Most spring training games are in the afternoon, but every so often there
is an evening game, and with a lot of the parks being relatively close
together, it’s possible to catch a day/night doubleheader, which is what I
did on Friday.
The first game was the Twins and Blue Jays in Dunedin. Dunedin has managed
to use the fact that they’re the winter home of the Blue Jays to their
advantage. For the most part, it’s a quiet, mostly residential town along
the Gulf Coast, and they consciously cater to Canadian retirees and
snowbirds. A radio station in the town broadcasts a half-hour of Canadian
news every morning, some stores carry Canadian newspapers and so on. As a
result, games in Dunedin have a very distinct feel to them. On this day, I
discovered that the Jays were celebrating "Canada Day" (which
seems to mean "Let’s appreciate the resident Canadians," since it
isn’t actually the Canadian holiday) by, among other things, reduced ticket
prices. Thus I was able to get a reserved seat for $8 as opposed to the
usual $13. The seat I was in was one of the highest up I had been in all
week and it was still only about 20 rows away from the field.
Dunedin Stadium is about to get a complete renovation, and some of the
changes clearly are needed. The scoreboard in the outfield is in fairly bad
shape, but the team had turned the situation into a gimmick by making it a
manually-operated scoreboard, sponsored by Hooters. I’m not sure the
crowd–heavily skewed towards retirees–was exactly the desired target
audience they wanted, but hey, it’s their money.
The Twins, as the visiting team, were using something of a makeshift lineup
for the game. They even changed it between when the lineups were sent to
the press box and when they were announced, which turned into a nightmare
for those of us keeping score. As near as I can figure, their lineup
included Brian Buchanan in left field, Jason Maxwell at
second base, and Jay Canizaro in right field. That is hardly a
lineup to inspire fear in opposing pitchers, but they were facing Roy
Halladay, who hasn’t inspired much fear himself recently. He continued
to struggle, giving up six runs in five innings and frequently falling
behind batters along the way. The Twins started Mark Redman, who was
his usual steady, good-but-not-great self. Carlos Delgado smoked a
lengthy homer and Jose Cruz Jr. scored a run after three singles. A few
other hits were scattered around, but it never felt like Redman was in
Midway through, the game suddenly seemed to devolve into an episode of
ER. First someone stumbled and fell in an aisle, bringing a crew of
EMTs over, although it didn’t seem to be much of a crisis. Then from the
other side of the stadium there were loud cries of "Medic! Over
here!" which caused the game to stop as the umpire joined in the
effort to get attention to someone who had collapsed near an exit to the
concourse. Fortunately, the initial concern that it was a heart-attack
victim was unwarranted. After a few minutes, the person who had collapsed
was helped out of the ballpark.
It was at that point that the players decided to get into the act. Homer
Bush led off the bottom of the fifth with a triple and then tried to
tag and score on a fly ball to right field. Canizaro made a great throw,
Tom Prince blocked the plate, and Bush slid in hard while being
tagged out and then started rolling around in pain. He was eventually
helped to his feet and hobbled off down the left-field line towards the
At the end of the same inning, Carlos Delgado hit a sharp line drive
off of Redman’s shoulder. The Twins’ infielders were able to retrieve the
ball and get the final out of the inning, at which point several trainers
and coaches came sprinting off the bench and Tom Kelly immediately started
waving to the bullpen. Redman walked off pretty quickly, but he was done
for the day. Then in the next inning, Maxwell and Canizaro nearly collided
while chasing a pop-up. Canizaro tried to veer out of the way at the last
second and then stayed down. Unlike the other two he was not so lucky, and
wound up with a torn ACL as a result of the play.
The rest of the game passed uneventfully, although Denny Hocking
ended the top of the ninth on a slightly comical note. After he got sawed
off, sending a weak grounder down the first-base line, his very loud "Ow!"
echoed around the stadium.
Between games I had some time to kill and wandered around Clearwater some.
Several buildings in the downtown area have been taken over by the
"Church" of Scientology, which adds a slightly surreal feel to
the area. Then it was back to the ballpark, this time Jack Russell, for the
Phillies and the Pirates.
The game was advertised as a "family fun night" sponsored by Time
Warner Cable and the Odyssey network, which meant that there were some
somewhat unusual things around the park. Outside on the third-base side,
Time Warner was advertising their cable modem service with a very large
Road Runner balloon. Inside along the concourse, Odyssey had a table set up
with Kermit the Frog sitting and watching over things. Meanwhile, down the
line a little bit a local sports call-in station was broadcasting live from
the ballpark. The "family fun" side seems to have been a success
since there was a fairly large crowd including a lot of small kids.
The lineups were pretty typical for a spring game. The home team had their
regulars while the visitors had a mix of regulars and scrubs. Jason
Kendall, Brian Giles, and Derek Bell (both a regular and
a scrub) were out there for
the Pirates, but John Wehner was at third base and Abraham
Nunez was at shortstop. In a sign of how desperate the Pirates are for
starting pitchers, they ran Joe Beimel out to start the game. Beimel
has only pitched in 10 games above A ball. It’s not too unusual to see a
pitcher that inexperienced start an early-spring game, but usually by the
time you get to the next to last weekend of the spring the starts are
reserved for candidates for the rotation.
Opposing Beimel was 19-game loser-turned-Opening Day starter Omar
Daal. After one inning, neither choice was looking particularly
inspired since each team had scored three times, but the pitchers were
looking very different. Daal started extremely rough, with a walk and a
couple of hard-hit singles, but after that he clearly seemed to settle
down, getting out of the inning allowing only one more single, one that
just barely scooted under Marlon Anderson‘s glove. Beimel, on the
other hand, started strong getting the first two outs before his control
betrayed him and he walked two straight. Pat Burrell and Travis
Lee followed with a double and single respectively and the game was tied.
From there on out the differences increased. Daal pitched 5 2/3 additional
innings and looked like the pitcher who was so effective in 1998 and 1999,
allowing only two more baserunners and constantly pitching ahead in the
count. Beimel went just three more frames and, while he only gave up one
more run, was frequently pitching into deep counts and had two innings with
multiple baserunners. He looked like a pitcher who was slightly
overmatched. I hope for his sake the Pirates find someone else to stick in
the fifth-starter spot so he can go back to the minors and get the extra
experience that he clearly needs.
The game ended on a fitting note for the week. The Phillies brought in
Rheal Cormier to try and hold a 6-3 lead. He promptly gave up four
hits to the first five batters he faced. Clint Sodowsky, another
non-roster invitee hoping to get a chance to return to the majors, was
brought in and struck out two batters to end the game. As I headed out, I
passed Ed Wade who looked like he had been chewing on a lemon. As tempting
as it was to make a comment about "great free agent signings," I
figured that the guy would be getting enough of that from the sports radio
jackals in Philly, so I resisted.
While I try and make it to spring training every year, next year is very
much an open question for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is
the possibility that spring training may be delayed or altered by the
impending labor negotiations. Then, the year after that the city of
Clearwater opens a new ballpark, so this may have been my last trip to Jack
Russell Stadium. I can understand the reasons for the new ballpark,
especially since it will be right next to the minor-league complex,
allowing for easier coordination between the two. Still, I will miss the
old place when it’s gone, and I would recommend that if you get a chance to
see it before it goes, do so. On a warm March afternoon, it’s a great
reminder of how wonderful it is that baseball is back and spring is here.
Jeff Hildebrand is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.