Posted on: February 29, 2008 7:41 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2008 7:46 pm
 

Mets look at pitching possibilities

TAMPA, Fla. -- The New York Mets have discussed free agent starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and others internally, according to sources close to the Mets, and still may make a move to add starting pitching this spring.

Lohse remains the most attractive of a handful of starters who so far appear to have priced themselves out of business because he's only 29 and is coming off of a season in which he worked 192 innings and compiled a 4.62 ERA for Cincinnati and Philadelphia last season.

Among the other starters still unsigned: Jeff Weaver (31, 6.20 ERA for Seattle in '07), Freddy Garcia (32, coming off of shoulder surgery last August), Eric Milton (32, coming off of an injury-plagued year with Cincinnati) and David Wells (44, 157 innings pitched for San Diego and Los Angeles and a 5.12 ERA).

The Mets are said to be considering many options in the wake of acquiring ace Johan Santana, including beginning the season with Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez in the bullpen. The thinking there being that they could save him from wearing out by season's end if they limit his innings early, and maybe move him back into the rotation later in the year.

Among the other reasons the Mets continue to study free agent pitchers who are available: They're still not sure whether Mike Pelfrey (3-8, 5.57 ERA in 72 innings pitched last season) is seasoned enough for the big league rotation and though Pedro Martinez looks good this spring, he's no lock to stay healthy all season.

St. Louis is another club that could be in the market for pitching if Matt Clement's comeback lags. However, the Cardinals have indicated that their player payroll is maxed out. The Chicago Cubs also could be a player for Lohse or Weaver to add depth to a rotation that includes a couple of questions: One, whether Jason Marquis sticks all season and, two, whether Ryan Dempster's conversion from closer takes.

A couple of other notes:

-- The Florida Marlins have discussed adding oUtfielder Corey Patterson, a Scott Boras client like Lohse and Weaver, who remains unsigned. Cameron Maybin, one of the high-ceilinged prospects acquired from Detroit, is projected to start in center for the Marlins but there is some organizational concern that, at 20, and with only 49 big league at-bats, if he isn't ready, he could get buried. But it's more likely that the Marlins will go with Alejandro De Anza instead of Patterson. De Anza made the Marlins out of camp last spring but suffered a broken ankle after nine games and missed much of the rest of the season.

-- The Cubs-Baltimore Brian Roberts trade talks continue to simmer and the possibility remains that Roberts could be a Cub by opening day. Chicago scouts continue to track Roberts.

Likes: Gorgeous cover on the Pittsburgh media guide this year, an evening shot of PNC Park with lights reflecting off of the Allegheny River. ... Manny Sanguillen in camp, same winning smile. ... ELO's Mr. Blue Sky on the public address system before Friday's clash-of-Pennsylvania, Phillies-Pirates Grapefruit League game. ... This line from Alan Schwarz in a New York Times story on the Pirates: "... their roster's somnolence is marked by how their most recent signee, pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim, is a virtual narcoleptic." ... Mixon Fruit Farm in Bradenton, which has become a must-stop for lunch along the trails. The orange juice, as you might suspect, is out of this world, and so was the tropical milkshake featuring fresh oranges, pineapples and cherries.
 
Dislikes: Need more hours in the day. Even if we got an extra day this month thanks to leap year. Still not enough hours.

Sunblock day? We're getting there, with temps finally reaching the 70s. Still, it was in the 40s early Friday morning and a chilly breeze persisted for  most of the morning. We can only hope that the horror of this "cold-weather" snap is behind us now.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"I got shackles on my wrists
Soon I'll slip 'em and be gone
Chain me in a box in your river
And I'll rise singin' this song
Trust none of what you hear
And less of what you see
This is what will be"

-- Bruce Springsteen, Magic

Posted on: February 28, 2008 7:26 pm
 

The best kind of Little League dad

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- One of Roger Clemens' favorite self-deprecating lines is that he just doesn't do retirement very well, given all the times he's tried and failed.

