Well, I made it! I'm here in the land of sun and fun..."The Happiest Place on Earth!" And if you thought Disney World was worth visiting over and over, let me tell you, Spring Training is every bit as great!
I touched down in Orlando a little after noon and after waiting 30 minutes, I was finally in my rental car en route to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. It was actually one of the more enjoyable and relaxing rides I've had in years...if you can believe that! It was a dry 80 degrees, and the sun was shining brilliantly. And oh yeah, it didn't hurt that I was driving a convertible. :)
I arrived at the ballpark around 2:00 and proceeded to look for the "media" parking lot. Well, while there is a media parking lot, it's not exactly large. No luck...I'm not going to get to park close to the stadium today. But that's ok, I did arrive late. I finally found a place to park about a mile away and began the "journey" to the ballpark.
Everything about this facility is Disney. Disney, Disney, and more Disney. The size, the sights, and sounds are all extravagant. It's a little odd actually. It almost doesn't fit the blue collar attitude and work ethic of the Atlanta Braves. But hey, it's just Spring Training.
As I walked up to the media trailer to retrieve my press credentials, I could hear the public address announcer clearly announce the next Braves batter..."#7, Rightfielder, Jeff Francoeur." Pretty good timing I suppose. After all, Jeff is a BDD favorite! The very friendly attendant found my press pass just as I heard the electrifying sound of "HOOOOMMMMEEEE RRRRRUUUUNNN!" in only a way that Disney could create. Still, a Francoeur homer was kind of cool at that moment. By the way, that's Jeff's 3rd in 3 games since returning from the WBC.
I made my way to the press box on the 4th floor, only to find the room jam packed. What I didn't realize was that today's game was a nationally televised ESPN broadcast. Thus, the overflow of people. I didn't stay long since I still had to check into my hotel, and I really wanted to attend batting practice of the Indians-Astros game in nearby Kissimmee. But before I departed, I caught up with our good friend, Bill Shanks. Bill is all over the place this time of the year covering the Braves. And in case you don't already know, Mr. Shanks not only wrote a great book about the Braves (Scouts Honor), but he also runs a fantastic web site dedicated to Atlanta baseball. You can check it out here...http://braves.scout.com.
Anyway, I left Disney around 3:30 PM and checked into my hotel, no thanks to the staff! I received two sets of keys, neither of which worked. After I dragged my luggage back and forth from the lobby to my room, I finally asked that security physically come up and fix the lock! Enough was enough.
I cleaned up, unpacked and ran out the door. Osceola County Stadium, where the Houston Astros play their Spring Training home games, is exactly 12 miles from my hotel. Unfortunately, traffic turned a 15 minute ride into a 30 minute trek.
Now, when I first spotted the ballpark, I honestly thought it was a practice field! For all that Disney's Wide World of Sports is, Osceola County Stadium is not. It's hard to imagine that someone can't come up with a better place for the NL champions to train. I realize that this park has a lot of history, but it's time to make new memories.
The concourses are bland and stale, and the concession stands are worse than most minor league parks. The press box is tiny...really tiny, and the parking lot is more like a field.
Was it all that bad? Well I guess not. The stadium does allow the fans to be practically on top of the players. And the staff did provide a nice little dinner buffet for the media...something Comerica Park in Detroit couldn't even do for those of us attending the All-Star game last year. Plus, the $5 parking fee is actually waived for the press. I never get tired of those little perks!
I did get to the stadium in time to catch the Indians BP. That was a good thing also. You can check out the photos here (Spring Training Photos). Unfortunately, my hotel key fiasco prevented me from getting the opportunity to see the hometown Astros get in their swings.
Since I was shut out of the (tiny) press box, I spent most of my time roaming the park and taking additional photos. But by 8:00, it was flat out cold! What happened to that 80 degree weather from the afternoon??? It was surely gone now. At the end of the third inning, I bolted for my car, knowing full well I'd be back Saturday to see the Astros take on the Mets. Next time I will be there early enough to get a spot in the press box!
General Notes and Observations
- The Braves and Phillies played to what appeared to be a sellout crowd. The fans were mostly there to support the Braves. However, there were a good amount of Philly fanatics in attendance.
- Parking is actually free for everyone at the Wide World of Sports complex. I thought that was interesting considering the fact that Disney charges $9 to park just about everywhere else.
- In my three innings at Osceola Stadium, there must have been 20 foul balls hit OUT of the park. About 8 of those were off the bat of Travis Hafner of the Indians.
- The dinner buffet in Kissimmee consisted of roasted chicken, pepper steak, mashed potatoes, rice, corn on the cob, rolls, salad, and brownies...for those of you that are interested!
- Amazingly, Osceola Stadium actually has wireless internet access!
- Jeff Francoeur now comes to the plate to the music of "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" by Big and Rich. I guess that's better than last year's spiritual tune...whatever it was!
- In addition to hearing Francoeur's homerun, I did get to see Ryan Howard crush his 9th round tripper of the spring.
- Kyle Davies was impressive for the Braves today, throwing five shutout innings and all but assuring himself of a spot in the rotation.
- There are a lot of trade rumors swirling around Braves camp! More to come in the next few days.
- In the first inning of the Astros-Indians game, Grady Sizemore made a nice catch running in to record one out, while Jason Michaels made a great catch of his own going back against the left field wall.
- Speaking of Sizemore, write it down now...this guy will become a superstar. He works hard and does just about everything right, and looks good doing it!
- Travis Hafner had a tremendous at bat fouling off several pitches on a 3-2 count before finally working out a walk.
- Maybe it's me, but Preston Wilson looks like he lost weight and is in much better shape than the past few seasons.
- Jeff Bagwell was in the lineup tonight but only as the Astros DH.
- I'm no scout, but I got to watch Andy Marte take nearly 30 ground balls during batting and infield practice, and there is nothing wrong with this guy. I was particularly impressed by his hand work at the hot corner.
"Our concession stands are open on both levels, and don't forget fans, food at the ballpark does not count as daily calories." - Public address announcer at Osceola Stadium during the Astros-Indians game.
On Thursday we head out to the city of Viera, home of the Washington Nationals. In addition to covering the game, we will be interviewing Washington pitcher John Patterson and rookie third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman. Don't forget to check back tomorrow!