I’d always wanted to go to Spring Training. Since the mid-nineties while the Indians were in there glory, I couldn’t think of anything more fun than heading down to Winter Haven, Florida to check out the Tribe as they got ready for the season. Stories of the players and their various adventures (Manny Ramirez and riding a pink bike around camp to lose weight will always stay with me) as they prepared for the season made spring training seem like the most fun thing on Earth. As I got older, and the Indians moved their spring training to Goodyear Arizona, my desire to attend spring training was still strong, but with the way my work schedule is, it seemed likely that this wish would remain unfulfilled until I retire, which should be sometime around 2040.
Luckily for me, some things happened that changed my plans and got me to spring training about 26 years ahead of schedule. First, my sister moved to a suburb of Phoenix last summer. Having the chance to go spend time with her and my nephew moved up a trip to Arizona on the list of priorities for my wife and I. Then, I was lucky enough to have some time off from my job this week (which rarely happens in March), and my wife, son, daughter, and I were on a flight from Cleveland to Phoenix last Saturday night.
While visiting with my family (my brother and his wife and son also made the trip from Charlotte, N.C., and my other sister came in from Michigan), we were able to catch the Indians in a road game against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Sunday and at home against the Rangers on Tuesday. While both games wound up being losses for the Tribe that took nothing away from my first spring training experience.
While the game against the Angels was fun, the trip to Goodyear Park was more memorable for several reasons, the chief of those being the kindness of the Indians players themselves. Before the game, several players were signing autographs (they rarely do this at road games as it is apparently against league rules and players can be fined for doing so), and my nephew and I were fortunate enough to get autographs from Nick Swisher, Ryan Raburn, and Tyler Naquin for him and my son. Besides the obvious generosity of their time, all three players believed that my son (who had passed out in his seat as two year olds are apt to do) was at the game sleeping, and that I wasn’t some lying jerk, (although now that I think about it, maybe they did think so). All three players also signed for every fan who requested it, and Swisher even signed a picture for a lady whose son played on a youth team with him (the picture was a team photo with Swisher standing next to her son). The relaxed atmosphere between the players and fans was really special, I would say the best way to describe it would be the close up feeling of a minor league game, but with major league ballplayers.
We also learned some things at the Angels game that made our trip to Goodyear Park even more relaxing. First off, instead of getting grass seats again, we paid a bit more money to have shaded seats behind home plate. This is critical if you’re bringing children to the game or simply hate hot weather yourself. Goodyear Park also had several advantages in that they had an indoor team shop with air conditioning, and a large, open play area for kids, complete with a small diamond and several pitching and hitting games. The field was also below ground level (similar to Progressive Field and The Great American Ballpark), and we didn’t have to maneuver up and down steps with the kids to get to our seats. While these amenities may not seem like a big deal, Tempe Diablo Stadium had none of them, which is a bit of a surprise considering the resources of Angels owner Arte Moreno. The staff was also very accommodating and went out of their way to make our visit as enjoyable and comfortable as possible.
While the loss to the Rangers was frustrating, and you could see the writing on the wall with Josh Tomlin during the game (he has an option after all), the fun and relaxing feel of spring training was everything I hoped it would be. Having my family there and being able to share it with my son, who loves the Indians as much as any two year old could, made it even more special. If you ever have the chance to get to spring training, I would highly recommend it, I am already planning my next trip!