Camden Yards

Los Angeles Angels @ Baltimore Orioles.

2011 Regular Season at Camden Yards or just Orioles Park (Opened 1992). It was the first of a series of new MLB parks; ushering in a retro design that incorporated the ballpark feel of yesteryear with today’s technology. Many other new ballparks would follow the same concept in the coming years. Another element of retro-ballpark design is incorporating the existing bricks and mortar of the surrounding community. Take the warehouse beyond right field. It’s the most recognizable landmark in MLB and the longest brick building east of the Mississippi River.

In the cookie-cutter era of the 1960’s and 1970’s, stadiums were mostly built in a remote part of town; surrounded by a sea of parking lots. Camden Yards started the biggest construction boom since concrete and steel were first used to build Shibe Park & Forbes Field. Other items incorporated in the design are the original foul poles from Memorial Stadium; where the Baltimore Orioles played before.  

Baltimore is the birthplace of Babe Ruth. As you walk eastbound past the warehouse, you’re not going to want to miss the Birthplace of Babe Ruth Museum on Emory Street. It’s literally a flyball from Camden Yards. In fact, there are layers of history here. Continue eastbound for a couple blocks and you will find the Inner Harbor: the site of the War of 1812. At the time, Mary Pickersgill sewed the American Flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became the American national anthem. Mary Pickersgill’s home is a museum commonly known as the “Flag House” nearby and the Inner Harbor is now a trendy tourist attraction. When at Camden Yards, beware of the sudden shouts of “Oh!” during the national anthem. “Oh!, say can you see, for instance. It will catch you by surprise if you’re not expecting it.

This week marks the 25th Anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr’s record of consecutive games played, surpassing Lou Gehrig with 2,131 games on September 6, 1995. It’s ranked as one of MLBs most memorable moments. Every day during pre-game admission, fans relive that historic day in Camden Yards; on the Jumbotron. No doubt, seeing Cal Ripken Jr. walking around the field, reaching out to greeting fans never gets old. It was simple yet significant. Between 1982 and 1998, he showed up and left it all on the field. There is a school of thought in baseball that Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and the chase for Babe Ruth’s home run record saved baseball in 1998, after the dark episode of the 1994 Strike. MLB had an amazing revenue year in 1998. But for me, Cal Ripken’s work ethic brought me back to baseball after the strike. He is the iconic figure of Baltimore Orioles baseball. He and Babe Ruth are in a league of their own.

The traditional “Orioles” name is traced back to the American Association in the late nineteenth century. But this team is originally the St. Louis Browns of the American League who was purchased and moved in 1954. They mostly dominated in the 1960 and 1970 era with four World Series appearances and the 1966 and 1970 World Championship. They also won the 1983 World Series with Cal Ripken Jr.

The Los Angeles Angels were in the heat of a pennant race. Manager Mike Scioscia slotted his ace Jered Weaver on 3 days’ rest. Baltimore lost 11-2. They were virtually out of any post season talk. The next day, they started a run of winning 7 of the last 11 games. The Epic “Game 162” of the 2011 regular season left four teams still trying to clinch 2 post season spots. The rest of baseball was implicated as teams didn’t know where to travel or who to face in the playoffs. It would all be decided in a compacted 129 minutes and it ended here in tragic form for the Boston Red Sox. The Baltimore Orioles became one of the legendary late season spoilers.

Nationals Park

Florida Marlins @ Washington Nationals

2011 Regular Season at Nationals Park; home of the Washington Nationals since 2009.  The smoke from the grill in the restaurant beyond the outfield rolled across the field with the rich smell of barbecue, a huge distraction. Phenom right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg was starting. He had recently returned from Tommy John Surgery and rehabbing to pitch 24 innings in 2011. Wilson Ramos was the starting catcher. He would be kidnaped in his home country of Venezuela the following November and later rescued alive and well. Alex Cora played his final season here with the Nationals. He came in to pinch hit in the bottom of the 13th. If that at-bat were today, there would have been a runner at second base at the start of the inning Nationals lost to Marlins 4-1. Right Fielder Jaysen Werth, who signed for $126 million with the Nationals, was playing the first of seven years in his contract, leaving the still relevant Philadelphia Phillies raised eyebrows in baseball. Aside from making him the 14th richest player, there was a real push for the World Championship in Washington D.C. The 2010 first round draftee Bryce Harper was at the Arizona Fall League and would debut the next year.

