OBSERVATIONS: Memories From Plant City

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, appreciating the weather so much it reminds me of the good times when my dad came home from the Philippines after World War II and taught me how to catch and throw a baseball in our dirt backyard in Lakemore, Ohio.

—PLANT ONE ON: Baseball spring training is thankfully upon us and memories come flooding back. And let’s start with the days the Cincinnati Reds trained in Plant City, Fla., a place when Jeff Foxworthy says, “You might be a red neck,” he probably was referring to inhabitants of this place.

The dominant vehicle was a pick-up truck with a gun rack, always occupied. Plant City Stadium was across the street from an animal farm and if the wind blew the right way the stench was stupefying. . .almost as strong as the stink from the 1982 team that lost 101 games.

**There was a retaining pond behind the right field wall and for a while a 12-foot alligator resided in it. One day owner Marge Schott was spotting creeping up behind the gator, working on its tan on the shore. Players across the pond were chanting, “Go Marge go, go Marge go.” It wasn’t clear which Marge they were cheering for.

The alligator was ‘recycled’ shortly thereafter, but it isn’t true that Mrs. Schott showed up with a new purse and a new pair of shoes.

**In addition to the alligator, there were water mocassins in the pond. One day, relief pitcher
Randy Myers took the machete kept in his locker to ward off sports writers. He used it to slay about six mocassins. He put them on the end of a shovel and carried them into the clubhouse.

There were more screams than you’ll hear in any horror flick and some of the players fled the clubhouse as if somebody set it on fire, jumped in their luxury cars and locked the doors.

**The ever-popular pond was the scene of another event. Late in an exhibition game, relief pitcher Rob Dibble gave up a bunch of ninth-inning runs.

He stormed into the clubhouse, gathered up four folding chairs and hurled them into the pond, his best pitch of the night. A young son to Columbus Dispatch writer Bob Hunter saw it and told his dad. His dad told us and we had a helluva story.

**The players were on strike in 1995 and teams filled their spring training rosters with retired players, minor-league washouts, bus drivers, school teachers and street people.

The strike was settled just before Opening Day and the Reds Replacements were in the Riverfront Stadium clubhouse. They were all handed Glad trash bags and told, “Pack your gear, get out, don’t let the door smack your posteriors.”

Plant City. . .may it rot in peace. But send me the strawberries.

—PLAY NEAR-BALL: MLB commissioner Rob Manfraud waited until the teams opened their spring training doors to make this decision. Back by unpopular demand is the extra-inning ghost runner and it might become permanent.

And there will be bigger bases, the shot clock for pitchers and the only good thing is the banishment of the defensive shifts.

It is becoming more and more apparent that Manfraud is extracting his infernal rules out ‘The Official Softball Rulebook.’

And the robo-umpires are not far behind. They will be used in all Triple-A games this season. When it comes to MLB, I only wish Lou Piniella still managed, just to see how far he could throw a robot umpire.

—EASY LISTENING: NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) is having a big impact of college football and basketball. Players are able to receive money and expensive items from sources outside the school.

But it has had little impact on the non-revenue sports. That’s why University of Dayton baseball coach Jayson King was thrilled when a friend came through with something for all his players.

King’s friend, Kyle Graham, works for Bose in Shrewsbury, Mass., and he is giving all 40 members of the UD baseball team $300 headphones.

King hopes his players aren’t listening to John Fogarty singing, “. . .put me in coach, I can be center field.”

When the Flyers play their home games this spring on Woerner Field, they’ll be on artificial grass-like field turf. Last year, a large sinkhole appeared in left field, big enough to swallow a Dayton Freight 18-wheeler. Rather than lose outfielders, the school installed the turf.

—FIRST PREDICTION: ‘The Baseball Writers Handbook’ requires us to make predictions or we lose our Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) card,

My first bold (OK, not so bold) prediction: The Cincinnti Reds will not win the National League Central and will not finish above .500.

And, no, I was kidding. There is no ‘Baseball Writers Handbook,’ but there should be.

Speaking of the Reds (softly), loyal reader Richard Boyd of Tipp City offers this stark reminder: “How bad were the Cincinnati Reds last year? Well, they pitched a no-hitter and lost the game.” Hunter Greene needs no reminder.

While money isn’t everything, it speaks loudly in MLB. Two seasons ago the Reds payroll was $130 million. This year’s projected payroll is half that at about $65 million. . .and Joey Votto gets $25 million of it.

—TEE-ING OFF: Elrick Tont Woods, better known publicly as Tiger Woods, returns to the PGA tour this weekend for the Genesis Invitational.

Can you believe that Tiger is 47 years old?

He will be driving golf balls at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. where 23 of the 25 top-ranked players will divvy $20 million.

It is doubtful Tiger can beat Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas or Scottie Scheffler, but his value at pulling in TV viewers is immense.

I am legally blind and haven’t played golf in about 30 years, but I know I can shoot my age. . .if they stop me when I reach 82 strokes.

One of my final rounds of golf was during spring training at the Plant City Country Club with fellow scribe John Erardi of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

They started us on the 10th tee, which had a pond with about a 200-yard carry from the tee to the fairway. I drowned five golf balls and killed an alligator. So for the first hole, my scorecard had a big, fat ‘X’ on it, which is what happens when you lose count.

—PRONUNCIATION GUIDE: A lot of things drive me buggy and batty, but one is the inability of nearly ever TV person to pronounce the nickname of the NFL’s Jacksonville franchise.

Nearly all of them pronounce it Jag-wires. It is correctly pronounced Jag-wahrs.

Somebody please send them all a memo.

—SWEET MEL-O-DEE: Anybody who has ever eaten at the Mel-O-Dee restaurant in New Carlisle agrees with what I told owner Woody Childers, that he has the best broasted chicken in Ohio. His response was, “If there is any better chicken anywhere, it belongs to a rooster.”

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