I’ve been a Chicago White Sox baseball fan for almost 25 years. My first memories of my blooming baseball passion came at the age of 7, attending a game at Comiskey Park (the old, decrepit one) thanks to tickets won for perfect attendance at school. Perhaps it was the reward center of my brain being satisfied by the chance to eat popcorn and hot dogs while watching people play sports, or maybe it was the free Sox backpack me and my brother got, but I immediately affiliated myself as a White Sox fan for life.
Fast forward to 2011. More than 2 decades after following the Sox through good times and bad, great teams and fire sales, cellar dwelling and a World Series win, I realized that, hey, I’ve never see the team prep for a season. And being in one of two states that hosts spring training complexes, I thought that this year would be perfect for seeing my favorite team gear up for a new year. So I chose my birthday to take it in.
After the 40-mile drive to Glendale, Ariz. (Phoenix is hella spread out; do people still say “hella?”), arrived at Camelback Ranch and was greeted by a formidable baseball complex and a modest entrance:
Another modest sign and employee reminded me of the freedoms we Americans have lost in the last 10 years (never forget):
Resigned to not bringing in my jumbo air horn or jug of wine, I received a sheet of Sox players jockeying for a spot on the Opening Day roster and a Spring Training schedule. (They expect me to drive 40 miles each way and pay $13 for one game? BASTIDGES!) This was it: I was in.
I was free to roam the grounds — within reason. My first stop was batting practice:
This lasted about 10 minutes before the players mysteriously left, leaving me to wonder what — WHAT — I did wrong to make them leave. Not expecting my abandonment issues to show up so suddenly, I ventured over to where the autograph seekers gathered.
Boy, were they a sight:
Listening to hardcore fans drone on for minutes about their prized Sox memorabilia and quality of player signatures, I realized that I was better than those weirdos* (Look at the Speed Racer notebook!) and explored the rest of the campus.
Walking around the empty fields made me think of the fielding and batting drills that I wish were going on. Things were too quiet, too serene. I mean, look at this!
Gorgeous, right?! But then the silence was broken by my own laughter when I saw this:
Did I mention that I’m 31 years old?
Anyway, so I found myself wandering around until I found an empty practice area. Intrigued by my discovery, I snapped pictures:
After eying a
lazy security guard with a walkie-talkie, I decided to reverse my path. Disappointed that the Sox was taking their sweet time with practicing, I was slightly happy to see the Dodgers quad actively running sprints:
Unsure of where to go next, I followed a sign that led to the Dodgers’ minor league training area. Two security guards made it physically clear that I was not allowed there, turning me around and going in the opposite direction. I walked and walked until I found myself in the complex’s moneymaking area:
I wanted something to commemorate the slightly mediocre experience, and I found an awesome one that can serve as a succinct memory conjurer AND a weapon:
(Also, it violated Camelback Ranch’s ban against bats! Take THAT, Camelback Ranch!)
Bat in hand, I debated whether to wait around for some more hitting, pitching and running, or to freeze the time spent at the spring training in my mind vault. I chose the latter.
Approaching the exit, I realized that my experience at the White Sox grounds were bittersweet: perhaps having another baseball fan with me would have made it more fun. Still, I was glad that I finally lived out one of my dreams, better for the pursuit and actualized goal. I could decide whether to take the challenge again or be satisfied with my time there.
And so I bid adieu to Camelback Ranch, unsure of whether I’d be back. But whatever happens, I’ll be rooting for the Sox during the regular season:
* I’m kidding, of course.