The two players were sitting side by side in the cool dampness of the Alexandria (Va.) Mariner clubhouse, a cramped, unkept room that reeked of soiled linen and perspiration.
Tito Nanni and David Balle, friends and perhaps the two best players on the squad, seemed oblivious to the surroundings.The two 18-year-olds say they are too overjoyed with the idea of playing in Alexandria, for the Seattle Mariners' Class A farm team, to worry about a little inconvenience.
"I'm from the east so it's like going home," said Balle, a highly touted catcher from Bayside, N.Y. "I hear the fans are really supportive in Alexandria."
"I can't wait to break camp," said Nanni, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound right fielder from Philadelphia. "I just hope the manager intends to bring me along."
Nanni and Balle, assuming they make the squad, will be part of an Alexandria team that will be virtually all new from playing field to front office.
The franchise, going into its second season of operation, now is a Seattle farm club. Among the 105 players in camp here, only five-Ron Musselman, Pete Garrity, Elwood Holland, Roger Lee and Gary Pellant - were with the then Alexandria Dukes last year.
Bobby Floyd has replaced Les peden as manager. The club now is being run by General Manager Rick Holt, who held a similar job the past two years with the Toronto Blue Jay farm club in Utica, N.Y.
The Mariners will open their 140-game Carolina League schedule April 13 at home against Lynchburg. Between now and then, Floyd must reduce the squad from a 105-man mob to a team of 23.
"The hardest part is telling a player he can't be with the club," said Floyd. "About 75 percent of the players you know can play, and the other 25 percent you know can't. It's just a matter of breaking down their tools and deciding from there. It's never enjoyable."
Floyd began his managerial career in 1977 with Bellingham, Wash., a Mariner affiliate in the Northwest League. Last year he managed at Stockton in the California Leaguel Floyd, an infielder with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and 1969 and then with the Kansas City Royals from 1970 to 1974, said he is delighted to return to the East Coast.
"I loved it back there," he said between innings of a recent game. "I have a brother who lives in Fairfax. I had a lot of good memories back there, and I really miss the seafood."
Floyd, who described his own baseball skillw as marginal, empathized with his players, many of whom never will reach their ultimate goal-the major leagues.
"Most of the kids here know they have a chance to play in the big leagues some day," he said. "We have 10 or 12 players on this team who have an outstanding chance to play in the majors; and we have about 10 who are borderline cases, who could go either way. The hard part is when the kid doesn't have the talent and you have to tell him."
Except for Nanni, the Mariners don't have much power. Alexandria relies on quickness and lots of desire. "We try to breed them into being aggressive ballplayers, not foolishly aggressive, but enough so that they know when to take an extra base now and then," said Floyd.
The vastness of the squad is such that three practice fields cannot accommodate all the Alexandria players. With the surplus of bodies, Floyd often sends some of them to another town to play. And no group of players is more affected by the overcrowding conditions than the pitching staff. Of the 40 hurlers in camp, only nine or 10 will make the trip to Alexandria.
"With so many pitchers, our biggest concern is giving them the proper amount of work," said Floyd. "But we've got Mel Stottlemyre - a former 20-game winner with the Yankees - working with them; he's done an outstanding job keeping track of the pitching chart. I'm glad it's his problem, not mine."
One pitcher who doesn't have to worry about a job is Bob Stoddard, who last year led the Instructional League in strikeouts. Stoddard, Alexandria's top pitcher, is one of many bright prospects in the Mariner organization.
"I've talked to a lot of scouts in the Instructional League and they say we have just about the best kids of any organization," said Floyd. "That's a credit to the coaches and scouts and, of course, to the players who have worked their tails off."
Floyd will carry 23 players this year, two short of the limit. He says 25 players would be an excess. "We would have too many guys sitting on the bench, " he said, "I was a 25th man on a 25-man roster when I was with the Orioles, so I know what it's like. There's no enjoyment sitting on the bench. Besides, these kids have to play."
Nanni and Balle expect to log plenty of playing time at Alexandria this summer. They got a taste of the big leagues earlier this spring when the parent club invited them to camp.
"They treat players like kings up there," said Nanni, "I mean, every morning you would walk into the clubhouse and your shoes would be polished - that's class. Down here, well, it's kid of cramped, it's not nearly so nice. I want to get back there as soon as I can."