I didn’t think Spring Training could get any more intimate than City of Palms Park. Autographs are more of a commodity than they are during the regular season, and no matter where you sit (from my experience, at least), you’ve got a pretty nice view. I thought that way until I decided to take a left on Edison Avenue rather than a right, and I was headed down to the Players’ Development Complex.
I could have just gone to the ballpark: making vain attempts at getting autographs, and getting the “give me a second” finger from the more renowned stars. I had been pretty comfortable with doing that in the past: I knew the best places to get autographs, and even if I only got a couple, it was still fun talking to the fans I was with. I decided to step out of the box when I went down to the complex, and do some exploring.
I didn’t really know what to expect down at the complex. I had only been there once before when it was the common practice to go down there and watch the workouts. There were hundreds of fans, but it had been an incredible day nonetheless. This time, the only people walking around the complex when I arrived were the players. I was armed with a batch of delicious oreo cupcakes that I thought the players, staff, and security guards might appreciate considering it had probably been weeks since they have had homemade goods.
It didn’t take long for me to feel right at home at the complex: as soon as I walked through the gate and onto the premises, Dustin Richardson gave me a warm welcome. He asked how I was doing, and he even asked me about this website, which he mentioned he had checked out. He was interested in my cupcakes, but declined on one until later.
There was a practice on every field, so I strolled around taking it all in. I don’t know why, but I felt it would have been weird to take pictures. It just didn’t feel right; I felt like it would have been invasive.
I sat down on the bleachers and watched some of the Double AA guys take batting practice. Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias, Lars Andreson, and Ryan Khoury were among the guys taking swings. I talked to Khoury for a quick second, who remembered me from last time, and he also declined on a cupcake until later. I also caught up with Lars Anderson when he was done, and I’m sure you can guess the first words out of his mouth: “Hey, I like the glasses!”
We had a bit more time to talk, so I finally told him my name so he would know me as someone other than glasses girl. I also ran into Casey Kelly for a quick second, and I complimented him on his fantastic start against the Rays earlier in the week.
Then I had the chance to meet Stolmy Pimentel, a highly ranked pitching prospect in the organization. I had a nice time talking to him, and his favorite pitcher is Erwin Santana. I also had the chance to meet Juan Apodaca (his brother, Luis, plays for the Rockies). He was really nice as well, and his favorite catcher is Pudge Rodriguez.
There was a big bus in the parking lot for the Single A guys, and I noticed Pete Hissey getting on. He was kind enough to stay and talk for a second. I mentioned to him how impressed I had been with him when he had come up, and I gave him one of my cards.
Ryan Khoury told me that the icing on the cupcake that I gave him was fantastic. Robert Manuel thought they were muffins, but hey, close enough. I also had the chance to talk to Gil Velazquez, who remembered both me and my father from last time. He is rehabbing his broken thumb right now. As I said goodbye to Ryan after talking to him for a bit, I told him I’d be in Portland during July and August, but instead of telling him that I hoped I would see him there, I told him that I hoped that I wouldn’t see him there (because hopefully he’d be at the next level).
Towards the end of my day there, I had the pleasure of meeting Mike, Kim, and their adorable daughter Elizabeth. They are from Greenville, SC, and it was a pleasure meeting them! They go to nearly every game in Greenville, and they are great baseball fans.
We left with about fifteen minutes to game time, and let me tell you something, we had the most incredible seats in the world. We were in the first row behind the Red Sox dugout, thanks to John Ruzanski, a security guard in both Fort Myers and in Pawtucket. John is such a great guy, and hopefully I’ll see him over the sumer in Pawtucket.
The field was even more breathtakingly beautiful from these seats. John Lackey looked pretty good in his final start of the Spring. It was pretty cool to have seen him in his first start in a Red Sox uniform, and his final tuneup before it counts. After allowing a second inning home run to Jim Thome, Lackey pitched a pretty decent game. Manny Delcarmen, on the other hand, struggled. He lacked both his command and his control, and he hit two batters in his 1.2 innings. Scott Schoeneweis picked up the win, and he looked really solid in his outing.
It was my projects who made the difference in this game. They always make me proud. I had seen Ryan Kalish earlier at the complex, so he must have been a last minute call-up. It was so great to see him there though, and he had a nice bloop single. The ladies sitting behind me gave Nate Spears a great nickname: the Nate-er-ator! The Nate-er-ator had a tie-breaking RBI triple.
