Play Ball!

by Howard Lestrud
ECM Online Managing Editor
To some, the sounds of spring come when you see your first robin, when you hear water dripping off the roof, when you see blooming flowers and when you move your toes through green gass. To others, the only plausible sound of spring is the crack of a bat on a 95 mile an hour baseball.
Yes, spring training is upon us. Pitchers and catchers for the Minnesota Twins and many other Major League Baseball teams reported for spring training. More team members were slated to report this week.
Ever since I followed my older brother’s interest in baseball, spring training has been a favorite part of the sport. I can remember waiting patiently every day my brother came home from his newspaper job with the Austin Daily Herald. He was good friends with the sports editor and brought home exclusive photos of spring training from the wire service.
I’ve been to spring training a couple of times, my favorite trip being in 1987 when son Troy and I motored to Tinker Field in Orlando, Florida to see the eventual World Series champions. I can remember seeing some new faces in the Twins lineup: Dan Gladden, Jeff Reardon and Juan Berenguer. All were instrumental in the Twins winning the World Series in 1987.
I also remember going to Lakeland, Florida in 1993 hoping to see the Detroit Tigers play the World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. Daughter Tammi and I thought it would be a piece of cake getting a ticket. We were wrong. We couldn’t even find a scalper willing to sell a ticket at a reasonable price. We finally settled on standing room and got into the stadium after the game started.
Many of us Twins fans hungered for outdoor baseball for years and spring training was one way to get a sample of this. Twins fans are some of the best spring training fans around. The first season at Target Field last year was a resounding success and this means many fans will be in Florida getting warmed up for another banner year at one of the Major Leagues’ best ballparks. According to Wikipedia, spring training by major league teams in sites other than their regular season game sites began in the 1920s. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_training
The early spring training teams  included the St. Louis Cardinals in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma; the New York Yankees in New Orleans and later Phoenix, Arizona, when the team was owned by Del Webb; the Chicago Cubs in Los Angeles when owned by William Wrigley Jr.; the St. Louis Browns and later the Kansas City Athletics in San Diego as well the A’s were in West Palm Beach, Florida; the Pittsburgh Pirates in Honolulu and other teams joined in by the early 1940s.
According to the autobiography of former Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck, avoiding racism was one reason the Cactus League was established.  In 1947, Veeck was the owner of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers and the team trained in Ocala, Fla. Veeck inadvertently sat in the segregated section of the stands and engaged in conversation with a couple of Black fans.
According to Veeck’s book, the local law enforcement told Veeck he could not sit in that section, and then called the Ocala mayor when Veeck argued back. The mayor finally backed down when Veeck threatened to take his team elsewhere for spring training and promised to let the country know why. Veeck’s account was the subject of much debate among sportswriters after his autobiography was published, but later investigations proved his story to be mostly accurate.
This story definitely is believable because I had the good fortune to meet Veeck in 1970 when I was sports editor of the Winona Daily News. Veeck spoke to a crowd at Winona State University and I had the opportunity to meet him following the talk. Veeck ambled into the interview room with a cigarette pursed in his lips. He then put out his cigarette in an ash tray located in his wooden leg. Veeck was asked what he thought of Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith who months earlier had been accused of racial remarks about his star, Rod Carew. “Calvin Griffith is a disgrace to the human race,” Veeck said. These stories prove that Veeck was a promoter who made it possible for all races to enjoy America’s game sitting next to one another.
Wikipedia gives a breakdown of both spring training locations: Cactus League out west and Grapefruit League down south.
The Cactus League includes:
* Arizona Diamondbacks: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale
* Chicago Cubs: HoHoKam Park, Mesa
* Chicago White Sox: Camelback Ranch, Glendale
* Cincinnati Reds: Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear
* Cleveland Indians: Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear
* Colorado Rockies: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale
* Kansas City Royals: Surprise Stadium, Surprise
* Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe
* Los Angeles Dodgers: Camelback Ranch, Glendale
* Milwaukee Brewers: Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix
* Oakland Athletics: Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Phoenix
* San Diego Padres: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria
* San Francisco Giants: Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale
* Seattle Mariners: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria
* Texas Rangers: Surprise Stadium, Surprise
The Grapefruit League includes:
* Atlanta Braves: Champion Stadium, Lake Buena Vista at Walt Disney World
* Boston Red Sox: City of Palms Park, Fort Myers
* Baltimore Orioles: Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota
* Detroit Tigers: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland
* Florida Marlins: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
* Houston Astros: Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee
* Minnesota Twins: Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers
* New York Mets: Digital Domain Park, Port St. Lucie
* New York Yankees: George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa
* Philadelphia Phillies: Bright House Field, Clearwater
* Pittsburgh Pirates: McKechnie Field, Bradenton
* St. Louis Cardinals: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
* Tampa Bay Rays: Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte
* Toronto Blue Jays: Dunedin Stadium, Dunedin
* Washington Nationals: Space Coast Stadium, Viera

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