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Some thoughts from Goodyear…

Well my trip to Goodyear for games against the Mariners and Brewers has come and gone, and it certainly wasn’t without its share of highs and lows. My contributions here on LGT usually consist of poorly-timed jokes that are usually lame and/or in poor taste, so I guess that providing some notes from our new digs in Goodyear is the least that I can do. I’d like to consider myself somewhat of a Spring Training aficionado, as I’ve had the privilege to attend games in Winter Haven, Dunedin, Vero Beach, Kissimmee, and now Goodyear over four of the last five years, so rest assured that I’m not assessing the Goodyear experience in a vacuum. I was initially going to make this a photo-essay, until I realized that I didn’t take any pictures during the trip, and also that I didn’t have the requisite feminine sunglasses to pull it off. So we’re going with all-text. And here we go…

I’ll admit that I didn’t exactly have high expectations coming into Goodyear. Everything I’d heard so far about the proximity of the practice fields, the cost of the tickets, the accessibility of the players…I had a feeling that I was going to miss Winter Haven dearly. Predictably enough, I wasn’t the least impressed during my first thirty minutes in Goodyear. Actually, that’s not true. I was really impressed with the Goodyear Airport on the drive into the baseball facility. Planes from basically every airline in the world (mostly 747s) are just sitting there, idle, costing the airlines less than it would to fly them. My dad’s a travel agent, and his rubber necking almost caused a few accidents while passing this spectacle. But I digress.

The first thirty minutes of my Indians-related Goodyear experience were not impressive. The first thing you notice when you pull into the facility is how far apart the stadium and the practice fields are. It’s about a ten minute walk in scorching heat, and although they do provide trolleys going back and forth, it’s often easier to walk than to wait 10+ minutes for a trolley. We showed up to the stadium an hour and a half before game-time, and foolishly assumed that something would be going on at the practice fields. The only soul there was a security guard who asked us if we were media, then politely told us that we couldn’t come anywhere near the fields. Thanks boss. Ten minutes back to the stadium, and we’re starting to get a good sweat going. There’s always a nice breeze in Arizona which made this trek somewhat bearable, but it was still frustrating as heck. Which brings me to Beef/Suggestion #1…

BEEF/SUGGESTION #1: Why in the world are they so far apart? None of the locals could provide an explanation apart from "more development is planned" Development of what? Hotels? Malls? They couldn’t have gone on the other side of the practice fields. You’ll notice that there’s literally nothing even close to the stadium or the practice fields, so to put them so far apart is just puzzling. I’m sure there’s a good reason, but I haven’t heard it yet. One of the truly unique parts about Winter Haven was that the practice field was so close to the stadium, and that you could watch batting practice until minutes before game-time, then in one tiny leap get over the stadium to find your seats. I will give the Indians credit for having the foresight to have the trolley running, but my feeling is that the trolley was mainly meant for those who parked cars near the practice facility (to get to the stadium) and not those who want to actually watch practice. Posting practice times near the stadium (possibly near the trolley stop, or on the website?) would be a glorious undertaking. READ THIS MARK SHAPIRO. (Oddly enough, I did "meet" Mark on Wednesday, but was too star-struck to think to make the suggestion. I’m an idiot.)

What about prices? Food was a tad more expensive than in Florida at $4 hotdogs, $8 cheesesteaks and $7 beers, but we’re dealing with professional sports here, so I’m not going to go on a senseless rant. It’s certainly par for the course compared with other stadiums. Parking was very reasonably priced at $5, so good work there. The team shop is huge with a great selection, and the prices in there didn’t seem too outrageous compared with in Cleveland. The only problem is that the lines are too long to actually purchase anything and make it for the first pitch, but I’m sure that will be ironed out in time.

ITEM OF PRAISE #1: The ballpark is absolutely gorgeous. I’m not one who goes to baseball games for pretty views, but it really is quite nice. The field itself is immaculate, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The seats in the left and right field corners are angled perfectly so that you face home plate without having to crane your neck. Not many seats in the shade, but hey, it’s Arizona, enjoy the sunshine. The BERM is probably the best I’ve seen in baseball. Inclined and positioned perfectly so that you don’t have to worry about either the outfield fence or the meathead in front of you obstructing your view. The Kids’ Zone down the 1st base line is really a nice touch too. But yes, I do have complaints….

BEEF/SUGGESTION #2: They need a new guy running the music. Haha I know it’s the minorest of minor points, but he really is bad. Playing intro music for the opposition, playing "Call Me" during EVERY visit to the mound regardless of team or intent of the manager, it goes on and on. I made a mental note to remember every gaffe this guy/girl made, but I really did lose count after about the 8th inning of the first game. And I know it’s their first season there, but the scoreboard was a huge disappointment. It didn’t show pitch speed during either of the games, and wasn’t working at all for the first three innings of the Monday game. Thank goodness the guy behind me was teaching his son what balls and strikes were, so they kept me updated with the counts.

