Last weekend I witnessed the magical experience that is the Grapefruit League for the first time. I left the greater Atlanta area Wednesday night and made the 7 hour journey to central Florida, where I watched three games: Thursday’s Astros @ Nationals matchup in Viera, Friday’s Phillies @ Braves game in Orlando, and Saturday’s Nationals @ Braves competition in Orlando. It was an exciting and educational trip, one that will be repeated in the future. What follows are my scientific observations of the expedition.
The Twilight Zone of Baseball
Spring training is weird, man. It’s like taking every level of baseball from little league to the show, and putting them in a blender. At the top of the ladder there’s legitimate major league talent on the field. I witnessed the likes of Bryce Harper, Jason Werth, and Freddie Freeman. There are significant, major league caliber (at least in Tampa Bay and Atlanta) crowds. But as we move down the spectrum, there’s also a ton of minor leaguers and “major leaguers” that play for the Braves and Phillies. The stadiums resemble minor league or Division 1 college stadiums, and they’re filled with the apathetic and sedated crowds one would encounter in the minors. Further down, coaches sit in chairs outside the dugout and pitchers run sprints along the outfield wall as though it were a high school summer ball game. Lastly, players are substituted with the whimsical frequency of a youth team required to play everyone on the roster. Taken as a whole, spring training is essentially the perfect demonstration of baseball in all its variations.
The Variety of Loyalties
At any normal major league game, one will see two teams represented by the fans. Approximately 90% will sport the officially licensed or counterfeit AliExpress gear of the home team, while around 10% will represent the opponent. However, spring training is somewhat of a Mecca for baseball fans of all loyalties, and this is evident in the quantity of fandoms represented.
At Thursday’s Nationals/Astros game I saw 18 teams represented. Of course Nationals fans were in the majority and there were plenty of Astros fans, but I also saw the Braves (me), Diamondbacks, Phillies, Mets, Mariners, Cubs, Red Sox, Twins, Indians, Rays, Orioles, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, Yankees, and White Sox represented. That’s 20 if the former identities of the two teams playing, the Expos and the Colt .45s, are included.
At Fridays’ Phillies/Braves game, in addition to some seen previously, I saw the Royals, Marlins, and Reds represented. (23)
On an excursion to Disney World (that’s close enough to Spring Training right?), I witnessed representatives of the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Brewers, and Rangers. (27)
Finally, at Saturday’s Nationals/Braves game, an Angels fan saved his team from embarrassment. (28)
That leaves only the Tigers, Athletics, Rockies, and Padres unrepresented. This is especially embarrassing for the Tigers, who actually play in the Grapefruit League. I’m now forced to assume that none of these fine franchises have fans, and encourage all four to relocate to Montreal.
Race for the Number 1 Draft Pick
On Friday I saw a preview of the likely race for the worst record in baseball. Both the Braves and Phillies are projected to have bottom five records, but based on my observation I simply cannot agree with the experts who project the Braves to win 65-70 games. They’ll win 60 at best. Dang, that team is bad. They’re lucky I love them so much, because 2017 cannot get here fast enough. In the meantime I had the opportunity to see future stars Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies play defense, and more importantly I saw Jeff Francoeur narrowly miss a cool diving catch. It’s the thought that counts, Frenchy.
The Nationals Are Dirty Cheaters and MLB Must Do Something
In the finest effort of investigative journalism since Bernstein and Woodward, I have uncovered a massive scandal that I hope grabs the attention of commissioner Rob Manfred. It all started in around the third inning of Thursday’s Nationals/Astros game. Everything was going as usual until I noticed the ridiculous antics of Nationals third base coach Bobby Henley.
The former Expo catcher frequently took position nearly half-way down the third base line, a place that would seemingly be extremely dangerous in the event of a line drive. But throughout the game while the Nationals were hitting he remained well down the line, never anywhere close to the coach’s box. I took out my phone in order to obtain photographical evidence of Henley’s cheating. Not only was he putting himself in harm’s way, but who knows what sort of advantage he could be giving the Nationals by venturing out of the coach’s box.
Two days later, the case dramatically escalated. During the Nationals/Braves game Saturday night, I noticed that Henley was still coaching from outside of the box. But to my shock, so was Nationals first base coach Davey Lopes. Not one, but two Nationals coaches were blatantly disregarding the rules of baseball!
This was no longer a situation of a rogue base coach seeking advantage on his own, but clear evidence of a conspiracy. There’s no telling how long this has been going on and how many spring training games the Nationals have won a result. There are two possible explanations for this cheating, equally damning: either Dusty Baker has ordered his coaches to cheat, or he has lost control of his staff before the season has even started. The latter might actually be more concerning for the Nationals, given their history of underachievement and dugout assault. Either way, Manfred needs to intervene and I need the Pulitzer.
Coolest Baseball Apparel Seen
- Colt .45s hat
- Samy Sosa Nationals jersey
- Jair Jurrjens Braves shirt (now that’s obscure!)
- Expos hat
- Throwback Rangers jersey
- Apparently former Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler maintains a passionate fanbase among Nationals fans.
- I saw a guy in a Raul Ibanez Phillies shirt that looked exactly like Raul Ibanez, so he might want to contact LifeLock or something. I apologize for being unable to obtain a picture.