Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Joys of Spring Training

Last week I was in sunny Florida to watch my very first spring training games, live.
I went to visit my friend Chris in Vero Beach, Florida.  He graciously interrupted his schedule of walking and swimming to accompany me to three games and four different ballparks. He is a baseball fan from way back. We have had many intense discussions about baseball and the Jays, in particular. Being in Vero Beach, it was too far to get to Dunedin or any west coast team. Fortunately, there were plenty of games on the east side of the state.

Note the sign. You know who you are.
We saw the Marlins at home to the Nationals.  They play at Roger Dean stadium in Jupiter. Got a chance to say hello to Henderson Alvarez – in the bullpen – and saw Adeiny Hechavarria play shortstop. Remember, these are small ballparks (5-6000 tops) with easy access to players. The bullpens are next to the stands. Highlights of the game were Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth who both hit and scored for the winning Nats. For the Marlins, Placido Polanco made a major league catch at third, diving into foul territory, catching the ball and then throwing the runner out at first from his knees. Great stuff. Hechavarria performed great with the glove but could not hit. However, he did take a couple of walks to show great control. The Marlins should be glad to have Juan Pierre as leadoff. He took a walk, stole second and third and got tapped in for a run. Just what he does best.

Roger Dean Stadium is also home to the Cardinals. They had a big banner showing their World Series wins. Very impressive!  

We next went to the best ballpark of the lot, Traditions Stadium (it’s a condo corporation) in Port St. Lucie, Fl.

The Mets were home to the Cardinals. Adam Wainwright started for the Cards. He got the win and a new $97.5 mil five-year extension to his contract. It has been a nice spring for him. Got to see John Buck and Travis d’Arnaud in action.

Nether one did much at the plate.  For the Cards, David Freese smacked one out. Too bad he is now on the 15-day DL and not on the opening- day roster.  The Cards took it 5-2 and former Jay, Brandon Lyon, took the loss. It again was a perfect day for the game.

There was good company in the stands and lots of Jays vs. Yankees talk with those from NY. Chris saved my  life by catching a foul tip. Thanks Chris.

For my final game we went to the home of the Nats at Space Coast Stadium in someplace called Viera near Cape Canaveral. The Nats faced the Tigers. Stephen Strasburg started vs. Doug Smyly and got hit for a dinger early.

Smyly held it to a shutout until he left.  Two really great plays happened.

For the Nats, Roger Bernadina, in centre field, made a catch so far in the gap that no one thought it could be made. Running with the ball, he just stretched out his arm to make it. It was truly spectacular, a standing ovation from everyone.  Bernadina now has a one-year deal from the Nats. The other involved Tiger, Danny Worth, who made a great pickup at second to complete a 4-3 double play.  Victor Martinez is back in form and had a very solid day with two hits from the DH position –in spring training, each team plays their own league rules.  Matt Tuiasosopo hit a shot to the berm out in left field. I still can’t pronounce his name but he had a good day at the plate. And he also has a one-year deal with the Tigers.I saw a few Montreal Expos hats. Fans don’t forget.

Finally, it was time to head home after what was a great week, but I had not seen Holman Stadium – my fourth park, which is known as Dodger Town.

The Dodgers left Vero Beach seven or eight years ago and went to the Cactus League. Walking around the now mostly run down park was nostalgic. A high school game was going on.
As I wore my Jays hat, a man in the stands asked me how the Jays would do this year. I gave my opinion and we exchanged some banter and he responded with his take on the team. It turns out it was John Sullivan, famed bullpen coach for the Jays from 1982 thru 1993. He was wearing his ’92 World Series Championship ring. This was just too much. It was serendipity to run into a pro, sitting in a ballpark, watching high school kids. He told us how they played and what he liked or not about some of them. He’s a baseball guy thru and thru.  As we drove out of the park, a Blue Jay flew in front of us and landed in a tree. A sign of great portent! I hope!

All the home teams lost. The crowds were big and happy, the grass was green and greenest at the Tradition. People came from everywhere and they seem to follow their team at each park.

Spring Training is one of those times when you can enjoy the heat, the game and the hot dogs in comfort and pure joy. The beer was awful.

Now the season begins and everything counts.

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