Sunday, June 10, 2018

Baseball Bingo

I coined the term "Baseball Bingo" last year (2017) as a way to describe seeing a game at every level of professional baseball. There are a few variants of it.

Mets Baseball Bingo (and 29 other variants)
Seeing every minor league affiliate of the Mets (some organizations have 5 teams, some have 6)

Minor League Baseball Bingo
Seeing any game from each of the 6 levels of affiliated Minor League Baseball (for which tickets are sold). Overall, there are 160 teams, with 30 at each of the first 4 levels (playing April through early September), and 40 more short season teams (mid-June through September), with every organization having at least one team between the two levels, and some having a team at each level.
  1. AAA, broken into 2 leagues across the country
  2. AA, broken into 3 leagues in the Northeast, Southeast, and greater Texas
  3. Class A Advanced (aka "High A" or "A+"), broken into 3 leagues in California, Florida, and the Southeast/Mid-Atlantic
  4. Class A (aka "Low A"), broken into 2 leagues in the Midwest and Southeast/Mid-Atlantic
  5. Class A Short Season, broken into 2 leagues in the Northeast and Northwest
  6. Rookie Advanced (Short Season), broken into 2 leagues in the Appalachian Mountains in TN, NC, VA and WV; and Big Sky/Rocky Mountain regions

Baseball Bingo
Spring Training, Major League Baseball, All 6 levels of Minor League Baseball, Independent baseball

MLB Ballpark Pass-port has a product useful in tracking one's travels. This product includes a fold-out map of the United States (and southern Canada) and marks the locations of all 160 affiliated minor league teams color coded by their classification. The Wikipedia pages for the respective leagues will show you the local map for those teams.

I bring this up because based on geography, these are very difficult feats to accomplish. No matter where you live, travel will need to be involved to accomplish any of these feats. Some of the time, these smaller leagues are in very hard-to-find towns.

And for the second straight season, I can say that it is in the plans for me to accomplish Baseball Bingo. My Minor League Baseball Ballpark Pass-port book will help validate it, something which I didn't think of last year. It's not something I go into the season looking to accomplish. Last year, it happened somewhat organically. This year, it's a bit more forced.

2017
I travel around Spring Training every year. I wish I had bought one of these passport books when I started that in 2004 so I could get stamps from all across the Grapefruit League. Some of those ballparks are now abandoned, so a lot would be lost if I started now. I don't try to get them all in one season.

I see the Mets in New York several times a year. That's my local team (even though I pass Yankee Stadium on the way there).

I went to see the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball one night after work looking to get a specific autograph.

A friend had organized a small group to see the Columbia Fireflies (Mets, Low A) play on the road in Lakewood, NJ. It was a bit of a hike, but still doable for an evening after work. Because of a rainout, the night became a doubleheader (of 7 inning games).

We also went into Brooklyn to see the Cyclones (Mets, Short Season A) for a specific promotion over a holiday weekend. That game was suspended by rain but I was still there. Technically, Staten Island (Yankees, Short Season A) is closer. The Hudson Valley team (Rays, Short Season A) is within reason too, given the other local travel.

I had a planned weekend getaway in Binghamton (Mets, AA) that I've done each of the past couple summers. Trenton (Yankees, AA) is a bit closer, but the schedule didn't work out for me to see Binghamton there until the playoffs, after I had already called "BINGO".

I had a road trip planned to see family in Virginia Beach and started looking at other destinations. Misreading a map, I thought, why not Kingsport, TN to see the most obscure Mets farm club and thought it was too far. Then, on a whim, I asked, where are the Las Vegas 51s (Mets, AAA) playing, not really thinking they'd come that far east. They were in Nashville, and Kingsport could be a stop on the way home. The scheduling gods were working with me. With some non-baseball stops included, it was destination: Nashville (Oakland, AAA) to see the 51s and then Kingsport, TN (Mets, Rookie) before heading home. I passed a few other towns that have minor league ball but didn't think to fit in a game.

After that, I realized I'd see every Mets affiliate except for the St Lucie Mets (High A) in Florida. I found an equivalent team 2 hours away from home in Wilmington, DE (Kansas City, High A).

