Tuesday, March 14, 2017

West Palm Beach (Astros)

On Revisiting on the Travel Day
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
New York Metropolitans vs. Houston Astros
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Grapefruit League (Spring Training)
West Palm Beach, FL
1:05 PM

Outside the Game: 
As I was optimistically heading out on the road today, I commenced to packing up for the next couple of days and then headed out for the short drive the park. Since the Nationals and Astros shared a stadium, I had to hit the Palm Beaches ballpark twice to see both home teams.

I had a couple of extra days in case of rainouts, but after a bit of a shower with yesterday's game, it looked like I was clear sailing to head out for other Florida fun after the Tuesday game. As I usually pack these trips to a game a day, it was almost unique to have a couple of days off to do something besides baseball. I hadn't been to the Kennedy Space Center since I was a kid, so that was my first choice for a stop-in if I had the opportunity, so I was planning to head up to Cape Canaveral after the game and stay at a hotel in the area. Instead of rocket launches, the Cape is mostly used these days as a departure point for cruise ships, so the area is lined with hotels to service them, so it was pretty easy to find a hotel for the night.

It was a quick drive up to the park before the game, and parking wasn't a problem given that this weekday afternoon game had much more anemic attendance than the first weekend game I saw there. Getting out was similarly quick, and I was on my way north after the short game.

It was only about a two-hour drive up 95 after the game. It being mid-afternoon, there wasn't much traffic at all, and I zoomed straight up the coast with no issues except a stuck gas gauge on my mother's car that had me worried about exactly how much gas I had left until it shook itself free about halfway up. Once I got to the area, it became wall-to-wall tourist signs that got a little confusing, but I able to take the right bridge to Port Canaveral and down the main road to my hotel, which was at the north end of things.

I parked and checked in with no problems. It was early evening by the time I ventured out again. I stopped into the arcade at the hotel to get my game on, and then I went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. There must have been a NASA conference going on somewhere as well, because the restaurant was full of people with NASA stickers everywhere, and I saw a sign or two about a convention. What wasn't rocket science was the service at the restaurant. I was able to order and get my food relatively okay, if a bit slow, but then literally all the wait staff disappeared for about a half hour. Those that came out literally ran to where they were going and ran back to the kitchen. I made two attempts to call for their attention, which were ignored, and that was when I tried to remember how much my food cost, left that much on the table, and left. There was no one to stop me, and it was the first time I ever had to resort to such tactics. It was bizarre. No one came after me. I wonder how long until they noticed.

Being a sucker for mini golf, I walked down the street to check out a course that I saw, but upon closer examination, the mini golf course was decrepit and part of a tourist-trap store selling merchandise of questionable usefulness and taste, so I demurred. Back at the hotel, I went online and bought my ticket for the Space Center the next day, and started doing some research for my next proposed stop: Disney.

Rogue One was the Star Wars movie I had been waiting 30 years for, so I was back in the Mouse's good graces. I decided to try for Disney Hollywood Studios to see all the new attractions and merch from the movie as a reward, so I did some research and picked a hotel for the next night that was affordable but still close to the park. All the on-property hotels were sold out already at this late date, so I made due and hoped.

Not knowing how the next two days were going to go, I dropped off to sleep.

The Stadium & Fans:
The Ballpark at the Palm Beaches hadn't changed much in two days, although it was much emptier. For a brand-new park to sell this poorly was not a good indicator of its long-term success, but who knows if the Astros' success will bring it a boost.

The suicide sun stroke carts were not out in the outfield for this game, thank god, and there were some new specialty kiosks by the main home plate concessions for this game. I don't know if the Astros and Nationals have different concessions contracts, or it was just a weekend vs. day game situation. Either way, there weren't any attendants passing out from being cooked in metal boxes, so that was a plus.

In taking in more of the stadium, it was easy to see a lot more incomplete parts of the park, like landscaping and most of the finishing touches of polish that were nowhere to be found. Once they finish the place up in the off season, it will probably be much nicer.

As mentioned, the place was barely half full at best, and the visiting Metropolitans fan (whose team was located less than an hour to the north) were perhaps half of those fans. Orbit, however, made an appearance, and the poor soul in the big furry costume was out and about for the entire afternoon game in the sun. Regular between-innings contests pervaded as well.

At the Game with Oogie:
I got to the park early and was one of the first people in the parking lot. I did a full walk-around of the park, noting the incomplete construction around the park and the pre-game MLB network show setting up on the grass outside, and then ended up in the Astros training area before the gates opened. I hung around and watched some drills along with a bleacher full of minor leaguers who were watching the top team take their grounders. When the gates opened, I headed inside, taking another look at the incomplete park.

At least the pressure cooker kiosks weren't in the outfield for this game, and I got a burger and fries from one of the concessions by home plate, along with a "Stix" (fancy name for shish kabob) and fires from another specialty kiosk in the area.

I got my seat for this game on the visiting Metropolitans third-base dugout side several rows back. There was a group of snowbirds to my right and a Hispanic family in front of me. The father kept telling his son and daughter what was going on in the game in a very appropriate, fatherly way.

There wasn't a lot more than that and watching the speedy afternoon game take its course.

The Game:
This pre-season matchup of the Who-Knew-It-Was-Going-To-End-Like-That Astros and the visiting New York Metropolitans was a brisk affair of a rare pitching duel in a pre-season game.

New York got back-to-back singles in the first, but stranded them in a fashion familiar to all Metropolitans fans, while the Astros' side struck out around a walk and a hit. Both sides went quietly in the second, but, in the process of striking out for the inning in the top of the third, the Metropolitans snuck in a leadoff single and a home run to left to jump to a 2-0 lead. Houston only snuck in a single in their half of the inning. New York got a single and a walk in the fourth, while the Astros snuck in a one-out homer to right of their own, closing the lead to 2-1.

