I attended Spring Training for the first time in my life in March of 2010 at Jupiter, Florida. I saw the Marlins and the Cardinals play at Roger Dean Stadium twice. My experience was amazing, so as soon as I secured tickets for the April 2nd exhibition in Miami, I jumped on the opportunity to see another game at Roger Dean. So today started with a tranquil drive down the Florida turnpike to a lovely morning in Jupiter.
The Cardinals were playing host to the Nationals at 1:05. Gates opened at 11:30, so until then I strolled around the complex. Now the St. Louis Cardinals have the most loyal and cordial fan base out of the entire league, but I did not want to fight their crowds by going to Cardinals practice before the game, so I just stayed on the visitors’ side. I walked down to the entrance to the Marlins practice fields, but their entire team was gone for the game today in Miami, the fields were deserted so the gates were not even opened.
I rushed to the third base side when the gates opened, and the Nats were taking BP. I brought along with me a foul ball hit by Ryan Zimmerman in 2009, and by the instuction of my dad, the one who caught the ball, I was to get Zimmerman and only Zimmerman to sign it. No problem at Spring Training when you’re the only Nats fan there, right? Well Ryan is not too crazy about signing autographs, and when I called his name after he was done with BP, he glanced at me and I held out the ball telling him it was a foul ball he had hit and politely asked him to sign it. But instead of walking over to sign the ball and maybe scribble a few more signatures for the three other kids there at the time, he decided to jog off without a response. But following him was the all-too-talkative Jayson Werth, who needs a major haircut, and he said, “I’d sign it for you, but not with that hat on.” He was mad I was wearing my Miami Marlins hat, but I had a red Nats jersey on so his reasoning made little sense. But I didn’t even attempt to get him to sign anything due to my dad’s instructions coupled with Werth’s low average and disgusting hair. Werth and Zimmerman may be too cool to sign autographs, but Ian Desmond is the nicest signer I’ve ever seen. In fact, he signs for kids before every home Nationals game, and he signed for at least 10 minutes before the game today.
Spring Training is the most relaxed atmosphere in all of professional sports, I believe, as the players and fans connect in closer proximity than anything attainable during the regular season. I was able to get great pictures of Gio Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, and Henry Rodriguez as they warmed in the bullpen. Gonzalez started the game and pitched 5 full, allowing just one earned run, and struck out an impressive seven batters. Danny Espinsoa had an opppsite-field blast in the 6th inning to tie the game at one. And in the eighth, Espinosa scored at a play at the plate off a Mark DeRosa single. The throw came in high, and Danny clearly got under the tag, but upon the emphatic safe call by the home plate umpire, the Cardinals crowd erupted in protest. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals threatened the Nats’ lead as they had runners on the corners, but Matt Carpenter committed the worst sin in baseball by looking at strike three to end the game. In fact, Carpenter looked at all three pitches in that at-bat, all three strikes.
It was great to be back in Jupiter to follow up my splendid experience two years ago. And tomorrow I get to check out the brand new Marlins Park for the 7 p.m. exhibition against the Yankees. Tune in on MLB Network for the game.