Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Spring Training Photo Essay - Part One

For the second consecutive March, I took a trip down to Florida to see some Spring Training baseball. The area: Tampa/St. Pete. The weather: iffy. The baseball: awesome. With the 2013 regular season about to throw its first pitch, let's take a photographic look through some of my Spring Training moments.

Okay, so the weather wasn't perfect. On the way to Game One in Clearwater, FL to see the Philadelphia Phillies host the Toronto Bluejays, it was a bit cloudy, and more than a bit chilly. Temperature at first pitch in the 40s. Yes, that's degrees. Yes, that's Fahrenheit.

Alright! We made it!

People were bundled up, and rightly so. We were going to see only the truest baseball fans this afternoon. (More on that in a second.)

Yeesh. Time it took me to regret not packing a winter hat: six minutes.

But even in the unpleasant temperatures, Bright House Field has a way of seeming pleasant all the same. After all, we were sitting down the third base line, two rows from the field, to watch some of the best players in the world do their thing.

Little did we know, we were also going to watch a lot of this: grown men and women climbing over each other to get a piece of material written on by another adult, most likely younger than they are.

Cole Hamels was a big draw. Guys lined up with bags of balls, one for each player who passed by. The man sitting next to us had a terrible time of things with a signed Mike Schmidt bat. Apparently the autograph did not come out pure. He was forced to "wipe his Schmidt" (his words, not mine).

The other interesting thing about these autograph hounds is that many leave after the first inning or so. They buy their tickets to get there early and grab the signatures. Once the game actually begins, they head to Buffalo Wild Wings. Look how cleared out my section became when Chase Utley and Ryan Howard called it a day during the middle innings and headed towards the showers.

An actual game did take place. See, here's proof: Jose Bautista at the plate! Joey Bats hit one out in this contest on the sixth pitch he saw...after taking the first five to draw the count full; but he was not the star of the day. That distinction belonged to two men, one from each side.

The Toronto star was newly acquired Emilio Bonafacio. The speedster Bonafacio put all his skills on display very early in this game. He reached first on a bunt single in his first at-bat. From there, he stole second base...and stole third base...and scored a run on a throwing error. He also managed to show off his known fielding skills by committing one distinct error and blowing a double play. You have to take the good with the bad.

The main attraction for Philly tonight was not Ryan Howard, although he did hit one out (literally out of the stadium, over the palms in right field). It was also not young outfielder Dominic Brown, even though he too hit a home run out of Bright House Field. The Philadelphia star was none other than semi-prospect, questionably-futured Darin Ruf. There was no good to take with his bad though.

Ruf started in left field on this day, and did not quite belong there. He took a bad route on one of his first plays. He displayed a very poor throwing arm on his next. He compounded things with a strikeout at the plate. He actually did manage to throw Adam Lind out at the plate. But the throw was not as much a strike from left field as it was one of those ducks a quarterback throws when he gets his legs taken out by a defensive end but the throw lingers long enough to fall into the hands of a crossing tight end who got bumped off his original route. After mid-innings moves, Ruf was slid over to first base where he promptly dropped a double play ball.

Some final thoughts on this Sunday afternoon contest:

I did not get a picture but you'll have to take my word for it; Rajai Davis was looking very dapper with his blue on blue on blue ensemble. His blue jersey was framed by blue, knee-high socks and a blue glove.

Dominic Brown is going to be a fan favorite if he isn't already. When he got taken out of the game and went past the left field stands to head off the field, he went through and signed every single thing put in front of him. Even once the action started back up after the pitcher's warm-up tosses, Brown continued down the line, signing away.

When Andy LaRoche was put into the game as a late-inning replacement, even the in-stadium announcer called him Adam.

This game was televised live on MLB Network. It might have been the last time that Ricky Romero starts a game on national television.

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