February 21, 2004
hello and welcome
So, now then. Thanks to Marc, I am now a participant on balgavy.com instead of just a passive reader. This experiment is based on what will be my upcoming trip to Spring Training in Arizona, and, depending on time and computer availability, I hope to post updates semi-regularly (no photos though, unfortunately - I'll be using real film in an "old-fashioned" camera).
An overview: This will be my fourth S.T. assignment (third in AZ), and I'm scheduled to cover 6 teams in 7 days (the Cubs get a two-day shoot). The goal of the trip is simple: to interview as many players, coaches and managers as possible for the numerous programs we'll be putting together this season. We'll also be shooting workouts and drills, focusing mainly on players who've switched uniforms so we can update our footage library.
Possible obstacles include: uncooperative interview subjects, difficult team PR representatives, weather and the unknown.
I'll be traveling with two co-workers: Schulzie (he'll be running camera) and Katz (he'll be helping with research and interviews). A third co-worker, Big Time (production assistant), will be joining us mid-week; we'll be using a local audio operator. That ends the exposition, I suppose, for now.
I'm looking forward to the trip; since I've been associated with baseball, the end of February and beginning of March has always seemd more like New Year's than December/January.
I've covered 3 of these clubs in Arizona before, so it should be a good mixture of the familiar and the new; last March Dusty Baker and I had a long conversation about the best ways to quit oral fixations like smoking and nail-biting, and he recommended the particular brand of toothpicks he used to help him quit chewing tobacco. While I now carry them everywhere and have boxes all over my apartment, I am disappointed to report that after the stresses of recent weeks and what will be a long flight to Phoenix, I don't think he'll be pleased with the state of my digits next week at Cubs camp.
February 24, 2004
Day 1 - Scottsdale
Greetings from Scottsdale, where today it was cloudy and cool but still a lot warmer than NY.
I had my first pay-as-you-go airplane food experience today, a $5 lunch "snack box" courtesy of America West. Katz and I both went for the snack box, the cheapest of the three available options, because it was surprisingly the only option that allowed you to manage your own mayonnaise control. The $7 turkey sandwich platter was literally oozing with mayo, and the $7 burger (which I never was considering anyway) had all kinds of stuff on it.
For a sawbuck, we each enjoyed half a turkey sandwich sans condiments, a mini bag of cheddar Goldfish, a larger-than-the-standard-box bag of raisins, a mini bag of chips and a surprisingly larger-than-the-other-items Oreo 6-pack; not bad. In-flight movie: "Master and Commander" - I passed and instead read the Spring Training media guide and assorted magazines.
The Phoenix airport is going through some sort of bizarre interior-only renovation, and much of the signage is gone. Instead, guests of the city are treated to purple-blazered information guides throughout the terminals who direct you to the baggage claim areas. Trust me, you've never seen blazers quite like these - and you're probably the better for it.
The nice thing about Spring Training in AZ as opposed to FL is that 8 of the 11 teams are all within an hour of one another (the other 3 are in Tucson, a little less than 2 hours away), so we can be based in one place. Scottsdale is pretty centrally located for the six clubs we'll be visiting, and with another group covering the Tucson teams, our driving each day will be minimal.
Today was basically set aside for prep work and time to get acclimated. After loading the rented Lancer (charcoal gray!) with gum, granola bars and water for the week, I took a run around the neighborhood and checked in with a few of my co-workers in Florida. Aside from tornado warnings in Tampa wiping out an afternoon's worth of interviews at Yankees camp, we're off to a fine start.
We'll be setting up in Mesa tomorrow for the first of two days with the Cubs - call time: 6:50 am.
February 25, 2004
Day 2 - Mesa
Last year when I visited Cubs camp in Mesa, everything was new; Dusty Baker had just been hired as manager after leading the Giants to the World Series the previous year, and was preparing to introduce himself and install his system within the organization. There was noticeable optimism and hope for the future, but no one knew how the season would unfold for the young team – a berth in the playoffs seemed possible a few years down the line, but not necessarily in 2003.
