Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thoughts On Spring Training, Part II

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".

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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. 

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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. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thoughts On Spring Training, Part I

I took my father to Florida for a week to experience the wonders of spring training. What we were hoping for, I'm not exactly sure; we'd been talking about the trip for a while, since well before my mother passed away, and it was always going to be some time in the future when things were better, whatever that meant. This year, it meant doing it now.
I don't think either of us were looking for some sort of mystical Field of Dreams experience where suddenly our father-son bond started glowing or some such. Nor were we checking off items on a bucket list. Rather, it was a thing we both thought we'd enjoy, and that we'd enjoy doing it together. That's all. No magic. Just basic enjoyment. There's something to be said for that, though.

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We saw four games at four different stadiums. The Blue Jays play across the street from a community center. The Phillies play in the parking lot of a mall, and to get out after the game, you need to exit via the Buffalo Wild Wings lot. The Yankees' stadium, named for the late George M. Steinbrenner, sits majestically in the middle of greenery, as if to say "practice your genuflection here". And the Tigers, well, Joker Marchant Stadium, a renovated warhorse of a ballpark, sits out in Lakeland, in a neighborhood but not quite of it. 

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Spring training is big business. The first game we attended, Red Sox at Blue Jays, was sold out online. "No problem," I thought. "Someone will be selling tickets at the game."
Someone was, for $100 a pop. 
There's special spring training programs, designed to let you know who the guy wearing number 89 and playing shortstop for your team after the fourth inning is. The Phillies and Tigers wanted $4 for theirs. The Blue Jays, $5. The Yankees? $10, though it was better bound and twice the size of the others. Because, well, Yankees. (Still doesn't explain why they were getting more for lemonade than anyone else. Except, well, Yankees.)
All of the programs ran through everyone who might possibly be appearing in a spring training game. Everyone but the Yankees did so in numeric order, the better to answer the question of "Who the heck is #78 and what's he doing at first base?" (Answer: Brock Stassi and he's filling in for Tommy Joseph, who took one off the hand and got pulled from the game.) The Yankees, on the other hand, believe in the dignity of Being A Yankee. Their program lists players alphabetically, as if to suggest these are Yankees, you should know who they are already.
Yes, even the guy wearing #89.





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