“Son, I think you should keep this,” I said. “Get a player to sign it, you don’t want me to ruin your ball by signing it.”
The shy little guy whispered back: “You signed his baseball ... why won’t you sign mine?” His lower lip was trembling.
I quickly grabbed the baseball.
Being a novice at this autograph business, it took me a while to find a clean spot on the ball. By the time I finished six more kids had shown up — all extending baseball’s towards me.
I signed them, too, all the time wondering what their fathers would say when they inspected the loot.
Something like: “Oh, I see you got autograph’s from Endy Chavez, Robert Andino and Nick Johnson. There’s Manny Machado, heck of a prospect. Pitchers Bruce Chen and Pat Neshak... Hey, who’s this Elliott fellow? Son, you didn’t get an usher to sign the ball again, did you?”
Here are some other impressions and recollections from Blue Jays spring training in Florida:
BEST SCENE: Hearing Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria ask manager Joe Maddon for an extra at-bat when he heard former No. 1 pick Chad Jenkins was pitching after Jays starter Ricky Romero. It’s not often you hear an established big leaguer ask if he can stay in an exhibition game longer.
WORST SCENE: Seeing Jason Heyward’s swing. The Atlanta Braves’ stud started off hitting .216 (16-for-74) with four homers, 16 RBIs and 22 strikeouts.
UGLIEST SCENE: Phillies’ Hunter Pence’s bad-hop grounder hitting Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera in the sun glasses, drawing blood. Cabrera suffered a non-displaced fracture and an eight-stitch cut below his right eye. He was back 13 days later.
BEST TWO JAYS SIGHTINGS: Watching Henderson Alvarez. And he’s only 21! Second: watching Omar Vizquel in the field. By the end of May fans will be asking, John who?
BIGGEST MISS: Not seeing Roger Clemens at the Bobby Mattick complex watching his son Koby Clemens play. Wanted to ask him about his cameo role in Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” video.
UGLIEST PERFORMANCE: Yankees tagging Joel Carreno for four runs in a span of six hitters. Following a one-out walk, Jayson Nix singled, Chris Woodward had a throwing error, Doug Bernier hit a two-run double and Dewayne Wise a two-run single.
ARGUMENT LOST: One morning I heard Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez raving about Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie’s defence He said he was “better than a young George Brett.”
I called Buck on it, wondering how Lawrie could be as good as the hall of famer.
“What were you doing in 1974?” Buck asked me.
Covering University of Ottawa Gee-Gees football, I told him.
Said Martinez: “Well, I was George’s roommate.”
Martinez wins. Discussion over.
PROSPECT GOES DEEP: Jays outfielder Jake Marisnick, 21, who spent last season at class-A Lansing, hitting a moon shot off lefty Fernando Abad, 26, who pitched in 51 major league games for the Houston Astros the previous two seasons.
WRITER’S CRAMP: J.P. Arencibia signed more autographs than anyone else. He also does great impressions, even better than travelling secretary Mike Shaw.
BEST FLASHBACK: When interviewing players in the club house, I’ve developed a habit of putting the player’s initials in my notebook as a way of identifying the quotes. It usually works, although the 1992 season was a bit rough as D.W. stood for Dave Winfield, Devon White and Duane Ward.
After interviewing Kyle Drabek in Kissimmee this spring, I went up to the press box to write my story. When I opened my notebook, I noticed I’d written down D.D. ... a flashback to interviewing his father, Doug Drabek, after the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990 National League Championship Series.
CATCHING UP WITH: Former Jays pitching coach Galen Cisco, who made trips to the mound for the 1992 and 93 World Series teams, was at the Bobby Mattick Complex to watch his grandson, Mike Cisco, pitch for the Phillies’ triple-A Lehigh Valley against Las Vegas. Mike was 8-0 with a 1.59 ERA at double-A Reading last summer. His younger brother, Drew, a high schooler from Mt. Pleasant, S.C., earned a $975,000 US bonus from the Cincinnati Reds, the second highest bonus their scouting director, Chris Buckley, handed out.
WAVING THE FLAG: Canada Day in St. Pete’s was special, but it couldn’t have be any more important than it was to Canadian junior national team lefty Ryan Kellogg. Making his third start in eight days, Kellogg retired Blue Jays Jose Bautisa, Adam Lind and Arencibia. The 6-foot-5 Kellogg is expected to be the top Canadian drafted in June.
Oakville, Ont.’s Kyle Hann, headed to Oklahoma State this fall, felt pretty good that day, too, doubling off the wall against Scott Richmond.
TALL TALES: Former Jays scout Epy Guerrero did not, as he claimed earlier this spring, talk the Jays out of trading Jose Bautista after the 2008 season. Bautista was acquired by Toronto from the Pirates in 2008 and played in 21 games, starting 13. Turns out there wasn’t any trade interest Bautista. It was an Epy story, like the way he takes credit for George Bell (originally signed by Philadelphia) and Alfredo Griffin (originally signed by the Cleveland Indians).