GM Mike Rizzo continued his push to rebuild when he drafted Rice University 3rd baseman Anthony Rendon in June of 2011. Perhaps the team was too careful with their ace when they ultimately shut-down Stephen Strasburg in mid-September of 2012 and excluded him from the post season roster. Reasoning for the decision came partially from his doctor who suggested it, in lieu of the short amount of innings he pitched in 2011. The team went on to a series of disappointments in the post season; 2012, 2014, 2016, & 2017. Their adversity ended last year when they beat the Houston Astros to win the World Series. Anthony Rendon had a great seat on that tour from the beginning while Bryce Harper mirrored Jaysen Werth’s move by signing with the Philadelphia Phillies for $330 million over 13 years in 2019.

Originally the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals landed in Washington D.C. in 2006. There have been four MLB teams that called Washington D.C. home.

  • Washington Senators, Washington Statesmen (1891-1899)
  • Washington Senators (1901-1960) moved to Minneapolis to become the Minnesota Twins
  • Washington Senators (1961-1970) moved to Arlington to become the Texas Rangers
  • Montreal Expos (1969-2005) moved in 2006 to become the Washington Nationals

RFK Stadium, where games were played between 1961 and 2008, is scheduled for demolition in 2022. Nationals Park is in south-east Washington D.C., minutes from the monuments. The dome of the Capital is visible behind Left Field. Although it’s a year like none other, the fan-base is enjoying a renaissance period as the 2019 World Champions.

Marlins Park

Chicago Cubs @ Miami Marlins

2012 Regular Season at the New Marlins Park; the inaugural year. The Marlins were completing an organizational facelift, a campaign that ushered in a new image and the opening of a $551 Million complex at the site of the Old Orange Bowl. Jeffrey Loria, (owner of the Marlins at that time) built his wealth as an international art dealer, hence the placement of artwork throughout the hallways, the eclectic fish tank behind home plate. Then there was the sculpture; behind center field, with moving parts, sounding bells and whistle, that lit up and blew steam when a Marlins player hit a home run. The view beyond the huge glass panels of the Miami Skyline is impressive. Along with a retractable roof, the glass panels behind left field slide open to create a breeze way. New brand also meant new colors, new uniforms, new logo, and new name as the “Miami” Marlins, a throwback to the triple A Minor league team (1956-1960). Satchel Paige played for that team in the twilight of his career.

Amid the pompous circumstance of an inaugural year, the Miami Marlins faced a fallout in community support for two primary reasons. One, Jeffrey Loria worked with key figures in Miami Dade Politics to get a large share of construction cost covered by Miami Dade County through the sale of bonds, and with little community support for this project. Jeffrey Loria justified the need for public funding by arguing that the team was losing money. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez was responsible for huge property tax increases to residents during a mortgage crisis in the State of Florida; in order to help fund development of Marlins Park and pay hikes to the Mayor’s top staffers. The controversial relationship prompted locals to an election that ousted Mayor Carlos Alvarez by a vote of 88%. It was the largest municipal recall election in U.S. history.

The Marlins were hosting the Chicago Cubs here for the first time. It was also the first game back for Manager Ozzie Guillen who was returning from his suspension for comments he made about Fidel Castro that infuriated the Cuban Community. If he was still in Chicago, it would not have been an issue. But, it’s a cardinal sin to speak favorably of Fidel Castro in South Florida. Protests demanding the firing of Manager Ozzie Guillen also threatened to wreak havoc on the Marlins season. Guillen was a vital part of the Marlins marketing plan to connect to the Latino fan base. More money was spent on signing a high caliber of free agents to jumpstart the team into the post season. Fanfare began to fizzle out when a change of plans mid-season prompted the front office to start trading away their highly minted free agents one by one. Showtime pulled the plug on their series “The Franchise,” featuring the Miami Marlins in their inaugural season. The new Miami Marlins, who promised a “World Series” relevant team would eventually go out like just another tragic ending to a “Miami-Vice” tv episode.

