Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Training 2013 - Day 13

Day 13 - March 18, 2013 - Mets-Cardinals @ Jupiter

One final day in Florida. One final day with the Mets. I pressed my luck by heading out to Tradition Field before my final game with the Mets in Jupiter (located conveniently on the way to Palm Beach International Airport). I was up early, all packed, so there was nothing stopping me from heading to the Mets back fields for one last attempt to get autographs, or even a glimpse of "Captain America", David Wright. And I'll tell ya, I'm a glutton for punishment, because a lot of times, there is just nothing to see back there, and even fewer autograph opportunities. I did see Johan Santana running with his teammates, but then he ducked inside not paying any attention to the fans. Just once, I'd love to see what they're doing when they're in there.

After saying a few goodbyes and taking a few last looks around the back fields, I headed down to Jupiter for the game (already too late to catch the end of batting practice). Jupiter is a nice ballpark, and seemingly, a good one in which to grab autographs (especially for the visiting team). I'll touch more on the ballpark in a minute. Before the game, I did manage to get Jordany Valdespin and Mets coach (and '86 Met) Tim Teufel before the game. I think I saw a few more players signing, but I don't like to push through crowds anymore. It's not my thing.

Matt Harvey pitched this game. I think he's ready for the season as well. I think he's the 2nd best pitcher with the Mets right now (behind Niese). He held the Cardinals down and pitched I think into the 6th. One of the nice things about the ballpark in Jupiter is the space behind the LF bullpen (down the foul line) and in front of the bleachers where fans can go to watch the game and maybe grab a long foul ball, where there is a spot in the corner where you're just feet from the foul line, and where players from 3B dugout have to walk past in order to reach their clubhouse. As he was leaving the field after pitching, and after getting a few fist bumps from his teammates in the bullpen, I did give Matt Harvey a fist bump before he disappeared into the Mets clubhouse.

This is Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, a northern suburb of West Palm Beach. The ballpark, located in a fancyish corner ballpark next to some shops and some expensive homes, was named for a local car dealer, Roger Dean. It was built for the 1998 Spring Training season as a new home for the St. Louis Cardinals and Montreal Expos, all part of the great Spring Training migration of '98. The Marlins and Expos (now the Nationals) swapped Spring Training locations in 2003 when Jeffrey Loria abandoned the Expos in order to buy the Marlins (who had come into the league in 1993 and found Viera as a suitable location, about 200 miles north of their regular season home in the Miami area). The Cardinals had been kicked out of St. Petersburg, their long-time home shared with, at different times, both the Mets and Yankees, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays came into existence and claimed St. Petersburg as their exclusive domain (the Rays playing regular season games at Tropicana Field and holding Spring Training at Al Lang Field on the waterfront until a few years ago). The Expos had previously shared a stadium in West Palm Beach with the Braves (who moved to the new Disney Wide World of Sports complex at the same time). There is one inner concourse, at street level, with concessions that extends from behind the LF bullpen to behind the RF bullpen. The middle portion of it is covered by the press box and suites, providing the only real shade in the park. The rest is open to the elements. Both LF (covered) and RF (exposed) at the ends of the concourses have picnic seating (out of view of the field). The bullpens are down the foul lines with fans being able to stand right behind the LF bullpen and even get autographs between innings and a small berm behind the RF bullpen (which is restricted to berm ticket holders, but those fans can still get autographs). Next to the LF bullpen is also a standing room and handicap seating area that can be an easy place for foul balls. There is bleacher seating behind the LF bullpen over the visitor's clubhouse and a covered air conditioned party deck behind the RF bullpen. There is an inner concourse/walkway with standing room only tickets that wraps from just past 3B around to the RF party deck. When it's not crowded, you can stand and watch the game from the walkway. There is seating in front of it going down to the field and seating behind it between 3B and 1B. The barrier between seating and field is only about 3ft high, so it's real easy to be face-to-face with the players to get autographs on the OF sides of the dugouts. The dugouts also extend back into the seating area with the outer corners open to both the elements and the fans, so that is also a good place for autographs (where the players have to reach up to where the fans are because of how the dugout steps down from field level and where the fans are already a few steps up from it). There is also a large team store behind home plate on the street-level concourse, accessible from inside the ballpark on game days and from outside at other times.

I mentioned that this is a two-team complex (Cardinals and Marlins). Each team has their own clubhouse, training facility, player parking lot, and set of practice fields, and even their own dugout inside the ballpark. The Marlins occupy the LF side of the ballpark, going down about 2 blocks beyond the stadium walls with their practice fields, and have a clubhouse building behind the LF wall. They use the LF bullpen and 3B dugout for their games. The Cardinals occupy the RF side of the ballpark, with basically the same setup including a clubhouse behind the RF wall. They use the RF bullpen and 1B dugout for their games. The visiting teams (when there is one - these 2 teams probably play each other 6 times during spring training where neither team involved in the game is traveling) use the open dugout/bullpen and a small clubhouse behind the LF wall (with the buses parked back there). The team store is always set up to have merchandise for both teams, and the souvenir carts on the concourse are set up for the home team only. Each team has their own gameday program for the spring (and I believe both are on sale for games involving both home teams). The Cardinals tend to draw lots of fans from the midwest to their games (a sea of red down the RF line before games looking for autographs) and the Marlins don't really draw as much. Roger Dean Stadium had been one of the better ballparks in the Grapefruit League in its earlier days (not that it's old or outdated in any way), but in 15 years, especially the past 4 or 5 years, it's been passed by other ballparks, though I can't think of anything that can be improved there.

After the game, a small number of fans will try to grab players from the visiting team as they get on the bus, or into their own cars, behind the LF fence at the corner of the ballpark complex. Players tend to sign there too (since they're not working at this point in the day). I did grab my final 2 autographs of the spring in Bobby Parnell and Zach Lutz. And then it was on to the airport, and back home to get myself ready for baseball season to start for real.

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