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Teny Ymota Says: Spring Training Should Be On Everyone's Bucket List

Meet a new pseudonym from yours truly: Teny Ymota (The Earl of New York [for Weaver of course] Your Man On The Aisle.

2015 will go down as the first year I saw spring training games in both Arizona and Florida. First stop was mid-March in Phoenix - the 22nd annual NINE Baseball Magazine conference, probably the most stimulating one in its storied history.

In 2008 I was proud that the founder of NINE, the late social work professor and former Boston College running back Bill Kirwin, asked me to keynote the conference. I still like the title of my speech, “Whatever Happened To the Marvelous Importance of the Unimportant?” Of course, it is wistful thinking to think there can be a return to a time when baseball talk wasn’t obsessively focused on money.

My vote for the best sentence at NINE 2015 goes to Villanova law school professor Mitchell Nathanson who in an excerpt from his upcoming biography of Dick Allen said: “By saying so little he became the symbol of so much.” Hard to beat that pithy insight into the
U.S. of A.’s ongoing fractious racial discourse.

The NINE conference always includes two afternoons of “field work,” taking in MLB exhibition games. At the first game we attended the starting time was moved up to noon to accommodate Will Ferrell’s farcical attempt to play every position in several spring training games. It’s for an upcoming HBO special.

The startled look on Oakland starter Scott Kazmir’s face when he saw Ferrell playing shortstop in the first inning of their home game against Seattle was priceless.

I like much of Ferrell’s work, esp. his imitation of George W. Bush.
But it took retired football coach/TV analyst John Madden to take Ferrell publicly to task for such a publicity stunt.

Former San Francisco Warrior basketball star Rick Barry once tried something similar at Madden’s Oakland Raiders training camp and the coach made sure that his “gentlemen” defensive backs Jack Tatum and George Atkinson were prepared for Barry if he ran into their territory.

The NINE conferees also saw a ragged White Sox-Angels exhibition at Tempe’s Diablo Stadium. In truth, though, the great baseball-watching highlight of my trip was a thrilling 1-0 Oregon State Beavers victory over the Sun Devils of Arizona State.

Each starter tossed shutout ball into the eighth inning. Elapsed time? Under two hours. Then the bullpens took over and the last two innings needed nearly an hour to complete. The Beavers have an effective lefty reliever with a striking name – Luke Heimlich. Need I say what we should call his summons from the bullpen?
The Heimlich maneuver, of course.

My Florida trip was briefer, beginning with a Saturday afternoon game at the Braves’ home field at the Disney complex in Kissimmee outside Orlando. It was scorchingly hot and there is not much shade at the ballpark. Heavy-duty Neutragena sun screen sure came in handy. A highlight of the field is lawn seats back of third base that have an excellent sightline on the pitcher’s mound.

The Braves held off the Nationals in a close game. But it is unfortunate planning when many spring training games are played between teams in the same division. Who wants to let opponents know what you may be working on when games don’t count?

My trip ended with a Sunday afternoon game in Sarasota between the visiting Cardinals and the Orioles. For almost a half-century the Cardinals trained in St. Petersburg and seemingly more St. Louis fans than Baltimore rooters came out for the Cardinals’ first visit to the Florida West Coast since they moved to Jupiter several years ago.

Ed Smith Stadium is a great place to watch a game – more shade than in most spring training ballparks and reconditioned seats from Camden Yards give it a distinctly Baltimore flavor. Do wish that there were more leg room for yours truly. I did make a close survey for next spring of seats with double leg room!

In a very lackluster spring season for my Orioles, Adam Jones did provide a couple of home run highlights as did Manny Machado for one laser shot. Early in the game
huge Matt Adams belted a lazy 3-0 Bud Norris offering for a big Cardinal home run.
Fortunately I was on my way to the airport when St. Louis won the game with a Grishuk 9th inning home run.

I’m hoping that the 11-18-2 spring training record of the Baltimore birds (as of the morning of April 3) will not be indicative of a mediocre season. Won’t need much time to find out as the bell at long last rings on Sunday night for what should be a very unpredictable and exciting 2015 season.

That’s all for now – always remember: Take it easy but take it!

YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever),
Teny Ymota (The Earl of New York, Your Man On The Aisle)
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