This week I made my first pilgrimage to the festival known as Spring Training. There is no better excuse to get out of town, find some sun and get a taste of things to come.
I had my first ballpark hotdog of the season within minutes of arriving at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. It was a little taste of heaven. Grilled. Spicy mustard and sweet relish. Yuuuum!
Roger Dean Stadium is a nice place to see a ball game. It is the size of a minor league park, so all the 6000+ seats are close to the field. The atmosphere is more relaxed and loose than during regular season games. Players take more time to sign autographs and interact with the fans. If you want autographs, spring training is the place to be.
Here is a picture of the Cardinals’ clubhouse:
The flag in the picture reminds me of a particular gripe I have concerning the Star-Spangled Banner. There are many rules dictating how we should fly Old Glory. There should be rules about how the National Anthem is sung.
First, it should not be drug out like a funeral dirge. I do not care how lovely your voice is, nobody wants to hear you hold notes for excessively long times because you want your five minutes in the spotlight instead of three.
Second, nor should it be sung like a ditty in a lounge act. Keep it sharp. Keep it tight. If you do that, then you can have your big moment of embellishment at the end.
Third, we all stand for the anthem because it is the rule. A proper anthem, sung with heart and gusto, should make people jump to their feet and be ready to go and fight! They should want to cheer with patriotism at the end, and not simply because we are glad it is over.
I would rather hear someone sing it badly with heart, than a beautiful voice that misses the point.
But, I digress…
You can read the stats, scores and analysis elsewhere. I will give you what we all really want: pictures!
I suppose we should start with this guy:
Sure hope he makes the club!
Here is Ryan Ludwick at the plate. With all the talk about Pujols and Holliday, Ludwick gets left out of the conversation a bit. He is a Silver Slugger, and I expect in this lineup, he will get some pitches to hit.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was watching my favorite catcher, Yadier Molina, play. At his first at bat, he did not disappoint, sending a ball into the left-field corner and sliding into second, safe with a double.
Sadly, that slide did him in for the time being. Here he is at second after the slide. I have looked at this picture trying to decide if I can see the pain. His stance seems uncomfortable.
Molina left the game after running to third and pulling up when Oquendo was waving him home. Strained oblique. I got to see him play less than two innings. Bummer. The next time I saw him was a couple days later in the dugout, next to Oquendo:
Due to a bruised knee, I did not see much of Colby Rasmus either. I will be interesting to see what he does in 2010 with a year of major league experience under his belt.
Felipe Lopez is back with the club. I hope he does as much damage for the Cardinals as he did against the Cardinals last year. Lopez was my only “away from the park sighting” of a player. I saw him with his family at the pool. No, I did not talk to him. I am shy and did not want to intrude. Here he is at the plate, wearing number 8. I still think of that number as Troy Glaus.
Speaking of Glaus, last year due to his injury, the Cardinals had an opening at third base. This year, they do, too. David Freese won the job last year, then lost it due to injury. He seems on track to win the job again this year.
The contest for the last couple of roster spots is a tight one. Joe Mather seems to be a strong candidate, particularly since Rasmus is hurt and Mather can play center. Mather had a 2009 season plagued with injury and illness.
The other two strong candidates are in the picture below: Nick Stavinoha and Allen Craig. Stavinoha has the advantage of some major league experience, but Allen Craig has put together two strong spring trainings in a row, as well as a great Triple-A season in 2009. Cr
aig first caught my eye playing for AA Springfield two years ago. I liked him immediately, and I am pulling for him to make the club.
What a difference a year makes. Last year, Brendan Ryan was just trying to make the club. This year he is the everyday shortstop. He played acrobatic defense last year and hit around .300. I love it that he is still wearing the socks!
Much to my pleasure, there is another Cardinal wearing the socks this year. Our newest starting pitcher, Brad Penny. Brad Penny had an excellent outing on Saturday. Our rotation is really looking tough this year.
Here is another shot of Penny before the game with backup catcher, Jason LaRue. I was happy to see LaRue re-signed this year. It is so nice to have a backup of that quality.
Hmmm…who else did I see? Oh yeah, this guy. Chris Carpenter was in excellent form on the day I saw him pitch. He ready to go. Opening day, maybe? Last year, I got so sick of the term “a healthy Chris Carpenter”. This year, it has been nice to think of him as a lock, rather than a question mark.
On the day Carpenter pitched, I sat next to a couple friendly old fellows. They were testing me. Asking me questions. Some I knew. Some I tanked, but that was okay because then I got to learn something. Here are the two I got right:
The game was low scoring, so one of the guys says, “Only a few runs and hits. Pretty boring game, huh?”
I said, “No. This is great. I love pitching.”
I could hear the approval in his voice when he said, “Good for you.”
The other guy asked me a question that I am sure he did not think I would know the answer to.
He says, “Do you know the first two words to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’?”
I immediately guessed the trick. “You mean the first two words to the verse, right?” I said and began to rack my brain. I had looked this up once. I knew I knew it. Finally, the words flowed.
“Katie Casey was baseball mad. She had the fever and had it bad.”
I got it! I liked the verses to the song because they are girl that wants nothing more than to be at the ballpark. I was pretty sure it was written about me in a former life.
But…back to the players.
In the way of former Cardinal sightings, I offer you Brian Barden. Brian tagged teamed with Joe Thurston at third last year before a little guy named Mark DeRosa came along. Why did we not re-sign DeRosa?
And, I enjoyed watching this exchange between the NL MVP and the guy that would likely be the NL MVP, if Pujols went to the AL. Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez have a friendly chat behind second base before the game:
Under the category of “players that I remember making a splash at the World Baseball Classic”, I offer you, Frank Catalanotto. He played very well for the Italians. I particularly remember his defense. Although, he had a double off Carpenter, so maybe it was his bat. The Mets fans around me said he was competing for the last roster spot.
This was a trip I will never forget and intend to repeat! I was so happy be at the ballpark again. To see the green grass. To be in the sun. And, to be hot. I was actually hot for the first time since September.
If you go, I recommend eating at The Food Shack and The Lazy Logger Cafe. Both were excellent. I also recommend taking the tour of the Jupiter Lighthouse. 105 steps up, but worth the view.
But, possibly my favorite sight of all was my toes buried in the sand: