Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Training 2012 - Day 9

Day 9 - March 30, 2012 - Mets-Cardinals @ Jupiter

Started out the day in Mets camp (as always). The position players who had off from the game were hitting inside the stadium, and the pitchers, including the 4 other starters, new arrival Chris Young, and a few relievers were playing a batting practice game on field 2. Once they got warmed up, they were hitting the ball hard. Miguel Batista hit a couple out into the woods in deep LF. But none of these guys were willing to sign for the handful of fans on hand watching this.

Out to the game, and there were a lot of minor leaguers there to back up Wright, Duda, and the non-regulars in Jupiter. Dillon Gee got the start and had some good innings, but not an all-over lights out performance. Mets mounted a comeback late (which was only 2 runs, but forced a pitching change) but fell short in the end.

I did notice a lot of Mets fans and a good number of actual kids at the game. Both are good things, especially the number of Mets fans in Cardinals territory. The kids were down at all of the autograph spots near the LF bullpen and on either side of the Mets dugout. With that, I did manage to snag an autograph from Mike Baxter. After I get home, I'm going to have to go through my set of autographs to see how much of the team I got.

Pictures here

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Spring Training 2012 - Day 8

Day 8 - March 29, 2012 - Mets-Astros @ Port St. Lucie

Three headlines of the day. Mike Pelfrey pitched well. David Wright hit a Grand Slam. And David Wright signed my program.

There was no access to the back fields during the day. The team came out to stretch around 2:30 for a 6pm game, and I could see it through the fence, but that was it. In the ballpark, it was a very small crowd at 4pm to watch the Mets finish taking BP. David Wright has been hitting with the last group this week, which means the fans in the ballpark can see him hit (they start around 3:30 and we get in around 4pm). He did stop to sign for some kids over at the other end of the Mets dugout (I usually stand on the OF side of the dugout, which is more accessible, but he was at the HP side, where the steps are lower and there is a glass partition separating the stands from the field, so it's more awkward, but that's where he's been going (they say). I scurried over and managed to get a David Wright autograph. One thing I've noticed in my pictures, there is always some sort of smile on his face with his tongue sticking out a bit.

In the game, Mike Pelfrey pitched really well, into the 7th inning. I don't think he's going to be as bad as people fear. David Wright hit a Grand Slam Home Run as part of a 7 run inning. I don't think he's going to be as bad as people fear. The Mets really didn't pull together any other offense after that inning, and it was an early night for Livan Hernandez, but they didn't do anything to give the game away either.

For me, that's 5 games at Digital Domain Park over the course of 8 days and nights. In some of the pictures, you'll see some of the color imagery that was added before last year's Spring Training that show the now-50 year history of the New York Mets. These are things that I'd like to see at Citi Field. Digital Domain Park has always had a blue OF wall and blue wall padding all the way around the ballpark, and I think has always had blue seats. That color scheme goes very well with the blue Spring Training/BP uniforms of the Mets.

Photos here

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Training 2012 - Day 7

Day 7 - March 28, 2012 - Mets-Nationals @ Port St. Lucie

Before the game, as usual, I spent a good hour on the back fields at the Digital Domain Park complex watching what I call "gym class" as well as players throwing, a bit of infield-outfield, and then I went to stake out the spot in field 7 where the players exit to go back to the clubhouse or into the big stadium (field 7 is the field right behind the LF scoreboard when looking from the stadium itself - one of my pictures caught a minor league game on field 7, looking between the LF scoreboard and the CF batter's eye). Overall in the back, I got autographs from Mets legend Al Jackson, who has been an instructor for the Mets since I can remember, Jason Bay, and R.A. Dickey (he's appearing at a bookstore in Jupiter this Friday night signing his new memoir that just came out - I'm sure you heard about it). With all the moving around that I do back there (hanging by the fence along the RF line of the first practice field they use, standing at the exit in the RF corner of that field for everyone to enter field 7 in the LF corner, and then near the CF exit of field 7, among other places) that I got autographs in multiple locations. As I say, it's all pot-luck each day as to what you can see, who you can get autographs from, and where. One other thing to note is that the players actually are working, even when they're moving between fields. I do have to respect that, even though I have to ask them to stop for me (hey, you never know). Daniel Murphy, while jogging into the stadium from field 7, did give that standard answer, but also thanked the fans within ear-shot for coming out to see the team on the back fields. I like that. More on Daniel Murphy later.

After the back fields, I went to the plaza in front of the stadium (where the box office, media-access elevators, and actual ballpark entrances are, as well as the Booster Club's raffle table) to look for Keith Hernandez. I've heard good things about him stopping to sign this year, something that he hasn't done in the past. I only stood out there for about half an hour before the game and didn't see Keith. I actually had no idea if he'd be working on Wednesday. More on him later.

