Teams and their spring training stadiums tend to match personalities. George M. Steinbrenner Field, the home of the Yankees, rises majestically from a sea of greenery even though it's in the heart of Tampa. The Blue Jays' stadium is across the street from a community center. Detroit's Joker Marchant Stadium, one of the old warhorses of the Grapefruit League, is nestled into a quiet community. There's a church across the street that has game day parking. And the Phillies' stadium is basically in the parking lot of a mall.
Make no mistake, it's a great stadium and a wonderful place to see a ballgame. But as we pulled into the lot, the cop directing traffic had one bit of advice for us: "You're gonna exit through the Buffalo Wild Wings".
Joker Marchant was full of old men from places like Wayne. They all seemed to know each other and they had a rip-roaring good time, even as the Yankees no-hit the Tigers. For the life of me, I could barely see anyone younger than me in our section. There had been swarms of kids playing in the park out past the left field wall before the game, but damned if I could see any of them once first pitch happened.
Joker Marchant is a fine old stadium. It's been refurbished but the steel bones of the original construction are still evident. There's no permanent concession stuff in the upper level, none of that tomfoolery. You're there to watch a ballgame and by God, a ballgame you will watch. The sightlines are magnificent. A ballgame you will watch indeed.
The crowd at the Phillies game surprised me. It was younger, with a fair number of kids, and a double bucket of nostalgia. The jerseys that fans were wearing covered the gamut - a ton of Chase Utleys, sure, but there were multiple Greg Luzinskis, and a Bob Boone, and so on and so forth. There was even one kid in what appeared to be a Juan Eichelberger jersey, which was odd, because Juan Eichelberger to my knowledge never played for the Phils. And the crowd was loose and into it, in part because the Phillies put a 9-0 thumping on a bunch of guys in Atlanta uniforms, and in part because, well, that was just the crowd. A cold wind blew throughout the game, so if you weren't in the sun, you were shivering, and so there was a constant stream of people leaving their seats in the shade, heading over to a patch of sun, warming up and heading back, possibly having acquired a cheesesteak along the way.
Me, I bought my dad a windbreaker.