Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring Training in Lakeland Part 2

Sitting on the Berm, on Tuesday, March 19th, and a lot of things never get
old in Spring Training- the sun, the warm weather, the laid-back, who-cares-about-anything-other-than-an-exhibition-baseball-game attitude that
the overflowing crowd is about to experience under that incredible sun-drenched sky. Most of us are Tigers' fans, but the score won't really matter. Not yet. Not until April 1st. For now, its just a ballgame. But as it is every year at this time, there is nothing like it.

As I said, the score doesn't matter. Really. It doesn't. 11-5 Tampa Bay. Sigh.

The game was notable mostly for a gas-on-the-fire 4th inning by Doug Fister
who surrendered 4 hits and 6 runs, including a grand slam by Luke Scott.
Fister's E.R.A. jumped to 7.36. All of this in 2/3 of an inning. Leyland
gave him the rest of the night off. Thank you Skip.

On the bright side, Austin Jackson had a couple hits, including a double, and Torii Hunter tripled and singled. Torii already seems very popular,
at least at Joker Marchant Stadium. Hoping this signing is as good as it appears to be.

The Berm was packed, and it had nothing to do with the two new Tiki bars,
(serviced by local Hooter girls) adorning the area. Its all about baseball.
Laying on blankets. No shoes. Kids running around hopped up on candy floss and melting ice cream. Experts telling their companions they met Derek Jeter. Old guys keeping a baseball glove nearby. Young guys not needing a glove. Some people watching every pitch intently. Other people chatting or just gazing at everyone else. People actually SLEEPING! Spring Training is perfect, and it has nothing to do with Hooters Tiki Bars. Honest.

My next game was a 6:05 start on Thursday, March 21st, starring our own superstar, Justin Verlander. We had great seats, half way up stands between home and first base. Nice 72 degree weather, classic view, and Verlander on the mound. I want to stay here.

Verlander was terrific through 3 innings, allowing one hit, and throwing between 79 and 93 MPH. In the 4th inning, Gerald's brother Brandon Laird hit a 2 run homer off Verlander.
The Laird's never go away. The inning was highlighted by a straight-back foul ball that hit
the screen so hard, a guy in the first row was treated to a beer in his lap. Hopefully his own beverage. A couple pitches later, same swing, same result. The beer was already in a puddle underneath the fans' shoes, so no further damage.

In the 5th inning, Justin got tagged for a couple more home runs (3? In one game? Off Verlander? Ok relax, it's Spring Training...) Verlander did look very sharp at times in his
5 2/3 innings, despite the long balls.

Potential closer Bruce Rondon pitched the 9th inning and threw hard as usual, hitting 100 MPH on one scorcher. The 99 and 98 MPH pitches were cringe-worthy for the hitters too.
Control, control, control. If this guy masters that fine art, the Tigers have one fine relief artist.

The final score was 7-2 Houston, and Victor Martinez's two hits were the highlight of a lacklustre hitting display. More troublesome than a mere 5 hits for the Tigers was the
incessant screeching from a couple of Astros fans a few rows behind us. From inning one
to the final out of a BLOWOUT SPRING TRAINING GAME, this annoying shrieking couple entertained the fans with squeals of "go 'stros" and "you can do it" and loud descriptions of how they flew in from Houston just to see this game. It was tempting to turn around and
remind them that the "'stros" are likely to lose 100 games this year. But despite the loss, I was in a good mood.

Nothing can ruin Spring Training.

Jim Skinner

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