Inside the stadium, things can be absolutely dead from 11am when the gates open until about 12:45, 25 minutes before first pitch. It's the tail end of the Mets taking BP. Maybe if we're lucky, someone will sign by the outfield corner of the Mets dugout. It's the visiting team's turn to take BP. No Mets in sight. And then players from both teams come out to get ready for the game. And then again, we're lucky if any Mets come over to sign. Wednesday, I got lucky. David Wright signed a few (no, I wasn't that lucky, other than to be witness to such an event). Scott Hairston signed. He was back in the lineup. Prospect Matt den Dekker signed. I heard a lot about him last year from my fields in St. Lucie while he was here at Single-A ball.

Then a game was played, and Jon Niese pitched for the Mets. I'd call it a quality start, especially for Spring Training. There was a long home run, but he pitched really well aside from that. The new Mets closer, Frank Francisco really scares the hell out of me, though he had 0 ER over 2.0 IP. And the offense isn't really clicking, aside from some HRs from Duda and Davis. Mets lost. Oh well.

And again after the game, I decided it was time to stake out the plaza for Keith Hernandez (something I teased on Facebook) figuring that he has to exit the elevator, walk through the plaza, and over to his car in the parking lot. A few others had the same idea. So we waited, even being down there before the game ended (just in case Keith made for a quick exit). And the crowd leaves. Ron Darling comes past. And the place empties out, save for a few others waiting for Keith, and about a dozen people at the Mets player parking lot gate. 90 minutes has passed. The only recognizable figure coming out is Sandy Alderson, after his WFAN interview. He was very nice about signing and thanking us for coming out. After about 2 hours of waiting, I gave up on Keith Hernandez. Over at the player's parking lot gate, I learned that Keith had parked there, snuck out quickly from the game to his car, and left without having to pass through the crowd. That seems to fit his character. By the time I was down at the gate, only a few Mets were left, and only Daniel Murphy stopped to sign (and take a picture with a crazy fan).

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Training 2012 - Day 6

Day 6 - March 27, 2012 - Mets-Braves @ Port St. Lucie

I'm starting to think this is going to be more of the same for the Mets in 2012. Chris Schwinden pitched for the big club and didn't look too good, though the Mets were able to fight out for a couple of runs, including another Duda HR. R.A. Dickey pitched 8 innings and threw over 100 pitches in a minor league game (consisting entirely of Mets minor leaguers) against Jeurys Familia on the back fields. I did catch part of that game where I could see the knuckle ball dance.

As my day 3 photo album suggests, I love the blue and orange colors that surround the Mets. Digital Domain Park holds the blue very well (and always has for the Mets' 25 seasons here). I also got a bit artsy with some of the photos now that I can go out to the berm in RF, and also now that I have a camera with a panorama setting. And aside from the blue as being a dominant theme this spring (and hopefully into the season), Gary Carter shirts/jerseys are another theme. Some of the locals here are even wearing pins from Carter's championship season with St. Lucie (which I believe was 2006).

As for autographs, it is no longer a sport to get them. It's more like a game of survival. I'm happy with Tuesday's haul of SNY's team of Bobby Ojeda on the back fields, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling after the game, but it can be next to impossible to get an autograph from a Mets player sometimes. I always seem to do better on my first day in town and then the well dries up. That said, I have space in my program reserved for the elusive Keith Hernandez, who must have snuck out of the ballpark very quickly after Tuesday's game, and the vacationing Kevin Burkhardt to round out an SNY broadcasters autograph page.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring Training 2012 - Day 5

Day 5 - March 26, 2012 - Mets-Cardinals @ Jupiter

After taking a day away from baseball to head to Key Biscayne for the Sony Tennis Open, I was back on Monday in Jupiter for the Mets-Cardinals game.

Where do I begin? Yes, that's right. David Wright made his first Spring Training appearance in 2012 (who needs 30 days of games anyway?). 1 for 2 with a single in the first (good swing) and a couple of chances at 3B, including making a diving stop near the line and a couple of really strong throws (something I've criticized in the past). Oh, and that mystery ace pitcher, Johan Santana, started for the Mets. He had a bad first inning, but bounced back strong. The Mets had a big rally in the 7th to take the lead and eventually win the ballgame.

Photo album.

Before the game, I did manage to snag a couple of autographs over by the Mets dugout. Josh Thole, Vinny Rottino, Lucas May, and 1986 Met champion and new Third Base Coach Tim Teufel. I did miss a few other autographs because of the crowd, including David Wright.

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Spring Training 2012 - Day 3

Day 3 - March 24, 2012 - Mets-Cardinals @ Port St. Lucie

Oops, I missed Saturday's post. Nothing really happened. Here's the photo album. It was my first chance to walk around the ballpark taking pictures instead of sitting in my seat the entire time. And it was my first chance to get into the berm and RF party deck for part of a game. No autographs at all on Saturday. That's a rare but increasing occurrence in Spring Training for me.

