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Willie Mays (right) inspired the author's love of the San Francisco Giants. Mays is seen here with (from left) Maury Wills, Milton Berle, and Jimmy Piersall in the television program <em>The Hollywood Palace</em> in 1967.

ABC Television

Willie Mays (right) inspired the author's love of the San Francisco Giants. Mays is seen here with (from left) Maury Wills, Milton Berle, and Jimmy Piersall in the television program The Hollywood Palace in 1967.


Spring Training in Arizona

Fever for the Grand Old Game Starts Well Before the Fall Classic


I’m an avid baseball fan or maybe a fanatic. My wife claims I need to see a shrink, but I disagree. One of my happiest days is Super Bowl Sunday — not because of the hype of a winner-take-all, encompassing football game that has practically become an American holiday. No, because with the ending of this game the beginning of what really counts is around the corner. That is baseball, the grand old game that arouses such passion that even diehard fans who have passed away turn in their graves sometimes — like when the Red Sox won the series in 2004. That hadn’t happened since 1918.

Fifteen teams ready themselves for a stretch of competition that lasts from April to the end of September — 162 games that will determine who will reach the play-offs and eventually win the World Series, also referred to as the Fall Classic, baseball’s most prestigious honor, an American tradition since 1903 when the Boston Americans beat the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Craig Harris tumbles across home plate at the Giants' Fanfest 2014.
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courtesy

Craig Harris tumbles across home plate at the Giants’ Fanfest 2014.

I started heading out to Arizona 12 years ago to follow my San Francisco Giants, who work out in Scottsdale, Arizona. I am there to watch upcoming rookies fight for a chance to make it to the big leagues. Many players never get there. The competition is fierce, and the fans can be relentless, heckling some of the players with total disregard for any illusions they may retain concerning their potential ability.

My wife claims she’s a baseball widow during these seven months. I just quietly explain to her with tons of patience that it’s all about priorities and the fact that I am addicted to this game like some women are addicted to shoes, of which she has no shortage.

My dad started teaching me the game of baseball at the early age of 6. It didn’t come easy at first. I was tall and lanky for my age and coordination was a real problem. But with time and under the loving direction of my dad, my legs and arms started to work in unison. I was soon entrenched in what America calls its “national pastime.” Every day I was either at the park playing Little League or in front of my house with some of my friends in a game of Over-the-Line. Those were memorable moments that I will cherish forever.

I continued to play the game until the ripe old age of 16. At that point my life took a turn and not for the worse but just a different direction. Surfing, girls, and other substances grabbed my soul as I retired actively from the game. However, I continued to follow it closely and knew my trivia as well as any other true fan.

It was actually Willie Mays who started my love of the Giants. I idealized this one-man wrecking machine who was one of baseball’s rare five-tool players: He could hit — and hit with power — run, throw, had tremendous defensive abilities, and one extra, a mental aptitude for baseball, which simply means he was meant to play the game.

I followed baseball closely into my twenties, thirties, and forties, heading to both San Francisco and Los Angeles to support my Giants. Of course the rivalry of these two teams goes all the way back to New York: the Giants with their stadium at the Polo Grounds and the Dodgers next door in Brooklyn at Ebbets Field. It wasn’t until 1958 that these two teams headed out to the West Coast to their respective future homes.

Then at age 45 I decided to head out to Arizona for spring training. The moment I arrived I was hooked and have been returning ever since. I spend a week or two, to lavish in the hot desert sun eating $2 hot dogs and drinking $3-$5 dollar beers. I take notes regarding players and their progress. I awake early and am out to the field by 8 a.m. to watch the athletes stretch and take batting practice. I talk to them, at least those who are willing, and get a feel for their mental attitude toward the upcoming season. I read all the stats, and not just of the Giant players but others in whom I take an interest.

Spring training favorite Buster Posey won Rookie of the Year in 2010, MVP in 2012, and swung for the Giants in two World Series games.
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Craig Harris

Spring training favorite Buster Posey won Rookie of the Year in 2010, MVP in 2012, and swung for the Giants in two World Series games.

Some days are spent just photographing the players at the plate and in the field. I have thousands of digital photographs taken from every possible angle. Some of the photographs I hung on my walls along with 200 baseball gloves, numerous pennants, bobble heads, and obscure 1950-1960s baseball items. At times I have to walk sideways just to get from one end of my room to the other. I call it my museum; however, my wife has another word for it. I don’t like the sound of it, but it rhymes with “border.”

For me, life gets no better than hanging out in Arizona shuttling from one stadium to the other. Talking to real fans who are as excited as I am regarding the start of the season. We talk about our teams’ strengths as well as their weaknesses. We analyze every aspect of every position. And when the day is over, we dream of a world championship … our stadium filled to capacity in late October and the chance to hold bragging rights for a full year. For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out in the old ball game.

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