Take me out to the Ball Game
Sat, 27 Feb 2016
Take me out to the ball game
It was one of those golden days of late February that make Florida so famous for its mild weather. The temps were a crisp 65 degrees, but the sun warmed you up quickly. A brisk ten-knot breeze quartered from the Northeast, giving the air a delicious coolness that Florida natives, long used to heat and humidity, treasure.
We were headed for Hammond Stadium, on Six Mile Cypress, in Ft. Myers, Fl. It is the winter home of the Minnesota Twins. Lee County, Fl had just pumped forty-eight million dollars in improvements into the stadium to keep the Twins here for another decade at least. The upper deck of the nine thousand-seat stadium now has all new stadium seats with backs and armrests. You don’t know what an improvement this is until you try and sit on the old bench style seats, with ten other people, some whose dimensions no longer met the parameters of stadium planners. The bright sun and new paint made the place sparkle in the late morning sun.
There was a good crowd of Twin's fans on hand as we entered the stadium at ten A.M. on Saturday morning. Many of the fans sported the blue and red caps, stitched with a “TC” logo for Twin Cities. They were animated and expectant at the prospects of watching “their team.”
It had been a pretty long time since I had put on spikes and ran practice drills on the very green fields of a baseball diamond. I had forgotten the precision that these men/boys apply to every aspect of the game. Wizened, gray-haired coaches put the young aspirants through every possible play on the field. Bunts, pitchers running to cover the first base bag, double plays, all were run over and over by the energetic young lads. The rhythmic flex and tense, of young muscles in well coordinated movements, was a pleasure to watch. God Bless them for their youth and strength. I could hear in my mind’s ear the crack of an ash bat, the thunk of a fast ball slamming into the oiled leather of a well used glove and the endless chatter of the gum chewing players running through drills. The memories washing through me are without end. The renowned Tinkers to Evers to Chance double play combination, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford and dozens of other hurlers burning the ball across the plate. I could imagine the graceful ballet of a short stop in motion. They are all images of a game that still captures America’s heart.
We watched the lads practice over and over knowing that many had been invited here so the coaches could look them over to judge their skill sets. These lads had a lot on the line in spring training. It was a serious business as they pursued a life long dream to make it to the bigs.
After a time, we left the sparkling stadium for the four-mile drive over Daniels Parkways to Jet Blue Park. Lee County had spent eighty million dollars to recreate the green monster of Fenway Park here in Southern Florida. The world famous Boston Red Sox now make it their home for six weeks of Spring Training. A good-sized crowd of fans walked the field admiring the grounds upon which so many future contests would be held. The walls, above the dugout, were lined with the emblems and the years that the mighty Red Sox had won either the league pennant or the World Series. It was a bit of a transplanted Boston shrine that appreciative fans enjoyed in the late February sunshine.
The team had set up various attractions for the younger fans and even made a few players available for autographs. You could see fans of all ages either taking “selfies.” with recognizable parts of the filed as backdrops, or just plain memento pics to remember the field. There is no age limit for baseball fans. Many had spent countless hours of their youth, in sandlots everywhere, pursuing the game for all hours of the endless summer days of their youth. The collective wash of memories here is palpable as you see the mist-covered eyes of aging players, their minds remembering similar diamonds from long, long ago.
We left Jet Blue Park with a renewed appreciation for the feelings that baseball brings to fans, something I once knew so well so long ago. We were pleased to have visited both of these sporting shrines if even for a few hours. We had gotten game schedules and were even now thinking of when and if we could squeeze in a few games this season. We would relive once again the aura of subdued excitement that comes with the smell of popcorn, the aroma of hot dogs covered in mustard and the cry of “beer here,” wafting over the animated thousands of fans who come in part to relive, if but for a few hours time, a time of their life that held a magic all of its own.
Joseph Xavier Martin