And that was about it for the rest of the game. The Metropolitans came close in the top of the fifth with a single and a double not quite far enough to score the lead runner, while Houston went in order. Both sides went in order in the sixth except for a sole Astros' single, and both sides had a lone single in the seventh as well. New York had a single erased on a  double play in the top of the eighth, while Houston stranded a two-out walk. The ninth saw a lonely walk for the Metropolitans and a single erased on another double-play for the Astros, leaving New York with the pointless 2-1 win established half a game ago.

The Scorecard:
So, the programs for the Nationals and Astros aren't just cosmetic changes on the cover. For example, the scorecard in the Astros program is completely different, a more traditional one-page design on cardstock that includes pitching lines and stats blocks. One mark against it, though, was the solid-color background which left little space for notes. There was also a $1 separate scorecard of nearly identical design, but I used the program version.

There weren't that many plays of scoring note. Besides an out to the overshift and a couple of gem catches on both sides, there was only one controversy to make it to the card. In the top of the fifth, there was a grounder to the third baseman that was clearly a butcher job by the ironically named Moran. For some inexplicable home-cooking reason, they changed it to a hit. I left the official record on the scorecard but noted the play and gave the player a parenthetical error in the tally area. That will show him.

The Accommodations:
For this evening, I was at the rhythmically named Radisson Resort at the Port. It was obviously mostly a stop-over hotel for people going off on cruises from the Cape and less about visitors to the space center, although there were clearly some people there for a NASA conference.

My room was right off the main pool, so I worried about noise, but the rooms were pleasantly sound-shielded, so there were no problems on that front. I had an overstuffed king bed with end tables and an easy chair on one side of the room, across from a desk and dresser with TV. At the end of the room was the vanity and sink, right next to the bathroom that housed the toilet and tub.

I was only there for a night, but it was a pleasant-enough stay.


On Spaaaaaaaaaace
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Brevard County, FL

Outside the Game:
I woke up in some place not my parents' condo for the first time this trip and dragged myself out of bed to shower, dress, pack up, and check out. One of the problems of being on an Air Force base is that Kennedy Space Center doesn't have an actual address, which prevents easy GPS directions. The helpful folks at the front desk reached back into the 16th century and gave me paper directions to the visitors' center, and thus dubiously armed, I set out into the day.

It was only one or two tricky turns and I was off to the visitors’ center with no problems. I parked up and headed to the entrance just before the gates opened. As I had pre-bought my ticket, I skipped straight ahead to the gates, and I was one of the first few dozen people in the park that day.

I made a fateful and prescient decision to go straight to the back when it opened. I managed to make a bee-line straight to the Atlantis exhibit. I was in the very first showing of the video they show every five minutes or so to control the crowds in the main exhibit area. It was just me and a handful of other people. The video finished, and the back of the screen opened up to reveal the shuttle Atlantis hanging from the roof of the giant building.

Walking by later, there was a line out the door, so getting there at the very start of the day turned out to be a great decision. I was able to wander the exhibit at my own pace without any sort of crowd. It was here that I really started to get into the experience. Not having been here in over 30 years, and the relative doldrums of the space program in the interim made me wonder how I was going to react to the place. But as I was wondering around the exhibits, I was very much that kid again staring up at a real space shuttle and other exhibits.

There were moments of levity (as the simulators that had MS Windows errors) and being told that I couldn't go through the model space station and space slides because I was apparently "an adult," but there were other more somber moments, such as the Challenger memorial, which even had wreckage of the shuttle that blew up on launch so many years ago.

After getting my fill of that building, I did a short backtrack to grab a bus over to the Apollo Center further out on the Cape. Again, I had some pretty good timing, as I walked through seemingly miles of switchback gates that would probably be filled later in the day to have a relatively short wait to get on a bus out to Apollo.

And that was a good thing, because being outside for my first extended period of time, I was struck by the fact that it was cold in northern Florida this day. Well, cold by Florida standards for March, not actually cold. We're talking in the high 40s. But, it being Florida and I being on vacation, and certainly not expecting anything like this, I had on pants, a t-shirt, and my over shirt, and outside of buttoning up my outer shirt, there was nothing else I could do except keep my hands in my pockets and think warm thoughts.

Thankfully, except for a small wait outside after our bus got to the Apollo center, I was back inside again at Apollo mission control and the rest of the building. Everything from Failure Is Not An Option came flooding back to me in the actual control room. This provoked a deeper child-like awe in me, from the last time we had a real-real space program with giant rockets and actual goals. Large rockets lined the long main expanse of the building, along with a wall of newspapers from the first moon landing, and a weirdly anachronistic multi-media display about the moon landing. There was also a more somber Apollo 1 memorial area.

The future of space was perhaps on display, as one of the launch pads on the Cape was primed with a Space X launch that was scheduled for the next day. After seeing all there was to see and grabbing some overpriced lunch, I lined up to get a bus back to the main visitors’ center. I was right behind a Canadian couple who informed me that many of the visitors were people such as themselves who had a day layover on their cruises to the Caribbean. Some decided to take the short trip to the Kennedy Space Center, while others opted for the longer hour plus trip both ways out to the Disney parks. They were kind of space nerds, so they chose the space center, for obvious reasons.

After the bus ride back to the main area, I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the rest of the buildings, including the Heroes and Legends hall, the rocket garden, and the hall of future developments in space craft. NASA apparently is officially ceding low-Earth orbit launches to the private sector and are now concentrating on long-haul flights in the solar system with a modular rocket design to get us to Mars and beyond. Yeah, it probably is all high-level propaganda, but after a day that tapped deeply into my youthful enthusiasm, I wanted to believe. I also apparently wanted to spend a lot of money in the gift shop. But what can you do?

As evening fell, and it got even colder, I retreated to my car and made the slightly longer than an hour drive over to Kissimmee and my hotel at the Quality Inn. After checking in, I went straight to the little booth that every hotel in the area has for tickets to the amusement parks in the area, and I bought a ticket for Hollywood Studios for the next day. I went up to my room and unpacked, and registered everything for my ticket online.