Since it was Spring Break, my dad and I were able to go to two games in a row, and we spent the night in Fort Myers. That didn’t mean there wasn’t an early wake up call though. City of Palms Park may open at 10:30, but the complex opens even earlier. How could I not go back after the day I had had there?
The coffee provided at our hotel tasted like brown water, so we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts before heading to the complex. We arrived so early that players were still walking out. I had the pleasure of meeting Dave: a security guard for the Sea Dogs. It was great talking with him.
As I continued to walk in, Ryan Dent asked why there were no cupcakes today. I watched the Pawtucket Red Sox warm up on their field, and I ran into Kris Johnson. He will be starting the season in Pawtucket, and we are both on a quest to make sure we spell analysis correctly in the future. I also told him that I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Pawtucket when I was there.
Then I walked over to where some of the Single A guys were doing drills, and I told Anthony Rizzo that he was a project of mine. He asked why, and I told him I would explain later because I didn’t want to interfere with the drills. When I caught up with him (and told him about my project program) later, I also had the pleasure of meeting his mother, Laurie.
I had the chance to meet Ryne Miller as well. He was the guy that made the emergency start when Beckett was out with the flu. He told me that they told him at 11 am on the same day. That isn’t fair to anybody, but he certainly did not make any excuses.
Brock Huntzinger was pitching in a Single A game that day, and we talked for a bit. He is from Indiana, and has been with the organization since 2007. He was a really nice guy, and I look forward to watching him during the year. He had to take the picture since I was too short.
Then I had the chance to meet Derrik Gibson, and we walked across the complex talking. I found out he is from Delaware, which is where my mother was born, and I still have lots of cousins over there. It was great to talk to him, and I told him that he is a project.
I ran into Dustin again, and I had a nice chat with him walking across the complex. I told him that if I had it my way, he’d be in Boston right now, but I really liked what he had to say. Instead of just saying, something like, “Yeah, I should be in Boston”, he said that he still had stuff to work on in Pawtucket. That really showed me how meticulous he is being with his approach. Still, I told him I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Pawtucket when I’ll be there. I also caught up with Michael Bowden a bit more extensively,and it was great talking with him. Like I’ve said before, he will be up in Boston real soon, potentially even by the time I’m in Boston. He said if he wasn’t that he would be in the stands like last time.
Then I had the pleasure of meeting Cesare Angeloni, and he showed me how to throw a splitter. He is from Philadelphia, so he grew up a big Phillies fan. He played in the Gulf Coast League and in Lowell last year. He’s really nice, and I look forward to watching that splitter this year.
Finally, I ran into Pete Hissey again. He told me that if he wasn’t playing baseball, he probably would have gone to law school. He is primarily an outfielder because he is left handed, and left handed guys can’t play the infield (I had never even thought of that!!).
With all these guys I’ve met, I’m making a couple additions to the projects. Add Derrik Gibson, Ryan Khoury, Pete Hissey, Cesare Angeloni, Ryne Miller, Adam Mills, and Stolmy Pimentel to the list.
Then it was time for the final grapefruit league game of the season. I’m sure a bunch of the players are sick of Florida, but the ending of spring training is bittersweet for me. I’ve had an unforgettable time down here.
After a shaky first inning, Clay Buchholz pitched a fantastic game. His only problem in the first inning was that he was getting a bit distracted by the runners. It was not only great seeing him, but also meeting his wife, Lindsey. She is so nice, and I wish her and Clay nothing but the best.
It was great to see a bases clearing double from Jason Varitek (and from the same, incredible seats as well). It was also great to see Reddick get a hit to finish off an incredible spring. Kevin Youkilis even threw me a ball! Sitting behind the dugout, you can hear a lot more things: like the profanities coming out of Dustin Pedroia’s mouth as he comes back into the dugout after getting out. Too bad he hasn’t signed my salsa yet.
As I bid farewell to Spring Training, I have to give a couple of shout outs. First and foremost, to Merrill, a season ticket holder for both spring training and the regular season. He has been helping us out with tickets since 2008, and he is such a nice guy to watch a ball game with. Another big shout out to Tom, a security guard at the park who helps out the handicapped people. It was great seeing him all Spring.
I have one more thing before I go. They say that Spring Training statistics don’t matter, but I have some stats of my own:
Total miles traveled: 1860
Trips made over to Fort Myers: 6
Hours spent traveling: 30
Games attended: 6 (including the B game that followed the game on March 13)
Hours spent watching games in person: approx. 17
Conversations with prospects: 21
The pursuit of happiness is priceless.