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Having heard that Spring Training is a great way to watch baseball, I decided this year to catch some games myself and see what the experience was all about. Luckily, my uncle lives in Florida, so I was able to stay there.
I was able to catch two games: Tigers vs. Yankees in Tampa, and Rays vs. Yankees in Port Charlotte. While it was enjoyable being able to sit so close for so cheap, the overload of information that we’re used to at modern stadiums was non-existant (plus MLB.com is the only site that provides in-game stats during Spring Training anyway) and made it a unique experience.
In the game in Tampa, I got to see starts from two highly hyped young pitchers: New York’s Joba Chamberlain and Detroit’s 2007 first round pick, Rick Porcello. The lack of in-game scoreboard information that I referred to came in to play here. I noticed Joba’s velocity seemed below his summer, loose-arm best, but there was no real way to confirm it. The Yankees’ park in Tampa had one small electronic scoreboard which listed the score and the current hitter, their number and position, and the number of hits and at bats the batter had. That’s it.
Joba’s further polish was obvious, though, as even with sub-optimal stuff, he was able to pick up five strikeouts. Porcello showed a need for further work, given that he was only able to go 2.1 IP against the Yankees, despite the fact that the Yankes only started five of their Opening Day starters. Three of the four hits Porcello gave up were doubles (Detroit has apparently decided that can come at the major league level, as due to lack of depth and highly aged position players, they are going to make a stab in a weakened AL Central).
In terms of other pitchers of note, I got to see Clay Rapada, Zach Miner, Fernando Rodney, Jonathan Albaladejo, Mariano Rivera, Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras. Fernando Rodney displayed why the end of games for the Tigers are going to be a headache for Jim Leyland. Mariano Rivera was clearly in midseason form and just makes the game look so easy. He truly is a pleasure to watch and one of the best reasons to watch baseball.
One of the fun aspects of the game was seeing Gerald Laird prove that he may be the slower than the amazingly slow Molina brothers by getting thrown out by Johnny Damon when Laird tried to tag from third on a fly ball to left. Yes, Red Sox fans, you read that right, Johnny Damon threw someone out at the plate.
As for the game in Port Charlotte, I had the pleasure of seeing David Price start for the Rays. In addition, I got to see Troy Percival, Jason Isringhausen, Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour pitch for Tampa Bay as well. Price pitched very well yet again and showed that he is going to give the Yankees and Red Sox tons of headaches for years to come. It’s a shame the Rays decided that his arbitration clock is more important than them putting their best rotation out. Unfortunately, the Yankees did not send anyone that interesting to take the hour and a half ride to pitch, unless you count Kei Igawa (who gave up his first run of the spring in this game).
Hitting-wise, the Rays had their starting lineup minus Iwamura and Longoria, both of whom were at the World Baseball Classic. The Yankees meanwhile sent four guys who will be in their first lineup, and that’s only because Cody Ransom is holding down the fort at third base until A-Rod returns.
The Yankees did send Austin Jackson on the trip and I got to see him play when he came in to replace Brett Gardner. Jackson looked solid as he showed off pretty good range, good speed and hit a ball that bounced to the wall in left center and got himself a triple out of it. (Funny enough, shortly after my trip I saw him in a game on TV against the Red Sox and he hit a grand slam that hooked around the pole in left, but showed off very impressive power as it clearly had the distance off the bat). He gives some hope that the Yankees farm system can begin providing more talent in the years to come.
Other notable players were Matt Joyce for the Rays, who has very impressive power, though he may need to work on making contact a bit more, and Ramiro Pena, who is going to start as the Yankees backup infielder and showed very little pop with his bat. Also, this game provided proof that umps are in midseason form as the second base umpire was not in position to see that Brett Gardner got his hand in before being tagged on a steal attempt at second.
What I noticed about the two games is that despite the close proximity, it actually was not that easy to follow the game. Fans get up a lot to get drinks and food, and there’s a dearth of ways to follow statistically what is taking place. The small crowds also make for little fan noise. The bleacher creatures definitely were needed in Tampa.
Also, Tampa proved to be quite the interesting town as pretty close to the stadium were some family restaurants, strip clubs, an airport (though it had no Shea Stadium overhead airplane effect), Raymond James stadium and a porn shop cleverly named “Shhh! Don’t Tell Momma.”
Meanwhile, the stadium in Port Charlotte is not in a city like Tampa, instead, nearby entertainment and food venues are accessed via the highway. The stadium in Port Charlotte allowed you to walk around the whole place, but the park in Tampa was not quite as accessible. Also worth noting is that teams do not send a lot of starting position players on road trips, so if you’re trying to view more minor league guys for your favorite team, going earlier in the spring and a to road game will allow you to see more of what you want.
If you’re trying to get signatures, I highly advise getting to the game at least two hours early and parking yourself by a dugout. Also, the Rays had a lot more employees at their stadium working to try and get fans into the game, which really is a continuation of their work in the Tampa Bay area to build a solid fan base. Also, the food options were pretty solid and wide-ranging overall (the stadium in Port Charlotte even has an Outback!). Steinbrenner Field (in Tampa) had many options that are now appearing at the new Yankee Stadium, as well.
I’d recommend checking out spring training baseball if you’re looking for a more laid back environment where you can visually follow a lot of the game, but only if you don’t mind the absolute lack of statistical information, the lack of announcement of defensive replacements (sometimes), and a need for a program to know players’ numbers for spring training invitees.
Tags: Spring Training