Friday, March 23, 2012

My Spring Training Voyage Part One

My Spring Training Voyage:
The Grapefruit League Edition


It started as a simple idea, floated into the ether out of the mouth of my father. “Let’s go to Spring Training this season.” I am paraphrasing of course, as the literal vocabulary is neither memorable nor important. It was the proposal that mattered. So out of the blue the thought came that I at first assumed this was impossible. There was not enough time to plan such a venture. This was, after all, just a few weeks from now. We both were healthily employed, albeit in circumstances easily maneuverable to act on such an endeavor. After my initial hesitation, paraphrasing myself now, I said something along the lines of, “Okay.”

The plan was in motion. I would fly in to Tampa Airport on Thursday night, the 15th of March. Spring Training would be in full bloom by now but it would feel like the very start of it for us, neither man having ventured into the world of Grapefruit League action before. We would see five games in four days, culminating with a return flight home on Monday night, March 19th.

March 16
Washington Nationals at New York Yankees
George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, Florida

Walking in to George M. Steinbrenner Field, the home away from home of the fabled New York Yankees, it is hard not to see the correlation. Having a professional vibe in an amateur setting is not easy to pull off. Yet, a Yankees’ Spring Training site cannot be second class. The seating is limited but the façade is here; the concession prices are in line and the unmistakable air of superiority flows through the fences as if George himself were sitting up in the press box.

With Spring Training games though, as with any exhibition, you never know what type of team you will see. Not everyone is going to suit up; this is a given. Brett Gardner was seen taking some swings on the practice field next door, leaving the strong implication that he would not see any game time this afternoon. In regards to Gardner, the Yankees’ punch-less leadoff man, a player with 15 career home runs to his name, he sure was ripping the ball in batting practice. Not to say that this should be a surprise. He is a Major League ballplayer after all. And yet, it was still surprising to see a man of Gardner’s known skills tearing frozen ropes to the fences. It was equally as perplexing to see that same man, perhaps the 20th most popular current Yankee, have a line of seemingly sane adults line up at the field edge to get his autograph and picture. But to each his own.

So knowing the roster may be Spring-ish, we were crossing our fingers for a Yankees lineup that resembled anything close to what April would deliver. In fine fashion, the baseball gods complied. Granderson would start, as would Robbie Cano and Alex Rodriguez. Teixeira would bat cleanup, followed by some notable bench players in Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez and Francisco Cervelli. Throwing in starting shortstop Doug Berneir, a man no one outside of the Berneir family was familiar with, was just the exception that tied the lineup together. It couldn’t be perfect and we knew that going in. On the other side, it was exciting to see what the Washington Nationals would serve us. Really the other eight batters were irrelevant as long as Mr. Bryce Harper had his knee-highs on. Being the number one prospect in the world yet not being of legal drinking age and destined to start the year in the minors, Bryce Harper is the future of the Nats. He, along with Stephen Strasburg, makes the future Nationals one of the more compelling teams to follow.

As we took our seats, fortunately in some shade, Washington was taking batting practice and the afternoon’s starting pitchers were making their way onto the field for some light running. On the visitor’s side, new Nat Gio Gonzalez would be manning the rubber, an exciting option if Strasburg was not to start. And in pinstripes, the man on the mound would be one CC Sabathia. Listed at 6’7”, 290 pounds in the game program, CC came out looking rather svelte if I do say so myself. Add him to the list of players coming into Spring Training “in the best shape they’ve ever been in.”

The game progressed as many other games have, with starters struggling out of the gate. This specific game continued as only a Spring Training game could though. Nearly every batter took three hacks and made way for a replacement somewhere in the middle innings. Each starter was yanked just as unceremoniously. The swapping became so hurried that, to start the 6th inning, Curtis Granderson ran out to center field only to find Justin Maxwell already there. Curtis had been taken out of the game, only it seemed no one had told him about it. We also had another Melky sighting. Yankee fans will remember Melky Cabrera fondly from past seasons, as The Melk Man always delivered! Now, there is another Melky in Yankee pinstripes this season: Melky Mesa. I can safely say I never expected there to be two separate sets of parents to name their child that, but one can never predict the wayward feelings of people who have just brought a living creature into the world…or something.

The end of Game One came. Bryce Harper played and managed nothing of note; A-Rod cranked a huge home run over the left field fence in the bottom of the fifth; and the star of the game was none other than Nats’ third baseman Steve Lambardozzi! The young infielder went 3-3 with a home run, 2 runs scored and a nice glove stab on the defensive side of things as well. We would be back to Steinbrenner Field tomorrow to continue our journey.

To Be Continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment