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Pitchers and Catchers Report to Camp

The Sounds of Baseball

Play Ball

The View from the Berm, or... "Oh, My Aching Foot!"

Road Trip... The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Road Trip... The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

MetsMajor League Baseball has held Spring Training in Florida for 125 years. In 1947 two teams moved to Arizona and now the thirty MLB teams are evenly split between the Cactus League in Arizona and the Grapefruit League in Florida.

Having a major league team train in your town is a pretty big deal and boost to the local economy so municipalities do their best to lure teams to their town. In the beginning, the Mets trained in St. Petersburg, Florida, but in 1988, lured by a new stadium and a community in its infancy, they moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida.

MetsThis year, a new stadium opened in West Palm Beach, Florida. “The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches” is now the Spring Training home of the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros. Both teams share the facility for Spring Training. It’s a beautiful new campus with separate training facilities for each team. The actual stadium is modern, attractive, and spacious. A wide promenade allows fans to walk completely around the stadium while still being able to see the game. Their version of “The Berm,” is called “The Lawn” and covers both left and right fields. The stadium seats are comfortable with plenty of leg room, but the rise from one row to the next is a little low making visibility an issue... especially for those of us who are “vertically challenged.” As for me, naturally, there was a fan’s head directly in front of me necessitating my peeking to the left and right if I wanted to see what was happening.

MetsAs the training facilities for the two teams are duplicated, so are the food choices on the concourse. The DC Grill, on the Washington Nationals side of the concourse, has the same menu (burgers, franks, fries) as the H City Grill on the Houston Astros side of the concourse. Naturally, there are other choices like bratwurst, taco salad, chicken on a stick, and ice cream sundaes. As you’d expect, beer vendors abound and there’s even a Brewery/Restaurant.

The game that Angela Giannotti and I attended was between the Mets and the Astros. I was surprised to see so many Astro fans in attendance, all decked out in their team colors. Are there that many displaced Houston residents in South Florida?

MetsAt least half of the fans were there to cheer on the Mets since it’s an easy 45 minute drive from Port St. Lucie. Parking isn’t a problem, although it is a fairly long walk to the stadium. People with mobility issues could have a problem, especially since it’s an upgrade to the stadium entrance from the parking lot.

MetsThe Astro’s mascot, named Orbit, was very entertaining during the game. He posed for selfies, danced, and cavorted on the top of the dugout. At one point, he danced with Curtis Granderson who was waiting in the on deck circle for the inning to begin. Curtis got into it... just plain fun!

It won’t be long until the season starts and things become more serious, so Spring Training games are getting more scrutiny. Things are looking good for the Mets. The pitchers look sharp and the hitters are starting to hit the ball! Today, Jacob deGrom was terrific and Cespedes hit one over the wall. I’m optimistic, which is highly unusual for a Mets fan. We generally see the Gatorade cooler as being half empty.

MetsSpring Training is a wonderful six weeks for me. I love going to the workouts and the games. I love seeing the players all around town. Soon the colors will fade here. Snowbirds will fly north. Orange and Blue shirts will be fewer. The traffic will be back to normal. No more Harvey sightings in Publix, Wright chat in Starbucks, or deGrom bicycling down our block. Now it’s time for our “National Pastime” to become meaningful. LET’S GO METS!


The View from the Berm, or... “Oh, My Aching Foot!”

BermThe berm at First Data Field is a grassy slope in right field and there are no regular seats on the berm. Instead, you can bring a blanket, sit in the sun, and enjoy the game. Kids can run around, roll down the hill, play catch, and just generally have a great day at the park. For a family with young children, there’s nothing better than the berm. That’s on a normal day at First Data field... Today, was far from normal. Today, the berm and the adjoining party deck were taken over by “The 7 Line Army!”

In Queens, the 7 Line is the elevated subway line which goes to Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Several years ago, a young man adopted the 7 Line name for a line of Mets tee shirts he designed. His shirts were smart, different, and soon became cult classics.

