I have a few baseball related goals that I am sure other collectors share such as going to Cooperstown and visiting all the major league stadiums. Cooperstown will have to wait until my kids get old enough to enjoy it, while the stadium tour will have to wait until either my kids get out of college or I win the lottery. I was able to cross off one goal last week when the family and I went to spring training in Florida.
My wife and I have talked about going to spring training since we got married in 2000, but spring break in the school district she teaches in is usually in April. This year we lucked out with an early Easter, so we took the kids out of school 2 days early and arrived in Florida on Sunday March 20. Hotel rates were crazy in Jupiter, so I stayed about an hour north of there. We spent Sunday afternoon at the beach before eating at a great local pizza place.
Monday morning were arrived at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter about 8:30. The Cardinals played the Red Sox that afternoon, but the game was sold out. We decided to spend our day watching the minor leaguers play on the backfields. It was free to park and you can roam around four diamonds and see close to 150 different players. The teams practiced from 9-11, took a break, then came back at 1:00 to play games against each other.
I have read you have a chance to see some current and former players on the backfields at any given time. Less than an hour into practice, Cardinals legend Willie McGee was roaming around the four diamonds. He serves as a guest instructor during spring training teaching baserunning and outfield defense.
There were a few other people trying to get autos, but I was unsure when and if players could sign. Some would change fields during the morning practice and walk within a few feet of us, but I did not think that was the best time to ask for an auto. Before the 1:00 games started, I did get an auto from 3rd base prospect Patrick Wisdom.
Players who did not appear in the 1:00 games would be sitting in the stands or behind the backstop. Once again I was unsure if this was a good time to ask for autos, so we just sat back and enjoyed the games. My son was having a blast running down foul balls. I think he had 4 of them before we realized that players would try to retrieve the balls so they could still be used in the games. Since the balls were basic minor league balls, we kept 2 of them and gave the rest back.
There were some gate keepers/workers assigned to watch some entrances that fans were not allowed into. My son would chat with an older one who rode a bike with a cart behind it. The worker was amazed a 7 year knew the names of so many minor league players. I explained to him that minor league games are more fan friendly and cost effective for my family to attend than going to a Cardinals game in St. Louis. We managed to go to 3 different Cardinals minor league stadiums last year for about 10-12 games. When a minor league player talks to him or signs an auto, my son tends to remember his name.
After my son game back what seemed like his 10th foul ball, the worker with the bike came up to him. He thanked him for his help and pulled out a broken bat from his cart and gave it to him
There was one player left in the dugout before we left, so my son wanted to try and get an auto on his bat.
A fun and productive first day of spring training for us. 3 autos, 3 broken bats, 2 baseballs, and lots of memories. Good thing we had plenty of spare room in our van on the trip home.