Thursday, March 31, 2022

New York Mets 10 at Miami Marlins 0 (Grapefruit League) - March 29, 2022

The second stop on our whirlwind spring training tour was Roger Dean Stadium, where the Mets and Marlins would do battle in a nighttime affair. I had been here nearly a decade before for two Florida State League games, but had never witnessed a spring training affair. So it would not count as a new baseball venue, but would count as a new MLB venue, my 57th. We drove about 20 minutes from the earlier game, stopping at Miller's Ale House for dinner.

I wrote about the stadium in detail during my past visit and won't rehash things here as it hasn't changed much. Obviously things are more expensive for spring training, with parking going for $12 in a garage nearby. Several cars were lined up to get ripped off, so I dropped Mike off at the corner and drove around a bit, finding a free spot on aptly-named Parkside Drive, just a couple of minutes walk from the stadium. There was a line at security, which gave us enough time to pick up a pair of tickets on TickPick for $13 each. I thought spring training was overpriced, but you can still do OK on the secondary market.

One other change is the name; it is now Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, so everyone knows what Roger Dean does for a living. However, Roger Dean Chevrolet is located in Cape Coral, about 150 miles away on the west coast of Florida, so I'm not sure how much business he generates from sponsoring the stadium here in Jupiter.

There was a good crowd on hand, with the 3,418 nearly double the attendance at the earlier game in West Palm Beach, keeping the concourse crowded. 

Inside, the seating bowl seems to have been updated with new seats in the past few years, as they are a much brighter green than would be expected having sat in the Florida sun for 23 years.

The bleachers, which are not open for the minor league games, are available for spring training so I headed down there for an inning. The shot below is about as far as you can get from home plate and still be in the seating area.

There are some additions of course, both which are used for social purposes. The Chido Beach Club is in section 101 and has tables, though I did not see too many fans making use of them.

Above here is the Cassidy Cool Zone, an open area with a full service bar that is likely much busier during day games. 

Chido is a brand of tequila and they had a tiki tent down in the left field corner that was mostly a miniature play area. Their slogan is "Life is too short not to drink tequila" but then again, if you drink too much, your life will also be too short.

We sat behind the plate in the upper section and enjoyed the game as newly acquired Chris Bassitt shut out the Marlins for 4.2 frames, striking out three. The first of these resulted in the inaugural "Heeeeeeeee Struck Him Out!" call of the season, much to the bemusement of fellow fans who had never sat in Section 515 at Citi Field.

Meanwhile, Miami's mound maestro Pablo Lopez was as bad as this sentence, giving up four runs in 2.1 innings, including a monster shot from Francisco Lindor. In the fourth, reliever Kyle Pop gave the Mets bats just that as they scored four more on their way to a 10-0 drubbing of Mattingly's men. It's only spring training, but Lindor looked especially impressive in his three plate appearances, adding a double and a walk.

The game took 3:39, crazy for a spring training tilt. Fortunately, our hotel was not far and we made it in time to enjoy a couple of beers at Twin Peaks, a bar not dedicated to the television series. 

Notes

Brandon Nimmo was playing and we cheered for him, shouting "Let's Go Brandon!", which drew some angry glares from nearby fans. MLB.com lists 13 Brandons (and a Brandyn) so this joke will doubtless be repeated throughout the season, promising never to get stale. Nimmo homered by the way, so maybe he appreciated the humour too.

Best,

Sean


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Washington Nationals 1 at Houston Astros 3 (Grapefruit League) - March 29, 2022

When I found myself with a couple of vacation days recently, I looked into a quick trip to Florida for spring training. Initially, I wanted to see the Blue Jays in one of the Tampa-area ballparks that I had yet to visit, but the schedule was not agreeable. Looking elsewhere, I found that I could see three games staying just one night around West Palm Beach, which had one stadium that I could add to my list. That would be The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the amply named spring home of both the Nationals and the Astros. Fellow Club 124 member Mike agreed to join me on this jaunt, and we flew down early Tuesday morning, leaving a chilly 24 degrees in New York for a balmy 27 in the Sunshine State. Who needs a temperature scale anyway?

We picked up a rental car at PBI and drove the six miles to the ballpark, which is part of a larger complex that makes finding free parking rather difficult. So we forked over $15 and parked in the grass lot that can be reached off Haverhill Road. It is about a five-minute walk to the front of the stadium, although you can take a courtesy golf cart if you wish.

