Spring training can be fun, but don't expect cheap hot dogs

Posted Online: March 14, 2013, 8:13 pm
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Spring Training might not be what you think.

Then again, it would be great to find out on your own. Hey, it's Florida. And warm. And sunny. And it's baseball.

Ticket prices
Right there, on page 7 of the "Sunseeker" airline booklet, it says, "To make things even better, the games come at a fraction of the cost of a regular-season Major League Baseball game."
Thing is, with tickets already in hand, one knows better.

With a special 10-game package of 2-for-1 games to Busch Stadium, you can get Casino Queen Party Deck tickets for $19.50 each. For one Spring Training game at Roger Dean Stadium, down the first-base line, it costs $28.

Still, a similar spot at Busch would be about $36. That's not that much of a difference to make a big big deal of in an airline booklet.

Then again, the booklet was accurate: It was a fraction of the cost — you save about 11/50 of the regular season price, which is a fraction. Just not a considerable one.

Autograph misconception
There seems to be a belief that it's easy to get an autograph at a spring-training game. While it is easier than at a big-league game, I found that most major leaguers would rather walk far from fans than near them.

After watching two Cardinals games, one at Jupiter and one at Port St. Lucie, a grand total of one player — Daniel Descalso — came along the stands to sign autographs. Otherwise, reliever Jason Motte signed some while in the bullpen, and manager Mike Matheny signed after the home game. And Hall of Famer Lou Brock signed on his way to the dugout before the home game.

At Port St. Lucie, one Mets player came over — and it was great that it was a superstar. Third baseman David Wright, nicknamed Captain America for his status on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, was the lone ranger with pen in hand.

You can hollar for players all you want. More likely than not, they are going to stay clear of fans, at least based on the games I've been to.

Fan ignorance
I hope to never ever see this at a big-league game.

The home team is ahead, down to getting the last out in the top of the ninth inning. That's when fans stand and rhythmically clap until the final out is made.

Apparently not at Spring Training, at least not at the Jupiter game I attended. At that one, a six-run win by the Cardinals over the Marlins, there was one standing, one clapping.

C'mon retirees and vacationers, it's still baseball. That's what you do.

Don't keep records
It makes more sense to keep two separates records, one for the first five innings and one for the last four. Players that make the Opening Day roster usually don't last past the fifth inning.

If you want to gauge how your team might do early in the season, watch the first five. If you want to see how your team will do in years down the road, keep track of the last four.

And it's easy to tell the difference. If you have a player with a uniform number in the 60s or higher, it's probably one who will start the season in the Minor Leagues. Cases in point — former River Bandits Oscar Taveras, the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, and Kolten Wong, the second baseman of the future, wore Nos. 87 and 79, respectively, in Florida. (Side note: Taveras supposedly signs his autographs "No. 25." Interesting.)

Proximity, and nice ushers
With spring training, especially with late innings, you can practically sit where you want. In 2011, in the eighth inning, we found a seat right behind the Cardinals coaches on their park bench outside the dugout (and was able to get a between-innings autograph from former manager Tony La Russa, a great get.) At St. Lucie, after a couple of sprinkles, we moved from the third row down the third-base (Mets) line to right behind the Cardinals bullpen on the first base side.

And ushers, wearing tropical shirts, almost all are pleasant and there to have a good time. Then again, it's Florida baseball in February or March. Makes sense.

There also seems to be a misconception that Spring Training concession prices are much more reasonable than at big-league parks.
Beers and sodas are just as expensive. Same with anything from chicken strips to burgers.
Roger Dean Stadium did have one concessions enticement though — you can order a "Chicago Cubs Hater Dog."

Marketing genius, but no, still not worth $8.50.
Sports editor Marc Nesseler can be reached at nesseler@qconline.com


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