The past two years of spring training trips have followed the same pattern: early in the trip I get to the ballpark early, acting all professional and reportery with my notepad and the desire to tell stories. By the end of the trip I’m just grooving on it all, realizing that most ballplayers don’t have interesting things to say, taking pictures and soaking it all in.
Since today is Day 1, I got to Tempe Diablo Stadium early, raring to go, only to find out that the clubhouse was closed due to an MLB Security meeting. Seems that you still have to tell ballplayers not to do drugs, mmm-kay? I cooled my heels and vowed to sleep a little later tomorrow.
The clubhouse opened up a bit later and I went in with the other scribes. The most noticeable thing: it was loud, raucous, happy and loose. Such a change from last year’s Angels clubhouse which seemed practically funereal. Either their “don’t do drugs” lecture was hilarious this morning or else this is a team in a very, very good place.
Among the highlights of the morning’s rounds:
- The first player I saw: Pujols. He was standing in the hallway leading to the clubhouse, eating a big bowl of Lucky Charms. I don’t know why this amused me but it did.
- In other dining news, Jered Weaver had an entire sleeve of Thin Mints girl scout cookies. This is a team that knows how to eat.
- When you walk into the clubhouse, the first five lockers along the wall to the left are: Bobby Abreu, Pujols, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Kendrys Morales. That’s nearly half a billion dollars worth of ballplayer meat. The reporters all flocked to this area, obviously, while the rest of the team was able to sit generally undisturbed. I guess it’s appropriate that the stars pay that price.
- Hunter is clearly the guy most comfortable with the media. Or else the media is most comfortable with him. He held court for a good half hour, talking about everything from high school football to how weird it is that these shiny new spring training facilities sit empty most of the year. “Wow, what a waste of real estate,” he said.
- Hunter was asked how Pujols was fitting in. Hunter said “he doesn’t talk much.” Then he said he was kidding — “I MAKE him talk,” he joked — and said, almost awestruck, to the point where it didn’t sound like the usual cliche, that Pujols works hard.
- Last year Kendrys Morales looked like a deer in the headlights, likely realizing that he was hurt bad and wouldn’t be able to play. Today: he hopped and danced around as music played in the clubhouse. And he joked around too: Alberto Callaspo shoved a laundry cart in his general direction in mock anger, and Morales fell back into a chair, holding his previously-broken ankle, yelling “Ay! Ay! Ay!”
As the reporters were winding down with their work, two huge carts full of toys were wheeled into the clubhouse. Like, actual toys: Barbies, Nerf guns, Hulk Hands (Hulk Hands!) and Star Wars stuff. Players pounded on the carts, laughing, joking and taking toys. It’s apparently part of a team charity drive, and the players get to pick what they’ll sign and give to kids.
But based on how happy and loose the Angels seem to be, if I didn’t know better, I’d guess that everyone just wanted to play.