His business grew and in 2012, he began to organize outings to Citi Field. His group of diehards would take over a large area in right field, each wearing the same tee shirt, and passionately cheer for their team, the Mets.

BermEventually, these outings became bigger and bigger as he began to organize gatherings of his group of followers at stadiums all over the country to root for the Mets. The group became known as “The 7 Line Army” and his rules were pretty simple... Root wildly for the Mets, be respectful of the opposing team and their fans, be partisan, but be nice.

BermThis year was The 7 Line Army’s first outing to Spring Training and my son, two friends and I joined six hundred other crazy Mets fans on “the berm.” Angela Giannotti, a long time South Country resident, flew down here for a few days of warm sun and baseball. She and I have been to 7 Line games at Citi field in Queens, so we worked her visit to Florida around the Mets’ game down here.

BermThe 7 Line Army was 1,000 strong that day. We were all wearing the same shirts, chanting the same cheers, and rooting for our guys. Because it was such a large crowd, the best strategy was to arrive early to stake out your turf. Our special ticket allowed us early admission and my group of four found a perfect spot on the party deck, right behind the railing.

We joined in the huge group picture and then settled in to chat and watch the Washington Nationals take batting practice. As we chatted, a fly ball streaked toward the party deck... heading straight for my foot. It managed to slip between the railing bars and hit me smack on my big toe! The pain, the swelling, and the discoloration were instantaneous.

BermThe stadium staff responded immediately, quickly followed by the St. Lucie County EMTs. They assured me that even if it were broken, it would only require taping. They gave me ice packs and advised me what to look for in the event it got worse. The staff checked on me often and even the stadium manager paid me a visit. My toe was a hideous array of colors, and it was swollen, but it will be fine. Most importantly, I GOT THE BALL!!!

The game itself was secondary to the craziness in the park. The Mets lost, but our spirits were not dampened. Stadium attendance was two hundred people over its normal capacity and it was a fun friendly crowd.

BermSome of their enthusiasm may have been fueled by a local concoction called a “Rum Bucket,” a plastic bucket full of rum punch often topped off with another shot of rum. This year, The 7 Line Army broke their previous record of empty buckets hanging on the berm fence, a grand total of 352 empty buckets. Yes, my friend Angela, my son, and I did our part to contribute to the total.

We have two more games on our schedule, one here at First Data, and the other at a brand new Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach. Neither could be as memorable as today’s was.

Next up: On The Road, The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches


Play Ball

MetsAs February turns into March, getting ready to play Major League Baseball games becomes a bit more complicated. Instead of just drills and batting practice, Spring Training games have actually begun.

I was completely ready to head to Tradition Field for Opening Day. I bought my tickets for myself and family, and I picked out my favorite Mets shirt. I planned my schedule, but Wait! What? It’s no longer Tradition Field? Now, it’s First Data Field? Money talks... even in Spring Training.

"Tradition” is the name of a community near the stadium. They have had the naming rights for the field, on and off now, for several years, but their contract was up. They were asked to re-up for five years, but they weren't interested so First Data, a financial processing company, was willing to make a ten year commitment. Yes, it’s big business, even in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

MetsEntering the stadium this year is also a little more complicated. Security has now caught up with the world in which we live. There is now a security company manning metal detectors in addition to the existing bag check. But... once inside the stadium... Americana is on full display!

The National Anthem is played by a group of students playing violins and cellos, or a local man or woman who might have some trouble hitting those high notes. The anthem is followed by a local veteran throwing out the First Pitch... followed by a local politician throwing out the First Pitch... which is followed by the Make A Wish kid throwing out the First Pitch. Yes, there are lots of “First” pitches, but everyone gets a picture with a player, and they all seem happy.

MetsThe players were ready to play. The stadium is packed. The field is groomed and perfect and the fans are just happy to be watching baseball again after a four month hiatus. It was time to say, PLAY BALL!