But compared to Troy Percival, Clemens is an expert.

Percival signed a minor-league deal with the Angels last April specifically so he could retire as a member of the franchise with which he grew up.

That was two organizations, 40 innings pitched and three victories ago.

The guy arrived at Tampa Bay's camp at 6:15 a.m. Thursday.

"Anytime I can put the uniform on, I'm pretty happy," says Percival, 38. "It took me a couple of years to come to grips with retirement. I didn't think I had any choice. But once I knew I could play. ..."

It was -- and seems like it still is -- a total fluke.

Percival blew out with Detroit in 2005, tearing the flexor tendon in his elbow clear away from the bone -- and breaking off a half-a-fingernail-sized piece of bone with it.

He didn't have surgery because doctors basically told him the odds against it helping much far outweighed the odds that he could come back.

So two things happened.

Feeling horrible that he only made 26 appearances in '05 despite a two-year, $12 million contract, the always classy Percival purchased a luxury suite in Detroit's Comerica Park in '06 for the Tigers' wives to use.

Second thing that happened was, two years after playing what he thought was his final major-league game, Percival was coaching his son's Little League team in Southern California and was throwing easy batting practice from 40 feet to eight-year-olds.

He noticed that the pain had receded. One day while playing catch with one of his assistants, the assistant backed up further ... and further ... until Percival was winging the ball 150 feet, on a line.

Long story short, he had his agent ask some clubs to come out to watch him throw, nine clubs were interested and he wound up back in the majors last summer with St. Louis.

How did it all happen?

"By accident," Percival says.

The flexor tendon appears healed -- at least, healed enough to allow him to throw.

The piece of bone that broke off?

"It's still in there somewhere," Percival says. "I don't know where it is, but wherever it is, it's out of the way."

Tampa Bay pursued him this winter after he went 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 34 games for Tony La Russa's Cardinals last summer, and the Rays intend for Percival to be their closer in 2008.

And coaching nine-year-old Cole's Little League team?

"I actually miss that as much as anything," Percival says. "I had a lot of fun with it."

Likes: No, Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria is not related to Desperate Housewives' star Eva Longoria. And don't ask him again. ... Here's to Mark DeRosa's continued good health after the Cubs infielder underwent a heart procedure Thursday in Chicago. ... Finally, some hope in Tampa Bay. ... Players union boss Don Fehr actually saying that the union would consider blood testing for human growth hormone if a legitimate test is developed. Among others Derek Jeter has said he would support it. And good for him. ... Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central whipping Romulus Summit Academy 68-37 in a Michigan boys' basketball district game Wednesday night. Next up for the mighty Falcons is Gabriel Richard in Friday night's district championship game.

Dislikes: Time was, back in the early 2000s, that Scott Spiezio was such a popular player within the game that the Angels would look forward to his arrival in the clubhouse each afternoon. He was personable, funny, the kind of guy everybody loved having around. I just hope his release by the Cardinals this week after police issued a six-count warrant for his arrest following a December traffic accident is the bottom for Spiezio, and that he can start to get his life back together from there. He's battled alcohol and drug issues and become a mess.

Sunblock day? Don't even ask. Temperature reading in the car was 44 degrees at 7:30 this morning as I was driving toward Tampa Bay's camp. The sun did come out and stay out for most of the day, but it came with a chilly breeze that wouldn't quit. Jacket required, all day. The security guard at the Rays' complex this morning was wearing ear muffs. At spring training.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"George is in the jungle
Knockin' on the door
Come to get your children
Wants to have a war

"Come on, lord you'd better run,
Be a long dark night before this thing is done

"Brownie's in the outhouse
Katrina on the line
Government's a disaster
But George, he says it's fine"

-- John Fogerty, Long Dark Night

Posted on: February 27, 2008 6:56 pm
 

No outrage? You're not paying attention

TAMPA, Fla. -- So Tribune Company CEO Sam Zell lets drop that he'll sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field in a heartbeat if that can make him some extra money, and all you ivy-covered Chicago Cubs fans hit the roof.

