Back when the Royals held spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., I was sent there to write a story about the wild nightlife that big-league baseball players enjoy during the spring.
That idea had two problems:
First, if ballplayers engage in wild nightlife they aren’t going to invite a guy from the newspaper along. And second, there wasn’t much nightlife to write about.
The Fort Myers hotel the Royals stayed in had a rec room, and on most nights a number of guys would play ping-pong or shoot some pool. If someone wanted to get really wild, he might take a swim.
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Whoopee. Someone call the National Enquirer.
When I asked one of the Royals star players about this, he pointed at the hotel entrance and said that trouble was right outside those doors.
If a player screwed up outside the hotel, police and reporters might get involved; if a player screwed up inside those hotel doors, someone from the hotel would most likely fix what they broke, help them to their room and quietly send them a bill for the damage.
But these days, with security and cell phone cameras everywhere, staying inside your hotel is no protection.
Decades later, I asked then-Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas what spring training nightlife was like. He said that if he took a sip of beer with a meal in a restaurant, and someone happened to take his picture while doing so, it might go viral.
If that happened, and the next day Moose made an error or went hitless, Twitter trolls would be happy to blame his drinking as the cause.
A picture could be worth a thousand potentially inaccurate words.
And Moose wasn’t the only one who felt that way. One night a coach from a visiting team and I went out for dinner after a game and we each had a beer. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation, the coach ducked his head like he was saying a prayer.
When I asked what the hell he was doing, the coach whispered, “cell phone.”
Someone across the restaurant was taking a picture, and the coach would have been in the background with a beer in front of him. So he ducked his head to make sure his face couldn’t be seen.
He had the same worry as Moose. If the picture wound up on social media and the next day he screwed up in any way, someone would say it happened because he was out drinking the night before — even though it was one beer with a meal.
When I said I thought he was being paranoid, he told me a story.
A player on his team went out after a game and was asked to take a picture with a female fan. He said OK, and apparently the fan couldn’t wait to share it on social media. A friend of the player’s wife saw it, and when the player got home, his wife was waiting up with a question:
“Who’s the blonde?”
Most of us do not finish work at 5 p.m. and then go home and get in bed. Players are the same way, but they might finish work at 11 p.m. They’re often still wired after playing a game, and they’re also hungry ... but going out for a meal can lead to trouble.
Teams serve post-game meals after games — known as “spreads” — and it’s common to see big-league players walk out of the clubhouse carrying their post-game meals in Styrofoam containers.
This doesn’t mean players are angels who never party. Look at a team’s record after a night off, and if you see a bunch of losses, don’t be surprised: They might have used that night off to party and paid the price the next day.
But if you’re fighting for a spot on the roster, you probably don’t want to show up to a spring training workout hungover.
One of the reasons managers like to let players know they have the next day off is so those players know it’s safe to go out and enjoy themselves — they won’t have to play the next day.
And to be fair, fans aren’t the only ones who confuse spring training with spring break. Editors who have never been to spring training might assume their staffers are up to similar same hijinks.
And, yeah, that sometimes happens.
But for the most part, reporters, photographers and columnists are getting up around 6 a.m. to be there when the clubhouse opens. If you hang around on the back fields and watch the players work out in the morning and then watch a ballgame that starts at 2:05 p.m. and then write a story about it, you’ve had a long day in the sun.
The Royals now hold spring training in Arizona, and every time someone says it’s a dry heat, I think you could say the same thing about a microwave: Stick your head in one 10 hours and see if you feel like partying afterward.
Reporters do go out, but it’s not uncommon to grab some takeout and head back to the apartment or condo and stay in. You’ll probably be in bed by 10 p.m. to get ready for the next day.
But I will admit that after a day in the sun that first beer (or in my case, that first three beers) tastes great. After that, you’re pretty wiped out.
One more thing, about Hosmer
When Eric Hosmer was a Royal, I admired the way he handled himself and wrote several pieces explaining the leadership role he eventually took on with the team. Every time I wrote something positive, I’d tell Hoz and ask him not to screw up for at least a week — it would make me look bad.
One day Hoz walked up to me in the dugout and said: “I read what you wrote … too much pressure, dude.”
Having just defended players and reporters alike from the fantasies that many people have about spring training, I’m well aware that someone might now screw up before this thing can get posted.
So please: If you’re down there in Surprise and read this and plan on doing something stupid, wait a week.