JUPITER, Fla. — Spring training is the best time of the baseball year.
The ballparks are fan-friendly, autographs are as plentiful as hot dogs, and fans love to hear P.A. announcers give the local temperature followed by the thermometer reading in the home club’s regular-season city.
“It’s 82 degrees at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter but at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, it’s just 35.”
Only rookies and injured players feel any kind of pressure; the veterans are just loosening up and knocked out the kinks of the long winter.
Batting cage banter and press box conversation often turns to films and food, especially in the tourist-friendly Palm Beaches.
Among the nuggets gleaned during days of trolling the camps:
- Bilingual Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez insists Andrelton Simmons, a blue-chip shortstop playing for the Netherlands team in the WBC, will be his leadoff man. But he said Wednesday, with a wink in his eye, that he considered putting Dan Uggla in the top spot after the second baseman led the National League in walks last year.
- PGA National Resort and Spa general manager Joel Paige used to be a minor-league umpire.
- Team USA pitching coach Greg Maddux, whose glasses make him resemble a librarian or professor, was a huge prankster as a player, according to former teammate Brian Jordan.
- Rumors of team media guides going totally online this year are untrue. I counted 18 out-of-town media guides in the Cardinals’ media office.
- Many of the teams in Florida have former stars in uniform as spring training instructors, often on a rotating basis. Yogi Berra, who normally fills that role for the Yankees, declined this year because of his health but Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry, and Goose Gossage were among the former Yankee stars who donned uniforms again.
- Florida and Arizona remain locked in a tug-of-war for spring training teams. With 15 in each state now, there’s a plethora of split-squad games that nobody likes. The hottest rumors have the Washington Nationals leaving Viera and another Grapefruit League location and the Houston Astros moving from Kissimmee to South Florida, where new owner Jim Crane has business interests.
- Grapefruit League boosters note that most Arizona teams, except for the Chicago Cubs, are suffering at the gate because their stadiums are so close together. The Dodgers, for one, definitely drew better in Vero Beach than they are in Glendale, where they share an out-of-the-way facility with the Chicago White Sox.
- Kris Medlen, the newly-annointed Atlanta ace, escaped a bullet Wednesday night when a line drive struck him in his pitching arm during a start against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. Nothing was broken and Medlen is not expected to miss his next start.
- Unseasonably cold weather in Florida the last two weeks has annoyed players seeking to sweat off excess winter weight. The humidity is down too but the wind is definitely making things even cooler.