Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brevard County Manatees 1 at Tampa Yankees 7 - June 28, 2012

In 1989, the Cincinnati Reds moved their spring training operations from the Tampa area, ending a stretch of 75 consecutive years in which the city had hosted a major league team during the pre-season. It took seven years before Tampa could find a team to fill the void, using the promise of a new spring training stadium to lure the New York Yankees from Fort Lauderdale. The Yankees are baseball's biggest franchise everything they do is over the top, including their very impressive spring training stadium, which is also the summer home of the Florida State League's Tampa Yankees.

George M. Steinbrenner Field

Dubbed Legends Field when it opened in 1996, the stadium was renamed when the famed Yankees owner fell ill in 2008. After his passing in 2010, a bronze statue was added in front of the ballpark in time for the 2011 season.

There are a number of other notable features outside the stadium. First is the patch of grass that contains all of the Yankees retired numbers, a smaller version of Monument Park.

There is also a sculpture made from steel recovered from the World Trade Center, much like what sits in front the Mets' spring training home in Port St. Lucie, although in this case it is an actual reproduction of the Twin Towers.

The ticket windows are behind the staircase with reserved seats costing only $6 and general admission $4, the cheapest seats I have seen on this trip. There are other specials such as Facebook Friday, where those who have liked the team on Facebook get in for $2 and enjoy drink specials until 8 pm.

After going up the stairs you enter the stadium and will find yourself on a spacious concourse. There was only a single concession stand open with nothing special, although at least it was Thirsty Thursday when I was there so I was able to get a $2 beer; again only available until 8:00. Scooter Dogs are only $2, with chicken sandwiches and bratwursts the "specialty" items at $5.50.

There are banners here honouring a few Yankee greats like Ruth, Gehrig, and Berra decorating each walkway into the seating area, as well as pictures of past teams. The Yankees have won 27 World Championships, don't ya know. Well if you didn't, you will now.

The seating bowl is huge, with a capacity of 11,000, or double what is held at Dunedin. There is a concourse that bisects it, with rows below designated with double letters. Note the facade above the seats that evokes the original from the House That Ruth Built. There are several suites behind home plate; in fact, this ballpark was one of the first spring training stadiums to make use of suites.

The Tampa Tribune party deck is beyond the right field fence but this is reserved for groups for the most part and wasn't being used when I was there. With a crowd of about 1,000 spread out, the place is quiet during the game and each individual cheer can be heard by the players. The sun sets behind third bases, giving the field some interesting shadows before the game and during the early innings. The dimensions here are the same as at Old Yankee Stadium.

The mascot is Blue, an alien from the minor planet Pluto, a fitting choice for a minor league team.

What surprised me here given the size of the stadium is that the scoreboard is fairly basic, and there is no speed gun. I always expect the Yankees to spare no expense and it was a bit of a relief to see that there are some areas where they keep things simple.

Overall, Steinbrenner Field is what one would expect from the Yankees. It is oversized, honours their past and all those championships, and is likely a great place during the spring. Fortunately the Tampa team realizes the minors is a different attraction altogether and keeps their prices surprisingly low, making it a good place to check out a game when you are in town.

The Game

This was the fourth time I saw the Yankees on this trip and every time they have scored multiple runs in the first inning, this time courtesy of a 3-run homer from Kyle Roller (8th, 2010).  Eduardo Sosa led off the second with a a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly. Shortly thereafter, Ramon Flores doubled and came around on a J.R. Murphy (2nd, 2009 and the Yankees #9 prospect according to Baseball America) single as Tampa took a quick 5-0 lead. Slade Heathcott (29th overall in 2010 and #10 prospect, below) added a 2-run homer in the 5th to end all doubt.

Starter Caleb Cotham (who has a great name for a New York prospect, given one of the city's nicknames is Gotham) was the beneficiary of this offense, but made it easy on himself by tossing six scoreless innings, scattering 5 hits and striking out 8 without yielding a walk. A very impressive performance from Cotham (5th round in 2009), who was only making his fifth start at this level and bears watching.

The Manatees got a solo shot from Cody Hawn (6th, 2010, derisively referred to as "Goldie" by older fans) in the 7th but Mark Montgomery, who I mentioned in a previous post, retired the side on just nine pitches to end the game, a 7-1 victory for the Yankees.

They say that minor league relievers don't become major league relievers, but I'm betting that is not the case here; look for Montgomery (below) to be in the Yankees pen by 2014.

After a Yankees win, the familiar "New York, New York" refrain is played, just like at the big stadium in the Bronx.


I have no idea how they measure the game time anymore. This game started at 7:01 and ended at 9:14, yet was listed at 2:17 in the boxscore. I know it's only four minutes difference but in a sport that depends on accurate statistics, it troubles me greatly that there can be such a discrepancy. Can anyone explain?

Next Up

I'm driving to Daytona today to finish up the FSL portion of the road trip as the Blue Jays are visiting the Cubs. Saturday sees a long drive back to Atlanta, where I'm probably going to see the Nationals and Braves as I have a ticket and Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start for Washington. Check back regularly for updates.



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