Monday, March 16, 2015


The Old Ball Game-Spring Training

The Old Ball Game-Spring Training

                                              Michael Murray and James Hurst

About a week ago, I received a phone call from Michael Murray, a Picton resident, and a recent transplant from Ottawa. He wondered whether or not I would like to accompany him to a Spring Training game in Fort Myers. I told him that he did not have to ask twice. We had met at a Florida Everblades game, and discovered we had a common interest-sports.

He has been involved in sports all of his life, from the national level down to the minor leagues. He worked for Hockey Canada, and knew a lot of the folks around the Quinte Sports Centre. The national junior hockey team used the Olympic ice surface on occasion to prepare for international competitions. He spent time with the Canadian Football League, in administration. He was a strong supporter of the Ottawa Lynx, during their baseball days in Ottawa.

I have attended thousands of baseball games over the years, from the first game in 1954 at Yankee Stadium. Never have I ever caught a ball in the stands, nor sat beside anyone who managed to snag a ball. That changed at the game I attended with Michael. A foul ball soared over our heads, hit the wall behind the seats, ricocheted off a couple of fans and landed cleanly in his palm. For a moment I experienced a pang of jealousy. But just for a moment.

                                  Always surprise at Spring Training Games: Nice Clouds!

Spring Training is in full swing here in South West Florida. Pitchers and catchers always arrive a little early, and the other players follow suit about two weeks later. I spent a chilly morning at the Twins complex in late February. I watched Mark Hamburger as he threw hard for about 15 minutes, then headed out to field ground balls. I asked him about being there in chilly conditions. “Sir,” he told me, “If I was unhappy with these conditions, I’d be a fool. It is great to be here, and great to be able to play this game.” Hamburger has been around for some time, and has worn a few different hats. He is hoping to catch on with the Twins this year.

                                             Mark Hamburger, at the Twins facility

Hamburger is a local guy for the Twins, He was born in St. Paul, and signed with the Twins in 2007. He was with the Rangers last year, and hopes to catch on with Minnesota this year. Thus far, he has logged three innings in relief, chalking up four strikeouts and has two saves.

But that is what Spring Training is all about. There are thousands of athletes at these camps, working to find a spot on a major league roster. Those that are close will start the season in “AAA” ball, and there is a variety of leagues below that level. The Twins maintain a facility in Fort Myers that is used throughout the year, and they have a minor league team that plays at Hammond Stadium, the Miracle. The stadium has undergone significant changes this last year, and is a beautiful place to idle away a warm spring day enjoying the great game of baseball. Former Blue Jay Paul Molitor is at the helm. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, and has been involved in the game forever.

                                                                 Peanuts, naturally.

The Red Sox play near the airport, and my recommendation is to head out there at 10:00am for the game. It will likely take you an hour to get situated, because of the traffic. But once inside Jet Blue Park, you are in for a treat. The scoreboard and the Green Monster were positioned here after renovations at Fenway. There are plenty of places to whet your whistle, or to grab a ballpark snack. Naturally, the food choices are somewhat typical of the south, with crab shack delicacies, and lobster rolls-to suit the Maine palate.

Murray even had two additional balls that he had scooped up with his glove along the first base line during batting practice. I asked him where he was stationed, precisely. He gave me that look that you’d get if you asked a fisherman about his secret locations.

On this particular occasion, I was asked by someone to “take me out to the ball game”.  For me, that is simply a rhetorical question.

James Hurst
March 16, 2015

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