The fans in the stands are a mix. There are many serious Mets fans who watch every pitch. There are families from the New York area who have made this trip a vacation destination. There are non-fans, who are simply there for a day out. And, there are fans completely decked out in team colors, including the colors of the opposition.

It’s not a rowdy crowd. It’s a low key friendly crowd, yet clearly knowledgeable. That was apparent when David Wright came up to the plate for the first time since neck surgery. The PA announcer couldn’t be heard over the enthusiastic standing ovation. People recognized David’s struggles, understood what a fine person he is, and simply wanted to show him that they are literally, and figuratively, rooting for him. His future in baseball remains uncertain, but his place in Mets' fans’ hearts is secure.

MetsSince the Spring Training games are simply for refreshing skills and getting a good look at young players, each player will only play a few innings. Terry Collins, the Mets’ Manager, wants to see as many players as possible in actual game situations. Cuts to the roster will be made soon so it's critical for some players to make a good first impression. That fielding error or hit into the double play will be noticed by the coaches. These games are not played to see who wins or loses. Winning is always more fun than losing, but showcasing young talent is more important. Can that kid really play third base? Will that young pitcher come through in a tight game situation? This is where those judgments are made.

Food has always been a huge part of watching a baseball game. What can be more American than eating a hot dog while watching baseball? Major League stadiums have made food concessions an art form. There are gourmet offerings for every taste.

MetsAt First Data Field, it’s a bit more subdued. The old standards can always be found... hot dogs, burgers, pretzels, and beer. But now you can find spiral fries on a stick, tacos in a helmet, pulled pork, craft beer, rum buckets, and fried Oreos!

First Data Field holds about 7,000 people. Roughly half of those seats are in the sun, and half in the shade. March can be a funny month in Florida as it can be horribly hot and humid, or it can be cool and windy. I’ve baked in the sun, and I’ve shivered in the cold.

In addition to the seats in the stands, there are seats and tables at the Tiki Bar, the Party Deck, and on the kid-friendly berm in right field. Sitting on the grassy berm is a completely different experience so...

Next up: The View From the Berm


The Sounds of Baseball

MetsEach of our five senses triggers different emotions in us. Often, sounds are as important to us as are visuals. As a child, the sound of summer might have been the flap-flap of your sneakers hitting the pavement on the first day of vacation. A crackling fire is a sound that can conjure up the image of a family camping trip. For baseball fans, baseball is as much a sport of sounds, as it is of images.

There’s a special “pop” when a fastball reaches the catcher’s mitt. It’s the sophisticated fan who can close their eyes and determine if that ball was thrown by Noah Syndergaard or a lesser mortal. The crack of the bat is another special sound, especially if that bat is in the hands of Yoenis Cespedes. At big league games these sounds are obscured by the ambient noise inherent in a crowd of 40,000 people. At Citi Field, you can add in the scream of jet planes from LaGuardia Airport and the incessant blare of amplified music which almost makes conversation impossible.

MetsSpring Training is an entirely different experience. The Open Workouts give the fans the opportunity to stand mere yards from the action. It’s easy to hear the banter between players, the jokes, the laughter. The snap of the pitch into the mitt is almost amplified. The crack of the bat is magical, like no other.

Voices… there are conversations going on everywhere, both on the field and off. For the most part, the fans are quiet and respectful. Rarely do you hear someone yell out to one of the players. Instead, you hear people “talkin’ baseball.” You hear parents explaining drills to their children, you hear friends discussing the skills of one pitcher over another. Baseball becomes a welcome non-controversial topic. The times in which we live are rife with taboo topics, topics guaranteed to cause hard feelings and anger. Baseball is neutral. Debating the merits of one team over another can still be done without yelling and name calling.