Hey, I feel your pain.

And the best thing that can happen is this: Somebody gets the Cubs out of Mr. Zell's evil clutches as soon as humanly possible.

Now I realize all baseball fans probably aren't schooled in the world of journalism, and there's no reason you need to be. But in case you hadn't heard of a couple of recent highlights on the Sam Zell 2008 Offend the World Tour, allow me to fill you in.

He visited one of the Tribune Company's papers, the Orlando Sentinal, earlier this month to speak to the staff and address questions about his philosophies -- which can be summed up in one sentence: Find ways to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.

So during a staff question and answer session, a woman photographer asks him how the paper will balance his need to make money with the paper's need for resources to cover the news. He essentially said, making money comes first, even if that means squeezing resources to hurt the product.

OK, whatever, he's the boss. But he finished an answer to one of the woman's follow-up questions by saying, and I quote: "F--- you."

It's right there on YouTube if you think I'm exaggerating.

And that's not even the worst of it. A few days later, his Tribune Co. tour took him to the Los Angeles Times, where he met with that paper's newsroom staff. And where he explained that his main mission is to make money, and the Times must look at new ways to make money, including accepting ads from strip joints.

Now you can have a reasonable debate regarding the merits of that.

But when the troops expressed disdain for the idea, Zell, in defending himself, told them that, "everybody likes ----. It's un-American not to like ----."

I left the blanks so as not to repeat Zell's inexcusable use of a crass word for a female body part in front of a full -- and highly offended -- newsroom of profesional men and women. Here's a hint, though: Think "cat."

How quickly do you think you'd be in the Human Resources office explaining yourself if you talked like that at your place of employment?

This guy is a piece of work.

Meanwhile, Billy Goat Tavern at Wrigley Field, anyone? I can think of worse corporate sponsors.

And I'm sure we'll get one.

Likes: The Phillies' training complex in Clearwater. It's five springs old, but doesn't look a day over one. ... Charlie Manuel. If baseball could walk and talk, it would look exactly like the Phillies manager. ... Grapefruit League games again. ... John Mellencamp into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month. ... Springsteen back on the road this week.

Dislikes: Thunderstorms in the Tampa area were so severe Tuesday night that it knocked out satellite television transmission ... which left me, working in my room, with about a 15-minute gap in the Democratic debate. Maybe rabbit-ears television antennas weren't so bad afterall. ... Scott Kazmir's arm trouble in Tampa Bay. ...

Sunblock day? No. Jacket day. That thunderstorm kicked temps down into the 50s Wednesday, and the wind was howling. Brrrr.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the price
For having learned how not to cry

-- Jackson Browne, Doctor My Eyes

Posted on: February 26, 2008 6:17 pm
 

Relief in Toronto

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Perfect late-game world for Toronto, closer B.J. Ryan returns strong from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery in April, which moves Jeremy Accardo and Brandon League into set-up roles.

Of course, Ryan is only 10 months out from a surgery that once took two years to return from. Now, the way the surgery has evolved, relievers sometimes can make it back in a year, and Ryan is pushing even that.

"I'm working hard to come in and show them I can be healthy and back to help the team," says Ryan, who likely will pitch live batting practice for the first time later this week.

Currently, Ryan is throwing a bullpen session followed by two days off before his next bullpen session. Within a couple of weeks, he'll advance to one day off between throwing. And when he's ready for games, Toronto will use him first in minor-league games so that the Jays can control the number of pitches he throws.

"We'll still have to monitor it during the season," manager John Gibbons says. "But Accardo proved to us last year that he can (close).

"Sometimes you'll have to slap yourself and say, 'Are you doing the right thing?'"

As for League, he's mostly been under the radar nationally, but he could play an important part if the Blue Jays are to be as good as they think they can be this year. He had a muscle problem in his shoulder last spring that caused him to lose 10 m.p.h. off of his fastball. Toronto had to shut him down, and League only threw 11 innings last season.

