Spring Training 05: Tales from the Grapefruit League

Game 1
Sunday, March 6, 2005
New York Mets (ss) vs. Atlanta Braves
Disney’s Wide World of Sports, Kissimmee, Florida

This country is filled with Waffle Houses. If your waffle is looking for a home, there are just so many places for it to rest on the interstates south of Washington, D.C. As we drove from southwestern Pennsylvania to Atlanta, Georgia, to Boynton Beach, Florida, we certainly saw our fair share of Waffle Houses.

The best one, though, was in Central Florida. This Waffle House had sustained some hurricane damage last year, and a few of it’s letters were missing. Instead of a WAFFLE HOUSE, this restaurant promised an ALE HOUSE. Those two establishments – a roadside diner and a pub – just couldn’t be any more dissimilar. I was amused. But anyway, on to the Spring Training 2005 road trip.

The premise is simple. For spring break, three of my friends and I are traveling around Florida. We started out on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. After driving until 4 a.m., we reached our first stop: Atlanta. We spent Saturday in Atlanta, left the fine city at 7 p.m., and arrived at the Best Value Inn on the outskirts of Orlando at around 2:45 a.m.

On Sunday, the baseball began. We drove down to Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Kissimmee, Florida, to witness the Atlanta Braves play host to half — and not really the good half – of the division-rival New York Mets.

We couldn’t really ask for better weather; it was 75 out with hardly a cloud in the sky. We sat on the lawn berm along with hundreds of other fans. We were surrounded by Mets fans although there were plenty of Braves fans on hand and quite a lot of people sporting Red Sox gear. (Cough, cough, fair-weather, cough, cough.) We also ran into the Swarthmore College women’s lacrosse team. What are the odds? We go to a school with 1500 other people, and many teams, both college and high school, train at Disney’s complex. We managed to find the one with our friends on it. It’s a small world.

While we were hanging out with our friends and just soaking up the sun after driving away from the cold northeast winter, John Smoltz’s first start since June of 2001 unfolded in front of us. Smoltz look pretty good. He threw two scoreless innings while surrounding just two hits. While he faced arguably the Mets C team with a batting order of Chris Woodward, Miguel Cairo, Cliff Floyd, Andres Galarraga, Victor Diaz, Jason Phillips, and Aaron Baldiris, Smoltz had good command and was able to keep the hitters off balance. Yet he only threw 28 pitches so it’s hardly any more than if he had been closing. It will be interesting to see how his arm strength and stamina hold up over six or seven innings.

In the end, the Braves won 8-7, but it didn’t really matter. By the time the 8th inning rolled around and Kelly Johnson drove home Brayan Peña, the winning run, off of Bobby Keppel, we weren’t seeing anyone you’ll see at the Major League level this year. But that’s not what Spring Training is about.

Spring Training is about proving your worth, and we saw plenty of that. Andres Galarraga, a venerable veteran trying to win a spot on the Mets’ roster, went 2-for-3 with a towering home run off of a very unimpressive Zach Minor. We saw excitement. Brian Jordan fell just a double – and another plate appearance – short of the cycle. And we saw prospects. Andy Marte doubled in his first at-bat of the game.

Overall, it was just a great day. We sat outside and watched live baseball for the first time since October. We got some sun and just hung out while a bunch of kids our age tried to show what they could do – hit and field – and could not do – throw many strikes. It was a true Spring Training game.

After the game, we drove down I-95 to Boynton Beach, Florida. We’ll be here until Friday. Our next game is Tuesday. We’ll be traveling north to Vero Beach to see the Los Angeles Dodgers host the Florida Marlins.

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