Tag Archives: spring training

Dear Baseball, I Hope This Column Finds You Well in These Uncertain Times

Dear Baseball, it is me Ryan.

I know it has been a while since we have seen each other at the Ballpark. These are definitely crazy times. I hope you are doing well.

I have been thinking a lot about the fun we used to have together back before the world was turned upside down by that uninvited party crasher COVID-19.

Remember that time my mom had me called out of class in elementary school so I could see you in a Spring Training game between the Minnesota Twins and the Baltimore Orioles for my birthday? The entire time I was walking to the exit of the school I thought for sure that someone in my family had died. Imagine my relief when I learned that everyone was alive and well, and I was getting to spend an afternoon at the Ballpark with you.

One of my best baseball memories was getting Earl Weaver’s autograph at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Another memory that makes me smile, is that time you gave me the opportunity to meet Earl Weaver on the third base side of Tinker Field. I was definitely start struck at meeting a man I considered to be larger than life, but I was relieved to learn that he was fairly down to earth, and was not just the fiery dirt kicking, base throwing manager I had seen on TV.

Baseball, you have not yet afforded me the opportunity to meet Cal Ripken, Jr., but I guess I will let that one slide since you did give me such good memories following his career during “The Streak” and beyond.

Sadly, not all of my encounters with the men who played you were as encouraging as meeting “The Earl of Baltimore.” Through my attempt to meet Frank Robinson, you taught me the valuable lesson that not everyone who wears your uniform is a hero to be looked up to.

While it is entirely possible that the outcome would have been different on another day, my attempt to meet Frank Robinson soured my opinion of the man, and taught me a valuable lesson in the dangers of heroes letting you down.
Photo R. Anderson

It was a hard lesson for me to learn at the time, but it has helped me separate talent for the game from being a hero off the field. It is possible to respect what a player can do on the field without expecting them to be perfect off the field.

There are of course players who shine both on the field and off, but you let me see that those people are exceptions to treasure, versus the rule.

My joy in you was not limited to just being in the Ballpark. I spent hours collecting your cards and trying to compile complete sets of them each year. I kept checklists in my wallet to know which cards I needed whenever I would find myself at a card shop. I even tried my hand a running a small card shop in my neighborhood for my friends. Grandstand Cards was my first business venture, but it was far from my last.

Every Saturday I rode my bike to the neighborhood 7-11 for powdered doughnuts, a Sunny-D, some baseball cards, and a comic book. Those were much simpler times. While I cherished those days at the time, I cherish them even more now.

I still have those cards, as well as the team scrapbooks that I made for the Orlando Sun Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. Each time I pull them off the shelf the memories return, and I am transported back to those days of going to the local baseball card shop, and sitting in those well-worn grandstands at Tinker Field.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While my three seasons of attempting to play you did not lead to All-Star numbers, you taught me that I could make a career out of telling your story through the various news outlets I worked for.

You even gave me the opportunity to have a full-ride scholarship as a collegiate baseball team manager, which a younger me turned down to go to a different school. It all worked out in the end, and to this day I can still legitimately say that I turned down a full-ride baseball scholarship. I just leave out the part about it not being as a player.

Then there was that 21-inning high school playoff game that I covered as a high school reporter at the old Baseball City Stadium. Man, I sure learned my lesson that night about not leaving the warmth of the press box before the final out. I spent 12 extra innings freezing behind the dugout while my colleagues mocked me from their warm perch.

Despite that unseasonably cold Florida night, and all the other nights shivering in your stands, you taught me that one of life’s simple pleasures is sitting in your Ballparks and getting caught up in the action. You also taught me to never write the lead to an article while the game is still going on, since very few leads are safe once teams are forced to go to the bullpen.

I also learned from you, Baseball, that whenever possible, get a seat in the Ballpark next to the scouts. The times I have been seated in the scout section at Spring Training and Minor League games, I have been entertained by hours of stories of baseball behind the curtains. Sadly, scouts are a dying breed as more and more of your teams are taking a strictly statistical look at how you are played, versus relying on gut feel.

Very little tops a day at the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball, you have given me the chance to interview many coaches and players. Some of them gave thoughtful answers, while others allowed me to play cliché bingo.

One manager even trusted me enough to write my own quotes for what I thought he would say. To keep it real, I even included some clichés in his quotes. At the end of the season of covering his team, he invited me into his office and said that he had never sounded better than he did when I “quoted him.”

I have thought a lot lately about those post-game interviews under the unforgiving Florida and Texas sun, as well as the interview in the rain that killed my recorder right after I transcribed the quotes. On that day Baseball, you taught me to never rely solely on a recorder, but to write down quotes in real time as well.

