Thursday, February 28, 2008

Now it's the "old" complex

I walked out of the Raymond A Naimoli Complex for the last time, and I must admit, it was a little sad.

I spend 14 days there every February, less if I take off a Sunday or two, covering the first workouts of the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. First it is the pitchers and catchers, then the full squad workouts.

While we are at the complex just a short time, it seems like we are always there, tucked along a wall of the media workroom, which is the room just inside the main entrance, so everyone who enters the complex has to pass through us, leaving us reporters to answer such questions as:

“Where do I pick up a credential?”

“I’m here to see … (and they ask for the public relations department or Ziggy, the Rays traveling secretary, or Westy, the Rays equipment manager).”

Or, and this one is asked a dozen times every day, “Where’s the bathroom?”

The workroom is just a pair of brown doors from the clubhouse, which at this time of the year, is one of the cheerier rooms you’ll find anywhere.

The players are glad to start another season. Optimism rules the day.

We get there around 8 a.m. every morning and spend about an hour in the clubhouse talking to players before they head out to the fields. Sometimes I watch the workout. Sometimes I work on a story, listening for the tell-tale sign the players have returned to the clubhouse – the sound of the water running in the shower, which is next to our room.

Over the past 11 years, I’ve talked to dozens of players, from the expansion Rays of John Flaherty and Roberto Hernandez and Wilson Alvarez to the current cast of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Scott Kazmir, Carlos Pena and James Shields.

This bunch is by far the best to work with.

The first three managers, Larry Rothschild, Hal McRae and Lou Piniella, liked to meet the writers outside as they came off the field, which means your tape recorder picked up more of the wind than the witty things they each had to say.

Current Rays manager Joe Maddon held his daily press conference in a little patio outside his office. We sat around a table and talked about the players. Some days we could hear the music playing on his stereo. The other day it was Credence Clearwater Revival.

Maddon used to bring out a bucket of beer, but that tradition didn’t last long.

I spent some long days at the complex. Sometimes as long as 10 hours.

And it was a blast.

The place had its own smells: deodorant in the clubhouse and freshly mowed grass and suntan lotion out on the ball fields.

You could hear dogs barking from the dog park next door, and on the weekends, the sounds of the youth soccer fields located on the other side of the complex would drift over.

Birds sang from the trees that lined the outside of the complex and squirrels had the run of the grounds.

It is over now.

The Rays practiced there Thursday for the last time.

Next year they will start training in Port Charlotte, where the old Texas Rangers complex is being rebuilt for the Rays.

I used to work in Port Charlotte, and that place couldn’t compare to the Naimoli complex. It didn’t have the history or the charm even though the Rangers had better teams.

I’m told it’s going to be beautiful, though, and I expect it will be. The Rays want their new digs to be the envy of all.

But I’m a softie for history and baseball tradition.

So I said my good-byes to the complex, now the Rays old complex.

I’m sure I’ll like their new home, but I will miss their old home.

Even if I no longer have to direct someone toward the bathroom.

1 comment:

Don said...

I am going to miss it because I live in St.Pete and it was not that far away to get there ,just to catch a few moments of significant action. I will drive to Bradenton,Clearwater, Dunedin to watch spring training at these complex next year

. I am glad I got to watch baseball at this fine "old" complex.