I then walked down the road for a bit and grabbed dinner at some place or other. I considered going to a mini-golf place, but there was a long line, it was cold, and I was tired. I went back to my room, did a little more research for Disney the next day, reserved a Fast Pass or two, and then hit the hay.

The Accommodations:
For the night before Disney, I was at the Quality Inn & Suites at Kissimmee by the Lake, which fit in as many whistle words for "Disney-adjacent" without getting into trouble with the Mouse lawyers. The hotel itself looked a little run-down, and I'm always inherently suspicious about "Quality" Inns, but the room turned out to be quite nice. There was a king bed and desk on one wall, across from a small sitting chair, refrigerator, TV, and dresser.

The vanity and sink was at the end of the room, outside of bathroom with toilet and tub. While it was heavily populated by budget-conscious holiday makers, it had no noticeable Spring Break contingent, so I was able to have a peaceful night's rest before heading out the next morning to the Maus Haus.


On the Crowdiest Place on Earth
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Lake Buena Vista, FL

Outside the Game:
And so I found myself going back to Disney for the first time in a decade-ish, more or less.

I really can't overstate how important Rogue One was in dragging me back to Star Wars fandom, mostly against my wishes. But it was the best experience I had in a movie theater since Jedi (Return of the, not Last), and I wanted to see what Disney was doing with it.

So I got up early, packed up, cleaned up, checked out, and drove to Disney about a half hour before the gates opened. With my band around my wrist, I went through the first surging crowd and found they were letting people into the park, but not into the rides a little early. It was still cool for Florida, but not nearly as chilly as the day before, and I waiting in the first line of people held back by a bank line barrier until the moment the park opened.

This free-for-all is, among Disney insiders, the biggest push of the day. It is pretty much the only time you will be able to get on super-popular rides without a Fast Pass, and you have about two rides before the lines back up to the regular wait times. I went straight into Star Tours, which was right by where I was, and was on the first car of the tour. It had been sadly updated for the prequels, but not Rogue One. I then made a beeline over the Tower of Terror, and although I had a half hour wait by the time I was out of Star Tours, it was well under the normal 2.5 hour wait you get without a Fast Pass.

After Tower of Terror, the park was already filled. It was a Spring Break Week, and the park was filled to capacity. I made my way to a Fast Pass station on my way to the Muppets theater, and I was already blocked out of getting Rocking Roller Coaster Fast Passes for the rest of the day. (I would later find out that you can do your Fast Passes days in advance now, which wasn't the case the last time I went. Technology passed me by.)

I went to the Muppets 3D Theater nevertheless, as its high capacity is one of the few rides that you can go in at-will for most of the day. I headed in and waiting in a short line. Outside of updating the waiting area of the theater with some memorabilia of the now-thankfully-cancelled The Muppets, the attraction hadn't changed much at all. It was the same (what would now be called) 4D experience that I enjoyed again. Sadly, the Muppet store, although still the same on the outside, was only half of the store inside. The Muppet half was basically trying to sell off remaining The Muppets merchandise, although retaining some of the old decorations of the backstage of the original Muppet Theater, but the other half of the store was mostly a generic Disney merchandise store now.

The new Star Wars area was under construction, right next to the Muppets theater. This was part of the new immersive Star Wars park that was going to premiere sometime before the turn of the decade and include stuff on the misbegotten sequels as well as the original trilogy and prequels.

The park was pretty much wall-to-wall by  this time of the day, and only more crowded when the stormtroopers march through the park happened, which just compressed the crowd more. I went over to the other Star Wars area of the park, which was filled with Rogue One props in addition to other smaller exhibits and short films on the movies. I then spent way too much money in the gift shop, where I may or may not have purchased a build-your-own droid toy.

I was able to grab a Fast Pass for the Great Movie Ride. I would find out later that it was being torn down to make space for more of Star Wars land, and I know a lot of people hate the ride as hokey and not worth the wait, but I always liked it. It was goofy fun, and you're in Disney for Christ's sake.

I tried to get a reservation for the Sci Fi Drive In, but by this time, they only had standbys for the last seating of the night, so I passed. I walked around to all the other areas of the park to see what I could see, and after witnessing the food lines, I decided to take a walk outside the park and head to the nearby Boardwalk, Disney's old-timey, turn-of-the-century boardwalk area, with old-timey shops and luxury resorts that started at $200 a night. I grabbed lunch on the pleasantly deserted Boardwalk before hopping on a ferry back to the entrance of Hollywood Studios.

I used the Fast Pass I had for the final showing of the Stunt Show, another somewhat-hokey but enjoyable-to-me program at the park. I wandered in and out of shops for a while, spending my money on all the new Rogue One and Rebels merch I found, before heading to a food stand for dinner. I got some overpriced chicken tenders and fries, and already all the tables were full up. I made the best of it and sat down on a curb to eat my food and contemplate whether I would stay for the next hour or so to see the fireworks display or not. As I was finishing my fries, a kid came through and stepped directly in them and ran off. I figured that had made my decision for me.

Carting all my ill-considered loot out to the parking lot, I tossed all my gear in the trunk and headed out to my destination for the night in Melbourne, FL. I didn't want to drive all the way back to my parents' condo that night (I didn't know how late I would be at Disney), and there was a zoo in Melbourne, and the Dodgertown complex was nearby.

After clearing the park traffic, it was a fairly relaxed hour and a half drive to my hotel. I overshot the exit due to some construction, and it took a bit to get turned around, but I eventually got sorted out, checked in, soaked in the tub, and hit the hay, exhausted from my Disney extravaganza. 

The Accommodations:
For reasons that seemed pretty good the night before, I had booked myself in the Extended Stay America by the Melbourne regional airport. I had absolutely no need for an efficiency apartment, but here we were.

The room had a short entrance way off of the bathroom to the right. The main room of the apartment had a full kitchen on one side, opposite a work desk. It was separated from the bed area by a kitchen table, and beyond that was the king-sized bed across from the dresser and an easy chair.

I only really made use of the tub and the bed, but it was quiet, and therefore I had a good stay there.


