As I got off the plane, I knew I was in for something good: Spring training. It’s one of the best parts of the year because it means a new baseball season is almost here. I flew from Dallas to Fort Myers, Florida, and got to see three games in three days. There were some cool things to eat and drink, a few souvenir baseballs that came my way, and I interviewed Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Not too bad for my first time watching spring ball!
Here’s a rundown of my three days in baseball heaven.
Our first game was at the Minnesota Twins’ complex. They were playing the Orioles. I was able to get on the field and into the dugout before the game to meet Carew, one of the best hitters in baseball history. He won seven batting titles and was an All-Star for 17 straight years. He was in Florida as a coach for the Twins. He also is working with the American Heart Association on “Heart of 29,” a campaign reminding people to get their hearts checked. Rod nearly died because of heart problems last year. A machine now keeps his heart pumping.
We talked about how different spring training is now from when he was a player. He told me his favorite day in the majors was when he got five hits – and five standing ovations! It was in the summer of 1977 and his average went above .400 that game.
I asked how he would do against today’s pitchers, and he said he would hit about .280. “But that’s because now I’m 70 years old,” he added. It was pretty funny. He also gave me some good advice about hitting: Learn what kind of hitter you are and then work to get better at that. Here is the part of the interview where he told me about Heart of 29.
After the interview, I went into the stands to watch the game and to have a cold beverage. I got a root beer – and not just any root beer, but Killebrew Root Beer. It’s named for Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who played with Carew and was a great power hitter for the Twins. It tasted great. The game was great, too, as the Twins beat the Orioles 13-2. Afterward, my brothers and I played catch on a grassy area behind the stadium. Former Twins star Torii Hunter came by, so we got to meet him and get his autograph.
We drove about an hour north to Port Charlotte, where the Tampa Bay Rays have their spring training facility. They were playing the Twins, so we saw a lot of the same players from the day before. They also gave out kids camouflaged Rays tank tops, which were kind of ugly but also kind of cool. During the game, Twins bullpen coach Eddie Guardado tossed me a ball. Then I went to eat. Again, it wasn’t something you’d normally find at a game: I got chicken, rice, and bell peppers served inside a pineapple. The highlight of the game was seeing Twins rookie Byung Ho Park of Korea hit a grand slam. The Twins won 5-4, with the last out of the game coming on a nice running catch by left fielder Darin Mastroianni. A runner was on second base, so the Rays would’ve tied the game if he hadn’t made that play.
The Twins and the Boston Red Sox have their spring training facilities just six miles apart in Fort Myers. The game we attended at the Red Sox’s place, JetBlue Park, was against the Rays and it was by far my favorite – even though I didn’t have anything exotic to eat or drink. One reason I liked it so much was the stadium. It was shaped just like Fenway Park. My family's seats were on top of the replica of the Green Monster.
Another reason it was great was because of what happened between me and Rays infielder Nick Franklin. Before the game, I saw him handing out baseballs. I asked him for one and he couldn’t find any more. So he told me to come by the dugout at the end of the game and he would give me one. (How would he remember me? I was probably the only kid at a Red Sox game wearing a camouflaged Rays tank top.) Let's jump to the 9th inning. A lot of fans left, so we were able to sit right above the Rays dugout. The game went to a 10th inning. Tampa’s Logan Forsythe hit a single off the Monster to score none other than Nick Franklin for the go-ahead run. After the game, Franklin looked out of the dugout and saw me. He pointed, nodded and went out of sight. He came back out and threw me a brand new baseball.
It was a great end to a great trip!
Photo and video: Jake Aron