Spring training is underway in Arizona and Florida and we’re all looking forward to our favorite teams coming home to start the regular season in April.
I’ve just had a taste of baseball and warm weather out west. I enjoyed a stay in San Diego where, though the weather is not as warm as it is in Miami, a motel stay is far cheaper and out-of-town guests get a very warm welcome from the local community.
The motel was a pop-up away from the kosher eateries under the supervision of Rabbi Avrom Bogopulsky, the popular spiritual leader of Beth Jacob Congregation, where I davened twice daily.
One of the attractions for me in San Diego is Petco Park, home of the Padres. On non-game days the public is allowed to use a plaza adjacent to the top row of the right field bleachers that connect to downtown streets. It’s a great area to enjoy the sunshine, contemplate the upcoming season and drink in the view of the diamond and green grass. The Chabad rabbi lives close by and the Chabad House, which is a bit closer to the heart of downtown, has a daily and Shabbos minyan.
We (wife and I) enjoy going from San Diego to Los Angeles by train, which takes two hours and 50 minutes with a couple of stops. My favorite stop is Anaheim behind the outfield parking lot of the Angels stadium. From there it was on to downtown L.A. where we rented a car and drove the few minutes to Dodger Stadium.
After a couple of hakofos around the imposing 47-year-old (but still beautiful) stadium, we made our way to the Beverly-Fairfax area and one of the establishments listed in The Jewish Press Dining Guide. Besides ballparks and kosher eateries, I like to check out shuls. Even though it was quite a distance from the overnight motel we stayed at, I chose two different shuls in the Beverly Hills area in which to daven –one in the evening and one in the morning. We had meals in three different kosher restaurants, all good and all listed in The Jewish Press.
You can shorten the flight east by stopping in Phoenix and visiting several spring training sites. Fourteen teams use Arizona as their spring training home (l2 in the Phoenix area and two in Tucson) while 16 teams hang their caps in Florida. Obviously, you can cover more spring training complexes in less time with a Phoenix stay. The motels are far cheaper there than in Florida this time of year and there is a kosher eatery in Phoenix and one in Scottsdale.
Besides scattered Chabad Houses in the area, Phoenix has three small daily minyanim. The biggest at this time of year is at Scottsdale’s Chabad headquarters, located in a shopping center next to a combination kosher eatery and Judaica store. A couple of miles back down Scottsdale Avenue is the spring home of the San Francisco Giants.
Unlike Florida, where it’s usually well over an hour from one baseball spring complex to another, it’s only about 20 minutes via the streets from one Phoenix area spring ballpark to the next.
But the two best prospects in baseball (in my opinion) are not in Arizona but in Florida. Baltimore rookie catcher Matt Wieters is a terrific switch-hitter with good power and a great arm. He may start the season with the Orioles (who are now based in Ft. Lauderdale) and could be an all-star in 2010. Look for Tigers starting prospect Rick Porcello (now pitching in Lakeland with the big club) to start the season in the minors and be in the majors late in the season. The Tigers have a couple of other flamethrowers who starred in college ball and the low minors and should make an impact by 2010.
You don’t have to go to Arizona or Florida to cover spring training if you have the new baseball channel. MLB-TV made its debut in January and it’s all baseball all the time. Every team is televised equally during spring training. Thirty teams in thirty days, says the advertising slogan. During the season, the station will cut into ballgames at interesting times until the last out of the last West Coast game.
As with the Internet, we have to use our televisions wisely and according to our values. I’m not telling people they should have a TV, but for those who do and who like baseball, the baseball channel is the one to watch.
Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, is available for speaking engagements and may be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.Irwin Cohen