A lot can change in two years. Before I enrolled at the University of Florida, I had never been too passionate about baseball. I would watch MLB games if they were on, and sometimes catch a few Marlins games over my childhood summers. That was as far as it went.
That all changed when I arrived at UF. From covering high school baseball in my freshman year to becoming a beat writer for Gators softball, I gained a connection with baseball that I never had before. Then I spent my spring break in Jupiter, Florida, to cover the Miami Marlins in Spring Training. This is when I truly fell back in love with baseball.
I immediately faced some obstacles in my first day at Roger Dean Stadium. For starters, I had to restrain myself from cheering either side on in the game. My inner journalist understood this, but my inner sports fan kept fighting back with the urge to start up chants in the press box.
Then came the time I spent in the Marlins clubhouse. Coming into this experience, I had no idea how much time I would get with Miami’s players themselves, if any time at all. I ended up getting clubhouse access in four of the five Marlins games I attended that week. Needless to say, I made use of it however I could.
From striking up conversations with big shots like Jazz Chisholm and Sandy Alcantara to doing one-on-one interviews with former All-Stars Trevor Rogers and Joey Wendle, I can safely say my time in Jupiter ended up as the best week of my professional life. But it was also so much more than that for me.
When I talked with Chisholm, we did not even mention baseball once. He mentioned his dogs, and how his newer one rarely moves around or says anything… despite being his “guard dog.” We then launched into a conversation about the most obscure topics, from Nickelodeon shows to high school food fights to Pokemón.
Eventually, Jazz had to go to batting practice, but we talked for a good while. After leaving the clubhouse that day, I could not stop thinking about what had just happened. The new face of baseball, the cover of video games and sports magazines across the nation, had just gone out of his way to talk to me as if we were just pals catching up.
A lot of people put athletes on pedestals, like they are a different specimen or perfect individuals who can do no wrong. At times, it makes sense, considering that they are the best at their craft and they are watched all across the country. But a valuable takeaway I had from this week is that at the day, athletes are just normal people too. Not in a negative way, either. They are just living their own lives, achieving their own goals and doing their best to get better every single day.
The same message applies to the time I spent talking with Trevor and Joey. As I prepared to sit down with two of the best players on my favorite childhood baseball team, I could not help but be a tad nervous. But as I got deeper into the interviews with them, I realized that this was not just a one-way street. It became a genuine conversation.
I managed to crack in a joke with Trevor about how I always win CY Young awards with him in The Show video game (which is true, by the way). Joey and I had the chance to discuss areas of his personal life that would normally not come up in interviews, from spending time with his family and his teammates’ families on rest days to his Christian faith and how it has impacted him throughout his life and career.
As a whole, I am very proud of all the work I did during my MLB Spring Training Experience. But when I tell my children and my grandchildren about it, I won’t just be bringing up the articles I wrote or the games I covered. I will also tell them about the genuine bonds and connections I made along the way.