Thursday, March 15, 2012

jetBlue Park at Fenway South

It's one of those names like "Orioles Park at Camden Yards" that looks good on paper, but it's well-known (at least in radio circles) that people love nicknames and they'll shorten anything they can. Just like The Fleet center was shortened to "The Fleet" and "TD Garden" is shortened to "The Garden," the new Red Sox spring training park will be popularly known as either jetBlue Park or Fenway South. My bet is on Fenway South. It's catchy and it fits. You don't have to remember that the "j" in jetBlue is lower case, but the B is upper case. Just say, "Fenway South" and everyone knows what you mean.

Here's the View From Section 29 in Ft. Myers (actually it's 209 or something like that). The grandstand roof looks like the bleachers at Dodger Stadium, but the field dimensions are almost exactly like Fenway. The Monster is actually 6 feet higher, and three rows of the Monster Seats are halfway up the wall with a screen. There's another row on top of the Monster South. For some reason that I don't get at all, the Red Sox dugout is on the third base side.

Why would they take such care to duplicate Fenway and get something that simple backward?  Everything else is identical. The stands jutting out down the third base line, 310' to the left field wall, the actual scoreboard from Yaz days in the wall, the triangle in center, the bullpens, the Pesky pole, the low fence in right like at Fenway. (In April 1990 Claudell Washington, not being familiar with the quirks of Fenway, tried to non-chalant a Bill Buckner fly ball to right where the fence is only about 4 feet high. Claudell fell into the stands and Bill Buckner got an inside-the-park home run. Buckner, knowing this was funny, laughed his way around the bases.)

Back to spring training 2012. I saw the Red Sox play the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. It's a decent ballpark with signs, seats and such that look just like Camden Yards, but the field dimensions are standard. The O's fans shout out "O" on "Oh, say can you see" in the middle of the National Anthem just like they do in Baltimore. They play "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" by John Denver right after "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" just like in Baltimore. Lots of O's fans there, but probably outnumbered by Sox fans. Just like in Baltimore.

Back to Fort Myers. Get there an hour early so you can park. Parking is in an adjacent grass field like you're going to a college football game. The fans are really into it. Sure, there is a heavy dose of guys walking with canes and women riding a Lark, but you also see tons of young families and 20-somethings on dates. I did a head count of 100 people and the gender skew was 51-49. It's a great-looking park. Every game is sold out, they play "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the 8th and "Dirty Water" when the Sox win.

Youk was trying a new stance with his feet spread apart a little. It wasn't helping yet. Josh Beckett started one game with a quick one-pitch out, then proceeded to hit two guys in a row, then walk two guys. New closer Andrew Bailey came on the in the 6th and gave up three straight hits. 

Meanwhile, three regular starters are batting below the Mendoza line (Ellsbury, Youk and Saltalamacchia), one is in the 200's (Papi), one is in the 300's (Gonzalez) and one is over .400 (Pedroia). Lavarnway's batting average is double Saltalamacchia's. 

What do you do with guys like Lars Anderson, with more AB's than Gonzo, more hits, more runs, more HR's, more RBI's, more walks, higher OBP, slugging and OPS, and a BA that's 43 points higher? Or what about #77 (not a number that typically goes to someone traveling north with the big team), Pedro Ciriaco? An infielder who's hitting .643, made a fabulous Pedroia-quality play against the Orioles on Sunday, hit a 10th inning walkoff home run on Monday and scored the winning run on a single and fielding errors by the Yankees on Tuesday. He has much better numbers in everything than Aviles, Iglesias or Punto, the candidates for the starting shortstop job.

It makes you forget about last September.

Hope springs eternal.