I think Saturday's game was the 6-6 tie, where the new Benitez (Frank Francisco) blew the save in the 9th, and the teams left the field after 10 due to lack of pitchers. Mike Pelfrey started for the Mets and really had one bad inning, after the Mets gave him a lead and then bailed him out.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring Training 2012 - Day 2

Day 2 - March 23, 2012 - No Game

That is correct. I had no game scheduled on Friday. The Mets were playing 2 hours away at Disney World, and I wasn't making the trip. So I went to the back fields where players not on the bus ride were working out (see photos here).

Basically, it was a small group. Wright, Davis, and Bay stretched and went into the empty stadium to hit. They came back out to the practice field later to run. Neither time did they even acknowledge the few fans that came out to see them work. The 4 starting pitchers that weren't involved in Friday's game (Santana, Dickey, Pelfrey, and Gee - Niese pitched in the game at Disney) did some throwing before moving over to field 7 (the one shaped like Citi Field) to take live bunting practice in a minor league game. I did get Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee's autographs after they got their throwing in. In these situations, much smaller crowds on non-game Day at the stadium/practice fields, the guys are much better about signing for the fans and taking pictures. There were a couple of relief pitchers, but I lost track of them after their light throwing.

One note about the minor league camp. For the most part, these kids appear to be all mixed together and split up among however-many of the 4 full practice fields playing in games. In the past, there were 3 different uniform shirts that the kids wore (Mets white, gray, and black, but not quite looking like the major league uniforms), each with a name and number on the back. Now, they're all in the new Mets blue BP jerseys with their name and number. Even if I could have made any distinction (if there even was one) based on the jersey, that's gone. But everyone and everything is in the new orange and blue, and it looks awesome.

Anyway, as each of the pitchers headed off the field back to the clubhouse (where there is a gate in the CF fence leading them behind another fence over to the clubhouse, so this is a popular path where they can avoid being very close to the fans), I tried and failed to get any autographs. But after waiting for Johan Santana to come out, which he did in the same way as the others, I saw him standing and talking to the lefty great Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax over by the OF fence of the main stadium. Koufax made his way on a golf cart over towards the minor league complex and the small crowd (maybe 5 of us) got him to stop and sign (but no pictures). He was pretty nice about it.

There really wasn't much more to see than that. The minor leaguers were still playing on the different fields. Mookie Wilson, now a roving instructor for the Mets, was watching one of the games and signing for a few fans. Frank Viola, also in the organization, was there too (but no autograph for me).

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring Training 2012 - Day 1

For those of you that have been following me in this forum for a while, I have had daily diaries from my travels at Spring Training. Wednesday was Day 1 of my 2012 Spring Training trip.

I do post small updates during the day on my Facebook page, so please follow me over there. I'm also posting photo albums over there too.

Day 1 - March 22, 2012 - Mets-Astros @ Port St. Lucie

Early morning workouts on the back fields. Biggest thing I noticed was the orange plastic protective coverings over the tops of every fence in the back fields. Those coverings used to be yellow, but they are now orange matching the team's new blue and orange color scheme. Even some of the signage on-field (such as distance markers) look like they fit into that new scheme. I like it.

Inside, I seem to have beginner's luck getting lots of autographs on my first day and then nothing else after it. Today was the first day, and inside the stadium, I got Terry Collins, Danny Herrera, Bobby Parnell, Justin Turner, and MLB Network's Al Leiter. MLB Network was in town filming for 30 Clubs in 30 Days, and T.C. and Leiter were doing live remotes from next to the Mets dugout for the show.

Then I went over to get my first in person look at the new RF party deck and berm. For those who haven't been down to Digital Domain Park before, the berm opened with a 2004 renovation, but was only accessible from an entrance separate from the rest of the ballpark (along with the RF bleachers along the RF line). After the offseason renovations, a new RF party deck was constructed (replacing the bleachers) and part of the berm was re-done, along with connecting the berm/party deck with the rest of the stadium, making all of it accessible from the rest of the stadium for the first time. Since I never had sat in the berm before (I never wanted to give up full stadium admission to access the berm), I had never been out there until today. I'll post more pictures from out there later in my trip.

I actually spent the entire game down by the Mets dugout. Two big highlights. R.A. Dickey took a no-hitter into the 6th, and Sandy Koufax was sitting behind Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz for part of the game behind home plate. Mets won big.

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Monday, March 5, 2012


I wrote this essay in my senior year in High School, sometime in the winter or early spring of 1996. Happy Baseball Season!

