Category Archives: Cactus League

The Day When Even the Infield Grass Seems Greener

For those of you living under a rock, or perhaps more appropriately under a blarney stone, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day is named after Saint Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The actual origin story and legends surrounding St. Patrick are varied and tend to depend greatly on the source material one looks at.

There is of course the legend about St. Patrick driving all of the snakes out of Ireland. However, most scholars and scientists agree that there is no evidence in the historic or fossil record of snakes ever being in Ireland to begin with so the likelihood of a single man driving them all off of the island is highly improbable.

Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson
Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess now is also a good time to mention that despite Walt Disney’s assurances and “documentary” techniques King Brian and Darby O’Gill also didn’t really exist despite assertions to the contrary made in Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

What is agreed upon is that St. Patrick was born in England in the late 4th century A.D. and was kidnapped as a child and brought to Ireland.

He escaped his captors after six years and returned to Ireland as a missionary combining Irish pagan beliefs with Christian sacrament while devising the Celtic Cross.

In the centuries that have followed St. Patrick’s Day has been less about the man and more about green clothes, green beer, green hats and pretty much anything else green.

Rivers and lakes around the globe turn green not from algae but from food coloring poured in by the gallon full as a celebration of the holiday.

Massive amounts of corned beef and cabbage will also be consumed as a way to celebrate the day.

Over the past couple of years the green movement has moved to the fields of Major League Baseball as well.

No, I am not talking about the grass on the fields.

I am not even talking about the number of teams who are now encouraging recycling and other “green initiatives” inside their ballparks.

What I am talking about is the green that is popping up on the players.

For the past few years the Spring Training games on St. Patrick’s Day have included teams wearing green uniforms and hats.

Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson
Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

The first team that I recall, going green was the Boston Red Sox.

The green uniforms and hats seemed an obvious choice based on the amount of Irish American fans in the Boston area.

Other teams followed the green trend and soon it became a league wide tradition as part of the day where everyone can claim to be a little Irish.

The teams that go green each year vary with some teams forgoing the green for their more traditional colors.

The first time I saw a televised game with the Red Sox wearing the green uniforms I actually thought there was something wrong with my televisions set since the sight of teams in colors other than their normal ones can take some getting used to.

The full circle marketing of St. Patrick’s Day to include green items for the fans was just a matter of time since Major League Baseball, like most successful businesses, has made a habit of capitalizing on every opportunity to make money.

While the green gear is popular with the fans it also allows the players to try something new in Spring Training.

There are special uniform nights throughout the season but green uniform day is the only one that falls during Spring Training.

So as a public service announcement next time March 17th rolls around do not adjust your set when you are watching that Spring Training game.

Your eyes are not playing tricks on you and the players really are wearing green.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about green things has me in the mood for some green eggs and ham.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

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Tonight We’re Gonna Party like its 1975

Editor’s Note: Today we begin a five part series on Spring Training over the past 40 years. Each Friday between now and March 6 we will feature a snapshot of what Spring Training was like in 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005 and 2015. Today we focus on 1975.

From a personal history perspective, 1975 was the most important year of my life, because it was the year I was born.

To be specific, I was born during Spring Training of 1975 and have had a love of Spring Training and baseball ever since.

Of course, to be fair, I do not remember much about that first Spring Training of 1975 and would not see my first Spring Training game in person until 1985.

But the world of Spring Training in 1975 was certainly different than the Spring Training that will begin next month.

For starters there were only 24 Major League teams in 1975 compared with the 30 ball clubs of today.

While the 30 clubs are evenly divided this year with 15 teams in Florida’s Grapefruit League and 15 clubs calling Arizona’s Cactus League their spring time home the world of 1975 had a very Florida feel with all but 7 of the clubs calling Florida home.

The Grapefruit League clubs of 1975, and the towns where they held spring training were, the Cincinnati Reds (Tampa, FL), Boston Red Sox (Winter Haven, FL), Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton, FL), Baltimore Orioles (Miami, FL), Kansas City Royals (Fort Myers, FL), Los Angeles Dodgers (Vero Beach, FL), Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater, FL), New York Yankees (Fort Lauderdale, FL), St. Louis Cardinals (St. Petersburg, FL), New York Mets (St. Petersburg, FL), Texas Rangers (Pompano Beach, FL), Minnesota Twins (Orlando, FL), Chicago White Sox (Sarasota, FL), Montreal Expos (Daytona Beach, FL), Atlanta Braves (West Palm Beach, FL), Houston Astros (Cocoa, FL), and Detroit Tigers (Lakeland, FL).

The Cactus League teams of 1975, and training city were, the Oakland Athletics (Mesa, Arizona), San Francisco Giants (Phoenix, Arizona), Cleveland Indians (Tucson, Arizona), Chicago Cubs (Scottsdale, Arizona), California Angels (Palm Springs, CA), San Diego Padres (Yuma, Arizona), and Milwaukee Brewers (Sun City, Arizona).

