JUPITER, Fla. — No one wants to talk about the weather up north, which is why people are down here in the first place. Why ruin a splendid day? Weather is why baseball players migrate like mallards to Florida (and Arizona) each spring. Weather is why baseball can’t be played north of, say, Lexington, Ky., with any warmth or regularity until spring fully blossoms. Weather is why the baseball season starts when it does and ends when it does and can only deviate from that annual schedule by an inch or two in either direction.
So, of course the public-address guy at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium momentarily became a faceless weatherman for Saturday afternoon’s crowd assembled here for the Cardinals-Nationals game.
The weather here, by the way, was quite nice. About 65 degrees (in the sun) and breezy. In the shade, not so much.
Enjoy it, he told the people, because it was 35 degrees in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. Many cheered; I assumed it was those who’d flown in or driven down from one of those colder climates, and I assumed their reasoning had as much to do with the weather as it did the baseball. I don’t live that far north, but if I did, I’d snowbird every spring, too. Hate me if you wish.
I’ve seen spring games before — in Memphis, in Birmingham, in Montreal, in Atlanta — but I’d never flocked to Florida for this baseball ritual that’s nearly as old as the game itself. It was time, though. I knew it wouldn’t be as romantic as I imagined; it couldn’t be. My expectations were terribly unrealistic. The games are too corporate, too expensive, too resemblant of the regular season itself. Granted, the stadiums are smaller and the minor-leaguers too abundant and the scores irrelevant, but the games no longer are played on high school fields with chain-link fences and infields as rough as 20-year-old asphalt.
Roger Dean, the home the Cardinals share with the Marlins, would rank somewhere among the average AA or AAA stadiums. It’s OK, clean, nice. But Birmingham’s stadium is better. Memphis’ stadium is better. The new spring homes of the Red Sox and Braves are certainly better. Perhaps Roger Dean’s best attribute is the cover it provides its patrons, a trait my wife, if she were here, would be thankful for. Except for the field-level chairs around the dugouts and bullpens, nearly all of the park’s seats are shielded for some, if not all, of the game from the sun. If that makes me sound old — or, at least, older — so be it. Comfort matters.
During games I’m a wanderer — baseball games, that is. Such a practice isn’t terribly practical at basketball or football games. But baseball practically begs fans to watch one inning from the first-base stands, another from the left-field bleachers, another from the standing-room areas where beer drinkers congregate. I did that at a Cardinals-Reds game in Cincinnati last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, it was easier that day — given the Reds’ dismal attendance lately — than it was Saturday in Jupiter.
At one point I wound up behind the home plate seats, leaning against a concrete wall along with others who also must have the wandering gene. (It’s a guy thing, apparently; I rarely see women doing it.) Two men to my right spent the better part of three innings analyzing the peculiarities of the Cardinals’ spring roster, displaying a depth of knowledge of St. Louis’ minor-league teams and the talents and weaknesses of the up-and-comers that made me wonder: Don’t they have jobs?
Much of their talk centered on Dylan Carlson, the Cardinals’ 21-year-old future phenom who’s had a great first spring week and may make the opening day roster. For the Cardinals’ sake, he’d better. The older gentleman, a St. Louisian with a white beard who said he’s down here for a month, praised Carlson, calling him a can’t-miss prospect. His cohort — a former St. Louisian — wasn’t so sure. Carlson’s a talented hitter and outfielder, yes. But last week he got picked off twice in a game, and he made another bumbling play, the fan pointed out. He wondered if Carlson had “baseball smarts,” which I thought: Who cares? The guy rakes. The Cardinals can inject “baseball smarts” into him if need be. But they need a bat.
The Cardinals eventually won, 6-3, even though one of their AAA pitchers blew a three-run lead. Before leaving I realized that Saturday’s game attracted a fair number of people — again, mostly men — who for some inexplicable reason wore jerseys that had nothing to do with the Cardinals or Nationals, or, in some cases, with baseball at all.
A few examples: A man wore a road-blue Montreal Expos jersey, No. 22 (Ellis Valentine wore No. 22); a man wore a St. Louis Blues hockey jersey; an obviously disturbed individual wore a blue Chicago Cubs Kris Bryant jersey; and that wasn’t all. Also sighted was a Seattle Pilots jersey (with matching hat!) in road blue; a Dan Fouts San Diego Chargers road football jersey; a Kansas City Chiefs Trent Green home football jersey; and a Chicago White Sox road jersey.
A few thoughts:
Why would anyone wear a hockey jersey to a spring-training baseball game?
Where does one get a Seattle Pilots jersey (and hat!)?
If you’re going to wear the jersey of a Chiefs quarterback, why Trent Green?
Why did security let in a Cubs fan?
I may wear my Cardinals jersey to Sunday’s game against the Astros. It’s No. 44, a Jason Isringhausen stadium giveaway from last season. At least I’ll fit in.