Last week, the weather got warm for the first time since November. Even though it was still only January, it felt like it was the beginning of March. Rain, not snow or ice for once, was falling from the sky, melting the snow away for good. I didn’t need a hat or a pair of gloves for the first time since Thanksgiving. It was the first of only three "just really nice" days this month.

The coldness of winter melting away outside made me think of a re-warmth inside. The peaceful sounds of baseballs flying in March’s warm, Florida air is the best vision of spring that I can think of. I have been a die-hard baseball fan for most of my life and Spring Training in March is the one time I look forward to all year. The new hope for the new season will be looking upon me as I breathe the fresh, New Jersey air for the first time since the October playoffs. It’s been nearly six months since most of the teams’ hope from last season died out, including that of my favorite team, the New York Mets.

I could just hear the warm, but rusty sounds of the announcers’ voices coming over the radio. "Welcome to another season of New York Mets Baseball," one of them would say. There would be a calmness in their voices as they were getting ready for another year of work. You could feel the light wind blowing from the ocean through the trees and keeping the air at a comfortable 75 degrees.

In the first game I’ll watch on TV, I’ll see the green Florida grass with bright palm trees, and it will bring to mind the peaceful setting of what’s ahead for the coming months: green grass, green leaves on the trees, and kids playing baseball on the sandlot every afternoon after school. Though Florida is warm all year round, there’s no better time in Florida than Spring Training every March when the warmness is felt around the country, thanks to the voices that call the games to cold places like Boston, Minnesota, and Seattle.

Baseball isn’t just about playing in the peaceful settings in March. March is the time when Baseball is at its best. When the teams aren’t really competing against each other for standings in a league, but against themselves to become the best they can be, that’s the best type of baseball there is. This is when everybody really works hard but seems relaxed. You can see Major League superstars working with twenty year old rookie outfielders who are playing their best trying to field their way on the team. That’s what Baseball, as well as all sports, is all about.

These are the best days of the year because everyone in training camp is working: the players, the announcers, and the front office people. The players are trying to show off to their coaches. The announcers are bringing the warm, Florida air to much colder places like New York through their voices as all the snow there starts to melt and the air starts to get warmer. The front office people are trying to make the right trades to make this team of players and this season for the fans the best in team history.

When the regular season begins in early April, there is not much for them to do. Everyone who made the team is on the team and everyone who didn’t is playing in the minors. The announcers are calling games mostly in Northern cities where it is not as warm as Florida, so there is nothing good for them to show in the way they talk. The front office has to wait and see what the changes they made will look like.

But these days of March are care-free because there is no pressure on the players. These games don’t count; they are just warm ups. Most of the players, coaches, and front office people are only in Florida for that one month each year and they try to savor every minute of it. I say, "Enjoy the best time of year while you can." I know what it’s like.

March is not just about who’s out there. You have a $2 million bench warmer, and a rookie catcher who’s only making $500 thousand a year, but they aren’t important. They won’t be with the team forever. You put your heart into a whole team, whether if it’s full of washed up "has-been’s" and talentless "never-will-be’s," or if it’s a team made up of the best baseball players of all time. It could be the World Champion Atlanta Braves playing the 1995 Replacement New York Mets. The enjoyment is in what they do there. They play baseball and supposedly have fun doing it.

Last year was the first time I had a vacation in March, and I went to go see what the peaceful settings I had so commonly witnessed on TV and heard about on radio looked like. I had to see for myself that Florida in March is just as soothing as the announcers’ voices imply that it is. When I was there, the Baseball players were on strike and it was the only time that you could ever see replacement players playing for the fans. I saw the two games I planned to see anyway because the game is not about who’s there on the field, but what they do. It’s March, the best time of year, it’s Baseball, during the best time of year, and players playing their hardest, which is the best mix.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mets Baseball is on the air

NOTE: This is my now-annual Spring Training sound byte post.

Back when I was a bit younger (we'll call it the late '80s and early-mid '90s, a time when I wasn't quite a teenager), I remember running home from school on the day that Spring Training games finally began, or at least the day of the first broadcast on WFAN (for some reason, I had no, or chose not to use, a walkman). I would look forward to hearing the voices that I knew meant baseball for the first time after the long offseason.

On the eve of the fist Spring Training game, I bring you three treats.

First up is a 1 minute audio clip from the Mets first broadcast on WFAN from Spring Training 1998. I won't say any more, other than the voice is forver the voice of the Mets...

Second is about 6 1/2 minutes in length, coming from another 1998 Spring Training game. This one is most of half of an inning from a road game against St. Louis in Jupiter's inagural season. The play-by-play voice again belongs to Bob Murphy with Gary Cohen along side.

and finally is Bob Murphy leading into a commercial

I invite any readers to submit or link to their own Spring Training audio and video from the 1980s and 1990s.

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