But the Marlins story is a resilient one. Despite the odds, the franchise has won the 1997 & 2003 World Series. In 2017, Derek Jeter, with New York Businessman Bruce Sherman, bought the team for $1.2 billion. Since then, the organization has been liquid to say the least. The high turnover and change in direction have challenged the team to find its place in the league. At the end of the day, the Marlins have been historically resilient. Their scouting has paid dividends and those winning seasons have apparently been perfectly timed.

They’ve always managed to field a roster and compete in uncertain circumstance. So, when the pandemic hit the Marlins recently with an outbreak of over half the team with positive covid-19 cases, I was sure that it was game over. Within a week, they re-signed players needed to fill the roster while dealing with logistics of travel, eating, and sleeping. Their ability to follow the protocol requirements is a different game. As of Aug 12th, they have an 8-4 record and a .667 winning percentage that puts them in first place in the NL Eastern Division. Regarding how much bearing actual records will have; it remains to be seen. But, in the last game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Marlins won a 10-inning slugfest 14-11.

The Marlins confirm my faith in the player who is hungry. If there is a silver lining in the 2020 season, it’s that doors will open for players who have waited a lifetime for that one chance. So far, there are 40 MLB new debuts. In the tradition of Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cabrera, 2020 will be the year of the unknown player.

Turner Field

New York Mets @ Atlanta Braves

2011 regular season at Turner Field. The day before was Jackie Robinson Day; when everyone wears No. 42. But the game was rained out. There was also a tornado outbreak in the Carolinas just north. The next day, I traveled from Florida for the weekend and was lucky enough to catch a double-header on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. So, in game one, his No. 42 was on the uniforms of all the players and coaches. That alone made this trip well worth the time and effort. But, having dinner between games over centerfield and watching the sunset at the old ballpark was an added bonus. The history of the Braves is perhaps the longest existing thread where we can trace back to the origins of Major League Baseball. The Braves are the oldest professional franchise in sports; starting with the 1860’s Cincinnati Red Stockings that went 57-0. Harry Wright moved his team to Boston.

The Boston Red Stockings were one of eight charter teams that established the National League in 1876. New England enjoyed having two baseball teams with the Boston Americans (Red Sox) established in 1901. Braves then moved to Milwaukee in 1952 and this mid-west era, for the Braves, saw attendance records, the 1957 and 1958 NL. Pennant, 1957 World Championship, and finally a rookie named Hank Aaron bloom to greatness. He was part of that historic move to Atlanta in 1966; the first professional team in the south-east region.

What makes a ballpark great is how it remembers the Legends. Many reminders around Turner Field of the great Hank Aaron, among other greats, who broke the all-time home run record in Fulton County Stadium, which once stood just yards from Turner Field. The Braves moved here in 1966; although construction of Fulton County Stadium was completed in 1965. Due to obligations with City of Milwaukee, 1965 was a lame duck year in Milwaukee County Stadium.

In 1997, Turner Field became the second venue in Atlanta for the Braves. From 1966 to 1996, Fulton County Stadium was their first home in Atlanta. Later, Turner Field would be built as Centennial Olympic Stadium in 1996 as the City of Atlanta was host for the Games of the XXVI Olympiad. The Atlanta Braves had just won the 1995 World Championship in Fulton County Stadium. They were in the post season, in one form or another, for 14 consecutive seasons. Considering how busy it was, the move from Fulton County Stadium to Turner Field was seamless.

Turner Field is now used by Georgia State University. As of 2017, the Atlanta Braves now play at Truist Park, not to be confused with SunTrust Park; the original name when it first opened just three years ago. It’s hard to keep up with the naming rights business. It’s at a newly developed area in Cobb County; about 10-15 miles north of here. It’s expected to spur-on more development. You would think that this park could sustain the Braves another 20 years. Apparently, the demographic trends have moved away from downtown Atlanta; part of an effort to expand the south-east beltline. The 2020 Atlanta Region’s Plan is a 20-year vision for the future with the hope of adapting to technology and change in the area. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has $85.1 billion behind this plan.

