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"I'm not even sure if it's real ground beef," one player behind me says.
"I like it," replies another. "If it's free, it's me."
I take inventory of the room. There is golf on TV, men reading Maxim while riding exercise bikes, Skid Row blasting out of a killer sound system and the aroma of free meat loaf calling the hungry to their caloric satisfaction. The testosterone factor is off the charts.
Day 3: Help from a Higher Power
Chapel. 8:05. In the classroom reads the note in a corner of the clubhouse whiteboard. I am one of six players to attend, all of us in uniform. The service is led by Gabe Gross, a strapping, fuzzy-cheeked 25-year-old outfielder with a swing as pretty as Easter morning. He is, as if straight out of Central Casting, the Southern ideal of the born ath-a-lete, the can't-miss kid who can play every sport, praise God and date the captain of the cheerleading squad with perfect equanimity. ¶ Gross, the son of an NFL player, played football, basketball and baseball in high school and football and baseball at Auburn. He started six games as a freshman quarterback at Auburn in 1998 after being recruited by Terry Bowden.
"My dad told me, 'Son, once you play quarterback for Auburn, your life is forever changed,'" Gross says. "He was right. To this day, no matter what I do in baseball, people in Auburn know me as the guy who played quarterback at Auburn. And always will.
After Tommy Tuberville replaced Bowden, Gross dropped to third on the depth chart in his sophomore season. Two games after losing his starting job and with fall baseball practice about to begin, he quit the football team. Twenty-one months later the Blue Jays selected him in the first round of the 2001 draft. He made his big league debut last year and is likely to begin this year getting more seasoning in Triple A, though he has the tools to be a star any day now.
Gross reads a few passages from his Bible and relates them to himself and baseball.
"I know sometimes I worry so much about baseball, worry about going 4 for 4 that night," he says. "And I know if I put my trust in God, that's really what matters most. And those are the times when I seem to play better too."
The brief service ends with the players offering special intentions for prayer. Most of them involve immediate family members, left behind but never far from thought in this relentless, isolated pursuit called baseball.