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Friday, March 8, 2013

WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT SPRING TRAINING? EVERYTHING.

Nothing smells better than a hot dog grilling, greasy fries frying, and the aroma of a fresh cold brew at the ballpark.  And when you haven’t had that for about five months or so, the firsts of the season re-create the old memories of the springs of yesterday, the ones when I was growing up. 

When I was eight, my grandmother, die-hard Brooklyn Dodger, transformed Met fan went to Florida for spring break.  Now, the 70-something-year-old baseball fanatic was legitimately going to visit her sister in Pompano Beach, but she would never miss a chance to catch a spring training game or two during her visit.

Since Ft. Lauderdale was only a short 13 minutes from Pompano, she caught Yankee games at its old spring stomping ground.  And for me, this was a thrill because she got me what every kid my age wanted when you made the trip to the stadium- autographs!

 (In Photo: Ron Davis)
Yes, Manager Bob Lemon, pitchers Ken Clay and Ron Davis, catchers Mike Heath and Fran Healy, first baseman Jim Spencer and outfielders Jay Johnstone and Paul Blair all signed a spring training program for Dorothy’s little granddaughter from Staten Island.  I was awed by the signatures- each with a unique swirl and special meaning.  I will never forget that year, because many of these same faces celebrated victory in October when the Yankees won the World Series.

(In Photo: Fran Healy)
Later on, Fran Healy called Yankee games on WPIX-11 and radio broadcasts on 1010 am.  That was my first dose of spring training as a kid- well before I realized how important spring training is to teams as they condition themselves for a long 162 game season. 

This year, however, players have mixed opinions about the added week to the traditional spring training schedule.  Some managers and players think it's too long and counterproductive while others are eager and grateful for all of the time they have to be ready for the season.


According to this Associated Press article (HERE): “A long spring: More games, more down time when major leagues add a week to spring training,” Pitcher Andy Pettitte gave his two cents on the augmented spring schedule.  "It's slowed me down in a big way," the 40-year-old said. "It's a long spring training, so they give a few days off in between my bullpens, stuff like that. You've got so much time down here, it's like, 'Why rush?' We work backwards. You work from the opening day of the season and figure out what you need. It's definitely impacted me.
The article continued by stating, “Managers have worked out detailed plans to pace their teams for the long haul to opening day. Many players are voluntarily holding back on their normal spring routines, particularly when they're coming back from injuries or off season surgery.”

Personally, for me, why not give the Bombers extra time to prep for what is expected to be a difficult season.  And besides, it gives fans more games to get amped up for baseball- a sport that has undergone a lot of controversy and criticism over the last couple of years. 

As I watch my 15-year-old son try-out for his very own high school team, I can’t help but reminisce his first trip to Florida for spring training.  Now as if this was not ironic enough, we were staying in West Palm Beach, Florida at the time so Pt. St. Lucie was close by and therefore, we went to a Met game with my then three-year-old son.
It was a lucky day for us, not only did my son get his picture in the local paper but I had the amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce him to the great Tommy Lasorda who was sitting just a few rows away from us at the stadium.  Chris stuck out his little hand and gripped the iconic manager’s hand.  It was an awesome moment- it was Chris’s first introduction to spring baseball and now many years later, he vies for his own spot as a catcher for his high school. 

So, even though spring represents a nuisance for some with its unpredictable weather conditions and extra spring training workouts and opportunities for others who crave the extra time to warrant a second look from scouts and to experiment with new batting stances or pitching rituals, for me spring represents invaluable memories and a new beginning.  Fans who truly love the game can appreciate spring training for its outrageous predictions, fresh prospects and delicious first smells of the season.

After all as Ben from the baseball flick Fever Pitch says, “I like being part of something that's bigger than me, than I. It's good for your soul to invest in something you can't control.”



--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Opinion Columnist
Twitter: @suzieprof






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