Saturday, March 18, 2006

Home Spring Home

Spring Training is a completely different experience for baseball fans. The fences are low, the field is close, the stands are smaller, and the players are more relaxed. It's a time where major league games are played in minor league parks, where tickets cost $15 rather than $50. A chance to see your favorite players in a more intimate atmosphere. All told, it's a fun time. Or is it?

Planning on attending one of the last few Spring Training games this March? Can't get tickets to your team's home park? Are tickets cheaper at a close by stadium where your team will be visiting? Here's a tip: wait for next year.

I've had the pleasure of attending a few Grapefruit League games this March and just about every time I was half-excited to see the players that showed up. At each game there was always one lineup that stood out much more than the other. There was a common trend throughout: it was always the home team that brought the names. Visiting teams rarely ever brought more than one or 2 of their best players. Even when it's a drive as short as Tampa to Dunedin (20 minutes). Here's a perfect example:

Boston vs Toronto @ Knology Park in Dunedin, FL (Home of the Blue Jays).

Here's the starting line up the Red Sox announced before the game:
C - Ken Huckaby
1B - J.T. Snow
2B - Alejandro Machado
SS - Alex Cora
3B - Enrique Wilson
RF - Adam Stern
CF - Wllie Harris
LF - Jeff Bailey
DH - Dustan Mohr
SP - Lenny DiNardo

Here's the starting line-up the Red Sox will probably announce before most of their regular season games (according to the team's online depth chart:
C - Jason Varitek
1B - Kevin Youkalis/J.T. Snow
2B - Mark Loretta
SS - Alex Gonzalez
3B - Mike Lowell
RF - Trot Nixon
CF - Coco Crisp
RF - Manny Ramirez
DH - David Ortiz
SP - Josh Beckett/Curt Schilling/Matt Clement/David Wells

Ok, fine, David Ortiz had a WBC semi-final game to lose against Cuba today and Jason Varitek just had the pleasure of sitting on the bench for most of the game while the USA lost its chance to play in the semi-finals, but all of the other starters, save Snow (who was actually ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes. A fan close to the field could be overheard yelling, "Hey Snow, shut the f*ck up. It's Spring Training!"), weren't even on the travel roster, nevermind the starting 9.

This was a sold out crowd at Knology Park. One of the two the Blue Jays have had so far this year (the other being against the Yankees). Some smaller market teams need games like these to help their revenue. Luckily for the Jays, fans didn't realize the fact that there's no guarantee their favorite players will make the trip with them. The Red Sox website doesn't even list stats by starting LF Jeff Bailey, who's spent 3 years worth of Spring Training with the team since spending time with then Montreal Expos.

So, if you can't catch a Spring Training game at your team's home field, and enjoy watching some of your team's journeymen, non-roster invitees, and AAA prospects, then by all means get tickets to an opponent's stadium when your team makes the trip. Have a good time watching a fun baseball game. Just don't be surprised if even some of the most avid fans don't recognize half of the starting line up.


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