IT WAS ONE of my first years covering spring training in Arizona, during a stint in the early 1990s as the San Francisco Giants beat writer for the San Francisco Examiner. Every day, after our work was done, Bay Area media members would assemble at a Scottsdale park for a pickup basketball game, spirited affairs that were heavy on elbows, light on talent.
The Giants’ manager, Roger Craig, overheard us constantly bantering about our game. Craig, a genial sort, threatened to show up and play with us, which drew a big laugh. Managers don’t tend to mingle with the media after hours.
But sure enough, we were at the park one day when a pickup pulled up. Craig jumped out, dressed in shorts and a tank top. His wife climbed out of the truck with a cooler of beer. And for the next half-hour, Craig joined us in a robust game of full-court hoops. Craig was on the far side of 60 years old — but he still had a pretty good jumper. Afterward, all we sat around a picnic table and enjoyed the refreshments he had brought.
That’s just another aspect of the joy of spring training for me — the unexpected moments of laughter and camaraderie. I’ll also never forget the time that Ken Griffey Jr., an inveterate practical joker, arranged for a photo of his old minor-league roommate in the Mariners’ organization, Roger Hansen, to be blown up roughly to the size of a drive-in movie screen and displayed on the batter’s eye on a back field in Peoria. When Hansen, by then a Mariners catching coordinator, did a double- and triple-take upon seeing his visage displayed in such vastness, Griffey’s cackle could be heard all the way to Tucson.
The beauty of spring training, from my privileged vantage point, is that each year provides moments, small or large, to add to the memory bank.