By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Last year, I spent a lot of time with reporters," Kapler says while munching on an apple. If it's possible, the man's muscles got bigger since last I saw him. He must have done extra curls during the winter because veins pop from his biceps like McDonald's-sized straws. Took up yoga, too. Where I'm from, yoga is for girls and old men. I don't tell him this for fear that a fight will break out and I'll be forced repeatedly to hit his fist with my eye. "There were a lot more distractions. But A-Rod is great. He takes a lot of the pressure off of us, off of guys like Pudge. He's the center of attention, so the rest of us have more time to ourselves. It's been a good thing for us, and he's handled it well."
That he has. As well as any man who has to sneak away in order to guarantee himself a little privacy in the bathroom. Next week's cheeky Dallas Morning News headline: Charmin or No-Frills? A-Rod's Choice!
Called American Airlines early the next morning. They told me they located all of our bags the night before. They were sitting on the tarmac at DFW, waiting to be loaded. Good thing no one got around to it. Clothing is highly overrated. Then they told me that DFW no longer had our bags, that they'd been forwarded to Fort Myers. What a relief, I said. Not quite, they said. The bags had been shipped to Fort Myers, but, uh, Fort Myers couldn't find them at the moment. Try back tonight, they said, around midnight.
With only a few hours to spare until I was due at Charlotte County Stadium, I hurried off to Wal-Mart in a quest for some holdover duds--the only place within miles of my hotel to find clothes, according to a considerate woman. Called my editor first, just to make sure the paper would reimburse me for the clothing. I think he said yes, but it was hard to tell. He was laughing too hard. I hate him.
I'd never shopped at Wal-Mart before. It was an experience, one that made me almost wish the plane had gone down. If we had crashed, at least I'd have been spared the various "Whaddaya going to the beach or somethin'?" comments from the jokers at the ballpark. I didn't want to buy a bathing suit, but it was the only pair of shorts the store had that didn't look like it came from the Richard Simmons Fancy Pants Line. And the T-shirt I picked up? It looked innocent enough, but it may as well have been dipped in a virulent strain of Anthrax with the awful, flesh-eating itch it gave me.
That was all a few days ago. The airline ultimately got around to delivering my luggage--ending the bathing suit/nasty-ass shirt experiment--and I found a better sports bar with a semicute waitress and a couple of good-sized televisions. I don't ask for much. But I do wish it was a little quieter in my room. A few hours earlier, I figured things were starting to go my way. I said this out loud. I should have kept my big mouth shut.
A pipe under the floor, close to the door, which is right near the bathroom, must have broken. That's what the hotel maintenance guy tells me. He's currently five feet away, sucking up water with the world's loudest wet-dry vac. Water that spilled out onto the blue-green carpet, forming an instant, makeshift river near my bed. If I had a boat and two of every animal, I'd be set.
I asked the front desk for a new room. No vacancies, they said. You're stuck with what you've got. But we'll send up a dehumidifier right away. Probably.
There's a corner in the clubhouse here that sees more action than the Gaza Strip. The young guys call it the "Hall of Fame" section. Their jerseys hang, one next to the other--from left to right, it's Pudge's No. 7, A-Rod's No. 3, Caminiti's No. 41, Galarraga's No. 14 and Palmeiro's No. 25. Right now, the big five sit in front of their cubbies, joking and generally having a good time. Pudge is in the middle of being stretched out on the floor. A-Rod is fooling with Cat. Caminiti and Raffy are chuckling.
Whether this crew--so at ease with each other, so plainly glad to be united--will be able to maintain this type of disposition as the season approaches, whether they'll be able to exercise influence over the other 20 players who will make the club, whether their impact will be sufficient enough to drive the Rangers to an AL pennant, is what everyone is so eager to determine. And, unfortunately for those seeking the answers, what may not be ultimately decidable until September. Or until the first six-game losing streak.
But this is spring training, after all. For now, until the season kicks off on April Fools' Day in Puerto Rico, the only immediate concerns are in deciding what SPF number suntan lotion to apply and how much rubber chicken can be stomached from the postgame spread. For now, life is all figured out, my shirt is on my back, life is good.