Tag Archives: spring training

The Day When Even the Infield Grass Seems Greener

For those of you living under a rock, or perhaps more appropriately under a blarney stone, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day is named after Saint Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The actual origin story and legends surrounding St. Patrick are varied and tend to depend greatly on the source material one looks at.

There is of course the legend about St. Patrick driving all of the snakes out of Ireland. However, most scholars and scientists agree that there is no evidence in the historic or fossil record of snakes ever being in Ireland to begin with so the likelihood of a single man driving them all off of the island is highly improbable.

Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson

Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess now is also a good time to mention that despite Walt Disney’s assurances and “documentary” techniques King Brian and Darby O’Gill also didn’t really exist despite assertions to the contrary made in Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

What is agreed upon is that St. Patrick was born in England in the late 4th century A.D. and was kidnapped as a child and brought to Ireland.

He escaped his captors after six years and returned to Ireland as a missionary combining Irish pagan beliefs with Christian sacrament while devising the Celtic Cross.

In the centuries that have followed St. Patrick’s Day has been less about the man and more about green clothes, green beer, green hats and pretty much anything else green.

Rivers and lakes around the globe turn green not from algae but from food coloring poured in by the gallon full as a celebration of the holiday.

Massive amounts of corned beef and cabbage will also be consumed as a way to celebrate the day.

Over the past couple of years the green movement has moved to the fields of Major League Baseball as well.

No, I am not talking about the grass on the fields.

I am not even talking about the number of teams who are now encouraging recycling and other “green initiatives” inside their ballparks.

What I am talking about is the green that is popping up on the players.

For the past few years the Spring Training games on St. Patrick’s Day have included teams wearing green uniforms and hats.

Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson

Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

The first team that I recall, going green was the Boston Red Sox.

The green uniforms and hats seemed an obvious choice based on the amount of Irish American fans in the Boston area.

Other teams followed the green trend and soon it became a league wide tradition as part of the day where everyone can claim to be a little Irish.

The teams that go green each year vary with some teams forgoing the green for their more traditional colors.

The first time I saw a televised game with the Red Sox wearing the green uniforms I actually thought there was something wrong with my televisions set since the sight of teams in colors other than their normal ones can take some getting used to.

The full circle marketing of St. Patrick’s Day to include green items for the fans was just a matter of time since Major League Baseball, like most successful businesses, has made a habit of capitalizing on every opportunity to make money.

While the green gear is popular with the fans it also allows the players to try something new in Spring Training.

There are special uniform nights throughout the season but green uniform day is the only one that falls during Spring Training.

So as a public service announcement next time March 17th rolls around do not adjust your set when you are watching that Spring Training game.

Your eyes are not playing tricks on you and the players really are wearing green.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about green things has me in the mood for some green eggs and ham.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

Tonight We’re Gonna Party like its 1975

Editor’s Note: Today we begin a five part series on Spring Training over the past 40 years. Each Friday between now and March 6 we will feature a snapshot of what Spring Training was like in 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005 and 2015. Today we focus on 1975.

From a personal history perspective, 1975 was the most important year of my life, because it was the year I was born.

To be specific, I was born during Spring Training of 1975 and have had a love of Spring Training and baseball ever since.

Of course, to be fair, I do not remember much about that first Spring Training of 1975 and would not see my first Spring Training game in person until 1985.

But the world of Spring Training in 1975 was certainly different than the Spring Training that will begin next month.

For starters there were only 24 Major League teams in 1975 compared with the 30 ball clubs of today.

While the 30 clubs are evenly divided this year with 15 teams in Florida’s Grapefruit League and 15 clubs calling Arizona’s Cactus League their spring time home the world of 1975 had a very Florida feel with all but 7 of the clubs calling Florida home.

The Grapefruit League clubs of 1975, and the towns where they held spring training were, the Cincinnati Reds (Tampa, FL), Boston Red Sox (Winter Haven, FL), Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton, FL), Baltimore Orioles (Miami, FL), Kansas City Royals (Fort Myers, FL), Los Angeles Dodgers (Vero Beach, FL), Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater, FL), New York Yankees (Fort Lauderdale, FL), St. Louis Cardinals (St. Petersburg, FL), New York Mets (St. Petersburg, FL), Texas Rangers (Pompano Beach, FL), Minnesota Twins (Orlando, FL), Chicago White Sox (Sarasota, FL), Montreal Expos (Daytona Beach, FL), Atlanta Braves (West Palm Beach, FL), Houston Astros (Cocoa, FL), and Detroit Tigers (Lakeland, FL).