Gibbons says he now looks like the League of old and, "he's back in the mix. There are no limitations on him."

As Gibbons notes, League last year was going to be Toronto's eighth-inning guy. If he can re-emerge, and if Ryan can return ... well, let's just say the late innings in Toronto could be a whole lot more fun for the Blue Jays.

Likes: David Eckstein looks odd in a Toronto uniform, and he didn't get the multi-year contract he sought after battling a bad back last year and seeing his errors total shoot up to 20 from six in '06, but he's everything that's right about the game of baseball. Hard worker, little guy using all of his talent to succeed, a genuine nice guy. ... Scott Rolen out of St. Louis. It'll be nice to see what he can do without a maniacal manager. ... Francisco Liriano on his way to Twins camp. ... Monroe (Mich.) St. Mary Catholic Central 49, Clinton 38 in a boys' basketball district tournament opener on Monday night. Here's hoping the Falcons can whip Romulus Summit Academy on Wednesday night. ... Also, a belated congratulations to St. Mary Catholic Central coach Ray Lauwers, in his 41st year at the school and an old teacher of mine, for notching his 600th career victory last week. Lauwers, already in the Michigan  became only the fourth coach in Michigan boys high school history to earn win No. 600. ... Fatburger. ... The ribs at Lee Roy Selmon's barbecue joint. ... Wilson Phillips' California disc.

Dislikes: Lousy concert schedule around Florida this spring. It's always a fun diversion when something lines up during spring training -- in past years, I've seen Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett and Bonnie Raitt here -- but this year's it's bone dry.

Sunblock day? Yes, but not for long. Temps in the mid-80s today and hot. But the clouds are moving in this afternoon, thunderstorms are forecast and Wednesday's high -- high -- is supposed to be only 60. Yikes!

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Everybody is a star
"I can feel it when you shine on me
"I love you for who you are
"Not the one you feel you need to be
"Ever catch a falling star
"Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
"Everybody is a star
"One big circle going round and round"

-- Sly and the Family Stone, Everyday People

Posted on: February 25, 2008 6:42 pm
 

Yanks won't be hamstrung

TAMPA, Fla. -- Camp (Joe) Girardi is more difficult than Camp (Joe) Torre in the early going this spring which, truth be told, was to be expected.

Everybody knows that Girardi was almost maniacal in cracking the whip on his young Florida Marlins two years ago.

But the Yankees aren't simply running more this spring than last for that reason alone.

No, it was in the early going last season, you might recall, that the Yankees were struck by an extraordinary number of hamstring injuries. Pitchers Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang and outfielder Hideki Matsui all landed on the disabled list with various degrees of hamstring pulls in the first weeks of 2007, leading to the firing of then-strength coach Marty Miller ... and, eventually, leading to a more regimented physical conditioning program this spring for the Yanks.

Mussina told me Monday morning that some of the descriptions of how much the Yankees are running so far are a bit over-dramatized. The club ran this much under Torre's direction in some springs, Mussina said. But the conditioning requirements eased off last spring, Mussina acknowledged, and these Yankees are running far more than they did last spring.

"People forget we ran before last year," Mussina says. "We didn't run as much last year, and it hurt us."

Understand, no games have been played yet -- Grapefruit League or regular season -- and these are just sketchy first impressions but, so far, the reaction to Girardi has been positive.

Especially from one of the men whose opinion counts the most.

"I love what he does," Hank Steinbrenner, Yankees senior vice-president, was saying around lunchtime Monday at the Yankees' Legends Field complex. "I love what he's doing. I really do. He's got a rare combination of things.

"They  like him and respect him, I think, and there's even a little fear."

Steinbrenner acknowledged the hard work is key after the way all those hamstrings blew up early last year.

"It's especially important," he says. "All of that stretching and running ... that's not going to happen again. If it does, it'll be a fluke."

The early running isn't necessarily unique to the Yankees. Reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who played with five other organizations before signing with the Yankees as a free agent this offseason, said he ran this much with the Rockies last spring and "we probably ran more in Minnesota."