And that got me Baseball Bingo.

2018
2018 has some different stops planned. A different road trip to Raleigh to see family. Different stops to and from. And the plan became to get Baseball Bingo again once I saw that I was close enough to the Appalachian League to start looking at maps and schedules.

Spring Training again. Already a few games at Citi Field.

The minor league adventure started in Trenton (Yankees, AA) last night to see Binghamton (Mets, AA). A return engagement in Binghamton is in the works. So are Brooklyn and Lakewood (when the Fireflies visit). AAA will be different (and still not seeing any of the nearby teams in Pennsylvania) and so will High A and Rookie ball. Seeing the Columbia Fireflies at home is the big stop on the road trip. There are also other independent teams near home and a Mets trip planned for California.

Some of these local games don't need to be done every year (but it's still fun). It's usually not worth the travel to see two teams that I don't know unless getting Bingo is in mind. All of it can be done within 2 hours except for Spring Training (never a problem going there) and Rookie ball. But once a Rookie league is within the cross-hairs (and it's just too obscure to be a destination on its own), the others come into focus quickly.




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Saturday, May 20, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan - Banner Day

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 10

Banner Day

For those of you who don’t remember the old tradition, the Mets, for many years, once a season would allow their fans to parade around the outfield warning track showing off homemade signs showing messages of support for the New York Mets players. This event would take place in between games of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium and fans at home would be able to see the hundreds of entries on WOR TV. Fans would use whatever media they could find, from poster boards to bed sheets, to convey their message. Some were simple and some were creative. The banners were judged and winners were given prizes. This was a tradition inspired by the early Mets fans at the Polo Grounds and original Mets manager Casey Stengel, who would spend time looking in the stands at the “placards” during the game. This tradition carried on for over 30 years, into the mid-1990s.

I never entered it myself, or even attended the Banner Day Doubleheader in person. As a kid, I knew of Banner Day but don’t really remember even watching it. I was around for the last few seasons the Mets held it. Maybe inside those last 2 sentences is the reason why it was eventually cancelled.

The Mets brought it back in 2012, in part because of some stirring among the fan community as an idea of how to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary. The return of Banner Day had become known as “Banner Day 2.0” among some fans. In the internet age, fans could be part of the judging among 4 finalists chosen by Mets-connected people (broadcasters and alumni) during the game with the winner announced and shown off during the 7th inning.

My creative juices started flowing. The same could be said for about 300 other fans who lined up outside Citi Field early that Sunday morning. This new Banner Day parade wasn’t quite the same as it was in the old days. There are no longer scheduled doubleheaders, and you can’t really disrupt the game in order to hold the parade of banners for judging. The Mets opted to have the parade start shortly after the ballpark opened, which would be 11:10am for a 1:10pm game (one year it might have been a later start, but always an afternoon game). It wasn’t ideal for bringing in big crowds to support the banners. SNY (or PIX11 in some cases) wasn’t coming on the air that early (about 90 minutes earlier than the regular pregame show) to show the festivities to the fans at home. The second year saw the Mets introduce a pre-Banner Day online contest separate from the traditional parade. That second contest lasted only 1 year. But overall, interest was waning and the team stopped promoting Banner Day, allowing it to die a slow death after only 4 seasons.

It’s a shame that it didn’t catch on and become a marquee event like in the old days, especially since the Mets were starting to get good around 2012 and 2013 (eventually winning the NL Pennant in the final season of Banner Day 2.0). The interest wasn’t there and the promotion (from the team or television) wasn’t there either.

I loved being part of it. It was a different and creative way in which I could express my Mets fandom. It was better than trying to come up with 140 character tweets or post thoughts about a recent game or recent struggles/successes on Facebook or a blog or fan forum. We could use imagery, colors. We could make it large. Someone had moving parts. And I had some wild ideas. For some of it, I was winging it (am I using the right medium – different types of poster board as opposed to a bed sheet or something vinyl), but I didn’t really care. Each year, I’d have my idea well before the season got underway, with Banner Day taking place sometime in the first half of the season (usually May, but once it was in June), and I’d tell people I’d have the winning banner (I was never a finalist, but there was one year where I really felt cheated by that statement). I’ve covered each of my entries on this blog before, so I won’t go into detail, but I will mention them here with links to my original posts.

