Spring training journal – day two – March 25, 2004…

I now have a name for the odd guy with the cart at the hostel. I call him Army Dude. The name suits him because in addition to hauling his big cart around with him everywhere he goes he dresses, head to toe, in U.S. Army issue battle fatigues.

This guy is both very sad and very odd. He’s obviously some kind of homeless vagabond. The cart never leaves his sight. In fact, he actually has the danged thing tethered to his belt just to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere. This morning before my alarm had a chance to wake me up Army Dude had already jarred me awake with what appears to be obsessive behavior that revolves around unpacking and repacking his bags and reattaching them to his cart. Then, as if his behavior weren’t already bizarre enough, Army Dude took the whole contraption with him to the toilet. I couldn’t help but wonder if all the work he did on his bundles was just to prepare himself for a trip to the can.

Like I said, Army Dude is obviously homeless. I suspect he’s staying at the hostel because the manager has some spare beds and a warm and generous heart. To be fair, at least Army Dude has an excuse for his odd behavior. Another of my roommates, who I’ll call Baldy, isn’t so lucky. Best I can figure Baldy is just an asshole. Yesterday afternoon he shouted at another guest who turn the lights off in the bathroom accidentally. Then, when I went to bed and another guest came in late and switched on the room light for a second Baldy shouted “LIGHTS OUT!” like some kind of boot camp drill sergeant. Swell guy.

I left the hostel as soon as I’d dressed and walked down to the Starbucks I’d found the night before for a coffee (ah, the joy of decaf – *sigh*) and a muffin. It’s kind of satisfying to watch all the hurried and harried business people come and go and not have to be one of them today. I’m thinking of possibly staying at a motel in Tempe from Friday night on. Tempe has the advantage of being where the university is, so it’s likely got more interesting things to do nearby than a place in downtown Phoenix would. In terms of getting around it will only be a challenge for the Brewers game, which is all the way on the other side of Phoenix in Maryvale.

Ok, time to roll to the ball game…

First things first – Susan the hostel manager had to move my bunk to accommodate an older gentleman who came in and cannot climb to a top bunk because of a bad knee. So, now I’m bunking right above Army Dude. Wonderful.

There seems to be more difficulty finding a place to stay come the weekend. *groan* I may end up having to spend more than I really want to just to have a decent place to sleep. Drat.

Today’s game was big fun. Most of the A’s opening day starters were in the lineup today. My seat was in a field box right next to the visitor’s dugout, so anytime the kids in the park got the slightest hint that a Cubs player might be about to sign autographs all these little boys would climb all over me. One little gut got so overenthusiastic that he actually stood in my lap briefly. Sort of cute, except that the cubs players really didn’t seem all that interested in signing any autographs, so the little boys all ended up pretty disappointed. Well, except any kids who happened to really, really want Paul Bako’s autograph. Not many of those.

I ended up going away from my seat over to wander around the ballpark. I was just amazed by how small the park was. I talked to one old guy who said that compared to four or five years ago this was huge. He said that a full house back then would have been around a thousand people. Today we have over 8,300 or so, which is still a lot less than show up to a typical regular season game.

I sat next to an older couple who;d come down from Marin County. They drove down ten days before and had been following the A’s around the Cactus League every day. The woman, Shirley, was as rabid an autograph seeker as the little boys who’d climbed over men. But this woman had a slightly wiser and more well-developed strategy. She bakes cookies for the coaches and a few players. Aramis Ramirez, who wouldn’t give the young autograph hounds the time of day hustled over from the dugout to sign a ball for Shirley as soon as she’d gotten Wendell Kim, the Cubs’ third base coach’s attention. It seems that Wendell is partial to Shirley’s brownies. She asked Coach Kim if he could get Aramis to come over and sign a ball and that was all it took.

Dusty Baker barely talks to his own players but when Shirley beckoned he couldn’t jog over fast enough. When Dusty was with the Giants Shirley had baked him these special, toothpick-thin, straight pretzels, and dipped them in chocolate in an attempt to give Dusty an edible replacement for his ubiquitous toothpicks that he chews on throughout a game. Before Dusty could sample any of the baked goodies Shirley had given him his son, Darren, had devoured them all.

According to Bob, Shirley’s husband, the A’s are all rather fond of homemade biscotti. Mark Ellis likes his dipped in chocolate. Eric Chavez eats them by the truckload. This was all pointless but no less interesting gossip. The topper for me though was hearing that Barry Zito eschews home baked treats for bags of M&M’s and scented candles.

Shirley and Bob have been going to see the A’s both at home and in Spring Training for 20 years. One spring Shirley wanted to get Lou Pinella’s autograph for her collection, so she sweet-talked and plied some of the security staff with some homemade cookies to get a chance to meet Sweet Lou. Bob warned her that Lou doesn’t have a lot of patience with fans and autograph seekers, so it’s best to try to flatter him. Bob told Shirley, “remember to tell him you’ve been a big fan of his since he played left field for the Yankees.” So, the big moment comes and Shirley hands Lou a big bag of cookies and ask him to sign a baseball card for her, “because I’ve been a huge fan of yours since you played 3rd base for the Yankees.” Well, old Lou blew his stack, saying, “lady, are you crazy or something? I’ve never played 3rd base in my whole life!!” Somehow Shirley got the card signed anyway, but I can practically see Lou Pinella cursing her out for that bit of false flattery.

The other great dirt I got from Bob was about the Giambi boys. Bob told me that he knows John Giambi, Jason and Jeremy’s father, well, and said that when Jason signed with the Yankees John went to every home game in NY he could. But when Jeremy ended up with the Red Sox He never went to a single home game in Boston. You see, according to my man Bob, John Giambi is a lifelong, dedicated Yankees fan. It was his dream for one of his boys to one day play for the Bronx Bombers. When the A’s made their offer to Jason at the end of his contract it was John who told Jason not to take it, and pushed him to go to the Yankees. Whereas when Jeremy signed to the Red Sox, John was happy for his son but had no intention of setting foot in Fenway.

So, all those A’s fans who are still fuming about Jason Giambi leaving to play for the hated Yankees should just blame his dad.

Speaking for free-agents, I have to say that Eric Chavez looks, well, wealthier somehow.

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