Family time at spring training

Ah, spring training, a strikeout victim this year but long the country club of baseball writers. The rest of the continent in the throes of winter while they sit by the pool concocting story ideas to write before their tee time. Sports writing utopia. The best part of the baseball beat.

The last sentence may have been true during my five years on the Montreal Expos beat. However (there’s always a “however”), spring training as a family experience…not so much.

There were three of us in a car built for two, travelling from Montreal to Florida. The third person, four months old, was in a plastic baby seat in the “boot” of our sports car. Fifteen hundred miles and not a seat belt in sight, but he survived. After arriving in Daytona Beach, I called the Montreal Star sports department, just to check in.

“Oh,” was the response, “you haven’t heard. Somebody broke into your house the day you left and took everything of value.”

Since these newlyweds didn’t have much of value, it was more a reality check than being violated.

Spring training meant tricky travel arrangements for a family, since the Expos always opened the season on the road rather than at home waiting for the snow to melt or the ice to thaw. Driving was the best option. Getting there was fine, returning was sometimes problematic.

The year the baseball writer (me) left for the season opener in St. Louis, his father flew in to drive daughter-in-law and grandson home to Montreal, taking great delight in checking into motels each night as “Mr. and Mrs. Dunn.” Another year, she flew back to Montreal with a one-year-old and a three-month-old as her only travelling companions, and had to change planes in New York. Another year, a colleague and friend met us in Philadelphia and he drove the family home (not as “Mr. and Mrs. Dunn”) while the baseball writer headed to Pittsburgh.

Even travelling in Florida could be less than desirable. Because the Expos trained in northern Florida and nobody else did, half spring training games were in places where two-hour car rides were sandwiched around the games. It didn’t take many of those for the family, isolated all day without transportation, to think maybe the comforts of Canada in the snow weren’t so bad.

On the bright side, they did get to visit Disney World in Orlando, and to build sandcastles on the beach, and to wear swimsuits instead of snowsuits, although March in northern Florida often requires sweaters and jackets.

Then I became a radio reporter on the baseball beat. My job was to phone the DJ and talk Expos. It was dinner time. Across the room, the “hissing” frying pan made hearing the DJ impossible. There was no portable phone, and the “chef” was unaware of the problem. I started throwing pens into the kitchen to get her attention so she could silence the hissing.

That, folks, was our last spring training.