2012 was an idea that a friend nicknamed “the parade float” because it had so much stuff in it. It came out as a tribute to banners and signs from Shea Stadium, which was sort of homage to past Banner Days to mark the occasion of its return. The original idea was to put some of those tributes on top of a picture/drawing of an empty Shea Stadium (in its full 1990s colorful glory), but I couldn’t quite figure out how to convey or execute that idea.

http://rememberingshea.blogspot.com/2012/05/its-banner-day-at-shea.html
http://rememberingshea.blogspot.com/2012/05/happy-banner-day.html

2013 was the year they introduced the online contest, with entries due about a week before the real banner day. I took my original idea (“Citi Field Squares” – a Hollywood Squares knockoff that was Mets-themed), made a small version of it (regular sized printer paper instead of big poster board) and submitted it online and decided to make something else for the parade. Citi Field was hosting the All-Star Game that year so I played along with that theme (“Take me out to the All-Star Game”), and then included all of the Mets All-Star Game starters, even foreshadowing Matt Harvey’s All-Star Game start. A friend convinced me to bring both banners to the parade. It was fun to show off, but I think it confused the judges.

http://rememberingshea.blogspot.com/2013/05/banner-number-1.html
http://rememberingshea.blogspot.com/2013/05/banner-number-2.html
http://rememberingshea.blogspot.com/2013/05/theres-science-to-banner-day.html

2014 was the 50th anniversary of Shea Stadium, and I had my biggest idea yet – to create a large and detailed “Shea Stadium Monopoly” board. It was a big idea in my head and I just didn’t know if I could get it to come together, but if I could, it would be perfect for the judges. It was big and it was detailed. It was better than what I had in my head. I still don’t know how I didn’t win. But creating it and parading with it is one of the things I’m most proud of in life.

http://rememberingshea.blogspot.com/2014/05/banner-day-2014.html
http://rememberingshea.blogspot.com/2014/05/banner-day-aftermath-im-not-bitter.html

Not knowing that 2015 would be the final year, I ended up closing on a simple but maybe appropriate note. Casey Stengel was the inspiration for Banner Day, and I came up with the “Stengelese Dictionary”. It wasn’t quite what I had in my head, but it was simple and to the point.

http://rememberingshea.blogspot.com/2015/06/banner-day-2015.html

Unfortunately, 2015 was the last time the Mets held Banner Day. It’s a shame because 2016 had 3 different themes that fans could have used (30th anniversary of the 1986 World Championship, Mets were defending NL Champions, and Mike Piazza is going into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Met with his number getting retired by the Mets). And I had several ideas that I had accumulated along the way and never got to execute, sometimes bumping an idea down in the list for a better idea which I ended up using. So here, I believe for the first time, I present my list of unused Banner Day ideas. Some of these ideas were written on a piece of paper (based on the date I wrote down) after returning home from Banner Day in 2013, and never made the cut.

  • Meet the Mets: Mr. Met’s Family Portrait – featuring Mr. Met, Mrs. Met, their kids (younger versions of Mr. and Mrs. Met), original Mr. Met, Florida Mr. Met (the Mr. Met variant used by the St. Lucie Mets), and Mr. Met, Sr. (an old man version of Mr. Met). Given the 2016 themes, this was probably in line for 2017.
  • Mets Scrabble. This came on the heels of “Citi Field Squares” where I had board games in my head.
  • Mets Word Jumble. I think a crossword puzzle would have been too much.
  • Mets Monopoly. Subconsciously, this idea was spun off as “Shea Stadium Monopoly” the year after I wrote this down. I didn’t remember it until I found that list very recently.
  • Mets Board Game/DVD/Bookshelf – think of board game boxes stacked on a shelf, using names of Mets-themed board games without having to create the entire game board
  • Mets postcards – Tradition Field (as it was then known), Shea Stadium, Citi Field
Being part of Banner Day 2.0 was fun. I wish I could have been part of the original incarnation. I really hope the Mets find a way to have Banner Day 3.0 (or even 2.5) and then make it work with 20,000 fans cheering everyone on.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Birthday Games

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 9

Birthday Games

I’m sure that all baseball fans born during the baseball season can relate to this – wanting to spend your birthday at the ballpark watching your favorite team in action. I’ve been able to do this a few times in my life. I’ve also gone to games near my actual birthday as the Mets schedule and my schedule allowed, but those aren’t the same. When I was younger, and only going to 2 or 3 games a year, something like my birthday was a big deal on the schedule. These days, a weekend home game is an occasion for me to go to Citi Field.

