Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 2

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I went into the Phillies clubhouse. Charlie Manuel was there. As was Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and all the other guys which make the Phillies perhaps the most recognizable team in baseball. Yes, even more so than the Yankees. Quick: describe Brett Gardner’s facial features. Now tell me if there’s any Phillie starter you couldn’t pick out of a linuep.

I chatted informally with several players as they suited up and got ready for morning drills, but as I did, I was struck by something I read on a political blog earlier in the week about the value of getting quotes from big sources vs. observing, talking off the record and generally trying to get a handle on the scene instead of getting “the news” as we’ve come to understand it:

I do think anonymity has some value in that by preventing journalists
from doing sensationalist stories based around a single direct quote it
forces you to focus on the big picture of what the officials in
question are trying to say . . . it’s much easier to build an item
around a direct quote so it’s more professionally valuable to
be on the record. But it seems to me that the people who do the real
value-adding reporting are mostly talking to lower-level people–nobody
ever gets the real scoop from anyone remotely senior.

I think this applies to baseball just as much as it applies to reporting on government. If I go up to Ryan Howard with my notepad out or my tape recorder going, and get him to say some things on the record, I’m going to be tempted — or, if I have an editor bird dogging me, required — to build a story around those quotes.  Howard says that everyone in camp is focused to maintain the success they’ve had the past few years. The story the next day leads with that quote and builds around it.  It’s not particularly illuminating, at best serving as the basis for a recap of the competitive challenges facing the team this year, at worst just a quote in a notes column.

I guess my point to all of this is that I think there’s very, very limited value in actually talking to ballplayers on the record and printing those quotes. All of the baseball writers I like tend to limit the amount of that kind of stuff they do. They walk around and talk to guys with their notepads in their bag. They get the big picture of what’s going on and build stories on those themes, but they use their own observations and reason as a filter.  The fans care about what what happens on the field, and they have to report that accurately, but the background stories, the flavor and the non-game info that appears in columns are almost always better when a writer is telling you what he observes and writes thoughtfully about it, not when he’s telling you what a ballplayer, manager or GM says.  Just my two cents.

Enough with these philosophical meta-musings. I took pictures and observed things myself, and I’ll have that post up in about an hour.

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.