Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Spring Training Photo Essay - Part Two

Game Two brought us northeast to Lakeland, FL for the Detroit Tigers - Houston Astros game on Monday afternoon. This was my first time to Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland. It is a bit campier and more "spring trainy" than some of the other arenas...not that there's anything wrong with that.

No, that doesn't look right......That's too crooked and off-kilter for any Major League club to play their Spring Training games there. Oh yeah, that's right. That's Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Okay, this looks better. Exhibit number one of Lakeland being campy and spring trainy: we parked in a church parking lot a few blocks away and walked to the stadium. The parking was free except for whatever you wanted to donate. Contrasted with the fact that you had to pay $5 extra to come early for batting practice and Joke Marchant gave off a weird vibe. 

We had good seats again, one row behind the visiting team dugout. This would become a freakin' awesome trend. Lakeland's campiness exhibit number two: they had free food giveaways every other inning. Free hot dogs giveaways were succeeded by free ice cream giveaways which were followed by free pizza giveaways, which was culminated in an ole fashioned 50-50 raffle. There is no discernible difference between Tigers spring training games and the local summer league team in your town other than the players on the field. 

And the palm trees! I think every stadium everywhere should have palm trees in the outfield no matter the gardening costs. This was a picture of the Berm seating (picnic-style grass where you bring your own blanket and chill out in left field). It would be exhibit number three except for the tiki-bars and drink stations littered behind the grassy knoll.

And the fact that it got kind of crowded.

Today's starters were Rick Porcello for the Tigers and some poor sap for the Astros. Houston's team is so bad that we could not be sure who would even make the Major League roster. Here is the actual starting lineup of people who are supposedly big league caliber:

Jose Altuve
Fernando Martinez
Carlos Pena
Chris Carter
Jason Castro
Justin Maxwell
Rick Ankiel
Matt Dominguez
Jonathan Villar

Probably their best everyday player is second baseman Jose Altuve, pictured here. That is his actual size. This photo has not been altered. Altuve's height: 5'5". In fact, if you google "Jose Altuve h" auto-finish predicts you will type "height" before "highlights" or "home run" or even "Houston Astros."

The Tigers meanwhile put a pretty impressive team on the field. Although Miguel Cabrera was away playing for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, we did see Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, and big Prince Fielder. What's that? You want a picture of Prince Fielder standing next to Jose Altuve? Alright, if you say so.

Against those odds and a mostly normal Tigers lineup, the Asros' pitchers struggled. When their starter was taken out, it was beyond awkward to hear people yelling that he sucks from just a few feet away. You could literally stare into his eyes as he stepped into the dugout. Huge props to famous people. I can't imagine getting yelled at by complete strangers all the time.

On the other hand, the normally strikeout-scared Rick Porcello had tons of swing and miss stuff, which greatly pleased the Tigers faithful. Porcello, who later won a spot in the team's starting rotation for this season, struck out seven 'Stros in 5.1 innings pitched.

Tigers' skipper Jim Leyland was pretty happy with the game. He decided to lounge in a beach chair in front of the dugout all game long. The Houston coaches were a little more active. We could periodically see fingers pop up above the dugout lip, shifting defensive alignments and moving outfielders. The couple times we noticed the fingers and the moves, it worked perfectly, with the ball magically traveling to where the fielder shifted to. Good for you Houston. It is the little things that make it all worth while.

The level of campy wonder melted away as the game progressed. With vendors trying to get clever and sell more product, one started yelling odd phrases like "lemon-flavored kool-aid!" thinking that would somehow HELP his lemonade sales. This was matched only by the crowd yelling odd phrases. People seemed to love that Tigers' reserve outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo has the same last name as a man recently involved in a pretty big college football scandal.

As the game came to a close, the Astros battled back a bit against Detroit's bullpen. Their pen is made up of a ton of guys who had like one good season. Joaquin Benoit is there; Octavio Dotel is still milling around; so is Phil Coke; Al Alburquerque might be the best of the bunch. He struck out the side in the eighth, making his case even stronger.

Unlike Clearwater, where the fans left by the second inning because autograph time had ended, the fans in Lakeland waited for something else. As soon as the winner of the 50-50 raffle was announced in the eighth inning, they headed for the gates.

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