The Cactus League teams of 1975, and training city were, the Oakland Athletics (Mesa, Arizona), San Francisco Giants (Phoenix, Arizona), Cleveland Indians (Tucson, Arizona), Chicago Cubs (Scottsdale, Arizona), California Angels (Palm Springs, CA), San Diego Padres (Yuma, Arizona), and Milwaukee Brewers (Sun City, Arizona).

Major League Baseball teams who were not yet on the map in 1975 were the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays.

Over the next few weeks of our every decade snapshot of Spring Training we will be readdressing the teams and watch how the Spring Training addresses of some teams changed through the years while others stayed put decade after decade.

While Spring Training and Major League Baseball in general have changed through the years one constant remains the promise of every season starts on the field at a Spring Training Ballpark where ticket prices are relatively low and memories that last a lifetime are made.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another decade of Spring Training to get ready for.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Death, Taxes and Baseball Remain Constants in Life

It has been said time and time again, since at least the the mid-18th Century or so, that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

To that duo of death and taxes, I would add a third certainty in life; baseball which came to the scene in the mid-19th Century.

With the exception of strike shortened seasons, the game of baseball provides nearly eight months of distraction a year through the ups and downs of taxes and death and all of the other parts of life.

And while the income tax deadline is still several months away, baseball continues to chug along as part of the summer tapestry before giving way to football in the fall.

In terms of the third side of the constants of life triangle, death, I have felt its impacts firsthand with two funeral home visits in the past couple of weeks.

Although two funerals in the past few weeks may seem excessive, it stands to reason that the older we get the more likely we are to witness the passing of friends and family.

Last night during a funeral home visitation I spoke with a man who has attended 14 funerals so far this year. While I figured that he would be depressed from attending so many funerals in such a short time span his words put it into perspective when he stated that as long as he was able to leave a funeral on his feet, and not in a casket, he figured he was doing all right.

Of course sometimes it seems that the ones in the caskets, the dearly departed, have it the easiest as they have reached the end of their pain and suffering while the living are left to work through the pain and suffering being experienced as a result of their loss.

For me the latest loss came with the passing of a friend whom I had spent many hours talking baseball with over the past 14 years or so.

While we certainly discussed other topics, inevitably our conversations would always turn towards observations about the Houston Astros and how we would run the team if ever given the chance.

In honor of our mutual love of the team, I wore my Astros tie to my friend’s funeral even though I am sure she would have been just as happy with something far less formal.

Recently I had the chance to wear my Astros tie in memory of a departed friend who never missed an opportunity to ask me how "our boys" were doing. Photo R. Anderson

Recently I had the chance to wear my Astros tie in memory of a departed friend who never missed an opportunity to ask me how “our boys” were doing.
Photo R. Anderson

I can almost picture her saying that there was no need to get all dressed up on her account but there are certain times when formal baseball attire is warranted and this was one such occasion.

As for our conversations about the Astros they would often start with her asking me what I thought about how “our boys” were doing.

And for most of the last decade the answer was that “our boys” were doing badly but hopefully more victories were just around the corner.

With a team that last visited the postseason in 2005, and is currently on track for a fourth straight season of losing over 100 games, it might be easy to lose faith in “our boys” but the belief that a turnaround would occur for the Astros never wavered.

In addition to talking about regular season baseball, each spring the topic of conversation would turn to trips to Florida for Spring Training.

While it had been years since my friend had seen Spring Training in person, her stories of past visits to the Ballparks of central Florida showed the timelessness of baseball and how one never really loses the spark once it gets under their skin.

Each year when I would return from a Spring Training trip I would give a report on how “our boys” looked and we would agree that this very well could be the year that they turned things around.

The next time I visit Osceola County Stadium, Spring training home of the Houston Astros, will feel a little different following the death of a friend and partner in Astros commiseration. Photo R. Anderson

The next time I visit Osceola County Stadium, Spring training home of the Houston Astros, will feel a little different following the death of a friend and partner in Astros commiseration.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course the turnaround has yet to gain significant traction but through my stories of trips to Florida I was allowing my friend to experience the joys of Spring Training once more as she recalled days spent under the Florida sun watching the Astros warm up for the season.

