Former Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane once said, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”. No, really - how can you not be romantic about baseball? If you are like me, you love the game. Your favorite season is baseball season, you own more baseball caps than the average male, you firmly believe that Opening Day should be a national holiday, and on a warm summer's night there is no place you would rather be than a ballpark. Every April I anxiously await Opening Day, and even though it sometimes feels like it can’t get here fast enough, I forget that baseball has been going on for the past two months.
The past two months?? Yes, that’s right. Spring Training.
This past week, I had the opportunity to have some father-daughter bonding time and attend Spring Training in Jupiter, Florida. I’ve grown up around baseball my whole life, but this was my first time attending Spring Training. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. Let me tell you, it exceeded my expectations. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Spring Training is every baseball lover’s heaven.
My dad and I got to Jupiter Saturday afternoon and wasted no time getting to the practice fields. You walk up and immediately see four baseball diamonds back-to-back, an endless amount of coaches and players, and a sea of red. You guessed it, we are St. Louis Cardinals fans! Each field was divided up by level (low-A, high-A, AA, and AAA) with each having their own scrimmage or throwing/batting practice.
One thing that I loved about Spring Training was that practice was open to the public. Fans were mingling with coaches, managers, and players. My family has been in the baseball business for years, and it did not take long for my dad to spot someone he knew. After watching a few innings of a scrimmage, we found ourselves shaking hands with former Cardinal great Willie McGee and spending a few minutes chatting with Gary LaRocque, the Director of Player Development for the St. Louis Cardinals.
After speaking with a few minor league managers and spotting former players we've seen come up through the minor league system, we decided to head back to the hotel before heading to dinner. After all, the fun was just getting started.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to head back to the practice fields to catch another scrimmage or two. That afternoon we headed to Rodger Dean Stadium to watch the Cardinals play the Miami Marlins. We could not have asked for a more perfect day for matinee baseball! The sun was shining, the temperature was just right, the smell of ballpark food filled the air, and we were ready to watch our first MLB game of the season. During pre-game, the State-College Spikes received their 2016 New York-Penn League championship rings. This also happened to be Yadier Molina’s first game back with the team after winning the World Baseball Classic with team Puerto Rico. In typical Yadi fashion, his first at bat was an absolute homerun bomb into left field. After another homerun by Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter getting an RBI, the Cardinals won 3-0. The best part of the day was running into St. Louis Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak. Later that night we joined a few minor league coaching staff members for dinner and roamed around downtown Palm Beach.
What is a visit to Florida without going to a beach?? My dad and I had some time to kill Monday morning so we decided to drive to Singer Island for a walk on the beach. After grabbing something to eat, you guessed it, it was back to the practice fields. After watching about an hour or so of scrimmage games, it was time to head to another Major League game. Monday night, the Cardinals played at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches; the new spring training facility and stadium for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. As my dad and I were walking around the new stadium, I couldn’t help but take a look at the souvenir store. Right there in the window were Logo Brands Astros Sweatshirt Blankets and Grapefruit League Bleacher Cushions. Another great game was played by the Cardinals and they defeated the Astro’s 3-2. I may be biased, but I think the Cardinals will be pretty good this year with a lot of talent fielding through their farm system.
As my dad was driving me to Orlando on Tuesday for work, I couldn’t help but think back at how amazing the past few days had been. Even though we caught the tail end of Spring Training, it honestly was the best time because we really got to see the rosters forming. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to enjoy my first Spring Training with than my dad. As someone who has been to about as many Spring Trainings as years I’ve been alive, my dad was able to spoil me and give me a true Spring Training experience. We sure did start the baseball season off right!
I truly believe that all baseball fans should experience Spring Training at least once in their life! Because after all, how can you not be romantic about baseball?