Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Back from Spring Training - how do they look?

Fort Myers is much nicer in March than Boston is.

It's not just that 80 and sunny is more fun than 30 and blustery with a blizzard in the forecast. Even if that blizzard never shows up. They have baseball going on.

jetBlue Park is such a nice, relaxed place. The official name is jetBlue Park at Fenway South. Looks just like Fenway on TV, but not when you look at the stands. 10,000 seats instead of 38,000, so you're closer to the game. Wider, more comfortable seats. Certainly better than the blue wood ones in the Fenway grandstand. Parking is $10. Better than $40. No commuter rail or T option, of course, but they do have golf cart shuttles to take old folks and parents with little kids to their cars which are parked on soccer fields about a mile away.

They have the Pesky Pole in right.

The stands jutting out after 3rd base, the triangle in center, the Green Monster. The jetBlue Monster has the actual scoreboard that was in the wall at Fenway from 1969 until 2003. I know what you're thinking...why did they change it? Here's why. From the time Fenway was built in 1912 until 1961 there were only 16 teams: 8 American League and 8 National League. That's 8 games at a time to fit on the scoreboard. Easy peasy, even for a hand-operated scoreboard. Between 1961 and 1969 expansion grew that number to 24, which just did not fit on the scoreboard. So the original scoreboard that you see in the old Ted Williams pictures was replaced with one that only featured the American League. That's the one you see now at jetBlue. When the John Henry group took over in 2002 they added the Monster Seats and replaced the scoreboard with an almost identical one, but wider, so the National League is back on it. With Interleague play every night you really have to do that. Plus, the faux Green Monster is 3 feet taller and also has three rows of seats halfway up.

Which I sat in for one game.

Pretty cool, I must say. Well, not actually cool, but you're in shade. It's a different view, and you really appreciate how much territory the center fielder has to cover.

So how to do they look?

They won every game I saw. Beat the Phillies, Rays, Pirates and Astros. Saw Chris Sale pitch. Also David Price, Joe Kelly, Carson Smith, Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Workman, Brian Johnson (who wound up making the rotation), and a guy named Trevor Kelley who, unlike Joe, spells his name correctly, but is not on the 40-man roster. They all looked good. Highly touted Jalen Beeks did himself no favors by giving up gave up 7 runs in the 1st inning with only one out. In one game they were losing 5-2 going into the bottom of the 9th. In case you haven't been to sprig training, by the 7th inning none of the regulars are still in the game. It's a bunch a scrubs, as they say, wearing numbers like 98 with no name on their back. So in the bottom of the 9th these guys you've never heard of - but might in a couple of years - had back-to-back-to-back doubles, then a triple and a walkoff single to win it, 5-4. That was fun.

How about the killer B's?

Great. Betts is clearly back. Benentendi never really went away. When they announce him it sounds like three guys are at bat simultaneously: Andrew, Ben and Tendy. Bogaerts was a little iffy defensively, but it looks like his injured hand is all better and his bat is clearly hot. Blake Swihart, who was out of options and might have been on the trading block, made the big team. Brock Holt, who had vertigo and concussion issues last year, played so well that he secured his utility role and Devin Marrero (great glove, can't hit) was traded to San Diego. Oh, yes...JBJ. Great D, as always, but he hit a lowly .158 with zero HR’s. That’s bad, even for him.

And the other guys?

The new slugger in town, JD Martinez, didn’t hit any HR’s (that’s what he was brought in to do,right?) but looked very good otherwise, hitting .319 with an OPS of .794. Rafael Devers is improving his footwork at 3rd and still has that sweet swing. Christian Vazquez has played so well that he got a 3-year contract extension. Hanley Ramirez looks a little better (.283 with one homer) but will have to work hard to get those 497 plate appearances to guarantee his $22 million deal for 2019. Don't bet on that happening unless Hanley really lights it up.

They play “Dirty Water” after a win.

But then they replace Fenway staple “Tessie” by the Dropkick Murphys with “Happy Trails to You” by Roy Rogers for the old folks. Roy Rogers was one of my favorite TV shows when I was a little kid and I sang along on the way out. I wasn’t the only one.

Opening Day is tomorrow in Tampa Bay.

I’m psyched - especially for next Thursday when they open at Fenway. All the snow should be gone by then.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Cuba...the rest of the story

Part dos of my Cuba adventure.

If you enjoy live music, you're in for a treat. It's everywhere.

.Don't ask if they know Guantanamera.

That's like asking a band at home if they know Happy Birthday. Every band sings Guantanamera. In every set. Every time. Guantanamera, which was a top 10 hit song in the US by The Sandpipers (Billboard Hot 100 #9 on 7/30/1966), is probably the best-known of any Cuban song. Part of the lyrics come from a patriotic poem by Jose Marti, the National Hero of Cuba (see the description of his 164th birthday party rally and parade in part uno of the blog). You should tip the band, of course. If you're in a restaurant - outdoor or indoor - one of the singers will come up to your table after the set and ask if you'd like to buy one of their CD's. The tip and any CD sales is probably all they get.

Driving around in Havana.

Traffic is not that busy. Lots of people are walking around and hanging in doorways. At night there's hardly any traffic, very few lights, basically no stores and hardly any signs.

With one notable exception.

Floridita Restaurante.

It's a restaurant and bar - mostly bar - where Ernest Hemingway hung out ordering daiquiris so frequently that the government let them keep the neon sign and put up a bronze statue of him sitting at the bar.

Hemingway was famous for saying writers should use small words instead of big ones.

When I asked him about that he didn't say much at all.

Out in the country.

We headed out west to Pinar del Rio where they roll cigars by hand. Looks like pretty tedious work, but when you get back home everyone will ask you if you brought back any Cuban smokes. Along the highway - a four lane divided highway with a grass median - you see vast farmland with horses and cows grazing. It seems like they have as much grass to chew as they could possibly want, but the horses and cows are all skinny. Maybe the grass there doesn't taste that great. You also see horse-drawn wagons trotting down the slow lane hauling bales of hay or whatever. Even some with oxen doing the hauling. My observation is that the horses trot along and look like they're having a pretty good time, but the oxen just slog along and look bored.


Of course. Beautiful clean sand, gently rolling waves of pure blue water.

In terms of beach attire, people are pretty relaxed. The European effect is clearly there. Remember, most tourists are not from the US.

What about the people? Do they like Americans?

They're incredibly nice. Everyone you pass has a smiling "Hola" for you. And they love having Americans visit after all those decades. But it isn't as easy now as it was last year. The Trump rollbacks were designed to keep American dollars out of the hands of the Cuban Government. But as I wrote on part uno of this blog, no one in Havana is whipping out an Amex Gold Card or even a pile of $20 bills. No plastic is accepted and no American money. So the only ones who really get hurt are the people like Alejandro who drive you around in that 1954 Chevy.

Or Pedro, who owns the casa where we stayed.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely. The most interesting trip I've taken in a long time.