MetsI can remember 1969 so well. My father and I disagreed about just about every facet of life… except baseball. Instead of pulling us apart, it formed a bond which remained till the day he died. It was something we both loved and shared. Similarly, I am lucky enough to have passed on that passion to my son. He and I can wax poetic about a well turned double play, an acrobatic catch, or even the obscure Infield Fly Rule. It’s mystifying to my husband, a non-fan.

MetsMany of those voices on the field are speaking a different language. Baseball is becoming more of a global sport with players coming from around the world. Players from Asia are more common and players from Central and South America are so numerous that most teams keep a Spanish interpreter on staff. I see players, who will only speak to the media through interpreters, conversing easily with their English speaking teammates.

MetsThe players gathered today for their first full squad workout. Amid the joking around, there were serious repetitive drills designed to reignite their rusty baseball skills… batting, fielding, throwing, yet still in a very casual atmosphere. This morning Neil Walker interrupted his batting practice to pose with two boys who were hoping for a picture. During outfield drill, each ball that Yoenis Cespedes caught was tossed over to eager young fans in the stands. Just before the end of the workout, players signed autographs for waiting fans creating a memory which will be shared by those fans for years to come.

MetsAs we watched our favorite players, another fan in an orange shirt watched from behind the batting cage… Mets owner Fred Wilpon. In the eight years that I’ve been coming to Spring Training, Fred is one of the few constants. Players and coaches have come and gone and I don’t always agree with Wilpon’s decisions, but I would never doubt his love of the game or his love of his team.

Next up… Spring Training Opening Day!


"Pitchers and Catchers" Report to Camp…

Mets Spring TrainingI’m a “Snowbird” and a Mets fan, and if you’re a Mets loving snowbird, there’s really only one place to nest. It’s Port St. Lucie, Florida, the Spring Training Home of the NY Mets. My husband and I have been here since ‘08, first renting, then buying. It’s a lovely town… of those phony towns that Florida does so well. It’s got everything you need…..beautiful landscaping, great food, friendly people (mainly from LI or the northeast), and fabulous weather. Just the way the leaves change color in the northeast, there is a color change down here also. In February things begin to turn Orange and Blue. By March, it’s peak season. Mets colors are everywhere!

 Spring Training is a big deal here. Although Port St. Lucie had some serious economic issues during the recession, the Mets experience seemed to stay steady. The area has had a resurgence, as have the Mets, so now Spring Training is a BIGGER deal. We believers live in anticipation for the start of our year…….“Pitchers and Catchers“!

Mets Spring TrainingPitchers and catchers are required to report a few days earlier than the rest of their teammates for spring training. It takes pitchers a while longer to get ready for the season…..and someone needs to catch the ball.

 One of the other perks of living here is that you run into players everywhere… Starbucks, Publix, or the local restaurant. A few even live down the block. They’re easy to spot. They are tall, well built, and probably drive an enormous black truck.

Mets Spring Training Today was the first “Open Workout“, where the public is invited to watch. It’s all very casual and relaxed. Tradition Field has a huge complex of workout fields adjacent to the main stadium. The players begin with a series of stretching exercises, then they are broken into small groups and drill the skills required of them. Today’s workout drew hundreds of fans eagerly taking pictures, watching their favorite players, and talking baseball. It’s a unique opportunity to see the players going through their routine up close and personal. It’s fascinating to watch Matt Harvey and Steven Matz doing the same repetitious drills as the young aspiring pitcher still dreaming of his first big league game. The workouts are always open during Spring Training, and they are free. The players often make themselves available for autographs, especially for kids.

Mets Spring Training This year the Mets season will depend on the health of their starting five pitchers. All but Syndergaard has had serious elbow surgery in the past. Trying to keep those arms strong but not overworked will be a hard balancing act for Terry Collins and his coaches.

Next up……the position players’ first workout. How will David Wright’s back and neck issues effect his game? Will Cespedes put on the hitting show we have come to expect? Will d’Arnaud ever live up to the expectations?