Friday, April 01, 2016


Spring Training Notes

Either you have booked a flight, or you are busy packing the car to take the kids south for a few rays of sunshine. For those of us who spend more than two weeks a year in the south, we hope you won't be disappointed. When you arrive south, I hope you will get a chance to see some activity at a spring training facility.

Baseball players begin to assemble in two main locations in February, Florida and Arizona. The general rule is that pitchers and catchers show up a little earlier than the rest of the players. That is not necessarily the case, as a lot of teams have facilities to host dozens of their prospects. The Minnesota Twins have schooling, residences, fine food, and plenty of coaching to give their younger prospects a head start.

                       At the fabulous fountain, Hammond Stadium.

Spring training facilities are really spectacular places to see baseball. There are usually at least half a dozen ball fields, all in superb condition. Clubhouses are enormous, as you can well imagine. There are usually 50 or so players on the Major League list, to be cut to 25 when the season opens. Then there is a group at the AAA level-the Rochester Red Wings for the Twins. They also have a Double A team in Chattanooga, and Single A teams in Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Rookie league team plays in the Appalachian League in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Finally, there is a Gulf Coast League team based out of Fort Myers.

There are a lot of steps to climb to secure a spot on the bench of a big league team. Such is the nature of professional sports, no different for any of the other sports.

Many teams come into Spring Training with their rosters virtually set for the coming year. There will be a few places to be filled on the roster, but not many. I would venture to say that Alex Rodriguez could go hitless in the spring and still be on the Yankees roster when they break camp.

Part of the fun of spring training for the fan is to try to predict which players might crack the lineup for the opening roster when the games count. Newspapers keep track of wins and losses, and they publish the results of all the games. They are completely meaningless.

Standings” are displayed daily in the newspapers for the teams playing in Florida-”The Grapefruit League”, and those in Arizona-”The Cactus League”. Occasionally, there are ties in spring games: end of nine innings, all tied up? Start the bus. Teams will also play “Split squad” games. The Yankees would be playing in Dunedin and Clearwater at the same time.

On such occasions, you might not see all of your favourite team's stars at a particular venue. Such is the case at all Spring training games. In fact, several teams this spring have been fined by Major League Baseball for not using their regular players often enough. Fans flock to the southern stadiums to see their favourite players, and leave disappointed because the team uses lesser-known talent on a particular day. It may be because of injuries, or because the managers and coaches want to have a closer look at potential players. This occurs most often when a team is on the road. The tried and true superstars will not make the trip, much to the disappointment of their fans.

On March 30th, the Blue Jays came to Fort Myers to play the Twins. Before the game, the Jays took their swats from the cage. When they took the field, this is how they lined up: Humberto Quintero, catcher; Casey Kotchman, 1b; David Adams, 2b; Andy Burns, 3b; Jio Mier, ss; Melky Mesa, lf; Roeman Fields, cf; Domonic Brown, rf; Ryan Tepera on the mound. The Jays # 72 hit some deep balls before the game, but not in the game when he was inserted in the lineup.

Major league teams will occasionally leave one facility and head to another. There are rumblings that the Toronto Blue Jays might leave Dunedin. Their spring facility holds less that 6 000 fans, and the teams like to make a little money while they prepare for the season. They have averaged 70 000 fans over the last five years for games played in Dunedin.

In contrast, Arizona has averaged 180 000 fans over that same time span. The Red Sox are in the 150 000 range, as are most of the other teams. You can do the math; the Jays are hurting slightly in this regard.

Teams draw fans to certain areas in Florida and Arizona. There are two MLB teams in Fort Myers. The Red Sox played at a fine old ball park in downtown Fort Myers for many years. Management deemed the facilities unacceptable. Local politicians got together and used a carrot to keep the Bostonians in Fort Myers-more than $ 50 000 000. The city of Fort Myers and Lee County have upgraded the Twins' ball parks to the tune of more that $ 40 000 000. It is big business.

The Toronto Blue Jays lead the standings as they head north to play the Boston Red Sox at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. They are still testing the waters to see if there is enough interest to place a Major League team, or, more likely, to move one to the city. The Jays have 17 wins and 6 losses. The Twins have played 29 games with 19 wins. If a game is rained out, it's history. If games are tied after nine innings, leave it at that. A bit of a sister kisser. These are proving grounds, and the wins and losses mean nothing.

All of the experts have decided that the Jays are going to win the American League East Division. A tough chore to say the least: Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, and the Rays have other notions.

See you at the ball park.

James Hurst

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