Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Welcome to Birdland South!"

As I handed the elderly usher my ticket to last Saturday's Oriole spring training game against the Red Sox, he exclaimed, "Welcome to Birdland South!".

And he was right. The place was overrun with Red Sox fans, they played "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" during the 7th inning stretch and the O's lost in heartbreaking fashion. I felt just like Birdland to me.

All kidding aside, I knew this game would be a madhouse. I just bought a bleacher ticket and figured I would focus more on the ballpark experience more so than the game itself.

The game was sold out with record attendance of 8,088. Even the bleacher seats were packed. And early on, it looked like the orange and black would outnumber the red jerseys. It was not to be. By gametime, the stadium looked more Port Charlotte than Sarasota. Oh well.

With the bleachers packed, it looked like my best bet was to stand along the rightfield wall and that did turn out to be the way to go. At Ed Smith Stadium, the clubhouse is located past the rightfield fence so all the players have to walk by the rightfield wall and the stands on the first base side to get to the dugout which gives you some good photo and autograph opportunities.

There is an intimacy at a spring training game that you don't get elsewhere. When a fan asked Jeremy Guthrie how it went for him today, he told him. When Luke Scott was heckled repeatedly by an obnoxious Red Sox fan, he gave it back to him a little drawing appreciative laghter from the crowd. And lots of guys cam over to give people autographs and to chat.

MASN was set up nearby and the players giving interviews got walked right through the fans on their way to talk to Amber Theoharis. Miguel Tejada drew the biggest reaction and high-fived with the fans on his way to and back from his interview. Tejada also hung around the field for quite some time and signed autographs for everybody which was surprising to me given his veteran status and his overall reputation.

All in all, a relaxed atmosphere even with the irritation of the home field being overtaken by The Nation. I can't tell you all that much about the actual game. I had lousy seats and the PA system is barely intelligible away from the grandstand area making the game nearly impossible to follow. But I met some nice Marylanders, some nice locals too, saw Nick Markakis hit a solo shot to right and Miguel Abreu go 2-3 with a stolen base and some fine defense at second. All in all, a good day at the park.

By the 9th inning, I had maneuvered my way back out to the grandstand, staked out some standing room and then snagged a seat in the upper reserve section on the visitor's side. That was just in time to see David Hernandez give up a ninth inning go-ahead homer to a AAA catcher who hit .214 with 3 homers for Pawtucket last season. And all those old coots started celebrating like they had won the series again. Oh well. It put a damper on the game but not the overall experience which is unique. You will never see major league players in so intimate a setting than you can at a spring training game.

Ed Smith Stadium, as I've said before, is a far nicer facility that Ft. Lauderdale Stadium and with the proposed renovations, it should be even better in 2011.

More pics to follow...

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