Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring training adventures, part three: Astros vs. Tim Tebow and the rest of the Mets at First Data Field

After seeing the Mets on the road twice, we were very excited to get up to St. Lucie and our Mets on home turf. Or, at least, the Florida version of home.

It's hard to describe how rare a treat it is to be surrounded by fellow Mets fans. Usually I get to see the team on the road. But to be surrounded by people in Mets caps and jerseys cheering for the team is to be part of a community, as opposed to being an interloper.

Plus, this time I got to be with my Dad, my sister Jenny and niece Diana.

Ballpark: The name is new this year, but First Data Field has been the Mets’ spring home since 1988. It’s also been known as Thomas J. White Stadium, Digital Domain Park and Tradition Field.

It’s more of an old-school ballpark, but I like it. There have been improvements over the years, and there have been improvements over the years to make it seem less like a poured concrete mountain among the scrub pines.

It’s a fun park with a lot of energy. Lots of photos of Mets heroes have been added over the years, along with Tiki bars and other party spots.

Stamping: In the team store, and, again, the folks knew exactly what we were doing. 

I have to say, this was a pleasant surprise at all three ballparks. I’ve been to minor and major league parks where folks have no clue what I’m talking about.

Cap Quest: We actually came to Data First Field on Tuesday, an off day, to buy tickets for the Friday game.

I was happy to see the team store was open and pretty empty, and it was nice to have all the time in the world to check out all the Mets stuff.

Naturally, I went right for the wall of caps. I wasn’t optimistic after the experience at Roger Dean. But there, on the top shelf, shining like a beacon of spring time glory, was the cap with the Mets logo and the Florida outline. There was much rejoicing!

I looked for the price tag, and it was $20 – among the lowest-priced caps in the wall. There was even more rejoicing!

When we came back to the team store on Friday to get the stamp, I noticed that there were no more of the caps of glory. I did see that there were two left on the “Cool Stuff” trailer outside the stadium. But I was pretty happy to get the cap on Tuesday.

Naturally I wore the cap to the Wednesday game in West Palm Beach, and one of the nice gentlemen working at the park commented on the cap.
The Mets play under the watchful eye of Gil Hodges.

“That’s a nice one,” he said. “I see all the caps passing by, and I’ve never seen one like that. What did that set you back, $40?”

I happily told the story of the Cap Quest and the low price.

Program: Or, in this case, programs. The Mets were selling two versions of the program, one with cool portraits of pitchers, and the other with fielders.

Some curious choices. The pitchers had four portraits – Thor, Harvey, deGrom and Matz. Guess no one wanted to speculate on who was going to win the fifth spot in the rotation. 

But we could note that the closer just led the league in saves and set a team record in the process. Would have been worthy.

But the blue cover had five players. The Captain, Cabrera, Cespedes, Neil Walker and Jose Reyes. Reyes surprised me, as he was slated to be a part-time player. 

Where’s Curtis Granderson – winner of a nice humanitarian award during the off-season?

But that’s a minor quibble. These are the best programs of the spring, even though the scorecard was a little tight and didn’t include a spot for pitching stats. 

That’s actually a thing, because my niece Diana was attending her first Mets spring training game and I was teaching her to keep score.

Ballpark food: I was looking for some wonderful, New York food. The Mets were selling authentic Italian ices, and you had a choice of a regular blue helmet cup or a pink one. I snagged a chocolate Italian ice and the pink helmet cup, neither of which are available in Michigan.

Cup: Outstanding spring training souvenir. Colorful, with the spring training schedule.

Autographs: None. This was a slight disappointment. The stadium is configured in a way that players could be accessible, and a bunch of folks were gathered in proper spots. But no players came over. We left Florida with new signatures from Terry and Travis, and I was very happy to get them.

Souvenir hunt: We visited the team store on Tuesday when we got the tickets. Once the giddiness of finding the glorious cap subsided – this took a while – we explored the rest of the store. 
Tim Tebow taking a mighty cut.

There was a lot of Tim Tebow stuff. I’m OK with that, though I didn’t buy any. I did pick up a cool “I was there – Spring Training 2017” pin for my work bulletin board and several stadium postcards.

Here’s something the Mets do that is very cool. There’s a prize wheel, with two spins for $5. Some of the prizes were pretty cool – actual caps! – and other assorted souvenir things. 

My sister, niece and I all took turns and landed a St. Lucie Mets team set, Mets earbuds, thunderstix and some other things.

Game time: We were excited to see Matt Harvey pitch, and got some decent photos while he was warming up.

Matt pitched pretty well, but he was constantly getting his heat up in the zone. When major league batters see heat consistently up in the zone, they deposit baseballs on the wrong side of the fence. Which is what Reid Brignac did in the third inning.

I’m not sure what Addison Reed’s issues were, but he gave up six more runs in the following inning, giving the Astros a lead they were not going to give up.

But we came close! Cespedes launched a bomb, and so did Lucas Duda. Mets players not likely to see Citi Field this season hit a series of doubles that brought the team within a run.

Then came the moment of drama. Tim Tebow, still looking for his first spring hit, came up with the game on the line. He worked the count, but, like the Mighty Casey, wiffed.

Tebow drew the loudest cheers during the pre-game introductions, and his successful catch of a can of corn drew quite the ovation. I’m OK with Tebow. 
The Gnome of Victory and Celebration was joined by Grrr for the big game.

It’s a no-risk, high-reward situation for the Mets and everything I’ve heard and see makes me think he’s a nice enough guy. I’m pulling for him.

Final score: Astros 7, Mets 6 – a great day at the ballpark with Dad, Aunt Jenny and Diana.

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