RANDOM OBSERVATIONS FROM SPRING TRAINING

The sun finally arrived at Phoenix Muni today and not
a moment too soon.  It’s amazing how it
changed the whole atmosphere at camp. 
More smiles everywhere.  Except
for our young lefty
Gio Gonzalez.  When you are of Cuban heritage and grew up in
Miami,
60-degree weather–sun or no sun–is still
cold.   “Bobby, I can’t take this.  It’s freezing
out there.”  I just told Gio to chill out, so to speak,
but actually this crisp weather might be good for him. 
Mike Selleck,
our baseball information specialist extraordinaire, came up with this dandy on
Gonzalez:  last year when the game time
temperature was 72 degrees or hotter, Gio was 5-2 with a 2.84 ERA in seven
starts; however, when the mercury dipped under 72 at game time, he was 1-5 with
a 7.88 ERA in 10 starts


I’m not sure if it’s because of the competition at
several positions this spring or that this group just likes to hang together,
but it was remarkable to see so many position players working out before their
report date this morning.  Leaning on the
dugout rail, I couldn’t help but notice a few of them.  The ball seems to jump off
Chris Carter’s bat, and like the A’s other jumbo-sized prospect Michael Taylor, he clearly uses all fields.  Also, I couldn’t help but wonder what Daric
Barton’s mindset is this spring, as I watched him field ground balls at first
base.  He was trading off there with
Carter, newly-acquired
Jake Fox and
six-time Gold Glover 
Eric Chavez, who’s hoping to play several positions this
year.  Barton, who still is looking to
have a breakout season at the plate, has made himself into an outstanding
defensive first baseman.  But when a Gold
Glover like Chavez suddenly is on your turf, and a couple of sluggers like
Carter and Fox have also joined the party, one had to wonder what’s occupying
Daric’s mind.  They say competition
brings out the best in an athlete, and something tells me Daric is about to take
it to a different level this year.


One of the real pleasures of Spring Training
is the plethora of fine dining establishments here in the Valley of the
Sun.  You could eat at a different place
every night and wouldn’t run out of choices. 
While I realize most Spring Training fans flock to fashionable
Scottsdale, some of my personal favorites are located right here in
Phoenix.  There’s Lon’s at the Hermosa
for mesquite-grilled cuisine in a Santa Fe-like setting, sensational Italian
fare at La Fontenella, down-home BBQ at Honey Bear’s near Phoenix Muni,
martinis and big-league steaks at venerable Durant’s on Central Avenue, and the
Barrio Caf for gourmet Mexican food in an authentic family atmosphere.  However, the one Scottsdale-based restaurant
that is truly a Spring Training classic is Don & Charlie’s, a steak and
chop house on Camelback (near Scottsdale
Road). 

Don Carson, a Chicago
transplant, is a dear friend.  When I
first started coming to Arizona
for Spring Training in 1993, I was introduced to Don and just marveled how he
took every single player, coach, manager and front office executive under his
wing.  Rarely did they even pay for their
dinners there. Over recent years, it’s become such a mad house that it conjures
up the old
Yogi Berra line about “it’s so
crowded, nobody ever goes there anymore” line. 


Of course, for baseball fans, that’s kind of the charm of it.  You never know who you might see there.  Last year I brought my family there, and
there’s Hall-of-Famer
Fergie Jenkins.  And if you’re an A’s fan with any street
cred, you would have hated to see another guy who was at the bar: 
Will Clark.  One baseball legend who was not there that
night–and someone I wish I knew beyond a few handshakes over the years–was Mr.
Baseball himself,
Bob Uecker.  A close friend of Carson’s, I can’t help but share this one
last story with you that Don told me about Uecker. 


When broadcaster Harry Caray died on Feb. 18, 1998, a memorial service was held
in Palm Springs,
where Harry lived in the offseason.  Both
Carson and Uecker were, of course, good friends of the Cubs’ announcer, so they
decided to drive from Arizona to Palm Springs for the
service.  Don couldn’t judge how long it
would take to drive there, so they ended up arriving rather early to the
church.  They entered and sat down in one
of the back rows.  At the front of the
church, there was a coffin.  Don,
somewhat puzzled, under his breath, asked Uecker, “Hey Ueck, isn’t that coffin
kind of small?  I mean, Harry was a pretty
big man.”  Without the slightest
hesitation, Mr. Baseball, replied, “Oh no, that’s not for Harry.  That’s just for his glasses.” 

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