Thanks to those of you who have been following Sports Glutton’s coverage of Spring Training 2012. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading the posts as much as I have enjoyed sharing my experiences. If you’ve missed either of the first two commentaries, you can read Part I and Part II now to get caught up.
As promised, for Part III, I thought I would share some general observations of players and teams based off the four games I attended. In all, I was able to get a glimpse of the Angels, Athletics, Brewers, Giants, Mariners, Rangers and Reds. As you would expect, every game was either sold out or near capacity, with the only exception being the Rangers vs. Brewers game where attendance was light due to cold, rainy weather.
I also thought it would be fun to review a handful of my favorite ballparks to round out this year’s Spring Training coverage. While Scottsdale Stadium is arguably in a class of its own, each ballpark that I review has its own vibe and uniqueness. But, before we talk ballparks, let’s talk baseball.
PLAYER & TEAM OBSERVATIONS
Game 1 – Reds vs. Angels
•Angels: I was blown away by the excitement and level of optimism among Angel fans, clearly in response to the off-season, blockbuster acquisitions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Pujols was treated like a rock-star every at-bat and you got the sense that fans felt they were about to embark on a special year. The optimism is probably well justified too. Consider this – the Angels added depth to an already strong pitching staff, they added the best player in baseball and it’s a veteran team with guys like Torii Hunter, Jared Weaver and Bobby Abreu who can provide leadership on and off the field. This team is built to win.
•Reds: Is this the year the Reds break through? They have one of the best hitters in baseball and a legit triple-crown threat in Joey Votto, as well as a much-improved pitching staff with the addition of Mat Latos and the emergence of Johnny Cueto. Unfortunately, they’ve already been dealt some terrible news with the season-ending loss of closer Ryan Madson with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. With the World Series Champion Cardinals losing Pujols and the Brewers losing Prince Fielder to the Tigers, the NL Central has become an even weaker division then it was in 2011. It’s wide-open for the Reds to grab.
Game 2 – Mariners vs. Athletics
•Athletics: During this game, I was razzing my friend (after several adult beverages), who is an Athletics fan, if he could name anyone on the team besides Manny Ramirez, Kurt Suzuki, Daric Barton and Coco Crisp. We both struggled to come up with other players, so when I got home from my trip, I looked up their current roster and found a list of names that I mostly did not recognize. This only confirmed that we weren’t as intoxicated as we thought. General Manager Billy Beane is clearly in rebuilding mode once again. The hope for Athletics fans is that Ramirez and newly acquired Yoenis Cespedes can perform at a high-level, because their defense and pitching, once the glue and bright spot among so many bad teams and losing seasons, is no longer a strength they can lean on. This could be another long season for the A’s.
•Mariners: The Mariners are facing the same problem as the Athletics – they both play in the AL West with the Angels and Rangers. Plus, I don’t see a lot of depth on this team. They did acquire a great young talent in Jesus Montero from the Yankees, but they also gave up 23 year-old Michael Pineda as part of the deal. Pineda was an All-Star his rookie year and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year balloting. They do have a nice core of young pitchers in their farm system, but none of them seem ready for the big leagues yet. The Mariners are going to need guys like Ichiro Suzuki to bounce back from an off year and Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley and Chone Figgins to step up to have any success.
Game 3 – Athletics vs. Giants
•Giants: The San Francisco Giants will be looking to bounce back after a very disappointing, injury-plagued 2011 season. The good news is that they still have arguably the best starting pitching and bullpen in baseball. Franchise star Buster Posey appears ready to return from a horrific season-ending injury last season that was basically the beginning of the end of their season. The team appears to be more athletic and quicker on the base pads with the additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, but injuries to second baseman Freddy Sanchez and closer Brian Wilson still linger. If they can stay healthy and get more run support, there is no reason why they can’t win the NL West division again.
Game 4 – Rangers vs. Brewers
•Rangers: While all the focus has been on the Angels this Spring Training, quietly the Rangers are going about their business. After consecutive World Series appearances without winning a ring, including last year where they were within a strike of their first World Series title, I am confident they can put the last two years behind them and make yet another run. This team still has a very stout offense, led by Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler, among others. They also added a bona fide ace in Yu Darvish and veteran closer Joe Nathan. This is a playoff team that will push the Angels for the division crown.
•Brewers: The Brew-Crew is a team that I just can’t get my head around. First, they had to endure the Ryan Braun steroid ban that was later tossed out due to a technicality and then they lost first baseman Prince Fielder in free agency. They still have a formable starting lineup and solid pitching, but something doesn’t seem right about this team. I just don’t know how you can replace Prince Fielder with Aramis Ramirez to hit behind Ryan Braun and not expect to see a significant drop in run production. However, just like the Reds, they play in the weak NL Central that they should be able to do well in their division. Time will tell.
Now let’s talk ballparks…
•Scottsdale Stadium: Scottsdale Stadium is located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, which is full of top-notch restaurants, bars and nightlife all within walking distance of the stadium for pre and post game food and libations. Once you’re inside the stadium, I highly recommend doing a lap or two around the park to take it all in (you will understand what I’m talking about). The Giants have a distinct advantage over all the other baseball facilities in the area due to the fact that their stadium is built into the downtown area. Nothing compares to the intimate setting and experience of Scottsdale Stadium. If you make the trip to Arizona, Scottsdale Stadium is an absolute must.
•Maryvale Baseball Stadium: Located on the northeast side of Phoenix, Maryvale Baseball Stadium is home to the Brewers and nearly rivals Scottsdale Stadium. When you approach the ballpark, there is nothing overtly special that jumps out at you, however, once inside, it all comes to life. It’s the only place during Spring Training that you’ll find an authentic bratwurst with sauerkraut, Miller beer and the famous 6th inning Sausage Race. Does it get better than that? Brewers fans travel well too – presumably to get out of the cold Wisconsin weather.
•Tempe Diablo Stadium: Home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Tempe Diablo Stadium is located right off Highway 10 in Tempe. If you get there early enough, you can find free parking on the south side of the stadium in the industrial park. Because of its somewhat isolated location, this is a great place to tailgate prior to the game. Originally built in 1968, it went through a major renovation in 2002, so it has the look, feel and amenities of a modern facility. I promise you will find no remnants of the “Rally Monkey” that annoyed all baseball fans in 2005.
•Salt River Fields: Home to the Diamondbacks and Rockies, Salt River Fields is simply majestic. They just nailed it with this facility. It’s almost too nice for a Spring Training game, but to their credit, there is not a single bad sight line towards home plate, which can sometimes be an issue at other ballparks. I recommend going to a night game to get the full experience.
That is all I can muster for Spring Training 2012. As I mentioned before, hopefully the series of posts gave you some insight into all that is Spring Training, made you laugh a little and got you thinking about planning your own trip in 2013. Lastly, be on the lookout for my 2012 MLB Preview on or around April 2.
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