Just when I think that you have run out of things to teach me, Baseball, you give me new lessons through this delay in the action brought about by COVID-19. Through the virus you have taught me that player strikes are not the only thing that can cause the games to stop, and that we should not take you for granted when you do return.

More importantly, Baseball, you have reminded us that there are more important things than you, and your other sport siblings. Taking care of ourselves and others is far more important, no matter how badly we want to throw caution to the wind and cram inside your hallowed halls and watch you “play ball” once again.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it as part of a test with Major League Baseball..
Photo R. Anderson

When you do return, Baseball, either this year, or next year, some people will no doubt continue to complain that your games are too long, that pitchers need to not take so long between pitches, and that umpires need a robotic voice in their head telling them how to call balls and strikes.

Ignore those people, Baseball, and try to resist the calls to constantly tinker with your game. Part of what makes you perfect are your perfect imperfections, and the fact that there is no game clock to say when the game ends.

Baseball, you will come back stronger, and will once again fill those summer nights with the sights, sounds and smells, of the National Pastime.

Hang in there Baseball, I know we will see each other again soon when it is safe to do so. Until then, thanks for the memories you have given me so far, and thanks in advance for the memories yet to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some powdered doughnuts and Sunny-D.

Sincerely yours,

Ryan

Copyright 2020 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, 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

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

Three Constants in Life are Death, Taxes and Baseball

It has been said time and time again, since at least the the mid-18th Century or so, that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

To that duo of death and taxes, I would add a third certainty in life; baseball which came to the scene in the mid-19th Century.

With the exception of strike shortened seasons, the game of baseball provides nearly eight months of distraction a year through the ups and downs of taxes and death and all of the other parts of life.

And while the income tax deadline is still several months away, baseball continues to chug along as part of the summer tapestry before giving way to football in the fall.

In terms of the third side of the constants of life triangle, death, I have felt its impacts firsthand with two funeral home visits in the past couple of weeks.

Although two funerals in the past few weeks may seem excessive, it stands to reason that the older we get the more likely we are to witness the passing of friends and family.

Last night during a funeral home visitation I spoke with a man who has attended 14 funerals so far this year. While I figured that he would be depressed from attending so many funerals in such a short time span his words put it into perspective when he stated that as long as he was able to leave a funeral on his feet, and not in a casket, he figured he was doing all right.

Of course sometimes it seems that the ones in the caskets, the dearly departed, have it the easiest as they have reached the end of their pain and suffering while the living are left to work through the pain and suffering being experienced as a result of their loss.

For me the latest loss came with the passing of a friend whom I had spent many hours talking baseball with over the past 14 years or so.

While we certainly discussed other topics, inevitably our conversations would always turn towards observations about the Houston Astros and how we would run the team if ever given the chance.

In honor of our mutual love of the team, I wore my Astros tie to my friend’s funeral even though I am sure she would have been just as happy with something far less formal.

Recently I had the chance to wear my Astros tie in memory of a departed friend who never missed an opportunity to ask me how "our boys" were doing. Photo R. Anderson
Recently I had the chance to wear my Astros tie in memory of a departed friend who never missed an opportunity to ask me how “our boys” were doing.
Photo R. Anderson

I can almost picture her saying that there was no need to get all dressed up on her account but there are certain times when formal baseball attire is warranted and this was one such occasion.

As for our conversations about the Astros they would often start with her asking me what I thought about how “our boys” were doing.

And for most of the last decade the answer was that “our boys” were doing badly but hopefully more victories were just around the corner.

With a team that last visited the postseason in 2005, and is currently on track for a fourth straight season of losing over 100 games, it might be easy to lose faith in “our boys” but the belief that a turnaround would occur for the Astros never wavered.

In addition to talking about regular season baseball, each spring the topic of conversation would turn to trips to Florida for Spring Training.

While it had been years since my friend had seen Spring Training in person, her stories of past visits to the Ballparks of central Florida showed the timelessness of baseball and how one never really loses the spark once it gets under their skin.

Each year when I would return from a Spring Training trip I would give a report on how “our boys” looked and we would agree that this very well could be the year that they turned things around.

The next time I visit Osceola County Stadium, Spring training home of the Houston Astros, will feel a little different following the death of a friend and partner in Astros commiseration. Photo R. Anderson
The next time I visit Osceola County Stadium, Spring training home of the Houston Astros, will feel a little different following the death of a friend and partner in Astros commiseration.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course the turnaround has yet to gain significant traction but through my stories of trips to Florida I was allowing my friend to experience the joys of Spring Training once more as she recalled days spent under the Florida sun watching the Astros warm up for the season.

