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

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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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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