The fact that the Cubs eventually came within 5 outs of the World Series and then added Derrek Lee, Greg Maddux, LaTroy Hawkins and Todd Walker means that there are high expectations this season. Unscientific analysis by yours truly (based on a season without major injuries to their stellar pitching staff) forecasts 92-95 wins and a return to the playoffs.
As a result, we have a lot to cover with the Cubs this spring, so we’ll be with them for two days. We got off to a solid start today: 8 interviews (including Dusty, Sammy Sosa and Cub legend Billy Williams) and a wire on new catcher Michael Barrett during BP and fielding drills. The highlights: Sosa breaking a bat in BP, followed by a huge hush over the crowd (no cork); Dusty Baker’s sincere pride re: the number of people in NY now addicted to his brand of toothpicks, Barrett’s use of “fourthly” and “fifthly” while detailing the many reasons he’s happy to now be a Cub, and interviews with the many fans who made the trip to Arizona from Chicago.
Surprise sighting: Grady Little, former Red Sox manager, current Cubs special instructor. Both he and Todd Walker are in the unique position of moving from one “Five Outs Away” team to the other this off-season.
Car radio update: hearing ABC’s “When Smokey Sings” for possibly the first time in a decade was phenomenal; hearing Schulzie ask – in all seriousness - if it was Daryl Hall (and not Mr. Stevie Wonder) singing “Part-Time Lover” was even better.
Consumption composite box score:
bottled water: 4
granola bars: 2
packs of gum: 3
February 26, 2004
Day 3 - Mesa
Day three overall – and day two with the Cubs – started out strong. Our rented Lancer features two iPods (no satellite radio needed – or offered, for that matter), and we kicked the morning off with Sylvester’s provocative disco classic “Do You Wanna Funk?” – perhaps best known as the song that scores the party scene in “Trading Places” after Eddie Murphy moves into Dan Aykroyd’s house. (“I’ve been waiting for you, Billy Ray…”)
We only had a few names left on our to-do list after yesterday’s successes; today we scored five more interviews, among them possible future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, in camp as a special instructor. Today also brought my first ’04 sighting of one of my favorite sights of spring: the automatic pop-up machine that directs fly balls for outfield practice. It looks like a pitching machine at a batting cage (with the spinning belts that move the ball through) except there is a longer tube at the end that can direct the pop-ups higher, father, etc. At one point towards the end of the drill, Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins was “throwing” flies from the first base foul line (where we were with our camera) all the way to the warning track in center field.
We’re shooting most of our footage in HD this spring, and what I’ve seen on the monitor looks fantastic. Not only do the colors pop but the widescreen/letterbox action makes it appear more like film than television, especially the stuff outside. Thankfully, the weather so far has been perfect – sunny but not too bright, with temperatures in the low 60s. And since balgavy.com always features Traffic and Weather Together ™, I should point out that for some reason there are lane closures all over the main roads in Scottsdale – at all times of the day. I haven’t seen anyone working on the roads, but they’re partially closed nonetheless. One positive from the traffic: extra time to admire the numerous political placards on lawns across town. Best of the best: "Ortega (with a line drawn through it): No Integrity. No Mayor."
In addition to all of the topics we need to cover with each player or coach during their interview, we’ve also been asked to get a bunch of tag lines read into the camera – chief among them the by-now-ubiquitous “I Live for This.” So far the bronze medal goes to LaTroy Hawkins, who read it several times and alternated between pointing one or two fingers at the camera for emphasis as he said it. Silver goes to Dusty Baker who added “and you know I do” afterwards. And the gold as of now goes to pitcher Ryan Dempster, who offered an energetic, WrestleMania-inspired performance.
I wish I could report that all of Mesa was as happy to see us as the Cubs and their staff, but sadly that wasn’t the case. We grabbed a quick take-out lunch at a small sandwich shop, and the woman behind the counter had no need for pleasantries. My “hi – how’s it going” was met with a scowl, and Katz’s side dish inquiry (“What’s the difference between German potato salad and potato salad?”) was met with what can only be described as the line of the day (delivered with venom): “One of ‘em is hot and the other is the one we eat in America.” I went with a straight-up BLT and made my way to the door, knowing full well that a side dish was not necessary - I had a Cookies & Twix bar (not quite candy, not quite a granola bar, yet quite delicious indeed) waiting for me in the trunk.
