Roch Kubatko featured me today in his nostalgic entry at The School of Roch about the years we spent covering spring training together in Fort Lauderdale. I actually got a little misty remembering all the springs we roomed together before he moved over to MASN. This past spring was the first time in about a decade that we didn't share a condo for those six or seven weeks.
I'm pretty much sworn to secrecy on a lot of it, though I don't understand why. Most of the girls Roch dated during that period didn't use their real names anyway. My favorite memory -- that can be printed here -- was at the beginning of one of his ill-fated relationships, when he was explaining to me how this particular beauty was different from all the others.
"This one's special, man,'' he said. "I'm so sure about her I even told her my real age."
Roch was like the little brother I never had. Early one morning, he woke me up and was in terrible abdominal pain. I mean terrible. Roch is no wimp, so I figured something was really wrong. I was pretty convinced he had appendicitis, so I forced him into the car and headed for the nearest emergency room. When we got there, he didn't want to go in.
"Let's just sit out here for awhile and see if it gets better,'' he said, forcing me to reassess the whole wimp equation.
So we did, and the pain began to subside, and eventually we went back to the condo. He must have gotten some bad sushi -- really the only possibility because Roch doesn't eat anything else -- or had that kind of appendicitis Brady Anderson had during his 50-homer season.
Roch is one of the most naturally funny guys you'll ever meet, but you better have a thick skin. Recently one of the local radio guys walked past a group of us in the lockerroom at training camp.
"Now there's a sexy guy,'' Roch said. "Ninety-seven pounds. None of it chin."
When I limped into the press box on crutches a week or so ago with my leg in a large splint after suffering a severed Achilles tendon, somebody walked up to me and asked what happened. Roch was sitting in the row behind me and piped right up.
"The blog wars,'' he said, "have turned violent."
If we're going to list our favorite Fort Lauderdale memories, here are few that pop to mind, though I don't have Roch's vivid memory:
The turtle incident: This one's easy to remember because it happened this past spring. I was driving to camp when I noticed that traffic was being obstructed by a large turtle trying to cross Atlantic Avenue. When I got close enough, I stopped the car, got out and picked the turtle up to carry it off the road. But I neglected to remember that turtles have a unique defense mechanism when they are frightened and ended up at camp with my favorite silk shirt soaked (and I mean soaked) with turtle pee.
Best quote came from MLB.com's Spencer Fordin, who refused to believe that I had actually rescued the turtle: "I think you just made that up so you'd have an excuse for why you smell like turtle pee."
The designated driver: I stopped going to a fun place on Las Olas Boulevard a couple of years ago after they booted me out for not buying a drink. When I explained that I was the designated driver and had four friends at the bar spending a lot of money, they told me that I still had to buy two drinks if I wanted to stay. Now, that's South Florida. To be fair, they did offer me the option of buying two glasses of water at full cocktail price.
South Beach prices: It's very common in South Beach to have hawkers try to draw you into the curbside dining areas with special offers, most of them 2-for-1 drink specials. I tried to take advantage of one this past spring, but had the good sense to ask how much they charged for a large margarita. It was $28.50.
Roid rage: In a major upset, this memory does not involve Roch. I got so mad at my former colleague Joe Strauss one day in the tiny Fort Lauderdale Stadium press work room that I chased him into the hall and threw a chair at him, and not some featherweight WWE folding chair. Everybody, including Joe, still laughs at the sight of him running down the hall with this big chair bouncing behind him. But, since all is quickly forgiven in spring training, he showed up at my condo that night as if nothing had ever happened. "Where do you want to eat,'' he said, and that was pretty much that.
Now, here's one of my favorite memories from the two springs I spent in Sarasota early in my Baltimore Sun career:
During those days, I liked to go to the small greyhound track in town, so we set up a dinner there that included me, Evening Sun beat writer Jim Henneman, Orioles PR guy Rick Vaughn and his wife Sue, and manager Johnny Oates and his wife Gloria.
Since we were going to eat a long dinner and nobody had any real expertise with the greyhounds, we decided that we'd each throw in $50 and give it to a racetrack friend of Henny's who worked as a ticket-seller. Nice guy who we still know whose nickname is right out of a Damon Runyon story.
Well, the first few races didn't go very well and we were enjoying a few adult beverages and Vaughn suddenly starts laughing, even though nobody said anything funny. So I asked him what was on his mind.
"We just gave 300 bucks to a guy named Smoothie,'' he said. "That can't be a sound financial strategy."
Maybe you had to be there, but we'll be there again in February and I, for one, can't wait. I might even be able to walk by then.