Photo Credit: Irwin Cohen
It’s first come, first served for those seeking shade in the super comfortable lawn chairs under the scoreboard in right field at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

After the morning minyan here in West Palm Beach, the retired boys visit the coffee counter in the kitchen, grab some cake and herring, and proceed to Rabbi Richmond’s daily mishnayos shiur.

After this particular learning session, instead of going across the street to Century Village where we have our winter dugouts, we made a right turn from the Aitz Chaim shul and headed north up Haverhill for 2.8 miles to the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

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The complex has 14 beautifully coiffed baseball fields housing the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals and their Minor League affiliates. The complex was humming with activity as players moved on from batting cages to the diamonds; the ballpark wouldn’t be used until the exhibition games began, which they finally did late last month.

Those of us who winter in the Orthodox enclave of Century Village in West Palm Beach are lucky to be so close to Florida’s finest baseball facility, which boasts many stars and superstars. Houston, of course, won the World Series and has a star-studded lineup including Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer.

The Astros have a loaded pitching staff, too, as Justin Verlander, traded from the Tigers for the stretch run last year, had a sterling 5-0 record with a low earned run average of only 1.06 for his new team and helped propel them to the World Series.

Having Verlander all season, and having obtaining Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh, Houston should be even better than last year and is a shoo-in for reaching the post season. But the Yankees and Red Sox have also improved and that means next October should be even more interesting. The Yankees, with Giancalo Stanton to go along with Aaron Judge, bring up memories of Ruth and Gehrig and Mantle and Maris. The BoSox, with slugger J.D. Martinez, are also a team to watch. I’ll be watching them this month and give my annual predictions next month.

While the Astros are set for years and also have some top rookie prospects, the Nationals are faced with a big financial decision this year.

Outfielder Bryce Harper, who batted .319 with 29 homers in a 111-game injury shortened season last year, is a free agent after the 2018 season. Harper turns 26 in October and should have some of his best years ahead of him. Do the Nats hope he takes them to the World Series and then watch him walk away from their team? Should they trade him during the season and rebuild? Or should they mortgage their franchise and make him baseball’s highest paid player?

Washington is lucky to have one of the game’s best pitching staffs. Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 2.52 ERA), Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.51 ERA) and Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 2.96 ERA) are proven starters. It’s very rare for a team to have three starting pitchers with earned run averages under three in the same year, as that trio did in 2017. So those of us lucky enough to catch exhibition games in West Palm Beach see some pretty good pitching.

While the Red Sox play one game in West Palm against Houston, the Yankees aren’t scheduled to play here. However, Houston will travel to Tampa to play the Yanks on Friday, March 16. Washington doesn’t play the Yankees this spring but meets the Mets several times, as do the Astros. The Mets’ spring home in Port St. Lucie is only an hour away while Tampa is close to three hours.

But I have a Yankees game on my calendar: Sunday, March 11, against the Marlins in Jupiter, about a 20-minute drive north. Jupiter also has a two-team complex housing the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals. Another reason I look forward to that date is that I’m going with a great guy and Yankeeoligist Chaim Schoenblum. The Yankees are very popular in South Florida, as many New Yorkers live here year-round and many others spend most of the winter here.

However, former Yankee and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter is very unpopular with Marlins fans. Jeter, who capitalized on his fame and fortune, put up less and got more as he was named chief executive officer of the Miami franchise. After buying into an ownership position, he made some terrible public relations moves, firing long-time goodwill ambassadors Jeff Conine (known as Mr. Marlin), Andre Dawson, Jack McKeon, and Tony Perez. Jeter also fired a long-time scout while he was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery and he booted a popular play-by-play announcer.

The fired former players were familiar faces to fans in and out of the ballpark and McKeon, who coached and managed for decades, was super popular with everyone. Jeter’s trading of star players was another unpopular move. Gone is the all-start outfield of 2017: Giancarlo Stanton (.281, 59 homers and 132 RBI), Marcel Ozuna (.312, 37, 124) Christian Yelich (.282, 18, 81). Also gone is speedy infielder Dee Gordon (.308 and 60 stolen bases).

In return, the Marlins received a bunch of nobodies who may never be somebodies. Fans view the trades as a big salary dump so the new owners can make some quick returns even if the team is last in the standings and attendance.

The Marlins will receive a one-time payment of fifty million from Disney (all teams do this year) from the sale of a digital media company, and Miami should get $119 million from Major League Baseball from national television contracts. They’ll also receive millions in revenue sharing. So Jeter and the new owners will make money even though the team will be playing to mostly empty seats.

 

For those of you in South Florida, I will be speaking at the Okeechobee Blvd. branch library at 5689 W. Okeechobee Blvd. in West Palm Beach at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13.

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