On Decaying History
Friday, March 17, 2017
Vero Beach, FL

Outside the Game:
I slept in good and late this Friday, getting a solid night's sleep after soaking in the tub and feeling quite good about the world upon waking. I felt so good, I had a second nap after I got up the first time just to be sure.

Solidly sure how much I'd rested, I got up, packed, showered, and checked out of the hotel. It was a short drive to the Brevard Zoo, a zoological park I'd never heard of but ended up quite impressed with. The park was quite extensive, and it had a lot of activity areas, such as kayaks, paddleboats, and rope courses. It was certainly more extensive than I was expecting.

I had a pleasant late morning and early afternoon wandering around. I grabbed lunch at one of the concession stands and just sat around enjoying a not too hot/not too cold Florida Spring afternoon. After lunch, I grabbed the mini-train for a ride around the park while enjoying the breeze.

Once I'd seen everything, I headed out for my next destination. Instead of going all the way back to my parents' condo, I decided to stop off after an hour at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, which was right on the way back. Dodgertown and Holman Stadium were the first real "modern" post-war Spring Training facility in the MLB. The stadium was built in the mid-50s, and the Dodgers were the first team to build up a whole Spring Training complex, where all the affiliates of the team would practice in one location, with housing and training facilities for all the players, and even the idea of a "Spring Training complex" was developed. After sixty years, the Dodgers finally did the unthinkable and pulled up stakes to go out to Arizona in the great Cactus League migration, leaving Vero Beach high and dry, and taking the Gulf Coast Dodgers minor league team with them.

There was a lot of hand-wringing about what to do with the facility. It had a great deal of historic value in a state that had no real use for history. Plans for other teams to buy the complex quickly evaporated with the costs it would take to "modernize" the facility, and it still, to a point, sits in limbo, getting some sporadic use while still slowly falling to disrepair.

On the day I visited, there was some manner of baseball tournament being held on the grounds. The gift shop was still open, but only the very front of the stands were being used for the small crowd. And for good reason. The rows of colored seats were in various stages of being reclaimed by nature in the other areas of the seating bowl. Even the press box and area behind home plate was slowly falling apart. Plaques dedicating the facility and honoring all the trans-Pacific games played between the Dodgers and teams from Korea and Japan were slowly fading to nothing.

The concession area behind home plate was still nominally open and running, but the first and third base cafes were slowly rotting where they stood. The once proud Hall of Fame Walk was nothing but two arched gateways, and the wall poster of the Hall of Famers was even started to get washed out. The "love seat" that was a magnet for picture-takers for decades was still in good repair, however, and all the newer training fields and facilities that the Dodgers put in the years before they left were still being used.

There was something bittersweet about the wrought-iron gates with "LA Dodgers" on one side and "VB Dodgers" on the other that were slowly falling to rust. Hopefully, someone will be found who can keep this place alive and back in sporting shape. There are enough Brooklyn Dodgers fans living in the state now who could be moved to action, one would hope.

After my visit there, I made the last of the hour and half drive back to my parents’ condos in the fading of the afternoon. I had a shower and a nap back at the condo, and then I ordered in some Chinese food with my dad, as my mother was off visiting relatives for a night out that evening.

I lazed around the guest bedroom for the rest of night before hitting the sack early again. Something about Florida, man.

The Accommodations:
I was back in the guest room at the condo, again. Fighting to clap hard enough to turn the lights on and off as necessary.


On Another Zoo & Family
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Boynton Beach, FL

Outside the Game: 
I woke up early again, which was not much of a surprise given how early I went to sleep. It was my last day in Florida, and I hadn't had a ton planned out, but the day before, I discovered there was another zoo I hadn't been to that was literally fifteen minutes from my parents' condo, so that seemed as good a plan as any.

I breakfasted up and head out to get to the zoo as it opened. Even though I was there early, a lot of animals were sleeping in the hot Florida Spring. It was a nice little zoo, and I got in my time with animal photography and watching, along with grabbing some lunch and seeing Martin the Albino alligator. I went into the animal stage show after I had been around the park and watched trained animals do their thing before heading out to the car for the short drive back to the condo.

Back at the condo, I did laundry and took a nap, and then packed up for the trip home the next day. This evening was the yearly pizza party with my extended family at the condo. Pizza was had, awkward conversations were survived, and desert was intook. By the time everyone cleared out, I was quite ready for bed, and I hit the sack early again, as is custom in these parts.

The Accommodations:
I was in the condo guest room again. All relevant details have already been covered.


On Heading Home, Again
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Jersey City, NJ

Outside the Game:
Sunday had me again up early, to shower and finish packing up. My father drove me out to the airport, and we said our goodbyes, and I went off to check in to my flight and deal with an inordinately long wait through security.

I grabbed some breakfast and waited to board. It turned out it was a full flight, with Spring Breakers and families visiting Florida for childrens' Spring Breaks all looking to go home. I managed to board early and got an overhead slot for my rucksack, and then I settled into my seat for the flight.

A late-arriving special person was making noise even before she got onto the plane. She was huffing and puffing about how it was insane that she had to wait to board the plane, and that she was something or other. To be honest, nearly everyone had tuned her out, except for her no-doubt long-suffering husband, who was just nodding along. She kept on being outraged about things, so you can imagine her surprise when her full-sized suitcase didn't have anywhere to go in the overheads. The cabin crew, clearly sick of her already, told her she had to check her bag. She refused. Not having any of that, the lead steward told her she could either check her bag or be removed from the plane, and suddenly she was more willing to listen to reason, although she bitched about it loudly while she sat down.

I just grinned and put in my earphones and slept the way back home. She was still being offended by things as we landed and deplaned. I threw her husband a sympathetic look as he went past. I was off with my rucksack and in a cab home pretty quickly.

Back in the apartment, I did some laundry, cleaned up, and tried to mentally prepare myself for going back to work the next day.

