Play Ball!

Mar. 11, 2014 @ 02:24 PM

Baseball season is officially underway. High schools and colleges are in the midst of their respective seasons, while the professionals are currently in spring training and just 11 days away from the opening series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Diamondbacks and Dodgers will officially open the season with a two-game series in Sydney, Australia beginning on March 22.

In light of the beginning of baseball season, I would like to share a personal experience with all of you baseball fans in Caldwell County. While I realize this area is a hotbed for the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants, I believe baseball fans will enjoy reading about my experience at spring training to see the Boston Red Sox.

Just over one week ago, I joined my father and two uncles down in beautiful Fort Myers, Fla. for three days full of spring training baseball. For the first time in over two years, I got to experience baseball as a fan and only a fan. I left work at home and enjoyed my time with my family and the Red Sox.

We arrived in Fort Myers on Thursday, February 27 and went to the opening game the following day between the Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins. The atmosphere was electric and Jet Blue Park (Red Sox spring training ballpark) is a state of the art facility. The cool part about Jet Blue Park is that it’s an exact replica of Fenway Park in regards to field dimensions and surroundings. And yes, there is even a Green Monster. The only real difference from Fenway is that there is less seating.

The opening ceremonies prior to the game included the three Red Sox World Series trophies from 2004, 2007 and 2013. It also included introductions of not just the Boston team, but all the top prospects from the farm system. That’s the great thing about spring training baseball. You aren’t just there to see the big names, you get the opportunity to see the future of your favorite organization. Unfortunately, the Red Sox lost the opening game, but it was still a great experience.

On Saturday, there was no game to watch, but we still got a few hours of Red Sox baseball. Spring training gives you the chance to see all your favorite players and prospects up close. The practice facility is open to the public and you are right on top of the action. Sometimes the players are interactive with the crowd. Dustin Pedroia even turned to have a word with the four of us. And not to mention, former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel even showed up.

Seeing the Red Sox practice gave me a whole new perspective on professional baseball. Since they play games almost every day, you really don’t think much of them practicing other than taking infield and batting practice. But for the first hour, the big names and the prospects worked on nothing but fundamentals and situational drills. Then during batting practice, Will Middlebrooks fielded about 100 grounders on the side before it was his turn to bat. It was truly amazing to see how hard these guys really work.

On the final day, we see our second game of the weekend and sat on the Green Monster for it. There is no better view to watch a baseball game from. This time, the Red Sox pulled out the victory, their first of the spring training season.

Spring training was an experience of a lifetime and I plan to attend every year. If any of you baseball fans ever get the chance to attend spring training for your favorite team, I highly urge you to do so.

Bryant Lilley is a sports reporter for the News-Topic. He can be reached at 828-758-7381, ext. 322 or by email at blilley@newstopic.net.