I got the call

February 16, 2009

by Matt Kane

There is a love-hate relationship between myself and this part of the year. On the one hand, I love the end of February because it is when players start reporting to their respective major league spring training camps. On the other hand, nothing makes me more sad than the fact that I am not down in Florida or Arizona to watch spring training.

The resentful feeling I get for people who are down south sitting in the sunshine, sipping affordable beers, and watching no-name players try to impress big league coaches and scouts always starts with a phone call from my mom.

You guessed it, mom is a snow bird.

What brings a frustrated tear to the edge of my duct is the fact that mom always calls from central Florida, from the exact town I used to live in, New Smyrna Beach.

I can never help but think, when mom flies south for the late part of the winter, she should be visiting me down there, like she used to. Heck, if it wasn’t for me, she never would have found that hidden gem of a beach town just south of Daytona Beach.

Race cars, bikes, spring-breakers, beaches, bikinied babes, and baseball are all within reach of my old town, and I miss every one of them. (Note: it’s not wise to reach for a bike or a babe if they are not yours.)

The easiest spring training town to get to from New Smyrna Beach is Viera, where the Washington Nationals train and play at Space Coast Stadium.

So, they are not the Twins, big deal. To me, it doesn’t matter what teams are playing, nor where. A spring training game is all about relaxing without having to worry about television commercials or some marketing knucklehead extending the between-innings time to 10 minutes. It’s where the players’ names and numbers are readable from every seat in the cozy house, even where there are no seats, on the berms that often fill up behind the outfield fences of some stadiums. It’s where conversations between players and fans are a part of the game, autograph-hunting is accepted, and, oh yeah, it’s about watching baseball in the sunshine — where shirts are optional.

Don’t worry, my shirt stays on, but so, too, did a smile on my face when I sat at Space Coast Stadium or at Dodgertown in Viera, Florida.

At Dodgertown, the dugouts, like some fans, are topless. Whenever I was there, I always thought about my youth baseball days when the dugouts were just a bench behind a chain-linked fence. Maybe that is the purpose of the roofless dugouts at Dodgertown — to make baseball feel like it did when we were kids. It worked for me.

Target Field will certainly give Twins fans a boost of needed energy after they’ve been forced to sit inside the plastic Metrodome for over two decades, but I don’t know if I will get the same feeling from the new stadium that I got from the spring training parks in Florida.

The home ballparks of the major league teams are so huge now, with 40,000 seats. In the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues, the stadiums probably don’t even seat 10,000 fans. You can carry on a conversation with a guy across the field at Space Coast Stadium if you want. That’s not the case in the major league parks.

When there are 30,000 fans at Target Field during a playoff game, though, I will probably think differently about the big ball parks. And I will remember that the road the Twins took to get to the playoffs started at spring training in Florida. The place I hate to love.

Hi, mom.