So the Eagles season is over. The Flyers or Sixers or Number 4 ranked Pitt basketball seem to be next in line for my sports concentration. So what will I write about? The Phillies of course!
I am one of the rare youths that still read the paper. When I am home I read the sports page every morning. When one of our beloved teams had a bad loss the night before, I usually don't do as much reading as harshly turning pages, shaking my head, and trying to bite on my oatmeal as hard as humanly possible before giving up the paper as a bad habit for the day. While in Pittsburgh, I go to a sleezy little news store about 4 blocks from me where they get the Inquirer. Since today was Sunday and I was bored I figured I'd walk in the 16 degree weather and quickly accumulating snow to pick up the Sunday paper. Why? Because my mom told me that there was going to be a section on Spring Training in the travel section! Ahhh Spring Training. Days of players with numbers higher than Madson's 63 taking the field and playing the positions of our beloved Utley, Rollins, and Howard. What great timing for a section on Spring Training because me and my dad recently purchased our plane tickets and made our hotel accommodations for year 3 of our annual Clearwater trip to visit the Phils.
Here are some of my favorite things about Spring Training...
-The weather. In Philly and Pittsburgh it's usually a little above freezing in mid-March. In Florida? High 60's, low 70's. I get to whip out my checkered shorts, turned-pink Phillies shirt with a Madson autograph across the front, and floppy pale blue 1977 Phillies hat, and a tube of sunscreen (or as my dad calls it "sun cream"). What's better than getting that first sweat in your old disgusting hat and way-too-worn-in shirt? I'll tell ya what...
-Autographs. The players love to sign in Spring Training. Maybe it's because they forgot the taste of what it's like to stand on a baseball diamond while people scream their names repetitively. Maybe it's because they feel like they owe something to the fans who came all the way down to Florida to see their favorite team. Whatever the reason, they sign. And my friends, I will freely admit that I am an autograph hound. I don't care who is signing - I am getting their signature. The starters usually leave the game in the 4th or 5th inning and tend to leave the dugout. When they leave in the middle of an inning they will sign on the 3rd base line for a few minutes. It's pretty cool to see them do that in the middle of a game. After the game I will stand at their gated parking lot while the players come out. I get my program signed by players like T.J. Bohn, Brian Mazone, John Suomi and other hopefuls. Don't know who they are? Me either! But I have their autograph long before anyone else and long before they become remotely relevant. One of my favorite autographs was when bench coach Jimmy Williams signed and my dad decided that he is indeed drunk every game. He said that no one's nose can always be that red.
-The Berm. This is the outfield seating. For 11 bucks, bring a beach towell, or a lawn chair and sit on the grass where outfield seats usually are. It's like a picnic at a baseball game. Me and my dad's greatest experience on the berm was during the Yankees batting practice. A father seemingly from the Bronx decided to treat his entire family to a Yankees-Phillies game. Now when I say entire family, I mean that this guy had about 11 kids. And boy did he have a system of keeping them in line. It was pretty amazing to watch actually. He would shout, "Hey who wants some chickin fingas and who wants a haat dog?" When all the kids started screaming he would go "ok if ya want a haat dog get in a line ova hea, and if you want chickin fingas get in a line ova hea." And without hesitation the kids formed into their respective lines. This worked for every type of option at a baseball game. When some kids wanted to go to the fast pitch, that's how it worked. On a side note, one of his kids asked a Phillies relief pitcher for a baseball. When the pitcher threw one up, the father said "we don't want no Phillies baseball. What do we want?" And the kid replied "a Yankees baseball!" This man sure taught his kids.
- Time for a new Brett Myers tattoo. What do you do when as a starting pitcher, you only start one out of every 7 games or so and don't really go past the first 4 innings? In Brett Myers' case, you get a new tattoo. Check out this quick article about Brett's tattoo from last spring (scroll over "quick article). It's around the bottom of the short blurb. This is why I love Brett Myers - he brings a touch of everything to the team.
- Other stadiums. The great thing about catching these Spring Training games is that you can go to the road games with ease. All the stadiums are in Florida and the farthest you'd have to travel is two hours give or take. We drove a little over an hour to see the Phillies take on the Reds at Ed Smith Stadium. Completely worth it. You feel like you're watching baseball in the 60's. It's as close as you can get. Ed Smith isn't a new feel kind of ballpark like the Phillies home away from home Bright House Networks Field, it's a small old fashioned place to watch a game. Ed smith boasts 3 bathrooms, 3 concession stands, 2 ticket booths, and seats 7,500. If you are going this year try to get there - this is the Reds last year at Ed Smith before moving to Arizona for 2010. I also saw a Tigers-Twins game in '07 at the Tigers Joker Marchant Stadium. Another small beauty recently redone. Bottom line, go to some away games, even if the Phils aren't playing.
Ed Smith Stadium - Reds
-Old People. There is no greater truth in Florida than the fact that it is inhabited by 99% old people. Spring Training must be the only time they get people under the age of 60 to come to the state. Old People are everywhere. They are at every game sitting in front, next to, and behind you. And not only are they there - they know what they are doing. I sat next to a lady who must have been at least 75 keeping score of the entire game last year - much harder than keeping score at a Major League game. There are substitutions every inning with unheard of players and many more errors because of the lack of professionals playing every inning. The fact that this little old lady was able to sit through an entire three-hour-long ballgame and keep score made me think that she was a better person. Why? I really don't know. Experience it for yourself.
Old people love baseball
-More Old People. Not only do Old People attend every game. Theywork at every game too. The people who work the aisles are Old People. The ticket takers are Old People. The man who makes sure there are not too many people in the concessions store, you guessed it an Old People, er Person. If there is any place to move when you are older, it is Florida. At least for March. You can get a job at baseball games! Talk about a dream job for a retired Old Person.
-Once again, getting to watch obscure minor leaguers play the second half of the games. Last year at the away Phillies games versus the Reds, we listened to a group of 20 something-year-olds shout, "give 'em the Boner!" whenever T.J. Bohn came up. One of them even had a four-year-old son shouting it. When a mother behind them looked at her daughter (probably around 20 with a dark tan and a tongue ring) and hit one of the guys on the back, telling them to stop it. She was so fearful that her daughter had never heard such utterances! I can go so many places with this but I'll let you use your imagination. If you think of anything funny enough, put it in the comments!
-Where the Hell Am I? Clearwater? Sweet little town. Normal people. But when you are driving to these other ballparks and restaurants, you realize that Florida isn't just South Beach, its south. There are stores you have never heard of, trailer parks on the side of the road, random fishing shops, and lots of motorcycles. Florida is beautiful, but people don't seem to realize that it is a different lifestyle down there. It's not just partying in Miami and hanging out on the beach, they were part of the Confederacy. Blows my mind.
If you can get to Clearwater for Spring Training, DO IT. There are only so many more spring breaks college students have before you get a job and only have that extra day off for Easter. So book a flight and stay at a sleezy motel if need be.
18 days until pitchers and catchers report. And 47 days until I do.