Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spring Training Games Fans' Guide

Twins 2012 Spring Training games start on Saturday! Isn't it wonderful that they figured out to have practice games in Florida right at the time when baseball fans can't stand not having baseball anymore and Minnesotans want to go somewhere warm?

If you've never been to Fort Myers for Spring Training, I highly encourage you to go. It's a great family vacation, whether you love baseball, the beach, or both.

I've been to Fort Myers once, and I'm going again this year. I know several fans who've gone many times. If you're one of those fans, you can probably go on to read the next blog on your list because you already know everything I have to say (probably much better than I do).

But, if you've never been, and would like some tips on the baseball part (the beach part you can figure out on your own), well then, read on.

First of all, I'll refer you to fellow blogger, Thrylos98. He's written up a very nice Spring Training Guide to Fort Myers and a Fort Myers Culinary Guide (with a curve). Be sure to check them out.

I will focus on what to do once you're at Lee County Sports Complex.

The complex is comprised of several practice fields and the main field, Hammond Stadium. Hammond Stadium is the home of the Fort Myers Miracle Single-A affiliate and it's where the Spring Training games are played. It's kind of funny because it has a beautiful exterior, with a fountain and nice landscaping, but then the inside is really boring.

As you would expect from a minor-league stadium, it's pretty small. Which means there's not really a bad seat in the house. Even up in the second level, you're still pretty close to the action. Keep in mind that most of the Spring Training games are day games, and that the seats near the field are in the sun (hot!) and the seats "up high" are in the shade. There is also a grassy area where you can sit on a blanket and have a baseball picnic -- perfect if you have little kids who would rather run around than sit and watch baseball.

If you go to the complex in the morning, you can catch the players doing their drills or hitting BP. The minor league affiliates have their Spring Training there too, so there are a lot of players. They usually have a table set up near the entrance with roster sheets. Each group of players wears different uniform combos -- blue and red tops, blue and gray tops, white pants, gray pants, etc. -- and the roster sheet will tell you who's who (there may be a total of four or five guys who wear #7 and there are no names on the jerseys, so you want to be sure). Get a new roster sheet every day because the groups change their uniforms every day. Also, you should probably bring Seth Stohs' Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook with you so you're armed with information about these guys.

The atmosphere around the complex is relaxed and casual. Fans can wander from station to station watching players do their thing or even take some pictures. However, you have to remember that they're doing their jobs, so they may not have time for chit chat. They don't want to get in trouble with their manager after all.

You may be able get some autographs before games or walking around the practice fields, and while a lot of players will be as accommodating as they can, it's not really an autograph signing event. Many players will limit their autograph signing for kids, and other guys prefer to wait until after the game to sign.

If you're lucky enough to get a player willing and able to sign, be sure to help him out by having your item and pen -- cap off, ink flowing, and handed to him properly -- ready to go. Use a blue ball-point pen for baseballs (ball-point won't bleed into the leather, and blue won't fade like black does) and a Sharpie for everything else. Be nice; if he can't sign, he can't sign. Also, know who you're asking -- just because a guy looks like Jason Kubel doesn't mean he is Jason Kubel (yes, this actually happens more than you'd think).

Don't be in a hurry to leave after a game, because if you hang out near the exit where the players park (it's a fenced-off lot), you might see a player who is willing to hang out in his car and sign autographs for a while. But don't expect premier players like Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau to be doing this -- there is just way too much demand for their autographs.

Above all, relax and have a good time. Don't worry about the score of the game -- no one else does. Visit with folks. Enjoy the sunshine. Notice how everyone is happy.

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