Much as my friend kept the faith through the dark times, and even thought of us attending a baseball game when she left the hospital, I also know that the Astros will turn it around some day and once again play the type of winning baseball that they once enjoyed during those years when my friend and her husband traveled to Florida to see them.

Hopefully I will make other trips to Spring Training Ballparks in the coming years. I am especially looking forward to a milestone birthday spent under the Spring Training sky next season with visits to several Ballparks I have yet to visit.

I do not know how many trips I will get to make to Spring Training through the remainder of my life. I do know that each trip will allow me to build memories to cherish for a lifetime and hopefully not return too sunburned.

Something tells me that my friend will still be keeping tabs on the Astros from her sky box in the clouds. Photo R. Anderson

Something tells me that my friend will still be keeping tabs on the Astros from her sky box in the clouds.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course the next time I do come back from Spring Training it will seem a little different without being able to share the stories from the experience with my friend.

Perhaps next year at Spring Training I will purchase an extra ticket in honor of my friend although I know her view of “our boys” from the sky box in the clouds, sitting next to her husband once again, will be even better.

I will miss my friend and our talks about baseball but I firmly believe there will come a time when we get to discuss “our boys” once more. I only hope we have a few winning seasons to discuss by then.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to watch the Astros in honor of my friend.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Rays’ Spring Home Garners Top Honors

The other day USA Today announced the results of a poll of Top 10 Spring Training Ballparks as voted by their readers.

Lists like this are often subjective in nature and one could make arguments that what makes one Ballpark better than another one is in the eye of the beholder with everyone looking for something a little different in terms of what makes a good Ballpark.

While some people might look for a Ballpark that has more amenities such as luxury suites, others might look for a Ballpark that feels like it belongs back in the Golden Age of baseball. With that caveat in place, I tend to mostly agree with the results of the poll.Charlotte Sports Park Map

The readers of USA Today recently crowned Charlotte Sports Park, Spring Training home of the Tampa Ray Rays, as the best place to watch Spring Training. Photo R. Anderson

The readers of USA Today recently crowned Charlotte Sports Park, Spring Training home of the Tampa Ray Rays, as the best place to watch Spring Training.
Photo R. Anderson

While there seems to be a yearly campaign of complaining about their regular season home, Tropicana Field, The Tampa Bay Rays garnered the top spot with their Spring Training Home the Charlotte Sports Park, in Port Charlotte, Florida.

I visited Charlotte Sports Park a few years back and definitely found it to be a very nice complex and one that I definitely hope to return to many times.

For the record I also tend to think that Tropicana Field is a very suitable Ballpark for baseball and am growing tired of the yearly whining about how out of date it is and how much it needs to be replaced.

Charlotte Sports Park underwent a $27,000,000 renovation in 2009 and is utilized by the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League at the conclusion of Spring Training which allows for nearly year round use of the complex.

With great seats located all around the Ballpark there really are no bad seats to see the Rays in action. Photo R. Anderson

With great seats located all around the Ballpark there really are no bad seats to see the Rays in action.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from the bragging rights of having the favorite Ballpark the Rays also boast one of the shortest commutes between Spring Training home and regular season home with a drive of about 90 minutes between St. Petersburg and Port Charlotte.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins are the other teams who spend the Spring and regular season based in the same state and also enjoy short commutes for their fans.

Of course the Tampa Bay Rays once had a much shorter Spring Training commute when they spent the entire year in St. Petersburg, FL splitting time between Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field a few miles down the road.

The full Top 10 list features only three Ballparks from Arizona’s Cactus League showing that most people surveyed prefer their Spring Training baseball in the Grapefruit League under the Florida sun.

A boardwalk stretches across the outfield at Charlotte Sports Park and ensure easy walking from one end of the facility to the other. Photo R. Anderson

A boardwalk stretches across the outfield at Charlotte Sports Park and ensure easy walking from one end of the facility to the other.
Photo R. Anderson

While I cannot speak for the Cactus League Ballparks on the list I do have extensive bleacher and box seat time in the Grapefruit League so I feel pretty confident in commenting on those facilities.

The oldest Ballpark still in use, McKechnie Field, in Bradenton, FL is the long-time home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and ranked fourth on the list.

For historical factors alone I would have moved it up into the top 3 but I suppose fourth place is not too bad considering it comes in as the second Grapefruit League Ballpark.

