Wow, what a day! That about sums it up, but of course, I'll explain! If Wednesday and Thursday were good days, Friday was absolutely fantastic!
Part I - Game 1
I left my hotel around 11:00 AM and began the trip to Winter Haven, spring home of the Cleveland Indians. Today, the Tribe was hosting the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. I arrived at Chain of Lakes Park at 11:45 and parked in the "field." I was told there was no media parking. I soon found out, that was untrue. Chain of Lakes Park is a bit old, but very nostalgic. One interesting aspect of this stadium is that it literally backs up against the Indians minor league field. It's quite easy to run back and forth between the two sites if you are interested in doing that sort of thing.
I had to walk all the way around the stadium to a building that resembled a field house. It was there that I'd pick up my media credentials. To enter the field, you exit the media office, walk between two batting cages, over the bullpen mounds, and down the first base line. Interesting to say the least, but kind of fun too!
Anyway, by the time I arrived, the Jays were taking batting practice (which of course means that Cleveland had already hit). I wasn't too concerned about catching the Indians workout because I got a chance to see them Wednesday night at Osceola. Besides, one near death experience at the hands of Jhonny Peralta was enough!
I realize I forgot to mention the little "incident" from Wednesday. So here it goes...I was in foul territory on the track and up the third base line at Osceola County Stadium. I wanted to get a good look at Andy Marte, who was taking turns at third base with Aaron Boone during the Indians fielding drills. On one particular relay drill, the ball was hit to Grady Sizemore in centerfield. Grady fielded the ball and threw a perfect strike to Peralta, who was acting as the cutoff man. Jhonny snapped the catch and whirled to throw to third. He let the ball go, and it began to rise hard and fast. I could see it all unfolding as I was directly in line with the throw. It was almost like it was happening in slow motion, but I couldn't move. Remaining motionless with my camera raised to my face, I stared at the ball whose trajectory was right on target for my head! Then, suddenly, as if he knew he was my last defense, Andy Marte leaped as high into the air as any player I've ever seen and snagged the Peralta liner! I was saved, and it's all because of Andy Marte! Whew...
Getting back to today...While watching Toronto during batting practice, I took some more photos (See them here - Spring Training - March 24). But time was flying as I was enjoying the sun on this chilly day in central Florida (high of 65, low of 47). So, I decided to make my way to the park's covered, but open-air, press box. It was quite comfortable considering there aren't any real amenities. I took more pictures as I watched the Indians club the Jays. The game really wasn't much of a contest. The Jays split-squad featured almost no major league talent while the Indians threw out their opening day starting lineup. The Indians cruised to a 16-3 victory behind a 4-4 day from Ronnie Belliard and a grand slam by Eduardo Perez.
Game News and Notes
- The Indians sent "my hero" Andy Marte to AAA yesterday
- Belliard had a single, 2 doubles, and a homer on the day
- Travis Hafner walked 3 times and got hit by a pitch
- The Blue Jays pitchers walked 8 batters and hit 5 more!
Going out to Winter Haven afforded us the opportunity to personally meet the Indians Director of Media Relations, Bart Swain. This relationship will be important as we look to interview additional members of the Cleveland team.
We also had the opportunity to talk with John Brown from WANR radio (AM 1570) in Warren, Ohio. John runs a weekly baseball radio show outside of Cleveland and invited me to be a guest sometime over the next few weeks.
Good stuff all around!
Part II - Game 2
I actually left the Cleveland - Toronto game early so that I could make the trip back to Orlando and catch the warm-ups for the Braves-Nationals game. I made it back to the Disney ballpark around 4:30 and found the Braves already out on the field. I headed to the press box, dropped off my bag, said hello to Bill Shanks, and headed down to the field.
Now this is where it gets interesting...
I made my way through the basement corridor, down the tunnel, and up through the Braves dugout. The first thing you realize when you enter the dugout/field area is that this ballpark is not your average Spring Training stadium. It may not hold that many people, but it sure gives you the feel of a major league facility.
I spent some time watching the first round of batting practice while Marcus Giles clowned around and Chipper Jones "harassed" a member of the Braves staff...jokingly. I sought out some important people that I really wanted to meet. I spotted Brad Hainje, Director of Media Relations, and introduced myself. Brad and I have talked several times on the phone and exchanged numerous emails over the years. But, I've never met him in person...until now. I'm happy to report that Mr. Hainje is as cordial and professional in "real life" as he is on the phone. Brad then pointed out Adam Liberman to me, and I shook hands with the Braves publicist.