In 1987, I went to Shea Stadium for my 9th birthday. It was the first Mets game in person since becoming a fan 6 months earlier. I don’t remember a damn thing about that game other than one play by Len Dykstra in CF that made Warner Wolf’s plays of the year. I was enamored by the Shea Stadium scoreboard with the lineups and out of town scores and I probably got excited seeing the Home Run Apple rise 4 times in the Mets 11-3 win.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN198704300.shtml

I honestly can’t recall any other birthdays spent at Shea when I was a kid. I think there might have been one or two that worked out.

I spent my 21st birthday at Shea with friends on a Friday night in 1999. That was a great night. Maybe one of the best I had at Shea. We were all into getting there at 4:30 pm to see batting practice and get autographs. It was around the time I started doing that. We had my favorite seats in the ballpark – Loge, Section 7, Row A. I even had another friend randomly walk up in the bottom of the first and claim the seats next to us, an unplanned surprise. We got to fight over a foul ball (I got bumped back into my seat and someone else broke their watch on the play). None of us got the ball. It’s still the closest I’ve ever come to getting one at a major league ballpark. And we got to heckle rising Giants star Jeff Kent from his days as a Met.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN199904300.shtml

As an adult, working for a living, it wasn’t as easy to just head into Flushing from New Jersey on a weeknight/day to celebrate my birthday. But for my 30th birthday, I decided I wanted to take off from work (baseball game or not). The Mets hosted one of those mid-week afternoon games (I think they were called “businessman’s specials” back in the day, but the politically correct term is really “get away day”) and this was a no-brainer. For it being a big birthday and the final season at Shea, I convinced my dad (who already had the day off from work) to get us seats behind the Mets dugout. It was one of the few places at Shea I hadn’t sat in yet, but I certainly knew the neighborhood from batting practice.

After our lunch in the Diamond Club and looking at some Citi Field previews, the start of the game ended up being delayed for about 45 minutes because of a broken water main nearby and the grounds crew couldn’t water down the field to get it ready for the game. Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa, always a good guy and good for an autograph or three, came out of the dugout during the delay to sign for fans. I think it was my fourth autograph of his that season alone (counting Spring Training). Mets post-season hero-turned-regular season goat Oliver Perez was the starting pitcher for New York. And after an uneventful first inning, things came unglued for the Mets starter. He gave up 7 runs in the top of the second to the Pirates and hero of the delay Figueroa had to come in and finish the inning. Figgy settled things down, but the game got worse after he left.

I still call it the day that “Ollie Perez ruined my 30th birthday at Shea” and call Figueroa the “hero” of the day.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN200804300.shtml

I made it in for my birthday last year too. It was a Saturday and a big giveaway (one of the garden gnomes). It was another no-brainer. Friends all over the place. Some I planned to see, some I didn’t. It was lots of fun. I think I watched the game.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN201604300.shtml

Next year, I’ve said that no matter where the Mets are, I spend my 40th birthday there. It’s a Monday next year, so I might have to walk that statement back if I don’t want to travel some place to see a game alone.

Monday, April 3, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – It’s Opening Day At Shea

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 8

It’s Opening Day At Shea

I can hear those words – “It’s Opening Day At Shea” – in Howie Rose’s voice (even if he’s never actually said them).

Opening Day probably should be a national holiday so we can all celebrate it together at the ballpark. But reality doesn’t work that way, and going is already an expensive endeavor (it’s usually one of the most expensive tickets of the season). If I think hard enough, I can probably remember where I was or what I was doing for most of my 30 Opening Days as a Mets fan. They’re mostly vague memories of watching the end of the game at home after school or trying to listen to the game at work.

