Champion Stadium

Miami Marlins @ Atlanta Braves

Spring Training 2012 at Champion Stadium; part of ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex located in Walt Disney World (Lake Buena Vista, Florida). Atlanta Braves hosted Miami Marlins in late March, as teams finalized their rosters. But, the news throughout baseball broke here just moments before the game. Atlanta Braves third base star Chipper Jones announced he would retire at the end of the season. On this day, he took a pre-game walk to home plate and exchanged starting line-ups with Joey Cora of the Miami Marlins and to exchange pleasantries with Joe West and the three other umpires on duty. He received a lengthy standing ovation on his way back to the dugout, rightly so. In 18 years with the Atlanta Braves, he is an 8-time all-star, a 2-time silver slugger, the 1999 NL MVP, a 2008 batting champion, and a 1995 World Champion. Chipper Jones was the face of all those post season years for the Atlanta Braves.

Over in the other dugout was the newly minted Miami Marlins team. Over the off-season, the Franchise in South Beach was preparing to open the New Marlins Park; launching a marketing campaign that rebranded the team from the Florida Marlins to 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. The front office also worked feverishly in the hot stove to make good on their promise of putting a team on the field that would go the World Series. Free agents like Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez singed on to the build. The Marlins were also close to signing Albert Pujols, who was also on the free agency market after winning the 2011 World Series. He would reject a contract worth up to $300 million over 10 years from the Marlins. Apparently, the deal breaker was a no trade clause that was non negotiable as far as Pujols was concerned. He would sign with the Los Angeles Angels at $254 million, also over 10 years. It was substantially less money but included a full no trade clause from the Angels. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Marlins would be plagued by controversy. For the Marlins, the season would fizzle into a bad ending to a B-movie.

Champion Stadium was the Spring Training home for the Atlanta Braves from 1997 (opening year) 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. Over the years the 7500 seat Champion Stadium has been home to baseball tournaments at just about every level of amateur, as well as professional, competition. This was the site of the 2006 World Baseball Classic; First round, Pool D. In an effort to promote Tampa Rays fandom. The team scheduled a regular season series in the 2007 (Texas Rangers) and the 2008 Regular Seasons. The Rays won all six of those games. Champion Stadium is one of the ballparks most visited in my baseball pilgrimage; purely by default. I lived nearby for over 15 years. I was here when Sammy Sosa, with the Texas Rangers, returned to the team that first signed him to play his final year in 2007.  I also had the fortune of seeing David Ortiz and Team Dominican face Mike Piazza and Team Italia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Hall of Famer Mike Piazza would go on to coach Team Italia under the counseling of legendary Tommy Lasorda.

And speaking of legends, with the passing of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron today, the Braves family, along with the rest of the world, mourn the loss of an icon that was a legend among legends. In the last nine months, (10) Hall of Famers have passed away. The annual induction ceremonies in August of 2020 were cancelled. When the Hall of Fame does reconvene, roll call will be difficult.   

Winter Meetings

2013 Baseball Winter Meetings held at the Dolphin Resort in Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Among other things, there was also a job fair and trade show, an important time of year for many in the industry who are looking for advancement. It runs from Monday morning to early Thursday afternoon and its usually set in a different city every year. Headlining Monday morning was the news that Pitcher Roy Halladay would retire. There was also a press conference to announce the Hall of Fame induction of Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa, a combined 93 years of managerial experience. They were elected by a special “Expansion Era Committee.”

Bobby Cox played a couple of years for the New York Yankees as a backup infielder. He found his real calling while managing in the Yankees minor league system and in Venezuela. He was a first base coach for the 1977 World Champion New York Yankees. That all set the tables for his first MLB Manager job in 1978 with the Atlanta Braves. 32 years later he would lead his teams to 16 Division Titles, 5 Pennants, and 1 World Championship.

Joe Torre was a player for 18 years and was an All-Star, a Gold Glove, an MVP, & a Batting Champion. But, never anything in the post season. He actually started managing as a player manager for the New York Mets in 1977. Ironically, his second manager job was to replace a fired Bobby Cox with the Atlanta Braves. 28 years later he would lead his teams to 13 Division Titles, 6 Pennants, and 4 World Championships. His legendary run with the New Yankees gave him something he never had as a player.

Tony La Russa played between 1962 and 1977. I good part of that time was spent in the minors as he injured his shoulder early on while playing a game of softball. His last Major League appearance was one game in Chicago with the Cubs in 1973, where he scored a run. His first Manager job was also in Chicago with the White Sox in 1979. 33 years later, he led all organizations he managed to the post season with 12 Division Titles, 6 Pennants, and 3 World Championships.

 There were also wild card births that all three managers took advantage of in post season competition. The expansion era of baseball is marked from 1973 to present. And, when you talk about the changes of the games since, it’s impossible to leave these three names out of the conversation. Frank Thomas, Greg Maddox, and Tom Glavine were added to this Hall of Fame Class of 2014 a couple of weeks later (January of 2014) through the regular ballot voting.

A buzz was in the air from the schedule of events and the big names in baseball roaming around. Owners, front office executives, general managers, and coaches from all 30 MLB teams were all on hand here. You know you’re at the epicenter when you see baseball insiders John Heyman and Ken Rosenthal zipping through the hallways of the lobby.

CBS Sports Writer Mike Axisa reported the deals listed below on Wednesday December 11, 2013.

Extensions

  • Pirates: Signed RHP Charlie Morton to a three-year, $21 million extension. The contract includes a $9.5 million club option for a fourth year.

Signings

  • Mariners: Agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million with 1B/OF Corey Hart. He can earn another $8 million or so in incentives.
  • Mets: Agreed to terms with RHP Bartolo Colon. It’s a two year $20 million deal.
  • Pirates: Agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million with RHP Edinson Volquez, adding to their pitching depth.

Trades

  • Astros: Acquired RHP Anthony Bass and either a player to be named later or cash from the Padres for a player to be named later or cash, the team announced.
  • Mariners: Acquired 1B/OF Logan Morrison from the Marlins for RHP Carter Capps.
  • Nationals: Acquired LHP Jerry Blevins from the Athletics for minor league OF Billy Burns.
  • Yankees: Acquired minor league RHP Kyle Haynes from the Pirates as the player to be named later in last week’s Chris Stewart trade, the team announced.

Overall, this was a relatively quiet meeting of the minds, nothing earth shattering or game changing. Yahoo Sports reported on a fight in the parking lot outside between a couple of agents that got into a scuffle over a player, one accusing the other of stealing a prospect. A small 22 second video clip from the phone of an witness showed the two taking their swings. It briefly went viral but was not enough to identify them. According to witnesses, one even threatened to burn the other’s house down. With a slow week came a side-story with more excitement on the parking lot outside then in the hotel reservations.