Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring Training, a Month and a Half Ago Now

Right: so, this is old news by now, but back in mid-March I flew down to Bradenton, Fla., for a wonderfully relaxing week of Pirates spring training baseball, setting down on sleepy Ana Maria Island, where the parents had rented a house. Pete came up for a few of those days, too, so we had some enjoyable Partial Family Time. Early mornings with coffee and watching the sun rise, long walks along the beach, beers over dinner, wine over Boggle games to 100. The ballgames, even longer and lazier than normal baseball games, appeared in the afternoons with pleasing regularity.

It felt like an early preview of retirement living -- being in Bradenton, Fla., in itself contributes a lot to that sense -- but, being not even 30 years of age at the time, I knew my retirement to be a long way off.

The charm of spring training ballgames is seeing your major-leaguer players in a minor-league environment, with fans who are more likely to be following the team closely. The Buccos' park seats about 4500, and usually about half the crowd or more would be rooting for the opposing team. (Even for, say, the Minnesota Twins. I guess the better the team, the more fans will flock south to watch them play spring training games.)

Spring training games are longer and rougher around the edges, as you'd expect. The pitchers are all stretching out their arms, so you see a lot of two- or three-inning appearances with a lot of rust on display. The final game we watched ended as a 16-15 loss against Tampa Bay. (True to form, the Pirates ended that one after having the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth.) And you get to see a lot of the younger guys get out there, nice in the case of the Pirates since so many of their prospects are more interesting than the major leaguers at this point.

Garrett Jones is fun to watch, particularly in drilling a home run off C.C. Sabathia at the Yankee's park in Tampa, where we headed for one game. (The Yankees's park, unsurprisingly, is bigger and much less charming than the Pirates' field, and they eschew cheesy between-innings entertainment. And it's called Steinbrenner Field, natch.) Andrew McCutchen is, as everyone says, the most dynamic player the Pirates have now. Aki Iwamura seemed intriguing as the stopgap free-agent second baseman. Brandon Moss played abysmally and seems to have finally lost his opportunity to stay in the outfield. Steve Pearce struggled mightily, at one point running to a foul pop-up from first base and colliding with double-A catcher Hector Jimenez, who'd been parked under the damn ball for ten seconds. Jiminez caught the ball and then leveled a wordless glare at Pearce for about two seconds. (You don't see these details from your vantage point in a major-league park!) Unremarkable but still interesting appearances were made by Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez, Gorkys Hernandez, Danny Moskos.

"Steve Pearce!"
Despite a few inspiring wins the team's already doing horribly in the part of the season that counts (having notched their worst-ever inning, followed shortly by the worst-ever loss that keyed their worst-ever 3-game series), so it figures to be a long season ahead. (Let's spare a quick thumbs-up to Chris Jakubauskas being out of the hospital, after getting drilled in the head with a line drive on the twelfth pitch of his emergency spot-start last night.) But it's still good to have seen the team up close. I should get to see a couple of games this season in person, but not more than a couple.

A couple of satisfying culinary highlights of Bradenton: there's an excellent doughnut shop called Turner Donut a few blocks from the ballpark, a mom-and-pop establishment with sticky buns that are huge and sour-cream donuts that are platonically ideal. This is now hands-down my favorite donut shop anywhere, particularly as I've only ever really lived around Dunkin' Donuts locations. A barbecue joint called Mr. Bones has a coffin full of ice and bottled beer (Rogue Dead Guy being apropos and, obviously, delicious), cozy voodoo-highlighted decor, and delicious delicious meat. (We went here before Pete arrived, of course.) And the final evening's dinner was at an unpretentious little seafood spot out on a pier at the tip of Ana Maria Island, where you can eat fresh fish and watch the dolphins periodically appearing in the shallow water. Pete, you can get fed up with following the PBC Blog, but you have to admit it was a good place for Dad to scout around for Bradenton recommendations.


Blogger Pete said...

To be clear, I wasn't fed up with following the PBC Blog, but so fed up with the Pirates themselves that not even the PBC Blog could salvage my interest. And, given their performance so far this season, I'm feeling pretty well vindicated in that regard.

4/26/2010 10:50 AM  

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