Driving two-and-a-half hours to a game that I did not have tickets for was actually familiar territory. Last year, during Spring Training, my mother and I drove up to Jupiter, FL to catch a Red Sox vs Marlins Spring Training game. I bargained for the tickets myself, and I probably paid twice the actual price. You can read about that day here.
The main difference between that game and the one I went to yesterday was that my mother and I actually had somewhere to go had that game not worked out. Her parents live in Stuart, which is only about 20 minutes away from Jupiter, so if the game did not work out, we would have just gone up there earlier than planned.
The closest family I have to Fort Myers is my Uncle Jim (a Red Sox fan, of course!), who lives in Venice Beach, FL. We had no backup plan. It was either get tickets (which meant buying tickets from overcharging scalpers since the game was sold out) or dejectedly go home.
My friend Marissa Goldstein accompanied my father and I to what was our third Spring Training game of the Grapefruit League season. I was so happy that I could finally take her to a baseball game after all she and her family have done for me. She lives in Miami, but she is originally from Boston, and she visits her dad up there every summer. For the past three summers, I have spent a week with her and her father, Larry, up in Boston.
It was through her family’s generosity that I was able to experience my first time at Fenway Park (which I should extensively describe sometime, now that I think about it)–and with great seats too. We literally sat seven rows behind the Red Sox batters’ box. Larry, Marissa, and I also experienced our first time on the Green Monster in the summer of 2007, and that was an experience that I’ll never forget. It was also through her father’s generosity that I was able to go to Pawtucket last summer and interview Dan Hoard, Steve Hyder, and Michael Bowden. I owe so much to them, so the least I could have done was to take Marissa to her first Spring Training game.
Marissa, of all of my friends, knows what going to a baseball game with me entails. I will let her explain that when she guest blogs and writes “10 reasons never to go to a baseball game with Elizabeth.” She received nothing less than the full Spring Training experience. We left my house at 8 am, arrived at the park by 10:30, and we were looking for tickets.
The first scalper we encountered was asking for more than twice the price for bleacher and reserved seats. We decided to try our luck somewhere else. With scalpers, you are never in a position of power. I am a decent bargainer, but when it comes to tickets I am easily manipulated.
My father got in line to see what the box office had, and Marissa and I were going to go down the block to see what other scalpers were offering. Before we had taken three steps, my father called us back. A man had three standing room only tickets that he was selling for the fair price of $12. None of us had had standing room tickets before, but we decided to take the chance so that we could get into the stadium quicker.
Marissa and I went down to the dugout. I decided that it would be best if we stood at opposite ends of the dugout, so that there was a higher probability of getting some signatures. Since many of the non-roster invitees had already been cut, acquiring a multitude of autographs was a tough endeavor.
Jeremy Hermida ran in from the field to get his bat for batting practice. He waved to me when I called his name, and I asked him if he would sign. He said he would after batting practice. “Oh great,” I thought despondently, “That’s basically code for: ‘I’m not coming back,'”
I guess I judged him a little too harshly. Believe me, I know that baseball players have jobs to do, but this is Spring Training. It’s the only time of year that the players can get somewhat close to the fans. I know signing autographs is just a nice bonus, but sometimes they forget that we pay their salaries.
Jeremy was true to his word, and he came back, and signed my ball first. I told him that I remembered watching his first Major League at-bat: a grand slam. He smiled when I mentioned it. “First pitch?” I asked as he was signing my ball. He responded, but unfortunately, I couldn’t hear amongst all of the “JEREMY” calls of the fans.
Pedroia stopped to sign for a second, just not in front of the dugout. My Dustin Pedroia salsa has yet to be signed. I always wonder how I’m going to throw that glass container of stale salsa over the dugout, but I’ll find a way. As Jacoby jogged back into the dugout, he waved to me. I may not have gotten his signature, but a wave was good enough. As the Orioles were taking BP, Tug Hulett appeared in the dugout, and once again signed for everyone who wanted an autograph. I got his autograph for the second time this Spring, and I still can’t believe how good he is about signing autographs.
Jacoby signed for a couple of people before heading out to stretch, but he was the only regular who did. I noticed Angel Sanchez, a non-roster invitee still in camp, so I called to him and he signed for me. A lot of players from minor league camp had been called up for the day, so I did not recognize a lot of the numbers. Even the numbers that I did recognize were different players. 76 was not Jose Iglesias, 79 was not Dustin Richardson, 82 was not Adam Mills, 92 was not Ryan Kalish, and 97 was not Kyle Weiland.
Not having an actual seat at a baseball game was a very different experience. Most of the standing spots along the wall had already been taken, so we tried to stand along the handicapped railing even though there was a sign that clearly read “Please do not stand along the railing.” We were shooed away almost immediately. We were forced to split up.
After the second inning, we noticed a bunch of empty seats around home plate, so I decided to inquire. Those seats were reserved for scouts. I was a little bit offended because I like to consider myself an amateur scout. So we went up to the upper bowl, and found some empty seats up there. My dad found a seat behind home plate with some empty seats next to him, but we weren’t sure if people were sitting there or not.
