Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Training Baseball Update

Spring Training Baseball Update

Today I completed a 4-day , 5-game whirlwind tour of Cactus League baseball. I’ve been coming for a number of years, and have seen a number of changes in the league. I saw 3 Dodger games, 2 Rockies games, 2 Padres games, the Rangers, the Royals, and the Reds. Two games were in Surprise, one at Glendale Camelback, one in Peoria, and one in Goodyear.

With my visit to the Rangers/Royals stadium in Surprise, I have now been to all of the active fields in Phoenix in the Cactus League. When I first started coming, I focused on the Angels. Born a Red Sox fan, I had been living in LA and had followed them as I saw the Red Sox play them almost annually since I moved from Boston to LA. They had gotten good in 2001 and it was a good way to get my wife interested in baseball, so we both ended up following them for several years. Their park in Tempe is quite nice, as is downtown Tempe. But then I switched to following the Dodgers and ended up getting season tickets.

Last year the Dodgers moved to the Cactus League in a new stadium in Glendale called Camleback Ranch (named after the street it is on). Architecturally it is the nicest of all the stadiums. It is also the biggest, the most expensive for ticket buyers, and has by far the worst parking (although this year it appeared to be free, unless they somehow forgot to charge me). But I also moved to Denver and became a Rockies fan, so I wanted to see Rockies games.

Next year, the two remaining teams playing in Tucson are moving north to Phoenix, including my new team the Rockies. They will have a new stadium in Scottsdale (where the Giants already have a park), which will be designed by the architects who did Camelback, so I have hope that it will be a nice field, although hopefully without the negatives of Camelback. It will be nice to see them here regularly, rather than have to try to schedule my trip around when they are in town. Also moving are the Cubs, who threatened to go to Florida, but who managed to get Phoenix to pay for a new stadium by adding a tax to all tickets sold (essentially forcing fans of other teams to pay for the park!).

I arrived in town Friday night to see the Dodgers play the Padres in Peoria. I had been to Peoria the previous year for a Dodgers-Brewers game. It’s a nice park. My seats were fantastic. I was across the aisle from Dodger GM Ned Colletti. I’ve dealt with enough celebrities in the past to know how much they hate intrusions, so I did not bother him. The game was not great, the first two innings took almost an hour, and by the time it was over, Ned had moved, and I was not feeling well and decided to leave the game early. I did however enjoy seeing Manny strike out with the bases loaded. (God, I hate him.) Kuroda had a poor outing, giving up 3 runs in 4 innings. David Eckstein, now a Padre, still runs full speed to first even when he gets a walk. James MacDonald gave up 6 runs in relief in only 1.1 innings.

Saturday was my double-header day. It started with the Dodgers split-squad playing the Rangers in Surprise, and finished with the Padres playing the other half of the Dodgers again, this time at Camelback. At all games I had excellent tickets behind home plate. That’s one of the great perks in spring training; it’s easy and usually cheap to get great seats I could never afford elsewhere.

Surprise is really removed from Phoenix. Most of the drive is on surface roads, and traffic can be bad. Once you are there, parking is free, which is nice, but there are very few food choices at the park, and they do not take credit cards. The food is what you would expect at a carnival. I got diarrhea and left the game early again. They do allow you to bring your own food, which is what I did the next day. The Dodgers won this one, 5-4, in one of the better-played games of the weekend. Ramon Ortiz pitched 4 good innings for the Dodgers.

Camelback should have been better designed. It was built in the middle of nowhere, so you would have expected entries to parking from all directions. Unfortunately, they did not do this, all traffic comes down Camelback to get in. (The Dodgers also have terrible parking in LA. I’m not sure who designed their parking systems, but he deserves a few centuries in purgatory.) The terrible parking at Camelback did result in an unexpected bonus; I had to drive all the way around the stadium to get to a parking spot. I had gotten the game quite early, and my parking was close to the practice fields, so I got to walk right by Chad Billingsly and Jeff Weaver signing autographs as they finished their workouts. (Weaver is a non-roster invitee; I would doubt the Dodgers have room for him, even in the bullpen.)

The Dodgers got only 2 hits in the Saturday night game. Padilla gave up 4 runs in 5 innings. Belliard’s homer was the lone run for the Dodgers.

Sunday I caught my first Rockies game, playing Kansas City in Surprise. This was quite a game. At the end of the first inning, the score was 5-5 and again the first inning took almost an hour. Both teams batted around the full order in the first. Usually spring games are very short. When you take out the commercial breaks, an MLB game can be played in a little over two hours. But this game took three and a half hours, and ended in an 11-11 tie in 9 innings. (Spring games can end in ties; some managers will go a 10th inning but rules prohibit going any further). I certainly got my money’s worth out of that game!

Chacin pitched poorly for the Rockies. It seems unlikely he will make the starting rotation. Matt Daley looked quite good in one inning of relief. Eric Young Jr. and Seth Smith both looked quite good at the plate for the Rockies. The Royals shortstop Betancourt made two errors in the same play in the 1st, which should have ended the inning. The team had 4 errors, plus a passed ball for 5 unearned runs. The Royals just don’t seem to have a competitive team.

One of the things that I enjoy about baseball is the ability to score along with the game. I’m still using the same scorebook I bought at the end of the 2006 season, appropriately for a Rockies game at Dodger stadium. Spring training games are tough to score because of all the substitutions (and the huge roster, often with players who are not listed, or have the wrong number, or two players have the same number). Sunday’s game had 13 pitchers between the two teams. It is not uncommon for every position player to be switched out during a game, some more than once.

Today’s game was quite good for the Rockies, playing the Reds in Goodyear. Goodyear is a nice park but they are kind of in the middle of nowhere and the drive can be rough if there is traffic. It also seems to be the hottest park, although if you pick your seats carefully it’s easy to be in the shade. Most of the parks have very little shade seating, but the last few rows behind home are usually in the shade. Parking at Goodyear is $5 on a grass lot. I don’t believe there is any street parking.

Clint Barmes hit a 2-run homer in the 3rd, and Brad Elred hit a powerful homer dead center in the 5th. De la Rosa looked great for the Rockies. Matt Daley and Manny Corpas looked good in relief. The Rockies won 9-1, a nice way for me to finish my trip!
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