Tonight we expect to cross paths with the crew covering the other five Arizona teams, and tomorrow we'll be visiting another club with high expectations for 2004: the Anaheim Angels.
Consumption composite box score:
Bottled water: 8
Granola/cookie bars: 4
Packs of gum: 5
February 27, 2004
Day 4 - Tempe
Our crew is now at full strength - Big Time (Production Assistant) arrived last night and once we met up with JT & Lunch Money (who are covering the rest of the teams in Arizona), we were 7 strong for dinner (including our local sound operator, Heidi). For the second night in three so far, dinner ended with a stop at the Sugar Bowl in downtown Scottsdale - featuring homemade ice cream and quite possibly the tastiest hot fudge I have ever had.
The Angels are a classy organization, and were great to work with during the 2002 World Series - we had high expectations for the day (even though it rained off and on). My not-so-scientific prediction for this squad (again, assuming no major injuries - which were a problem last year): 85-87 wins in a tough division.
We got only one interview before the workout, and once the rain came had time to kill. There was only one way to occupy ourselves: impromptu gaming. First we had a 5-person, double-elimination rock/scissors/paper tournament. Katz and I advanced to the finals, where I'm sad to report that my paper was sliced by his scissors in the last round to clinch the title. After a heated discussion as to whether the game is in fact called "rock/scissors/paper," "rock/paper/scissors," or simply "Ro-Sham-Bo," we moved to a Spring Training gaming staple that Schulzie and I created last year at Brewers camp.
The game is simple, and features only one piece of equipment: the complimentary USA Today from our hotel. It's called "Weather Page," and there are three rounds of competition for four players. First comes "High/Low" - the host (in this case, me) names cities from across the U.S. and asks for today's forecasted high or low temperature. The contestant who comes the closest in either direction wins a point, and the first contestant to three wins the "Weather Page" gold medal (today, it was Katz again). FYI if anyone nails the exact temp, they win the round automatically.
Round two: "World Cities" - same rules. Silver medal awarded (Heidi).
Round three: "AQI." This showdown round epitomizes the drama that is "Weather Page." The two remaining contestants battle for the bronze, and the loser goes home with nothing. The host names a major metropolitan hub, and asks for the Air Quality Index rating for the day: Good, Moderate or Poor. Each contestant can pick any of the three choices - even (as a defensive strategy) the one their opponent has already selected. Again, the first to three takes the medal. Today it went down to the wire, and Big Time eliminated Schulzie 3-2 by correctly identifying Minneapolis/St. Paul's AQI as "Moderate."
After the medals were awarded and the rain had subsided, we enjoyed a flurry of interview activity - 12 more Angels in just under 4 hours. Our list complete (except for Vlad Guerrero, who was unavailable), we packed up and proceeded to load Schulzie's van (Ford Freestar). Within five seconds of closing our trunk, Heidi realized she had locked her keys in the trunk of her (35th anniversary edition) Mercury Cougar. We spent the next hour and a half trying to work a hangar, a knife, a thick piece of wire and a 16-inch metal ruler into the car's various windows to unlock a door. Angels pitching coach Bud Black (our final interview of the day) was impressed by our ingenuity but far from certain about our techniques.
In the midst of the struggle, Big Time informed me that I won the Line of the Day honors, which were borne out of frustration: "Why don't you just go and ship the tapes back to the office and pick me up later? You're not helping by laughing at me."
Eventually, it was the ruler (and an Angels clubhouse assistant) that allowed us to tame the Cougar and head back home. I'm proud to say we got the job done before AAA even arrived.
Tonight, a drink. Tomorrow, the Brewers.
February 28, 2004
Day 5 - Maryvale
The Brewers have a relatively new facility in Maryvale; opened in 1998, it’s very modern and features a main stadium with a layout similar to Keyspan Park in Coney Island, and seven auxiliary practice fields all named after Milwaukee baseball legends like Hank Aaron, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. The team has been one of the worst performing clubs in baseball during the past few decades but with strong second year manager Ned Yost, 2003 NL Rookie of the Year winner Scott Podsednik and several top prospects (including Cecil Fielder’s son Prince), they look to be on the road to respectability. It appears to be a long road, however, and the current Brew Crew seems to be in a totally different league than teams like the Cubs and Astros. I’m figuring them to improve slightly over last year’s performance and a range of 70-74 wins.
