Spring Training camps rife with quirky slip-ups
Forgotten spikes, wearing the wrong jersey -- even the Major Leaguers aren't perfect
Somebody's about to do something stupid.
Usually the goofs in Spring Training are harmless, but they're the kind of stuff that would make a high school baseball coach send you out to run pole-to-poles. And they have nothing to do with performance.
A forgotten pair of spikes, a white top instead of a red one, taking the wrong field -- all will be quite common from now until Opening Day. With Major and Minor League camps running in close proximity to each other, Spring Training is ripe for human error, if only because of the number of bodies involved.
The stories run from the mundane to the extreme. Scott Servais, the Angels' assistant general manager, recalled the time a player walked 30 miles all the way from downtown Phoenix to Surprise in Arizona.
"He walks into my office, and he's dehydrated, doesn't have his cell phone, doesn't have anything, and he sits down in the chair, and there's a cooler that has drinks or Gatorade behind it," Servais said. "I said, 'Where in the heck have you been? Are you OK?'
"He's got his head in his hands, he looks up, and he goes, 'Can I have a drink of water first?'"
Agent Joe Sroba recalled the Spring Training he went fishing with a client and got hooked in the mouth on the backcast. He was OK.
"I was able to pull it out," Sroba said. "It'll scare the dickens out of you, when you play the part of 'What if?'"
Of course, that could have happened in the middle of July. What's much less likely to happen in July, when Major League clubhouse attendants handle players' bags and packing, is wearing the wrong uniform top.
Ever see a recognizable player with a no-number or high-number jersey in Spring Training? That was probably a mistake on his part. Policies differ from club to club, but in some organizations, the big leaguers are responsible for packing certain things that might normally be taken care of in-season.
"I'd say the most common one, in being embarrassed for other people -- and it's really not that embarrassing if you been in the game long enough," said outfielder Jonny Gomes, now with the Red Sox, "but a lot of guys, you go on the road and you forget your jersey. You bring your own jersey, so you get there and you unpack it. It happens a lot more than people think. You get there and you forgot your cleats, or you get there and you forgot your glove. The players are able to see it most of the time, or you'll see someone with no number on the back of their jersey. It's a low-number player, and you're kind of curious."
The embarrassment, understandably, is a lot worse for younger players.
Take a rookie in Major League camp. He's trying to impress, he's probably already getting razzed by the veterans pretty hard, and then he goes and makes some hare-brained mistake before warmups start.
Will Middlebrooks, Boston's second-year third baseman, typically stood behind others while warming up last spring, so only his buddies saw that he was wearing the wrong jersey. He hadn't yet nailed down a pretty simple routine.
"I just grabbed the one we wore every day," Middlebrooks said. "I didn't look on the board, because they have stuff on the board, and I hadn't learned that yet."
Daniel Nava, a Red Sox teammate, didn't even have a jersey the first day of his first Major League camp. Then when they had one for him, he had to explain his ancestry to get it.
"It's funny now," Nava said. "But my very first Spring Training, I didn't have a name on the back of my jersey, and Victor Rodriguez, now the assistant hitting coach, said 'Hey, go out there and do Spring Training, next day we'll get you your jersey.' He walks out with four or five jerseys in hand, starts reading off names. We were playing catch in the line already, and he got to mine and I raised my hand. And he looked over past me, and he's like, 'No, no, no, I'm looking for a Latin guy.' I was like, 'No.' He goes, 'What are you talking about? Your last name, that's a Latin last name.'
"I said 'I know, I know. It's actually Italian, it used to be something else but they chopped it off and they made it this.' It was my first experience with everything. I was going, 'Oh man, this just isn't good.'"
Veterans go through it too, though. Indians infielder Mike Aviles, who turns 32 next month, still doesn't know which field to go to.
"I think I've done it every Spring Training, and this Spring Training I did it too," Aviles said. "I remember I was supposed to go hit, I'm on one field and next thing you know, I'm at a completely different other field, with my batting gloves on, my hat and my helmet. I'm getting ready to get in the box, and they're like, 'Aren't you supposed to go to Field whatever?' and I'm like, 'No, I think I'm here.' I look over there, and there's only person hitting on the field. You feel like a complete bonehead."
Then there are the guys who, for whatever reasons, seem to always have things go smoothly. Gomes said that "by making fun of people and getting embarrassed for other people" he's become particularly aware of everything he needs. Sox reliever Andrew Miller, who can look as shaggy as anyone with a beard and long hair, can give off the appearance of a relaxed fellow who could, stereotypically, leave something behind once in a while.
Not the case, Miller said. But he's got a little help. The Sox clubbies seem to take care of his bags just fine, even in spring.
"That's one of those things, some of the guys get spoiled and never have to pack their bags very often and you have to pack your own jersey and you tend to forget it," Miller said. "It's different everywhere; our guys are pretty darn good. I have a feeling that our jerseys are in our bags before they go."