Fort Myers, Fl — Yesterday, nbjays wrote that his bucket list is a Spring Training Tour of either Florida or Arizona. Apparently, I am touching upon the zeitgeist.
As a child, Spring Training was my dream vacation. Not Disney World, not Hawaii, not Paris. Spring Training. I was an odd little girl. Going to see my New York Mets in spring training was it. It seemed liked this magical Shangri-la, where fans could interact with their favorite baseball players against a palm tree backdrop. I could meet Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, and Darryl Strawberry! I subscribed to the Daily News for the sports section with my allowance, and in the Sunday paper, I would check for the coupons in the winter. You see, I forget the company, but one would always run a promotion: “Win a Trip to See Your Favorite Team in Spring Training.” I would zealously fill out 3×5 cards to enter more submissions every year like their rules said. I never won, of course, and I never got to go.
Now, I get to live that dream every single spring. My team allegiances may have changed from the Mets to the Tampa Bay Rays, but my passion for the game has not.
Every year, I cross a new facility off my list. Yesterday was Jet Blue Park’s turn, also known as Mini-Fenway, the spring home of the Boston Red Sox. The facility is located in Fort Myers, Florida, about a two hour drive south of my home in Clearwater, Florida. The weather was absolutely perfect, if 70 degrees, low humidity, and sunny is your sort of thing.
The park is very new, built in 2011. The roof is white, slanted, and canopy style, giving it a distinct Florida feel. It is a very useful feature, I realized later, for keeping the sun and foul balls from our heads. Right outside of the park, they have a monument park with retired numbers, including Jackie Robinson’s. I loved that. I had never seen that at a spring training facility before.
They also had a statue of Ted Williams playfully touching a young boy’s baseball cap. I liked that too.
As soon as you walk inside, surrounding the stadium, there were tents full of food, craft beers, and even a live band playing. The smell of food was intoxicating. This is not the normal spring training experience. It felt like a carnival. They were playing The Outfield’s “Your Love” as I explored the tents. I sang along–I love that song. I complimented the beer lady on the park. “This place is absolutely gorgeous.”
A few Red Sox fans razzed my Rays gear. One of them was wearing a pink Boston hat. I smiled at her and bit my tongue before I said, “Whatever, Pink Hat.” It’s Spring Training. Be nice. I complimented her on her lovely Rays blue colored shirt. She looked confused.
We arrived early to see batting practice, but apparently, since the Rays won 10-3 the day before, Kevin Cash didn’t think the Rays needed batting practice, I suppose. Still we got there early enough to see Chris Archer warm up. Besides at Tropicana Field, this is the closest I have ever been to a pitcher warming up. IT WAS AWESOME!!! Enjoy.
Standing next to me is another uber-fan I’ve never met before. She apparently sells “Got Stripes” t-shirts to benefit Chris Archer’s Archway Foundation. He does a lot for youth organizations, not only in the Tampa Bay area, but pretty much every major league city he visits. One day, she saw his friend and mentor Ron Walker wearing one of his shirts. She had no idea how he got one. She and I start talking baseball. Baseball–bringing people together. I gave her Twitter account (@) a follow and told her I would buy her tank top, and I will. We’ve been messaging each other this morning. Very cool baseball chick.
I bought tickets 12 rows behind the Rays dugout off of Stubhub for $35. Not too bad. I don’t do this every day. JetBlue Park has some very cool features, one of which is an exact replica of Fenway’s Green Monster. The dimensions of the park are identical. No Pesky Pole though. I looked. The scoreboard is also manual, just like Fenway’s. Someone comes out with a ladder and updates everything manually. You can see in the ENEOS Motor Oil advertising where the door is. My seats afforded me a perfect look:
That was pretty freaking cool. Here is a close-up of the scoreboard:
As for the game itself, Archer looked sharp against the Red Sox’s “A line-up”, with the change-up already looking like it is in season form. He didn’t pitch long, of course. The Rays had a slim lead most of the game but lost eventually, 7-2; it was basically Pawtucket beating Durham. It was the later innings when the regulars were out when they faltered. This is the point in Spring Training when you can’t put too much stake in the results. It’s basically a lot of white noise. You go for the ambiance and camaraderie. For example, the older gentleman sitting next to me was a Yankees fan visiting from Connecticut. He asked me about the Rays stadium situation. He’s an expert on the situation now. He may have regretted asking the question.
A few game notes: Pablo Sandoval looked big as a cow, but the man can move. He was agile and his reflexes were fast. He ran down that first base line with a speed that I could not believe for a man his size. He reached first on a Longoria error, and he hustled fast. He also moved laterally well. Of course, that also made me wonder, if he did lose just a bit of girth, how much faster could he be? There was another time when he needed to leap just a tiny bit in the air for a ball, and he couldn’t, presumably because of his size. It cost his team a hit.
Hanley looked like shit playing first and made a costly error at first. That’s going to be an interesting experiment. It looks to me like the Red Sox may have three DHs at the moment.
The only mildly sour spot: yes, they played Sweet Fackin’ Caroline. These people. I survived.
Right now, the song going through my head is S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M.’s Lovely Day. It was a lovely day. The beer even tasted colder and better yesterday.
Today, I visit the Twin’s spring training facility, Century Link Sports Complex, also in Fort Myers, for the first time. Orioles v. Twins, this time, bern seating. I can’t wait.