I was starving at this point, but you guys know me during a baseball game: I don’t get up to eat or to go to the bathroom. So Marissa was kind enough to go get sausages because she is OK with missing five minutes of a game. She claims to be the rational one. We had these amazing, foot-long sausages. Although we were high up, we were still behind home plate, so I could see the lack of spin (I mean this in a good way) of Wakefield’s knuckleball.
I don’t like to settle for seats though. So I called my dad to see if seats were still available next to him, and they were. So we snuck down, pretended we had been in the bathroom (for like, five innings). We were right behind home plate. The view was fantastic. I could see into the Red Sox dugout, and I could see the pitchers’ motions whether they were right handed or left handed. We never got kicked out.
Wakefield pitched five, scoreless innings of two-hit ball. Looks pretty nice on paper, right? However, personally, I did not think that he had his best stuff. I know the majority of his pitches he pitched for strikes, but he bounced more than one of them in there, which is not something typical of Wake. Granted, he hit most of his spots, but he would miss by a lot when he didn’t hit them. Obviously, he had a great outing (albeit against what was basically the Orioles’ minor league squad), but the fact that he bounced more than one pitch in concerned me a bit.
Adrian Beltre reached first on a dropped third strike, which is something that you don’t see everyday. I have seen some really cool plays this spring: a triple play last weekend, and Beltre reaching on a dropped third strike this weekend. He swung at a terrible, wild pitch, but I guess that’s OK as long as he gets on base. Beltre also made a really nice play at third by tagging a guy out. Not only does he always know where the play is going to be, but he also knows which play is the best to make (if there is more than one guy on base). He is going to be a very valuable defensive asset. The guys sitting next to me (not sure if they had tickets) commented that Beltre should perform offensively as well considering that Fenway is much more conducive to hitters than Safeco Field is.
Both Kevin Youkilis and Marco Scutaro connected for their first home runs of the Spring, which was great to see. The minor league call-up who impressed me the most was Peter Hissey. He connected for two line drives into center field, one of which produced two RBIs. He played in Single A Greenville last year, and I am unsure of where he will play this year. I was very impressed with him, and he will be one of my projects in progress; definitely a guy to keep your eyes on. Aaron Bates, Marissa’s first project, also had two hits, and played some nice defense at first.
Manny Delcarmen relieved Wakefield and pitched one inning of scoreless relief. There has been some speculation about him because his clocks out at around 90-91 mph rather than his usual 95. This is obviously a result from his shoulder problems that hindered his performance during the second half of last season. I think that this is only a matter of building up his arm strength, which is what Spring Training is all about.
Brian Shouse had a nice outing, and his delivery continues to fascinate me. It’s very different, but it looks good as long as he gets outs. Fernando Cabrera also pitched an inning of relief, and I was pretty impressed. He was up at Fenway last September, so don’t be surprised if you see him again during the course of this season. Joe Nelson, the man with the Vulcan pitch, was very shaky at first putting two men on without recording an out, but he was able to finish the game with a strikeout and without allowing any runs.
Towards the end of the game, I noticed Michael Bowden was leaning on the railing in the dugout. After Nelson had recorded an out in the ninth, Marissa and I decided to head over towards the dugout to see if I could talk to him for a second after the game.
After Nelson struck the last guy out, Marissa and I started calling to him. He waved briefly as he went out to high five all of the guys. On his way back in we called to him again, and his face lit up with recognition when he saw me. The conversation went something along the lines of this:
“Hi! How are you?” he said. “I’m great, thanks, yourself?” I replied.
“I’m pretty good. It’s so good to see you!”
“You’ve been doing so well this Spring!”
“Thank you! How’s your writing going?” I could not believe he remembered me, let alone that I was an aspiring writer.
“Pretty good! Did you ever check my blog out?”
“Yeah I did! I really liked it!” Wow, I could not believe that he had read it.
“You know, everything you had to say about pitching really changed my perspective on it. It really helped me out”
“Oh, good! I’m glad it did!”
“So thank you very much”
“You’re welcome! It was great to see you!” “It was great seeing you too!”
I was so happy that he remembered me. It was not just a “Oh, hey I remember you” wave sort of deal. He leaned over the dugout to talk to me for a bit. I had actually thought that he may have been annoyed when I sat down and talked to him throughout the game in Pawtucket. The next night, when the security guard discouraged me from talking to the pitchers in the stands, I thought that maybe Michael had said something to him.
Apparently not. I was so happy that I had a chance to talk with Michael again. I know that he struggled at Fenway last year (which was NOT his fault), but this year he is fighting for the bullpen spot. I know that I may be a bit partial, but I truly think that he deserves the it. I think that he would have a great, positive impact because he has the same versatility that Masterson had: the ability to be both a starting pitcher, and a reliever. I will always be supportive of him, no matter what happens.