Ed Smith Stadium, or Birdland South as it is called by some Oriole fans, had a strong show of support from the readers in the poll. Photo R. Anderson

Ed Smith Stadium, or Birdland South as it is called by some Oriole fans, had a strong show of support from the readers in the poll.
Photo R. Anderson

As far as fifth and sixth place go I would swap the Philadelphia Phillies’ Clearwater based Ballpark, Bright House Field with the Baltimore Orioles’ Sarasota home at Ed Smith Stadium.

In full disclosure I have only driven by Bright House Field so perhaps it is nicer on the inside than a quick glance down the highway shows but for my money it is hard to beat the old Ballpark charm of Ed Smith Stadium.

Ed Smith Stadium also features an air conditioned restaurant which allows fans a chance at a sit down meal before heading back to catch the action on the field.

Coming in at number 10, Osceola County Stadium may soon be without a Spring Training tenant as the Houston Astros consider replacing the Ballpark they have called home since 1985. Photo R. Anderson

Coming in at number 10, Osceola County Stadium may soon be without a Spring Training tenant as the Houston Astros consider replacing the Ballpark they have called home since 1985.
Photo R. Anderson

The 10th ranked Ballpark on the list is in danger of no longer hosting Spring Training games in a couple of years. With the Houston Astros exploring locations in West Palm Beach, FL their days at Osceola County Stadium seem numbered.

It will be a shame if the Astros leave the Spring Training home they have had since 1985 for greener pastures since according to the pollsters the fields of Kissimmee, FL are already pretty green.

Granted Osceola County Stadium is an older facility but with older Ballparks making the Top 10 it shows that older is sometimes better in the eyes of the ticket buying fans.

For completeness the entire Top 10 Spring Training facilities, according to the readers of USA Today, is included below along with the Major League Baseball teams that call them home. Ballparks I have visited are listed in bold. Ballparks with an asterisk beside them are among the Ballparks I plan to visit next March.

Half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams call the Grapefruit League their home for the spring and based on the results of the poll seven of the 10 best Ballparks also call Florida home. Photo R. Anderson

Half of the 30 Major League Baseball teams call the Grapefruit League their home for the spring and based on the results of the poll seven of the 10 best Ballparks also call Florida home.
Photo R. Anderson

  1. Charlotte Sports Park – Port Charlotte, Fla. Home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
  2. Goodyear Ballpark – Goodyear, Ariz. Home of the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds.
  3. Salt River Fields – Scottsdale, Ariz. Home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
  4. McKechnie Field – Bradenton, Fla. Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.*
  5. Bright House Field – Clearwater, Fla. Home of the Philadelphia Phillies. *
  6. Ed Smith Stadium – Sarasota, Fla. Home of the Baltimore Orioles.
  7. Tradition Field – Port St. Lucie, Fla. Home of the New York Mets.
  8. Cubs Park – Mesa, Ariz. Home of the Chicago Cubs.
  9. JetBlue Park – Fort Myers, Fla. Home of the Boston Red Sox.
  10. Osceola County Stadium – Kissimmee, Fla. Home of the Houston Astros.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some trips to some ballparks to plan.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like it is 1914

A couple of weeks ago the city of St. Petersburg, FL celebrated the 100th anniversary of Spring Training baseball within its borders with a ceremony at Al Lang Stadium that included the daughter of Babe Ruth.

Ruth was a rookie in 1914 but spent many spring days on the fields in and around St. Petersburg and was instrumental in helping build the popularity of Spring Training.

Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL is named after the former mayor who helped make Florida a Spring Training destination for over 100 years. Photo R. Anderson.

Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL is named after the former mayor who helped make Florida a Spring Training destination for over 100 years.
Photo R. Anderson.

In fact, Al Lang Stadium itself has the nickname as “the other house that Ruth built.”

For one hundred years teams have made the journey to the Sunshine State to “Play Ball.”

When Spring Training first came to the sun soaked shores of Florida things were much different than the Florida of today.

In the pre Walt Disney World days trains were still the main mode of long distance travel. In fact many railroad barons made their fortunes with running rails from one end of the state to the other.

It was those very same rails that teams would take down from their home stadium to the spring training sight for a couple of months before the grind of the season started.

St. Petersburg, FL recently honored the 100th anniversary of Spring Training in Florida with a ceremony featuring Babe Ruth's daughter. Photo R. Anderson.

St. Petersburg, FL recently honored the 100th anniversary of Spring Training in Florida with a ceremony featuring Babe Ruth’s daughter.
Photo R. Anderson.