Rogers Centre

Baltimore Orioles @ Toronto Blue Jays

Photo by Math on Pexels.com

2018 Regular Season at the Rogers Centre in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Seventeen-year veteran Cliff Floyd was on hand to call the game. This multi-purpose stadium in Downtown Toronto opened during the 1989 season. Before that, they played at Exhibition Stadium: where the new expansion team played their first game on April 7, 1977, hosting the Chicago White Sox. This complex is a far cry from that frigid day. The thermostat was hovering on zero degrees Fahrenheit, or (-17.777778) Celsius, and it was one of the coldest, snowy days ever played. This, on the other hand, is a state of the art, climate-controlled complex with a retractable roof, with a 348-room hotel adjacent to the park, beyond centerfield. The footprint of the entire structure is located at the base of the iconic CN Tower. Roger Centre is one of three remaining MLB stadiums that still have artificial turf on the playing field. The other two are Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida and Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.

Fair or not, there are historical plays that get a lot of exposure on the highlight reels every year. This is the site of the 1992 & 1993 World Series. In 1993, Joe Carter hit a walk-off home run and instantly began to jump up and down uncontrollably, as he made his way around the bases to win the 1993 World Series. He also caught the last out in the 1992 World Series and started to jump up and down in similar fashion, at the Old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta Georgia, to win it all. But most people only remember Joe Carter hitting that home run here in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. On the other end of that was Mitch Williams, relief pitcher of the Philadelphia Phillies who had the honors of throwing that home run to Joe Carter. While walking off the mound, he almost never looked back to see where that ball landed. The deafening sound of the crowd gave him an idea of where the ball was going to land. But, as he approached the third base foul line, he took a gander beyond left field to confirm that the ball did clear the wall. Just like that, the “Wild Thing” became a lasting part of Blue Jays History.

It’s the closest thing to an isolation bubble that MLB has. It’s only one field. But all the other facilities are there for an ideal isolated environment. In fact, you can literally drive in, park your car in the garage, take the elevator to your section, watch the game, and never even see what’s happening out side. It’s a self-sustained complex. On my drive to Toronto from Niagara Falls, the dark clouds from Lake Ontario made a menacing presence. The day of this game, a thunderstorm swept through downtown Toronto.

Either way, it’s located outside the borders of the United States and the government of Canada denied approval for the Blue Jays to play here during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team of young ball players are “cardiac kids” for more reasons than one. They play hard and with their hearts on the sleeves. They’re also dealing with some stress over being homeless and looking for shelter as well as a place to play. At first, there was talk of playing their home games, at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. When that fell through, they scrambled to find a home as season opened Thursday July 23. The displaced Blue Jays will resort to playing home games at Sahlen Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons, their Triple-A affiliate. They’re making “modifications to the infrastructure” to get it up to MLB standards: not sure what that really means. First home game is Schedule Aug 11.

This new groundswell of talent includes three players who are sons of former MLB players. The two fathers of both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio are Hall of Famers. And, Dante Bichette, father of Bo Bichette, was hired this year as a hitting coach due to the great rapport he’s had with the players. The Blue Jays are making a push for the future with these “cardiac kids” who are taking the baseball world by storm.

Last of the Legends

The 2013 Joe DiMaggio Legends Game at the Old Fort Lauderdale Stadium. It’s the 25th annual event at the park where the New York Yankees reported for Spring Training between 1962 and 1995. Joe DiMaggio retired from Baseball in 1951. That was the only year when the New York Yankees ventured west to Phoenix, Arizona. Besides that, Joe DiMaggio reported to Spring Training in St. Petersburg for most of his career. But, the “Yankee Clipper” is a pillar of what it means to be a Yankee. His name represents a huge legacy, on and of any field in America. The event was one of the designated meetings places for “SABR DAY,” a national event held annually by Society of American Baseball Researchers (SABR). There were more legends and the day was not long enough to find them all. The actual list of invitees were inaccurate, only tentative. Here were some of the Legends on hand.

