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Spring! My first day in the sun after a long winter

As I get older, perhaps I am starting to see the appeal of Florida. This winter in New England was long, hard, bitter, and snow-filled. When I pulled my suitcase down the steps of my Victorian-era house in Cambridge, the solid ice berms on either side of the sidewalk were still two feet high. My car was plowed into a snow bank weeks ago and the side mirror torn off by the plow, after which its battery went dead in the cold. It’s still there on the curb.

I’m not. I’m in FLORIDA. And it is HOT and SUNNY here. This is GLORIOUS.

Yesterday I went with my parents (who are big baseball nuts, too) to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa to take in a tilt between the Yankees and Phillies. Both of these teams have chips on their shoulders, having both been expecting to meet at the Big Dance last October/November, and both jilted by the machinations of the upstart Giants and Rangers.

It was a split squad day for the Yankees, meaning that — alas — Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Cano were all on a road trip to face the Orioles. The starters who remained behind in Tampa were Gardner, Granderson, Swisher, Posada, and Russell Martin (the new full-time catcher, now that Posada is the full-time DH). Okay, so those latter five are not chopped liver, but it still felt a bit like we got the second string. Especially when the Phillies had brought pretty much their A lineup:

Shane Victorino
Placido Polanco
Jimmy Rollins
Ryan Howard
Ben Francisco
Ross Gload
John Mayberry
Carlos Ruiz aka Chooch
Wilson Valdez

Chase Utley is down with some kind of a knee issue and there are rumors it’s worse than the Phils are letting on.

Oh yeah, and they had Roy Oswalt on the mound, and we had AJ Burnett. So, it felt like the Philadelphia first string against the New York second string.

At least for the first inning. AJ was “good AJ” setting them down 1-2-3, 15 pitches, 9 for strikes. Oswalt did the same in the bottom of the frame. His changeup looked pretty devastating.

Then in the second, AJ did it again, striking out Ryan Howard (what a shock) and then getting two quick ground balls. Huh. Good AJ. Another 14 pitches, 11 for strikes. So, Oswalt’s turn. Granderson led off with a single, Posada flied out, but Eric Chavez (one of the many veterans in camp for cheap hoping to hook on with a winner) also singled, a worm-burner to the right side. Granderson poured on the jets and beat the throw to third.

Oswalt bore down facing Jorge Vazquez, the man they call the “Mexican Babe Ruth” i.e. a doughy slugger who hits moon shots. (In Spanish they call him “El Chato” which means “chunky one.”) Earlier in the spring he hit one OVER the big, black batters eye in center field (408 feet at the base of the wall). Cashman calls him a major league bat, but Vazquez’s way to the big leagues is blocked, though, by two fellas with long term contracts: Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

So what we wanted to see what Vazquez go boom. Oswalt was too much for him though, and he struck out. So up came skinny Eduardo Nunez, who is battling for the backup infielder job.

Nunez went boom. Three run shot. Cheers all around. Well, not all around because at least 40% of the audience was in red. The Phillies longtime spring home is Clearwater, which is only a 20 minute drive away. 3-0 Yankees. Oswalt then struck out Ramiro Pena (another hopeful for the utility infielder job, but who isn’t known for his bat), to restore order and end the inning.

In the third… Good AJ! Another 1-2-3, finishing his outing with a 16 more pitches, for a total of 45 efficient pitches. Larry Rothschild, whatever you’re doing, keep it up. (When Rothschild was interviewed for the pitching coach job, apparently they sat him down in front of video of Burnett and asked what he’d do to fix him. I have a feeling the fix is more psychological than mechanical, though…)

Oswalt either got unsettled by the homer or something was starting to go out of whack for him when he gave it up. He started to throw more balls, especially on the first pitch, gave up a single to Russell Martin, then went to a full count on Nick Swisher. I really think they ought to just start Swisher at 3-2 every at bat, the game will go faster… okay, just kidding, but seriously he works the count so much I have more at bats of his recorded with “fc” than without.

Swisher, unfortunately, flied out. But then Granderson took Oswalt deep for a two run shot and knocked him from the game. 5-0 Yankees.

And they would have had more! Posada followed with a ringing double, and then Chavez singled. Posada appeared a bit surprised to see Rob Thompson waving him home. He was safe at the plate by a few feet.

However, you know that appeal play you see teams do all the time and they never ever ever get the call? The Phillies threw over to third base… and got the call. Posada was called out for not touching third. It’s too bad Jeter wasn’t there to see it because I’m sure Georgie wouldn’t hear the end of it. Okay, he probably still will never hear the end of it. I wonder what the fine in kangaroo court is for not touching third?

That ended the inning. In the top of the fourth, Joba Chamberlain kept the perfect string going, and then Pedro Feliciano, the lefty workhorse reliever the Yankees signed away from the Mets, also had a nice 1-2-3 including strikeouts of Howard and Francisco. The Yankees tacked on two more runs, off a Phillies pitcher whose name we never got (but he was #49, welcome to spring training). This was a single by Brett Gardner, who we love to see on first because he almost always steals, who then stole, yay, Granderson walked, Posada singled in a run (making up for his gaffe earlier), and then Chavez followed with an RBI single, to boot.

The Yankees were winning after 5 7-0. At that point I believe the technical term is they were murdilizing the Phils.

Phillies fans did get something to cheer about when Hector Noesi give up a solo homer to Wilson Valdez, but that was pretty much it.

Today I’m sore! Spring training is a time to get in shape for the season… for fans, too. My back is killing me. Apparently I need to work up to spending three straight hours in a stadium seat. Actually, it was only a 2.5 hour game! Fortunately I have the day off today. The Yankees are at the Braves and so we’re watching the game through streaming video on the Internet. Tomorrow, our first night game! I better go do some stretching and sharpen my pencils.

P.S. Had a look at the new statue of George outside the stadium. My mother thinks it’s “smaller than life size.” I find that unlikely, it’s just the George was such a larger-than-life personality that seeing an actual size statue seems small in comparison. RIP George. It was distinctly weird to look up at the owner’s box and not see you sitting there.

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