Judging the Royals

Getting to spring training is not always an easy thing to do

The Associated Press

Yesterday, I flew Southwest Airlines to Phoenix, Ariz. OK, to be precise I flew Southwest Airlines to San Diego, then Phoenix. I don’t know if that was the original plan or the pilot saw ocean and figured he overshot and needed to make a U-turn. After Phoenix the plane was then going on to Spokane, Wash. I’m no Magellan, but I would’ve thought Phoenix, then San Diego, then Spokane would’ve made more sense, but maybe there’s some logic there I don’t get — it wouldn’t be the first time.

Southwest allows you to check in online 24 hours before your plane leaves and depending on when you check in, puts you in one of three boarding groups: A, B or C. Group A gets to board first and the airline employees spread rose petals at the feet of those passengers, group B is second and those people have to scramble for middle seats and space for their carry-on bags, the low-lifes in group C have to help refuel the plane.

Even though I checked in within one minute of the 24-hour limit I was still in group B. I got a middle seat and that’s always a gamble; the group A showoffs had already taken the aisle and window seats near the front of the plane and if you keep going to the back of the plane, hoping for a better seat, you might still be sitting in a middle seat, but then have to wait after landing while everyone who wedged a 50-pound bag into a space designed for a 35-pound bag struggles to extricate their luggage.

I threw in my cards early and took a middle seat between a guy who had his laptop out and a woman reading a book on an iPad. Here’s a traveling hint: never willingly sit next to a person who does not have reading material in their hands — otherwise you might get a three-hour conversation about their grandkids and the delights of Dayton, Ohio.

I figured I’d made a good choice until the plane got in the air and headed in the general direction of San Diego. The sun came in the window, reflected off the woman’s iPad and hit me square in the face. I’m still seeing sunspots and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost vision in my left eye, but on the plus side I picked up a nice base tan while eating peanuts on an airplane.

When the plane landed, an elderly lady was trying to pull her steamer trunk out of the overhead bin, so being a gentleman I offered to help. The thing was so damn heavy when I finally got it out of the bin I wasn’t ready for the weight (need to do more pushups and right now that would be one because I’m not doing any) and I lost control of her bag and managed to smack her in the face with it.

I did it hard enough that everyone around us gasped, but what the hell; she was a group A elitist and we group B people have to stick it to the man whenever possible — even when the man is a 72-year-old grandmother.

Why I didn’t have a ride from the airport

So now I’m on the ground in Phoenix and have to take a shuttle to Surprise. Originally Andy McCullough, the Star’s beat writer was supposed to pick me up, that’s why I traveled on a day the team wasn’t playing; so Andy would be free to chauffeur me to the Star condo. But Andy wasn’t available because he may have — get this — gout.

I thought you had to be an 80-year-old King of England to get gout, but apparently young baseball writers can suffer as well. On the other hand, Andy’s gout was diagnosed by some of the distinguished medical experts on the Royals coaching staff — not the team’s trainers whose opinions are hampered by having actual medical training — so Andy could actually be suffering from rickets or TB or black lung disease.

(I’m writing this at 6 a.m. in the Star’s condo and wondering whether Andy will get upset if I mention the fact that he’s limping around here like Chester from Gunsmoke — Google it kids — but then I figured this is one of the reasons ballplayers don’t like us; we write about stuff they’d rather keep quiet. So suck on it, Andy.)

Covering spring training

Everyone back home sees those nice pictures of ballplayers frolicking in the sun and thinks covering spring training is a blast — and it does beat shoveling snow off your driveway — but it’s not nearly as fun as people think it is.

If you go to the practices held on the backfields of the Surprise complex (and I do) then cover a game, then write about the game, it’s a very long day in the sun. You finish up whatever you’re writing, go find dinner somewhere, then come back and start working on the next day’s stuff.

It ain’t digging for coal, but it’s not pina coladas by the pool, either.

And once you start covering baseball you do it pretty much every day until the season ends. And if the Royals get hot like they did last year, you can do it for an extra month; it’s like reaching a marathon’s finish line and being informed they’ve added an extra four miles to the race. For me, the marathon starts today.

I’ll post something online every day and tweet during games while I’m here. I never have a plan about what I’m going to write; I hangout and let the players and coaches tell me what the story is. I’ll stay here until spring training is over and then fly Southwest back to Kansas City.

I may not plan ahead, but I’m pretty sure there will be a story in that.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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