What we're watching: Halladay takes on the Yankees

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– It’s the fourth of the month, which of course means that Roy Halladay is facing the Bombers. He’ll be attempting to halt the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak. He’s come up short in his last two starts against New York, giving up five runs in seven innings to take a no-decision in the Jays’ loss on July 4 and five runs in a complete-game defeat on Aug. 4. The opposition tonight will be Joba Chamberlain, for a couple of innings anyway. Chamberlain has pitched six, five, four and three innings over the course of his last four starts. It’s part of the Yankees’ new plan to guarantee that he’ll be healthy and terribly inconsistent in the postseason.
– Adam Wainwright can and should become the year’s first 17-game winner when he faces the Pirates tonight. Including a win over Pittsburgh on Aug. 8, he’s gone 4-0 over his last five starts. The Pirates have lost seven straight to the struggling Brewers and the abysmal Reds, and they now own the game’s third-worst record ahead of only the Nationals and Royals.
– Freddy Garcia, who was roughed up by the Royals in the first start of his latest comeback, has turned in consecutive quality starts against the Red Sox and Yankees. He’ll get another test tonight when he tries his assortment of breaking balls against a Red Sox team that faced him just 10 days ago. Garcia is back throwing in the high-80s consistently now, but he’s relying more on his slider and changeup than his fastball. If he can handle Boston’s lineup again while using the same assortment, it’d be an encouraging development as he prepares to reenter free agency.
Game of the Night
Detroit vs. Tampa Bay – Unless one wants to pretend the White Sox still have a chance, then this is the only series this weekend involving two contenders. Of course, even that’s debatable, given that the Rays fell six games back of the Red Sox in the wild card after losing to Boston on Thursday. Tampa Bay will send Rookie of the Year contender Jeff Niemann to the mound in the series opener against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. It’ll be a rematch of an Aug. 30 game that the Tigers won 4-3, even though Niemann (2 R in 7 IP) turned in the slightly better performance than Verlander (3 R in 8 IP). The Rays may have the edge this time, given that the game will be played in St. Pete. They’re 43-23 at home this year, while the Tigers are 27-39 on the road.

It’s spring training for groundskeepers too

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Or, I should say, it’s spring training for whatever automated timer thingie turns the sprinklers on and off.

This was the scene at Goodyear on Saturday as the Indians and Reds played in the bottom of the eighth in their spring training opener. Reds manager Bryan Price says that this was probably the second or third time this has happened in the middle of a game there.

Maybe investigate manually operating that bad boy? Just a suggestion!

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.