"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Arrival and the Reunion

We flew through the teeth-rattling turbulence of a spring storm into Fort Myers, Florida, early Thursday evening. You know you're on vacation when you see palm trees, even if you are lugging a suitcase toward the rental car shuttle bus at the time. Being able to walk around without a coat was worth every second of attempting to keep the plane airborne through sheer willpower, though. Not that I'm a nervous flyer or anything...

Friday morning dawned cloudy but rapidly cleared, and we donned our rube gear and zipped across town to the Twins spring training facility. The facade of Hammond Stadium is simply gorgeous, cool and airy and graced with an elaborate waterfall of a fountain. Morning drills were already underway on a field next to the stadium when we arrived. We hung out around the fences for about half an hour, soaking up sunshine and baseball, picking familiar faces out of the clumps of players on the field and loitering by the batting cage. Finally hearing a real bat hit a real ball after the long drought of a winter without even the lesser distraction of hockey was practially a religious experience. I felt like I'd been holding my breath since October and had suddenly been given oxygen.

The crowds in the gift shop were insane. Of course I was tempted to buy (at least) one of everything, but escaped with only two shirts, a hat and some souvenirs for friends and family. However, I refuse to promise that I won't go back! Can you have too much Twins gear? I don't think so.

As gametime approached, we braved an immense line for the privilege of consuming quite possibly the best brats (flame-grilled, no less) on earth. Diet? What diet? Food in Florida has no calories. Having escaped from the line with our precious kraut-topped cargo, we entered the stadium proper. The inside more than matched the outside. There isn't a vast amount of seating, but the aisles are wide and the steps shallow. The field is perfectly groomed, the grass lush and thick, the diamond set in precise angles and arcs, white chalk lines stark against the russet clay. It's sad when your single-A team has a better field than your major league club, but there you have it. Our boys should play on a field like this all year.

Corey Koskie did not start, or play at all, for the Blue Jays. A murmur of disappointment rippled through the stands when another player was announced as the visitors' third baseman; it seems I wasn't the only broken-hearted Koskie devotee hoping to see him.

Joe Mays started for the Twins, and he did okay. He had some trouble locating the strike zone, a problem fortunately shared by many of the batters he faced. He'll have to be much better come April, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as it could have been after what amounts to a year and a half out of the game. JC Romero, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly where the strike zone was. Why he decided to avoid it entirely, only he knows. He walked four, followed by two hits, allowing 4 runs in one inning of work. Ouch. Joe Nathan later strode to the mound to mow down two innings' worth of hapless Jays, and Matt Guerrier gave a fair performance over two innings of his own. CJ Nitkowski, wearing Koskie's #47, finished out the game for the Twins and took a strong early lead in the race to win the Kenny Rogers Human Rain Delay Cup.

Behind the pitchers, the defense looked good. No fielding blunders, official or otherwise, were committed, and (hallelujiah!) Cudderror's four innings in the field passed without a fielding chance at third. Will we be so lucky in the regular season? Providing additional entertainment for the attentive fan, color commentator Bert Blyleven was spotted leaning out of an unused press box trying to catch balls bouncing off the protective netting over the center sections of the stands with a butterfly net. No, he didn't actually get one. Yet.

On the hitting side of things the Twins, well, weren't doing a whole lot of hitting. Joe Mauer was his usual patient self, a newly-slender Rivas hit a double, and Lew Ford also looked very good, especially when he smacked a triple to right. The rest of the boys appeared rusty, by and large. They lost 5-2, but they did it outside under a clear blue sky in heavenly seventy-degree weather. Forgive me if I fail to weep over this defeat; I've decided that there's nothing better than baking my pasty white Minnesota-winter flesh under the Florida sun, watching a parade of present and future Twins play on an argyle-mowed real grass field.

Today we're heading up the coast to Bradenton to deepen our sunburns as a split squad of Twins visit the Pirates. It should be a minor-league-heavy game, as the Twins' big guns will no doubt be staying in Fort Myers to play the Red Sox.

I've posted some pictures from yesterday's adventure here. Enjoy!

5 rejoinders:

Anonymous sounded off...

Absolutely gorgeous and wonderful. Thank you.

--Batgirl

Anonymous sounded off...

Gorgeous photos...and you saved the shots of my favorite closer til the very end!!

Thank you so much..and thanks to Batgirl for directing me over here.
Good to know you'll be blogging again...
bubblemint (aka MMM)

frightwig sounded off...

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Thanks.

talldrinkowater sounded off...

Beautiful photos. A quick question. How are the fine people of Fort Myers recovering from all the hurricanes last fall. My family and I visited Orlando back in October and a lot of the signage, and many buildings were in need of serious roof repair (saw a lot of blue tarps on the rooves). Are they still rebuilding?

Third Base Line sounded off...

We didn't see much in the way of storm damage aside from some downed trees on the roadsides. We were driving almost exclusively on major roads, which would have had their signage repaired first, but we heard a lot of signs were still down on the side streets. Fort Myers wasn't as hard-hit as some cities in the area, and they seem to have recovered pretty well.