Spring Training is upon us and its one of the best times of the year. Every team has a chance. Every team starts off in first place. Batting averages and ERA all get a fresh new start. Hope Springs Eternal. And now we are even getting some fans back in the seats, making it even more glorious. It takes me back to my first Major League spring training. For those of you who follow me on tik tok (xavier_scruggs), you might be familiar with part of my experience. It was quite the eye opener to say the least. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
I had been told to get to the stadium early because, as a rookie, you want to make sure you aren’t strolling in after the vets. As a rook, you want to have finished all of your early work so you are not in the way of the established guys when its their time. For me, that meant getting in and out of the training room, getting cage work in early, knocking out my lift, and any extra defensive work I needed to get done. There was no way, in my first spring training, I was going to be labeled as the young buck getting in every one’s way! I had been told by veterans in the past that my job was to come in, stay quiet, listen, learn, get my work in and get out. Simple as that.
So as I park and start walking towards the clubhouse feeling like I’m headed to my first day of school, I’m nervous but I’m also excited. I even ask the security guard “which way to the clubhouse, sir?” That’s how new I am to this. I had only been called up to one spring training game to that point and it was not good. I was 0 for 3 with 3 strikeouts. Yea I know, what a great first impression right? A nice sombrero for my first game in front of all the Major League coaches.
This year (2014) is gonna be different. I dedicated my entire offseason to shedding 20 pounds and showing that I am ready to be versatile. I am going to show the organization that I was committed and ready to do whatever it took to earn my shot.
I start walking towards the clubhouse doors, and its still dark outside at 6:00am. I’m feeling like I’m ahead of the game. Then, to my surprise, I hear the unmistakable crack of the bat. I turn my head, peek in and see a lonely light in the batting cages. It’s Matt Carpenter, hitting off the pitching machine before the sun had even cracked the horizon. While I’m still yawning and wiping the sleep out of my eyes, this dude is over there lacing sliders down an away to the back of the net! The hitting coach is in there with him too, feeding the machine. I immediately assume, “I must be late!”
So I scurry inside to find my locker and put my backpack down. I scan the whole room of jerseys until I find my name. Number 83? what the heck kinda number is this? Man, they could’ve hooked up a number in the 50’s or 60’s and that would’ve been cool, but they must have assumed I was trying out to be the back up tight end with that kind of number! I start imagining myself walking up to the plate in St. Louis and the announcer saying “Now batting, number 83, 1st baseman Xavier Scruggs.” That didn’t sound right at all.
Nonetheless I’m happy to have a jersey. And of course I gotta take the selfie in front of my jersey to post and send out later to all my boys back home who were living vicariously through me. That’s a no brainer. As I turn to put my backpack down, I look out of the corner of my eye and Yadier Molina is already drenched from head to toe. I’m assuming he had either just taken a shower or ran 20 miles on the treadmill. Well, lets just say his shower towel is still dry and he’s breathing heavy. I double checked the time: 6:10am. I think to myself, “How early do I do I need to get here tomorrow?”
As I start going through my locker I’m checking out all the new Cardinals apparel that’s already nicely hanging up in the locker for me. Ten fresh new shirts, five pairs of shorts, three fresh new lids and not to mention the 24 bats the team had already ordered for me. The bats are stacked up so nicely at the top of my locker. I don’t even want to touch anything because its all so perfect. I look around to make sure everyone else’s locker has at least the same amount of stuff in it as mine. I don’t want to assume its all mine and then the clubby come up to me and say “Hey X, actually you are sharing lockers with #93 the defensive lineman.” But to my relief, its all mine.
I start making my way to the manager’s office, Mike Matheny at the time. I’m eager to at least say hello and thank him for the opportunity to be a part of Major League Camp. But as I walk towards his office, I glance into the weight room and this Hulk-like figure is in there, throwing weight around, absolutely crushing a lift. Its none other than Matt Holliday. I think to myself how absolutely, ridiculously, massive this dude is and how if I ever got in the way of his pinky I would need personal assistance after being knocked to the ground. What kind of superhero wonder woman gave birth to this mammoth? “This guy is in the wrong sport,” I say to myself. He should be on ESPN pulling 70 ton trucks by a rope. World’s Strongest Man, yea, that’s Matt Holliday.
I pull my jaw off of the ground and I head to Matheny’s office. I walk up to him and that’s the first time I had been face to face with a Greek God. He’s like some type of muscular angel, towering over me and looking right through my soul with those piercing blue eyes. I shake his hand. Its one of those handshakes where I want to go in firm, but my firm is so weak, compared to the handshake he gives me. I can’t even feel my fingers when the shake is over and I’m contemplating a DL stint due to manager’s handshake. I swear, it is the longest handshake I have ever had in my life. After Matheny squeezes the life out of me, I am ready to get a bite to eat and truly start my day.
As I walk out of his office still trying to shake the feeling back into my hand, I get a glimpse into the training room. That is one place I plan to stay out of, no matter how badly I am in pain or need an ice bath. I don’t want to be caught dead chilling in that room or even talking to any trainers for that matter. Unestablished players know that can lead to bad news. I peek in long enough to see Wainwright already getting stretched out and receiving a massage at 6:20am. At that point I knew a 6 am arrival is late. 5:00 am tomorrow. That’s the play.
I head to the kitchen to grab some breakfast and the first person I see is Jon Jay. He, too, is drenched in sweat with a Gatorade towel already around him. He is also eating but I had to do a double take because I thought I was trippin’ for a second… this guy isn’t even eating breakfast. He’s already eating lunch!??! Now I’m really trippin’. Half this team has already finished their workout and Jon Jay is crushing bison burgers from the Cardinals chefs before 6:30 am.
Yes, I said chefs, plural. This isn’t the minor leagues anymore, where they have the cafeteria ladies spooning you liquid eggs made last night. This is made to order quality cuisine. There’s even a menu. I’m in heaven! I already told you guys how much I love breakfast (See A Day in the Life of a Major League Baseball Player, Part 1). I immediately order the whole menu on the first day. I tell them I’m grabbing food for some other guys, but really it was all for me. In case I get cut later that day, I’m going to enjoy the perks while I have the opportunity.
Next up, I’m getting fitted for my jerseys. I walk into the back room where the representatives from Majestic are hanging out and taking orders. I tell the lady my name and number and without looking up from her clipboard she asks me what size I am. I tell her “XL.” She looks up from her clipboard with a face of disgust and says, “You must be a rookie.”
“Yes ma’am, I am.” She then begins to take my measurements. My measurements?! Waist, inseam, hip, thigh, cuff. For what? Am I getting fitted for a suit? You mean I don’t have to choose from L and XL anymore?! I then realize this jersey is being form fitted to my body. Just like a good suit. I don’t have to try to fit into something that’s not my size. She tells me the measurements are being sent in and my jersey and pants will now perfectly fit my body. I right then and there pinched myself and I realized I wasn’t in the minors any more.
This is The Show!