Super Series baseball, which now holds tournaments in 33 states and is currently headquartered in Arizona. They hold their Nationals at the Peoria Complex in early June each year.
We arrived at Mark and PamÕs about eleven, picked a few oranges from their trees and headed off to Peoria before noon. It was about a 50 minute drive around the north and west sides of Phoenix. Mark had arranged for us to have a luxury box to sit in. We went to the business office to pick up passes. While there a big guy with passes hanging around his neck, came in. I read his name on the pass, it was Stan Williams, former Dodger and Twin. I asked for his autograph as did David and Matt. It was the only autograph I got. We took a picture. Stan Williams is a very nice man and appears to have maintained the 6-5, 230 when he played. The luxury suite was great. Matt, Mark, David and I sat on the lower level. Pam, Kristin, Lori and MaKenzie sat behind us the next level up. Not too many babies get fed in those luxury boxes. A waitress came in and took our food order. She returned several times to serve us. Matt and David roamed the park and got quite a few autographs. The stadium was relatively new having been opened in 1994 and is the home of the Mariners and Padres. The stadium was only half full for the Padres/Rockies game we attended. It was great for Lori and the baby. We all got a chance to visit.
We left about about the eighth inning. We had 5 oÕclock reservations at Don & Charlies in Scottsdale. Don & Charlies is the place to see ball players. In 1999 Bob Uecker was there eating when we were as well as a few other players. Bob Uecker frog legs are now on the menu. This time there were no players in sight. 5 oÕclock was a little early for them. We returned to Mark and PamÕs to watch some NCAA basketball and then retired for the evening. It had been a great day. Peoria Stadium was a fine facility. How could Friday be any better?
Well, it was. We were up and out Friday morning and heading for downtown Phoenix. My nephew Doug had an apartment there. His mother, Marilyn, was cat sitting for them. Marilyn is MargeÕs sister. We left Lori and MaKenzie with her and took off north and west again on I-10, HWY 101 and then on US 60 toward Surprise. On the way we passed the Arizona Cardinals new stadium. It should be ready for Fall, 2005. The Surprise facility opened in 2003 and is the spring home for the Rangers and Royals. They converted desert land into a Spring Training facility. In the right field corner are the RangersÕ offices. In the left field corner are the RoyalsÕ offices. They both have teams that play a 56 game schedule there in the Arizona Rookie League, starting in late June. ItÕs a great facility.
Unlike the Cubs and Giants in 1999, we parked close to the stadium. Matt ran ahead so he could buy the tickets. He wanted to pay for them. I canÕt outrun him so I let him. We entered near center field and walked around to the left field side. Like Thursday, the ballpark was only about half full. Matt and David were eager to get some autographs. They had a secret weapon, Kristin. SheÕs 5-10, blond, athletic and attractive. It doesnÕt hurt. The field is recessed. Players can walk to outfield corners to dressing facilities on the lower level. We walked in on the upper level. We quickly spotted a player in street clothes with three companions. It was Jose Lima. He would pitch the next day. Matt, David and Kristin all got his autograph and talked to him. As you may know, heÕs very outgoing and friendly. He was featured in last yearÕs playoffs with the Dodgers on a television spot called ŌLima TimeĶ. He sat a few rows behind us in the left field seats during the game.
Matt, David and Lori didnÕt spend a lot of time sitting. They were out autograph hunting. About the sixth inning they said that Rickey Henderson was there signing autographs. They all got his autograph and some pictures with him, too. Remarkable! He was there because heÕs a friend of Jose LimaÕs. They were teammates in 2003 with the Newark Bears, an independent league team. In the bottom of the eighth we were ready to leave. We spotted Lima and Henderson talking behind the fence near the RoyalsÕ office. Kristin hollered at Jose Lima, in Spanish, that she wanted to talk to his friend, Rickey Henderson. He came over to the fence. We all shook his hand and talked to him for 10-12 minutes. Rickey looked to be in great shape. The conversation settled around the fact that he just wanted a chance to play again. If he didnÕt sign with any major league club he was probably going back to Newark. In 2004 at Newark he played 91 games, hit .281, had 96 walks and 37 stolen bases, all at age 45. We thanked him for talking to us and we left. Incredible! WeÕd gotten our moneyÕs worth.
We left the stadium in Surprise and headed east on Bell Avenue looking for Hwy 101. It was at least a forty minute drive as we headed to Bev and Roger NelsonÕs apartment. Roger was there to work about six weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, half administrative and half as a doctor. The plans that evening were for a mini family reunion. Also there were Geoff and Sarah Nelson from Seattle. Soon after we arrived Lori and MaKenzie arrived from downtown Phoenix. Marilyn arrived shortly. Not sure why they didnÕt arrive together. They left DougÕs apartment together. It was the first opportunity for MargeÕs sisters, Bev and Marilyn to see MaKenzie. She didnÕt disappoint. We had a great meal and reunion. It was a nice family gathering.
Saturday morning Matt, Lori, MaKenzie and I headed toward downtown to drop the car off at Dollar Rental. We had 11 oÕclock flights out. David and Kristin were due to leave at 2:45. Having different terminals we said our goodbyes on the shuttle bus. I flew back to Kansas City on Saturday and again found myself in Economy Lot A. I wandered around section A6 for an hour looking for my car. IÕd had a senior moment. It was right where IÕd left it in section A5! I headed south to Ray & KrisÕ home, arriving a little after six just in time to say good night to Carter and Catherine. I saw all three of my grandchildren on the same day.
They all go to bed early at RayÕs. Good reason. Ray was up at six with the twins. I got up with them and fed Catherine her cereal. She ate it all. I said good bye to the twins, Ray and Kris and headed north to Ames about nine. It had been a great trip, family and baseball. What else is there?