A MOJOR LEAGUE VETERAN

"What do you mean about politics?" the writer asks.
"It's just that you have to know the right people."
"Do you know the right people?" the writer asks.

Snopek shakes his head. He stares down at the dugout floor. He senses this is potentially dangerous ground.

"Right now, I know the right people, because I've been playing good ball," he says. He smiles sheepishly.

Snopek is the property of the Chicago White Sox. His passage to what people call the big club is blocked because Robin Ventura, the current Sox third baseman, is an All-Star performer. The White Sox also have another good prospective third baseman playing in Triple A ball, a level just above Snopek's.

"But I think I might make it up to the White Sox, maybe late this coming season," Snopek says. "They keep telling me that if I show I can help them win games, a spot will be created for me in the lineup."

"Have you ever met Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox owner?" the writer asks.
"Yeah," Snopek says. "One day this past season, he came down to watch Jordan play, and I walked by as he and Mike were talking."

"What did he say to you?" the writer asks.
"He told me to keep up the good work," Snopek says respectfully.
"Well, that's good stuff," the writer says. "I hope you make it. Should I be waiting for you at the gates when you arrive?"

The writer is joking, but Snopek is not quite sure. He does not wish to offend. "Hey, that would be nice," he says.

There are memories wherever the baseball writer turns during his stay in Scottsdale. He spends his days at the meetings of the big-league general managers at the Phoenician resort and his nights at the ballpark. He knows everyone. More important, they all know him. And trust him. In all his years on the job, he has never betrayed a confidence.

He goes to the same restaurants in Scottsdale and Mesa that he has been going to during spring training for decades. He likes the beef at Scottsdale's Pink Pony and the cheese crisps and huevos rancheros at El Charro restaurant in Mesa. He has taken a dislike to Don and Charlie's, and refuses to go there anymore.

He keeps bumping into old friends.
In the Scottsdale clubhouse, he encounters Tom Egan, a catcher for the White Sox and Angels in a big-league career that lasted ten years.

The writer makes Egan's day. "I was at Sox Park the night you hit that home run up on the roof," he says.

Egan is pleased. This hitting feat belongs to a very few, including Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle.

In the home-team dugout, the writer encounters Bill Melton, a White Sox third baseman of 20 years ago. Melton once hit 33 home runs in a single season.

"What do you think of Snopek?" The writer asks Melton.
"I haven't seen him in a while," Melton says. "But when I saw him last year, he was a good one."

There is no place in the ballpark the writer can go without bumping into an old baseball crony.

He encounters Frank Robinson, a Hall of Famer who starred with the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles, standing in line at a hot dog stand.

They begin talking, and the baseball writer remembers the World Series he covered when Robinson was the Orioles' best hitter.

Robinson remembers, too.
"I remember the opening game of that series against the Dodgers," Robinson says. "Sandy Koufax was the Dodger pitcher. In the first inning, Koufax got our first two batters out on one pitch each. I promised people in the dugout that I'd make certain Koufax didn't retire the side on just three pitches.

"So I took his first pitch for a called strike. I hit the next one into the bleachers for a home run. It won the game for us, 1 to 0."

It is time for the writer to order his food. He calls for two small hot dogs rather than the jumbo-size ones.

Robinson pats him on the back. "You writers like to spend big, don't you?" he says.

Later, the writer encounters Sal Bando, now the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Bando, who starred as a third baseman for Arizona State University and the Oakland A's, played in three straight World Series. The writer covered them all.

Bando recalls for him the opening game of a World Series against the Dodgers that began in Los Angeles.

The visiting team's clubhouse man told Bando before the game that he was nervous because the A's had a bad reputation for fighting among themselves.

Bando grins as he recalls the incident.
"`That's a lot of crap,' I told him. 'Don't believe what you read in the sports pages.' At just that moment, a fight broke out at the other end of the dressing room between two of our pitchers, Blue Moon Odom and Rollie Fingers. The back of Fingers' head was cut so badly that he had to be taken to the hospital for stitches.

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