There might not be anything more American than Spring Training, not even baseball itself. Other sports have pre-seasons, but there’s no myth to them and definitely no fun: football’s pre-season is an active and tangible manifestation of the contempt that the NFL has for both its players and fans. But Spring Training? Six weeks in Florida while the rest of the country freezes, long afternoons of scraping off the rust and losing the winter weight. Rookies getting a taste, and long-time minor leaguers getting a shot. Fly balls are shagged, and pepper is played (despite numerous signs forbidding the practice).
You can tell who’s not making the team by their numbers: guys on the roster are 1-40, and everyone else gets the big double digits. The chubby shortstop wearing number 92 is not making the trip north.
Before the game, the grounds crew waters the infield. It looks like this:
It is deeply satisfying to watch; it is a zamboni-esque feat.
The players are all younger than me now, and so are most of the coaches. The owners are still old, hateful men, though. Some things never change.
The game was at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which just the fanciest fucking name in the world. The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches went to Choate, and sits on several board of directors, and has discreetly settled several sexually-related lawsuits. The Ballpark of the Pam Beaches makes fun of Dodger Stadium for living in a “Mexican neighborhood.” Allfather Trump will only take batting practice at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches; the security costs come out to $50 grand a swing. TBotPB, baby.
It looks like this:
Just opened this year, too: it’s got that new-ballpark smell.
It’s a minor-league field that only seats 6,500, so it doesn’t have all the amenities that a new MLB stadium has–there is no Korean food kiosk or giant aquarium built into the outfield wall like at Marlins Park–but you can get yourself a hot dog and a soda pop and root root root for the home team.
Those aren’t the Cardinals; that’s Washington National red. They and the Houston Astros share the facility, and it’s a big one: besides the stadium, there are seven or eight other fields, plus all sorts of athletic-type buildings and other places where players can get taped up. (Roughly 40% of a professional athlete’s life is spent getting taped up.)
I like the Nationals, even though they’re in the same division as the Mets. I liked that D.C. got a team after so many years without one, and they’ve had a bunch of players I liked, and I like that the team played an entire game in these jerseys one time:
I don’t root for them, but I like them.
(That jersey typo has a lot to do with it, honestly. That is Grateful Dead-level bush leaguery right there, and you know what a sucker TotD is for glorious amateurism in the face of professional demands.)
The Washington Nationals have a mascot, and being that they’re based in D.C, it is an eagle. This is a shitty picture of him:
His name is Screech–or her; I may be an eagle sexist–and that is not the right name. Owls screech. Eagles shriek, and bald eagles don’t do either of those things: bald eagles chirp and go ahLEELEELEELEE ahLEELEELEELEE; neither of them are impressive sounds, to say nothing of patriotic.
Better Names For The Nationals’ Eagle Mascot:
- No Matter What How It Ends, We Walked On The Moon
This guy was sitting at the end of our row:
Y’know what? Make this guy the mascot. Fuck it: this is now America’s mascot. Drunk, shoeless, and asleep at a ball game on a Tuesday afternoon.
The Nationals–being from D.C. and all–have President Races during the game. They strap giant foam masks of our greatest leaders onto interns, and make them sprint around the outfield for the fans’ amusement, and also the purposes of wagering. Someone decided that, since it was Spring Training, it wouldn’t be respectful to use Abe and Teddy, so instead Florida gets shittier presidents:
That’s Taft and Coolidge. Wilson (not pictured) won by a mile. The finish line tape was held by a gecko in a baseball jersey:
Try explaining this bullshit to foreigners.
The combination of sunscreen-slicked hands and midday glare makes phone screens unreadable, leading to tweets like this:
(I did not delete that. I can live in shame.)
“People not.” Obviously, that’s what I meant, and I meant it: take off your hat and sing the fucking song. When TotD goes to a ball game, TotD does all the ball game stuff cheerily and without irony: I sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame, and I yell CHARGE! when the trumpet blows, and I boo the umps when they come out. If you’re going to be part of a crowd, be part of the crowd. Otherwise, stay home and watch it on teevee.
Spring Training ain’t what it used to be: players would show up fat, and then drink and fuck their way through what was essentially a vacation. They played on dirt fields with bleachers.
The Yankees in ’57:
(Teams used to play all over the South, but started concentrating themselves in Florida around 1920. Florida was segregated at the time, but so was baseball; it worked out just fine.)
Nowadays, of course, we’re professionals. The players have kept up their routines and diets all winter, and–though there is certainly still drinking and fucking–it’s a less party-oriented scene. The stadiums even have a Jumbotron now:
That is not Ludacris.
This is ludicrous as shit, though:
SIX INNINGS. He slept for SIX FUCKING INNINGS.
(Oh, the Nationals were playing the Braves, and I think the Nats won.)