For hundreds of baseball players, these two words are their chance to shine under the hot Florida and Arizona sun. It's a chance at a big-league roster. Or, for those fortunate veterans, it's a chance to reunite with their band of brothers and hone their skills for the season ahead.
I'm Todd Grasley, the PR Manager for Dugout Mugs, a life-long baseball fan, and I was a batbot for the Astros at Spring Training when I was 12 years old.
For me, Spring Training evokes a different set of emotions & memories. Growing up in Kissimmee, Florida, I had attended dozens of minor league baseball games of the Astros Single-A affiliate. I knew the players, the coaches, I'd spend every game shagging foul balls.
I turned 12 years old in February of 1998 and received the golden opportunity to batboy for the Astros during Spring Training & the Kissimmee Cobras during the regular season.
Being a batboy for the Astros in Spring Training is something I'll never forget and the stories began right in the clubhouse. My locker was in between Shane Reynolds and Billy Wagner. A few lockers down from us were Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. The food usually consisted of sandwiches or the occasional pizza, it was by no means gourmet, but for a 12-year-old kid, it was just fine.
Biggio would always wear his cut-off "Welcome Back Pig" shirt, and would dangle pizza in front of my face for a photo. He'd give me all his broken bats and old batting gloves. Now, all these years later, I get to watch his son Cavan play second base for the Blue Jays.
One person I'll never forget is the late Jose Lima, whose bright personality lit up the room. His locker was across from mine, so I'd always ask how he was doing. His response, "I'm always good brother, it's Lima time baby."
During Spring Training, the visiting team didn’t typically send a batboy, but I always wanted to be in the thick of the action. A trip to Tampa to watch the Yankees was definitely on my to-do list, and I made it happen!
Before the start of the game Jeff Bagwell, Larry Dierker, and Alan Ashby were joined by the LEGEND, Yogi Berra. Yogi, famous for his stories, went on to share memories of pitchers roughing up the baseball with sandpaper, spit, and whatever else it took to get a better grip.
At the conclusion of the game, I was packing up and getting ready to head on the bus when Mr.October, Reggie Jackson, came into the locker room to chat with Bagwell. I left Tampa with baseballs signed by Berra and Jackson and a lifetime of memories!
Coffee for Bobby Cox & Musical Mazzone
Bobby Cox is one of the most respected and winningest managers in MLB history. When the Braves made the 10-minute trek from Disney's Wide World of Sports to the friendly confines of Kissimmee, I usually jumped at the chance to work the visiting team's dugout. I remember asking Coach if he wanted something to drink and he asked if I'd run to the clubhouse and get him coffee. Little did I know, that'd turn into running there every three innings for a refill.
Longtime pitching coach Leo Mazzone could always be seen rocking back and forth right next to Cox in the dugout. I always wanted to know why, he told me, “I never really thought about that, I guess I always have a song in my head.”
Friends In Low Places & Celebrity Sightings
Baseball greatness was commonplace during my time as a batboy, but when Garth Brooks, arguably one of the greatest country music singers of all-time was in town it was an absolute pleasure. Garth frequented several MLB teams over the past decade, and the Mets were one of them. I don’t think his plate appearances were memorable, but giving a photo and a signed baseball to a young batboy definitely were!
Being a batboy also afforded me the opportunity to appear on television programs like Fox Family, and Nickelodeon, where I was featured as a kid with a dream job in sports. While at the Braves Spring Training home at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, I had the pleasure of being a small part of a Tonight Show with Jay Leno skit. The piece featured comedian Tom Arnold who was looking for his chance at the big leagues. While running out of the clubhouse, Arnold stumbles. As I help him up, I say “Mr. Arnold, I don’t think this baseball thing is for you.”
Needless to say much like those trying to make their respective ball clubs, fans enjoying their first looks at their favorite players, Spring Training will always hold a special place in my heart as well.