Geez, it was 55 years ago that I was a rookie in Spring Training. Here’s a recap of that experience.
Time to head for Clearwater, Fla., and Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, places I’d heard about. As a fan, there was nothing more exciting than hearing By Saam broadcasting the first game. Now, I was going to be there.
Five of us from the front office — manager Gene Mauch, coaches, writers, broadcasters and players — all stayed at the Jack Tar Hotel. Alarm clocks weren’t needed as every morning at 6 a.m., a train went through downtown, blowing its horn at every intersection.
I had a suite which doubled as an office — card table and my personal manual typewriter. The only office at the stadium was for tickets.
Practices took all day because we had only the field at the stadium. There was another field a block away to the west, the former site of Athletic Field. Rookies practiced there.
We didn’t keep track of Spring Training stats. Richie put on some kind of display. He hit something like 12-15 homers. I remember a towering blast at Al Lopez Field in Tampa, Fla. The ball hit the lights high up in the left-field light tower.
Almost everyone had a car except rookies. Being a rookie, I didn’t have one. I walked to the stadium or hitched a ride. Same for dinner. About three weeks into camp, I was given a rental car.
Every night, Phillies officials, writers and broadcasters dined at the Beachcomber on the beach. Entertaining the media was part of my job. I must have put on 20 pounds feasting on shrimp cocktail, steak and Baked Alaska. The weight is still there.
The first game was on Easter Sunday against the Pirates, who then trained in Fort Myers, Fla., a long ride on a two-lane highway through a lot of little towns. I took the team bus. In St. Petersburg, Fla., the bus had to stop suddenly to avoid an accident. The brakes jammed. Being a holiday, we sat and sat until another bus was dispatched.
We got to Fort Myers about an hour after the 1 p.m. game time. We returned to the hotel shortly before 9 p.m. This was life in the big leagues, my dream.
Cookie Rojas was our first batter in the first home game. He grounded to the pitcher, who threw the ball over the first baseman’s head. I stood up and yelled, “Go, Cookie, Go.” Philadelphia Inquirer writer Allen Lewis grabbed me by the belt and yanked me back in the metal folding chair. “First rule: No cheering in the press box. Understand?”
The press box was an open area behind home plate and under a metal roof. Pigeons nested in the beams supporting the roof. My daily job was to clean the press box table top of pigeon do-do. Hey, this is the big leagues.
Not all writers sat in the press box. There was a grassy area at the end of the first-base stands. Three or four would park themselves there and take off their shirts to get a tan.
There was a vacant ballroom on the hotel’s top floor. Every day, the front office, Mauch, coaches, broadcasters and writers would gather for a happy hour, dubbed the “Cheese Room.”
My job was to supply the booze and snacks, which were stored in my suite. I’d go shopping at the ABC liquor store once a week. Not for bottles, but cases. Several times a week, I’d shop at Winn-Dixie, a grocery store. Crackers, cheese, more crackers, more cheese.
The hotel had four bellmen. Buster was one of them. Believing that some of his players were violating his midnight curfew, Mauch gave Buster a baseball. “Get me some autographs after midnight, Buster.” Next day, Mauch fined four players for breaking curfew.
Shortly after we left Spring Training, the hotel closed for the summer. Not enough business to stay open year-round. How small was Clearwater? Three traffic lights.
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