Along the way, there is a bridge with a piece of art that lists various baseball terms and phrases. I found the one below particularly apt given the recent end to the lockout.

The cheapest ticket at the box office was $20 for general admission on the law, but there were better options on the secondary market, and we picked up a pair for $13 each including fees. These put us between home and third midway up the section (view below). The sun was shining on these seats for the first few innings, but there is sunscreen available at guest services should you forget yours. 

Alternatively, for $10, you can buy a wristband that allows you to use the shaded social area above third base (below). But as there are enough shaded seats behind the plate, this is probably an unnecessary investment, as there was no free food or drink provided.

The ballpark opened in 2017 and has a seated capacity of 6,500 with room for a thousand more on the berm.  It is much like the new minor league venues that have appeared in recent years, though without the bells and whistles such as ribbon boards, a kids' area or some team history. Once spring training ends, the stadium hosts the Gulf Coast League affiliates of the two clubs, but there is no regular minor league team that calls it home, which is why I had never been here before.

Concourses are wide and breezy, with plenty of concession stands offering typical stadium fare. On this beautiful day, only 1,794 showed up, so you never had to wait long for anything.

If you are hungry, I would recommend Havana Nights, the Cuban pizza truck in the right field corner. You can get a freshly baked pie for $12, which should keep you satisfied for the game. They have several varieties including chorizo, and a Cuban sandwich too. Next to this is a cocktail stand that was offering tiny samples of their vodka lemonade concoction.

For craft beer enthusiasts, the bar down in the left field corner is your best bet, with about 16 taps for your enjoyment, with Sailfish the local option. At $12 for a draft, it isn't cheap, but it sure is enjoyable.

You can walk around the entire ballpark, which I did a couple of times, snapping pictures from various angles.

The ballpark faces northeast, with the sun moving along behind first base as the game starts. 

The first player I saw this year was Tres Barrera, a very good omen.

The scoreboard provides some much needed shade for denizens of the berm.

The other side of the lawn section is mostly uncovered, though a few palm trees can be used to stay cool. 

You can see the entire structure from just to the left of the batter's eye.

Of course, the two organizations have recently won titles, with Washington's coming in the last normal season.

Houston were the runners-up that year, and some will argue that they have never won a title fair and square. Their championship will always be controversial, but I think it is time to move on. 

Overall, I found TBPOTPB (it should be Palm Beaches Ballpark or PBBP) to be beautiful if a bit soulless, as you would expect for a venue that really only welcomes fans for about a month every year. Still, I couldn't have been happier to be watching some major league baseball in this weather, and we did get quite a few major leaguers, at least for a few innings.

The Game

Justin Verlander (below) started for Houston and struck out the side in the first, on his way to four scoreless innings. He definitely seems ready for the season. Meanwhile, the Nationals used a different pitcher every inning, with Tanner Rainey giving up pair of runs in the second, while Patrick Murphy yielded another in the fourth.

The Houston bullpen kept Washington off the board until the final frame, when Yadiel Hernandez singled home a run. Then Viandel Pena flew to right, but Josh Daniels dropped it, only for Hernandez to be forced at second after a bit of a baserunning blunder. Joey Meneses then lined out to put a period on things, with Houston taking it 3-1. 

Sadly, the scoreboard immediately removed the linescore, something that always bothers me, especially with no other final score to be seen. 

Notes

There was a Jose Altuve jersey giveaway, which got me excited because I thought I would finally get a giveaway that actually fits me. But no, despite the diminutive Altuve being honoured, all jerseys were XL. 

Gary Pettis is the third base coach for Houston and seeing him brought back some good memories. He was the first official batter in the 1988 season when he led off for Detroit at Fenway, popping out off of Roger Clemens. I was at that game, part of an Easter weekend in Boston that also saw two Celtics contests and Denis Potvin's last regular season game. I wrote about that trip as part of my treatise on the disappearance of hard tickets. Speaking of which, we managed to get hard stubs for all three games we attended on this trip, but more on that in the upcoming posts.

Best,

Sean


Monday, March 28, 2022

Toronto Arrows 14 at Rugby New York 10 (Major League Rugby) - March 27, 2022

In 2019, a new rugby team entered the sports scene in New York, part of the upstart Major League Rugby circuit. I dutifully paid a visit to MCU Park in Brooklyn to see Rugby United New York play and enjoyed the experience. The club did not have any home matches in the 2020 campaign that ended early due to the pandemic, and last year played out of Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John's University. This season, they removed the United from their name and took flight yet again, leaving the Empire State and crossing the Hudson to Hoboken, where they will call JFK Stadium home. 

