Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Spring Training Voyage Part Three

On my journey through the Grapefruit League, we already touched on game one here, and game two here. Below is part three:

March 18
Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays
Dunedin Field, Dunedin, Florida

After scrounging up tickets for this afternoon’s game, we found out why the game was sold out to begin with. If Steinbrenner Field is the Yankees’ version of a Spring Training home, Dunedin Field would be the bullpen. The Blue Jays spring home could hold no more than 6000 folks, if that. Needless to say, our tickets, in the “upper deck” were probably closer to the field than our seats at the first Yankees game. To finish the analogy of Toronto being quite a bit minor league compared to our previous host, Dunedin had their own in-game announcer to keep the crowd engaged and to give away stuff. But we were not discouraged. Cole Hamels would be on the mound for the Phillies and Jose Bautista would be in the lineup for the Jays. There would be no Brett Lawrie today but instead, at third base for the Jays, we got to see the ageless, glove wonder, Omar Vizquel. The crowd loved Vizquel partly because he is easy to root for and partly because the Dunedin crowd’s mean age was pushing 70.

In the bottom of the first inning, Jose Bautista’s first at-bat of the ballgame, he was fooled by a Hamels’ pitch and launched his bat into the stands and down one of the spectator tunnels. (I told you the field was small.) On the second pitch of the same at-bat, Bautista ignited an inside pitch deep and way foul onto a practice field next door where, for some odd reason, someone had parked a car. As the ball was approaching the car, the crowd began to rumble. It ended up missing the vehicle but I think the reaction would have been louder for that connection than if Bautista had hit a home run. And we got our control variable later in the game as Joey Bats did indeed mash a huge home run to left center. P.S. the crowd loved it.

The Phillies got beat up pretty good in the game, leading even more to everyone’s desire to mark the Blue Jays as a sleeper pick this season, with the extra wild card spot available. Toronto put up a couple crooked numbers, in the third, fourth and sixth innings on their way to victory. The batting hero of the game was, in Spring Training fashion, catcher Yan Gomes. He went 3-3 on the afternoon with two doubles and three RBIs. We also got a glimpse of one of Toronto’s new closer options, veteran reliever Francisco Cordero.

After the contest, the story, other than Jose Bautista’s at-bats, ended up being the stadium itself. So quaint and tiny, Dunedin Field is the epitome of Spring Training baseball: where you go to see the best players in the world, the Major Leaguers, play in little town parks and get closer to the action than you ever could during the regular season. I mean the Jays’ park was so backwoodsish, they didn’t even have a recording of Take Me Out to the Ballgame playing during the seventh inning stretch. 

Tune in for the conclusion of my Spring Training trip coming soon...

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