It’s time for spring training, and despite the weather around these parts, spring is in the air even if you have to drive six hours to our south to experience it.
If you are a baseball fan, there is nothing like spring training. It’s that time we all look forward to after a long winter of having to watch something other than the national pastime.
It is finally time for baseball, and with the spring comes the natural hope that your favorite team can go all the way this season.
Hope springs eternal, as the old saying goes.
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It was about 20 years ago when I went to my first spring training. The Atlanta Braves trained in West Palm Beach then, and with all due respect to central Florida and the Disney area, it was Heaven on Earth.
West Palm Beach had the beach, which is always a plus. Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Buena Vista or wherever the Braves train now has a bunch of ponds, but it’s not the beach.
West Palm Beach had that old spring training feel to it, with an old stadium that still had cheap seats and the environment that you were there to watch players get ready for the season instead of worrying about how much the souvenirs that had the Disney logo on it were going to cost.
Each morning the sun would come up through the palm trees over old Municipal Stadium, and the players would take the field. It was just special. If you ever went, you know what I mean.
Sure, the Braves’ offices were in trailers instead of plush suites they have now, but that was their problem. For the fans, it was just a better experience.
You could wander around and see players and see prospects, instead of having to be watched closely by uniformed security guards who might sick Mickey or Pluto on you if you go where you’re not supposed to go.
Florida was the destination for most of the teams, but now half of them are training in Arizona. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers, who for years trained in the incomparable Vero Beach, have moved out west.
Spring training has gone corporate, as has the entire world, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong. Disney is nice. It’s clean. It’s fun. But there was just something about those old spring training stadiums that made it special. It was truly old-time baseball.
If you love getting autographs, spring training is the time to get them. The players are more accessible than they are during the regular season.
They are more laid back, more relaxed. That changes a bit starting in mid-March, when the players get more serious in prepping for the regular season.
It’s always fun to go to the back fields at Disney and watch the prospects. You might not know the names, but you could know the names enough to look out for the kids you’ll be seeing in the show very soon.
We’ll soon hear the pop of the bat, the sound of the ball hitting the glove, and if we’re lucky and we’re there, we can smell the freshly cut green grass that just looks a bit better in late February and March compared to late in the summer.
This year is like every other year. The Braves and the other 29 baseball teams have tons of questions, tons of potential and tons of excitement. These next five weeks will show us a lot to prepare us for the next six months.
And whether it’s a special season or a disappointing year, it all starts in spring training. Training camp in August for football season is always fun, but there’s nothing like spring training to whet our appetite for the game of baseball.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.