Spring Training Update: Helping Kevin Youkilis Make Dinner Plans

Spring Training is under way. Since we’re not lucky enough to be down in the Florida sunshine, we’ve still got a plan to have you covered. David Franco from Next Level Ballplayer is down in Florida for the week providing us with all the sights and sounds of spring baseball that we need. Today’s adventures include chatting with a legendary groundskeeper of the Kansas City Royals & Chiefs, helping Kevin Youkilis decide on sushi, and making it onto the hallowed grounds of a spring training field. Tune in all week as Franco reports on ST exploits, and be sure to follow him on twitter or Facebook.

Franco’s Spring Training Update From FL: Day 3

What’s up DH Nation? Day 3 went a little something like this- Woke up at a buddy’s place in Naples. I had talked to the Red Sox Drew Sutton the day before and he said he’d leave me a ticket at will call. After getting stuck in traffic with the senior citizens of Fort Myers, I arrived at the Twins’ Hammund Stadium.

Overall Highlight of the day: Getting onto the field after the game and having a great conversation with longtime Kansas City Royals and Chiefs ground keeper who has seen it all… And has been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Runner Up Highlight: Running into Youk and Darnell Mcdonald after Drew Sutton and I had finished having dinner together.

Overall Lowlight of the day: Having to “play it cool” when Drew and I saw Kevin Youkilis. All I wanted to do was talk baseball, but Drew said he’d disown me as a friend if I didn’t play it cool. So I played it cool… But it wasn’t easy!

Twins vs Red Sox 1:05pm
Tickets: Free thanks to Mr. Sutton
– Sat with some of the Red Sox wives, but the conversations weren’t as lively as the Rays wife from yesterday.
-Jon Lester looked solid in two scoreless innings.

-Twins fans had to be happy seeing Joe Nathan throw for the first time since his elbow injury cost him the 2010 season.

-Bo Sox won but most of the players don’t even know who won the game, so who cares.

Postgame Adventures

Making it into the Twins’ Dugout

After the game was over and the crowds started filing out I decided to try to get down on the field. I had no real plan on what I wanted to do, but just hoped over a waist high fence down the third baseline and acted like I belonged on that field. I went straight into the empty Twins dugout and sat down.

I wanted to film a quick video for Next Level Ballplayer, but didn’t have anyone to film me. At that moment a few kids came down to the side of the dugout and asked me if they could have my autograph (A small part of me wanted to walk over and sign www.NextLevelBallplayer.com on their baseballs, but I fought that marketing urge and told them I wasn’t a player.) I couldn’t help them, but they helped me out by filming for me while I did a quick welcome video for NLB… Thanks kids.

Meeting a Legend

I was getting very comfortable in the dugout while the field crew guys were doing their thing and then I noticed this older man raking the third base line. He looked over at me and the following convo ensued:

Franco: You’re doing a good job.

George: You know football fields are a lot easier to prepare than ball fields.

Franco: I didn’t know that. What football fields have you worked on?

George: Well I was the head grounds keeper in Kansas City for many years.

About 30 minutes later, my mind had been blown by George Toma, author of Nitty Gritty Dirt Man.

Convo Highlights:

-George is 82 years old and for the last several years has come down to Fort Myers to help maintain their spring training fields.

-He was the longtime grounds keeper for the Royals and Chiefs

-He has prepared the field for EVERY Super Bowl. Yes I asked him what football fields he’s worked on thinking he’d say Joe Blow High School and it turns out he’s done every SB. Crazy.

-When the Royals were going to be facing a hard throwing pitcher, he’d make the batter’s box 6 inches further back than usual.

-The Royals manager used to have a guy watch the game from inside the outfield scoreboard to steal the catcher’s signs and relay them to the Royals’ batters. There was a big digital clock in left field and they would use to relay the pitches to the batter. If there was only one dot between the hour and minutes it was a fastball, and if there were two dots it was going to be an off speed pitch.

-He has prepared different fields for the World Cup and Olympics.

-He’s good buddies with George Brett who wrote the forward to his book, Nitty Gritty Dirt Man. I can’t wait to read it. (Here’s the book, and here’s a story on the legend himself).

Mr. Toma gave me his business card and a ton of great stories. I could have talked to the guy for the rest of the night, but finally he said, “Ok young man. You’re gonna get me fired if don’t get back to work.”

Hibachi Dinner with Drew Sutton and the Red Sox #1 fan

When Drew and his wife found out I’d never had Hibachi before, it was determined that I hadn’t fully lived life and we were going to right that ship tonight. I found out that you sit around a flat grill like table while the chef comes and cooks right in front of you. There are about 10 seats around each Hibachi, so frequently you’ll have multiple parties sitting at the same Hibachi.

Anyways, Drew is a really chill guy who likes to keep a low profile, so when this dude decked out in Red Sox gear walked over towards our table with his parents, Drew gave me that look like “Franco, don’t go announcing that I play for the Red Sox.” I was offended. Come on Drewbie! I was chillin in the Rays locker room yesterday. I’m not going to act like a rookie.

Sure enough, the dude starts asking us if we went to the Red Sox game. We all say yes. Then he asks where we were from and why we were in Fort Myers… I’m staying pretty quiet, just laughing to myself as Drew dodges the questions somewhat nervously. “We live in Texas.” “We’re down here to go to spring training games.” “Yeah, I was at the game today, but left before it ended.” (You might not know that early on in spring training, most big leaguers play 4-5 innings, shower and then leave the ball park before the 7th inning stretch.)

Before the super Sox fan left, I told him I wrote for a blog and he needed to check out Diamond Hoggers.com tomorrow morning. Dude, I hope you are reading this right now. Sorry I couldn’t give you the heads up last night… I had to “play it cool”…

Speaking of playing it cool. When we were walking to our car, Youk and Mcdonald walked by us and said hi to Drew and then asked where we ate. Before Drew could say anything I jumped in.

Franco: “You have to go eat at the Hibachi place. It’s really good and they have huge portions.”

Youk: “That sounds great. We’ll give it a try.”

I hope you enjoyed your meal fellas… You’re welcome.


Hibachi is delicious. I would have liked to have a beer with Youk to finish off the day, but that only would have been icing on a great cake that didn’t need icing… Like an ice cream cake… Is there ever icing on an ice cream cake?… I can’t remember the last time I had an… Ok, it’s way too late and I need to go to bed. Tomorrow will either be Cards v Mets or Red Sox v Braves. Peace out.

Extra Innings
I accidently tried pickle flavored sunflower seeds when one of the Twins’ grounds keepers offered em to me today. I owe Zobrist an apology. They were only mildly gross, not completely disgusting like I had told him the day before even though I’d never tried them.