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Thu, July 18

Graham: Taking myself out to the old ball game

A fan has her picture taken with a giant Frank Thomas bobblehead at Camelback Ranch on Monday, March 4, 2019, in Glendale. I am pretty sure the “Big Hurt” was never this thin when he was playing. (Doug Graham/Courier)

A fan has her picture taken with a giant Frank Thomas bobblehead at Camelback Ranch on Monday, March 4, 2019, in Glendale. I am pretty sure the “Big Hurt” was never this thin when he was playing. (Doug Graham/Courier)

When I applied for work at The Daily Courier, I will admit I had baseball on my mind, since Arizona is the home of Cactus League spring training.

As a sports fan, attending a spring training game has always been one of my goals, and on Monday afternoon I was able to mark it off my wish list with a trip to Camelback Ranch stadium in Glendale.

The game did not feature my beloved San Diego Padres, but the visiting Los Angeles Angels and host Chicago White Sox were passable replacements.  

As sometimes happens at spring training games, many of the teams’ stars didn’t play. So no Mike Trout, no Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani (still recovering from injury), no future hall-of-famer Albert Pujols; they probably didn’t even get on the bus for the ride from Tempe (two-time All-Star Jose Abreu did play for the Sox).

Only three of the projected regular-season starters for each squad even made an appearance. As for the rest of the lineups, it was like each manager put all of their players’ names into a Yahtzee cup, gave it a good shake and wrote down the first nine names that came out.

But, still, it was baseball. Add in sun, a cold drink and a hot dog and it made for a great afternoon. The White Sox even turned a couple of nice double plays and staged a spirited rally to make the final score 6-6 — spring training games can end in ties — and the Angels’ Kaleb Cowart (who pitches too) hit a grand slam.

Here are some of my observations from the game:

• One of the biggest cheers of the day came from the announcement that the temperature at game time was 72 degrees, while in Chicago it was 12 with a wind chill of minus 6. I assume fans visiting from the Windy City were pleased with the timing of their spring vacations.

• It is impossible to replicate the sound the crowd makes when a batter gets hit by a pitch. It is part oooh, part gasp, part groan.

• Even though I didn’t partake of any suds, there is something comforting about vendors shouting “cold beer” while working the stands.

• Of course, the game brought out the usual questionable wardrobe selections. I think the sweaty guy in the Arizona Coyotes sweater was more than a little sorry for his choice on this warm day. But my favorite was the skirt with a red argyle pattern mixed in with Angel logos that one woman wore.

• White Sox third-base coach Nick Capra (a former Oklahoma Sooner) picked up a foul ground ball and tossed it to a young fan who brought a glove to the game. A nice gesture -- plus, in what other sport do fans bring equipment to a game? (I remember taking a glove to Padres games as a kid; although I never snagged a ball, not even during batting practice.) It is such a sweet tradition and part of the sport’s enduring appeal, I think. Although there are limits; grown men who bring gloves? Weird.  

• Speaking of traditions, singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch is rooted in the past but still fun. I saw the great Harry Carey lean out of his booth and lead the fans in singing it during a Cubs game at Wrigley Field back in the 1980s, but it is just as cool to hear it from a small spring training crowd in Arizona.

While we are on the subject of Mr. Carey, his former broadcast partner, Steve Stone, now is the analyst for White Sox TV games. I wonder if he sometimes has flashbacks to the games where Harry would have a few too many Budweisers and start singing little ditties like “Jody, Jody Davis, the man with the grand slam bat.”

• My greatest accomplishment of the day? Making it home without using my GPS!  

As for the rest of my sports wish list, Arizona is a great location for fulfilling many of those entries, since State Farm Stadium in Glendale has hosted Super Bowls and the Final Four and would be a possible site for future World Cup games in the U.S.

Now if I can just hitch a ride to Augusta, Georgia, with a weekend badge for The Masters in April. Any offers? I will pitch in for gas.

Doug Graham is Community Editor for The Daily Courier. He can be reached at dgraham@prescottaz.com.

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