The Accommodations:
Sweet home, Jersey City

Monday, March 13, 2017

Port St. Lucie

On Meeting Idols & Enemies, As Well As Some Rain
Monday, March 13, 2017
Miami Marlins vs. New York Metropolitans
First Data Field
Grapefruit League (Spring Training)
Port St. Lucie, FL
1:05 PM

Outside the Game:
I woke up Monday morning, and in the process of getting ready for the game, I realized that I had the wrong game on the menu for today. I had swapped up the order of my next two games. I had booked two games at the new Palm Beaches ballpark to see both teams, and I had booked two games in Port St. Lucie to go with my family and then fan geek out for the second one. I had thought I was watching back-to-back games in West Palm Beach, but in looking at my ticket before I departed, I realized that it was the second Metropolitans game this day.

Outside of leaving slightly later than I would have liked (as West Palm Beach is much closer), it didn't affect things too much. There was an accident with a truck on fire that I passed on the way up to the stadium that wasn't exactly a great sign, but once I got to the park, I parked in nearly exactly the same place as the first game on Saturday, though this time I was alone and driving my mother's Florida car.  I quickly headed off to the training facilities and into the game from there.

After the rain delay, there were not many people left in the parking lot once the game was over, so it was particularly easy to get out. The drive back to the condo was unmarred by any flaming trucks, and I had my regular shower and nap before dinner with my parents. I did laundry and packed up as I planned my accommodations for the next day and bought my tickets, as it looked like I would get all my baseball done in four straight days, even with the rain scare today. I even put in a call to Disney to get some preliminary information, but didn't buy any tickets in case tomorrow went south in West Palm Beach.

I had an early night, hitting the sack before 11 PM, just because I ran out of things to do.

The Stadium & Fans:
The stadium hadn't changed much in two days, so not much new on that front. All of my particular personal interactions are described below.

Even for a weekday afternoon Spring Training game against the null-drawing Marlins, there was still a solid crowd in the stands, even if the 7-Line Army was out marching somewhere, because they were not in attendance on the picnic berm for this game.

A couple got (successfully) engaged in a mid-innings break, and all the stupid between-innings contests such as golf chipping and the like were in the house. It did mark the first time I had any rain for a Spring Training game in Florida (or Arizona for that matter, but that's sort of a given). Even though it was relatively short and there were plenty of places to stay dry from the rain, the crowd did thin out quite a bit with the Metropolitans already leading in the late innings.

Not everyone is a die-hard.

At the Game with Oogie:
This was an eventful little game for me.

My first stop was the training area behind the park that they had finally opened up to the fans several years ago. One of the first people I saw was turn-of-the-90s Metropolitan pitcher Frank Viola, who was a “special pitching instructor” this year for the Metropolitans. He was talking to a family that he apparently knew, but as he walked over to one of the fields, I asked him to sign my program on his picture, which marks the first time I ever hit someone up for an autograph.

There was soon a less-welcome visitor, as son of Satan and walking corpse Fred Wilpon showed up on a golf cart and went on the field to talk to some coaching staff. I found that I was a coward to my conviction, as I did not take the opportunity to physically assault him when I had the chance, and that cowardice shall haunt me to my grave.

As I headed back to enter the stadium before the game, I saw rehabbing Matt Harvey on the back of another golf cart going to another practice field. I followed the cart, and he was taking bunting practice with one of the coaches, presumably as part of rehab, which I watched for a while. I thought he looked okay, but what did I know?

Once I went into the park, I grabbed a burger and chips at the Ulti-Met (get it?) Grill, and then walked around more for pictures and the like. I came across some lady in a Tebow t-shirt., I forget the exact wording, but it was something about Jesus loving Tebow, so I immediately disliked her. She was going on and on about how great it was that Tebow was in the lineup, and Jesus had foretold it, and it was all I could do not to slug her. But I went two-for-two in that regard.

Better things were afoot, though, as I walking around and could have sworn I just saw Doc Gooden pass me. Upon further review, I did just pass Doc Gooden. He looked very old and tired, and he was wearing a black t-shirt that showed all his World Series rings, but it was definitely him. He was walking around (and eventually sitting) with a family that I would guess had won some contest of seeing a Spring Training game with Dwight Gooden. I followed him a bit, and he was very shy. A couple of people came up to him, and he waved them off and said he wasn't here to sign autographs, and everyone was respectful of that. He and the family ended up sitting just to the left of home plate, across from where I was in the seats to the right of home plate. I occasionally watched him throughout the game. Only a couple of people came up to him, and they only made an announcement on the PA about it once without saying where he was.

Curtis Granderson's charity was also in the park that day, the Grand Kids (get it?). They all had special t-shirts on and were in the left field picnic area. I was sitting surrounded by old couples who bailed when the rain started.

The Game:
The pitiful Miami Marlins were in town to test the not-all-that-inspiring Metropolitans this fine afternoon. Who would win was anyone's guess, although the Noah "Thor" Syndergaard on the mound, I at least had some hopes.

The Marlins had only a two-out double to show for the top of the first, while New York answered with a one-out homer to right to jump to an early 1-0 lead. Miami got even worse in the second, going quickly in order, while the Metropolitans blasted a homer to right-center to start their half before going in order, boasting a 2-0 lead. Miami was similarly anemic in the third, as their only baserunner was a two-out hit batsman. New York went yard for the third straight inning with a one-out shot to right-center to extend their lead to 3-0.

Miami got their groove back in the top of the third, as a walk, double, and home run quickly tied the game at 3, before they struck out in order for the rest of the inning. The Metropolitans managed to strand a leadoff double in their half. Both sides went in order in the fifth, though New York had a leadoff single that was erased on a double-play. As mass replacements began in the sixth, the Marlins only had a one-out double, but the Metropolitans  had a leadoff double brought in by a one-out home run to retake the lead at 5-3.

