Historical Seed for Spring Training Fever

"Letters from Lefty" By Mickey Herskowitz 1966

“Letters from Lefty”
                             Mickey Herskowitz                                      1966

On February 26, 1962, in Apache Junction, Arizona, the Houston Colt .45’s opened their spring training camp as a big league baseball club with Harry Craft holding forth as their first manager. As one of the first two expansion clubs in National League history, the Colts and their newbie brethren, the New York Mets, got down to cases that day to start the process of sorting out their best variably acquired parts and to assess where they stood as a team on their fundamentals of winning baseball.

It was an atmosphere that some writers of the time described as looking more like the set for the then popular “Gunsmoke” television western than it did a major league spring camp, although, we also understand that the place was a little too short on saloons and female companionship for the single players to qualify as “the funnest town in the west.”

We also have long ago read that some players, like pitcher Turk Farrell, did use some of the off time using a six-gun to improve his proficiency in shooting rattlesnakes out on the surrounding desert. Apache Junction was also the place that gave birth to Mickey Herskowitz’s wonderful fictional Houston player “Lefty”, whose “Letters from Lefty” still live on as the great written comic narrative on what spring training is like for the Average Joe player. These began as news column reports for the Houston Post before finally coming together as a book in 1966. They are one of Mickey’s funniest works.

Sometimes, when young men are single, healthy, and looking for a good time, being buried in the arid mountain deserts for six weeks, with only beer and the repeating tale from locals about the Lost Dutchman and his long hidden gold mine just aren’t enough solace to keep the bright lights of the city from looking better than even memory recalls.

Here’s a brief account of the very first full squad practice day in Houston MLB spring training history. It’s still enough to make you hear the crack of the bat against the ball’s hide and the thump of the glove when the ball gets thrown in from the outfield – and just want to be  there to take it all in with developing visions of hope that may never be realized beyond the intoxication that is the spring.

Play ball. Nobody gets mathematically eliminated or losses the World Series in the spring. – Not even in an end of the earth place like Apache Junction, Arizona.

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Craft Likes the Way .45s Working Out

United Press International

Apache Junction, Ariz., Feb. 27. – Manager Harry Craft expressed satisfaction with the condition of his Colt .45 squad that assembled full strength for the first time yesterday.

“Everybody seems to have come to camp pretty close to playing weight,” Craft said, “and that shows they’re serious about the opportunity to play.”

The regulars got in a long batting drill despite cold weather that caused Craft to cut the afternoon workout short. The squad was split into two groups for morning and afternoon work.

Von McDaniel, former “Mr. Wonderful” of the St. Louis Cardinals during his pitching days but now  a third base candidate with the Colts, hit two successive balls out of the park in batting  practice.

Catcher Hal Smith, purchased from Pittsburgh in the National League pool, was elected player representative. At  least for the spring training period. Bobby Shantz was named alternate.

…. El Paso Herald Post, February 27, 1962, Page 41.

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2 Responses to “Historical Seed for Spring Training Fever”

  1. Bill Gilbert Says:

    Letters From Lefty was a great read. Very entertaining. I hadn’t thought about it in years so your blog brought back some great memories.

    Bill Gilbert

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