Posts Tagged ‘spring training’

The Joy of Baseball in Spring

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Well, the baseball season has opened, and already on Thursday the Mets (the team I root for) were behind by two games in the NL East standings. The Yankees were playing .500 ball and were tied for first place in the AL East with Tampa Bay and Toronto. It seems a good time to reflect on my recent baseball experience.

I’ve always wanted to attend spring training, but this was the first year I managed it. I would have gone to Port St. Lucie, where the Mets train, but I have a sister in the Clearwater/Tampa/St. Pete area, and I wanted to see her, too. My sister’s condo turned out to be five minutes from the Phillies training site in Clearwater, and I saw two games there, one against the Braves and one with the Yankees. I also drove five miles to Dunedin to see the Toronto Blue Jays camp, and watched them play the Tampa Bay Rays.

The thing I realized about spring training is that it doesn’t matter who wins.

Nobody really cares. Not the players, not the managers, not even the spectators. Tie games are usually ended after nine innings. And when you take away the tension about who’s ahead, something else emerges. It’s a relaxed camaraderie in the stands. More attention is paid to the sparkling plays – the incredible catches against the wall, the diving catches in the infield, the home run hit over the wall and onto the berm where young children are picnicking with their parents.

There is the smell of buttered popcorn and beer and hotdogs. There is a certain background crowd noise at a baseball stadium that I haven’t heard elsewhere. It’s kind of a steady hum, a soothing “white noise.” And the vast stretches of green, now Astro Turf even in Florida, and speaking, “summer, summer, summer.” It was March but in Florida it was already summer. Spring training is quintessential summer.

I saw a few things I’d never seen before. For example, just as at big league ballparks, the walls of the stadium are padded panels that players can bang against without hurting themselves too much. In one game, a batter hit the ball sharply to the wall, and it disappeared. Nobody could figure out what happened. The two closest fielders were scratching their heads and there was muttering in the stands. It turned out the ball found a path between the panels, never to be recovered. They played it as a ground-rule double.

I loved the Phillie Phanatic and wished the Mets had a decent mascot. The Fanatic goes around the field and stirs up the fans with his dancing and good-natured taunting of the opposition players. Mets fans and Phillies fans generally don’t like each other, and it was instructive to sit with a bunch of folks from Philadelphia and see how their feelings about baseball were just like mine.

I liked the experience of seeing a game with a Canadian team in Florida. At the stadium in Dunedin, they sang “O Canada” at the start of the game. The vendors ply you with Labatt instead of Bud. The crowds were full of folks from Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver, all willing to tell you their winter stories.

I would happily replace the regular season with six months of spring training. Nobody talked about drugs or salaries or trades or whether the franchise will survive.

It was just a game. As Roger Angell said, “The Summer Game.”