The rest of the players swapped out for high numbers in the seventh, and Miami went in order. New York turned two singles and a ground-out into another run, extended their lead to 6-3 as it began to pour in sunny Port St. Lucie. After a twenty-minute rain delay, play resumed with both teams going in order in the top of the eighth. Miami gave it their all in the top of the ninth, with a leadoff double that made it to third on a fly-out to right and brought in a ground-out to first. A two-out single brought the tying run to the plate, but it was erased with a strikeout to end the game with a 6-4 Metropolitan victory.

The Scorecard:
I was again using the inadequate Metropolitans $5 Spring Training program scorecard. It proved as cramped as before, with the same inadequacies.

This game, however, was even more by-the-book than the previous one, though with a happier outcome. There were special notes about the rain delay, and since it seems to be of biblical friggin’ importance, also a note about witnessing Mr. Tim Tebow's first hit of Spring Training in the bottom of the fifth (not doubt to the joy of the crazy women in the T-shirt). Also, his replacement in the eighth was an unnamed high-90s player, so he was note recorded by name on the scorecard.

Otherwise, outside of some hits through the overshift, there was nothing noteworthy on the scoring front.

The Accommodations:
I was in the guest room in my parents' condo for the last night in a bit. It was another night of hanging out in my room, so not much there.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

West Palm Beach (Nationals)

On Seeing the New Place
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Houston Astros vs. Washington Nationals
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Grapefruit League (Spring Training)
West Palm Beach, FL
1:05 PM

Outside the Game:
I was going it alone for the rest of the trip, and even with my own room in the condo, my dad managed to wake me up on the way to golf by making a racket on the way to the bathroom. I had some breakfast, showered up, and then took the ever-so-short ride out to the ballpark, getting there in plenty of time before the gates were even thinking about opening. I did my picture thing, and then went in.

After the game, it was a similarly short drive back to Retirement Land. I showered and napped in my room, and basically goofed off until my mother made dinner. After dinner, it was a short constitutional walk afterwards, and then back to my room in the condo to do some work and goof off on the Internet before hitting the hay.

The Stadium & Fans:
The new park that opened up this year, serving both the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals, was given the somewhat grandiose name of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. In reality, I knew, they might as well have been named "[Your Logo Here]," because by next season, they would no doubt have a corporate sponsorship to score some more money, no matter how country-clubby the current name was.

As the park was rushing to get complete before the start of the season, a lot of incomplete things jump out at you. There were a lot of unfinished elements (such as dug up landscaping and a bar in left field that was on the maps but not open), and a lot of signage was clearly temporary, as well as some concessions, which were just some poorly thought-out metal carts in the outfield walkway. Hmm. Why is it a bad idea to put metal carts out in the sun in Florida? Because they become Easy-Bake ovens for people. I actually saw one worker in one of the carts taken outside to the shade and doused with water because she was on the verge of heat stroke. So, points off, there.

The facility itself was new and nice, if not even the class of the Grapefruit League, let alone the new palaces out in Arizona. There is one main entrance in the center of the facade up a flight of stairs that leads out onto the promenade behind home plate. Baseball-themed bridges on the outside lead to either side of the park (Astros on the third-base side and the Nationals on the first), where each team has their respective team offices and then training areas, with many practice fields radiated out from a central scout tower where team officials and coaches can watch all of the action.  Several of the big league training fields even have special areas set up so fans can grab autographs from players as they leave the fields to head to the clubhouses.

Once inside, the main promenade extends around the entire park, ranging above the seating areas that slope down from the walkway. Seats run from left field to right field from behind home plate, while a large Banana Boat lawn covers the area behind the outfield with general admission seating on the grass. The main digital scoreboard rises up in right-center with stats and video, and Fortunoff couches sit underneath it for lucky fans.

A second level of party and club decks, the press box, and luxury boxes sits above the promenade running from first-to third base behind home plate. The team store sits in left field by a picnic area. Concessions are in buildings on the promenade by home plate, and in those regrettable metal carts around the unprotected outfield.

Mascot Screetch the Eagle did make the trip down south for the snowbird fans, and the "Retired" President's Race (featuring often-forgotten presidents Taft, Coolidge, and Hoover) not only did their run-around, but were schmoozing with fans before and during the game. Standard between-inning contests also dotted the festivities.

But being that both home teams were playing each other, the stadium was maybe three-quarters filled, which is a bad, bad sign. If you can't sell out a brand-new stadium, with the two home teams playing, on a weekend, it does not bode well for the future performance of the locale. The fans that were there were mostly into the game, but still, it was a poor showing.

At the Game with Oogie:
As I wandered around this half-finished stadium, I did all my normal pictures and whatnot. I grabbed a brat and Gatorade as they didn't even have their souvenir cups in order just yet.

Even though both home teams were playing, I rather easily got a seat right behind first base that had a great view of the action. Sadly, I managed to get wedged in between two annoying families with kids. The kids weren't annoying per se. They were just excited and took every opportunity to rush up and try and get autographs or balls. The parents, however, were a different story. The trophy wives were vapid and did not stop talking. One of the men was a local politician that couldn't stop dropping names or talking about how he knew what was "really" going on. They were really insufferable. Then there were the two quiet, weird guys who sat directly next to me that had me wishing for more chatty blowhards, as they were just creepy.

It wasn't all bad. As I was out and about, I ran into a woman in a 7-Line Army shirt who wasn't a jackass. We had a nice chat about things while waiting in line for food.

But, seriously. Those wives talked for the entire game straight without taking a breath. It was disturbing.

The Game:
Who knew in the pre-season that of the stadium-sharing Astros and Nationals facing off this day, that it would be the Astros that went the farthest?

The "visiting" Astros got a single in the top of the first and nothing else, while the Nats went in order. Houston got a leadoff walk and a single in the second, with similar results, as did Washington, which again went in order. For a change, the Astros went down in order in the third, while the Nationals had a leadoff double that was eventually stranded at third.

