All photos Kaley Soud/Catalyst
As fans and players alike prepare for the upcoming baseball season, they flock to warmer climes in Arizona and Florida to whet their appetites and to get their first home run fix of the new year. It’s spring training time once again and Sarasota, as in years past, will play a prominent role, hosting the American League’s Baltimore Orioles.
Spring training plays an integral part in the economies of many small Florida towns. This creates a real win-win situation where professional teams need to prepare for the upcoming season on ice-free fields and cash-strapped locals can watch their favorite players close up at a reduced cost. This past weekend thesis student Greg Granaghan attended a spring training game at Charlotte Park.
“The beer isn’t cheap but it’s there,” he said. “You can get really close to the action even though they don’t always put in their best players.”
For those operating on an even smaller budget but who still need some baseball in their life, look no further than just down the road. Ed Smith Stadium, located on 2700 12th Street, serves as the spring training home for the Orioles. Practices are free to watch and tickets to games cost anywhere from $13 to $75.
Across the street from Ed Smith Stadium is the Sarasota Cal Ripken Complex where several of levels of youth baseball compete in the shadow of the pros. The Catalyst winded up at the complex due to scheduling misinformation regarding the local baseball team from Booker High School but with several games happening across the park, there was more than enough action.
At the Cal Ripken Complex, spectators can see the gradual development of the players as they move up from basic tee-ball to machine and live pitching.
With machine pitching, players intermingle with a handful of coaches on the field who make sure that no one gets hurt. In lieu of a pitcher, a coach drops the ball through a belt and wheel contraption that lobs the ball right over home plate — giving newcomers to the game a better chance of contacting the ball when swinging. Kids scramble around, generally seeming to be having fun without too much pressure to perform. In between innings, one team shouted “There’s a hole out there” repeatedly, alluding to a gap in the defense where a skilled batter should aim. One is hard pressed to believe any of this strategy is retained as the kids smile and swing away at the floating pitches. The light mood on the field doesn’t always extend to the bleachers though, as eager parents and family members watch from the sidelines dropping little remarks along the lines of “I’d be disappointed if that were my child.”
As players get older, live pitchers are introduced, making the game more intense. As kids get used to batting against a live pitcher, some get frustrated in the sea of pop flies.
Ultimately, any lack in athleticism is made up for by the people-watching and cheap concession fare. Fans can hang out at Cal Ripken for a healthy dose of nostalgia and then stroll over to Ed Smith and watch the heavy hitters brush up on their skills without spending any money.
Spring Training Schedule:
Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium
Tue, Mar 1Tampa Bay Rays1:05 pm
Thu, Mar 3Minnesota Twins1:05 pm
Sat, Mar 5Boston Red Sox1:05 pm
Mon, Mar 7New York Yankees7:05 pm
Wed, Mar 9Minnesota Twins1:05 pm
Fri, Mar 11Philadelphia Phillies1:05 pm
Sun, Mar 13Detroit Tigers1:05 pm
Mon, Mar 14Pittsburgh Pirates1:05 pm
Tue, Mar 15Houston Astros1:05 pm
Fri, Mar 18Minnesota Twins7:05 pm
Sat, Mar 19Philadelphia Phillies1:05 pm
Tue, Mar 22New York Yankees1:05 pm
Thu, Mar 24Pittsburgh Pirates7:05 pm
Sun, Mar 27Boston Red Sox1:05 pm
Mon, Mar 28Detroit Tigers1:05 pm
Tue, Mar 29Toronto Blue Jays1:05 pm