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Jaspersohn: Start Of Spring Training

03/05/10 7:55AM By Bill Jaspersohn
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(HOST) The start of baseball spring training has commentator Bill Jaspersohn thinking about some long-ago adventures of his own - at Fenway Park.

(JASPERSOHN) As a children's author I occasionally visit schools and libraries where I find myself telling kids that writing can open doors for them. Doors opened for me big time in 1978 when I told the Boston Red Sox I was a writer, and, to my astonishment, they agreed to let me do a behind-the-scenes book about Fenway Park.

My journalistic skills were few back then, but I knew I was looking for details about Fenway that you could only get by asking questions and hanging out.

I watched the groundcrew meticulously groom the field for every home game and learned from watching that inky-cap mushrooms were a nuisance for them, especially out in right field.

I saw rat traps in the Green Monster scoreboard and bags of kitty litter in Canvas Alley to spread on basepaths when it rained.

The umpire Terry Cooney showed me how he and his mates prepped sixty baseballs a game by rubbing them with a silty mud from near the Delaware River called Lena Blackburn's Baseball Rubbing Mud.

When a game was nationally televised, I noticed how nervous umpires could get.

At first, the Red Sox players were standoffish toward me. But gradually, when they figured out I wasn't there to burn them, many warmed up to me.

Left fielder Jim Rice let me photograph him getting his ankles taped in the training room, a space so small I had to stand in the empty whirlpool tub to take the picture.

Long before the steroid scandals, center fielder Fred Lynn told me that baseball was becoming "a strong man's game," and Carl Yastrzemski said the key to his long career was finding a routine that worked for him and sticking with it. Of course, in Yaz's case, having a Hall-of-Fame talent didn't hurt either.

I never felt a fan's giddiness around the players - except once, when Ted Williams came by the clubhouse and, in that booming voice of his, actually talked to me. About cameras. It turned out we both owned Nikons.

Then Ted Williams turned to Carl Yastrzemski, and in that way ballplayers have, began ragging on him. "You see these?" Ted Williams said, hauling out a pocketful of salmon flies. "I tied ‘em myself. You wouldn't know about flies ‘cuz you're a worm fisherman. What size bat you swinging?"

Patiently, Yaz showed Ted his bat, a thirty-six-inch, thirty-six-ounce Louisville Slugger. "Jeez!" boomed Ted, taking a few slow swings. "No wonder you can't get around on the ball."

By this time, the deferential Yaz had had enough. "Is that a suit coat?" he said, pointing to Ted Williams's rumpled gray blazer.

"No!" bellowed Williams, smoothing the lapels. "It's a sports jacket."

"That's a bleeping suit coat!" Yaz barked. "You always did dress like a slob."

Ted Williams was rendered speechless. The entire clubhouse burst out laughing. Then Ted Williams looked around the room, flashed his signature grin, and laughed, too.

That moment - when two titans of baseball cut loose on each other - never made it into my book. But the story's become a family heirloom, one of the lucky gifts that come when writing opens doors.
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