Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby has a magnificent quote about what to do during wintertime with no baseball.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” —Rogers Hornsby

Well when the snow’s falling down, there’s no better way to spend the day then looking back to warmer, better days. Today, I’ve decided to reflect on my time in Florida last March for spring training.

A perfect sunsplash day in Bradenton

A friend and I flew down to Florida in mid-March to see a Tigers game in Lakeland (he’s a Tigers fan) and a Pirates-Yankees game in Bradenton. That was the plan anyway. A two-day long downpour of rain washed out the Tigers game the day after we arrived and suddenly we were stuck in a state that was pretty much useless to us for what we had traveled there to see.

Thankfully, the rain ceased on day three and the sun came out just in time for us to enjoy the Pirates-Yankees game. A picture is worth a thousand words, at least that’s how the saying goes. I don’t think I’ll get to a thousand on this post, but maybe 500.

As you can see from the picture, it was a perfect day for baseball in Bradenton at McKechnie Field. C.C. Sabathia took the mound for the Bronx Bombers against Charlie Morton of the Pirates. I don’t recall his exact line that day, but I know Morton pitched well. He definitely fared a lot better than his counterpart as the Pirates hit CC around the park, including a couple bombs out of the park. I remember saying to my friend that afternoon, what a boost it would be for the Pirates rotation if Morton caught on and put together a decent year. Oh, if only we had known where his season was headed (2-12, 7.57). Who would have known that his four shutout innings with one hit allowed that day would be his best outing of the season? Morton picked up the win and Sabathia was handed the loss after the Pirates scored three off of the big guy.

The Pirates offense ruled the day as they looked like Bombers out there more than New York. The Bucs hit five home runs, including two by free agent pickup Bobby Crosby. In 61 games in the regular season, Crosby would only hit one home run yet he hit two on this day. Aki Iwamura homered too, I actually laughed when I looked the boxscore up and saw his name. Delwyn Young hit a long ball as well, though his biggest homer would come later in the summer when he hit the first home run off of Stephen Strasburg in Washington. And yes, the Pirates were led that day by the trio of Morton, Crosby and Aki. Three players that had promising seasons in front of them, but ended up in Triple-A, traded and cut after being sent to the minors, respectively. Wow, only with the Pirates.

The Pirates picked up the victory that afternoon, 10-5, to move to 4-7 overall that spring. As a Pirates fan over the past two decades, a meaningless win over the Yankees in spring training is strange to watch. You have players taking All-Stars like Sabathia deep as other future Hall of Famers like Derek Jeter struggle against a team that you know in your gut will lose more than 100 games in the upcoming season. So you take the game in as only you can, by savoring the moment like it’s Game 7 of the World Series and acting like an obnoxious fan throughout the game. Hey, sometimes spring training and a single game in the middle of 162 is all we have as a Pirates fan these days.

I plan on booking my trip to spring training soon for more games this March to see how the Pirates are looking heading into the 2011 season. Here’s hoping the rain holds off this year for the duration of my short trip. I cannot wait to fly south and feel the warm sun on my skin and hear the crack of the bat again. Caught Looking’s picture series reflecting on the 2010 season will continue next week with a look at Opening Day. And according to this post, a picture is worth 720+ words.