Houston went in order again in the fourth, but Washington lead off the inning with a home run, and threatened again with a two-out single and back-to-back walks to load the bases, before a ground-out ended the inning at 1-0, Nats. The Astros showed some life in the fifth with three scattered baserunners, but again, nothing came across. The Nationals had back-to-back singles to start the fifth, but a double-play erased two base runners. The next batter, however, hit a homer to deep center bringing in two runs, staking that Nats to a 3-0 lead, as both teams began to swap out half their lineups. Houston got two ineffective singles in the top of the sixth, while Washington only had one of its own.

As the rest of the team swapped out in the seventh, the Astros finally came alive. A one-out single, walk, and single loaded the bases for a grand slam home run to dead center, clearing the bases and giving Houston its first lead of the day, 4-3. The Nats just went in order in the bottom of the frame, and the Astros only managed a ground-rule double in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the inning, Washington tied it up again with a bomb to left field. Houston only managed a single in the top of the ninth, while the Nats put their last licks to good use. A leadoff single started the bottom of the ninth, who promptly got to third on a stolen base and wild pitch. A walk made it first and third with one out, but a single to right, not even bothered to be fielded, brought in the winning run from third, sending Beltway fans home happy with a pointless 5-4 win.

The Scorecard:
The scorecard in the shared facility came in the two flavors of the teams that called it home. For obvious reasons, I picked up the Nationals card for this game. The scorecard was interesting and effective, even for Spring Training games.

The lineups were split up in dual-toned lines for a player and the inevitable replacement. There was plenty of space for the pitching lines, and each scoring frame was done in a quasi-Scoremaster format, with a printed diamond and slots for balls and strikes, so I got all the counts. There was even a section for all the reserves for each team, making it more like a manager’s lineup card than a scorecard, although it only works if the reserves were listed and announced, which was only the case for the Astros. The two remaining rectangles on the card were game condition data (with even space for notes), and one on the home side for game summary data.

All in all, it looked a little cramped at first, but was actually were efficient and neat, even for a Spring Training game.

There weren't a ton of plays of note from a scoring perspective. The Astros managed to lose their DH to a pinch-hitting double-switch in the top of the ninth, there were a couple of hits through overshifts designated with O's, and the walk-off in the bottom of the ninth got a note to assume that just the one necessary winning run game across, as no play was made on the single, since once it landed, everyone knew the game was over.

The Accommodations:
I was at the parents' condo again. I spent a lot of time in the late afternoon and evening here, but it was mostly spent in my guest room, working on materials or just goofing off.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Port St. Lucie

On Abrupt News & the Folly of March Vacations
Friday, March 10, 2017
Boynton Beach, FL

Outside the Game:
As it seems normal for these trips, the week leading up to it was outrageously busy. I spent most of my last day in the office in coverage meetings with various entities. I worked over 70 hours before Friday even started, mostly late hours to make sure my coverage was, uh, covered.

It was up to the last second, but I eventually broke away from work and went into the travel world, to be immediately greeted by the fact that my flight was pushed back a half hour. Exhausted as I was, I completely slept through the train ride to the airport. I was taking Jet Blue for the first time ever, and an unfortunate side effect was that I was leaving out of the criminally tiny Terminal A at Newark Liberty Bald Eagle God Bless America Airport. But seemingly with some extra time to kill, I went to one of the few restaurants to grab something to eat, and was immediately greeted with the news that my flight was moved back up to its original time, which has never happened in the history of ever before this moment.

I ate quickly and went to the gate. I was in the last boarding group and had no upgrade, but as I only had my ruck sack with me (that I was sure to fit under my seat), I wasn't too worried. I boarded and found myself next to two kids. The father turned out to be on the other side of the aisle. Between his kids and himself were myself and an old lady who was already dozing off. I didn't even have the opportunity to offer him my seat, as the lady was an immoveable object between us. Both kids were off happily playing on their tablets, so I introduced myself, and we went from there.

My first experience with Jet Blue was impressive. Even before most other airlines started attacking their passengers, it was a step above, with free TV, WIFI, snacks, and excellent service. The kids mostly kept to themselves. On one or two occasions, they needed their dad, and I was able to convey information over the immobile form of the lady between us.

I was later to find out that there is an actual term in the airline industry called "Miami Miracles." This refers to older folks who need wheelchair assistance to get on the plane (thus ensuring early boarding) who are amazingly able to pop up without assistance in Florida and get off the planes themselves. Now, the lady in the aisle seat was already seated when I got on, but she refused to move for the entire flight (making the father climb over her on more than one occasion), but as soon as the doors on the plane opened in Florida, she jumped up like a spry young thing and muscled her way off the plane as fast as possible, literally shouldering her way past some people.

I eventually got off the plane and went to find my father, who was waiting outside to take me to their new condo they purchased this year. They had previously rented from friends and relatives, but made the plunge at the end of last year to have a place of their own.

My father, charmer that he is, had these first words for me after I threw my bag in the trunk and entered the car: "There shouldn't be any traffic on the way back. Your aunt has lung cancer." So, to be fair, he really backed into the news for me. After an awkward ride to the condo, I eventually went inside, saw the new place, had a snack, and went to bed, contemplating that I should never, ever take vacation in March again.

The Accommodations:
As mentioned, my parents bought a permanent condo for their snowbirding activities last year. It is in one of the literally countless over-50 communities next to golf courses in central-east Florida named for the natives that they ethnically cleansed to get land. Looked at objectively, you have to wonder if all these word-salad names (Indian Spring, Seminole Valley, Indian Ranch, etc) are just really bad, racist jokes.

All that notwithstanding, my parents now have a two-bedroom condo overlooking the eighth hole of the golf course at one of these places. Ironically, my father is not a member of that particular golf course, but one up the road a bit more. For some reason, it is more expensive for residents to be golf members, instead of the opposite. The reason why was explained to me more than once but I couldn't quite hold the reasoning in my head.

The condo was very nice, if a little heavy on mirrors to the point that it made me wonder a little bit about the previous owners. There's a kitchen out front, and then a dining room connected to the living room, leading to the enclosed porch overlooking the golf course. Nearest the golf course is master bedroom and bath, while back towards the kitchen was the laundry, second bath, and guest bedroom.

