Rubbers, Balls, and Chicken Tutorials: An Insider’s Look at Spring Training

DODGERTOWN. SIDD FINCH. MIKE KEKICH AND FRITZ PETERSON AGREEING TO SWAP WIVES. Spring training is a special time of year, when all teams are tied for first, everyone is hitting 1.000, and a player has yet to be arrested for buying crack from a transvestite prostitute three hours before pitching the first half of a doubleheader. And with it comes a tradition so rich in Americana it might as well be a Johnny Cash song wrapped in a flag and wearing cowboy boots, for down south baseball players are dusting off their cleats in anticipation of another season of America’s pastime. Baseball is as American as apple pie, Hollywood, or invading Middle Eastern countries for oil reserves, and spring training is a sporting tradition like no other.

I was fortunate enough last week to be invited to spend a day with a National League team to see what it’s like to be a ball player during spring training in the modern era, and what I experienced my just surprise you. Below is an exclusive TSJ ’report’* on a day in the life of a major league ball player in spring training.

06:30 Wake Up Call – This is not your typical Holiday Inn robo-call. I got a personal phone call from TV star George Lopez asking me politely to get out of my jammies (his word, not mine) and showered to report for team breakfast.

07:00 Team Breakfast – Served in the team dining room by topless waitresses. It consisted of eggs, hash browns, gold flake encrusted sausages, Florida OJ, coffee with Bailey’s, Veuve mimosas, and a side of prunes.

07:42 Massage Therapy – Thai vacation-style massages. Relaxing, though odd as they were given in the team dining room by the waitresses. Awkward when you’re still trying to finish your omelet and some AAA third baseman is getting a happy ending from a ex-cheerleader from Fort Lauderdale who keeps eyeing your hash browns.

08:00 Media Training – In the modern sports world one can never be too prepared to deal with the media. A former NBC journalist leads the team in a series of exercises designed to prepare the players for dealing with the media. Some of the exercises include:

  • Feigning a Belief in God
  • What is the Third Person and Why Does (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE) Need to Use It
  • I Didn’t Know She Was Underage She Said She Was 16; 18; 21

09:30 Social Media Training – This is something that most teams have added to their pre-season programming. With the immediacy of Twitter and Facebook, players need to be made aware of how their online presence affects the team. Here, a 14-year-old blogger explains social media to the players, including topics such as:

  • Penises are Ugly: Don’t Text a Photo of Your Genitals to ESPN
  • The Computer Doesn’t Know You’ve Been Drinking
  • Racism and Misogyny are Only Funny in the Clubhouse
  • What are Racism and Misogyny

11:00 Beer and Chicken Tutorial/Lunch – During this session a representative from Kenny Rogers’ Roasters shows the players how to get drunk and fat on chicken in secrecy by putting their team jackets over their heads, filling Gatorade bottles with pilsner, pointing at something cool then when the manager is distracted, scarfing down some fried bird, and most importantly why we don’t eat the bones.

12:45 Juggling Mistresses – With 30 teams in 28 cities, it’s challenging for a major league ball player to balance the affections of women. This session teaches the players about having multiple cell phones, giving their illegitimate children different names, and using pneumonic devices to remember which girl is in which city. For example “The Marlins play in Miami, where my girlfriend’s name is Sammi,” or “The Nats play in a town called DC, where I go down on lady named CeeCee” or this gem from a well-known left handed reliever: “Cleveland’s called the Cleve, where I secretly meet up with a guy named Steve.”

13:00 Napping – Not just is this an opportunity to actually have a nap, but also a lesson on the art of napping itself. This particular team brought in a world renowned napper, a tenured history professor who teaches at an Ivy League university who has successfully napped from 1 pm to 3 pm everyday since 1978. It’s important for the players to find a good napping rhythm, as most games don’t start until 7 pm, and after that they have to go out and entertain their mistresses and illegitimate children.

15:00 Drugs! – Back in the day, players used to pop a few greenies to cure their hangovers and play a doubleheader. Hell, Doc Ellis dropped acid and pitched a no-hitter in 1970, though it was against the Padres. But the past generation of ball players has been tainted by the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. This session is led by a former coke-addled first baseman who was never caught using drugs of any kind. He leads them through many exercises that covers the entire spectrum of drug use, testing, and abuse including:

  • Pissing in a Cup: Just Think of Waterfalls
  • The Pointy End in What Goes in Your Ass: Safe Injecting
  • Cocaine Only Makes Things SEEM Faster

Most important was how to deal with drug-induced rage. Interestingly, he provided each of us with an ‘Anger Pillow’ to take out our frustrations on with a picture of Bud Selig on one side, and Anderson Cooper on the other. Uncomfortable, but surprisingly effective.

16:00 Clubhouse Pranks – Pranks have been a part of baseball since Abner Doubleday mistakenly invented the game by trying to attack a bee with his penis while high on mescaline in 1839. Here, players are taught how to make a shaving cream pie, the old hot foot, sticking a gum blown bubble on a teammates hat, and drugging a shortstop, shaving him bald and shipping him to Guam in a casket filled with ants.

17:00 The Doubleheader: Safer Sex –You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a 6’4” 238-pound Dominican leftfielder struggle to put a condom on banana. A 2009 study by the New York Times found 78 percent of pro-athletes have contracted an STI during their playing days, 48 percent have had children out of wedlock, and 89 percent believe safe sex is when the female fails to orgasm. The team I spent the day with believes education is in the best interest of the club, the players, and the women of America.

From our perspective as fans, we are led to believe that being a pro-athlete is all fun, games, and multi-million dollar contracts. But it’s more than that. I learned that having 28 women on the go at one time is a nightmare, that it hurts when the syringe first enters your buttocks, and that the condoms are ribbed for her pleasure and not mine. What was most surprising, however, was the complete lack of any baseball drills of any sort during the course of the day. When I asked one player, an all-star second baseman, about why we had a whole day without batting practice, fielding grounders, or intrasquad games he replied: “I already know how to play baseball. What I don’t know how to do is make sure my dick doesn’t fall off.”

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* In this context, by ‘report’, we don’t necessarily mean ‘true’. We mean more like this could maybe totally have happened somewhere in a parallel universe.

Mike Spry is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. His most recent work is Distillery Songs(Insomniac Press, 2011). He lives in Toronto.

Illustration by Lasse Mathiesen Køhlert. Check out his work here and here.

Related on The Smoking Jacket:
The Writer’s Guide to Staying Single 
Five Great Moments from the Golden Era of Trashy Baseball 

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