The sun returned today, and thanks to the extremely accommodating Brewers PR staff, we were a perfect 11-for-11 in terms of completing our interview wish list. Adding in the wireless microphone we had on Podsednik for the workouts, some surprisingly tasty local take-out pizza and a fresh box of Cookies & Twix bars, it was another successful day.
An unexpected bonus in camp was a feel-good story that we lucked into capturing on tape – for the second year in a row, Brewers coach Rich Donnelly has arranged a program that will allow over 100 Phoenix firefighters to participate in their Spring Training workouts. With the dual benefit of streamlining the players’ schedules and giving back to the community, a select group of firefighters each day are given uniforms and equipment and asked to shag the baseballs on each practice field. In addition to Donnelly and Brewers manager Ned Yost, we interviewed the Phoenix fire captain who helped organize the program and also shot some footage of the firefighters (both men and women) in action. When the Brewers return to AZ during the regular season to play the Diamondbacks, the firefighters will be given complimentary tickets to the game and thanked fully for their efforts – hopefully we can set up a crew to shoot that to bookend the story.
Last night we skipped the Sugar Bowl and instead hit a local casino for about an hour to try our luck. The six of us combined to finish ahead by about $25 or so; not bad. Tonight’s our last night with both crews in town (JT & Lunch Money head to Tucson for the D’Backs, White Sox and Rockies tomorrow), and with the late addition of roving producer Fortch (who had come west from Florida), it’s been deemed the night of the “Big Steak Dinner.” With that in mind, I’m off to get a run in while the sun’s still out. Tomorrow we’re back to the American League with the Seattle Mariners.
Consumption composite box score:
Bottles of water: 13
Granola/cookie bars: 7
Packs of gum: 9
March 01, 2004
Days 6/7 - Peoria/Surprise
These were our two longest drives - neither more than 90 minutes, thankfully, but they both required early starts to the day. Sunday we met at 6 AM for the Leap Day ride to Mariners camp in Peoria. One of the great recent developments in Spring Training has been the new facilities in Arizona, and the two complexes in Peoria and Surprise are both stellar. The Mariners share their complex with the Padres (each team has a small office building/clubhouse and seven or eight practice fields with a shared stadium in the middle for games) and the Rangers share with the Royals. The bonus for us at these stops is that since they're newer, they're often larger, and we're almost always able to secure a decent-sized conference room or vacant office to stage our set (a relatively simple black-background/two-light set-up).
The only place open at that time of day for breakfast was Krispy Kreme, and upon entering, we were each immediately presented with a free, hot donut of our choice. Leap Baby/Birthday Girl Big Time was even issued a free donut 6-pack and a mug - not bad!
Eleven interviews in M's camp, including the usually-reluctant but in this case very affable Ichiro. With this interview in Japanese and about a dozen others in Spanish, it's become clear how much the game is continuing to expand globally. It's also become clear that my three years of Latin in high school may have helped on the SATs but won't do me much good during the Carribbean World Series. Thankfully I have several multi-lingual co-workers who will translate the interviews when the tapes get back to NY.
Got back in time for a mini-office Oscar party at the hotel; no big surprises and no great speeches, but needless to say we all found it interesting that Billy Crystal made so many baseball (and Pete Rose in particular) references during the wise. Helpful hint: jarred con queso dip must be heated; if your hotel room doesn't have a microwave, it's best not to try to eat it at room temperature. It sort of tasted like Silly Putty.
Visited the Rangers in Surprise today, where we caught a glimpse of a very upbeat Alfonso Soriano in his new uniform. He was in a great mood and seemed very relaxed - his English has also improved significantly. Intra-squad games have begun, so the number of interviews per day has gone down but we stil managed a successful day and got the ones we needed.