"It ain't that hard," Hawkins says. "The hard thing is the heat and humidity. It's been humid down here. I was running a month ago at home (in Texas), inside, 65 degrees, and it was no problem. Here, the heat takes its toll on your body."

Likes: Morgan Ensberg, in Yankees camp as a candidate to play first base, is intelligent, personable and kooky. And one more reason why I love the guy came Monday in the Yankees' clubhouse, when, after catching up with each other for several minutes, he offered this as a farewell when we parted: "Write well this spring. Have good syntax." ... Pretty dull year for the Oscars. No Country for Old Men was a reasonably good movie, but not THAT good. Daniel Day-Lewis was outstanding in There Will Be Blood, but the ending was suspect. Juno was enjoyable, but nomination for best picture? ... David Michaelis' biography of Charles M. Schultz, who wrote the comic strip Peanuts for all those years.

Dislikes: Heading toward the Sunshine Skyway on my way toward Tampa the other night, I sat behind a car for a full five minutes at the toll booth as the driver tried to sort out some sort of problem. What was the problem? "She didn't have any money," the toll booth person told me when I finally was able to go. Great. No money, and the woman's driving a Lexus. "Sir, you work here for one day, you'd be amazed by what you'd see," the gentleman taking my $1 said ... and I believe him.

Sunblock day? Yep, still cookin'. Sunny, humid and in the 80s.


Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"And in the streets the children screamed
"The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
"But not a word was spoken
"The church bells all were broken
"And the three men I admire most
"The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
"They caught the last train for the coast
"The day the music died

-- Don McLean, American Pie

 

Posted on: February 24, 2008 4:27 pm
 

It's a game of timing ... and contracts

FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Among the politics of a manager's new contract -- and the specific example, of course, if that of Boston's Terry Francona -- is timing.

Managers hate going into a season with just one year left on a contract because if things start poorly, then the contract quickly becomes the story and they lose authority in the clubhouse. In a place like Boston, you can see where that could be a huge potential problem.

Francona certainly deserved the extension, having helped deliver two World Series titles in the past four seasons, and that he was going to get one really was never in question. He did, though, admit to a couple of nights of worry recently, before his three-year deal was finished.

And amid the relief of finally knocking it off, the first thing Francona spoke of Sunday was the relief he feels that the issue won't be dragging into the season -- or, even, any further this spring.

"None of us wanted this to go into what we're doing down here," Francona said. "There was a lot of hard work and we were able to get it done to where everyone was comfortable and we can concern ourselves with baseball -- which is what we should do."

General manager Theo Epstein said that the club wouldn't have let the talks drag into the season.

He also offered an interesting insight into how he's seen Francona grow into the job since 2004, Francona's first season in Boston.

"Where he's grown, I think, is in dealing with confrontation," Epstein said. "That's one area that doesn't come naturally to him. I've seen him through the years become more and more comfortable saying what needs to be said, especially in the clubhouse to players."

Francona is a nice guy who was genuinely embarrassed -- to a degree -- by the negotiations.

"I'm not very comfortable doing this," he said. "The minute (the negotiations) started, I wanted it to be over, and that's just not practical."

Likes: The Marlins looking for "plus-size" guys (read: fat guys) to form an all-male cheerleading cast (to be called the Manatees) on Friday and Saturday nights. How great is that? ... The Brewers setting a single-day ticket record by selling 98,000 of them for the 2008 season. Nice to see people care about baseball in Milwaukee again -- and nice to see the Brewers give them something to care about. ... Nearly 2,000 folks at Boston's practice facility watching the Red Sox's first day of full-squad workouts the other day. And the 1,500 or so folks who came to watch the pitchers and catchers work out for a few days running. ... No, I don't think the Mitchell Report or steroids has dampened enthusiasm for the game. ... Seeing a Toyota Prius hybrid and a Hummer H2 parked next to each other at Boston's facility the other day. ... Memphis-Tennesee on Saturday night. Great ending. ... The Drift Inn near Bradenton Beach. Met a friend there the other night, and what a wild place that is.

