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Spring training cures all

The road to the big leagues, or at least to see the Dodgers in spring training, goes through Blythe. Autographs, shade and memories are easy to score if you play it right.

March 05, 2013|Chris Erskine

PHOENIX — Screaming across the desert just after dusk, the murderous head winds peel back the plastic cowling under the wipers, shearing it right off their bolts.

It's a poignant reminder of why lizards have, over the last million years, developed those heavy, Emma Stone eyelids — so that when they're barreling across Arizona on a road trip, they have an extra layer of protection when hurricane-force winds begin to tear apart their overpriced German sedans.

Off to spring training we go. Evolution on our side.

Obviously, I'm self-medicating with baseball again, something my doctor recommended when I started responding to unsolicited Internet ads:

"We wish to inform you that we can supply canned tuna as per your demand," the email offered.

Sensing an opportunity, I send a friend 450 metric tons of chunk tuna by way of Cameroon. I may also have a bead on some medium-density pond liners.

So, putting such stresses aside for a moment, we're heading to spring training, Blythe our first stop.

There is not much between L.A. and Phoenix, except this sparkling border town of Blythe, where they rarely clean the one restroom, and if they do, they seem to rush the corners a little.

There is not much to eat here either, but that's OK, I'm now on the Mike Trout diet:

--Milkshake for breakfast.

--Two milkshakes for lunch.

--Three milkshakes for dinner, plus wings.

Blythe can easily meet these demands.

By midnight, my buddy Howard and I roll into Goodyear, which as far as I can tell, is a suburb of Glendale, which is a suburb of Phoenix, itself not so much a city as a cluster of suburbs, mini-marts and golf courses.

Thankfully, Phoenix also features 10 of the finest spring training complexes ever built, a mere six hours away by decaying German sedan.

Wondering now just how informative this little exercise is going to be? Me too, though that was never my goal.

But I'll offer up this:

--Tip No. 1: The Dodgers hold an open tryout each spring, no reservations necessary. So should you and a couple of buddies ever consider a spring training trip, schedule it around this annual audition, baseball's equivalent to "A Chorus Line." One singular sensation, ev'ry little throw you make....

This year, the tryout drew some 100 contestants, including 54-year-old knuckleballer Tom Wright, who seemed to impress Tom Lasorda.

Lasorda overcame his usual painful shyness to begin telling knuckleball stories, particularly of how he helped Charlie Hough develop a career-saving knuckler, only to see Hough use it later to beat the Dodgers, 2-1.

"The worst part, my wife was up in the stands and she's pulling for Charlie," Lasorda says.

Even better, these tryouts feature Daniel "Doc" Jacobs, a gamer among gamers, who moves better on an artificial leg than I move on two fleshy ones. The 27-year-old war hero, who returned to combat duty despite losing his leg, was the most-inspiring story among the 33 pitchers and 70 position players trying out last week.

--Tip No. 2: If you find yourself broiling at Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers' spring spa, go to the customer service window, or the ticket booth in Section 103, and request a seat in the shade.

Park employees say they will gladly swap your sun-baked seat for a protected one. Or avoid the whole process and reserve a shady seat in Sections 114 or 115, rows 15 or higher.

Camelback is a jewel of a ballpark, but the full-frontal orientation can make the Arizona sun feel like lasers through a diamond.

--Tip No. 3: The best pregame autograph spot is Sections 26 and 27, accessible to anyone with a ticket anywhere in the park. During games, try the lower corner of Section 28, where the players pass on their way off the field. Among the "gets" the day we're here: Matt Kemp.

--Tip No. 4: You can tailgate at laid-back Camelback, a rare treat for Dodgers fans.

The Dodgers and White Sox share joint custody of this 13,000-seat ballpark, where on weekdays it's so sleepy you can hear the "GOT IT, GOT IT!" of the center fielder camping under a pop fly, or the corduroy scrape of a runner sliding into third.

"Two hands, bro!!!" pleads a fan.

"Beer heeeeeeyah!!!" screams a vendor.

Spring training. Send me 450 metric tons. Now.

Next week: The Angels' spring spa, Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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