1987 was my first (as a fan watching on TV), and still might be my most memorable. Not for the game, but for the pregame. The team’s most recent World Championship flag was raised behind the CF fence at Shea Stadium and the World Series rings were handed out before the game. That is the part I remember having on tape (since I was at school when it was happening live). That’s also one that lives on in Mets fandom as part of the bonus features of the 1986 World Series DVD set. That’s a good thing because I wore out that tape. The DVD is ready for its annual viewing.

1988 was when Strawberry hit the roof at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. 1992 was a night game in St. Louis (even after only 5 years of being a fan, I knew a night game for Opening Day seemed wrong). 1993 was the first game in Colorado Rockies history. 1994 saw Doc Gooden giving up 3 HRs to Tuffy Rhodes at Wrigley. 1995 was in late April after the lockout which followed the player’s strike, and it was the first game at Coors Field.

I remember cutting class in 1998 when I was in college so I could watch the Mets first March 31 game. That was the 14th inning walkoff hit by Alberto Castillo at Shea. I made a few sound bytes from that game which is part of my Opening Day blogging tradition.

Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen's intro

The winning hit from Opening Day 1998 at Shea

2000 was the series in Tokyo. I was still in college. I remember trying to get up at 5am to watch the games. I don’t remember much success in those attempts.

Starting in 2002, I was a working man and had to find a way to escape the office in order to listen to any portion of the game. I remember taking a long lunch or a mid-day break to go to my car to put on the radio just to hear a little bit of Opening Day.

2003 was the first Opening Day I experienced in person. I saw some tickets available the week before and said “what the hell, I’ll take off work and go”. It was a cold March 31 at Shea Stadium. This was a bad era for the Mets. Art Howe was the manager. It also turned out to be Bob Murphy’s last Opening Day. I’m glad I got to be there to see him introduce the Mets from my seat deep down the LF line in the Mezzanine box. I wish I had a camera (even without much of a zoom, as digital cameras were in those days). I won’t remind you of the score. You can click the link to the box score if you really want to know.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN200303310.shtml

I remember working from home in 2005 and 2006 to watch Opening Day. After all, it should be a holiday. 2005 was the opener in Cincinnati with Pedro Martinez’s Mets debut. As a side note, some enterprising puzzle maker took a photo from the 2005 home opener against Houston and made a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of it. A few years later, I bought it, put it together, and had it framed. It hangs in my living room. 2006 was the debut of SNY.

Coming off the success of 2006 (I’ve repressed the memory of the final inning of that season) I wanted to be there for the 2007 home opener. This was back in the days of the Mets having ticket lotteries to get into Opening Day at Shea. I had a friend who got picked in the lottery and was able to get me a ticket so far down the right field line on field level that my seat faced the outfield wall and not the infield (if you really remember Shea, you’d know what I was talking about).


http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN200704090.shtml

2008 was the final Opening Day at Shea (after a road trip). 2009 was the christening of Citi Field (also after a road trip). By then, I also had MLB’s internet package so I could listen on radio on my computer at work (working around meetings). MLB.TV usually had technical difficulties that got in the way of celebrating Opening Day. Some of the more recent seasons are actually a blur. In researching this post, I noticed MLB had some weird schedules with late-week Opening Days for some reason. Real Opening Day is the first Monday in April.

In 2014, I went back for Opening Day, and it was March 31 again. It was cold at Citi Field. I remember sitting in what was then called Caesar’s Club for most of the game trying to defrost my hands and the rest of the game paying social calls to friends. I did see Parnell blow the save in the 9th. This was the year that Daniel Murphy missed the opener because of the birth of a child, and for some reason, people got in an uproar over it.


http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN201403310.shtml

2016 was a special one. The Mets were defending NL Champions. They started the season in Kansas City with a World Series rematch (dumb luck that it happened that way). Then on Friday came the home opener. In this day in age, that was cause to take off work and head to Citi Field. I don’t remember any of the game, but I do remember being there, moving around the ballpark making social calls to people. It was a day to tailgate and celebrate.