  • Andre Dawson
  • Bill “Spaceman” Lee
  • Bert Campineras
  • Jay Johnstone
  • Art Shamsky
  • Cookie Rojas
  • Ed Kranepool
  • Jackie Hernandez
  • Tommy Davis
  • Warren Cromartie
  • Orlando Cepeda
  • Rico Carty
  • Jose Cardenal
  • Willie Horton
  • Orestes Destrade
  • Wayne Garrett
  • Fred Cambria
  • Alex Arias
  • Bruce Aven
  • Rich Nye
  • Anthony Telford
  • Dennis Rasmussan
  • Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd
  • Ron Swoboda
  • Tony Taylor
  • Jeff Conine
  • Ricky Bones

The game was held on Saturday January 26, 2013; a surreal day. Being in the midst of so many legends from the past, they were players that I grew up watching on “NBC Game of the Week.” It was and honor to spend time with them, to listen to their stories, to laugh at their jokes, and to confirm that they weren’t just fictional characters next to my comic books. They carried on at a slower pace, but I still saw them in all their glory; free standing titans. Aside from the players, Ron Harper (Chicago Bulls legend and Michael Jordan teammate) was in uniform and played along with other local celebrities. Even the grand daughter of Joe DiMaggio was on hand to watch the game.

The Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation supports Memorial Healthcare Systems serving residents in south Florida, the most diverse group of board-certified pediatric specialists in the region. Today, the new Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital has 226 beds. This game has been a part of the fund raising effort to benefit a wide scope of healthcare services and programs for children. Just the night before, Frank Sacco, CEO of the Memorial Healthcare System, announced that this annual game would be played for the last time, to the surprise of 500 attendees. Apparently, they let out a collective sigh in the room, the same sigh that was heard in the ball park when the news came through the intercom. No particular reason was made. It appeared to be an executive decision.

On a possible related story, a small row of half dozen seats collapsed when the rivets gave way while people were sitting on them. This was literally within 20 feet of where i was sitting. Fortunately, the row of seats only dropped a foot from where it was fastened. Needless to say, it created a bit of a distraction when police officers came to the scene to make sure everyone was fine; workers quickly removed the now lose furniture piece to an undisclosed area, before I had a chance to volunteer and take them home. Just kidding, concern for liability was in the air and there was no chance they would donate the evidence. In general, the park looked weathered and in dire need for improvement. Maybe that played a factor to the surprising news. The annual dinner, which can generate $350,000 a year for the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Memorial Hospital, has continued without the game.

University of Pirates

Spring Training 2010 at Pirates City minor league complex in Bradenton, Florida. It had recently been renovated, including all the comforts of a typical university campus. With dormitories, common areas, and services nearby, the prospects also eat, sleep, & live here. Training sessions resembled auditions, multiple stations and assignments, all of it being recorded on the numerous clipboards, stopwatches, and radars, lots of moving parts. They dared to chase a dream on the farm. The coaching staff really went out of the way to be cordial to the visitors. The family environment felt as if they we’re our kids out there. This is the “Pirates City” minor league complex that includes 80 dormitory rooms, offices, cafeteria, conference areas, storage space, locker rooms, and 5 baseball fields.

It was an accidental find. I set out to see the Boston Red Sox play the Pittsburgh Pirates at their home field in Bradenton (currently named LECOM park). Josh Beckett was pitching for the Red Sox. But, LECOM park is 3.5 miles east of “Pirate City. I used a “Tom Tom GPS” and it somehow brought me here instead. Don’t judge, we weren’t attached to our smartphones yet and I probably still had a flip phone. Room 231, in the dormitories, is dedicated to Roberto Clemente where he stayed every spring; not sure what the layout was like back then. But, the thought that these are Roberto Clemente’s old stomping grounds was worth the trip. The 2012 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, lived in Bradenton. For him, it was probably a longer trip to the mall than reporting to Spring Training.

This week, MLB has also been about scrimmage games. The games are not new. But, they normally transition to another level of training. In this case, scrimmage games are being maximized for their worth. Playing 6-7 innings with little regard for the score. Teams implement the various situations; like shifting the infielders or starting the inning with a man on second. So, what will baseball look like in 2020? It’s as clear as mud. Its 30 teams of 60 players treading water in a proverbial salmon run.

The 2020 season starts Thursday July 23rd with Washington vs. New York Yankees at 7:08PM ET. Fans want the game back. But, that wish comes with some concerns; including changes in the game. Things different about the game will be no fans, social distancing protocols, and new game rules. The biggest change will be the void or absence of the player development pipeline that is the minor leagues. That alone will have long term affects. Before the pandemic, MLB offered a proposal to MiLB, regarding the player development, that would eliminate 42 teams from the minor league systems, among other cutbacks. The pandemic accelerated the direction MLB was already going in. Stay tuned for the players in those extra reserve teams. You may find a few sneaky MVP-walk off-pick to click-game changers-that find the feeding. For them, its show time.

