Archive for the 'Spring Training' Category

Spring Training 05: Tales from the Grapefruit League Game 2

Game 2
Tuesday, March 8, 2005
Florida Marlins vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Florida

It’s nearly impossible to find two stadiums that are more opposite each other than Disney’s complex in Kissimmee and Holman Stadium in Vero Beach.

After Sunday’s game in a very corporate environment, our trip to Dodgertown showed us Spring Training in its purest form. As the Marlins and the Dodgers squared off in the quaint stadium, we could see the Dodgers’ young players practicing at the nearby fields. The tiny stadium — with a paid admission of just over 2000 — is one of the oldest in the Grapefruit League. It was built to house the Spring Training trips of the Brooklyn Dodgers and has seemingly escaped any attempts of modernization from the public address system to the very simple food stands to the barebones souvenir shops.

But it was great. The weather was perfect; it was 80 degrees and sunny. The matchup was pretty good too. Last year’s World Series and ALCS hero Derek Lowe faced Brian Moehler. One man is pitching to justify a four-year, $36 million contract, and the other is trying to win a spot in the Marlins starting rotation.

Both pitchers looked sharp. Lowe threw four scoreless innings, giving up three hits and one walk while striking out three. Generally, he kept the ball down, and he has to do that to be successful. Moehler looked good against a lineup with only two Dodger starters — J.D. Drew and Hee Seop Choi. In three innings, he gave up just four hits but didn’t record a strike out.

After Lowe came out, Kaz Ishii came in. Fighting for a spot in the Dodgers rotation, Ishii was less than impressive. He didn’t allow a hit, but he walked two and couldn’t find the strike zone. Sloppy fielding led to three unearned runs. The Marlins’ runs would be all they would need as the game ended 3-0.

While the game featured mainly youngsters from two deep organizations, the Marlins had a few stand-out performances. Non-roster invitee Lew Walrond looked good. He struck out five while surrendering just one hit in three innings. Guillermo Mota closed out the game. On the Dodgers’ side, Yhency Brazoban pitched the 9th, striking out two while giving up just one hit. It was, in all regards, a game about pitching.

As for the environment, the stadium seemed like it had been plucked from 1953. The announcer plays bingo for every Dodger at-bat. Whenever someone on LA did anything at the plate, the announcer would call out a corresponding bingo number. It certainly kept the fans in the game. The stadium featured just one tier and no luxury boxes. The newest addition was an office complex built behind the right field fence, but it was hardly intrusive.

Game Two was another great day. While the Dodgers’ fielding had its rough points and the offense was nearly nonexistent, it didn’t matter. We had seats right behind third base and even spotted Tommy Lasorda during the game. Dodgertown is Spring Training as its meant to be. No obnoxious between-inning gimmicks. No corporate Disney-fied atmosphere. It was just baseball players gearing up for a great season.

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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.

Spring Training: The Promise of a Brand New Season

Baseball on TV is a glorious thing. Even if it’s a Spring Training game between the Nationals and the Mets or the Yankees and the Pirates, you can’t go wrong on a cold afternoon in the northeast watching baseball.

Every year, it’s been like that for me. When the first week in March rolls around and snow still covers the ground here, somewhere down south — in Florida, in Arizona — baseball teams are taking the field for the start of another season. And it’s great.

It’s great because no one knows what happens next. In any baseball season, anything can happen. If you told a Red Sox fan 12 months ago that Boston would be the reigning World Champions come March of 2005, this fan would probably have just signed and said, “In my dreams.? But here we are, and the Red Sox, on the way down to Florida, were treated as World Champs at the White House.

So what surprises does the 2005 season hold? I don’t know, and that’s what makes baseball great. Can the Red Sox win again after going 86 years without a World Championship? (I hope not!) Can Ichiro reach that nearly unattainable .400 plateau? How many games does it take before Barry Bonds becomes the number two home run hitter of all time? What about number one? Bonds has hit more than 53 home runs in a season before.

Who’s going to be that surprise team this year? Can the Twins finally get past the Divisional Series? Can the Cubs shake off nine decades of ghosts, miffed groundballs, fan interference, and a goat? Can the upstart Marlins led by a feared lefty slugger unseat the Braves from atop the NL East? And how about those Tigers? Or Dodgers? Or Mariners? Or Diamondbacks? The Tigers are eyeing .500 and beyond this year after nearly setting a new record for futility in 2003. The Dodgers made it to the playoffs for the first team in 10 years and have completely retooled this year. The Mariners and the D-backs are just looking to make up for subpar seasons.

And then there are the stories of personal triumph. Can Javier Vazquez shake the demons of a few rough starts in New York? Can Rich Ankiel finally come back from wildness and arm injury to fulfill his promise? Will Jason Giambi show the world that he’s better than steroids? How will David Wells fare pitching for his (former?) favorite team’s bitter rivals? And how does Pedro Martinez respond to the home town of the “Who’s your daddy?? chant.

Who will be that great fantasy pick? How about the surprise choice for rookie of the year? Will Tim Hudson win a Cy Young under Leo Mazzone and the Braves? Will Randy and Curt, two weathered veterans at the twilight of their careers, battle it out for supremacy in the AL or will age, ever just around the corner, finally catch up? And what about The Rocket?

And then there are the off-field dramas. Will Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and many other players testify in Senate? In court? Who will get caught using steroids under the new policy? Will this be the issue that drives a deep wedge between the Players Union and the owners or will both groups address the issue in a way that puts it out the minds of the fans, the media, the players?

This is what makes baseball great. Every season, every game, offers something new. New dramas, new first-time all stars, new veterans to be that clutch player, new counts, new standings. And it all begins in Spring Training. So while I sat watching some guys with high numbers and no recognizable names battle on a rainy day in Tampa, I knew that baseball had returned, and all was once again good.

For spring break this week, I am driving down to Florida with three of my friends. We’re a Yankee fan, a Red Sox fan, a Phillies fan, and a Braves fan, and we’re seeing four games this week. I’ll be writing a little something about each game. So check back regularly next week.


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