JUPITER, Fla. (KMOV) - I'm sitting here inside the media room at the beautiful Roger Dean Stadium complex and sadly, it's my last full day here in Jupiter. It's been a wonderful experience over these last seven weeks and I've met a lot of great people and seen some things I'll never forget.
From day one, seeing some of the Cardinal legends walk around the complex like Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson, really gave me a feel for how deep the roots of Redbird tradition are planted. I'll never forget the the images of Schoendienst, who this year attended his 66th spring training, driving around the backfields in his golf cart he's become so famous for. And how could I ever fail to remember Lou Brock prancing around the Cardinals' dugout during home games, happily obliging to sign autographs at anyone who asks for such.
Fans and autograph-junkies alike consistently hounded Cardinals legends, players, and coaches, and for the most part, the fanatics walked away happy.
I was there when Mark McGwire first appeared at camp as Cardinals hitting coach, and surprised to see the media distractions of steroids never came into fruition, minus a couple of press conferences early on in spring. McGwire answered every question in stride, and other than getting into details about what substances he used and where he got them, didn't back down from any inquiries. Soon the questions shifted from steroids to his work as a hitting coach.
Before I came to Cardinals camp, I had never stepped into a major-league clubhouse and had never interviewed a major-league player or coach. I didn't know what to expect, but soon realized people aren't always as they seem. Some people were nicer than I thought they would be, some were meaner. The point is, people aren't always what they appear to be, whether that be good or bad. I must admit, I was intimidated my first couple of weeks of camp, but the quicker I accepted the notion that these weren't "Major Leaguers," but were just regular people who happened to play baseball for a living, the easier it became to do my job.
There were some players who made my adjustment smoother. Joe Mather, David Freese, and Brendan Ryan are among the first to come to mind. Not once did these guys make me feel like I was young and inexperienced. I'm sure they knew I wasn't a "seasoned veteran" like most of the other media types here, but you wouldn't know it by the way they treated me. I guess I have to take some credit, because I feel after a while I carried myself in a demeanor that didn't scream "rookie."
Not only did the players make my transition easier, but a lot of the media did as well. I wouldn't be doing my experience justice if I didn't mention the guys who answered every single question I had along the way, specifically Derrick Goold, Rick Hummel, and Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. From the get-go, Goold reached out to me, even asking me to dinner on the second night I was here. For eight straight weeks the guy helped me out with whatever I needed, and for that I will always be appreciative of that.
B.J. Rains of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Matthew Leachs of mlb.com, and Brian Feldman of 101ESPN were also guys who treated me as an equal, never making me feel like an outsider, well ,atleast when I was around. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't give Feldman an extra show of gratitude for the countless times he held my microphone during player interviews.
I also learned firsthand how many celebrity friends Tony La Russa has, or as they call them here, FOT's (Friend of Tony's). It seemed almost twice a week, a new FOT would appear at Cardinals camp, some to offer words of advice to the team, some just visiting their good 'ol pal Tony. Bill Parcells, former NFL coach and current Miami Dolphins president, was a frequent visitor to camp, as was former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf. Legendary basketball coach Bobby "The General" Knight, a well-documented FOT, and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick made their annual appearances at Roger Dean Stadium. Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 U.S. men's ice hockey team that so-famously beat U.S.S.R. in the Olympics, even showed up to camp, delivering a speech to the Cardinals that some members of the team said was the best they've ever heard.
All in all, the camp experience has instilled in me invaluable lessons I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. I've learned that while the media business can be cut-throat, and sometimes you're on an island by yourself, but if you act like you're supposed to be there, others will think the same thing about you. I always believed the term "Kill 'em with kindess," and that belief has only been confirmed over the last seven weeks.