Major League Baseball teams who were not yet on the map in 1975 were the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays.

Over the next few weeks of our every decade snapshot of Spring Training we will be readdressing the teams and watch how the Spring Training addresses of some teams changed through the years while others stayed put decade after decade.

While Spring Training and Major League Baseball in general have changed through the years one constant remains the promise of every season starts on the field at a Spring Training Ballpark where ticket prices are relatively low and memories that last a lifetime are made.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another decade of Spring Training to get ready for.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Rays’ Spring Home Garners Top Honors

The other day USA Today announced the results of a poll of Top 10 Spring Training Ballparks as voted by their readers.

Lists like this are often subjective in nature and one could make arguments that what makes one Ballpark better than another one is in the eye of the beholder with everyone looking for something a little different in terms of what makes a good Ballpark.

While some people might look for a Ballpark that has more amenities such as luxury suites, others might look for a Ballpark that feels like it belongs back in the Golden Age of baseball. With that caveat in place, I tend to mostly agree with the results of the poll.Charlotte Sports Park Map

The readers of USA Today recently crowned Charlotte Sports Park, Spring Training home of the Tampa Ray Rays, as the best place to watch Spring Training. Photo R. Anderson
The readers of USA Today recently crowned Charlotte Sports Park, Spring Training home of the Tampa Ray Rays, as the best place to watch Spring Training.
Photo R. Anderson

While there seems to be a yearly campaign of complaining about their regular season home, Tropicana Field, The Tampa Bay Rays garnered the top spot with their Spring Training Home the Charlotte Sports Park, in Port Charlotte, Florida.

I visited Charlotte Sports Park a few years back and definitely found it to be a very nice complex and one that I definitely hope to return to many times.

For the record I also tend to think that Tropicana Field is a very suitable Ballpark for baseball and am growing tired of the yearly whining about how out of date it is and how much it needs to be replaced.

Charlotte Sports Park underwent a $27,000,000 renovation in 2009 and is utilized by the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League at the conclusion of Spring Training which allows for nearly year round use of the complex.

With great seats located all around the Ballpark there really are no bad seats to see the Rays in action. Photo R. Anderson
With great seats located all around the Ballpark there really are no bad seats to see the Rays in action.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from the bragging rights of having the favorite Ballpark the Rays also boast one of the shortest commutes between Spring Training home and regular season home with a drive of about 90 minutes between St. Petersburg and Port Charlotte.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins are the other teams who spend the Spring and regular season based in the same state and also enjoy short commutes for their fans.

Of course the Tampa Bay Rays once had a much shorter Spring Training commute when they spent the entire year in St. Petersburg, FL splitting time between Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field a few miles down the road.

The full Top 10 list features only three Ballparks from Arizona’s Cactus League showing that most people surveyed prefer their Spring Training baseball in the Grapefruit League under the Florida sun.

A boardwalk stretches across the outfield at Charlotte Sports Park and ensure easy walking from one end of the facility to the other. Photo R. Anderson
A boardwalk stretches across the outfield at Charlotte Sports Park and ensure easy walking from one end of the facility to the other.
Photo R. Anderson

While I cannot speak for the Cactus League Ballparks on the list I do have extensive bleacher and box seat time in the Grapefruit League so I feel pretty confident in commenting on those facilities.

The oldest Ballpark still in use, McKechnie Field, in Bradenton, FL is the long-time home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and ranked fourth on the list.

For historical factors alone I would have moved it up into the top 3 but I suppose fourth place is not too bad considering it comes in as the second Grapefruit League Ballpark.

Ed Smith Stadium, or Birdland South as it is called by some Oriole fans, had a strong show of support from the readers in the poll. Photo R. Anderson
Ed Smith Stadium, or Birdland South as it is called by some Oriole fans, had a strong show of support from the readers in the poll.
Photo R. Anderson

As far as fifth and sixth place go I would swap the Philadelphia Phillies’ Clearwater based Ballpark, Bright House Field with the Baltimore Orioles’ Sarasota home at Ed Smith Stadium.

In full disclosure I have only driven by Bright House Field so perhaps it is nicer on the inside than a quick glance down the highway shows but for my money it is hard to beat the old Ballpark charm of Ed Smith Stadium.

Ed Smith Stadium also features an air conditioned restaurant which allows fans a chance at a sit down meal before heading back to catch the action on the field.

Coming in at number 10, Osceola County Stadium may soon be without a Spring Training tenant as the Houston Astros consider replacing the Ballpark they have called home since 1985. Photo R. Anderson
Coming in at number 10, Osceola County Stadium may soon be without a Spring Training tenant as the Houston Astros consider replacing the Ballpark they have called home since 1985.
Photo R. Anderson

The 10th ranked Ballpark on the list is in danger of no longer hosting Spring Training games in a couple of years. With the Houston Astros exploring locations in West Palm Beach, FL their days at Osceola County Stadium seem numbered.