Katz and Rangers pitching coach Orel Hershiser bonded last year and their mutual sarcasm was practically competetive. Big Time has now been fully initiated and completed her first three interviews this week - the best being a solid sit-down with David Dellucci, a former Oriole and good guy (not that the two are always in sync). I took on manager Buck Showalter, who recalled one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott's 1993 no-hitter while they were both with the Yankees - an amazing story.
Predictions: The AL West is a tough division to call. I'm picking the Angels for 85-87 wins, and the M's around the same. The Mariners are an older team and could be hurt by injuries - we'll see. The Rangers should be behind them both (and Oakland), primarily due to their inexperienced pitching staff, but they should at least be able to narrow the gap a bit; I'm calling for 72-74 wins.
Water, granola bar and gum are still mainstays but for the past couple days lollipops have been back in the rotation as well. In addition to the Starburst fruit chew pops I brought with me from NY, I also picked up a bag from See's Candies, a fine purveyor of sweets located mostly here in the west. Unfortunately, they stopped making my favorite flavor (cinnamon), but the butterscotch is good enough to make up for it. Tonight: seafood. Tomorrow: our final camp of '04 (we think) - the Oakland Athletics - but scheduled first is a trip to a one-of-a-kind pancakes restaurant recommended by Katz's mom.
March 02, 2004
Day 8 - Phoenix
First I should point out - just in case anyone reading this doesn't know - that I love bacon. I've said it before and it's still true: never have I eaten anything involving bacon where bacon did not improve on the balance of the ingredients. That said, however, on this day the bacon I had for breakfast at The Original Pancake House in Scottsdale, which was well-prepared and delicious, paled in comparison to the best pancakes I have ever enjoyed. Having recommended the restuarant, Mom of Katz was absolutely right, and our only mistake was waiting until today to go (although we wouldn't have been able to go on most days, with our call times between 6-6:30 and the restaurant opening at 7).
The perfect texture (not too fluffy yet not too thin) and flavor (no need for butter, numerous fruits and other toppings available inside and on top of the cakes), and extremely reasonably priced. Scrambled eggs, three strips of bacon and a short stack (one of my favorite expressions/nicknames) for $6.99. The chocolate chip pancakes were impressive; even better were the banana pancakes, with the right batter:banana ratio and shaved coconut (!!!) on top. What a great start to the day; I'll be back tomorrow.
From there it was a quick trip to A's camp in Phoenix. Having now visited all of the camps in Arizona during the past few years, I have to say that the Athletics facility, while not one of the newest, is my favorite camp to shoot. With the mountains directly overlooking the fields, the non-interview footage at A's camp is always beautiful. On this particular visit, however, the weather was far from ideal - rain most of the morning shortened the workout and the sun didn't come out until most of the players had left for the day.
Nonetheless, our final camp was a successful one, primarily because we got most of the interviews we needed and Big Time was able to meet the star of her rotating office computer screen-saver: pitcher Mark Mulder. We wired him for the workout and interviewed him afterwards. Once we finished a few more interviews, it was time to assess Big Time's Top 5 Spring Training Hotties of 2004, with her comments on each:
5 - Scott Podsednik, Brewers ("great eyes")
4 - Barry Zito, Athletics ("I wasn't expecting him to be so good-looking")
3 - Joel Piniero, Mariners ("so pretty to look at")
2 - Bobby Crosby, Athletics ("This team is so good-looking I'd consider moving to Oakland")
1 - Mark Mulder, Athletics ("He didn't disappoint at all")
I'm picking the handsome A's to finish with 87-90 wins and take the AL West in a very tight race with the Angels and Mariners.
I deposited (strange word choice, I guess, but it seemed appropriate) Katz and Big Time at the airport earlier this evening (where they scored $50 upgrades to first class!); next is the end-of-the-work-portion-of-the-trip-celebratory-dinner with Schulzie and Fortch. They were a great group to work and travel with, and it was a very successful week. Tomorrow I'll be hitting the road in the Lancer for a quick look at the Grand Canyon before returning to NY. Thanks to the staff at balgavy.com headquarters for the space to share my ramblings, and thanks for reading and commenting...for more information, feel free to call...M.