Monday, January 17, 2011


Baseball's Grapefruit League

They are gearing up for the baseball season in South West Florida, affectionately known as the Grapefruit League
Mind you, the players will not show up for about a month. Pitchers and catchers first, thank you, followed by the rest of the gang about a week later.
Preparations are well under way for the 2011 baseball season, at least the Spring Training aspect of the adventure. Tickets have been printed, locker rooms are cleaned and ready to go.
Fans lined up for hours a couple of weeks ago in Fort Myers to buy a chance to see their beloved Red Sox before they head north to Boston for the summer.
Naples resident Mark Griffiths was rewarded for his patience. At 10:00am on Saturday morning, they sold him the first tickets for the pre-season games. He was almost giddy as he raised his eight tickets in the air to signify the gates had opened.
He told me that he had been in line for eighty-four hours, having taken his position the previous Wednesday. We showed up at 9:15am, expecting to move into serious contention for reasonable seats.
“The first thing I am going to do is go home and have a hot shower,” he told me after carefully pocketing the tickets. He had snapped up Row 1, Seats 4, 5,6, and 7 for the game against the Yankees. That left me to wonder who got seats 1 and 2.
We were positioned down the street and around the corner at City of Palms Park, the site of Red sox baseball in the spring for the last twenty-five years. Time marches on, and the powers-that-be have decided to build a new stadium, with more luxury boxes to accommodate the Bostonians next spring. By the time we had reached the corner, with another hundred yards to go, it was time for lunch.
By late evening, almost three thousand tickets had been sold through the windows of the stadium. Another 25 000 had been sold online and by phone. Team sources indicated that ticket sales were the highest in six years. In 2007, more than 30 000 tickets were sold on the first day.
Griffiths did not hesitate when I asked him to name his favourite player. “Big Papi,” he beamed. “And I got tickets to see him on St. Patrick’s Day.”
The Minnesota Twins also warm up for the season in Fort Myers. They play their exhibition games at Hammond Stadium, and begin with three games against the Sox, two at the end of February and one on the First of March.
The Red Sox will play the rest of their games at a variety of venues in Florida: Tampa, Sarasota, Port St. Lucie, Jupiter, Port Charlotte, Bradenton, Clearwater, and Dunedin. They conclude with a game against Houston in Texas.
We managed to score tickets for games against the Orioles, the Phillies, and the Blue Jays in late March. I am embarrassed to say that it took me five minutes to get those tickets by phone, after waiting in line for more than two hours.
Team representatives distributed photographs of Wally, the team mascot, and Jonathan Papelbon, the fire-balling reliever. Papelbon has elected to involve himself in the arbitration process this spring, but will take the mound this summer when required.
Thomas Edison wintered here, beginning in the early part of the twentieth century. He had 120 palms transplanted from Cuba to line the main thoroughfare in Fort Myers. Since then, many other palm trees have taken root here: hence the city’s moniker “The City of Palms”.
A first class place to take in the great game of baseball, and yes, catch a few rays at the same time!

James Hurst

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