Revisiting the Grapefruit League
I wrote this blog entry all the way back in 2008, when most of us (myself included) had not yet heard of Jenrry Mejia, Manny Banuelos (scroll down) or, for that matter, Sarah Palin.
The Grapefruit League has changed significantly since then. Vero Beach, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg and Winter Haven no longer occupy the map, while Port Charlotte is back on, as the Rays moved there from St. Pete. The Rangers trained there from 1987 through 2002.
I've done enough travelling since then to merit a revisit. Besides, I can't think of anything else to write. So here we go:
Tampa (Yankees): Still an excellent locale, all the more so relative to everywhere else. This maintains its A grade.
Clearwater (Phillies): I'm bumping this up from an A- to an A, as I've developed an even greater appreciation for its beach location. Granted, I've never actually gone to the beach here, but I've heard very high praise, and the restaurants are very charming, as well.
Lake Buena Vista (Braves): Now that I have a child in his Disney prime, I have all the more appreciation for the theme parks here and in California. It's all about cleanliness. Are you reading this, Legoland (probably not)? Anyway, for families that like baseball, it's pretty cool to stay right on the Disney campus and also have access to a ballgame.
My greatest beef is that the stadium is challenging for media, but that's not your problem. I'll upgrade this from a B+ to an A-.
Jupiter (Cardinals and Marlins): I intended to to there during my stay to cover the Albert Pujols drama, but never made it. I did swing by the area during a December vacation, however, and it was just as I remembered it, clean and charming. I'm apparently feeling generous this morning, so I'll give it an uptick from a B to a B+.
Port St. Lucie (Mets): It's where I am as I type. By the time I made it here for the first time, 2005, it had largely outgrown its "Port St. Lonesome" and "Port St. Lousy" monikers, and it's only improved in that regard. Plenty of restaurants and other stores, and the Mets' actual grounds are clean and very fan-friendly.
We'll maintain the B grade, though, because of its remoteness relative to airports (PBI is the closest, about an hour south) and other spring-training sites. The latter became worse with the Dodgers' move from Vero Beach to Arizona.
Sarasota (Orioles): Haven't been there since the Reds moved out to Arizona and the Orioles moved in, so we'll keep the B.
Bradenton (Pirates): I haven't been there since my original '08 report card - the Pirates don't generate many New York-friendly stories - so I'll keep the B-.
Lakeland (Tigers): This is probably unfair, but then again, you could argue this whole process lacks fairness. In any case, my only recent visit here came last year for Johnny Damon's news conference, and it reminded me that Lakeland is a pretty dreary town. I think it's the game experience is probably this place's best attribute, and I haven't done that in a while. But the dreariness knocks this down from a B to a B-.
Dunedin (Blue Jays): Haven't been there in '08, although if plans hold, I'll visit there during a return trip to Florida in mid-March. Still a C.
Viera (Nationals): As you can see from the '08 entry, I upgraded from an F to a D+ upon visiting the area that spring. They had built it up considerably. We'll keep that.
Fort Myers (Red Sox and Twins): I really, really hate this town. I'm baffled by its appeal. I like Naples, but that's a good distance away. But for such a lousy place, it sure has a pair of good, fun baseball teams to watch. So let's upgrade it from a D- to a D.
Kissimmee (Astros): The complex itself is fine, but man, do I hate the surrounding area. Miles, miles and more miles of traffic lights, fast food and dumpy hotels. Plus, you know, you have to be pretty die-hard to visit the Astros at this point. Downgrade from a C- to a D.
Port Charlotte (Rays): I'm planning on a Rays column shortly, so I'll see how much they've renovated both the complex and the town since my last visit there in 2002. For now, I'll give it a D-, and I'll update it if necessary. Back when the Rangers trained there, it didn't have much going for it at all.
--UPDATE, February 25: OK, the Rays have done a great job transforming this place into a pleasant ballpark and atmosphere, it appears. But the town is still terrible. Let's upgrade it to a C-
--Here's my column on Carlos Beltran. I spoke with him about moving on from the past and blocking out the present, which is something the Mets need to do as a whole.
--David Lennon wrote a good story about the Mets' Rule 5 picks, Pedro Beato and Brad Emaus. Agreed that both have about as good a chance to last the whole season as any Rule 5 guys do anywhere in the major leagues.
--Brian Cashman addressed, once more, his thought that the Red Sox are the AL East favorites on paper. The Red Sox people consider this gamesmanship on Cashman's part, but I think this is more part of Cashman's general openness. He realizes that the Yankees' starting rotation needs more help.
Meanwhile, Hank Steinbrenner's comments earlier this week were so thunderous that his obvious jab at Cashman didn't get that much attention. I'm glad Erik Boland followed up on it. Cashman doesn't need to have much of a relationship with Hank because - stop me if I've written this before - Hank is minimally involved.
--I'll check in later from Mets camp.