Target Field

Detroit Tigers @ Minnesota Twins.

2010 Regular Season in the St Paul-Minneapolis area to see the new Target Field, the house that Kirby Puckett built with a World Championship in 1987 & 1991. Traveling to visit MLB ballparks across the country means going light and trying to stay on the budget. It helps to research and take public transportation whenever possible. In this case, Target Field is in one of those chosen metro-areas with a public train system from the airport that leaves you at the park’s doorstep. The train ride also gives you a chance to get a good view of the park coming in. The Ubers and Airbnbs have also been great options to stay on budget. Overall, the challenge has been game ticket prices.

It was a chilly 45 degree day in Minnesota, definitely crispier then that with the wind blowing. That didn’t slow some people down at the park who were celebrating “Cinco de Mayo.” There was a very popular area behind left field, over the bullpens, lined with wall-to-wall heat lamps. Fans were on top of each other, huddling up to get the rays of comfort, like seals beaching themselves on Skeleton Island, the good old days. Target Field represents the 21st new ballpark, and counting, since the opening of Rogers Centre 1989 (Toronto).

The 2010 Season was the first time, since 1981, that the Minnesota Twins played a home game outdoors. From 1981 to 2009, they played at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, an indoor gym. Target Field is the third home field in the Minnesota Twins’ history. Originally, the Washington Senators move to Metropolitan Stadium (Bloomington, Minnesota) in 1961. This was also the first of three MLB teams to have called Washington D.C. home.

Newly acquired Johnny Damon started in left field for the Detroit Tigers. Early in the year, Miguel Cabrera overheard Johnny Damon tell a reporter that Miguel Cabrera was going to win the 2010 AL MVP. They both looked at each, other nodding their heads. “Then you buy me dinner,” said Johnny Damon. He did not. But, I would say that the seed was planted for a historic 2012 season that awarded Miguel Cabrera his first MVP and the first Triple Crown since Carl Yazstremski in 1967. On the other side of the diamond, Orlando Hudson (O-Dog) would also play the only year with his new team, the Minnesota Twins at second base. “O-Dog” was the hardest working funny man in baseball before he retired. For the times that he was at second base, he was constantly talking to the umpire between pitches. If the umpire’s ears didn’t fall off from the frostbite, I was sure they would from listening to “O-Dog.”

Just the day before, the late Ernie Harwell, the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years passed away from bile duct cancer on May 4, 2010. He knew he was sick for a year beforehand, said his peace in his farewell tour, and found closure with family and friends. I will always admire his grace in the face of his illness. Detroit Tigers wore a black patch with initials “ER” on the right sleeve of their road jerseys to commemorate Ernie Harwell, a baseball life.

Reporting for Camp

Spending the day in Champion Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Atlanta Braves position players were reporting for Spring Training 2013. Soon, the NBA will be in “The Bubble,” (somewhere near this field) to resume the 2019-20 basketball season. We shall see. And, so we shall see about the MLB season. There was no admission to see the players report to camp. But, I managed to have access. I will leave names out to protect the innocent. As of last year, the Atlanta Braves no longer train here. They did so from 1997 to 2019.

The team now trains at CoolToday Park (Sarasota, Florida). Technically, it opened for the last spring training game of 2019. But, 2020 was to be the inaugural year. Atlanta Braves partnered with Sarasota County in a $140 million venture. They signed a 30 year lease to develop the organization in the 6200 seat capacity complex, bells and whistles included. In a related story, the Florida Fire Frogs (Atlanta Braves Advanced-A Affiliate), were also expected to move from Osceola County Stadium (Kissimmee, Florida) to CoolToday Park starting Summer of 2020. Regardless of any pandemic, labor, or minor league issues, MLB will no longer play in Central Florida. The nearest facility is now Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium (Lakeland, Florida) where the Detroit Tigers have had spring training since 1934. Its a bit of a stretch. But, I guess you can say the Tampa Rays are part of Central Florida. Its ironic that, with the exception of rain, an environment ideal for baseball is not necessarily a viable business model.

