PHOENIX – This is going to be a good year for baseball fans. I know there are still a few of us junkies that haven’t been driven away by players just being players, steroids and a dull World Series.
I got my first fix last weekend when I attended the first day for the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitchers and catchers. I know what you’re thinking now. Really, I do. I used to think the same thing – “why would you waste your time on the Brewers?”
I answer – because after three months of no competition, four months if you include the Cardinals’ performance in the Fall Classic, I needed a dose of the good stuff. Besides, the Brew crew has an abundance of good, young talent that should make them competitive this season. They’re still not a contender, but they should be fun to watch.
Since most of the action of Day 1 focused on the simple fundamentals, most of my attention was on the excitement behind the backstops. I consider myself to be a fairly good judge of character and another pastime of mine is people watching.
I saw a bit of why I love this game in the enthusiasm of a boy, probably no more than 10 years old, who was there watching with his dad. The younger man was explaining to his father how to differentiate between a big league catcher and one from the minors. It’s in their equipment, he said. The guys who have been in “the show” before use a two-piece helmet while the rest use a one-piece. The wide-eyed kid also carried his own beat-up catcher’s mitt and a wooden bat that looked like it’s seen its share of sandlot games. If he managed to grab some autographs after practice on either piece of equipment, you can bet they will be on his shelf at home, not on eBay.
That’s a fan.
Then there were the others. Guys in their 20s and 30s, who swarm from stadium to stadium with no intention of watching the practices. They are the mock fans, the scourge of professional sports.
You can spot them easily enough by the thick albums of baseball cards they carry. They take advantage of the free admission to the practices and garner free autographs only to turn around and hawk them for insane prices to those fans that couldn’t be here to get their own free autographs.
Baseball cards are no longer a hobby and haven’t been for 20 years. It’s a big multi-layered business, and these mock fans are the bottom feeders.
But lest I leave you on a sour note, there was one amazing act of kindness and it came from a player.
Earlier in the day, a couple of boys high-fived pitcher Ben Sheets while he was moving between practice fields. Later on, two guys wearing Brewers jackets rode up in a golf cart to one of the kids and asked him if he wanted Sheet’s cleats.
Perhaps too stunned to talk, the boy, about 7 or 8 years old, didn’t answer. His mother did. “Yes, yes he’ll take them,” she said.
As soon as the team official held up the muddy black shoes, the boy’s eyes shot out of his head and he let out an “oh, wow!”
He kept one shoe and gave the other to his friend. Now those are fans.
I just better not see those cleats on eBay, boys.
Jeff Pope covers the courts and police beats for the Miner.