Thursday, February 26, 2009

The boys of summer and the lazy days of summer - in winter

Mr. Pitcher No. 35 attempts to catch a ball.

Massive crowds harass a player as he tries to leave one of the Nationals practice fields in Viera.

I had a good idea to write about laziness and my attempt to snap out of it, but it fizzled with two grapefruit-juice disasters as I sat down to type.

Yes, let me tell you about my grapefruit juice. I love mixing it with Sprite. The citrus flavors are complementary; they're natural companions.

But crisis No. 1 came about when I shook the juice bottle, inadvertently rattling the cap right off. My power surprises me sometimes. Unfortunately, Barack Obama could do nothing about this crisis.

bunt_fence_0041Then, after the previous mess was wiped clean, my fingers slipped across the condensation of my glass, which sent it tumbling onto my clean apartment carpet and my clean apartment walls. I ran for the paper towels to soak the bubbly mess off the floor before its surface tension broke.

With some Resolve, a damp old T-shirt, 30 minutes of TV-watching time and some resolve, I beat the mess. All that's left are cursory scrub patterns in the nap of the carpet.

Pink stains and drawn-out, recession-like crisis averted.

But the other result is less visible. After my brief housecleaning stint, I was winded. Those violent scrubbing motions stole my breath. Much of it has to do with that laziness I meant to tell you about.

facilities_0064I spend most of my spare time in the depths of my couch's cushions, soaking in what my new high-definition television puts out. I'd be better served if I got out once in a while. Watching maintenance workers pound their hammers into the roof of the apartment building on the other side of the parking lot might teach me more about life than "The Office," "House Hunters" or the Monday night movie on FX.

That's why I hoped Monday morning was going to snap me out of the lazy bastard blues.

As longtime Offlede patrons know, I frequented workouts of the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers during spring training last year. I even fought crowds to get autographs.

Monday was my last chance to catch a Nationals practice, before the preseason got under way. I woke up at a reckless hour: 9. I knew it was a bad idea to go to bed at 6.

My first glimpse of the Carl Barger Complex, a system of training fields in Viera, was reassuring: I'm not the only lazy person in Florida. There were only a handful of cars in the lot and just a smattering of kids behind the outfield fence trying to catch home run balls during batting practice. It was probably 30 percent of last year's spectator levels, if I were to put a number to it.

Just like last year, the players walked among the fans as an air horn prompted them to scurry from one field to another, where the next drill awaited them. Just like last year, players were willing to sign a ball, a card, a bat or a hat if a little girl or an old man asked them to.

Unlike last year, there weren't many people to ask for autographs. And I actually felt mildly creepy when I tried to take photos of the players, because I was joined by no one. Attendants, many of whom I recognized, walked around with their hands in their pockets.

"I might get a hot dog, and put it in my pocket here," one told two others. "I'll rip off some and eat it once in a while. There's nothing else to do."

Another Nats employee, a rather old fellow, pointed at the batting cages and showed another attendant where the fans lined up for autographs last year.

"I can't believe this (stuff)," he said. (He didn't really say "stuff.") "Where are all the people?"

bleachers2_0117This Maryland guy and his wife, whom he apparently calls The African Queen, was there to chat with players and write about them on his blog. I saw him last year, too.

concessions2_0068I talked with a man from Merritt Island who was there, like me, to take photos and not be lazy. His last visit was when the Montreal Expos still existed. But I had a Nikon, and he had a Canon, so that was the end of our conversation. (Think Mac and PC.)

There was no line at the concession stand. The field-side memorabilia store wasn't even open. And the bleachers, well, they were empty.

As I twitched - it's a thing I do when I'm tired - on down the main palm tree-line walkway that runs through the heart of the complex, I let out a hearty yawn. A Nats worker asked, "Pretty boring, isn't it?"

Spilling grapefruit juice was the most exciting thing to happen to me lately. Sure beats the Grapefruit League.

Bunting practice!!!! So exciting!!!!

This child had the run of the house.

Fielding ground balls. Fundamentals first.

Fence. Awesome fence.

The walk of fame, with nobody to watch. ... The walk of shame.

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