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SPRING TRAINING SURE HAS CHANGED




[January 16th] -- Space Coast Stadium is in the middle of its remodel that the country promises will be completed by February 14th, the day that pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

The stadium's teal seats are gone and replaced by blue ones that represent both the Nationals and the Brevard County Manatee's color. The hand rails will be painted red.

Opened in 1993, Space Coast Stadium is one of the older Florida facilities. That said, it is still - fourteen years later - a magnificent place to watch a ball game.

I'm not sure exactly when spring training began to morph in to the cash cow that it is today. Last year, my son-in-law took my daughter to see a few Red Sox games at City of Palms Park in Ft. Meyers. Virtually the entire spring was sold out and he ended up having to buy tickets from a scalper.

For a spring training game!

My family took a vacation to Florida a few years after the Senators left for Texas. I pleaded with my father to stop in Pompano Beach so I could see the team's former spring training facility. I was expecting to see a smaller version of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, nice, clean and major league quality.

Nope.

The Senators trained at a 4,500 seat municipal stadium built in the days preceding World War II. Today, it wouldn't pass for a rookie-league facility. No seats were located behind home plate, just a ticket booth. the stands were little more than high school bleachers. Only one section of the left field stand had a roof.

It's hard to believe that all my heroes, Mike Epstein, Frank Howard, Dick Bosman, trained at this rinky dink little field.

My, times have changed.

Paging Mr. Snelling: The Nats signed newby Chris Snelling to a one year, $450,000 contract on Tuesday.

Snelling is the 'X' factor in the Nationals outfield. Alex Escobar will not be ready for the start of spring training, and Ryan Church will likely be traded before opening day. With Kearns ensconced in right and - sadly - Nook Logan set in center, the left-fielder will come from Kory Casto, Mike Restovich and Chris Snelling.

Of course, Restovich - if he makes the team - will at best be the right-handed bat in a platoon. So who do you choose, Casto or Snelling? If Casto is the guy, then it has to be a platoon; he's proven throughout his minor league career that he can't hit lefties. His best case scenario in 2007 would be .270-20-70 or thereabouts. Pretty good. But Mariners' fans had believed that Snelling would become a superstar - that is - until the injuries began to mount. Snelling's minor league numbers average out to single season numbers of .312-14-96. He can hit.

I'm rooting for Kory Casto, mostly because he is a power hitter but also because he is a Nationals' farmhand, someone I've watched developed for the last couple of years.

If Nick Logan is the team's center-fielder, then the Nationals need power from both of their corner outfielders, and that's just not Chris Snelling.

Endy Gets Mets-Love: From the go figure department: When Endy Chavez was sent down to New Orleans after being given a chance to be the Nationals' everyday centerfielder in 2005, I thought his major league career was over. Done. Stick a fork in the guy. He was traded to the Phillies a month later and played even worse. No way we'd ever see him again -- or so I thought.

Then, out of nowhere, Chavez batted .306 with 42 RBI's and 12 steals for the Mets last year. In the playoffs, he made one of the two or three best catches I've ever seen in the post-season.

The Mets rewarded Chavez with a one year, $1.7 million dollar contract on Tuesday. Go figure.

That said, he still has a career .310 on-base average. Remember, Omar, one year does not a career make.


Comments:
The biggest deficiency at Space Coast Stadium is the manually operated score board which is located about one hundred feet beyond the left field fence. A modern electronic scoreboard would really spruce the place up.
 
I think the boom in the Spring Training biz may be due to the fact that a lot of Americans have more discretionary income than they had a generation ago, so popping down to Florida or Arizona to see the hometown boys up-close(r) is within reach. And airline deregulation has brought intense competition and thus cheap flights to certain high-demand routes, like Florida. (Its affect on low-demand routes has been the opposite). Plus, the teams have sensed the opportunity and invested in better quality ballparks and amenities, so that much-ballyhooed "fan experience" seems worth more. Convergence of several factors.
 
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