http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYM/2016-schedule-scores.shtml

Saturday, April 1, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 7

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 7

One magic loogie

I remember the first time I went to a Mets game as a fan (see earlier post about going to a game before getting sucked in to this madness). I was 9 years old. It was Sunday, June 14, 1987, and the Mets were playing the Phillies at Shea Stadium. I can’t say I remember everything about the game. I do remember that the Mets lost even though Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry both homered. The Phillies scored 5 runs in the 9th off of Roger McDowell after Hernandez committed an error with 2 out. The game also marked my first encounter seeing rowdy fans at a ballgame. My dad and I were sitting in the right field seats near the Mets bullpen on the Loge level and these 2 guys sitting near us were pouring beer onto one of the pitchers in the Mets bullpen and cursing at them. Basically harassing people down there all game. We eventually moved away from them.

After the game, to help cheer me up from a bad Mets loss before heading home, Dad took me for a walk all the way around Shea Stadium. When we were outside the Mets players’ parking lot, we saw those same 2 guys yelling at some players – “Nice game, pretty boy” at Hernandez – before someone out of view threw something back at these guys, or did something. I’m still not sure what I watched. Dad shielded me and then hustled me out of there quickly and decided it was time for us to head home.



That was one magic loogie!

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PIT/PIT198706140.shtml

Friday, March 31, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 6

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 6

Spring Training Annual

I just completed my 14th annual visit to Mets Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, Florida. I like to go down there for a long vacation, at least 1 week, and usually longer. I like to walk around the ballpark taking pictures from different vantage points. I’m always trying to grab a foul ball (or a home run ball). I like to go see other Spring Training ballparks. I like to buy a t-shirt from every team/stadium that I visit. I like to get autographs from players when I’m there. Spring Training is billed as a time when you can get closer to the players. At least in the Mets case, I like to spend the morning on the practice fields watching the players conduct different baseball drills.

Sometimes I’ll talk with people. I’ve met and become friends with a lot of fans over the years that vacation in Port St. Lucie similar to me, live down there for part of the year, or live down there permanently. I’m not the only person who makes this an annual trip. Some Mets fans have retired or relocated to Post St. Lucie because of the Mets. Several years ago, I joined the local booster club (which mostly supports the minor league St. Lucie Mets). After most home games, the group (or at least parts of it) will go out to dinner somewhere. I know some of the ushers and security guards at the stadium complex, mostly by face. I have my routines and my favorite spots there.

I spend every morning, except when there’s long travel necessary, at the "back" (practice) fields of the Mets complex. They stretch and throw together and conduct different baseball drills each day. If there’s a home game, everyone is there. If there’s a road game, only the players left behind are involved. The fans are usually allowed to stay back there until the workout is complete, which can be a couple of hours that we’re out there. Some players will sign autographs after their workout is finished. Sometimes the fans can stay to see the minor league teams working out or maybe playing in a game. Every day is different.

Inside the stadium, I’ll usually talk with people and then grab lunch and some shade until the players come out. Then it might be autograph time, time to get pictures from the bullpen, or time to get in position for a specific photograph. I like taking pictures of broad scenery and the Mets ballpark in Port St. Lucie certainly offers that. A high sky, sometimes clouds, bright sunshine, and many distinct features along with a baseball field filled with Mets jerseys is very photogenic. The left field terrace and right field berm both offer big blue and white shade covers. Left field has the scoreboard with the practice fields behind it and home plate has a big concrete covering. Even when I can’t get to the highest point, the inner concourse/walkway in the stadium works out well for most pictures. My favorite spot over the past few years is right behind the CF wall next to the batter’s eye. The wall is taller than I can see, but I can put my camera on top and get some great pictures.

