Sun, sports, and snowbird seniors

While the city of Montreal is caught up in the excitement of a dominating start for their Canadiens, I caught up on some Grapefruit League spring training baseball in Florida during reading week. Spring training is a time for seasoned ballplayers to shake off any rust that may have accumulated over the winter; it also represents a chance for young prospects to make a name for themselves.

The first game I attended took place in Jupiter, Florida—home to the St. Louis Cardinals. Located on the grounds of Florida Atlantic University—which also boasts a stately golf course—Roger Dean Stadium provided an intimate setting for an interleague matchup between the mighty Cardinals and the lowly Minnesota Twins. While most Cheap Seats writers watch games sitting in the nosebleed sections, spring training tickets provide great seats for dirt-cheap. For the reasonable price of $30, yours truly found himself sitting in the second row, behind home plate.

After a booming rendition of the national anthem, I finally had a chance to look around. The crowd was mostly made up of retirees, thrilled by the opportunity to see an afternoon ball game in 70 degree Fahrenheit weather—characteristic of most spring training contests. Though the Cardinals played most of their starters, while the Twins primarily suited up prospects, Minnesota surprisingly dominated the game 7-0. Nevertheless, the relaxing environment was the perfect way to take in a pre-season baseball. Plus, it was great to see Cardinals Canadian wunderkind Oscar Tavares look sharp in the outfield.

The next stop on my baseball tour took place in Fort Myers, Florida, where I had the chance to see the Boston Red Sox take on Team Puerto Rico in an exhibition game. Playing in the brand new facility at JetBlue Park, the Red Sox have built a near perfect replica of Fenway Park, complete with an imposing “Green Monster” in left field. As opposed to the quiet afternoon crowd of the previous day, the nighttime atmosphere at JetBlue Park was buoyed by a contingent of passionate Puerto Rican fans. The game felt a lot livelier, with coordinated cheers and music being played in the crowd. Sporting $15 tickets three rows above the Puerto Rican dugout, the Blue Jays fan in me recoiled at the sight of Alex Rios, but reveled at the sight of one of my childhood heroes, Carlos Delgado. The game itself was a back-and-forth affair, with Boston finally pulling out a 4-3 victory on the backs of Will Middlebrooks and Mike Napoli, who each hit monster home runs over the replica Green Monster.

The next day I was back at JetBlue Park, ready for a matinee game between Boston and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The crowd was packed with AARP members, most of whom left at the end of the sixth inning, presumably to score an early bird special on dinner. Although the game itself was uncompetitive—and former Jays prospect Travis Snider went 0-2—it was hard not to enjoy myself in such a beautiful setting. Another plus of the ballpark was its free SPF 50 sunscreen dispensers, which were just ripe for overuse.

If you’re ever in Florida over reading week, definitely try to attend some of the spring training festivities. The games were all very cheap, were free of drunken hecklers, took place in great weather, and featured prospects and reclamation projects that you never get to see during the regular season. I’m hoping to go back to Florida—or even try out Arizona, home of the Cactus League—to take in some more preseason baseball next year.

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