Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
I was sitting watching Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman work against Detroit Tigers outfielder Leonys Martin.
It was 80 degrees at first pitch on Feb. 26. Gausman was hitting 93 on the gun. There was a buzz in the stands that doesn’t quite drown out the sound of home plate umpire Will Little’s strike calls, but was loud nonetheless. Even louder was a man advertising/screaming “COLD BEER” like some fire ants crawled down his pants. It was my second O’s game in three days, and I can now say, officially, that baseball is back in Sarasota.
So what? Well, it means a lot to John Carter, who grew up near Baltimore and now splits his allegiances between the O’s and the Tampa Bay Rays (the O’s still have the upper hand, he said). He used to go to the old Memorial Stadium and loved it there, he said. Simply getting a chance to watch his childhood team in action is worth the price of admission, nevermind the practice element of spring training.
“The boys of summer are back,” he said with a smile.
I guess, as much as February in Sarasota feels like summer, this is true.
Also back are the features that make spring training in Sarasota feel less like a baseball game and more like a family reunion. During Saturday’s game against Minnesota, Riverview High teacher and boys basketball coach BJ Ivey was honored as a community hero. Sarasota High freshman Lizzie Storm sang the National Anthem as participants in the Orioles Health and Fitness Challenge stood alongside their heros on the field. There will be other fun promotions throughout the spring, like “kids run the bases” day, “seniors run the bases” day, and other things that don’t involve running the bases, I guess. Trey Mancini, a 2017 American League Rookie of the Year finalist, stopped to sign autographs for fans on his way to the dugout after warm-ups.
These things matter, even when the baseball games don’t. The games’ results, anyway. Against Minnesota, the O’s forged a 1-1 tie. It wasn’t the most viewer-friendly game I’ve seen, but it served as a showcase for young players such as outfielder Jake Ring (a University of Missouri grad!), who lined a single and made a stumbling outfield catch, and catcher Austin Wynns, who crushed a home run. It’s likely that neither will make the Orioles opening day roster, but strong showings leave a mark in the mind of manager Buck Showalter. It’ll pay dividends in the future. The crowd cheers just the same.
The biggest pop of the day went to a fan who caught a ball Tigers outfielder JaCoby Jones had sliced foul. It’s a bit ironic that the crowd’s favorite moment was a play that didn’t count in a game that won’t count. Spring training is an excuse to drink with friends during the day and marvel at the ability of large men to swing bats hard and throw balls accurately, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Speak of the devil, the beer guy is back.
“HOPE YOU’RE READY TO COOL OFF, EVERYBODY!”
I sure am. Unfortunately, I can’t reach him from the press box. Not that I’d ever write while drinking, anyway. I’m no Hemingway.
The game is over now. The O’s lost 8-6. If this game were in Baltimore in May, heads would be down. Here, they are up. Hope in spring training is eternal, or whatever the saying is. Carter and the rest of the Sarasota community had themselves a blast, and that’s all that ever matters in the stands of Ed Smith Stadium. Thank goodness the boys of summer are back.