OPINION COLUMNS

A trip to the wonderful world of baseball

By Joy Carrico | Published Wednesday, April 6, 2016
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The Fella and I made a trip to Surprise, Ariz., to see a Rangers game during spring training. I had no idea this was such a big deal in the world of Ranger fandom, but apparently going to spring training is the spiritual pilgrimage of many longtime baseball afficionados.

I wanted to do it because it sounded like fun. I was looking at the schedule and noticed that the tickets in March were much cheaper. I didn’t realize that these tickets were for spring training games and weren’t even in Texas until the Fella clued me in. I do remember wondering at the time why the ballpark looked so small on the seat map.

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

But in telling the Fella about it, we started talking about going. He knew that we were committing an act of extreme baseball fanaticism. I didn’t. I just thought we were going to a Rangers practice game for the heck of it. I had no idea what to expect.

It was far more fun than I could have anticipated.

A large group of retirees, which are in plentiful supply in Arizona, run the show at these games. They couldn’t have been a nicer bunch of people or more committed to the fans having a great experience. They were always striving to be helpful.

My general experience with the elderly has never included such a high percentage of good-natured people. There was not a curmudgeon among them. They must weed them out. Or maybe the baseball magic of this place turns even the surliest old guy into a people person.

Upon arrival, we were told, “You’re in luck. They’re in the batting cages right now.” We headed that way, and I couldn’t help feeling like we were coming upon an exhibit at the zoo. “You’re in luck, they’re feeding the lions so you’ll get to experience them being active.” An exhibit of lesser Rangers were indeed in the batting cage habitat and people were lined up at the edges of the enclosure watching them being Rangers-at-bat.

I was surprised by how loud it is when a major league batter hits a major league-thrown ball, and I wondered if these guys suffer hearing loss over time. I also kept looking for the pitching machine that I associate with batting cages, until I realized that pitching machines are used to simulate these guys throwing the ball. This was the real deal. No simulation needed.

Our seats were between first base and right field because I wanted seats where I could see my baseball superhero, Shin Soo Choo, who plays right field. It turns out our seats were in Autograph Alley. The Rangers walked right past us to get to their dugout, and all the autograph collectors (mostly boys ranging in age 8 to 12) swamped the area trying to get the players to stop and sign stuff.

A word about these boys. I was told that players will do stuff for the kids that they wouldn’t do for adults. And the kids definitely have that power. I have never, you’ll be relieved to know, been a 10-year-old boy, but these players have been. I imagine that the Rangers see these boys begging for their attention, and it brings up memories of their own baseball-loving childhoods and melts their baseball-player hearts. But I’m just guessing.

My experience was that these kids were not a group of innocent, little Gee-Whiz Johnny’s seeing their heroes. They were a street-wise gang, and they wanted whatever they could get from whomever they could get it. They swarmed the players, yelled their names repeatedly, asked them to give them their hats, bats, anything. They were oblivious to the other spectators, and I never heard one of them thank a player. They weren’t bad kids, just fiercely determined. They reminded me of papparazzi.

The Rangers played the Kansas City Royals that day and won. Choo played the first three innings, and then he was replaced by his understudy – prospects, I was informed by bemused seatmates, is the proper term. While leaving, Choo stopped near us to sign some stuff for the urchin brigade. The Fella took this opportunity to approach. He made his way through the sea of urchins and asked Choo for his signature. The Fella knew I would never have the guts to ask my baseball superhero for an autograph, and he wanted me to have it as a memento of our adventure. Gotta love the Fella.

Choo was the only Ranger starting player, by the way, who stopped on his way out of the game to sign things. He was also the only Ranger at all to stop both on his way in and on his way out, once again showing his unending goodness. Go Choo!

The most interesting aspect of this adventure for me was the overwhelming sense of well-being that surrounded the place. The spectators, unless they were locals, went to great lengths to be there. For many of them, it was a dream come true event. Because it was so special, they were in the mindset of having a good experience.

As a result, everyone was polite and friendly, laughing and having a good time. Those running the park seem to understand this and fostered it. And, because everyone was focused on having fun and being happy, everyone I saw was having fun and being happy. I wish daily life were more like that. I didn’t want to leave this magical land of baseball happiness.

We came home knowing a different world where the sun shines brighter, the sky is bluer, everyone is friendly and enthusiastic, fans have more access to their heroes and baseball games don’t drag on forever due to commericial breaks.

Who knew Arizona held such a pleasant Surprise?

Joy Carrico is a graphic artist for the Messenger.

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