Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The whole baseball season is still ahead of me but today feels like an ending. I fell hard for the Spring Training experience and I’m sad to leave it behind. I have four weeks of baseball-less winter life ahead of me before the Home Opener in Toronto and, even then, who knows how long it’ll be before I see my new favourites Alford and Leblebijian again. The Rogers Centre has always felt too big and too corporate but it’s Definitely going to feel like that after the intimacy and simplicity of the 5500 seat Dunedin Stadium.
I’m leaving Dunedin on a high after we handily beat the Philadelphia Phillies in a lightning fast 7-1 showcase of steady pitching, hard hustle defence, and smart hitting that wasn’t all home-run-dependent (Granderson did knock in three with a homer in the second but that’s the only one we saw all game from the Jays). It was the best kind of game there is and the young double and triple A guys who played it have me really excited about the future of this franchise (assuming they don’t all get traded away for an all-star rental in a last-minute playoff bid, or something equally obnoxious).
Scoring was easier this time, for a few reasons.
1) Both teams used fewer pitchers and the replacements were more methodical.
2) I had a better idea of what to expect so did things like write smaller to leave more room for new players.
3) I was sitting in a section with lots of scorers (I was the only one yesterday). The guy in front of me filled out his lineup with players’ numbers completely by memory so I knew he’d be a good person to cheat off of if I got stuck, which was particularly important because whoever was running the scoreboard could not keep up with who was batting and what position they were playing.
I was in the third row right behind the Phillies on-deck circle, not as great a spot for Jays-stalking as yesterday but an insanely good seat for the game as a whole, unless I was trying to judge if a fly ball was hit foul. My main observations from this vantage point were that I like the new uniforms with the writing inside the white parts, and the Phillies are a strangely compact team- lots of short, bulky guys who kind of look alike. We almost never play Philadelphia so my knowledge of the team is incredibly limited. Their only run came from second baseman Scott Kingery’s solo shot in the third and the only player who really stood out was Mark Leiter Jr. who pitched two innings and only gave up one hit, striking out five in the process. What I do know about the Philadelphia Philles is that they’re the only non-Jays team Roy Halladay ever played for. That shared grief is the narrative thread connecting these two teams this season so I was surprised and a little disappointed that the Phillies weren’t sporting the black “32” patches that are on the new Jays uniforms.
But more about the young Jays- Teoscar Hernandez looked great at the plate with a double that scored in the second and a single with stolen base in the third. Leblebijian was more consistent, if less flashy, than yesterday with two singles and a stolen base of his own (I like a team of kleptomaniacs so this is a promising sign). Leblebijian got a lot of playing time over the last two days (unless I missed something, I believe he was the only player who wasn’t replaced today) which I’m choosing to believe is a sign we might get to see him in Toronto at some point this year, but that may be wishful thinking. Joe Biagini pitched the first three innings and did well enough that I’m now only slightly panicky about Stroman’s injury. We also got to see Roberto Osuna in the fourth inning, which is one of those weird only-at-Spring-Training things that makes the experience so fun.
The Dunedin Stadium is hot and the third base side gets pretty much no relief from the sun but the concessions guys are ubiquitous, circling beer, water, lemonade, ice cream, and bad Canada jokes at a rate that doesn’t give you the chance to want for anything (except better jokes; the biggest personality in this lot can’t hold a candle to the Rogers Centre gold standard set by the great Luis Fernandes). Everything is fan friendly, stress free, easy to navigate and sort of bizarrely free of corporate integration (the few between inning contests are sponsored by the local golfclub and a ferryboat company). Nobody yelled at the players unless it was some sort of “you tried your best, JD!” encouragement (actual quote), everybody stayed in their seats almost the whole game, nobody was on their phone, nobody threw anything.
And I didn’t feel even a little bit weird being there alone, which I definitely thought I would. I’m really glad I went on my own, even if the photos would have been cuter with a pal. My baseball life is so closely tied to other people- mostly my dad and my best friend, I never go to a game without one if not both of them- and I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy it. Do I love baseball enough to sit by myself just watching grown men play a kids game for 3 even 4 hours? Apparently yes! I had a great time. I wasn’t checking my phone or waiting for the end or even getting distracted with too much people watching. I was just sitting and watching the game and it was more than enough. That’s a personal revelation I’m thrilled to have had. I own my own baseball fandom more now than I ever have. Guys, you’ve really got to get yourself to Spring Training.