It's just like any other regular, full-on Major League Baseball game -- only better!
Max Scherzer, voted the American League’s best pitcher in 2013, throws a 98 mph fastball and a nasty slider for Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals. Adam Wainwright, a two-time World Series champion pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, features a curve ball that falls about a foot on its way to the plate.
The two bona fide aces faced off a week ago in Viera, a typical Florida small town but for the fact that it’s home to Space Coast Stadium and thus by extension the Washington Nationals’ spring training operations.
The game put Palm Coast baseball fans within 100 miles of a championship-caliber matchup, and for this author at least represented what living in Florida is all about.
Eighty degrees and sunshine — i.e. shorts, sandals and sunscreen — in late March? Check. Tickets more than 50 percent cheaper than what you’d expect up north (think Palm Coast’s cost of living versus Washington, DC)? Check. A traffic-free ride to Publix to pick up the world’s best chicken wings, plus buy-one-get-one Chips Ahoy? Perfect.
To be sure, that half-off ticket only gets you in the door for a “discount” baseball game. But often you won’t really notice until the 7th inning or so, although the signs do get pretty unmistakeable at that point. On Thursday, our group decided we’d had enough fun once “Batter Number 93” came out for an at-bat against “Pitcher Number 85”. The next day, when the Cardinals and Mets were tied at three after nine innings, the managers decided to stop playing; a day later, the Mets and Braves faced the same score, and chose to tack on a 10th inning. So yeah, things are different in the spring.
But at other times it feels just like April, or even August, depending on the heat of the Florida sun that day. On Friday in Port St. Lucie, Mets phenom Noah Syndergaard struck out nine Cardinal batters in six innings, and frequently hit 97 and 98 mph on the radar gun with his fastball. And the team’s center fielder, Juan Lagares, was making major league-level defensive plays all weekend long.
If you haven’t been to a Grapefruit League game (the nickname for contests played in Florida in March), consider splurging on a $20 ticket. And if you have, tell us about your experience in a letter to the editor or on Facebook. I bet I’m not the only guy in Palm Coast who loves spring training baseball.