To be fair Spring Training in Florida actually started in Jacksonville with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1913 but once teams started finding the Tampa/St. Petersburg region things really started to take off and ultimately led to the Grapefruit League with allowed for teams to play against each other as the spring rolled along.

While Florida was once the home to all of Spring Training today teams are equally divided between Florida and Arizona with 15 Grapefruit League teams and 15 Cactus League teams.

While I selfishly would love to see all teams still train in Florida I know that having teams train closer to their fans in Arizona is a good thing to allow them the experience of Spring Training.

Most of the old ballparks from the early years of Spring Training are no longer used or are hanging on by a thread.

I have already written extensively on the uphill battle, Tinker Field, the longtime Spring Training home of the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins has in its bid to avoid the wrecking ball.

Team Canada has been a frequent visitor to Al Lang Stadium in recent years and is keeping the tradition of baseball alive. Photo R. Anderson

Team Canada has been a frequent visitor to Al Lang Stadium in recent years and is keeping the tradition of baseball alive.
Photo R. Anderson

Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL sits vacant for the fifth year in a row. Built on the site of a former Naval base, Dodgertown was home to the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1953 until the Los Angeles Dodgers left town in 2008.

While the Dodgers spent 53 years in Vero Beach, the Detroit Tigers have spent 78 years overall in Lakeland and 49 spring seasons at Joker Marchant Stadium. The Tigers relationship with Lakeland is the longest partnership between a ballclub and a single city for Spring Training.

While the Tigers have the longevity record for a team and a city, McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL is the oldest Ballpark still hosting Spring Training in Florida.  The Ballpark, built in 1923, has been renovated extensively through the years to keep up with the ever changing needs of Spring Training. While the St. Louis Cardinals were the first team to call it home, the Pittsburgh Pirates have spent every spring since 1969 at McKechnie Field. The Pirates also have a Single A affiliate the Bradenton Marauders based at McKechnie Field.

As for Al Lang Field, the Ballpark hosts a few games here and there but has not had a regular team call it home for Spring Training since the Tampa Bay Rays moved to Port Charlotte in 2008.

Al Lang Stadium has not had a regular team call it home for Spring Training since the Tampa Bay Rays moved to Port Charlotte in 2008. Photo R. Anderson

Al Lang Stadium has not had a regular team call it home for Spring Training since the Tampa Bay Rays moved to Port Charlotte in 2008.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, “the other house that Ruth built” has served as the home pitch for the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer club of the North American Soccer League as well as serving as a hospitality area for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

With teams moving to bigger and newer Ballparks it is doubtful that Al Lang Field will ever host Spring Training games on a regular basis beyond the International games it hosts each year.

So with the look back on a century of baseball in St. Petersburg it is only fair to look at what other events were happening in 1914.

The year started with the first scheduled airline flight from the World’s first airline, St Petersburg Tampa Airboat Line, which occurred between St Petersburg and Tampa.

Henry Ford introduced an assembly line for the Model T which forever changed the way cars and many other items were built.

Every night is a good night at the Ballpark and for 100 years Spring Training has been a fixture of the Florida night life. Photo R. Anderson

Every night is a good night at the Ballpark and for 100 years Spring Training has been a fixture of the Florida night life.
Photo R. Anderson

The first stone of the Lincoln Memorial was put into place in 1914 which was the 49th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

The Greyhound Bus Company started operations in Minnesota and a patent was issued for the air conditioner.

Honus Wagner becomes the second baseball player to get 3,000 hits.

Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo which becomes the catalyst for the start of World War I.

The Boston Red Sox purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Baltimore Orioles after the Philadelphia Athletics turn down the offer. Ruth would soon leave the Red Sox for the Yankees and the rest as they say is history.

Speaking of those New York Yankees, they received new owners in 1914 when Colonel Jacob Ruppert & Cap Huston purchased the team for $460,000.

Through all of those events and more players flocked to the Ballparks of Florida in the shadow of the orange groves honing their skills under the sun.

Much has changed in the way players prepare for the season since those first spring games a century ago. But what has not changed is the promise of the chance to wipe the slate clean each spring and start the season fresh.

A century from now if the Earth is still spinning and as long as “climate change” hasn’t flooded the state, there likely still will be Spring Training games in Florida.