Bill Shanks came down to the field, and we chatted as players came in and out of the dugout. A few minutes after Bill came down, General Manager John Schuerholz walked out onto the field. I have obviously wanted to meet Mr. Schuerholz since I interviewed him back in December. I'd have to wait, though, as just about everyone else wanted to say hello as well.
Just as Bill and I were talking about Schuerholz, Jeff Francoeur came running off the field. I figured I'd say hello to Jeff (since he worked with us on his player journal last year), but really didn't expect much of a greeting or response...especially since Jeff is now a star in Atlanta. The kid never ceases to amaze me, however. Before I could say hello to him, Jeff came over to me, shook my hand and said, "Hey Joe, good to see you." I hadn't seen Jeff since the end of August, so I'd be lying if I said I expected that greeting!
That was pretty cool. I have to admit. But it gets better! A few minutes after Jeff disappeared down the other end of the dugout, John Schuerholz walked in front of me. I made my way up the steps, walked over to Mr. Schuerholz and introduced myself. And guess what? He remembered me too! I realize I spent 45 minutes with the man on the phone on the eve of the Winter Meetings, but still. Here's a guy that speaks to hundreds of people every day!
Anyway, we made some small talk and chatted a little about his new book. Then, without any warning, the following conversation ensued...
Schuerholz: That's my son in there (hitting in the cage)
Joe: Yeah, I saw him
Schuerholz: You know he's tied for the team lead in homeruns this spring...he has 3, Francoeur has 3, and (Matt) Diaz has 3.
Joe: Oh yeah? That's impressive. I saw him last year at Mississippi.
Schuerholz: Yeah, he had a good year last year.
In a New York minute, John Schuerholz went from Hall of Fame General Manager to the proud father of Braves minor league infielder Jonathan Schuerholz! And the funny thing about the situation...I COMPLETELY understood what he was thinking! It's a parental thing I guess. And with that, John Schuerholz patted me on the back and told me to "take care."
No matter how many players, managers, general managers, or scouts you talk to, this stuff never gets old. What is it they say about baseball again? Oh yeah...I Love This Game!
Game News and Notes
You would never know it from my writing, but there really was a game tonight!
- The Nationals beat the Braves, 4-2, courtesy of Alfonso Soriano's 3- run homer off Braves starter Tim Hudson.
- Speaking of Francoeur, Jeff went 3-for-3 tonight with 3 singles
- Livan Hernandez picked up the win for the Nationals, pitching 6 solid innings.
- The view from the Disney stadium press box really sucks
- The food is pretty good though since Disney's catering department arranges it all!
- In addition to meeting up with Brad Hainje, Adam Liberman, John Schuerholz, and Jeff Francoeur, I made some other new friends Friday night. It was my absolute pleasure to talk baseball with Peter King of CBS News radio and Tim Pearrell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. These guys had some incredibly entertaining stories.
- I found out tonight that I sat next to former major leaguer Tom Paciorek through the entire game yesterday at Space Coast Stadium!
One of our very own members sent me a great email last night about the town of Viera. I thought I'd share it with everyone since it puts some things in perspective.
If you come to Viera next year, I will show you around. There is a lot more shopping, lodging, etc. than it appears. That area is growing like wildfire. Just a year ago I used to ride my bicycle out there, but with all the building, the traffic has increased a lot.
The 3 main reasons attendance is low at Nats games:
1. There is a bad taste in the mouth of many residents here. This was the spring training home for the Marlins, but when Loria bought them, he moved them to Jupiter. That left this area with no team. The soap opera was played out in the press for months. There was talk of MLB breaking the contract with the county and the county suing MLB. It is just another example of baseball mismanagement. The locals in this area are/were Marlins fans.
2. We got the Expos. Besides no one around here being an Expos fan, their team was not much better than a minor league roster. You had Vlad and then....???? Baseball gives us a team that MLB wants to contract!
Now we have the Nats. The transplants in this area are more Braves, NY or BOS fans. I don't think I know anyone from the VA/DC area that lives here.
3. Since the Expos/Nats took over, they will not let anyone take a bottle of water into the game. I hope you got to see the mountain of water bottles in the front of the stadium. So they got money hungry while providing an inferior product.
Basically, MLB seems to have gone out of their way to destroy interest in baseball in this area. This was a good baseball town. This is the home of several baseball people (Wakefield, Bochy). The attendance used to be good. But now, I don't even buy tickets in advance because I know there will always be some available.
This is a good place to go see a game but not one that you will, or should, go out of your way to see (like Vero).
A special thanks goes out to Keith Howard for providing us with this info.