Sunday, March 8, 2020

Port St. Lucie

On Seeking Karmic Justice

Friday, May 10, 2019
Houston Astros vs. New York Metropolitans
Clover Park
Grapefruit League (Spring Training)
Port St. Lucie, FL
1:05 PM 
Outside the Game: 
After another early night to bed (or, as it is known in Florida, "going to bed at the regular time"), I was up before 9 AM again, even losing the hour at the end of Daylight Savings. I showered, dressed, and grabbed my stuff to leave. The drive up to the park with my dad went quickly, but for some reason, my father just would not stop the car to let me out so I could go to the training area. He kept driving and driving until I eventually just left the car when he hit another red light. I mean, really.

The ballpark had undergone yet another renaming over the winter, now sporting a "Clover Park" moniker after yet another sponsorship deal. (The Clover wasn't luck this year, was it, gentlemen? WAS IT?)

I took some pictures of the new features outside (more on that later) and went out to the still ramshackle entrance to the training area. Thanks to my father's recalcitrance to dropping me off, I only had under ten minutes before they started closing up. I took my pictures and went on my way directly to the team store before the big crowd from the training area got back. The store was much improved and enlarged, I made my misguided purchases and got on line to get in.

Thankfully, there was shade on the line, and I occupied myself reading a Stengel biography on my Kindle. Eventually, the gates opened up, and I was quickly inside the complex.

On the way out, we had a big wait for my father again, who had to go before we went while the bathrooms were overflowing with people waiting to do the same. As it turned out that this was the tenth year we were doing these Spring Training trips, we got together in a dugout photo op outside the park and took a picture. My father would eventually send it to me a week later just as the lockdown started, and it was a weird reminder of the world that was.

I napped on the way back to the condo, showering and packing when we arrived. Just my parents and I went out for a Sunday dinner again at a local Italian place that liked to serve up lots and lots of food that was acceptable enough. Back to the condo we went, and I watched some TV on my tablet while finishing up packing and going to bed early again for the flight the next day.

The Stadium & Fans: 
So the newly renamed Clover Park was the latest in the carousel of names the Mets' Spring Training facility has had over the years. The newest one is the naming rights for a point-of-sale company, and the "clover" name didn't turn out too lucky, but we didn't know that at the time.

In the off-season, in addition to the name change, the park has had a bunch of improvements, both cosmetic and structural, and it really did invigorate the old concrete lump of a stadium as much as is probably physically possible.

Starting on the outside, the entrance to the training facility was moved from behind left field to behind right field, and was slightly more pleasant than before. The training facilities themselves got a bit of an upgrade, with some photo points added in, and most of the fields getting some TLC besides.

Outside the park got a big renovation as well. The largest was the consolidation of all the entrance gates into one big entrance right behind home plate, no doubt to accommodate the now-mandatory metal detectors. The old gates in left and right field are gone, and now the home plate entrance dumps out into a largish-plaza area with a stairway straight up the main promenade.

The outside of the park underwent other upgrades and changes. The 9/11 and other memorials were moved a short distance, and the outside was clad in orange and blue banners showing players and luminaries both past and present, with the home run apple added to the elevator spire. The team store was moved and renovated from its claustrophobic former self into a two-story space that had entrances both outside and inside.

Once inside, most of the interior was gussied up and changed, mostly for the better. The walkways have all been mostly wallpapered with logos and slogans from years past, as well as things like 1969 World Series' tickets and scorecards, and rather clever mixed photos of old and new players together, such as Tom Seaver and Jacob DeGrom holding onto Cy Young awards. Members of the Mets hall of fame are on banners affixed around the park, as well. For a team that usually does really poorly with its history, this was a nice change of pace. All the victory pennants and the like are now houses on the press box deck behind home plate.

The left field area was complete redone into the Budweiser Terrace and the Jim Beam Bourbon Bar, with stairs leading down into the Training Complex. The right field berm was re-christened the SunCoast Sun Deck. It wasn't all good, as most of the concessions stands were standardized, and things like the UltiMet Grill were moved out to the outfield--a shadow of its former self--and all the other specialty food stands seemed to have been removed.

Let's get this out of the way: It was the first Spring Training match-up with the Metropolitans and the Astros after the cheating scandal of the year before. (Can I even remember when it was really important?) People were starting early and often banging on the trash cans around the field in mockery of the Astro's cheating signals of previous years. Pretty quickly, the staff asked people to stop banging on the trashcans. This led quickly to something they couldn't really prevent, which was banging the plastic chairs, which sounded almost as good, and there was certainly a lot more volume through so many people doing it.

The Asterisks were booed the entire game. Every single guy who came up got booed pretty unmercifully, and since it was a split squad game, there weren't even that many regulars there, but Verlander was pitching, and he got it both barrels until he was pulled. It was a nice mob justice moment, but it was ultimately blunted by the fact that it didn't achieve anything except piss the Astros players off--but really, that is all we could have hoped for.

At the Game with Oogie: 
As mentioned, this was the yearly game with my family down in Florida. I had my parents call everyone and warn them that the clocks moved ahead that morning. They ended up mostly showing up before the end of the first, but it was everyday issues that caused the delays, not the clocks.