The Ballparks will likely all have corporate names by then and perhaps the players will be wearing personal jetpacks to get around the bases by then but for the most part it will still be a relaxing way to spend an afternoon in the sun watching the National Pastime.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball to watch.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

The Day When Even the Infield Grass Seems Greener

For those of you living under a rock, or perhaps more appropriately under a blarney stone, today is St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day is named after Saint Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The actual origin story and legends surrounding St. Patrick are varied and tend to depend greatly on the source material one looks at.

There is of course the legend about St. Patrick driving all of the snakes out of Ireland.  However, most scholars and scientists agree that there is no evidence in the historic or fossil record of snakes ever being in Ireland to begin with so the likelihood of a single man driving them all off of the island is highly improbable.

Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson

Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess now is also a good time to mention that despite Walt Disney’s assurances and “documentary” techniques King Brian and Darby O’Gill also didn’t really exist despite assertions to the contrary made in Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

What is agreed upon is that St. Patrick was born in England in the late 4th century A.D. and was kidnapped as a child and brought to Ireland.

He escaped his captors after six years and returned to Ireland as a missionary combining Irish pagan beliefs with Christian sacrament while devising the Celtic Cross.

In the centuries that have followed St. Patrick’s Day has been less about the man and more about green clothes, green beer, green hats and pretty much anything else green.

Today rivers and lakes around the globe will turn green not from algae but from food coloring poured in by the gallon full as a celebration of the holiday.

Massive amounts of corned beef and cabbage will also be consumed as a way to celebrate the day.

Over the past couple of years the green movement has moved to the fields of Major League Baseball as well.

No, I am not talking about the grass on the fields.

I am not even talking about the number of teams who are now encouraging recycling and other “green initiatives” inside their ballparks.

What I am talking about is the green that is popping up on the players.

For the past few years the Spring Training games on St. Patrick’s Day have included teams wearing green uniforms and hats.

Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson

Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

The first team that I recall, going green was the Boston Red Sox.

The green uniforms and hats seemed an obvious choice based on the amount of Irish American fans in the Boston area.

Other teams followed the green trend and soon it became a league wide tradition as part of the day where everyone can claim to be a little Irish.

The teams that go green each year vary with some teams forgoing the green for their more traditional colors.

The first time I saw a televised game with the Red Sox wearing the green uniforms I actually thought there was something wrong with my televisions set since the sight of teams in colors other than their normal ones can take some getting used to.

The full circle marketing of St. Patrick’s Day to include green items for the fans was just a matter of time since Major League Baseball, like most successful businesses,  has made a habit of capitalizing on every opportunity to make money.

Don Zimmer (far right) is a special adviser to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays and is not to be mistaken for a leprechaun despite what one might think from seeing the Zim Bear giveaway item last year. Photo R Anderson

Don Zimmer (far right) is a special adviser to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays and is not to be mistaken for a leprechaun despite what one might think from seeing the Zim Bear giveaway item last year.
Photo R Anderson

While the green gear is popular with the fans it also allows the players to try something new in Spring Training.

There are special uniform nights throughout the season but green uniform day is the only one that falls during Spring Training.

So as a public service announcement next time March 17th rolls around do not adjust your set when you are watching that Spring Training game.

Your eyes are not playing tricks on you and the players really are wearing green.

Now if you happen to see a leprechaun at the ballpark and ask to see his pot of gold odds are it is just Special Adviser to the Tampa Bay Rays Don Zimmer.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about green things has me in the mood for some green eggs and ham.

 Copyright 2014 R Anderson

Time for Grapefruits, Cacti, and RBI

While most of the country is digging out from under the latest blizzard it may be hard to fathom but spring has officially arrived.

Okay, so spring may not be officially here according to the calendar but try telling that to the Boys of Summer who are embarking on the start of their work year and getting down to the business of playing ball.

After shaking off the dust during inter-squad drills, and simulated games, it is now time for Major League Baseball teams to face each other in real competition as the games of the 2013 Spring Training season have begun in ballparks across Florida and Arizona.

Spring Training serves as a chance for teams to gel together and learn the strengths and weaknesses on the roster.  Rosters are never the same from one year to the next so oftentimes players are meeting as teammates for the first time when they report to camp. It is also a time for players on the bubble of making the team to either hurt or help their chances based on their performance between the foul lines.

While it has been tradition for teams to hold Spring Training for as long as anyone reading this has been alive; that was not always the case.  Late in the 19th Century most of the Major League Baseball teams were located in northern cities like New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati.

