Monday, March 13, 2023

Spring Training Trip: Blue Jays vs. Phillies 3/12/23


Crossing the causeway into Clearwater, I'd happened upon the unfamiliar territory portion of the spring training voyage. Fort Myers held two stadiums I'd been to before and knew fondly. The Tampa metro area held two I'd never been to, and was very excited to attend.

Clearwater, where I am currently staying, is very nice. It's got the air of a spring break destination, but it's also got some homey touches that I like. Those causeways and long, straight roads are odd for my northeastern sensibilities but the beaches have been nice, and tonight I had one of the best, and spiciest, burritos I've ever had. Today, for the record, was my off day. I could have gone to the Jays' park in Dunedin if I wanted to, but I needed today to veg, sit on the beach and recover. 

BayCare Park was decked out in the proper '22 Champs regalia. I was able to fetch a '2022 National League Champs' pin for something of a bargain, and the fans seemed to be riding high on things. My dad's friend Al, who is a Clearwater resident yet had never made it to a game here, wasn't sure if these were bandwagoner fans or true Phils faithful. I told him with Philly sports fans you can never be too sure.

The park is on the cozier side, with some cool architecture along the upper level, a lot of space for fans to lie out on the grass, pretty low-key concessions [with Hatfield hot dogs] and minimal upstairs seating. The fan turnout was extremely high, so we were all packed into our row like sardines. 

The good news was we had a pretty full game on our hands. The Jays brought their starters, unlike the Sox game, and had Bichette, Springer, Chapman and Varsho on hand with Yusei Kikuchi starting. The Phils were mostly depleted by the WBC, but at least had Marsh, Hoskins, Bohm and Castellanos with them, as fifth-string starter Bailey Falter got the start.

These were our seats. First level, main concourse, right near Rhys. Even if we were technically on the Toronto side, there were a ton of Phils fans by us.

And, yes, the Jays were warming up right by us. #5 is Espinal, #25 is new Jay Daulton Varsho, Merrifield I think is next to him, and Bo is all the way on the left. My friend Benny's a Jays guy, and he really likes Bo, so I was sending him Bo updates all day. 

Most of the joy of this game was seeing everybody again. Bohm had 2 hits. Yes, he also still can't play 3rd base very well, but he had 2 hits. Falter K'd 3 before unraveling. But the unsung guys were arguably even more valuable. Dalton Guthrie made a spectacular catch in right and got to work at the plate. Jake Cave continued his hot spring with 2 more hits. The home run came not from Hoskins or Castellanos but from Josh Harrison, looking to make the team this year after famously missing camp before the 2020 season. Harrison gave the team a nice spark during the later innings, and added a few runs to the cause.

Ultimately, the Jays are working with a fuller roster right now. George Springer had a huge homer to start things off, and Varsho, Bichette, Chapman and minor league DH Zach Britton [no relation] all had strong days at the plate. Kikuchi, regardless of his 2022 struggles, K'd 3, and allowed no runs despite 4 hits and 3 runs. The bullpen, including Erik Swanson and Junior Fernandez, shut the Phils down for the most part.

Speaking of bullpen, I got to see two of the most-anticipated Phils acquisitions for my money, being Gregory Soto and Craig Kimbrel. Soto allowed no hits and made it look easy. Kimbrel started strong and gave up a run. Kind of what I figured for both of them. The Jays ended up winning big, which is also what I kinda figured.

Of the three games I've attended thus far, this one took the longest and dragged the most, perhaps owing to some sloppy play on the Phils' part. While the other games were closer to 2 hours 30 minutes, this one easily crossed the 3 hour mark. It was at least nice to see how Philly did things, and they do things well, but it was a hot day to be packed in there. 

I still enjoyed the game, and I enjoyed the Phils' complex in Clearwater. I bet it's gonna look real modest compared to where I'm going in Tampa tomorrow.

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