Through out the year, there are multi-sport tournaments or events at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. On this day, there was also a girls soccer tournament nearby. Most of the foot traffic was attributed to that. Here at camp, everything started with stretching-calisthenics. You never want to get hurt. But, that’s especially true when players are trying to hold a job. The trainer had a small meeting to tell players how to hold on to the stretch-out straps because they will “slip, snap back, and take an eye out,” good to know. “That’s all I got,” he said. The training went on to some running and more stretching, defensive drills, then breaking up into smaller groups. Watching the team lining up for calisthenics is the same as a high school team would do. At every level, its still the same universal game. Grown men playing a little boy’s game, as they say.

Among the coaching staff were some familiar faces from baseball in the 1990’s. Third Base Legend Terry Pendleton is a permanent fixture in the organization. Coach Doug Dascenzo (former Chicago Cubs player) worked with the outfielders, hitting fungos. Ron Gant patrolled left field for the Atlanta Braves. But, on this day, he was getting an interview in for his broadcasting job. At the start of the 2013 regular season, Atlanta Braves were projected to have the best outfield in MLB, Justin Upton in left field, his brother B.J. Upton in center field, and Jason Heyward in right field.

The Upton brothers were newly acquired. Chances of two brothers playing together on the same MLB team are slim. Some 20-pairs of brothers have done so. There was some sort of side-game competition with missed or overthrown balls while the new Braves brothers played catch. B.J. was disputing a point that Justin was scoring and Jason Heyward was holding the jury while both sides pleaded their case. The point counted. Was it sibling rivalry or just a competitive drive? I’m guessing all of the above.

Steinbrenner Field

Washington Nationals @ New York Yankees.

Was able to catch a game before the rain, and before COVID-19. New York Yankees celebrate their 25th Spring Training at Steinbrenner Field here in Tampa, Florida. For the most part, 4-5 weeks of Spring Training go by really fast. Chances of rain in Florida make it a hit-or-miss if you decide to take the road trip. In this case, it worked out. The New York Yankees hosted the Washington Nationals and played 5 innings before the downpour. That’s a complete game on any scorecard, success! Yankee Masahiro Tanaka pitched the first two innings and the New York Yankees out hit the Washington Nationals. News broke later the same day. Yankees Pitcher Luis Severino had a torn ligament in his right elbow that would require Tommy John surgery. He would be out for the 2020 season. 

Little did we know that there were bigger problems, of the pandemic kind, around the corner. Recent additions to the 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals, free agents Starlin Castro and Emilio Bonifacio, were in the line up. Just the week before, the team had a second victory parade for their fans in downtown West Palm Beach near their Spring Training facilities, a complex they share with the scandal affected Houston Astros organization. 

Speaking of second chances, MLB announced this week that the 2020 regular season is set to begin July 23 or 24. Schedule is pending. 1800 Players will report in the coming days to Spring Training (2.0). That said, the strained labor relations between owners and players is yet another obstacle in the challenges ahead, something that will linger in the business of baseball for the next 18 months. It’s still unclear what the season will look like or how the protocol for the pandemic will play out. But, the game seems to be getting past the stalemate of issues. 

There will be a 60-game schedule or 2 months of baseball this year. Every team will have a universal designated hitter. Team rosters will start with 30 players instead of the normal 25 players. Each team will also hold an additional 20 players on reserve. They can be called upon for depth as the season goes. That would open doors for those fortunate minor league players who have been at the highest risk of career death. 

This game belongs to the fan. The billionaires and millionaires tend to forget that. The beauty of Baseball is being able to sit down to watch a game and to totally forget the problems outside the lines. And, when you get up from that seat, you somehow find the handles to the thing that was stressing you out. What to look for this year? Who knows? Moving forward, it will be fluid. There will be pent up frustration from months of quarantine, possible issues of cheating in the air, venomous offers from the owners, career uncertainty will give an ever present sense of urgency from players in different stages of their shelf life. In a 162-game schedule, August represents the dog days of summer. With a 60-game schedule which virtually starts in August, everyone is expected to play with fresh legs and with less concerns for fatigue. It will be a 200-yard dash to the postseason with no time for slumps. The fluidity may be explosive. It could be a season like none other, COVID-19 permitting.