Ray’s bat

Spring Break inevitably puts me in mind of Spring Training, which it looks like Older Daughter and I won’t be visiting this year after all. Alas.

I’d been looking forward to connecting the dots: ten years ago the whole family went to Jupiter.

Jupiter, Florida. Spring home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Older Daughter, age 5, was the world’s biggest Mark McGwire fan. He was just off his second consecutive monster season. Nobody yet suspected anything illicit about his performance.

We ambled into the public access area between practice fields (along with Younger Daughter, still in stroller) and observed the red-clad stars and aspirants taking batting and fielding practice, jogging and stretching in the crisp March sun, and slowly waking to the possibilities of a new season. Next year was almost here.

McGwire eventually joined his teammates on one of the fields, and Older Daughter patiently awaited her opportunity to request an autograph. Finally it came. And just as quickly went. The star mumbled something about club rules preventing him from obliging his young fans, and was suddenly gone.

That could’ve ruined her day, but thanks to McGwire’s teaammate Ray Lankford (a very good centerfielder, 238  career HRs)  she instead collected the coolest possible souvenir from Spring Training: his bat. He spotted her behind the  screen and, when his round of BP concluded, unceremoniously handed it to her.  It’s in her closet now.

I got to thinking about Ray yesterday when I ran into my old pal at the bookstore, there to gather my Spring Break leisure reading, and he reminded me of another gracious old ballplayer named Skeeter. Thanks to people like them, people like Mark McGwire don’t ruin the game for people like Older Daughter and me. Thanks to them, we’ll look forward to Spring Training. Maybe next year.

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