Members of the Baltimore Orioles warm up during a 2012 Spring Training game with the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson

Members of the Baltimore Orioles warm up during a 2012 Grapefruit League Spring Training game with the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

It is still cold in these cities during February and March. As someone who never wore shorts on his March birthday until moving to Florida, I can attest to that. Also, the idea of an indoor ballpark was still about a century away.  So, a warmer option was sought as a means for players to train before the season started.

In 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings conducted organized baseball camps in New Orleans, LA.  Jacksonville, FL saw action in 1888 when the Washington Capitals of the National League held a four-day camp.

While the exact start of the migration of Spring Training to the South is often debated, no one can argue that by the start of the 20th Century it had changed the game in a momentous way.  While other states had been used for Spring Training in the past, today teams are divided between Arizona and Florida.

In Florida, 15 teams will compete in the Grapefruit League while the other 15 teams will compete in Arizona’s Cactus League.  Instead of taking the time to list who plays where there is an easy formula to remember. With the exception of the Houston Astros all teams that reside west of the Mississippi River during the regular season train in Arizona.  Teams east of the River call Florida home for the Spring.  So there you have it as long as you know where the mighty Mississippi slices through the country you are covered.

After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season. Photo R. Anderson

The Houston Astros are the only team west of the Mississippi River to hold Spring Training in Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

And while Spring Training facilities were chosen for the warm climates they are not completely immune to the weather as a photo of snow this week at the Colorado Rockies Spring Training facility in Arizona can attest to.

Teams are also forced to dodge raindrops in games in Florida. Despite these weather hiccups, few would argue that Florida and Arizona still tend to be way warmer this time of year than most of the rest of the country.

I have often wondered why scores are kept, and winners and losers are crowned, during Spring Training since the games do not count against a team’s regular season record.  It is not like a strong showing in the exhibition games guarantees success when the games start to count for real.  The same goes for teams that struggle through Spring Training.  A poor record during the Spring does not mean in all cases that the team will struggle throughout the regular season as well.

After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season. Photo R. Anderson

After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season.
Photo R. Anderson

So why do they keep score? The simplest reason is the competition level is more intense when there is something on the line.  As players battle to be included on rosters having the games mean something, even if it is only bragging rights help ensure that everyone is playing at a high level.

The players and coaches are not the only ones who enjoy their time in the sun. Each year thousands of fans descend upon the ballparks to catch their favorite team in action. Others go from ballpark to ballpark to just enjoy the sights and sounds of a baseball game.

Many of the fans are also retired to the regions where the teams play so there is a definite older crowd present at many of the games.  One of the things that I enjoy when I attend a Spring Training game, aside from the relaxed atmosphere and sunshine, is hearing the stories from people who are much older than I am who saw many of the legends play at Spring Training decades earlier.  In that way the game is timeless. While the names on the jerseys change, and the prices of the peanuts and Cracker Jacks change, the game itself is mostly the same and is a shared experience that transcends the generations.

So has Spring Training rolls around once again travel plans abound as fans of all ages seek to get in touch with their inner child by traveling to see a game or two, or three, or four, or you get the idea.

To date I have witnessed games in six Spring Training ballparks. My goal is to visit each of the 30 team’s spring training sites in the next three years or so in addition to their main home ballparks.  Will I reach that goal? Only time will tell. Still, if one has no goals there is nothing to reach for and life becomes mundane and repetitive.  And really who wants to be mundane and repetitive?

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about sunshine and warmth has me a little thirsty for some sweet tea.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Kissimmee Once, Kissimmee Twice

Tomorrow, February 14th, marks the arrival of Valentine’s Day.  Odds are if you are reading this on Wednesday, and not Thursday, it may not be too late to get that last minute gift for friends and loved ones alike.  If you procrastinated and are reading this after the 14th, than at least you have a head start on getting your gifts for next year.

While it is often joked about that Valentine’s Day is a made up holiday by greeting card companies, candy companies and florists, there is actually a historical reason behind St. Valentine’s Day.  While the actual origin story varies depending on who is telling it, one common version is that the day is based on one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus, or Valentine to you and me.

The common legend goes that Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.  While imprisoned, legend goes on to state that Valentine befriended the daughter of his jailer and before his execution he wrote “from your Valentine” as a farewell to her.  How much of that really happened, and how much was added throughout the centuries as the tale was told and told again, is certainly up for debate.  After all,  legends tend to grow the further out they are from the source material.  But as far as legends go I guess if one were so romantically inclined there are worse things to believe in.  Just don’t get me started on that flying arrow shooting guy.