It will be a shame if the Astros leave the Spring Training home they have had since 1985 for greener pastures since according to the pollsters the fields of Kissimmee, FL are already pretty green.

Granted Osceola County Stadium is an older facility but with older Ballparks making the Top 10 it shows that older is sometimes better in the eyes of the ticket buying fans.

For completeness the entire Top 10 Spring Training facilities, according to the readers of USA Today, is included below along with the Major League Baseball teams that call them home. Ballparks I have visited are listed in bold. Ballparks with an asterisk beside them are among the Ballparks I plan to visit next March.

Half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams call the Grapefruit League their home for the spring and based on the results of the poll seven of the 10 best Ballparks also call Florida home. Photo R. Anderson
Half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams call the Grapefruit League their home for the spring and based on the results of the poll seven of the 10 best Ballparks also call Florida home.
Photo R. Anderson
  1. Charlotte Sports Park – Port Charlotte, Fla. Home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
  2. Goodyear Ballpark – Goodyear, Ariz. Home of the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds.
  3. Salt River Fields – Scottsdale, Ariz. Home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
  4. McKechnie Field – Bradenton, Fla. Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.*
  5. Bright House Field – Clearwater, Fla. Home of the Philadelphia Phillies. *
  6. Ed Smith Stadium – Sarasota, Fla. Home of the Baltimore Orioles.
  7. Tradition Field – Port St. Lucie, Fla. Home of the New York Mets.
  8. Cubs Park – Mesa, Ariz. Home of the Chicago Cubs.
  9. JetBlue Park – Fort Myers, Fla. Home of the Boston Red Sox.
  10. Osceola County Stadium – Kissimmee, Fla. Home of the Houston Astros.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some trips to some ballparks to plan.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

The Day When Even the Infield Grass Seems Greener

For those of you living under a rock, or perhaps more appropriately under a blarney stone, today is St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day is named after Saint Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The actual origin story and legends surrounding St. Patrick are varied and tend to depend greatly on the source material one looks at.

There is of course the legend about St. Patrick driving all of the snakes out of Ireland. However, most scholars and scientists agree that there is no evidence in the historic or fossil record of snakes ever being in Ireland to begin with so the likelihood of a single man driving them all off of the island is highly improbable.

Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson
Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess now is also a good time to mention that despite Walt Disney’s assurances and “documentary” techniques King Brian and Darby O’Gill also didn’t really exist despite assertions to the contrary made in Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

What is agreed upon is that St. Patrick was born in England in the late 4th century A.D. and was kidnapped as a child and brought to Ireland.

He escaped his captors after six years and returned to Ireland as a missionary combining Irish pagan beliefs with Christian sacrament while devising the Celtic Cross.

In the centuries that have followed St. Patrick’s Day has been less about the man and more about green clothes, green beer, green hats and pretty much anything else green.

Today rivers and lakes around the globe will turn green not from algae but from food coloring poured in by the gallon full as a celebration of the holiday.

Massive amounts of corned beef and cabbage will also be consumed as a way to celebrate the day.

Over the past couple of years the green movement has moved to the fields of Major League Baseball as well.

No, I am not talking about the grass on the fields.

I am not even talking about the number of teams who are now encouraging recycling and other “green initiatives” inside their ballparks.

What I am talking about is the green that is popping up on the players.

For the past few years the Spring Training games on St. Patrick’s Day have included teams wearing green uniforms and hats.

Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson
Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

The first team that I recall, going green was the Boston Red Sox.

The green uniforms and hats seemed an obvious choice based on the amount of Irish American fans in the Boston area.

Other teams followed the green trend and soon it became a league wide tradition as part of the day where everyone can claim to be a little Irish.

The teams that go green each year vary with some teams forgoing the green for their more traditional colors.

The first time I saw a televised game with the Red Sox wearing the green uniforms I actually thought there was something wrong with my televisions set since the sight of teams in colors other than their normal ones can take some getting used to.

The full circle marketing of St. Patrick’s Day to include green items for the fans was just a matter of time since Major League Baseball, like most successful businesses, has made a habit of capitalizing on every opportunity to make money.

Don Zimmer (far right) is a special adviser to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays and is not to be mistaken for a leprechaun despite what one might think from seeing the Zim Bear giveaway item last year. Photo R Anderson
Don Zimmer (far right) is a special adviser to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays and is not to be mistaken for a leprechaun despite what one might think from seeing the Zim Bear giveaway item last year.
Photo R Anderson

While the green gear is popular with the fans it also allows the players to try something new in Spring Training.

There are special uniform nights throughout the season but green uniform day is the only one that falls during Spring Training.

