Last week I made my way to sunny Florida for my fourth annual spring training trip. I first went down back in 2008 as my employer (at the time) sent me down, and I’ve been instantly hooked since. I mean, who doesn’t want to get out of the cold up north and see some early baseball with the sunshine? Unlike last year, there was no rain and thus no rainouts as I enjoyed nothing but perfect blue skies weather.

The first game I attended was March 18th’s tilt between the Tigers and Red Sox at the Sox home park in Fort Myers. This was the last year at their current facility as they are building a new complex next to my family’s condo in Fort Myers, which works out perfectly for me in the future.

 

Fort Myers

 

 

City of Palms Park

Besides a fire breaking out in the right field concessions (seriously), that was really all the fire power the Sox could get going even with all the big guns in the lineup. Dustin Pedroia homered in the first inning, but that was about it for Boston (we missed it too because we were moving slow after the major St. Patty’s Day hangover that morning). The Tigers rolled to an 8-3 victory behind some fireworks as Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn and Andy Dirks all went yard for Detroit. Nothing else real notable from this game other than the fact that I found it unbelievable that pitcher Brandon Duckworth was still making a go at pitching in the Majors when he came on the mound for the Sox in the ninth. He didn’t fare too well either, giving up two runs and a home run. My guess is you won’t be seeing him pitch in Fenway anytime soon.

 

 

See, there really was a fire in right field.

 

On the following day, my friends and I followed the Red Sox up I-75 through construction to see them take on my hometown Pirates in Bradenton at McKechnie Field.

 

McKechnie Field

 

 

Bradenton

Since 1887, baby!

The Red Sox struggled for the second day in a row as the Pirates put up a five-spot in the bottom of the fourth inning thanks to two RBIs each from Lyle Overbay and pitcher Kevin Correia, who was named the Pirates Opening Day starter this week. And just as the Sox were drawing close, John Bowker ripped a two-run homer in the seventh to give the Pirates the lead and eventually the win 7-5. Josh Beckett, who looks to rebound from last year’s troubles, was hit around by the Buccos allowing five runs in 4.2 innings though four of those runs were unearned as the Red Sox played sloppy defense with two errors.

 

The losing did not stop there for the Red Sox even though my short trip did. Boston has not won a game all of this week since I returned home from Florida, a streak that is at 10 games and dropped them to 12-19 this spring. I know it’s only spring training, but is it a sign of things to come from a team that is being picked as the favorite to win the World Series this year? We will find out soon enough.

At the end of the trip, it was another successful voyage to spring training. I miss it already. It did two things for me. It held me over to see some live baseball until Opening Day later this week, and it made me start planning my fifth trip down there for next March already.

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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.

“Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains.”

What a weekend to pick to head down to Florida for some sunshine and baseball. The game I was planning on attending today, Tigers-Phillies in Lakeland, has been canceled due to rain. I’ve been to Florida many times and the only rain I ever saw were bursts of it from a couple hours here and there and always moving through quickly. Not the past two days. It looks like a rainy Western Pennsylvania day, dark clouds and continuous pouring rain that seems to just hover over you for the entire day.

It’s a downer, but staying positive there should be great weather tomorrow and Sunday so we’ll try it again. I will definitely be at the Pirates-Yankees game in Bradenton on Sunday. More updates to follow as the rain hopefully lets up.

Well, it’s about that time. I will be leaving early tomorrow morning for my annual spring training trip to Florida. My first spring training experience was three years ago, and I was instantly hooked. There’s nothing better than to see firsthand the start of the baseball season under clear, blue skies especially in ballparks that add a nostalgic feel to the game.

The plan is to fly into Tampa and see the Tigers-Phillies game on Friday and then the Pirates-Yankees game on Sunday, which possibly another game in between. I’ll be posting updates from Florida throughout the weekend. For now, I’ll leave you with a great scene from Major League when the team arrives at spring training…