DAY 7 - Today marks one week I’ve been in Goodyear, Ariz., covering Indians camp and I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me – whether it be Indians seasonal employees around the complex or fans looking for a glimpse of the team working out – to ask how Sheldon Ocker is doing and then graciously welcome me to the coverage.
For starters, Sheldon is a legend who covered the Indians beat for the ABJ for more than three decades. I’m happy to report he’s doing just fine, although he’s stopped taking my calls recently because he’s tired of me begging him to please come back and lend me a hand.
Understand, I spent the past 12 years serving as his backup and not once did I wish he would hurry and retire so I could take over for him. In fact, I’m still a little peeved he went and retired early. The deal we had from the beginning was to allow me to get my son to age 18 before I could take over the beat.
At 6-foot-2 my baby might very well look like he’s 18, but as his mother, I assure you (but just in case I’ve learned it best to carry his birth certificate with me in my purse at all times) he is truly just 13 years old and still a year and a half away from heading to high school.
So, by the terms of our deal, “Shelly” as I’ve always affectionately called Sheldon, still owes me five good years.
All jokes aside, Sheldon was one of the best in the business and I am honored to have the opportunity to work alongside him, learn a little bit from him and now have the impossible task of trying to fill his shoes. Truth be told, we know any one person will never be able to take over for Shelly. These days, no one dares to try to cover an entire MLB season packed with months of travel, with just one person.
That’s why I’m just one part of a trio that will lend a hand this season as we try to make Shelly proud. When I head home to catch up on all the sleep I will miss during the first three weeks of camp, our columnist Marla Ridenour will make her way out West for the last half of camp and the season opening trip that begins in California. I’m proud to say that Marla is one of my mentors and has proven time and again to be one of the best storytellers in the business.
Once the regular season gets underway, a third person will join the effort and handle a large portion of the home coverage -- soon-to-be Kent State graduate Ryan Lewis. Whatever you do, don’t let Ryan’s young looks that tend to make look a lot like he should be your paper boy, fool you. He lacks in age, he makes up for with the kind of old-school reporter and newspaper values that would even make a pessimist like our old Shelly proud.
So, while we know so many of you will miss Shelly, know that Marla, Ryan and I are dedicated to doing the Indians coverage proud in his absence (for now, as I’m still gonna work on him to come back and honor our deal).
THE NEW GUARD –I caught a couple of snippets of conversations today that made me smile among the players as they were out on the fields of the team’s sprawling spring training complex during this morning’s second full-squad workout.
While out in the middle of one field stretching with a handful of his teammates, outfielder Michael Bourn was trying to convince the group that there’s a new sheriff in town of the NBA.
“I’m telling you, K.D. is the best in the show!” Bourn kept saying as his teammates gave him grief for going with the league’s hot hand of Kevin Durant, presumably over the king-who-shall-not-be-named in these parts.
THE VETERAN –Entering his 20th major league season, Indians slugger Jason Giambi may sport more gray hair than his all spring training teammates combined. But when it comes to hitting, he’s still got one heck of a sweet swing.
While watching him take a round of batting practice with teammates Bourn, Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley, it occurred to me that the ball just has a different sound coming off Giambi’s bat than it does his teammates’.
If you’re around baseball enough, you’ll hear someone occasionally say something to that effect. But it’s not until you hear the louder thwack of the ball coming off of “Big G’s” bat and a pronounced hissing noise as the ball slices through the air, do you get an appreciation for the old baseball saying.
“It’s like riding a bike, baby,” Giambi shouted to his teammates after his first round in the cages this spring made it look like he’d never left.
THE FAN FAVORITE –During the same batting practice session with Giambi, the eternal optimist that is first baseman Swisher responded to a fan standing just beyond a chain-link fence behind the cage who said hello to Swisher, then told him to do good work.
Without missing a beat, Swisher responded: “This ain’t work – this is fun!”
It’s an attitude I’ve always tried to maintain in my 20 years of covering sports – it ain’t work – this is fun! For over three decades, Shelly sure understood there could be a lot worse things in life than getting paid to cover baseball for a living.