FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Just returned from a nice, long run on one of the back practice fields here at the Minnesota Twins' spring training complex, one of those mind-clearing runs that blows out the cobwebs, burns your lungs and gives you time to think.
And among other things, what I was thinking about was ... cows.
The Twins' complex here is terrific, one of the best in baseball, and Lee County does a wonderful job of maintaining it. Friday, workers spent much of the day putting up the latest touch across the press box facade facing out into the stadium: Colorful pennants featuring the years the Twins have won division titles, AL titles and WOrld Series, and banners depicting the Twins' retired numbers.
But one of the most down-home touches from the past is long gone. Where once there were grazing cows, now there now are condos and other buildings beyond the Hammond Stadium outfield fence.
The cows, which were still around as recently as the mid-to-late 1990s, were one of the quaintest sights in the Grapefruit League. They'd be out there grazing, heads down to the grass, and doing whatever else cows do, and the Yankees or Red Sox would arrive, the game would start and you'd wonder whether any of the cows were in danger from a home run ball.
I never saw one get struck, but you had to hand it to the cows. Often the herd would be grazing just on the other side of the outfield fence. But as the game progressed, they'd slowly move further and further away from the stadium. It wasn't a stampede or anything but, suddenly, you'd look up in, say, the fifth inning and the cows would be several hundred yards from the park.
I guess the noise from the crowd and the public address system probably drove them away. I don't know. Maybe they just tired of watching Rich Becker take another called third strike. Perhaps they were offended that, as the steroid era took hold, guys started becoming almost as big as them.
Whatever, it was a soothing effect, watching those cows. I liked the cows.
Among the other new touches at the stadium this year are improved, brighter lights -- the outfielders should love that -- and a bigger batter's eye in center field.
See, as more buildings were built, there is this large, beige building off in the distance that sometimes made it difficult for hitters to see the ball.
Far as I'm concerned, with the buildings having replaced the cows, they may as well extend that batter's eye from foul pole to foul pole. The background is the one thing the stadium folks haven't been able to improve.
Likes: Rick Stelmaszek, longtime Twins coach, in uniform here and back in action after winter hospitalization because of seizures. Stelly looks good and says he feels good, and here's to his long-term health. ... George Toma, the legendary Kansas City groundskeeper, moonlighting this spring here in Fort Myers as one of the main guys taking care of Minnesota's field in Hammond Stadium. For a guy in his 70s, Toma looks to be in incredible shape. How do I know? The guy was pushing a fertilizer cart across the field Friday morning shirt-less. ... Congratulations to Michael Cuddyer, one of the greatest human beings in the game, and his wife, Claudia. They're expecting their first child, a boy, in June. ... Notre Dame's hoops team winning again. ... Thursday night's Democratic debate. Very nice gesture at the end by Hillary, shaking Obama's hand and remarking about what an honor it was to be there with him. Great to see so many people enthused about politics, and the University of Texas students seemed an exceptional audience. ... Not just the chicken parmagiana at Nino's Pizzeria and Italian Ristorante here, but the sauce that goes over it. Best fresh tomato sauce I've had.
Dislikes: Kelvin Sampson's incredibly poor judgment. Nice job by Indiana University, running Bobby Knight out a few years back, running the classy Mike Davis out, and then ending up in far worse shape ethically.
Sunblock day? Let's just say there was a bright sun and 80 degrees by 9 a.m. Let's just say nobody's shoveling snow anywhere near here.
Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:
"She knows the score
"So long before the morning papers make the call
"And she's searching around the dial
"For a song that'll make her smile
-- Fountains of Wayne, Revolving Dora