Now that Red Sox spring training is over at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, I’ve had some time to reflect on the games I’ve attended.
Baseball may be America’s pastime, but Red Sox spring training games will always be my guilty pleasure.
I’m not one of those face painting freaks, yelling obnoxiously from two rows behind you. I’m not one of those stat junkies, keeping score on a notepad and informing everyone around me of the best prospects for this season. I’m not an autograph seeker, grabbing a baseball and stomping on people to get it signed.
I don’t know the names of most of the players. I really don’t care who wins or loses. To tell the truth… I have never stayed until the end of a game to celebrate a victory or mourn a loss.
I only go to see the Red Sox at City of Palms Park each spring for the same reason most people celebrate the 4th of July or Halloween. For me, it’s about celebrating the fluctuation of the seasons. Spring training is one of the few reminders of the changing seasons we have here in Southwest Florida. Our climate is practically identical every day of the year… except for those two or three cold nights that we are forced to endure in mid-January. Autumn leaves never fall from our trees. Snow never falls from our sky. Frost never freezes our windshields. All we get are the three cold nights, the threat of hurricanes, and 15 minute torrential downpours every 6:00 pm for a month or two.
In this place that always stays the same, the Red Sox are like exotic, migratory birds fleeing a winter I can barely remember.
Every March I make the 15-minute walk from Cape Coral, grabbing tickets to a stadium with no bad seats. Near the park there are always touts with their ubiquitous “i need tickets” signs in hand. Industrial homeowners in the vicinity have their “Parking $7.00“he registers and waves cars into his front and back lawns. The parking attendants in the official lot are always jovial older men. Energetic and smiling, they take your money and urge you to”Enjoy the game“.
On the way to the stadium, most of the license plates are from far north locations. Massachusetts. Connecticut. Maine. It’s amazing how far some will drive to see grown men play a game. How lucky we are to have this destination right at the end of the road.
The road in front of the City of Palms park is always blocked to traffic. A Blue Lizard representative often hands out promotional packages of sunscreen. At the entrance, another elderly person does a half security check on the bags entering the park. “Don’t forget to put on your sunscreen.”
Inside the park it is always full. A visit to the Red Sox team store to peruse the expensive merchandise is a must. Shirts. Hats. decals. Monopoly games. Bicycle banners. Spare tire covers. Lights. Programs. Book bags. Beer bottle openers. For a few hundred dollars, you can be the walking advertisement for Red Sox Nation that you always dreamed you would one day become.
The next order of business is to wait in line for food and an expensive beer. Many people converge on the vendors in the lower lobby. The best kept secret is the food and beer stand on the upper level in the left field corner. They have picnic tables with great views of the field. The lines up there are as long as the lines at the vendors below, and they just charge the same ridiculous prices that all the other vendors charge… this place is full of equal opportunity price scammers.
If you’ve met the challenge and have your sausage w/onions and peppers in one hand and your $6.25 Amberbock in the other, congratulate yourself…you’ve come a long way. Now the decision is, “Where the hell can I eat this?“Fear not though, there are a few options. You can stand and eat wherever you are. This is only recommended for advanced Red Sox fans… if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll get messy or worse. You can try waiting for a picnic table…could happen…I guess.You can stand on the top level overlooking the field and use the metal counter as a table…and on the second take your hands off your food, the wind will throw everything to the ground.Let’s see where our seats are… we’ll eat there..”
The seats look like a safe place to eat. Appearances can be deceiving. You utter an obligatory apology to the couple trying to eat at the end seats as you make them get up so you can get to your chairs somewhere in the row. Sit down. Put the sausage in its wrapper on your lap and the beer on the floor next to your seat. Try to take a dick. Someone will immediately enter the row you’re sitting in pointing to a seat beyond you. It happens every time. They fumble together their sandwich and pick up the beer so it doesn’t tip over. They mumble a half apology to you. You sit down and start over. You’re going to take a bite. Another person comes out of nowhere and needs you to get up to get through. He goes through the motions again. The same clumsy sandwich. The same quiet apology. You start over. Five minutes into this process, you are sure that everyone in the stadium will be sitting in your row at some point during the game. Finally you can take a bite. That’s when you’ll realize you forgot to get some napkins.
Down on the field, players from either team stretch out and play catch. Billy Idol is blaring through the speakers. The sky is cartoon blue with wispy clouds. The lawn is green and well-kept. The sun is hot. Palm trees grow on the horizon. Somewhere near the front, an enthusiastic fan holds up a homemade Red Sox sign. “Cold Bee-ah hee-ah!yells a young man with a tray of beers around his neck and Massachusetts in his voice. Money and alcohol travel to the center seats through the hands of strangers. I never hear anyone say “Tell the guy to keep the change.“while the money is being passed around. I wonder how they handle the tip situation from that distance. Manny Ramirez runs onto the field. The cheers come from the dugout and spread intermittently to all the people in the park who like to clap when They see a player they recognize.”Manneeeey. Hello Maaannneeeey!“screams all those people who want a signature to show they were close to the man or to sell on Ebay. He agrees and signs a few things, without looking up or saying a word. I don’t think his English is that good. I think he never seen him speak. The kids are so excited. They have a part of the experience to take home with them. It makes sleep seem within reach.
Before long, someone sings the national anthem. Everybody unite. Patriotic bunch, these baseball fans. It seems they always sing this song.
They start each game by letting a local businessman with connections and sponsorship money throw out the first pitch. It’s not a real pitch… there’s never really a hitter there… but everyone claps anyway.
This is where the game gets a bit repetitive. All team members get a chance to hit the ball, while the entire audience collectively reacts to their performances. If an errant ball finds its way into the stands, everyone looks to see who gets it. If you get it, you’re supposed to pick it up and smile, and then high-five someone. You get extra points for throwing it to the nearest child. I had one when I was a little kid. I’m not sure what happened to him.
Between turns of hitting the ball, the announcer plays music and makes witty comments.
“And now the weather report, presented by Cibo. Today in Fort Myers, Florida it is eighty-four degrees and partly cloudy. The current conditions at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts are a temperature of eighty degrees… cloudy… …with a mixture of snow and rain, the dreaded “winter mix”. Aren’t you happy to be here?“
We all laugh in unison and proceed to make comments related to the people we’re with.
“You can imagine? Snow? Jesus, I’m glad I don’t live there anymore. Why the hell would anyone want to live up there? What happens to those people?“
And that’s the high point for me. I think that’s why I’m going… just to remind myself that the other world I came from still exists. Sometimes the arctic tundra of Massachusetts that I once called home seems like nothing more than a distant, fading dream. Sometimes it’s good to objectively look back at where you came from, if only so you can more truly appreciate where you are now.