Friday morning we rode over to Mississippi Gulf Coast to eat some po boys and do some shopping. It was evening before we made it back and later still when we got the kids to bed. Then it was Miller time. I finished William Zinsser’s Spring Training over a couple of High Lifes before heading to bed after midnight.
My opinion of Spring Training didn’t change – it’s light, easy, entertaining reading. Baseball fans will enjoy it. But (unless you’re a Pirates fanatic), it’s hardly essential reading. On the whole, I give it 7 out of 10.
Eyes Off the Ball
While the book isn’t great, it has its moments. For instance, Zinsser discusses the art of the double play with Pirate coach Tommy Sandt, who tells Zinsser how shortstop Rafael Belliard and second baseman Nelson Norman used to practice the double play in the minor leagues –
[They] “… got so good that they practiced turning double plays without looking. They would close their eyes and do it. On a ground ball to the shortstop, the first guy would catch it and then close his eyes and throw to second, and when the second baseman caught the ball he’d close his eyes and throw to first. After you’ve practiced enough you don’t even need to look at first base – you just wing the ball and it gets over there. But it’s all practice; it’s a rhythm that you get” (p. 136).
Roush Moved “with the regal indifference of an alley cat” (p. 141)
Another passage that I enjoyed concerned Zinsser’s visit with 94-year-old Edd Roush, who in 1988 was the oldest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Zinsser finds Roush living in a small house with his seventy-something daughter, Mary. She provides the following on her father –
A doctor told her “‘Don’t worry about him, Mary – he’s too ornery to die.’ He has at least six beers every day. Last month at the Governor’s Dinner in St. Petersburg… he sat up on the dais like George Burns, smoking cigars. He’s always been independent-minded. He had sense enough to put his money in stocks, not to build a big house, and always to buy Ford cars” (p. 149).
North to Pittsburgh
Zinsser provides a nice close to the book by attending the opening day at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Zinsser watches the opener with Pirates general manager Syd Thrift. Spring Training has a nice description of both the sellout crowd and the game. Then, Zinsser wraps things up by describing the rest of the 1988 season and the surprising developments afterward.
In 1988, Zinsser believed that the Pirates were a team on the rise. The three consecutive division titles they won from 1990-1992 show that he was prescient.
Final Box Score
Spring Training is a fun, light book for baseball fans. I wouldn’t go the trouble to seek it out, but – if you see a copy – it’s certainly worth reading.
For a different, bleaker look at Pirates’ spring training (and minor-league life), see Bobby Mitchell’s excellent Sports Illustrated article “And You Dream About Tomorrow” from March 21, 1983. It’s here – https://www.si.com/vault/issue/43662/75 I was in 5th grade when that article came out and I remember that it made me “sadder but wiser” about the way professional baseball worked.