Spring Training Extravaganza: Day 1

I actually arrived in Lakeland Tuesday afternoon, but with only a few hours of sleep Monday night before the flight out and a couple of fantasy baseball auctions to get through, I pretty much just stuck around the hotel and relaxed save a pre-trip to Joker Marchant Stadium just so I’d be acclimated with the area. My plan was to wake up super early on Wednesday, eat the free breakfast downstairs at my hotel and then head to the ballyard. That didn’t quite happen. It turns out I was really tired! It was a 1:05 start against the Los Angeles Dodgers so even waking up at 10:45 AM left me plenty of time, but I was aiming to catch batting practice and snag a few autographs.

After showering and grabbing something to snack on from 7-11, I made the five minute drive to the stadium at around 11:45 or so. I arrived in my seat shortly thereafter and was extremely impressed with the view. I was hugged up against the Tigers dugout about six rows up from first base. I knew had picked “Best Available” on the web when there were plenty of seats left, but I was still pleasantly surprised and overwhelmingly happy with what I got. I got there in time to catch the back half of Dodgers’ batting practice. The part where guys like Tony Abreu and Larry Bigbie are hitting. However, I was also able to watch Andy LaRoche take some cuts and he was raking, including two moonshots to left.

The game was broadcast on FSN Detroit meaning announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen were on hand. I remember that when I first started subscribing to MLB.tv to watch the games, I absolutely hated the pair. I’m not 100% why, but I just really didn’t care for them. They have since grown on me to the point that I quite enjoy them now. I guess the adage is true: Winning does cure all! I snapped the pic below when they came to do their on-field opening. Shortly after their appearance, many of the players began to filter into the dugout and stopped along the way to sign autographs for those seated near the dugout. For whatever reason, the geriatric manning our particular section had a “Kids Only” policy and wasn’t allowing others to filter down there even though there wasn’t an overwhelming group seeking signatures. I was two rows higher than his blockade which left me out in the cold and severely miffed. I can understand wanting the kids to have access to their favorite ballplayers, but to make it exclusively for them? Get outta here with that crap, grandpa!!

FSN Detroit’s finest:

I was happy to see Gary Sheffield endearing himself to the fans by taking as much time as anyone else, and maybe even the most, to sign memorabilia. I loved the move the day it happened and continue to become more and more comfortable with it when I see things like this, however small they may be. I also liked what I saw three innings later when Sheff clocked his team-high fourth Spring Training home run into the left field Bermuda. His blast gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead, and could’ve led to a 4-0 lead had backup catcher Dane Sardinha not been gunned down at the plate by about 50 feet on the play before. Obviously, the pitch sequence might’ve played out differently, but I bring it up more to call into question the motive of 3rd base coach Gene Lamont. In fact, it was one of two flubs on the basepaths that kept the Tigers from having a really big inning against Derek Lowe. Carlos Guillen was pegged down at third trying to stretch his hit into a triple. Without the benefit of replay, I cannot tell if it was Lamont’s aggression or Sardinha’s lack of speed of Guillen’s poor decision that led to the two outs.

Celebrating #4 for Sheffield

Back to Lowe for a second, I was surprised to see him hitting 90+ on the gun several times. Maybe I just didn’t realize that he threw that hard or maybe he hasn’t until this year, either way, I was caught off guard. The Tigers weren’t though; they knocked him for seven hits in four innings of work.

Guillen’s next error was in the field and it led to the Dodgers tying the game as he misplayed a routine groundball that would have ended the inning. Starter Nate Robertson went through three innings unscathed, but the fourth inning was filled with seeing-eye singles and bleeders only to be capped off with Guillen’s error allowing the Dodgers to tie it at three. The game remained that way for the duration ending in a 3-3 tie as both bullpens locked one another down. Los Angeles’ pen amassed nine more strikeouts in addition to Lowe’s four giving the Tigers a total of 13 showing that 2006’s bugaboo might still loom large. It should be noted that only four of the strikeouts were by regulars: Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames and Ivan Rodriguez (2).

Speaking of Thames, he looked great at first base. In order for Jim Leyland to find him 400+ ABs, Thames was going to have to learn first so he can give Sean Casey a rest from time to time. Unlike the Sheffield experiment that the Yankees pulled in the playoffs, Thames was quite adept in his positioning, his picks and holding the runner. I’m a huge Marcus Thames fan, so anything that gets him more time in the lineup is a plus in my book, but I’m even happier that it appears as though he won’t be a defensive liability while out there.

One of the funnier moments at the game came late when Neifi Perez predictably failed at the plate and in the midst of pin-drop silence a fan yelled: “You suck, Perez!!!” Too true, too true. Meanwhile, my happiest moment of the day’s events was when Curtis Granderson was lifted from the game and headed to the locker room. He took a moment for the fans in a small area between the stands and the locker room and I was able to snag his autograph on my program. Instead of telling him that I sponsor his Baseball-Reference.com site, I asked this doozy, “Is that really you on your MySpace page?” I guess I’m a 14-year old girl or something… jeez. For the record, it is.

No need for zoom when you’re this close

It turns out that I was part of history in my first ever Spring Training game. The 5,972 people in attendance helped to break the attendance record for the Tigers in Lakeland previously set in 1979. The guy next to me said it was 1989, but he couldn’t hear me when I was shouting into his ear, so I don’t trust him. I’m going to go with the ’79 that I heard.

