Tag Archives: spring training

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

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