As this is a venue that I had never even heard of let alone visited, I made plans to go and when I saw that the Toronto Arrows were visiting this past weekend, it was an easy decision. Hoboken is just ten minutes on the 126 NJ Transit bus from Port Authority, and the stadium is a short walk from the second stop after you exit the Lincoln Tunnel. There are plenty of bars in the neighborhood if you want to eat before or after the game.

Tickets are $22 and $28 and as there is no box office, you must buy online. The cheaper seats are in the end sections, which is where you should sit because most of the interesting action takes place near the try line. I use the term seats loosely, because all that is available are ten rows of metal bleachers, with no aisles; sit at the top if you want a backrest. The stadium is used by Hoboken High School, whose nickname is the Red Wings.

There is a small concession stand with basic fare, and a team shop that was doing good business. Rugby has a decent following in the United States and there were about 1,200 on hand for this tilt, though actual attendance figures are not released.

The field is also used for football, baseball, and lacrosse, so the surface is filled with lines from all the different sports. Rugby's are in yellow, which made it easy to follow.

The Arrows (below) brought the weather down from Canada with them. It was supposed to be 8 degrees, but it seemed much colder, and there was a violent snow squall for about five minutes in the first half. It was like a torrential downpour, but snow rather than rain. Very unusual, but it disappeared as quickly as it arrived and had no impact on the match.

The national anthems were sung and you could here the Arrows bellowing out O Canada along with the young lady who was performing, which brought a tear to my eye. The match got underway and was a defensive battle for most of the first half, with several penalties as well. New York scored the only try of the period with Kaleb Geiger touching down after a rolling maul midway through. The conversion was missed and the home side took a 5-0 lead to the locker rooms. 

Early in the second half, a New York drop was scooped up by John Sheridan who rumbled 35 yards to score under the posts. This was critical because a new rule forgoes the conversion attempt when the try is scored between the posts, so it was 7-5 Toronto. Later in the half, Paul Ciulini of the Arrows was issued a yellow card, and the hosts capitalized, passing the ball from one sideline to the other where Ed Fidow scored in the left corner. Again the conversion was missed, so the Toronto deficit was just three points.

In the late going, the Arrows got the ball deep in New York territory after a miskick by Troy Lockyear, and they pressed for the go-ahead try. With just two minutes remaining, Andrew Quattrin took possession and bulldozed over four opponents on his way to the end zone, touching the ball down behind the posts to give the Arrows a 14-10 lead. It was an impressive effort that silenced the local supporters. New York had once last possession but turned the ball over and it was punted out of bounds to end the affair with a surprising visitor victory. In the end, the difference was the two automatic conversions. The highlights are here and worth a look if you enjoy hard-hitting rugby.

The match saw 26 total penalties, which is a lot for 80 minutes of action. It was an exciting ending, but there was a lot of standing around along the way. Obviously, this is not the best rugby in the world, but the league is just getting started and I would encourage anyone who lives in an area where there is a club to attend a game if you can. 

Notes

I have added the Arrows to my Toronto on the Road list. Because at 1-0, they are the only undefeated  squad to make it. And I will try to keep it that way!

Rugby New York had the last laugh, however, winning the title in late June in a match played at Red Bull Arena in front of 1,979 fans.

Next Up

Warmth in Florida for a couple of days as I escape winter's last gasp for three spring training tilts in the Palm Beach area. Recaps will be posted here eventually, so check back for those.

Best,

Sean


Saturday, March 19, 2022

Sacred Heart Pioneers 4 at St. John's Red Storm 15 (NCAA Baseball) - March 18, 2022

It might be March Madness, but 12 hours of televised basketball are not my idea of how to spend a day. Especially when it's 22 degrees out in March. So rather than waste a beautiful Friday afternoon, I headed over to St. John's campus to see my first baseball game of 2022. The Red Storm play at Jack Kaiser Stadium, one of the few diamonds left in NYC that I had yet to visit.

