Welcome back to The Serious Tip’s Tour de Grapefruit League 2007. This past Sunday I ventured to beautiful Sarasota, Florida, to see the Atlanta Braves take on the Cincinnati Reds. Actually, it was a Braves split squad team versus the Reds, but I didn’t care to see Chipper, Andruw, or any of the good Braves anyway. I’m a Mets fan, remember? One with deep-seated angst towards the Braves organization since Lonnie Smith hit a Sid Fernandez pitch out for a game-winning home run on July 14, 1989. Yeah, I hold grudges.
Anyway, back to Sunday at sunny Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. Yet again, I arrived in the middle of the first inning. This time however, it wasn’t my fault. Everyone in west Florida decided to come out to the ballpark Sunday, pushing attendance to, no lie, standing room only. Standing room only. For a Braves-Reds game. In spring training. You would think the Braves had Hank Aaron and Johnny Bench was in the Reds lineup.
Although not quite of the caliber of Aaron and Bench, today’s lineups consisted of Jeff Francoeur, Pete Orr, and a bunch of guys I never heard for the Braves and for the Reds, pretty much everyone except for Ken Griffey Jr., who was probably hurt. In Junior’s place in the outfield was everyone’s favorite feel good story of the spring, former first round pick and recovering drug addict, Josh Hamilton.
Pitching for the Reds was underrated superstar Aaron Harang. Did you know Harang led the National League in wins and strikeouts last year? Me neither. After watching him, however, he reminds me of a modern-day Andy Benes. Definitely a workhorse pitcher who will give his team a lot of innings and strikeouts, but I don’t think he will ever be dominating. Especially from what I saw Sunday.
The Braves struck early and often on Harang. Although he managed to strike out nine in five innings, the Braves hit two home runs off of Harang, including one by Francoeur. After five, it was 3-0 Braves.
In the bottom of the fifth I went on a tour of Ed Smith Stadium. Honestly, there is not much to be said about Ed Smith Stadium other than it used to be the White Sox spring home and will cease to exist in a few years, when the City of Sarasota builds a new park across the street. On the positive side, Ed Smith is currently home to an interesting Mr. Met rip-off. This is a bad trend, folks. We can’t have every team with a baseball-head mascot. It’s just wrong. What kind of example are we sending to the rest of the free world when all our mascots look the same?
Anyway, before heading back to my seat, I decided to partake in one of those speed gun measure-how-fast-you-can-throw booths. Bad, bad, bad idea. These booths are kryptonite to the adult male psyche. Many moons ago, I liked to think I was a quality little league pitcher. Then reality hit and I failed to make my high school team. What better time than now then to prove my old high school wrong and impress major league fans with what my old left arm can do? Eagerly I bought three throws for a dollar and commenced to fire away.
First throw came in at a scorching 63 mph. Ok, just a warm-up.
Second throw, a blazing 68.
You would think I would at least break 70, right? Wrong. The third throw was a mind-melting 67 miles per hour. Not even fast enough to get pulled over on the highway.
Adding to the embarrassment, the vendor though I was parentally responsible for the pack of little kids behind me and kept calling me dad. “Let’s see what Dad can do. Oh, Dad’s arm is going to be hurting tomorrow.” Totally threw me off my game. I was an emotional mess. The sliver of hope I had to become the next Jim Morris was officially decimated.
With my wounded psyche and broken self-esteem, I found my way back to my seat to see the Reds in the middle of a comeback. In the bottom of the 7th they scored two to make it 5-3 Braves.
The Braves would post one more run and make the score 6-3 heading into bottom of the ninth. Attempting to close the game for Atlanta was minor league pitching prospect Will Startup. Startup reminded me of a young Mike Stanton, with his herky-jerky motion and over-emphatic leg kick. He also reminded me of Stanton in that he made the game interesting in the ninth. A few Reds hits and a few walks quickly made it 6-5 before Startup found his groove and shut the door, saving the game for the Braves. Being, of course, an old pitcher myself, I admired the unconventional herky-jerkyness of Startup’s motion. However, if Startup pitches like he did Sunday there might soon be another adult male lefthander trying to reclaim past pitching glory at a random speed gun booth. And he might even be mistaken for a random kid’s Dad.