Sunday , 27 September 2020

Play Ball

Tales from the Doug-Out; March 23rd, 2020

Image: Blue Jays Spring Training TD Ballpark

OK , OK BLUE JAYS , BLUE JAYS LET’S PLAY BALL! You never know what you got until it’s gone! Hopefully the pandemic ends before the ball season is lost. I feel very fortunate that the spring training lasted as long as it did. We managed to make it to 6 out of 7 games that we had tickets for before spring training was suspended.

This was our 7th annual Blue Jays spring training trip to Dunedin Florida. The new completely renovated TD Ballpark is just beautiful. They added extra seating and a 360 degree (the Orange Trail) elevated walking path all the way around the outfield fence. You can stop and watch the pitchers overtop of the bullpens. Or watch the game from the brand new WestJet flight deck in right center field. There’s lots more food and beverage concessions. More and bigger bathrooms. A tiki bar and a kids play area.

We like to watch the game from section 207 that is directly behind the backstop about 10 to 15 rows up. This is where all the scouts sit . Usually about 10 or 12 of them on any given day. They sit with radar guns and stopwatches writing down notes. Charting the speed of the delivery and the speed of the ball. Seems like old school, but very few of them have laptops. It must still work. Most of them sit with slacks, long sleeve shirts and safari hats. Donna and I sit there in our shorts, tee shirts, sunglass and ball caps. And of course sunscreen. It can get plenty hot by the middle of the game with the sun beating directly down on you.

Donna will take a break about the fourth inning and find some shade. Not me. I love the sun and hate to miss even one pitch. The ballgame starts at 1:07 pm. I walk down to the park when the gates open at 10:30 am to get autographs on baseballs to bring home.

Donna shows up at 12:30 pm with most of the rest of the crowd coming at that time. Enough time for a burger or Italian sausage for lunch before the game starts.

Up until this year you could lean anywhere on the first or third base fence line all the way from the dugouts to the outfield fence. This was the best place to ask the players for autographs. Hang out when they are doing batting practise. The trick is to be patient and polite. Some guys are there to get balls and cards and other things signed to sell. The players try to avoid them. They really like kids. And old guys like me who hang out with the kids.

Mine are not for sale. I like give some to kids back home and other good friends. And of course I have to keep a few for myself.

This year at the park they have installed netting all the way down the foul line. They put it up for safety reasons. Autograph seekers can still sneak the ball under the mesh to get signed. Also over by the clubhouse there’s a big open area were you can hang out too. But it gets really crowded there at times. Some of the players were still signing balls right up until the last day. But some of them you could sense had been told it wasn’t a good idea.

The last game we really noticed the change. The word came out about the 2nd inning that spring training was going to be suspended. None of us at that time ever dreamed how bad it was going to be. Almost no one signed baseballs that day.

This year’s Blue Jays team looked great even though I likely say that every year. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. looked fantastic. He was getting on base every time he came to the plate. Has a great swing. Same thing for short stop Bo Bichette, catcher Danny Jensen and second baseman Cavan Biggio. Just about guaranteed to get on base. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Rowdy Tellez looked good. They both hit some homers. But neither one didn’t seem to get on base as much as the others. Might have something to do with their weight. Not the fastest.

New infielders Santiago Espinal, Ruben Tejada and Travis Shaw were all very impressive. They can field the ball and hit. Outfielders Jonathon Davis and Anthony Alfred should make the team. Both can hit and steal bases like crazy.

Pitchers Matt Shoemaker and Hyun-Jin Ryu looked terrific. Thomas Pannone, Ken Giles, Trent Thornton all looked really good. Didn’t get to see prospect Nate Pearson pitch but apparently he’s going to be awesome.

Newly acquired Chase Anderson really struggled with control in the games I watched. Couldn’t seem to find the zone. Ryan Borucki was still on the injury list. Manager Charlie Montoyo is a super friendly and fun guy. He takes time to talk to all the fans and signs a ton of autographs. I personally talked to him about some of the plays and calls.

Former MLB all stars Dante Bochette and Sandy Alomar were both there too working with the team. Guest coaches I think. Both spending time visiting the fans and signing lots of autographs. Good guys for public relations. After the games we would walk back to our little cottage. About 20 minutes walk by foot. Usually stop for a ice cream along the way. Ok, you caught me, We always stop! Then it’s cocktails and recap the game. Jays in thirty!


K. A. Campbell quote of the week. “I don’t know that it’s so important to have Tug McGraw’s autograph. It’s not like he’s Donald Duck or something.” – Elementary school girl on meeting Tug McGraw at her school in 1978.

About Doug Bassett