We start with an affirmation that even one of the most corrupt individuals in American history had at least one good (legal) idea.
William “Boss” Tweed, best known for orchestrating the Tammany Hall scandal — an estimated $200 million swindle, and this was back when $200 million got you more than Prince Fielder — also owned an amateur baseball team, the New York Mutuals. In the spring of 1869, Tweed had the idea to move the Mutuals to a warmer climate than Brooklyn. So the team loaded a train and headed south to New Orleans to play a series of exhibition games against the hometown Pelicans.
The seed for one of pro sports’ greatest traditions was planted.
It’s true that baseball’s spring training has lost some of its charm in recent years, some of its uniqueness. The stadiums are closer to the downsized palaces of the majors than they are to the upsized softball fields of the neighborhood park. Ticket prices have increased. Major league teams have made permanent homes in the two spring training states of Florida (Miami, Tampa) and Arizona (Phoenix), dulling the once-romantic notion of an entire sports league traveling to sunny remote outposts to practice. But it’s still cool.
My son wasn’t a huge baseball fan when he was young. But I surprised him one day when he was in the second grade by picking him up from school and heading to Florida. I wanted to visit different stadiums. He wanted to visit the beach. We reached common ground. We were both right.
For a Braves’ fan, going to Florida isn’t just about seeing if Jason Heyward has fixed his swing. It’s knowing you can get a little closer to the players at a time when they aren’t burdened by the stress of a playoff race. It’s knowing that if you’re at the Braves’ spring training facility in Lake Buena Vista, you can drive anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours to watch any of 14 other teams — Houston (Kissimmee), Detroit (Lakeland), Washington (Viera), Toronto (Dunedin), the New York Mets (Port St. Lucie), the Yankees (Tampa), Boston (Fort Myers), Baltimore (Sarasota), Florida (Jupiter), Minnesota (Fort Myers), Philadelphia (Clearwater), Pittsburgh (Bradenton), Tampa Bay (Port Charlotte), St. Louis (Jupiter).
Visiting spring training should be on everybody’s bucket list. Not every fan’s. Everybody, period.
OK. I’m done waxing.
I leave for Braves’ camp Friday morning, just in time for the first full-squad workout on Saturday. I would’ve left earlier, but I had no idea that Tommy “Crash” Hanson was going to get squirrely in the turn (NASCAR term), bang his head, get a concussion and add a little bit of drama to pitchers-and-catchers reporting. (I’m driving, by the way, and it’s my plan to make it to the first workout without an incident.)
I’ll have new columns daily from my week in Orlando, the first posting on Saturday (Sunday’s newspaper) on whether we should expect better results this season from largely the same team.
If you’ve got anything you would like to read about, I’m always open to ideas. If you’ve got specific questions you would like asked, let me know. If I get enough of them, I’ll throw them together for a blog during the week.
That’s it for now. Just list your questions below and I’ll check back soon.
By Jeff Schultz