The union has booked the facility at bargain rates through April, meaning a few dreamers could still be here past Opening Day. It might be embarrassing for the last guy who doesn't sign a contract or quit. Will he show up at the park and have no one to play catch with?
Some of the big names who were headed to Homestead never made it. Dave Winfield ( Indians) and Bob Tewksbury ( Texas Rangers) signed contracts before they got to camp. The only trace of them was their name tags over their lockers. Stewart, meanwhile, traveled here from his home in San Diego and found out in the middle of his second day in camp that his agent had made the deal with Oakland. A reporter broke the news to Stewart, who cut short his practice session to begin his trek to Arizona and the A's spring training site. Like everywhere else he goes, the Homestead camp was lucky to have him. "I had a good time while I was here," Stewart said. "I have fun anywhere I go. To me, just playing the game is a beautiful thing."
It sure beats the alternative, which is the whole point of this camp. The players aren't here to get in shape; if their regimen were any less strenuous, birds would build nests in their caps. No one wants to risk injury when he's unemployed. The players come here simply to be seen and to remind general managers that their services are still available. Most of the players realize that the gravy train ran off the tracks and they no longer can sit back and wait for some foolhardy owner to stuff money in their pockets. If they had a team song, it would be Ain't Too Proud to Beg. If this were the prom, they would be the homely outcasts, sitting out another slow dance.
"I have found that free agency is a detriment," says Reed. "You play hard for six years, and you think free agency is something to shoot for. But then you get there, and it makes no sense. There's just no rhyme or reason to the free-agent market anymore. It's just disappointing."
Reed, like many of the players in Homestead, spent more time signing baseballs than hitting them. A big part of the players' association's mission this spring is soothing the fans' strike-induced nausea. After a two-hour workout Saturday, Reed joined a handful of other players at an afternoon clinic for 200 area kids. One of the kids raised his hand and asked a question of the players. "Why are you guys, like, so greedy and stuff?" said the Little Leaguer.
A few minutes earlier, as he was packing up and heading out, Stewart—who was to earn $3.5 million last season in Toronto but settled for a base salary of $1 million this year to return to Oakland—had been hearing similar questions. He said the pay cut didn't upset him because he'll never notice the difference.
"I'm not affected by it," Stewart said. "I've played 15 years and I've made a lot of money. Now I can play wherever I want, for whatever I want. I know some guys play for money, but that's the wrong attitude. What are you going to do—let this game beat you down? Or are you going to play and have fun? That's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to have fun."
That was easy for Stewart to say. He'd gotten a phone call and a new contract, and now he was gone, off to work. The rest of the guys were still sitting in the pet shop, noses pressed against the window, wondering if they would ever get out of this place.