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Day One in the Fort

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spring Training Workouts – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers

First off, let me start with a disclaimer.  In order to make sure I can get a decent flight to Spring Training, I have to book my trip early.  It was only October when I made my reservations this year, and the Spring Training schedule hadn’t been released yet.  But I’ve been coming down for the past 10 years, and the last week of February is usually my favorite time, because it allows me to catch the end of the workouts and the first couple of games.  The earliest date they’ve ever played an exhibition game over the past decade was February 25, 2009, the last year in which the World Baseball Classic was held.  So this year I figured it was a safe bet to book a flight that got in the night of the 23rd.  I didn’t know at the time that this year things would be kicking off earlier than ever – with workouts starting on the 12th and games as early as the 21st.  As excited as I was for my trip, it was with a little jealousy that I watched NESN’s coverage of the workouts, knowing that I was missing out on one of my favorite parts of the year.

It's a long journey - for me, and for the players - to get to JetBlue Park.

It's a long journey - for me, and for the players - to get to JetBlue Park.

But that’s where the new “Fenway South” complex at JetBlue Park saved the day for me.  I landed late Saturday night, and on Sunday the schedule called for a game in Jupiter, FL, across Alligator Alley on the other side of the state.  It would have been a long drive and was sure to feature a lineup devoid of all but a handful of major leaguers.  So we opted not to make that trip, heading instead to JetBlue Park, to see what we could see of the remaining players.  This is what we wouldn’t have been able to do before the Sox moved to their new complex last year.  In the old days, the minor league complex where the workouts took place was a couple of miles down the street from the stadium.  Once the games started, fans could still watch minor league camp, but any big leaguers who didn’t make road trips would practice in the stadium, out of sight and off-limits to fans.  Now with the complex all together, we arrived knowing we’d get to see minor league camp – which is fine anyway because I follow the minor league teams and top prospects throughout the year – and hoped to see some of the major league players who weren’t making the road trip too.

Felix Doubront, Alfredo Aceves, Chris Hernandez, and Franklin Morales take part in PFP.

Felix Doubront, Alfredo Aceves, Anthony Carter, and Franklin Morales take part in Pitchers' Fielding Practice.

It wasn’t long before we were rewarded on that front.  All the pitchers from big league camp – except those who were on their way to Jupiter – came out to Field 1 for some PFP.  We watched as they went through their drills, and then were able to call several of them over for autographs on their way in.  Because there were only a couple dozen fans instead of a huge mob, it made it easier for the players to decide to sign.  I got autographs from Ryan Dempster, Franklin Morales, Daniel Bard, Clayton Mortensen, Terry Doyle, and John Lackey, and Dempster was even kind enough to pose for a picture.

I met veteran starter Ryan Dempster, who joined the Sox this year after playing for the Marlins, Reds, Cubs and Rangers.

I met veteran starter Ryan Dempster, who joined the Sox this year after playing for the Marlins, Reds, Cubs and Rangers.

After satisfying my desire to see some of the major leaguers, we went back to the other fields, where minor league camp was taking place.  They were spread out over four fields, doing a variety of bunting and fielding drills and taking batting practice.  I recognized many of the players from seeing the Single A Lowell Spinners and Double A Portland Sea Dogs over the past couple of seasons.  I quickly picked out Matt Gedman, son of the Red Sox catcher of the 1980’s, who played third base for the Spinners in 2011.  One of the coaches overseeing the drills was George Lombard, who had been with the Red Sox as an outfield prospect in Spring Training of 2005.  I’m pretty sure I got his autograph that spring, and I remember seeing him homer in a PawSox game later that year.  He’s now a roving outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Red Sox.

George Lombard throws while Matt Gedman looks on.

George Lombard throws while Matt Gedman looks on.

The weather was just what this jaded New Englander was hoping to escape to – mid-80’s, sunny, and refreshingly humid.  All in all it was a perfect day for watching baseball (not to mention perfect for jumping in the pool when we got back home) and I was happy to be able to see a workout even though the official ones had already ended.  Tomorrow I get to see my first game of the year, and now I’m all warmed up and ready for it.

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