When a ballgame takes a back seat

JOHN EISENBERG

April 02, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- You know you're at spring training when the stadium security guards are wearing plaid shorts, black knee socks and white bucks.

You know you're at spring training when a hit breaks up a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, and both teams are happy to see it.

You know you're at spring training when the Orioles start looking like a contender.

You know you're at spring training when it's too early for the players to say they don't read the papers.

You know you're at spring training when all the people on the road seem to drive half their age.

You know you're at spring training when the game is on the line and the crowd is cheering and No. 67 is pitching to No. 78.

You know you're at spring training when the top row of the ballpark is the 15th row.

You know you're at spring training when a bus is outside the Orioles clubhouse every morning, motor running, ready to hit the highway.

You know you're at spring training when Juan Bell is on the bubble.

You know you're at spring training when a peanut vendor stands in the aisle and sings "America the Beautiful," beginning to end, and the fans near him stand and applaud when it's over.

You know you're at spring training when it's too early for the players to say they're just trying to stay within themselves.

You know you're at spring training when hundreds of sea gulls descend on the ballpark after the game, munching on leftover peanuts and popcorn.

You know you're at spring training when the game goes into the 11th inning and the scoreboard operators turn to each other and say, "Well, what do we do now?"

You know you're at spring training when John Oates and Cal Ripken Sr. meet for breakfast every day at 7 a.m., on the dot.

You know you're at spring training when your team appears to have too much pitching.

You know you're at spring training when you start thinking about stone crabs in the eighth inning.

You know you're at spring training when the umpire calls a balk, then changes his mind, and no one budges in the dugouts.

You know you're at spring training when the managers and players start telling their dog-track stories.

You know you're at spring training when you smell suntan oil in the box seats, not just the bleachers.

You know you're at spring training when smoking a cigarette in the stands is life-threatening not because of the nicotine, but because of the danger of setting all that polyester on fire.

You know you're at spring training when you start picking your team to finish two places higher than you did a month ago.

You know you're at spring training when the Red Sox go on the road and still have more fans.

You know you're at spring training when every player has an explanation for what they did wrong last year. ("My wrists were too cocked, see, like this . . . .")

You know you're at spring training when Jose Bautista is the best pitcher in camp. (Just threw that one in for nostalgia's sake.)

You know you're at spring training when it occurs to you in the bottom of the fifth inning that you haven't seen a single curveball.

You know you're at spring training when the Mets (fill in the blank).

You know you're at spring training when you drive to Dunedin, where the Blue Jays play, and get into a traffic jam with hundreds of cars with Ontario license plates.

You know you're at spring training when the competition for the last utility infielder spot seems important.

You know you're at spring training when more than half of the fans don't quite make it up for the seventh-inning stretch.

You know you're at spring training when a player making $4 million this season crashes into an "Eat at Bob's Barbeque" sign on the outfield fence.

You know you're at spring training when the Chicken is in the first-base coach's box giving signals -- during the game.

You know you're at spring training when the fans sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Joe Robbie Stadium and it sounds something like this: "uno, dos, tres strikes you're out . . . ."

You know you're at spring training when you run into the march of the mothers walking their sleeping, sunburned babies beneath the stands in the sixth inning.

You know you're at spring training when the catcher calls for an appeal on a checked swing by a left-handed hitter, and there's no ump at third to make the call.

You know you're at spring training when the words "verdant" and "pulchritude" slip into your copy before you know it. . . .

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