The week that was

Jim Rodriguez: Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training; a welcome distraction to what is going on in the “real” world

Never forgetting a chance meeting with Tony Soprano. Gandolfini.com

While many think of the opening of camps around Arizona and Florida as the start of something new; I always take the time to remember an encounter with someone that had nothing to do with baseball. Someone who every spring makes me smile and remember that life is a gift that needs to be unwrapped every day. Especially in times like these.

I was in Sanibel Island, Florida about a half hour outside of Fort Myers.  It was March of 2000.   I had a day off covering Minnesota Twins camp and decided to lay out by the hotel pool and enjoy a nice cigar.  

As I finished lighting my Montecristo #2,  I noticed him. How could you not!  

The Sopranos was relatively new to viewers. The show debuted in January of 1999, but I was already hooked. He had a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.  A towel wrapped around his neck and an unlit cigar in one hand.

Maybe it was the smoke from my cigar, but he quickly shuffled over to my area by the pool.  There was an empty seat not quite next to me,  but near enough to me.  

As he approached, I found myself rehearsing what, if anything, I would say to my new favorite TV star!  It was Tony Soprano!  I read he was painfully shy and I certainly didn’t want to disrupt his quiet time in the sun.

Thankfully he spoke first: “Is this seat taken?” he said. “No… enjoy” I said.   

He nodded and sat down.   Now what? What was I going to say.. if anything? He then took off his shirt.  and it hit me.   A couple of big fellas sitting by the pool, both badly in need of as much sunscreen as humanly possible.

After he lit his cigar, I  looked at him and said… “between you and me.. ain't nobody gonna get any sun today at this pool.”  He laughed.. shook his head yes.. and reached out to shake my hand.  “James” he said.  “Jim” I said.  Nothing more was said and at least for me.. that was plenty.

James Gandolfini left us far too soon. A heart attack struck him down in 2013.  He was 51 years old.  He’s a cautionary tale. Take better care of yourself. Mix in a salad. Lose some weight. But never stop enjoying life. 

Even in times like these. 

You can listen to my radio show, The Sports Bosses , weekdays at 10 a.m. ET on SB Nation Radio. Follow me on Twitter @mediarodriguez

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Watson was missing from practice again. Photo by Zach Tarrant/HoustonTexans.com.

The Houston Texans had their second day in pads and it was a bright day for a couple of rookies.

1. Deshaun Watson was absent again from practice. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly explained the team is keeping Watson "engaged" and he has been helpful in the meeting room with the offense.

2. Watson, if Kelly is telling the truth, can absolutely help the quarterbacks with his knowledge. The offense shouldn't be that different, and Watson doesn't have anything against the quarterbacks specifically. It is strange to think Deshaun Watson would be helping the quarterbacks while actively wanting to be playing elsewhere, but Kelly has no reason to lie about Watson's level of engagement.

3. It was Roy Lopez day on Wednesday. The rookie defensive lineman had a sack and is quite the load to handle upfront. Lopez will have to build on these days to earn time on a busy defensive line but if he repeats this day, people will have to beat him out.

4. Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins finds himself open quite a bit. Collins isn't afraid of traffic, though there aren't any real big hits in training camp. Collins' athleticism is very clear and as he grows more, he should earn more opportunities.

5. Brandin Cooks threw his hands up and let out an exasperated sound as Tyrod Taylor found Collins wide open in the middle of the field. Cooks was even more wide open in the end zone, and Taylor didn't see him.

6. Tyrod Taylor's legs will be a weapon in this offense. Taylor doesn't take off in a lot of the drills, but his mobility is apparent. Taylor did run into a sack by defensive lineman Derek Rivers.

7. Veteran wide receiver Chris Conley is extremely athletic and speedy. Conley can get vertical on all the defensive backs. In a pass-catching drill Conley wowed. The drill consisted of a coach wearing a pad and attacking the wideouts on a jump ball. Conley skied, ripped the ball out of the air, and withstood the attack from the coach easily coming down on both feet. Conley would make the team if the season started tomorrow.

8. Tight end Pharaoh Brown had a great catch beating Justin Reid for a touchdown on a pass from Tyrod Taylor. Reid was very upset he lost the rep. Brown was solid last year and he remains one of the better tight ends on the team.

9. Linebacker Neville Hewitt has had some flashes in camp. Hewitt had over 100 tackles for the Jets last year to go along with 12 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons. Hewitt had a hurry on Tuesday and a pass breakup on Wednesday. Hewitt is certainly in consideration for a spot in the revamped linebacker room.

10. Defensive linemen Charles Omenihu and Jonathan Greenard each had sacks in a team period. Omenihu's rep was a forced fumble and Greenard darted through the middle of the line for his successful rep.

11. Tytus Howard had a hold your breath moment when he slowly got off the ground and gingerly walked off the field. Howard had to walk it off, but returned to practice with no issue. He has played a multitude of positions in training camp.

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