Some of you might be surprised that i’m in Florida for Spring Training. For others, especially if you follow me on Twitter, it is no surprise because I’ve been talking about this for a few weeks now. Anyways, I arrived on Tuesday afternoon and this was the first game I’ve been to so far this year. The earliest I arrived to a spring training ballpark last year was 8:00 a.m., but this year I arrived at Hammond Stadium at 7:00 a.m.. I got there the extra hour early because I wanted to catch the sun rise as I drove to the ballpark. The recently renovated stadium looked stunning as I drove into the parking lot:
I wasn’t sure when the players would begin to practice but I figured I might as well maximize my time in the warm weather. I soaked in the sun until the first group of players finally entered the practice fields at 9 o’clock. I could see them from a distance so I made my way to the fields.
At 9 o’clock all of the minor league players reported to the field closest to the twins baseball academy:
As far as I know, the only notable players in that extremely large group were Nick Gordon, Kohl Stewart, James Beresford and Max Kepler. After wandering around for a few minutes I found my first ball of 2015! With Selig out and Manfred in as commissioner that meant that the signature on the baseball changed this year. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but most ballhawks have been pretty excited to see the new baseballs. This wasn’t a Manfred ball, this was a Selig that was left over from last year:
Regardless of the name on the front, it was still a beautiful baseball!
Part of the 2-year renovation plan included a baseball academy and dormitory for the minor league players of the Twins. The buildings weren’t finished when I visited last year, but since then they have been completed and opened:
A bit closer to noon I spotted Mr. Terry Ryan, the Twins GM walking into the practice fields.
I only said a quick hello because I didn’t want to disturb him while he was working. Later on, though, he approached me and said that a lady had told him that I knew everything there was to know about the Twins. She was obviously stretching the truth a bit, but Mr. Ryan was still amused. We ended up only chatting about baseball for a few minutes, but then we continued for a longer time as our conversation shifted towards other topics that weren’t even related to baseball. He’s a fun guy to talk with!
Right before leaving the complex to run to Publix, I found my second ball of the day. This time, though, the ball was from Tom Kelly Field:
The ball had been wedged between the concrete, dirt and flowers. Aside from the odor and filth, there was still something different about this ball. I’m not sure when or by whom it was used, but the ball was a “Rawlings Perfect Game” ball. For the record (and for those ballhawks who are wondering), I did not count this in my MLB total.
After gaining early entrance into an empty stadium, I explored where most people do not. As I was hoping to find my second MLB ball of the day, I stumbled upon this whiffle ball:
I was considering taking it with me, but it was filled with a gross looking mixture of dirt, bugs and condensation. It was better to leave it where it was! I was finally able to snag another MLB ball from the boardwalk down the left field foul line. I had quite the view from there:
The ball was courtesy of Aaron Thompson. He threw it to me when he and Alex Meyer had finished playing catch.
Although the change in signatures is a very subtle change, I do like how it looks. Although small in detail, it still brings about something new to the most important element in the game.
It wasn’t too long until I was in possession of another ball. This time from Ricky Nolasco:
Ball number 5 came from the air. It was a homerun that i’m pretty sure Eddie Rosario hit:
Up to this point I had been in the grass berm in left field. For almost all of batting practice there were only two other guys and myself in the whole grass section. There was absolutely no competition! My success continued.
My next two baseballs (numbers 6 and 7) were both home runs that I caught on the fly. Coincidentally, they were also hit by the same player – #21 Shane Robinson. Here’s number 6:
And here’s number 7:
The Twins left the field around 5:15 and soon the Minnesota Golden Gophers hustled out to take their turn on the field. I was surprised to see that the Gophers had a few players who could crush the ball. Their portion of batting practice wasn’t great, but I was still able to snag a home run. The ball was brand new, an obvious keeper, but as soon as a little girl asked for it I felt obligated to give it away!
Sophomore Troy Traxler, a catcher and outfielder for the Gophers, hooked me up with my 9th ball of the day:
Batting Practice ended shortly after that, but I was able to get another toss up before the game started. When the Twins finished their pregame infield warm ups, catcher Eric Fryer tossed me my 10th ball of the day:
When the game started I sat in my ticketed seat. This was the first game in a long while where I sat in my ticketed seat for the whole time! Who could blame me, though, with a view like this?:
Although the Gophers were the first to score, he Twins ended up beating them 3-1. The big names in the Twins Lineup were Buxton (he went 2-3), Vargas (1-3) and Sano (1-1). Jose Berrios got the start for the Twins and was able to pick up the win after pitching 2 innings of scoreless baseball. One other thing worth mentioning is that this was Paul Molitor’s Managerial Debut! His first “W” (although it won’t officially be recorded) came against his old college team!
There’s no highlight/recap video for this game, but I did find this special video that the UofM made after the completion of the game:
I’m in the video multiple times. Whenever the left field grass is shown, i’m in the frame. In one of the shots it showed me chasing down a home run ball. Just look for the guy in the blue shirt!
Here’s the final haul (Nine MLB balls are pictured because I gave one away):
Spring Training Totals: 1 MLB Selig Ball, 9 MLB Manfred Balls, 1 Perfect game ball, and 1 whiffle ball.
UP NEXT: Red Sox vs. Twins, Thursday, March 5th.