I don’t chase down autographs as much as I used to. It used to be that I had to get at least one autograph at every game (Mets or not) and the game was a personal failure if I didn’t. With the exception of one stadium where it was forbidden to ask for autographs, I had one at every game for about 5 or 6 years. That’s what’s great about Spring Training, it was always possible just to go in and get an autograph. My first Spring Training autograph was actually Tommy Lasorda when he was sitting in the stands at my first game in 2004. Over the years, as I got older, I stopped finding the appeal of camping out at a spot by the dugout or down the foul line (and it didn’t necessarily matter which team it was) to wait for the players to come out, and/or to get crowded into an small area of seats and an aisle fighting people (adults and children alike) to try to get an autograph from a player who might come by that location to sign and might not. The waiting, pushing and shoving lost its appeal. I still like getting autographs. I keep it simple, usually having players sign the scorecard page in the program. I’m not one to try to get baseballs or baseball cards signed. These autographs are usually just for me. I still try to get autographs on the practice fields at Mets camp when I don’t have to run around the place to get it. I still wait after the game (when I don’t have some place to be) at the players’ parking lot gates to get autographs as the players leave (with some success). There’s still something about the chase for an autograph that makes me feel like a kid (even when these players are all now younger than me).

I also like to get around Florida to see other Spring Training sites. After this vacation, I can once again say that I’ve seen all of the stadiums currently in use – 13 active ballparks housing 15 MLB teams (2 stadiums are each shared by 2 teams) and 7 defunct ones. Those numbers have changed over my 14 years as teams have moved around Florida, built new ballparks, or moved to Arizona. Other teams have upgraded their ballparks making a case to come back and see the improvements. Those numbers will change again when the next team moves (rumored to be Atlanta) and then again when I can get out to their new location. Some of these ballparks are a short drive – less than an hour – from Mets camp in Port St. Lucie. Others are farther away and visiting them becomes a side trip (where I go see non-Mets games for a few days and stay in another part of Florida). I don’t go on side trips every year, but once every 3 or 4 years to see something new is okay. Exceptions are made if a Mets game can be seen in another part of Florida. I’m very biased towards seeing games in Port St. Lucie, but my favorite place to watch a game was at old Dodgertown in Vero Beach. This is the 9th Spring Training without major league Spring Training there and it’s still some place I try to get to every couple years.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 5

30 Years As a Mets Fan – Part 5

My first visit Spring Training

For those of you that know me, or have been following for a long time, you know that every March, I make the trip down to Port St. Lucie, Florida, to see Mets Spring Training. It’s something that I’ve been doing every year since 2004. But the first time I set foot at the ballpark in Port St. Lucie (then known as Thomas J. White Stadium) was in March of 1995.

Yes, THAT 1995. The one with the infamous replacement players.

1995 was the first year in which I had a break from school in March, and my dad decided it would be a good opportunity for the two of us to go to Florida to visit his parents (outside Ft. Lauderdale). I think he convinced me to go by promising me we could go see a couple baseball games. One was a Yankees-Red Sox game at old Ft. Lauderdale Stadium. This was during a time when Yankees-Red Sox games weren’t always must-see. It was also the last season for the Yankees in Ft. Lauderdale after almost 35 years. And the other game, with my 80-something year old grandparents in tow, was 90 minutes north in Port St. Lucie to see the Mets.

Getting there was one of those adventures from hell. Without thinking of the back fields or batting practice (like I do every day that I’m there now), I wanted to get there early because I just wanted to get there, like the little kid who just wanted to be at the ballpark just because it was there. But we got off to a slow start to the morning. And it was a long ride to get there. And I misread the map and had my dad move to Route 1 because that’s where the dot for “Port St. Lucie” was located. In case you don’t know the geography of the area, Route 1 is a road with traffic lights and is located about 8 miles away from the ballpark, while I-95 is an expressway and located in the ballpark’s shadow that also goes down to Ft. Lauderdale. So that little detour to Route 1 in Port St. Lucie added about 45 minutes to the ride to the ballpark. Then everybody walked slowly through the parking field/lot to the ticket office. It was torture.

But inside, it was pure joy. Here’s this ballpark which I’ve watched on TV every March since the Mets moved there in 1988, as the spring home of the Mets and the portal into the baseball season, right in front of me in living color. I have no memories of the game. That part doesn’t matter. It was an exhibition game between teams made up of scabs. Somewhere, I have the program and ticket stub, because I always have a program and ticket stub. And I have a few pictures. It was the only time I got to see old Thomas J. White Stadium before the first round of upgrades (which launched in 2004).