So whether the origin totally occurred as written or not the celebrations were tweaked through the generations and flourished during the romantic period as one might expect until at long last we reached the 21st century version of St. Valentine’s Day.

Nothing says, "I love you" quite like a box of chocolates. Put those chocolates in a heart shaped box and she is putty in your hands. At least that is what the marketing people want us to believe.  photo R. Anderson

Nothing says, “I love you” quite like a box of chocolates. Put those chocolates in a heart shaped box and she is putty in your hands. At least that is what the marketing people want us to believe.
photo R. Anderson

In school classrooms across the country tomorrow, students will hand out their valentines to each other. Decades ago when I was a younger version of myself we used construction paper and other means to make our “mailbox” and then go around and deliver valentine’s to each of the classmates.  After counting up the bounty one always hoped to not be like Charlie Brown and be valentine free but to have a paper box brimming with tiny cardboard trinkets of affection.  As a rule I always made sure to have enough cards to go around for everyone in the class, but it seemed like not everyone followed that rule.  I am guessing the process still remains mostly the same as from when I was in school based on the amount of valentine’s cards I see at the stores each year, but who knows, maybe students just text each other  their well wishes now.

Aside from the greeting card and valentine printing businesses, this season also marks a busy time for businesses that sell flowers and chocolate as they tend to be part of the more grown up valentine experience.  Turn on the television or radio any time between mid-January to mid-February and one is bound to be bombarded with commercials for suggestions on what makes the perfect valentine’s gift for that special someone.

While the romantic aspects of Valentine’s Day are all well and good, the season also marks a time for professional baseball players to await messages of “Be Mine” and “I Choo Choo Choose You” as competition begins for one of those coveted spots on the 40 man Major League roster.

Much like those cardboard valentines of old, a spot on the roster says to the player that someone values them and in this case values them enough that they have a future with the club.  Of course, roster placement alone does not guarantee success and several factors are involved in the aspect of who stays and goes from a major league roster.  But, the fact remains that players on the roster tend to feel better about their future than players who are not on the roster.

With up to 75 players vying for 40 roster spots Spring Training uniforms tend to use numbers more often seen on the football field. Photo R. Anderson

With up to 75 players vying for for just 40 roster spots, Spring Training uniforms tend to use numbers more often seen on the football field than the baseball diamond.
Photo R. Anderson

For most teams the roster is mostly set at the start of spring training with a few positions here and there up for grabs through head to head competition.  One team however is taking a decidedly different approach to the roster process as they are in full blown rebuilding mode and no position seems set in stone.

That team is the Houston Astros whose process of selecting their “valentines” begins at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.

Perhaps no other team in baseball has as many open competitions going as the Astros do.  With no clear identifiable stars on the roster, and a trade at will philosophy, one would be hard pressed to discern with any certainty who will comprise the opening day roster.

Plus, even if a player is fortunate enough to suit up on opening day there is no guarantee that they will finish the season in that position.  Over the past few seasons the Astros have had so much turmoil on the roster that very few players from the opening day roster remain the following season.  I really see no reason to think that the trend will be any different this year.

While catchers and pitchers have already reported, the rest of the team still has a few days before camp, and competition, starts for them.  Over the next month and half or so players on the bubble will try to show management why they are deserving of one of those precious roster spots.

Valentine's stuffed animals, like this sock monkey,  won't be the only things looking for a home this Valentine's Day as baseball players compete for roster spots. No team appears to have more spots available than the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

Valentine’s stuffed animals, like this sock monkey, won’t be the only things looking for a home this Valentine’s Day as baseball players compete for roster spots. No team appears to have more spots available than the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

So as you celebrate your Valentine’s Day, in whatever manner you see fit, think of the baseball players who at this very moment are hanging their virtual Valentine mailbox on their lockers at spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona.

For some the mailbox will contain that invitation to join the club.  For others the valentine will bring bitter rejection and the prospect of waiting to try again next year.

Unlike in elementary school where the teacher tried to make sure everybody received at least one valentine, there are bound to be a lot of people feeling like Charlie Brown waiting at the mailbox for a valentine from the Little Red-Haired Girl in the coming weeks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see if I still remember how to make an old fashioned valentine mailbox.  I am bound to have some construction paper and paste around here somewhere.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson