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Baseball is back. And for the first time, half the 30 major league clubs are holding spring training in the Phoenix area.
I recommend Phoenix over Florida for fans thinking to spend their vacation getting a first-hand view of spring training. Traveling between training sites is quicker and hotel-motel rates are much more reasonable in Arizona; most of the time you can get from one facility to the next in about 15 minutes just by using surface streets.
Kosher food is no problem as Phoenix has a kosher eatery and neighboring Scottsdale has one you should try (check out The Jewish Press Dining Guide) with a shul next door and another nearby. Only a couple of miles down the road is the spring home of the World Champion San Francisco Giants. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies also train in Scottsdale about six miles from the Giants and the kosher eatery and adjoining store is almost in the middle.
Other teams in the Phoenix area are the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.
Florida, though, is where most of us will focus. The Red Sox in Ft. Myers are expected to run away with the American League East this season now that speedy outfielder Carl Crawford and slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez have joined Red Sox Nation.
The Yankees in Tampa are older and lost pitcher Any Pettitte to retirement. The Tigers in Lakeland are in their 75th year of training in that mid-Florida town where Hank Greenberg spent his springs. While things looked great for a super season when training camp opened for Detroit fans, superstar first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who’s had problems with alcohol in the past, was arrested for being heavily intoxicated and spent a night in a Florida slammer. If he can stay away from the bottle and approach last year’s stats (.328 average, 38 homers), the Tigers have hopes of a post-season berth.
Media people keep a close eye on the Yankees at
George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida
The best first baseman – possibly the best player – on the planet is training in Jupiter. Florida, that is. Albert Pujols (.312, 42 homers last year) claims he’s playing out the last year of his contract and won’t negotiate until the end of the season when the Cardinals will have a small window of opportunity to overpay him before he opts for free agency and collects the biggest contract ever given in sports.
While megabucks players get the most publicity, spring training is a time for hope for those holding on to their dream of trying to make and stay in the big leagues.
A sad scene is always played out a few weeks into spring training at the players’ exits in the various ballparks, The happy chatter of the waiting wives is quickly interrupted by total silence when a player exits carrying all of his belongings over his shoulder in a large duffle bag.
That means, of course, the player was just told of his outright release or is being sent down to a minor league level. Only those who have lost a job or been informed they can only stay with a company if they relocate and receive a much lower rate of pay can understand what it means.
For the fan, however, it’s a great time as we have great expectations. I’m watching all the teams closely and monitoring and taping many games on the MLB channel.
I’ll give you my predictions for the 2011 season next month. In the meantime, send me yours. And speaking of sending, thanks to those of you who sent for my new book telling how Hashem orchestrated events to get me into baseball press boxes and eventually work for a major league team. In the book I reveal what my salary was and other inside info.