Much as my friend kept the faith through the dark times, and even thought of us attending a baseball game when she left the hospital, I also know that the Astros will turn it around some day and once again play the type of winning baseball that they once enjoyed during those years when my friend and her husband traveled to Florida to see them.

Hopefully I will make other trips to Spring Training Ballparks in the coming years. I am especially looking forward to a milestone birthday spent under the Spring Training sky next season with visits to several Ballparks I have yet to visit.

I do not know how many trips I will get to make to Spring Training through the remainder of my life. I do know that each trip will allow me to build memories to cherish for a lifetime and hopefully not return too sunburned.

Something tells me that my friend will still be keeping tabs on the Astros from her sky box in the clouds. Photo R. Anderson
Something tells me that my friend will still be keeping tabs on the Astros from her sky box in the clouds.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course the next time I do come back from Spring Training it will seem a little different without being able to share the stories from the experience with my friend.

Perhaps next year at Spring Training I will purchase an extra ticket in honor of my friend although I know her view of “our boys” from the sky box in the clouds, sitting next to her husband once again, will be even better.

I will miss my friend and our talks about baseball but I firmly believe there will come a time when we get to discuss “our boys” once more. I only hope we have a few winning seasons to discuss by then.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to watch the Astros in honor of my friend.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Skeeters Wrap up Spring Training, Look Ahead to the Regular Season

The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League wrapped up an abbreviated Spring Training with a trio of games against two local colleges last week.

While teams will often play exhibition games against colleges during Spring Training for the Skeeters scheduling games against colleges becomes a logistical necessity.

Unlike Major League Baseball where Spring Training sites are located within driving distance of each other in either Florida or Arizona teams within the Atlantic League are spread out over several states.

The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League tuned up for the regular season with a pair of games against the Alvin Community College Dolphins. Photo R. Anderson
The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League tuned up for the regular season with a pair of games against the Alvin Community College Dolphins.
Photo R. Anderson

When your closest league opponent is based in states that border the Atlantic Ocean finding teams closer to scrimmage with can certainly be a huge advantage.

The Alvin Community College Dolphins and the San Jacinto College Gators filled the roles of Spring Training opponents to help the Skeeters prepare for the start of the regular season.

The Skeeters won all three of their Spring Training games as one would expect but the games proved to offer more than just a box score.

For starters the games allowed the use of a mixed fleet of bat types.

While Professional baseball leans toward the wood bat camp college baseball allows the inclusion of metal bats.

With the metal bats in play fans were treated to the rare pinging sound of a ball meeting a metal bat within a Professional Ballpark.

Additionally the players from both colleges will be able to tell their friends that they played against a Professional baseball team. Of course the players who managed to get hits of of those same Professional players will have even bigger stories to tell.

Another plus for the Spring Training crowds in attendance was plenty of elbow room and the chance to scout out the best seats in the ballpark.

Koby Clemens enters his second full season as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
Koby Clemens enters his second full season as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

For the most part there are not any bad seats in the Ballpark but it never hurts to try to see the view from various vantage points whenever one has the opportunity.

Speaking of opportunity, fans were treated to their first views of Tracy McGrady who is trying to join an elite club of former NBA stars to become professional baseball players.

Hoping to make the team as a pitcher, McGrady, worked one inning Friday night against the Dolphins and allowed one run on three hits.

While his baseball stats may have a small sample size thus far, McGrady was a seven time All-Star and recipient of two scoring titles during a 16 year NBA career where he spent time with the Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs.

Whether past success in basketball will transition to future success in baseball will remain to be seen. But if the rack of McGrady jerseys in the Skeeters team store is to be believed someone in the organization is hoping that it does.

Aside from the normal concession stands and gift shop found in most Ballparks, the Skeeters facility also includes two water features in the form of a pool and a splash pad area.

The multiple water features allow fans the opportunity to cool off during those hot nights at the Ballpark and have become a feature of many of the Minor League Ballparks within Texas.

Saturday night the Skeeters introduced a new on field water feature as well when the sprinkler system inadvertently went off in the middle of the game.

While several fans in the front rows along the third base side of the field ran for dryer ground many of the players stayed put during the impromptu rain delay.

Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system. Photo R. Anderson
Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system.
Photo R. Anderson

To paraphrase Bull Durham baseball is a simple game. Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system.

In an era where every second inside the ballpark experience seems scripted from sponsorships and other concerns it is refreshing when something like the sprinklers going on occurs to remind people that it is still a game where the unexpected can happen.

With a 3-0 Spring Training record the Skeeters will spend this week making final roster cuts to get to their 25-man roster before the regular season begins on Thursday.

Early signs and shirts certainly point to Tracy McGrady making the team but an official announcement will likely not occur before Thursday.

Until then fans will sit and wait to see who makes the Opening Day roster.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly have a craving for some peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson