Greetings, from Fort Myers, Florida.
I would have done an intro post for this trip like I usually do, some sort of 'hey, I'm gonna be hitting some Spring Training games this weekend' kind of number, but I was busy. Besides, you're smart people. You don't need a lead-up post. You want the real thing.
Today was the real thing. And I'm about to tell you why.
My uncle lives in Fort Myers, and for a few years my dad and I have been waiting for the right moment to come down for Spring Training. It's a matter of timing, scheduling, logistics, etc. Last year my schedule didn't match up, but my dad and uncle went to a few anyway. This year, it was my turn finally, and last night I touched down in Florida, meeting my dad at the airport, and ready to embark on three Spring Training adventures.
Today was Day #1, and...oh my gosh it's gonna be hard to follow.
(I'll preface the writeup by saying that last night, when I got in, my uncle gifted me with a baseball signed by two Red Sox organization members at the facility's open house- Deven Marrero and Josh Rutledge. He said the ball would last the rest of the trip, and any autograph could land on that ball, which was awfully nice of him.)
The thing about the Twins Spring Training stadium is that it's very simple, very cozy, and very relaxed. It doesn't need to be showy (like a stadium I'll be visiting in two days), but it does the trick, and it makes Twins fans happy. Driving into the lot, we passed a series of memorial street signs for the lots (Hrbek Drive, Gardenhire Way, Blyleven Curve, etc...), which let us know the hearts of the fans were in mind.
I came to the game in a Twins cap, as the opposing team was the Boston Red Sox, and I swore before the game that I wouldn't stoop to the level of rooting for them. Oh, how times were so simple pre-game..
Before the game, my father, my uncle and I went out to the nearby practice field, because you kind of have to in opportunities like these. It was very weird seeing Paul Molitor only a few feet away, standing behind the backstop glaring down the young guys taking BP. Baseball royalty, scratching his chin. Insanely eerie stuff. Eventually we went around and watched some of the minor leaguers practice, coached by someone we all assumed was David Eckstein. We also peered through the batting cages at someone taking extra BP, coached by someone teaching some bare-bones hitting stuff.
There was a moment where some players were exiting practice, signing some autographs. What the hell, I said. I may never be here again.
The tricky part about getting autographs from a team you're only sort-of familiar with is that you can't really yell out their names to get their attention. You just kind of have to weave through, get your hand in there and hope the guy signs it. The first guy that came out, did some signing...I had no clue who it was, but he looked like he enjoyed it, and he looked promising, so I gave him the ball to sign, and he did so gladly. My uncle told me afterwards that it was Eduardo Escobar. Not necessarily someone I collect, but a good enough player.
Eventually I found someone I did recognize.
Kyle Gibson was pretty nice- this was routine to him, but he at least asked me how I was doing. I forget whether or not he was taller than me, but he's pretty tall. He ended up signing the ball, and adding a Bible scripture underneath, which I, as someone who isn't necessarily the most religious chap in the room, could not for the life of me decipher.
He handed the ball back to me, I said 'hoping for a great season, man', and I walked off, having gotten an autograph from a legitimately good pitcher.
Our seats were pretty good. I'm gonna stress that before I get to a later part of this post. Our seats were on the third base side, relatively close, and we had a really nice view. I was not complaining. We got food, beverages, and sat down to have a nice time and root for the Twins.
The first inning was already pretty explosive- the Twins attacked Porcello, as Mauer had a well-equipped RBI, as well as Max Kepler having a really impressive hit to get some runs over. The team started with a 4-0 lead in the first. Kepler, however, was the one unlucky part of the inning- he knicked his thumb on a slide, and looked pretty pessimistic about it as he left the field.
I watched Ryan Vogelsong's pitching as a cynic, having never been a fan of him on the Giants (he was the Kyle Kendrick of that rotation). I left...even more of a cynic. Vogey has an incredibly slow delivery, most of his pitches were in the 70s and 80s, and only his control, which waned after a while, was worth mentioning. The guy wasn't looking great, and started to get battered down as the game went on.
Around the third inning...the unthinkable happened.
My uncle's veterinarian, the guy who got us the seats in the first place, came by (he's a friend of my uncle's, as my uncle has had several dogs and has probably singlehandedly paid for a wing of this guy's house), and asked us if we wanted to chill in his section for a little while. I had a vague idea of where the seats were, and figured that they'd at least be an upgrade from the already-great seats.
Well...it was indeed an upgrade:
...No, seriously. These were the seats we got for the rest of the game. Front row, directly behind the batter's box, and directly to the left of the Boston dugout. My dad was sitting right next to the dugout, and he could see John Farrell from two feet away. As the Red Sox batters got up to the batter's box, I could see them...insanely clearly.
If I had to pick a favorite...
As I was surrounded by Red Sox fans in our section, as well as being bordered by, well, THE ACTUAL RED SOX, I had no choice to, for the first time in my life, root for the Red Sox. Although, I did this while wearing a Twins cap, so I'm not exactly sure if it was too effective.
Somehow, as I began rooting for Boston, they came alive. Pablo Sandoval, whom we relentlessly cheered on (having done so in San Francisco a few years back), had an INSANE day, hitting two home runs, and getting back his career. A great deal of people, including Pedroia, Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley had some truly nice moments.
Meanwhile, we were right near Farrell, and the coaches, including Chili Davis, whom my dad thanked for some great moments in the Bronx, and Ruben Amaro Jr., who was having a nice conversation with the people behind us. My dad even asked one of the coaches who'd be pitching on Monday, when we'd be seeing Boston at their stadium. The answer- Kyle Kendrick. Irony.
After 7 innings, me, my dad and my uncle packed up and left. I managed to snag a Joe Mauer t-shirt, as well as a Joe Mauer pin (as I've been collecting a shit-ton of pins lately). We were tired, slightly dehydrated, and we felt insanely satisfied, after LITERALLY rubbing elbows with some Red Sox coaches.
So...that was day 1. I don't know what the final score was, but the Red Sox came back and absolutely killed the Twins.
Tomorrow is another game, and it's a little further, but it's worth it, as it's a rematch of one of the most important World Series match ups in recent history.