|Steinbrenner Field just starting to fill up|
I went to my first ever spring training game but I didn't watch my beloved Cubs. It was Tigers vs. Yankees in Tampa. But in my heart it was a Cub game, because it was a reunion of two 2016 Cubs superstars, Javier Baez and my favorite Anthony Rizzo.
I did not sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," though. I'm not that big a slut. That is reserved only for The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.
I ended up sitting between my Cousin Rose and a very drunk 20-something Detroit Tigers fan who was vacationing in Florida. He enjoyed talking baseball with me, since his girlfriend seemed barely interested in the game and he was very knowledgeable.
No wonder! He mentioned wistfully that he once struck out one of the Tigers hitters who was in the lineup that night. "Huh? What?" said I. My seatmate explained that this aspiring major leaguer was two years ahead of him in high school in Michigan and they played against one another in a conference game. I said, "You must have been very good to strike out an upper classman."
"Yeah," he said sadly. "I went on to play A Ball for Cleveland but I got hurt and they cut me."
I was shocked. I assumed that if a player got injured during a game, the team would pick up the bills for his surgery and rehabilitation. Apparently they are under no obligation to do so. As this young man told me, "They hadn't invested enough in me yet to pay it."
Man, that is cold.
When it looked like foul balls may come our way, he told me not to worry, he'd catch them. He showed me his glove. It was a pro glove. I wanted to cry. Imagine, getting so close to your dream and not being able to achieve it through no fault of your own. Here he is, barely 25* and he has to reset.
I told him he has a better story than anyone else in the stands, that he has a smarter perspective on baseball than anyone else in the stands, because he actually played pro ball. I reiterated that he should be proud. He shrugged and said, "I'm in sales now. It's cool."
But here he was, at a spring training game, watching a player he once bested face Yankee pitching. That player is in the dugout with Justin Verlander, he's in the stands with me.
But he still loves the game, and bringing his pro glove to the game, that makes my heart both ache and sing.
*My best guess