I was all by myself for most of the pre-game. I walked around to see all of the improvements to the parks, take my pictures, and get some chicken tenders and fries from the Ulti-Met Grill, which had inexplicably moved around the stadium as well. I took a run through the team store that was open from the inside of the park, as well, before settling into my seats and waiting for everyone else to show up.

We got into the cheering and booing as much as anyone. It felt a little cathartic to have our moment of hate for the Astros, and it really did seem to bother the players, which made it even better.

The Game:
This meaningless Spring Training contest between the Metropolitans and Houston Asterisks only gained meaning in that it was a fight of good versus evil, and good won. Also, Verlander and Thor were starting.

The Asterisks went quietly in the first in order, while New York stranded two singles. Again falling under the power of Thor, Houston again went in order, while the Mets stranded only one single this inning. The Asterisks started strong in the third, stringing back-to-back doubles into a run, while New York went order for their half, with Houston at a 1-0 lead after three.

With Thor out, Houston managed a lone double in the stop of the fourth, while the Mets did their darndest not to score. A leadoff walk was erased on a double-play, while a double was followed by a single, with the lead runner getting gunned down at home. The Asterisks went in order in the fifth, but New York got going with a single and two doubles turning into two runs, to give them a 2-1 lead. Houston stranded a walk and a hit in the sixth, while the Mets went in order.

The Asterisks only had a leadoff single to show for the seventh, while New York stranded an error and a single. In the eighth, Houston went in order, but the Mets started their half with a homer to left, ending their half with a now 3-1 lead. The Asterisks repeated a Mets achievement from earlier in the game in their half of the ninth, with a one-out single getting gunned down at the plate on the double that followed, securing the Mets pointless--but upstandingly moral--3-1 victory.

The Scorecard: 

Astros vs. Metropolitans,03/08/20. Metropolitans win, 3-1Astros vs. Metropolitans,03/08/20. Metropolitans win, 3-1
Astros vs. Metropolitans, 03/08/20. Metropolitans win, 3-1.

The scorecard was the centerfold in the $5 Spring Training program. Disappointingly, it was still on glossy paper with colored backgrounds, making it the worst for pencil scoring and erasing. For no good reason, a quarter of the top of each side was wasted with generic baseball pictures, though there was white space around the edge of the card for notes. Scoring tips and rules and regs took up another 10% of the bottom of the card, leaving only about half of it for the scorecard.

The scorecard itself lacked pitching lines. I added them in an unused box at the bottom of the lineups. The scorecard featured 17 player lines, just enough to not have space for each player and a replacement. The player lines were number, player, and position, and had 11 columns for innings, ending in at bats, RBIs, runs, and hits. Each column had a split, presumably for runs and hits per inning.

There weren't a lot of plays of note. In the bottom of the first, a hit was ruled a single when it was really an E6. In the bottom of the fourth, a runner on second tried to score on a single and got caught at home CS 9-3. Similarly, in the top of the ninth, there was a runner on first trying to score on a double who was cut down CS 7-6-2. The only other noteworthy event was in the bottom of the eighth, when a hitter got a single to left against the shift that I thought was worth of a word or two.

The Accommodations: 
Back at my parents' condo for the evening before my flight the next day.

On the Coming Storm and Amazing Symbolism

Monday, March 9, 202
Jersey City, NJ
Outside the Game:
Those of you keeping track of dates will notice that this is the Monday of the week when everything got shut down. As you'll remember, the country, the government, and especially Florida were largely ignoring things as infection numbers started to go through the roof.

I had bought a seat upgrade the night before for a window seat and premiere boarding, so I got up this morning with little concern, showered, and finished packing before the short drive to the airport. Except when we got to the airport, it was was anarchy: police everywhere, backups, check points. Our beloved leader was coming down to golf again through West Palm Beach Airport, no doubt thinking of the decisive action he was going to take on the pandemic that was raging around him. I eventually got dropped off at the terminal with time to spare, but the security line took longer than at Newark and I got the gate just before boarding was to start. I ran next door to get a Croissanwich from the Burger King and ran back just to hear that boarding was delayed.

It was short, however, and we boarded close to on time. I was in a row with an old lady, and we had a seat empty in the middle of us, which, in retrospect, was probably a good thing. There were people who were freaking out and wiping down everything in their seat area with cleaners and disinfectants, but I thought it obsessive at the time. The airlines were already cleaning the planes. Wiping down your tray table wasn't going to save you from this thing when we were all crammed in together otherwise. No one at this point was wearing masks.

I spent most of the flight asleep, and we got off at Newark after another small delay, related to the president flying out earlier in the day, so Trump got me coming and going. I called a Lyft and went home to unpack and do laundry and other things necessary before the return to work on Tuesday, though it would only be for two days...

The Accommodations: 
Back in my apartment, which I would become intimately familiar with over the next several months...

I hope everyone out there reading this is safe and sound with their friends and families. This isn't a hoax and shouldn't be political. Wear your goddamn masks (even you, Karen) and stay distanced, and we'll get through this all.

2020 Spring Training
North Port