I left the game with the beginnings of a fully expected sunburn. My nose got the brunt of it given the absence of a hat. For whatever reason, it’s really splotchy on my arms so it looks like I have some sort of skin disease. Hopefully it evens out Thursday and Friday. I got back to my hotel room and starting poking around the internet. I decided to see what games hadn’t been played in Grapefruit League action. Once I saw that the Yankees were hosting the Houston Astros at Legend’s Field, I decided that I must go. I knew that Tampa Bay/St. Pete’s wasn’t too far away having flown into Tampa, but I wasn’t sure how things would play out at 5:00 with traffic and all. I needed to be better prepared for autographs for the next two games here in Lakeland, so I decided that if things looked fine on the highway as I went to Target to pick up some things, then I’d head out to Tampa. The roads were damn near empty and so after picking up my Sharpie and some cards for signing, I jumped back on I-4 and headed to Tampa.

The only real traffic I hit was in Tampa itself after getting onto I-275 South, but I only had to be on that highway for two and a half miles! After driving in Austin traffic, this was a cakewalk. I knew that Yankees’ Spring Training was popular, so I wasn’t realistically expecting to walk up to the box office to snag a ticket, but I knew scalpers would be on hand. The first two guys I saw were on the side of the road a mile or two from the yard. I decided to see what they were offering to get a gauge of what I’d need to get in. I didn’t budget for this trip, so I wasn’t going to pay through the nose. The guy who greeted me was a slightly thinner version of Michael Moore so I immediately distrusted him. He didn’t have a single ticket, so he called for The Greasy Worm working someone a few yards away. When TGW gets over to us, he and Michael Moore have the following exchange:

MM: He needs a single
TGW: Oh great, I have that box seat. How much… wait… did you tell him how much?
MM: No, no…
TGW (to me): Hey man, listen. As you know, the Yankees are very popular and they have a lot of season ticket holders and they generally sell out, but I have a box seat here for you. I can let it go for a hundred.
Me: A hundred what?
TGW: A hundred bucks man!
Me: Umm… well I have $20.

He proceeds to give me directions to an ATM. I guess he thought I was actually going to pay $100 not only for a Spring Training game, but for a Spring Training game at the home of a team I hate! I pulled away and called my sister. She’s generally a solid voice of reason to turn to when in need. No, I wasn’t going to ask her if I should pay $100, but instead I asked her if she thought I should just peace out and forget about this. We came to the conclusion that I should park somewhere relatively cheap, take a walk around and see if I can’t get in for $20-30.

After paying $10 for parking (and that was cheap for Legend’s Field!), I decided that I really didn’t want to pay any more than $20 for this game. It had already started and again, I hate the Yankees! The first guy I saw had a single and met my $20 requirement, so I was in. The ticket’s face value was $17, so I was more than fine with paying a $3 surcharge. The Yankees already had a 1-0 lead on a Bobby Abreu single by the time I reached my upper level seat.

While Legend’s Field is most certainly nice, I prefer the more intimate Spring Training atmosphere found at Joker Marchant earlier in the day when I saw the Tigers. Legend’s looks more like a Triple-A ballpark like Dell Diamond, home of the Round Rock Express. Again, it’s beautiful and the Single-A Tampa Yankees are easily playing in the fanciest park, but I was hoping for the closer environment again. Still, I’m really glad I went. I ended up next to two cool guys in their late 20s that lived in Florida. The one was wearing a Tigers hat and the other a Cardinals shirt. This was their 11th Spring Training game of the season. Being from Florida, they bounced around catching games here and there. They both agreed that Philadelphia’s Clearwater home was the best of the bunch.

Darrell Rasner was ripped by the Astros to the tune of nine hits and seven runs in just over four innings and Ron Villone was no better in relief. The Astros held a commanding 10-2 lead after five. Luke Scott tattooed a Rasner offering parking it into the right field trees and Chris Burke went 2-for-5 with a double and triple. Imagine if Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee had played!! There were two foul balls in the section next to us, but nothing headed our way all night. Both foul balls were caught with the face of an elderly gentleman looking to barehand the ball. How the second guy didn’t learn from the first, I’ll never know.

One of the guys I met, Wes, knew a young lady in attendance with much better seats than us. In fact, she was in our section, but in row AA. We were in row J. They were her company seats, so once her co-workers left she invited us down for the remaining inning and a half. Here’s a look at the disparity between the two seats:

What I paid for

Where I ended up

I couldn’t have asked for a better first day and I know things will only get better as I’ll be at the park earlier tomorrow and more prepared should I run into Mr. Granderson again.

One final note: I subjected my eyes to this drek tonight and almost died laughing. Homerism aside, how this clown ranks Minnesota above Detroit is beyond me. They have ONE starter!! He is an absolute super-stud, but even still he can only pitch every fifth day. Right there, these pathetic rankings lost all of their credibility. Of course, even before C.C. Sabathia’s injury today, I’m not sure the Cleveland Indians have even arms to merit the #2 ranking. Not only does this guy spell his name D-a-y-n, but he is wildly uneducated in the study of baseball. The Twins third, HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Let’s Play Two

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