So as I mentioned before, Monday morning we drove to Winter Haven to see the Indians practice. Correction: I went to see practice. Running, stretching, goofing off, baseball pants, batting practice, etc. Dean goes to watch practices but also to get autographs. Yes, I married a twelve year old. He brings stacks of cards and a couple baseballs and lurks with the kids and the retirees and waits for the players to sign. Anyway, because a good time to get autographs is right at the beginning of practice, Dean dragged me out of bed at 5 a.m. to get there early. We got there even before the players and for a full hour and a half Dean was the only one standing out there. Why was he alone? Because it was 43 degrees out (in Florida that's damn cold) and I was in the car, drinking coffee with the heat blasting listening to NPR's Morning Edition. I joined Dean when the players actually took to the fields.
After practice we drove down to Jupiter to see both the Cardinals and the Marlins. Of course practice was over by the time we got to Jupiter so we explored the town a little, ate at a sports bar and went to bed early. The next morning, we drove to the stadium (this time I slept in til six) and got there around seven. Dean didn't get one autograph before practice. I again hung out with the NPR crew for awhile before finding the local Starbucks. When the Cardinals practice was about to start, we were informed that the areas between the practice fields were closed because the clean-up crew hadn't finished tearing down from a street party welcoming the Cardinals back to Jupiter the night before. The only way for fans to get around the different practice fields was through the player parking lots, which the staff wasn't about to let happen. Instead a trolley had to cart us around the complex, removing all hope of wandering aimlessly and without plan. I was a little distraught.
We took the trolley to the first set of practice fields. When we got off the trolley Dean struck up a conversation with the guy selling programs as you walk into the practice field area. He discreetly showed Dean the schedule which revealed that Albert Pujols (the most coveted autograph signer and a pretty good player, HA!) was in fact practicing at a different set of fields. So we hung out with the program vendor shooting the shit and waiting for the trolley when here comes a Munchkin. Yes, you read correctly, a real live Munchkin from the Wizard of Oz. The Munchkin, named Mickey, is a St. Louis resident and can often be found at Cardinals events. The vendor and Mickey were on a friendly basis, so he stopped Mickey to introduce us to him. I was flabbergasted. Let's face it, of all the people I awoke that morning hoping to meet, a Munchkin was not even close to being on my radar. But Mickey greeted Dean with a handshake and me with a hug. He was more then happy to tell us some Wizard of Oz stories and interesting history. For instance, did you know that most of the Munchkins were German refugees fleeing Hitler's regime? I had no idea. He left us with some signed photos and some pictures:
This is actually the only picture I've gotten with a celebrity this spring training. Not that an actual Munchkin is a disappointment, I was thrilled. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Mickey is the one that plays the fiddle while leading a line of parading Munchkins around Munchkinland trailed by Dorothy in a horse-drawn carriage.
Cardinals practice was relatively uneventful. I snapped these photos for Lefty, just to make her jealous.
Pujols wouldn't turn around for a good picture, but the middle-aged woman next to me seemed plenty content taking pictures of his rear end. He was also characteristically poor about signing autographs. When he left the batting cages for the last time at the end of practice, everyone in the rather large crowd descended upon the fence separating him from us like ants on a dropped candy bar. I have never seen anything like it, and this is my fifth spring training. He signed for about 20 of the 200 people or so waiting. I just hope he did it for a lot of kids even though I couldn't see a thing.
I like that picture because Tony LaRussa is telling another coach something about somebody's swing.
I confess that Wednesday morning I punked out and slept in while Dean went to try to get Dontrelle Willis to sign a ball. He picked me up from the hotel in time for check out and we headed home. Tomorrow, it's Ft. Myers for two days to see my boys. I have missed them like crazy. My mission: get Baby Jesus to sign a copy of his Sports Illustrated. But like I indicated above, you never know what will happen.