Springtime for Hitters

When you get right down to it, there are just two kinds of people in this world: There are people who like Steve Garvey, and there are people who don't.

Every single person, be they young or old, thin or fat, Pentecostal televangelist or Satan-worshiping heavy-metal bass-guitar player, shakes down into one of those two camps. Just so you know where I stand, I hate Steve Garvey. He's been retired from baseball for a while now, and I still get a big knot in my gut every time I think of his forearms. It's true, I've never met the man. I've seen him on TV, and I've even watched him play in person several times. A couple of years ago, I was in Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego for a meaningless ballgame in early July. A family of locals was sitting in the row right below me. Dad (maybe it was grandpa) looked to be retired Air Force. Mom had that tight look you get in the face if you live in California and don't do drugs or drink too much. When Garvey came up to the plate to hit and was introduced over the public-address system, I was the only guy in the whole ballpark who booed.

Obviously shaken, Mom gave a little jump in her seat. When she turned around to see what motorcycle gang I belonged to, I gave her a wink and let a little beer spill down my chin.

"You must not be from around here," she said, turning her granddaughter's head back toward the field. "No, ma'am," I said, trying to telepathically plant in her subconscious the idea that she should buy me a tall beer every inning for the rest of the game.

"Where are you from, then?"

Some people like Steve Garvey. Some people don't. In my opinion, this class distinction holds true throughout all strata of society. Politics, even. The kind of person who would like Steve Garvey--whose fame came as a result of a machine-like consistency and a superheroic personality so contrived it makes astronauts look like crack dealers in comparison--is the kind of person who would like, oh, say, a Dan Quayle-type person. Maybe that's an unfair comparison. Garvey was better at what he did than Quayle is at what he does. Their personalities are identical, true, but Garvey is cuter and a much better public speaker. And we're not sure whether or not Dan Quayle is consistent at anything, other than saying, "Yes, dear" and "Duh."

Baseball fans, too, can be divided into Garvey likers and Garvey dislikers. Garvey likers likely are wed to the cool, empirical logic of statistics, the box score, the slugging percentage and the decimal point. Garvey dislikers likely thrive on the green grass and cigar smoke at a ballpark, the crushed peanut shell and the diving catch down the foul line that carries the outfielder's face into the fence. There are exceptions to these divisions, to be sure, and there can be some crossover between groups. But for the purposes of supporting my already shaky thesis, we're going pretend that it's a hard-and-fast rule of physics, just like the one that says you can't make a collect call to one of those 976 phone numbers. I spent the past several weeks thoroughly researching the concept we know as "spring training." In that time, I survived wholly on Big Macs, vitamin C, and Advil. I logged dozens of miles on my truck. I made several phone calls. You are now holding the end result of that labor. Good luck getting through it.

MD120 Col 1, Depth P60.06 I10.00 At this point I think I should highlight a few of this supplement's more embarrassing flaws.

* Some may notice that the actual sport of baseball is only passingly mentioned in these pages. Purists--and Garvey likers--will wag their gray tongues at such an outrage. To them, I say: Take a hike, son.

* Some may notice that I have totally glossed over what apparently is one of spring training's more important activities, and that is seeking autographs from players, coaches and star broadcasters at every possible opportunity. Let me say this about autograph seeking: What used to be merely annoying to players and most fans has now become a form of emotional-economic fascism. Star athletes are charging to sign autographs these days, sometimes as much as $15 per scribble. They do this because the doofuses who collect sports junk have created a market for things like old foul balls and baseball cards, which originally were meant to be read once and then attached to the spokes of a bicycle tire to make it sound like a bitchin' motorboat or something. True, a few players, mostly the young ones whose personalities haven't already been ruined by fame and the availability of an infinite number of stunningly gorgeous sex partners, will still sign an autograph if you stick your pen at them at the ballpark. If you are someone who wants to go to a game and behave this way, I bid you peace.