Memories of spring

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Lowlights and highlights from driving 2,814 kilometres through Arizona and Florida at our 26th spring training:

- The worst day: Sitting in the scouts section behind home plate before a game at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. Scouts were verbally jabbing each other. Comedy Central with sun tan lotion.

A friend called: "They took John Vukovich off life support."

End of laughter. A sign of respect for Vuk, who provided laughter to one and all. He was gone at age 59 because of complications from treatment of a second brain tumour. No time to enjoy his triplets daughter Nicole had in 2006.

Vuk wore a Philadelphia Phillies uniform longer (24 seasons) than anyone but Larry Bowa. He was tough. His longevity in baseball was because of honesty, which players didn't like to hear.

We asked him in 1999 about Jim Fregosi when the Blue Jays hired Fregosi: "No one has called me dummy or told me I was wrong more often, but I love him like a brother."

Everyone loved Vuk.

- Hearing about a New York Yankees broadcast where Joey Votto of Etobicoke homered off Luis Vizcaino to break up a runless game. The Yankees announcer said "this Cincinnati Reds prospect is from Toronto and was born in Brampton. Hey, isn't that where Wayne Gretzky is from?"

- Song of the spring: Heartland's I Loved Her First. A father tells of watching his daughter dance her first song with her husband at their wedding reception.

- Finding out in Scottsdale that Harve Bailey of London, the 37th president of the Ontario Baseball Association, had passed.

- Standing at Scott Mathieson's locker in the Phillies clubhouse as he opened a box from Aldergrove, B.C.

"Ever heard of these?" he asked excitedly as he lifted out a box of Nanaimo bars bake mix mailed from his sister Mimi.

My mom used to make them, he was told. Mathieson said his teammates had never heard of Nanaimo bars. So Mathieson was going to go home, bake and bring a touch of Canadiana into the clubhouse.

- Standing down the left-field line at Surprise Stadium, after leaving the office of Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore, San Diego Padres GM Kevin Towers surprised me by knocking my Montreal Expos visor askew.

We watched the Oregon State Beavers warm up to play the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Coca-Cola Classic. Oregon fans entering were stopping by.

The first fan asked me --wearing an Expos visor, a blue shirt and pants -- "Where's my seat?"

SAME QUESTION

I mumbled "I'm from outta town."

I got the same question two minutes later.

Towers thought the first was hilarious and laughed so hard the second time he could no longer talk about Oregon first baseman Jordan Lennerton of Langley, B.C., or ASU outfielder Tim Smith of Toronto.

A third Beavers fan then approached, ticket stub extended.

I grabbed the stub, stared it down like a gruff Yankee Stadium usher, pointed and barked: "Three sections down, on your left, sir, enjoy the game."

- Seated in the first row of the press box at Lake Buena Vista after a Dodgers-Atlanta Braves game putting typos into my laptop, wearing the same Expos visor, a youngster approached and asked for my autograph.

Why would you want it?

"You are Fernando Valenzuela, aren't you?"

Vuk would have howled at that one. Probably would have said, "Think how insulted Fernando is."

Farewell Vuk.


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