The new place was an upgrade in many ways for me. Firstly, it was a separate bedroom, which let me sleep through the night instead of being in the living room when my father got up for golf in the god-awful ass-end of the morning, and it had WIFI, so I could be in my own room with connection to the Internet and not off in some bizarre familial Middle-Ages prison from technology.

There was, however, no light switch in the guest bedroom. My father had the one main light in the room on a clapper, which was just bizarre and took a good deal of getting used to. Nothing like waking up in the night and having to work up a loud enough clap to turn on the light so you don't kill yourself walking around.


On Obstructed Views of a Massacre
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Washington Nationals vs. New York Metropolitans
First Data Field
Grapefruit League (Spring Training)
Port St. Lucie, FL
1:10 PM

Outside the Game:
Despite finally having a guest room to myself, I was up pretty early on Saturday. An agreement had been reached that I could use my mother's car in Florida for the duration of my trip, sparing me a rental, but forcing me to use her boat of a car instead of my preferred smaller model. Beggars and choosers, etc.

I had a quick breakfast, and then I headed out with my father to pick up my cousin's kid and get out to the game. Since I had several other games available for this trip, I only got there just as the gates opened to do my regular walking around and picture taking. After a quick stop in the team store, I was in to watch the game, such as it was.

On the way out, it was the standard drive back to my parent's condo with my dad, as my cousin was taken by others. I had a shower to wash all the Florida off, and then had a nap. For my first night down, my parents took me out to dinner at some passable Italian place in Retirementland, but it might not have been so passable, and I had stomach problems for the rest of the night.

I tried to walk it off with a constitutional back at the condo complex, but eventually gave up and set in for an early night. When in Rome...

The Stadium & Fans:
Outside of being re-christened (yet again) First Data Field, the Metropolitan's Spring Training home in the Grapefruit League hadn't changed that much except the signs (especially the hastily erected one at the street entrance to the park--apparently the name change came just as the Spring Training schedule started). There were slightly fewer specialty concession stands than before, and the 7 Line Army had migrated south, and now took over the berm area with bright baby blue T-shirts for their Spring incarnation.

It was a healthy crowd that got to see the awful performance the Metropolitans put on, and outside of brainless idiots clamoring for an appearance by Tim Tebow, it was mostly Mets fans watching them getting beaten by the Nationals, which is something they would need to get used to for the rest of the season.

As usual, Mr. Met didn't show up down South, and there wasn't much in the way of between-inning entertainment.

At the Game with Oogie:
The only good news about our seats is that it prevented us from fully seeing the debacle on the field.

My southern relations had delayed in getting me a final head count so I could purchase seats until dangerously late in the process and proximate to the actual games. Miraculously, I managed to score a block of seats together for a Saturday game that late on, but I should have been suspicious from the get-go.

As it turned out, our block of seats on the first-base side was right up against a camera stand that had been installed amongst the seats. This meant two things: 1) There was only one way in and out of the row to our seats, so anytime we wanted to leave, we had to go the length of the row to make it to the aisle, and 2) The seats right next to the camera stand were, at best, impaired view. They were not advertised as such, which stuck in my craw a little. Regardless, my father took one for the team and sat in the worst seat, since he didn't much care what was happening in the game anyway. When my second wave of relatives showed up at game time, they were able to see most of the game. Selling impaired view without warning is a crappy thing to do, but it didn't really fall out of the realm of believable for the Wilpons.

Anyway, I grabbed an Italian sub at the Italian place at the top of the main entrance ramp for lunch, and watched the game surrounded by my southern relations. Everyone except me had a good time, as I was impaired by actually watching the game and dealing with that monstrosity.

The Game:
The utterly meaningless Spring Training game between the Metropolitans and the visiting Nationals was an embarrassment on all fronts for the Mets, starting with the very first batter.

The first batter in the top of the first hit a single to left field that was absolutely butchered by Cespedes, leaving the leadoff runner on third, eventually to be driven in with a one-out sacrifice fly to center, staking Washington to the earliest 1-0 lead. New York, for its part, went in order. The Nats had back-to-back singles to start the second, but managed to strand them, while the Metropolitans only got one two-out baserunner due to an error. Washington went in order in the third, while New York had a one-out walk and single eventually erased on a double play.

Both sides took a tea interval and went in order in the fourth. Washington repeated the feat in the fifth, while the Mets stranded a single in the bottom of the frame. Wholesale swap-outs began in the sixth, and the Nats blew it open with four straight singles to start the inning and a sacrifice fly combined for three runs to stake them to a 4-0 lead. New York had two singles of their own, which they stranded.

The rest of the players swapped out in the seventh, and Washington turned a one-out triple, a single, and an E6 into another run, while the Metropolitans went in order. Both sides, perhaps faint in the sun, both went in order in the eighth, while the Nationals only had a walk in the top of the ninth and the Mets had one single in the bottom of the ninth to finalize the visitors' meaningless  4-0 victory.

The Scorecard:
The scorecard was part of the $5 Spring Training program, and it was about par for the course for most recent Metropolitan scorecards, which is to say it was pretty awful. There was color printing in the scoring area, which led to smudging and poor readability, the entire spread was not used for the scorecard, leading to cramped spaces for Spring Training scoring--which needs more space than everything but the All Star game--and the paper was slightly glossy, which made writing on it with pencil extremely difficult. Oh, and there were no places to put the pitchers. So, outside of that, it was great.

Thanks to the Grapefruit League exclusively using the DH, I just put the pitchers in the useless space they left next to the total lines. There weren't many plays of scoring note in the game. The triple in the top of the seventh due to a pop fly getting lost in the sun got a note, as did a single in the bottom of the sixth through the overshift. The only really unique play was an obstruction call against a batter in the bottom of the eighth that went in as a K OB 2.

Everything else was just the Mets getting their teeth kicked in.

The Accommodations:
I was at the parents' condo again this evening. Not much new or exciting to report on that front.