Spring Training at Vero Beach

The class D leaguers were the last to arrive at Vero. I remember the first night we were there some one gave a long lecture about the rules of spring training. Along with bed time etc he told us that in a few days all the managers and trainers would know a lot about each of us. He said that the pool players would be playing pool, the card players would be in another corner playing cards. The gamblers would be trying to find a way to gamble and the drinkers would try to find a way downtown without management knowing about it.(impossible). It was amazing the extent to which he was right.

Vero Beach was a beautiful place to play baseball. Of course the weather was nice, but also all the diamonds were so well kept and training was so well organized.

There were at least 3 full baseball fields. The one closest to the living quarters had no fence, just long expanses of grass in the outfield. The wind blew in toward home plate so you had to hit a baseball two miles to keep the outfielders from catching up with it in the air.

I roomed with Ray Shearer and Don Eggert who played AAA. The rooms were small but clean and of course we were never in the room anyway. The young inexperienced players were spread out with the mature guys to help us get along and stay in line during our stay at Vero. Shearer was an outfielder and Don played first base. Don served at the Vero Beach training model for hitting with an uppercut. He could hit a baseball a mile---straight up.

Rocky Nelson played first base in AAA and had a few trips up to the majors. He was a loud talker and a great pool shot. He was taunting one of the front office guys while shooting pool one evening. Rocky was bitching about making more money shooting pool than Brooklyn was paying him. The front office guy retorted that they had tried several times to sell Rocky's contract, but no on would give the $10,000.00 asking price. At that, Rocky laid his pool que down and whipped out his personal checkbook. Everyone laughed and the pool game continued. I did learn that some of the baseball players made a real second sport of playing pool---and cards

Sandy Koufax and right hander Don Drysdale were the talk of the day. They were touted as the greatest left/right team pair of starters in the majors. Furillo, Snider, Hodges, Campanella. All the greats came back for a few days while the "D" leaguers were there and we saw them play a couple of games.

We had one day off in spring training. We gathered so they could tell us not to stay out in the sun at the ocean because the wind would burn you before you knew what was happening. A bunch of us went to the ocean and of course I got a HUGE sunburn. A day or two later I wanted to bawl like a baby when I had to pitch. Every inch of skin in your back would stretch on your follow through. It was one of the longest days of my life. I never did try to get a suntan after that.

We got up about 7:00 AM and went to breakfast. Anything you wanted they had. The special was the ever present huge kegs of pure fresh orange juice, pure fresh grapefruit, and pure fresh orange and grapefruit juice mixed.

After breakfast we dressed and went straight out to a large field not carved into a diamond. There we did our warming up exercises. This was considered essential to keep down pulled muscles and injuries.

I was six feet three and weighed 212. My contract was with St. Paul AAA ball. Max Lanier managed St. Paul and knew I had played some outfield the year before. That, along with the natural ribbing a pitch gets when he comes to the plate to hit caused Max to tease me loudly yelling out at me: "Do you want someone to hit for you Spud?" Max lost several years of his bright major league career when he changed jobs for a time and played in the Mexican league. This was in the dark days of lifetime contracts and Max was expelled from baseball. A couple of years late the commissioner wisely lifted the ban and Max Lanier returned to major league baseball.

I remember the sliding pits. They had sawdust in them of course. The most beautiful thing I have seen in baseball was Maury Wills sliding. He was playing A ball at Pueblo. He slid in feet first, but hooked the bag with one foot and pulled himself around in what others would call a fade a way slide. The difference is that 99 out of 100 people just "fall away" as they go feet first to the bag. There is a world of difference.

The Dodgers taught you to slide straight in---the closest path between two bases is a straight line. But in sliding you lifted both feet just off the ground so you would not break a leg. You slide along on you butt and back all the time holding your head off the ground to keep form skinning you noggin. Lastly, we were taught to hold our outstretched hands back over our shoulders but just off the ground. The idea was to not to give the opposition a high point on your body to tag. If you ever saw Maury Wills slide on television you may be able to recall mental pictures of his famous slide. He also ran the 40 yard dash in 4.4 on a loose cinder track with a woolen uniform on and wearing baseball cleats.

We got to see all the major leaguers play once or twice although they were mostly on their grapefruit circuit when the AAA and below got to Vero Beach.

There was no such thing as a throwing machine, but they jerked the D leaguers out of line and made us throw to promising hitters. In my case they had a guy that could not hit a high, inside fast ball---as if everyone else could. I threw for an hour with him knowing what I was throwing and just digging in to prove to the observing manager that he could hit the high hard one. This was a real poke in the eye to me. We pitchers have our pride. Once or twice I just had to throw him a big round house curve ball to make him look bad. Serves them right for making me serve up softballs to him.

All pitchers do the exercise of covering first on ground balls hit to the right side, but it is a little more complicated if the ground ball is slow and someone must call who is to field the ball.

Actually, the best training exercise I was in was when the pitcher threw a ball to the manage standing on home plate with a mitt. He would roll the ball toward third base at whatever speed he wanted. The third baseman was charging, the catcher was charging out, and the pitcher was racing toward the ball on the third base line. The trick here was for the catcher to call who fielded the bunt, but also for the other guys to get out of the way. When three of you are getting really close before the play in made, the getting out of the way part can be an exercise in self preservation.

Of course, in the late afternoon the young pitchers would go to the outfield and run sprints, and run sprints, and run sprints. I am sure the position players were drinking orange juice and hoping that we pitchers would get in good enough shape so that the other hitters would not hit the ball hard so they would not have to move out of their comfort zone. he he he

Pee Wee Reese walked into the compound carrying his bags one day. No one had picked him up at the train station which was some distance. The fellow next to me remarked that some driver was going to lose his job if Pee Wee ( Mr. Reese to me) complained. Of course Mr. Reese, being the gentleman he is, did not complain and everything was cool.

My pitching career consisted of about 10 games in semi pro baseball. Maybe 20 in college, and 15 decisions in the two years I played professional. Short, but great fun.