Spring Training Break – Part 1
Florida living has its perks. Florida vacationing has its perks. Especially this time of year. Locals, spring breakers and snowbirds flock to southern Florida for the love of the game. Baseball. Major League Baseball – Spring Training style.
Better known as the Grapefruit League, 15 MLB teams call cities from Dunedin to Jupiter to Ft. Myers home from February until the end of March. Fans fill these teams’ parks every afternoon to see their favorite hitters get a single at bat; watch pitchers limited to pitch counts and root for the roster-making long-shots whose jersey numbers are usually in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Count us in as part of those fans. With so much opportunity to see so many great teams and stadiums, we would be remiss if we didn’t get out and visit as many parks as we could, watching future Hall of Famers, spreading some Tervis cheer and waiting for that ump to holler …
And that’s exactly what we did.
Our first First Pitch of Spring Training took place in our backyard at Charlotte Sports Park – home of our own Tampa Bay Rays. The weather was perfect, the crowd enthusiastic (and loaded with Detroit Tigers fans) and the teams a little tight. It was definitely not the best played game but that’s why they play these games, “to knock the winter rust off.” And that’s what the fans are doing as well, getting back into the groove of baseball, hot dogs, and in the case of Charlotte Sports Park, tiki bars and the chance to see a gator in the pond behind the visitor’s bullpen.
Part of the fun of attending a Spring Training game – or any MLB game for that matter – is the food vendors. It’s true. Pay attention next time. They walk the aisles of the ballpark, offering up their foodstuffs and drinks with unique cat calls to garner attention to their cotton candy, hot pretzels, sodas and beers. In the aisle just behind us in Florida Auto Exchange Park in Dunedin, as we watched the Canada National Team defeat the Toronto Blue Jays, we were treated to an expert vendor call out, “I’ve got peanuts. He’s got Ice Cream. Make yourself a Sundae!” It was well received in our section with laughs, applause and most importantly, sales.
Another part of the fun is the post-game partying – especially when the home team wins in the bottom of the 9th. In Clearwater, we were lucky enough to park in between a bunch of rabid Phillies fanatics’ vans. After the game they invited us to join their tailgate. We gladly accepted and were given a crash course on the game of “Washers” (think Cornhole with big heavy washers), and Philadelphia hospitality. Good times and cold beers flowed while traffic disappeared into the horizon.
Our next stop on our Spring Training tour was Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota to watch the Orioles. If you’ve never been here to watch the O’s play on a sunny spring day, add it to next year’s Spring Break. It’s the most fan-friendly park to date. Decked out in black and orange, the concourses are lined with concessions featuring Maryland favorites like soft shell crab sandwiches, crab cakes and Utz chips – as well as some of the most fan-oriented ushers I have ever witnessed – to make this park seem like Baltimore South. And I dare to say, the aforementioned food was equal to the back-and-forth game played under clear blue skies – incredible. Not a better way to spend a Tuesday afternoon.
As you can see, during Spring Training the score’s not important. Enjoying the day, the people, the food and drink and the moments are. (Oh, and for you beer snobs, you’re in luck, every park we visited offered up to 15 different craft beers. Go for the game, stay for the IPAs, ales and wheats.)
We still have a few games to attend and we’ll be back soon to share our baseball moments with you.