Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring training adventures, part 1: Mets vs. Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium

Steven Matz on the hill against the Marlins in Jupiter.
Here’s how to spend a pretty cool spring break: Three Mets games in one week, each at a different ballpark!

I spent last week with my family in Florida and my Dad snagged seats for the Monday game against the Marlins in Jupiter, the Wednesday game against the Astros in the new West Palm Beach park and the Friday game against the Astros in Port St. Lucie.

Naturally, we have rules and a routine for attending games.

And this year we had a special quest. I saw online a really cool Mets spring training cap, with a blue bill and white crown. The traditional Mets cap logo was atop an embroidered outline of Florida. 

It’s just a really cool cap, and apparently there was one for each team – with the Cactus League teams instead getting an outline of Arizona.

I set out to purchase the cap online once we confirmed the trip – and all traces of it seemed to vanish. I couldn’t find the cap – any version of the cap – on any website. This is very odd, and I placed all hopes in finding one in one of the stadium team shops.

There is essential equipment for all spring games.

First, is the brand new MLB Spring Training Pass-Port. Getting stadium stamps has become an essential activity, and it is fun to be a part of the greater “Stampeder” community. 

I have the MLB and minor league versions off the books, and ordered the spring training edition in anticipation of this trip.

Next, we make sure the blue backpack has my book, “The New York Mets, the first Quarter Century.” 

Whenever I meet someone who played for the Mets, I ask them to sign the book. There are several hundred autographs in there, and the relaxed spring training atmosphere is a great place to ask players and coaches to sign.

And, of course, the battle-scarred Gnome of Victory and Celebration made the trip for those special photo opportunities.

Here are our adventures.

Game One: Mets vs Marlins, Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.

Ballpark: Roger Dean is a nice park, built in 1998 and originally hosting the Cardinals and Expos. The Expos departed and Marlins arrived in 2002. It seats nearly 7,000 and Dad knew where there was free parking. We’ve been there many times for spring and minor league games.

Stamping: In the team store. The clerk knew exactly what we were doing and let me do the stamping.

Cap Quest: Since we were in the team store, I headed to the large display of caps. The stadium stocks Cardinals and Marlins gear, of course, but usually has some Mets items, too, given the proximity to St. Lucie and the vast number of New Yorkers now living in South Florida. 

I figured that if I saw the Cardinals and Expos versions of the caps, I’d eventually find the Mets version. The store had many caps, but none resembling the one we were searching for. This was not a good sign.

Program: We always get a program because keeping score is an essential part of the game experience. It cost $6, which is a little high. But everything at Roger Dean is a little high. But it is a pretty good program, and the scorecard is large – perfect for substitution-filled spring games – and a spot to record the pitchers.

Ballpark food: I went searching for a basic hot dog, but the concession stands had only specialty items. My “St. Louis Dog” was wrapped in bacon and buried in pulled pork and cold slaw. It was made fresh and was very filling.

Cup: I like to buy the souvenir cup, and Roger Dean has a very nice, full-color cup with Marlins and Cardinals – including future hall-of-famer Ichiro. And it was good for discounted refills.

Autographs: Roger Dean is pretty accessible and we arrived early. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud and Manager Terry Collins came by and became the latest signatures to the book. I had not been able to add an active player since Scott Hairston in 2012, so they were welcome additions.
That's Terry Collins on the left and Travis on the right

One thing I did notice. People don’t just want a signature these days, they want selfies, too. This takes forever, and I can understand why a player might be reluctant to get close to the stands.

Game time: You don’t count on the road team to bring too many starters to a spring game, but I was very excited to see the posted lineup include Travis, Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto and have Steven Matz on the mound. The Mets also brought their top prospect, Amed Rosario, which was unexpected.

The Marlins seemed to have most of their starters, plus old friend Mat den Dekker.

Matz pitched two scoreless innings, aided by two great catches by Gold-Glover Lagares in center.

Travis continued his hot spring with a homer in the fourth, and the Marlins responded with a Giancarlo Stanton blast off Rafael Montero in the sixth. The Mets second-stringers put the game out of reach with a 6-run eighth, including a homer from L.J. Mazzilli.

Final score: Mets 8, Marlins 2. A great day at the park!

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