Spring Training, Part II
Time to wrap up my visit to Spring Training. Sorry it took a few days, but there’s plenty keeping me busy with the start of the season exactly one week (!) away.
Grapefruit League Road Trip
After a couple of days at the Astros facility in Kissimmee, it was time to hit the road. The team headed two hours down Florida’s Turnpike to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter—the town, not the planet—to face the Cardinals.
The stadium was built in 1998 and serves as home base for the Cardinals and Marlins during Spring Training. It also distinguished for being the only stadium in the country that serves as the home park for four minor league teams: the Palm Beach Cardinals and Jupiter Hammerheads of the Florida State League and the GCL Cardinals and GCL Marlins in the Gulf Coast League.
Not only did I get to see another Grapefruit League stadium, but I expanded my culinary vocabulary. I was quite confused when I saw a concession stand boasting “Elephant Ears,” but it turns out they are flattened pieces of fried dough topped with sugar, fruit, and whipped cream, similar to a funnel cake.
In front of packed house clad in red, the Astros lost, 6-3. The highlight of the day was an unbelievable sprawling catch by former RedHawk Jonathan Villar. He went well into shallow left field and made a full-extension snag on a pop up right along the foul line that had the entire press box buzzing. Unfortunately the game was not televised, so no video is available.
Thoughts on Tony D
After the game ended, word started to leak out about RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco’s health issues. Although I had known already for a few days, the Astros decided it was time to make the official announcement.
I’ve seen too many bad things happen to good people in my life, and this is another item to add to the list. Tony takes such great care of himself, but I suppose there are certain things you can’t prevent.
Most baseball folks agree that being a Triple-A manager is the hardest job in baseball. Not only has Tony taken on that task for over a decade, but he does an exceptional job at it. The Astros know they have a tremendous asset in someone who can not only adequately prepare players for making the jump to the Majors, but someone who can create and maintain a culture of winning as well.
There’s already been an outpouring of support from RedHawks fans and people throughout baseball, and I don’t anticipate it will stop even when Tony returns.
Knowing Tony, he goes into every game expecting to win. I imagine he’s going to have the same mentality while battling cancer. Here’s to hoping #11 is back in the dugout as soon as possible.
My time at Spring Training was very busy, yet very enjoyable. However, I find it very hard to believe I would’ve had the same experience had it not been for the tremendous hospitality I received from everyone with the Astros.
Whether it was working with the broadcast crew, media relations staff, or just getting to know folks from the baseball operations department, I never once felt like a “minor league guy.” Instead of being someone they see once or twice a year, I was treated like I was there on a daily basis. I really can’t begin to express how much I appreciated my opportunity to be experience what I did for a few days.
Making Dreams Come True Down the Road from the Magic Kingdom
The trip also gave me a chance to see RedHawks home clubhouse manager Alex Mookas, who was part of the Major League clubhouse staff in Kissimmee. At one point he let me know it would make his day to appear in “Brick By Brick.”
I offered to take a picture of him at work, but he said it would have to be from a distance. I guess it’s just some clubbie thing about staying the background.
That’s all from Spring Training. The real stuff starts soon.
Thanks for reading.