Time for some completely random thoughts…

  • I give a huge amount of credit to the players who realize how detached they are from the fans outside of the stadium, and are clearly trying hard to interact with fans in the half-hour before games. Even players in the starting line-up were taking time to sign autographs and chat with fans, which is something you would rarely see in Winter Haven with that group of players.
  • It’s neat seeing a different demographic of Tribe fans in Goodyear than in Winter Haven. The fans now consist of really old people from Arizona, vacationers from Ohio, and former Ohioans now living in California and Vegas. I’m interested to see whether the already low attendance takes another hit once the novelty wears off for these groups. Attendance for both games I attended was buoyed by visiting teams’ fans (who knew there were that many Brewers fans?), and again I wonder whether that will be a yearly support base or just a product of those fans wanting to see the new park.
  • Bob Feller is still there, still signing autographs for $10 apiece. Not wearing full uniform anymore though, which was a bit surprising. I’m still shocked that anyone in the Western Hemisphere doesn’t have Feller’s autograph, but that’s probably just me being pompous.
  • Something that I didn’t think about until Sunday was how the weather would really impact the Spring Training experience. I just figured that Florida=Arizona when it comes to sunny goodness. But thinking back on how many games in Florida that I’ve attended that have been postponed due to rain, Arizona kicks Florida’s booty in this area. Especially for those heading down for only a couple of games and who can’t afford any postponements, consistent weather is a huge plus.

I guess the bottom line is that there are a lot of things to like about Goodyear. In many ways it does remind me of other Spring Training parks, and it does go beyond what those parks provide in terms of some stadium-related amenities (it really reminded me of the Astros’ facility in Kissimmee for what it’s worth). It’s clearly a far better deal for the players as well, in terms of the quality of the facility and the privacy it provides. But for those who loved Winter Haven for its intimacy, don’t expect to get that same experience. The players are doing their best to still interact with fans, but it’s just practically more difficult to have those interactions here than it was at our favourite dump in Central Florida. Winter Haven, I already miss you dearly. Will I be returning to Goodyear? Eventually, but I can’t see myself returning every year anymore. The feeling I got is that while Winter Haven was somewhere where you could go to nearly a week’s worth of games and have novel experiences every day, Goodyear is the kind of place where I’d go for one or two games and be content. Even with the issues I do have with the place, it’s still great getting the chance to talk to Tribe fans from all over, and to see some of the prospects in action. That part of the experience will never change, and I’ll certainly never get sick of that.

And for the heck of it, here are some random thoughts on some player performances over the few games:

Pitchers

  • SLewis and Sowers looked nearly as good as their stat lines would suggest. They each received a bit of help from Lady Luck (a near-homer foul ball off Lewis, good defence behind Sowers), but they each look able to contribute for the Tribe right now. A few weeks in Columbus to sharpen their games won’t hurt though.
  • Reyes was an interesting case, as he was rolling along nicely until a long at-bat with Fielder. Fielder fouled off a number of pitches, then absolutely tattooed a homer to the opposite field. Maybe seeing a human with that kind of strength was jarring for Reyes, because he was working off the plate for the rest of his appearance.
  • Wood. ‘Nuff said.
  • Vinnie Chulk looks like one confident dude. I really hope he’s given a spot as the long man to start the season, because at this point hitters are really hopeless against him. Terrible swings right across the board.

Hitters

  • Seeing Pronk live is really sad. He still looks as defeated at the plate as he did last year. He’s talking some good walks, which hopefully means that his pitch judgement is improved over last year…but boy does the ball ever die off of his bat. Chuck might end up being right. Let’s hope not.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if Vic really struggles defensively this season. Some of this is based on the smallest size of all-time (none of his throws to second were even close during any of the pitchers’ warm-ups), but considering how hard he’s likely working on getting his bat back to All-Star status, neglect of his defensive work wouldn’t be an unreasonable possibility. I’m expecting the opposition to run at will against him, at least early in the season until he gets in an offensive rhythm.
  • Every ball hit or thrown to Beau Mills at first base is an adventure. I think I counted at least five or six balls that were either dropped or looked realllllllly shaky. He needs a ton of work defensively to be comfortable out there.
  • Overall, our plate discipline really impressed me over the two games. Guys were taking pitchers deep into counts with no memorable bad swings that I can remember. Shoppach’s homer in particular was after a 10-pitch at-bat, and Jamie Carroll did some wonderful work fouling off pitches.
  • Oh, and why did Tony Graffanino start two games in a row? We’re rewarding him for two solidly hit singles in the Brewers game? Geez. And yes, my anger stems from the fact that Andy Marte played only 2-3 defensive innings against the Mariners and had one at-bat during my visit. He failed meekly. I cheered on the outside, but wept on the inside. At least I can take solace in the fact that he is not the worst player on the team though. Ladies and gentlemen….Josh Barfield. Absolutely no clue at the plate, which bodes well for a potential utility player. Hell, Graffanino may get the call sooner than later I guess.
  • I saw it mentioned in the game threads, but I thought I would reinforce that Asdrubal and Jhonny were quite solid defensively on Monday against the Mariners. Droobs made a particularly nice throw to first from well behind 2nd base, and Jhonny made a few heads up plays doubling up silly Mariner runners.
  • I’m off to get my wisdom teeth removed, so if I write anything incomprehensible tomorrow night, don’t be alarmed. It’s the codeine. And thanks for listening to my 2000+ word rant.

     

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