Part 5. Remember, only 2 more shopping days until Father's Day! Ha!
PART 5 – SPRING IN THE HEIR
In the early 60’s we journeyed to Palm Springs for spring training games on a couple of occasions. My memories of those early 60’s trips are a bit spotty…just some disconnected bits and pieces. As my parents finances steadily improved they resumed trips to Palm Springs in the late 60’s. These memories are much more permanent. For one weekend we were re-born into baseball, renewed with baseball. After 5 months of cold, rain and darkness, there’s just no equal to the re-introduction of this most perfect game, played-out before grass as green and skies as blue and mountains as stark as if rendered by Monet (or the favorite vibrant landscape artist of your choice).
Like new life itself, it feeds one’s hopes and anticipation and dreams of better times on a fundamental level of consciousness. For baseball nuts, that optimism may be dead and buried by mid-summer, but it’s Spring (damn it!) and thoughts of inevitable team failures are safely quarantined for near term joy. The only thing that can possibly be better than sitting in the stands and feeling that warm sunshine and hearing the sounds of the game and smelling the hot dogs again and eating peanuts and seeing the new fresh faces among the familiar players…the only thing that could possibly be better is perhaps to be one the faces out there on the field of play.
For those that have never attended Spring Training, it is different from regular season MLB in so many ways. The players are generally far more relaxed and approachable. Spring training stadiums are minor league ballparks, so the seats are much closer to the field and far more intimate. It also seems easier to judge the speed of the action and the talent of participants with such close proximity. At the Angels Palm Springs training facility, if the crowd was large enough, they would allow "overflow" seating on the left and right field warning track…right on the field of play! You couldn’t get much closer to the action than that.
Spring training also allows a chance to see players from the minors that would be difficult to witness otherwise, including touted rookies. I recall Dad watching certain highly regarded prospects and sharing his own evaluations. "Sweet swing, but he can’t hit the curve". "He’s a thrower, not a pitcher…lots of speed, no movement. No way he’s an MLB pitcher". He’d provide his own scouting report to anyone that would listen. My memory is that his evaluations were fairly accurate.
I also learned another lesson from Dad, one that I have never forgotten. In ’69, I got to see the next new best Angel ever, possibly our first hall-of-fame inductee! There was this ballplayer that seemed to hit the ball with authority, ran like a deer, played flawless defense and…just looked really awesome in the process. I was convinced he was the offensive catalyst that would get the Angels to the World Series. Where did this savior come from? I didn’t care! He was a stud. He had 3 hits in 4 AB’s at Saturday’s game, including a home run and a double. On the drive back to the hotel, I asked my Dad for his thoughts on Mr. Savior. Dad’s response? "I’m not all that impressed". What??? Did he see the talent I had just witnessed? My confidence was stoked the next day when Mr. Savior had 2 more hits, including another double. On the drive home, I again asked Dad if he wanted to modify his opinion of my new most-favorite-player-destined-for-greatness. "No. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is assigned to the minors". I was perplexed.
I started to think Dad wasn’t as wise in the ways of baseball as I had previously thought. How could he have missed what was so obvious? Two games had convinced this 12 year old that the sky wouldn’t limit the baseball-ascendancy of Mr. Savior. My sense that I was right and Dad was wrong seemed more evident when he made the squad that year.
Well, the sky didn’t limit his ascendancy, but his abilities did. He’d actually come in a ’69 trade with the White Sox and hadn’t impresses anyone in Chicago either. His name was Bill Voss. He was traded 2 years later to the Brewers, and was completely out of baseball a year later. Mr. Savior he wasn’t, no matter how hard I hoped and cheered otherwise. How did Dad know? "Son, you still have a lot to learn." My youthful enthusiasm was trumped by wisdom. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, and definitely not the last. It was memorable on this occasion because I was so sure of my evaluation. Well…as my Dad would say, "Son-of-a-bitch!"
The trips to Palm Springs became less frequent as the 70's progressed. Like all families, ours was changing and family members were moving on with their lives. My oldest brother enlisted in the Navy. My 2nd oldest brother and sister entered college in the early 70's. They were local colleges, but they had developed other interests. Mom & Dad? They didn't seem to have the same desire. Or maybe it was other factors?
I actually arranged for one more trip in 1987. My intention was to continue this 'tradition" with a new generation. I was a Dad to an almost 3 year-old (had to initiate my son into the ways of Angel baseball), and my wife was 4 months pregnant with our daughter. Mom drove to Palm Springs with us on Friday, and Dad joined us on Saturday. Saturday's game was rained out, but Sunday's game was played as scheduled. We were joined by some other family members (cousins) for that Sunday game. It was a picture-perfect day, complete with the typical joys of a baseball game, as well as the warm company of some close family members. We got to see Mike Witt pitch, Devon White hit a home run, and Wally Joiner had a couple of hits before being replaced. Though we didn't realize it at the time, it was the final trip we would ever make to Palm Springs for Angel Spring Training games. Thus ended an era...
..which my wife and I re-started in 2003. We began attending Spring Training games in Mesa, AZ that year. Our kids have joined us for some of those trips. I've even coaxed some of my cousins - the same one's that joined us in Palm Springs - to meet us there and continue to carry on some part of this "tradition". Hey, why not? This process of being re-born provides a sense of fulfillment beyond the words in my head. Though it's not in the same physical location and Dad has been gone for some time, I can hear his voice as he evaluates the prospects.
The final installment - Part 6 - will be posted tomorrow.