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My day at Tribe's opener



Published: Wed, April 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



OK, kids gather around. It's time to spend a day in the life of a baseball writer.

As I write this, it's Monday night and I just got back from covering the Indians' home opener. There are two things I like to do every spring: Go to the Indians' home opener and re-read "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton.

You haven't lived unless you've done at least one.

In honor of the 35th anniversary of the best sports book in history, here's my opening day diary.

9:32 a.m.

I wake up to a lawn mower outside my apartment window. This reminds me of a quote by Houston Astros manager Harry Walker in "Ball Four": "Now that's what's wrong with the world today."

Still, life is good. There's only one thing better than going to opening day -- getting paid to go to opening day.

Actually that's not even true. Getting paid to play on opening day is better. To quote Bouton: "There may be better ways to earn a living, but I can't think of one."

Quick example of why Bouton's right: Major League Baseball players get six free tickets (at an average price of $30) for every game. If they take the full allotment, they have to declare $29,160 on their tax return. (This is new this year, due to Vikings coach Mike Tice's recent ticket scandal.)

Why is this relevant? Because it's more than I made last year.

Noon

Fill up gas tank at $2.19 a gallon.

Now that's what's wrong with the world today.

12:05

On the road. I've only been to one other home opener and it was two years ago against the White Sox. They lost. I went to my first Indians game when I was 10. It was against the California Angels (two name-changes ago) and the Indians were trailing by four in the bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded. Two outs. Joe Carter at the plate. Hero time.

Carter checked his swing, the ball hit the bat and rolled slowly to the pitcher. That's 1-3 for those of you scoring at home.

I should have become a Yankees fan right then and there.

1:12

Downtown Cleveland. Best "Ball Four" line about Cleveland: "Flying into Cleveland last night I thought about life in this great American city and decided that if you were going to crash on a Cleveland flight it would be better if it was an inbound flight."

On my way to the stadium, I pass two $25 parking lots and a whole bunch of $20 lots. There has to be something cheaper than this.

1:25

Nope. I'm a half-mile away from the stadium. I paid $20. For those of you keeping score, I wasted 13 minutes of my life to park farther away for the same price.

Now that's what's wrong with the world today.

1:26

Why did I wear shorts? Because I'm an idiot, that's why. Somehow I forgot that it's always colder in Cleveland than Youngstown. Reminds me of the infamous Oil Can Boyd quote, "That's what you get when you build a stadium on the ocean."

1:45

As I'm standing in line in the media lunchroom, I overhear Indians broadcasters Tom Hamilton and Mike Hegan talking behind me in line. Hegan was one of Bouton's teammates with the Seattle Pilots.

Best Hegan line from "Ball Four": When asked to name the most difficult thing about playing Major League Baseball, he said, "Explaining to your wife why she needs a penicillin shot for your kidney infection."

Dinners usually cost $6, but they're free on opening day. Usually, the Indians' food stinks. Today it's not bad. Chicken. Potatoes. Salad. I sit next to an advance scout for the Minnesota Twins, who tells me that the Angels and Royals usually have the best food.

And the worst?

"Here and Detroit," he said.

2:59

Just before the game starts, they show a video montage of the Indians' mascot, Slider. It reminds me something WKBN broadcaster Robb Schmidt once said on the air after showing a clip of Slider, "That's just one more example of why Slider is the worst mascot in pro sports."

3:06

First pitch. Gametime temperature is 48 degrees.

I need to move to Florida.

3:08

Some guy in a loge makes a nice catch of a foul ball. If you ask me, people in loges should have to give their foul balls to little kids.

3:45

Fellow reporters admire the bottom half of the White Sox lineup. Said one reporter, "Oh come on, Chris Widger is at least the fourth-best backup catcher in the American League Central."

5:05

During the seventh-inning stretch, a reporter leans over and says, "Anyone notice that Slider's not wearing pants?"

Incidentally, I've been a mascot twice. Once was when I got talked into wearing a giant moose costume for freshman orientation at Malone College a few years ago. It was 90 degrees outside. I almost died. The only nice thing was that I got to pose for pictures with a lot of cute girls.

5:53

Game's over and about 100 reporters are standing outside Indians manager Eric Wedge's office, waiting for the postgame interview. I've sat in on quite a few interviews with Wedge and I've never heard him say anything even remotely interesting.

Today is no different.

One quick note about Wedgie: There are very few people in this world who can pull off a mustache and he's not one of them. It looks like he glued a caterpillar to his lip.

Quick note about postgame interviews: You don't really ask questions. Let's say you want to ask Wedge, "Kevin Millwood was really strong in the opening few innings, but seemed to get a little tired down the stretch when he gave up runs in back-to-back innings. How would you rate his performance?"

The correct way to do that is: "Eric, uh, Kevin Millwood?"

6:04

Indians clubhouse. About 20 reporters gather around pitcher Kevin Millwood's locker. Millwood is a world-class mumbler, which is very bad for me. Best line: When he's asked what he thinks of Jacobs Field, he says, "I like it. Nice crowd. Nice stadium. Nice clubhouse. And it will be a lot better once you all get out of my corner."

Everyone laughs. One of the biggest misconceptions about baseball players and the media is that they don't get along. Usually, it's pretty friendly. The reporters say thank you and the players are pretty patient, considering they might answer the same question 10 times over a 20-minute period.

I ask around and find out that the go-to interview guys on the Indians are Coco Crisp, Ronnie Belliard and Casey Blake. The worst interview is Jhonny Peralta, but that's because he speaks very little English.

The Indians have a big TV in the center of the clubhouse. They also have magazines lying around. Today's magazine choices are Sports Illustrated, ESPN: The Magazine and two copies of FHM with cover photos of Mariah Carey and Teri Hatcher wearing very little clothing.

I didn't see a copy of The New Yorker. Maybe someone's borrowing it.

8

Finish writing three stories. Walk around perimeter of Jacobs Field before someone finally points me to the exit. (All the gates are closed.) It's a small, unmarked green door next to an instant lotto machine.

Of course. How could I have missed that?

10

Arrive home. Write this column. I have yet to comment on the Indians' chances, so I'll do so now. I think they'll win 105 games and sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.

Which leads me to one last "Ball Four" quote, this one from Jim Bouton: "There's a difference between optimism and wishful thinking."

But in April, it's hard to tell.

XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at scalzo@vindy.com.




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