With Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training Games starting today, Jays From the Couch brings you a series that features our writers and their personal connection to the MLB preseason.
The story about my love for the game of baseball is a stereotypical one. It was one of the primary ways in which I spent time with my dad when I was a kid, as we played catch or went to the park for him to throw me batting practice and hit me ground balls. Baseball has forever been part of the fabric of my family, as my dad and I shared that bond and my mother, with her thick Scottish brogue, yelled encouragements as she kept the scorebook while attending all of my games. Even to this day, as I play as a 40-year-old weekend warrior, my parents still attend almost all of my games.
The approach of spring training each year has always been a period of anticipation and excitement for me, as I am sure it is for all those who love the game. However, it took on a new dimension of significance for me about 10 years ago, as my wife and mother surprised my dad and I for Christmas with a spring training trip to Florida.
My dad was a big Phillies fan when I was a young child, as they enjoyed their glory years from the mid 1970’s through 1983. Mike Schmidt was my hero when I was in little league, and I even emulated his butt wiggle and batting stance. However, I was seduced away by they Blue Jays in 1985 as I was first exposed to them during their playoff run. They became an obsession of sorts, as I eagerly awaited daily highlights on Sportscenter and Baseball Tonight.
My relationship with the Blue Jays and the Phillies has been an interesting one through the years. As a 12-year-old in 1987, the pennant race between the Blue Jays and the Tigers, as well as the juiced ball of that season and the accompanying crazy offensive production throughout the MLB, cemented my allegiance as a Blue Jays-first fan. During my homecoming dance as a senior in high school, my date got mad at me for ignoring her to go out into the lobby to watch the Jays play the Braves in the 1992 World Series. The following year, I was the only Blue Jays fan at a Shippensburg, PA university all-male dorm and was surrounded by Phillies fans. I was threatened with bodily harm several times for jumping around like a lunatic during several of the games (particularly game 4), but fortunately I was at home during a break from school and got to watch game 6 with my dad – otherwise it is possible I may not of survived that game alive.
My dad and I spent a long weekend at spring training based in Clearwater, FL. We were able to attend 7 games in 5 days, with the Phillies playing the Blue Jays one game each in Clearwater and Dunedin. On two of the days, we made road trips to Lakeland and Bradenton to watch the Blue Jays play the Tigers and the Pirates for day games, then made it back to Clearwater to watch night games. On the Saturday, we watched a Blue Jays game in Dunedin then adjourned to the original Hooters in Clearwater to watch the two NCAA Final Four games that evening/night.
During the many hours we spent seated at the games, we talked about baseball and reminisced about the many stories we shared as he coached me from little league until high school. We both laughed at how we both still curse every time we pass an exit sign for Tamaqua off the interstate, as we had lost a game to them due to a blown call by the home plate umpire (we had it on video tape!) that would have put us into the little league state semi-finals. Prior to this year’s run to the Little League World Series final game versus Japan, our team had been the deepest progressing team in the history of Red Land PA Little League.
We talked about life and how he loved being a grandpa for the first time to my baby girl, and also how much he missed seeing me and my sister at that age because he had been working overtime and going to college at night.
Spring training isn’t what it used to be, as it has been infected with the same almighty dollar culture that seems to dominates all of professional sports. It is much harder for the typical working family to afford the costs of attending games, let alone a trip to Florida or Arizona. However, I strongly encourage anyone who shares the love of the game with someone important in your life, whether it is a parent, spouse, child or friend, to consider adding a weekend trip to spring training to your bucket list. I know that for me, the memories and time I spent with my dad on that trip are priceless and will forever be what spring training means to me.
*Featured Image Credit: jcsullivan24 UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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