Marty Noble

More slices of Spring Training in Florida

Noble: More slices of Spring Training in Florida

More slices of Spring Training in Florida
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- This being my 35th Spring Training, I have done some calculations that I find a tad disturbing. I have spent the better part of 4.769 years in a state that has too much humidity, too many of those annoying brown lizards, too many extended red lights and not enough good delicatessens.

And that reduced-to-lowest-terms figure doesn't factor in two World Series, two sets of playoff games, three Winter Meetings, the Owners' Meetings in January 1994, three trips to visit -- and dine -- with Dwight Gooden in Tampa and one four-hour stay at the invitation of George Steinbrenner (a story for another day).

Lest I mislead you, I have enjoyed most of my time in the Sunshine State. For a baseball writer, Spring Training is the best setting to kibitz. And the best part of writing about baseball is kibitzing. The relaxed atmosphere of Spring Training is to be embraced. Manager, coaches players and Hall of Famers are comfortable and they sweat stories.

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A former colleague insists Florida does have acceptable -- even good -- delis, but none I have found. So, in their apparent absence, I present a few more slices of this Spring Training.

A pound of Gibson, sliced thick
With Mickey Mantle gone, Whitey Ford not making it to camp this year and Vin Scully in a faraway time zone, the best place for me to be is the clubhouse of the Cardinals' coaches in Jupiter. Usually there's a Red Schoendienst, a Lou Brock and a Dave Duncan seated on stools, but on this day, there was Bob Gibson and no one else. And that made it better.

An annoyed "What do you want?" is what usually passes as a greeting from Gibson -- but it's well-intentioned.

On this day, however, he says, "Hey, good to see you."

And I wonder if someone is masquerading as the Hall of Fame pitcher I have come to know and enjoy.

I see his hair is mostly black -- he admits he paints it -- but in the back where the mirror's eyes cannot warn him, see, there is gray. And he isn't alarmed when I tell him. I notice, too, that his expression appears softer.

The glare that unsettled big league hitters for 17 summers is long gone, and the 2011 edition of "that mean SOB" appears softer, nicer and happier. His growl is diminished, even if his replacement knee isn't cooperating as he had hoped.

But Gibson, 75, still tells tales of his determination, purposeful pitches and unyielding nature. We speak of the two home runs he hit in the World Series and how Harry "the Hat" Walker had tutored him.

"He would have helped anyone," Gibson says. "I was the only [pitcher] who asked him."

He is pleased to note, "I batted .300 one year [1970]," never mentioning the two seasons he hit five home runs and the three seasons he drove in at least 19 runs. He was proud to accumulate more than 100 at-bats five times.

"That means I was pitching deep into games," he says.

His face is softer, but more energy pulses through him as he goes on, filling a notebook -- and someone else's memory. Gibson always will be a hoot. And how he'd love to pitch someone high and tight one more time.

Senior day
When the great ones, like Gibson, appear in Spring Training, they cause a stir. Crowds assemble and even active players congregate. See Sandy Koufax in the Mets' camp. Former players with more modest resumes lack that Q factor. And then there is Ruben Amaro. Not the Phillies' general manager, his father, the man who makes Ruben Amaro Jr. a junior.

Senor Senior was in the Mets' camp Tuesday and Wednesday, working as a board member of the Baseball Assistance Team, and wherever he was, lines formed. Scouts, writers, club officials actually queued up to say hello and show reverence, appreciation and respect for the soft-spoken, 75-year-old former Phillies and Yankees shortstop -- and Phillies and Cubs coach. He never was a star; he never had more than 420 at-bats in a season in 11 years.

But he is one of the game's great gentlemen. The line forms at the rear.

On target
Bobby Ojeda tells this tale. He signed with the Red Sox as a non-drafted free agent in 1978; he was 19. The man who had scouted him and recommended that the Sox sign him had seen him pitch several years earlier.

"I don't know what league I was in then," Ojeda says. "But he was the coach of the team we played one day. I hit six batters in a row. Maybe that's why he recommended me -- I wasn't afraid to pitch inside."

Status symbol-land
The game changes. A few year back, Carlos Delgado pulled into the Mets' lot in Spring Training, and his dark blue Maserati caused a stir. Pedro Martinez was often dropped off at camp, and the cars that delivered him were ostentatious, more ostentatious and most ostentatious. By then, Mercedes, Cadillacs and gigantic SUV's had become run of the mill for players -- even in Spring Training.

And then the Tigers' Victor Martinez rolled into Port St. Lucie Tuesday, his two-plus hour trip from Lakeland complete. The vehicle he parked had a double RR in front of the hood. And it wasn't for Rich Rollins, Robin Roberts, Rip Repulski, Rich Reese, Ron Roenicke, Ramon Ramirez or Ryan Radmanovich (Mariners, 1998).

This Martinez had come in a Rolls Royce.

And yes, this the same business that once employed Doug Sisk. The former relief pitcher once drove from the Pacific northwest to St. Petersburg, Fla., in a vehicle that required some additional description. A bumper sticker read "This is not an abandoned car."

Fouling up and fouling out
The Brewers are understandably upset by the injury to Zack Greinke. They should be most upset by his keeping the injury to himself for as long as he did. The club already has said its No. 1 starter could -- pardon the expression -- rebound from his broken rib within two weeks. But what if he had alerted the club on the day the injury occurred.

He would have been shut down sooner and perhaps the healing that has taken place to this point would be further along than it is now. So he made two poor decisions -- playing and not saying.

Greinke is not the first to injure himself in a non-baseball activity. See Jim Lonborg skiing after his Cy Young season of 1967. He won 22 in the Impossible Dream summer and 17 in his next three seasons. But at least he fessed up.

There are seasons when teams run off with division championship in April, for example, the '77 Dodgers, '82 Braves, '84 Tigers, '86 Mets, and many of Bobby Cox's Braves teams. Offseason personnel changes often fuel fast getaways. And training camps that are without missteps can facilitate the whole thing. The Brewers were in position to make a quick getaway, until Greinke tried to initiate a different kind of fastbreak.

Once again we are reminded: Pennants can't be won in April, but they can be lost.

So Terry Collins wears No. 10 as a salute to his friend Jim Leyland, and Leyland and Tony La Russa wear 10.

Leyland says 10 was his number before his close relationship with La Russa developed, "But if people want to think it's for Tony, that's OK."

Leyland wore 10 with the Pirates and 11 with the Marlins when they won the 1997 World Series. Gary Sheffield was No. 10 then, and Leyland opted for Sheffield's production rather than his number. And Leyland stuck with 10 when he joined the Tigers because Sparky Anderson had worn 11 in Detroit. Anderson had worn 10 with the Reds.

And what does it all mean?

"Probably means 10 was available when we joined the team," Leyland says.

FYI: Six clubs have retired No. 10 -- the Reds for Anderson in 2005, the Expos for Andre Dawson (1997), the Royals for Dick Howser (1987), the Yankees for Phil Rizzuto (1985), the Cubs for Ron Santo (2003) and the Expos for Rusty Staub (1993).

The Cardinals probably will be next to put 10 in mothballs, for La Russa.

Pass the mayo, please.

Marty Noble is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.