Sure beats working

Dan Wetzel

TAMPA, Fla. – So we heard from friends and family and a whole bunch of you valued readers who think we just spent the last week watching baseball, soaking up the sun and generally screwing around while filing a couple columns a day.

We know, we know. You think we got away with something here.

A typical email:

Dear Dan,

When I get off active duty how do I get a job like yours!

Tom McKee
US Air Force

Tom, it isn't easy. Fortunately we were able to sleep our way to the top.

I think a lot of this "you have the easiest job in America" sentiment comes from the fact that nobody takes Spring Training seriously. You see the footage of players standing around, stretching, maybe taking a light jog and then heading off to the country club. It's not football, right?

"Well, we are not going to tackle anybody to prove we are good athletes," Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona says. "But I completely disagree with that. I don't think it is as easy as you think."

You tell them, Terry.

Especially from our perspective. What, you think figuring out which restaurant to visit is simple? You don't believe there is some serious pressure to get a column written before deadline (or at least last call)? This is no mindless pursuit. We had to remember our sunscreen, didn't we?

This was hard work. Or hardly work. Or something.

All we can say is that it isn't easy remembering the bad times (if there were any). As for the good stuff, there's more to remember than we have room in our heads to carry. But we are going to give it a try. The Best of the Yahoo! Sports Spring Training Road Trip:

Best Restaurant: Linda's Place, Belle Glade, Fla.

With Linda herself in the kitchen of this small diner we wish we could have stayed to sample the entire menu. From the chicken gumbo to the ridiculous desserts, you couldn't go wrong.

Best Spring Training Facility: Dodgertown, Vero Beach.

The grounds are gorgeous, the landscaping immaculate and the sense of history is everywhere. Then there are the unusual facilities: shuffleboard and tennis courts, beach volleyball and barbecue pits. Plus the pool. "I swim in the pool," Tommy Lasorda says. Can't blame him. The place is awesome.

Best Comparative Scene: Roger Clemens-Pedro Martinez signing autographs.

First off, we don't know how players stand it, but they sign and sign and sign, often for professional autograph hounds. We stood by as Clemens did his duty for a half-hour but hardly cracked a smile, rarely looked a fan in the eye and only endured the small talk because he had to.

Fan: "Hey Rocket, great to have you home in Houston."

Clemens, without looking up: "Yup."

Martinez, however, was engaging, playful and polite to fans. He kissed babies, high-fived children and engaged in fairly full conversations with Red Sox fans. He really seemed to enjoy it.

Best Performance: Kevin Brown whiffing Yankees in batting practice.

No one could touch Brown, who baffled hitters who are just trying to find their timing. "When I was a player I didn't like hitting off pitchers in batting practice," Yankees manager Joe Torre says. "I considered that pitching practice. Most of the pitchers that aren't trying to impress anyone like Kevin Brown just throw it down the middle. But he can't throw it straight and makes it tough to hit." Does he ever.

Best Gas Station: Hess Express, Kissimmee.

The Hess became our beacon throughout the week. They apparently have one next to every palm tree in Florida. But nothing could match the excellent coffee selection and parking lot rodeo exhibition just down the road from Houston Astros camp.

Best Bar: The Hub, Tampa.

In downtown Tampa this no-nonsense, blue-collar spot serves extremely cold beer, including Pabst in a can. Does it get better?

Best Interview: Jack McKeon, manager, Florida Marlins.

First off, he loves talking to the press. Then he truly is hysterical. Plus he has a million baseball stories and tells them all while sucking on an oversized cigar. Then he says things he doesn't even know are funny such as: "You know, ballplayers today, they make a decent living."

Best Trophy Case: New York Yankees.

The first thing you see as you walk into the administrative offices of Legends Field is a glass case with the 1996, 1998 and 1999 World Championship trophies polished up and staring back at you. Pretty cool.

Best Trophy: The Stanley Cup.

No matter how nice those World Series trophies look, nothing compares to Lord Stanley. The Yankees have a huge picture in their offices of some players holding the Stanley Cup. That thing gets even the most storied franchise in sports fired up.

Best Smile: Miguel Tejada, shortstop, Baltimore Orioles.

Everyone is in a good mood at Spring Training, especially free agent signees who are now absolutely loaded. But Tejada couldn't stop smiling at the prospect of putting on an Orioles uniform and playing the same position for the same franchise as his childhood idol Cal Ripken Jr. This really means something to him.

Best Drive: US 1 South outside Vero Beach.

Water to the left, beautiful homes to the right on a perfect, sunny early morning in convertible en route to Dodgertown. When John Fogerty's "Centerfield" came on the radio, we had to admit you guys are correct.

This may be a job, but it sure beats working.