The ballpark was opened in 2000, but still has a rather interesting history. That year, the New York Mets purchased the Blue Jays NY-Penn League affiliate, the St. Catharines Stompers. The plan was to move them to Brooklyn, but the new stadium there was not yet ready. So the Mets built a temporary home on the St. John's campus and for a year, the Queens Kings played there, still affiliated with Toronto (Alex Rios began his career here). The next year, the franchise moved boroughs to Brooklyn to become the Cyclones, and the Mets donated the ballpark to the university. A few years later, it was renamed in honour of Kaiser, who had played and coached here before becoming the athletic director, a position he left in 1995. At the age of 95, he is still Athletics Director Emeritus for the Red Storm. Kaiser played on the team that made the College World Series in 1949, and led the squad to Omaha on three other occasions. These are commemorated, along with many Big East titles, above the right field fence. 

The stadium is as basic as you would expect for an NCAA ballpark, with red benches, bleached orange by the sun, behind the plate and down the first base line. As with most baseball programs in the northeast, there is no charge to watch a game. With a capacity of 3,500 and about 400 fans showing up, you will not have trouble finding space. There is a small concession truck outside the main entrance selling very basic fare, but I would recommend picking something up at a nearby restaurant or convenience store and bringing it in. Obviously no tickets are sold, so if you want a souvenir, pick up a lineup sheet on your way in.

A separate section of bleachers extends well down the third base line. If you want to sit here, you have to walk through a small gate just inside the main entrance. Attendance was 412 on this day, with the majority being students who would come and go throughout the game. The ballpark has lights, but most games are played during the day, particularly early in the season when chilly evenings would be unpleasant for fans and players alike.

The press box is named in honour of longtime Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard, who played baseball and football here back in the 1930s. A recording of his voice welcoming fans is played before the game. The seats in front of the press box are the only place to find shade should you need it.

St. John's may not be a well-known name in baseball, but they have produced several pros, including Frank Viola, John Franco, C.J. Nitkowski, and Joe Panik.

That's all you need to know. I doubt too many readers will venture to East Queens to see the Red Storm, but if you have a free spring afternoon in NYC, check the schedule and it works out, pay a visit to Jack Kaiser Stadium for a few hours of relaxation.

The Game

There are 301 teams in Division I baseball this year, with visitors Sacred Heart (1-14) ranked 294th, a full nine spots lower than St. John's (2-14). A battle of titans this was not. The Pioneers opened the scoring in the first with a Sam Mongelli homer off Red Storm starter Ian Murphy, but St. John's replied with three in the 1st and another four in the 2nd off Chase Jeter (no relation to Derek) to commence the rout.  


A homer and two walks in the 5th ended Murphy's chance at securing the win, and Ottawa native Ben Adams (above) was brought in to quell the fire. Another run scored on an error, but when the Red Storm scored six in the 6th, the game was all but over. There was one spectacular play after that though. With Pioneers on first and second in the 7th, Mongelli lined a ball to left. It looked like a sure double and both runners took off, but left fielder David Glancy made a superb running catch. Glancy tossed it to Jermaine White in center, who sent it to relay man Kevin Michaels, who sent in to Luke Orbon at second for your typical 7-8-6-4 double play. If this play happened at a larger Division I school, you would have seen it on SportsCenter; instead all you get is a video tweet. Glancy, doubtless still high on adrenalin, smoked a homer in the bottom half of the frame, and both teams added singletons in the 8th to make the final 15-4. 


Michaels was the star at the plate with two homers and six RBIs, while Adams picked up his first collegiate win with 3.2 innings in relief. Not a great game, but who cares in this wonderful weather.

Notes

I originally planned to attend a game at Holy Cross on this day, going so far as to book a cheap flight to Worcester. But the day before, Holy Cross moved their game to Northeastern, rendering the trip pointless. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the return flight ended up being delayed over six hours. Still, I wonder about the point of a schedule if teams just move games when it suits them. 

St. John's swept the three-game series by a combined score of 43-15, jumping up to 277th in the rankings, while Sacred Heart fell to 299 in front of only Niagara and Alcorn State.

This was my 323rd baseball venue at which to see a game. 

Next Up

I was hoping to get to the East Regional in Philadelphia next weekend, but with North Carolina making it instead of Baylor (and nearby St. Peter's shocking everybody in Kentucky twice), tickets have skyrocketed. So my next trip will be to Florida for a couple of spring training games. Check back in a couple of weeks to see how that transpired.

Best,

Sean