Grapefruit Classic

Team Puerto Rico @ Minnesota Twins

2013 Spring Training: Minnesota Twins hosted Team Puerto Rico at Hammond Stadium, in Fort Myers, Florida. This area in Southwest Florida is the commercial center of Lee County. Twins have trained here since 1991. The Boston Red Sox also train in Fort Myers. It helps with the schedule to have another team in town. Still, its a challenge to get around in Florida when road trips can be 2-3 hours if you’re lucky. In contrast, the training complexes in Arizona are all 30 minutes from each other. It’s been something to consider for teams who moved from Florida to Arizona. Nonetheless, the game of baseball has thrived in Fort Myers since Thomas Edison lived here over 100 years ago.

Terry Park, located 22 minutes north of Hammond Stadium, first held professional games in 1914 when the Louisville Colonels of the American Association trained there. Roberto Clemente first reported to spring training at Terry Park in the 1950’s. The Pittsburgh Pirates trained there at the time. Little would he know that a team representing his homeland would visit a Major League Team here almost 60 years later. This was an exhibition game to promote the upcoming 2013 World Baseball Classic. On this day, New York Yankees also hosted Team Dominican Republic 125 miles away in Tampa, Florida. Over in the Arizona Cactus league, it was Team Mexico vs Chicago White Sox and Team USA vs LA Dodgers. Today it’s not so easy to understand how important these games where. Back then, if anyone said these games didn’t matter would be lying to themselves. There was no way these matches would end in a tie or a “mercy rule” as is the case in 2021 Spring Training. The thought process is understandable given the concerns coming off a truncated season in 2020. But the optics are terrible for ticket paying customers.

No comparison to the loud cheers in the stands from the Team Puerto Rico faithful at Hammond Stadium. The band even came out to play the “Parrandas” of the island. A source of pride or obnoxious, depending on how you look at it. A win would be hard earned from the Twins. And, that it was; a slugfest. Outfielder Angel Pagan, who’s day job was with San Francisco Giants, led the offense going 2-3 with an RBI. Eddie Rosario was in the line-up for Team Puerto Rico. He was drafted by the Twins in 2010 and eventually debuted for them in 2015. Some of the other known Major Leaguers on Team Puerto Rico were Alex Rios, Carlos Beltran, Mike Aviles, and two of the Molina Brothers (Yadier and Jose). The lead changed 4 times while Team Puerto Rico massed 17 hits to barely top the Minnesota Twins 8-7. After this, Team Puerto Rico would head for San Juan to begin the 2013 World Baseball Classic for the first round in pool C at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.

Minnesota Twins ended the 2013 Regular Season 4th place in their division with a 66-96 record. Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections have the Twins heavily favored in the AL Central Division for 2021. They have good reason to feel this way. But, as someone once prophetically said in hindsight, “that’s why you play the game.”

Fenway South

Minnesota Twins @ Boston Red Sox

2012 Spring Training at Jet Blue Park; an inaugural year for The Boston Red Sox. They hosted Minnesota Twins at the new ballpark better known to Red Sox nation as “Fenway South.”  Before this, they trained at City of Palms Park, since 1993. Today, that park is home to Florida South Western State College. The Boston Red Sox would report to their new home under precarious conditions from the epic collapse late in the 2011 regular season. With renewed hope that comes from an upcoming spring, they dusted themselves off in an $80 million facility here in Fort Myers, Florida. Bobby Valentine was hired to steer the ship as the Boston Red Sox Manager for this 2012 regular season. In hindsight, it was the beginning of the end as the Red Sox went on to only win 69 games in that campaign. In his 2017 book, “Papi: My Story,” he recalls the 2012 regular season as the worst of his stretch with Beantown. This, as opposed to 2013 when Boston won it all and David Ortiz was World Series MVP; just a year later.

Jet Blue Park opened March 04, 2012. Construction cost was subsidized, in part, by bonds from Lee County, also the owners of City of Palms Park. Seems like a lot of money for something used 30-45 days in the Spring. Grievances aside, it’s a great place for a ball game. The Rookie League GCL Red Sox of the Gulf Coast League also played approximately 40 home games here. In 2013, The Florida High School Athletic Association started to have their final rounds of baseball state championships here in the month of May.

Aside from the mass following of the Red Sox Nation faithful, Jet Blue Park has design elements similar to the iconic Fenway Park. The most obvious is a “Green Monster” wall in left field. There’s a “Pesky’s Pole” to mark foul territory in rightfield, including the signatures and written messages from attending fans. The bullpen locations are also beyond the right-center field wall; just before a “Williamsport” area. Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was in the middle of a three-year struggle from a concussion sustained in 2010. He came back this year to play 134 games with a .257 batting average. Teammate and catcher Joe Mauer was also coming back from various ailments in 2011. He went on to set the all-time Minnesota Twins record for most games played by a catcher (832).

Dustin Pedroia was also in the game for the Boston Red Sox. His ordeals with the disabled list are well document. After three years of battling injuries, Dustin Pedroia was forced to finally announce his retirement this week. From 2006 to 2019, Dustin Pedroia was 2007 Rookie of the Year, 2008 AL MVP, a 3-time World Champion, 4-time All Star, and 4-time Gold Glove. And a 2008 silver slugger. With 1805 total hits, he ranks 8th with the Boston Red Sox in all-time hits, finishing with a .299 batting average; a 300 hitter if you round it off. He is the only player to attain a World Series Title, an MVP, a Rookie of the Year, and Gold Gloves all in his first two seasons. Not bad for someone who spent much of the start to his career convincing security that he was on the team. That, along with other discouraging episodes, was attributed to his 5’-9” stature. Being called out on his height or lack thereof, was something Dustin Pedroia grew used to. “I didn’t know there was a height requirement like when you go the theme parks,” he once said. I’m sure that it was a source of motivation.

Last but not least, it was a very hot day at the ballpark. Hydration and occasional shelter are key. The forecast on this day in early April was an average high of 86.5 degrees; reaching an actual high of 91.9 degrees. At times, ballparks are revisited after an inaugural year to address sun and shade issues, both for player and fans. For example, lack of shelter for fans sometimes requires installations of canopies. The Florida sun is unforgiving. In general, negotiating around it requires the skills to both prepare and adapt. We can now add pandemic protocols to that list of acquired skills. The Boston Red Sox announced February 02, 2021 that fans will be allowed to attend at 24% capacity, primarily on the back fields. As of now, they’re set to begin February 17, 2021.

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.