So as a public service announcement next time March 17th rolls around do not adjust your set when you are watching that Spring Training game.

Your eyes are not playing tricks on you and the players really are wearing green.

Now if you happen to see a leprechaun at the ballpark and ask to see his pot of gold odds are it is just Special Adviser to the Tampa Bay Rays Don Zimmer.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about green things has me in the mood for some green eggs and ham.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

Time for Chocolate Hearts and Baseball

Today, February 14th, marks the arrival of Valentine’s Day.

While it is often joked about that Valentine’s Day is a made up holiday by greeting card companies, candy companies and florists, there is actually a historical reason behind St. Valentine’s Day.

While the actual origin story varies depending on who is telling it, one common version is that the day is based on one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus, or Valentine to you and me.

The common legend goes that Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.

While imprisoned, legend goes on to state that Valentine befriended the daughter of his jailer and before his execution he wrote “from your Valentine” as a farewell to her.

How much of that really happened, and how much was added throughout the centuries as the tale was told and told again, is certainly up for debate.

After all, legends tend to grow the further out they are from the source material. But as far as legends go I guess if one were so romantically inclined there are worse things to believe in.

So whether the origin totally occurred as written or not the celebrations were tweaked through the generations and flourished during the romantic period as one might expect until at long last we reached the 21st century version of St. Valentine’s Day.

Nothing says, "I love you" quite like a box of chocolates. Put those chocolates in a heart shaped box and she is putty in your hands. At least that is what the marketing people want us to believe.  photo R. Anderson
Nothing says, “I love you” quite like a box of chocolates. Put those chocolates in a heart shaped box and she is putty in your hands. At least that is what the marketing people want us to believe.
photo R. Anderson

Decades ago when I was a younger version of myself Valentine’s Day meant that we used construction paper and other means to make our Valentine “mailbox” to stick at the end of our desks.

Once our mailboxes were completed we would go around and deliver valentine’s to each of our classmates.

After counting up the bounty one always hoped to not be like Charlie Brown, who was always valentine free, but to have a paper box brimming with tiny cardboard trinkets of affection.

As a rule I always made sure to have enough cards to go around for everyone in the class, but it seemed like not everyone followed that rule.

I am guessing the process still remains mostly the same as from when I was in school based on the amount of valentine’s cards I see at the stores each year, but who knows, maybe students just text each other their well wishes now.

Once in a while I will still have a coworker or two that will give out Valentines but as a rule my days of handing out mass Valentine greetings ended with my last construction paper mailbox.

Aside from the greeting card and valentine printing businesses, this season also marks a busy time for businesses that sell flowers and chocolate as they tend to be part of the more grown up valentine experience.

Turn on the television or radio any time between mid-January to mid-February and one is bound to be bombarded with commercials for suggestions on what makes the perfect valentine’s gift for that special someone.

While the romantic aspects of Valentine’s Day are all well and good, the season also marks a time for professional baseball players to await messages of “Be Mine” and “I Choo Choo Choose You” as competition begins for one of those coveted spots on the 40 man Major League roster.

Much like those cardboard valentines of old, a spot on the roster says to the player that someone values them and in this case values them enough that they have a future with the club.

Of course, roster placement alone does not guarantee success and several factors are involved in the aspect of who stays and goes from a major league roster.

But, the fact remains that players on the roster tend to feel better about their future than players who are not on the roster.

With up to 75 players vying for 40 roster spots Spring Training uniforms tend to use numbers more often seen on the football field. Photo R. Anderson
With up to 75 players vying for 40 roster spots Spring Training uniforms tend to use numbers more often seen on the football field.
Photo R. Anderson

For most teams the roster is mostly set at the start of spring training with a few positions here and there up for grabs through head to head competition.

As for the Houston Astros, this year their roster is less wide open than it was this time last season.

While last season was an every position is up for grabs kind of year heading into Spring Training, there seems to be a bit more stability heading into Osceola County Stadium this spring.

The biggest competition for the Astros appears to be at first base where former start Brett Wallace will try once more to prove that he belongs on a Major League Baseball Opening Day roster.

Unlike previous years though Wallace will be trying to make the team as a non roster invitee having lost his coveted spot on the 40-man roster.

Across the other 29 Major League teams other players will be in similar positions of just trying to extend their careers for one more season.

So as you celebrate your Valentine’s Day, in whatever manner you see fit, think of the baseball players who at this very moment are hanging their virtual Valentine mailbox on their lockers at spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona.

And with Valentine’s day behind us stores are quick to remind us that Easter is just around the corner as the chocolate hearts have been replaced on the shelves by chocolate bunnies. In some cases the chocolate bunnies were already up next to the display of chocolate covered Valentine strawberries.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to finish my Easter shopping before the Chocolate bunnies are replaced by Fourth of July decorations.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson