Over the course of my first few days at Cleveland Indians’ Spring Training I have experienced many firsts, from having a bearded woman take my order at the local Winter Haven Taco Bell to seeing my name sewn on the back of a professional baseball jersey. Almost from the onset, I have felt like an alien in a foreign country.
Entering the fifteen-passenger van that picked me up from the airport, and quickly nodding and saying “hello” to the other five players inside, marked the end of normalcy for me.
The uneasiness that ensued over the next hour and ten minutes, from Orlando International Airport to my temporary home at the Holiday Inn, could easily have been the subject of an episode of Larry David’s HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” There was not a single word of English spoken between my new Venezuelan, Dominican and Puerto Rican teammates. I would venture to say that there were at least five good laughs at the expense of the white kid in the back with the “Harvard Baseball” t-shirt on. I have no doubt that I will spend the next six months kicking myself for taking French rather than Spanish in high school.
Winter Haven is a bizarre place in itself. Both aesthetically pleasing and often extremely drab, the area is reminiscent of a summer resort town, with the caveat being that now is its “season.”
There are miles of orange groves and lush greenery along the two-lane highway leading into Winter Haven. However, the town itself is home to some motels I wouldn’t have considered staying in for post-prom.
To give a rough idea of the area, I had to pay twelve cents for grocery bags to carry home my purchases from the nearby Save-A-Lot.
Still, the people here are crazy about their Indians. Almost every storefront has a “Go Tribe” or “Welcome Indians” sign in its window. I would liken being a ballplayer in the Winter Haven area to being a Rhodes Scholar at Harvard and having everyone know about it—i.e. you’re “kind of a big deal.”
One of the most intriguing things that I have noticed so far are the vastly different paths to professional baseball that many of my teammates have taken.
My locker aisle alone includes a Notre Dame graduate; an 18 year-old who signed for more than a million dollars out of high school; three international players who cannot speak a word of English; and my roommate, Zach, who dropped out of high school and took a three-year hiatus that eventually ended with him signing with his hometown team after a rare open tryout.
One aspect of my Harvard experience was that I had the opportunity to meet an interesting and diverse group of people that I otherwise would never have met. Similarly, I am excited to witness how my teammates, with such assorted backgrounds, will be able to come together and compete as a team.
Judging by my first few days here, I think it’s safe to say that anything is fair game.
—Herrmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His diary appears every Wednesday.