I think over the course of the winter baseball fans get a bit anxious, bored even. We especially in the Upper Midwest find that there is quite a void when the baseball season ends. That void feels worse when a Twins season ends most disappointingly, and we have so many question marks going into the next season. I always joke to myself that you don't realize how much you appreciate baseball season until its gone. It sounds cliche', but its the truth.
There is always that countdown, a countdown to the phrase "Pitchers and catchers report." Its such a relief to finally have it come to fruition and hearing the updates on which pitcher came to camp over-weight this year. This year though, I wasnt able to just wait it out until baseball comes back to Minnesota.
Now, I've been a baseball fan for a long time. For my birthday every year as a kid my parents would round up all my friends and take us to see a game. My dad would randomly decide we need to head to the dome catch a game. A point about my dad though, hes most impatient man in the world. There were moments you can only reminisce about now. It would be a game with the Twins down by one going into the 8th inning. You knew you were in for a good time because over the PA you heard "KIRBYYYYYYY PUCKETT!" My dad would look down at me, I'd be expecting a phrase like "HERE WE GO" or "WONT BE DOWN FOR LONG". Nope, he would look down, and say the now biggest household joke, "Well, time to beat the traffic". Seriously. Every time. We would leave before the game ended, everytime, so we didn't have to sit through the post-game traffic.
Anyway with that as my childhood memory, I can't stand to not follow my team every step of the way, let alone leave part of a game. This year I had to get down to Florida during spring training and catch everything I could in the amount of time I had.
With the technology today, its rather easy to set up a trip to follow a team. I sat at my computer at home for maybe an hour and had everything planned out. My Delta tickets were ordered within 15 minutes, a check of the game schedule on twinsbaseball.com, a run over to stubhub, and AVIS car rental and I was set(Im fortunate to have relatives 10 minutes away from Ft. Myers, no need for hotel).
Stubhub makes things easy, real easy. Most of the tickets there are going to be pretty over-priced, but being your average spring-training ticket is 20 or 30 bucks, I had no problem swinging for more. The difficult part was finding a seller that was willing to sell just 1 ticket at a time. Usually they will sell in at least sets of two's. So, basically all I did was search for the best one ticket available, try and aim for the twins dugout, and snatch it up. In the future I plan on using google maps in coordination with the schedule and ticket purchasing to determine where the sun is going to be attacking me. I always forget how much stronger the sun is there compared to the midwest.
I've never used twitter, it seemed silly. Why the hell would anyone care what I'm doing or thinking. I already have facebook, no one cares what I'm doing over there either. The issue was I had it all backwards, I was right, no one cares what I'm doing or thinking, absolutely not, but I am quite curious about what Danny Valencia is currently trying to find to eat. I signed up and quickly began following every twins related person I could. (Jesse's feed is clearly the best). Once I arrived in Florida it was awesome to have so much information coming at me from just Twitter. Lineups, news, opinions, pictures from players, how much Glen Perkins hates people being late. If you're not on twitter, and you're a twins fan, you need to join. I would probably never have a chance to interact with most of the people if not for twitter. I found myself asking questions to Dave St Peter, Rhett Bollinger, LaVelle E Neal3, many players, and actually getting personal responses from them. If you want baseball news first, twitter is the place.
Jet Blue Park, Hammond Stadium, Charlotte Sports Park, Ed Smith Stadium, and back to Hammond in a five day stretch was the plan. Now I don't know southwest Florida, at all. It was a bit intimidating planning for five games in five days not knowing where any of these places were. Luckily for me, there was interstate 75. All 5 games were just a short jaunt off of i75, including Hammond and Jet Blue, which were maybe 10 minutes off the interstate in opposite direction in Ft Myers. A simple GPS search of any of the parks on a smart phone creates an easy route. All 4 parks have their parking on site, so you don't have to play the game of trying to find a place to park a car. I wasn't sure of this right away so I made sure to rent a nimble small car if I found myself trying to weave around. Previously owning a 4door full size truck, I knew being lost and trying to cruise through traffic and uncharted territory in a large vehicle wasn't real fun.
The best part of being at these games is the people. I've never had a problem with any person that calls themselves a "fan." I know some people disagree and feel you're not a fan of a certain team unless you follow their every move, and can name the 40 man roster. I've always felt hell, you want to buy a knock-off twins hat at Target and consider yourself a twins fan, knock yourself out. The more the merrier. Someones got to pay Joe Mauer's salary. Everyone has dealt with the people at Target Field or the Dome where you ask yourself, my god why are you even here. I'm guilty of scoffing at people who get free tickets, show up, and just gossip about jersey shore or whatever. Spring Training is so much different though. Everyone at these games is a baseball fan.
At any point, during any game, just say out loud a curious question about a player. Say, "Brian Dozier, hows this guys defense?" I guarantee you will get a confident answer from someone close to you. Every game I went to, the people sitting next to me really knew the game, and knew a ton about the players. If you just want to talk about baseball for an afternoon, a spring training game is the place to be. Some people are the sabermetric experts, some just have a good grasp on performance, and some just have seen so much baseball in their life they seem to know everything. People are more than willing to chat with you during a game, no matter who you are. I found myself taking questions from Red Sox fans at their park about how they are going to do this year. They valued having an outside opinion. Some felt I was a baseball "expert" because I knew Papelbon is now with the Phillies. They agreed with me when I called him a bit of a d-bag.
I work in a profession where public relations is huge. I feel representation of an organization is extremely important. Going to another teams homefield, how you represent your team is going to be noticed and remembered. When I see Tiger fans, I can only picture some morons at game 163 in 2009 jeering our players, acting like a bunch of pricks. Stuff like that leaves a mark on an organization. As I went around, clearly wearing Twins gear, I made sure I represented the organization, even though I have no official affiliation, as well as I could. I took time to make a quick interaction with anyone I could. Paying for parking, getting my ticket read at the gate, buying a brat, these are all points where you can make an impact on people working for the other organization. I at the very least would read their name tag and thank them personally for whatever they might be doing. Ushers, gate attendants, people that work the parking lot, the guys selling stuff off the grill get paid very little, if anything at all. Stopping and chatting with them, using some light humor and thanking them goes a long way.
If interaction you want, interaction you will get. In a few days, I was able to get a few words with Dick and Bert, Butera, Burnett, Valencia, Revere, Lavelle E Neal, Cory Provus, Chang. If you want to get pictures or autographs or balls(Dont we all want balls), this is your place. You cant get closer to the players, staff, and press than at these games. Without even trying you will meet someone. Cory Provus was at the hotdog stand with me just before gametime yesterday, all I wanted to do was shake his hand, and he obliged, nice guy, likes cheese on his dog.
Some of you are on the fence on whether you want to go to Spring Training or not. Go, you need to go, its a completely new experience you wont regret. Its so much different than a game at Target Field, in a good way.Oh, and I made my way to a Hibachi grill for dinner in downtown Ft Myers. Our cook said the Red Sox players come in quite frequently, the biggest d-bag player he'd seen come in? Papelbon.
Only at spring training can you get that inside information.