Dislikes: Hey Florida, how about you join many other states and pass a law prohibiting smoking in public buildings (restaurants and bars, especially)?

Sunblock day? Absolutely beautiful here Sunday. Warm sun and 80-some odd degrees.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"I started as an altar boy
"Working at the church
"Learning all my holy moves
"Doing some research
"Which led me to a cash box
"Labeled 'Children's Fund'
"I'd leave the change
"And tuck the bills inside my cummerbund"

-- Warren Zevon, Mr. Bad Example


Posted on: February 22, 2008 7:39 pm
 

All that was missing was Ben & Jerry's

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

 

Posted on: February 21, 2008 5:24 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2008 5:25 pm
 

The Name -- and Mapquest -- Game

FORT MYERS, FLA. -- So I'm cruising across Metro Parkway toward the Red Sox camp in Fort Myers about 8 a.m. Thursday, still working on waking up, when I pass Danley St. and it starts again.

Within a split-second, I think of Kerwin Danley, the major-league umpire.

Twisted, I know. Whacked, I admit.

But I'm guessing I'm not alone here.

Anybody else out there have an issue with automatically associating street names with players?

Long ago, I'd be driving on I-5 in Southern California, my stomach would start growling and I'd know exactly where to exit for the In-N-Out burger: Steve Avery Parkway.

OK, truth be told, it probably isn't named for the old Atlanta left-hander. Especially because it's actual name is Avery Parkway.

A few springs ago I got turned around heading to dinner at Le Tub, a marvelous old gas station-turned-into-a-grill on Florida's intracoastal waterway.

Now I know exactly where to exit I-95. Sheridan St. How could I forget Pat Sheridan, who played outfield in the 1980s for Kansas City and Detroit?

On and on it goes. The exit leading off of I-75 in Florida that takes me to Minnesota's camp isn't Daniels Parkway, it's Kal Daniels Parkway. A tip of the cap to the Cincinnati outfielder who led the National League in on-base percentage in 1988.

The exit off of I-10 in Arizona that takes me to Peoria Stadium (home of the Mariners and Padres) is Bell Rd. -- which never fails to remind of wacky outfielder Derek Bell. He played with a number of teams, but I'll always fondly recall the time he took his uniform pants back to the Blue Jays equipment manager and asked for a longer pair.

"How long?" the equipment guy asked.

"For the whole season," Bell replied.

I could go on, but it's late afternoon and I'd sure like to get a run in before dinner and a night of prepping for tomorrow's stop, Twins camp.

Of course, when I drive back to the hotel from Boston's complex here, the route will take me on Fowler St., during which I'll no doubt think of Billy Martin's old pitching coach, Art Fowler. ...

Likes: Manny being Manny. ... Full squad workouts starting. ... Exceptional tribute to the late Bob Howsam, the highly respected former Reds executive who passed away a few days ago, from Sparky Anderson in this piece. ... Nino's Pizza and Italian Ristaurante at Daniels Crossing. Had an outstanding pizza -- New York thin crust -- from there last night, and meals there remain one of the highlights of the Florida tour. Graziano and his staff serve terrific meals with impressively fresh ingredients.

Dislikes: Fort Myers traffic has grown exponentially since I first started coming down here in 1994. It's the old joke -- Daniels Parkway, one of the main thoroughfares, is called a Parkway because you spent a whole lot of time parked on the asphalt. ... Physical exams. Everybody goes through them, of course -- such as Boston on Thursday -- but they really throw the day's schedule off.

Sunblock day? Little rain in the morning but the sun came out shortly after 9 a.m.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"In the garbage disposal of you dreams I've been ground up, dear
"On the river of your plans I'm up the creek
"Up the elevator of your future I've been shafted
"On the calendar of your events I'm last week"

-- Johnny Cash, Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com