April Fool’s came early for Turners Falls resident Tony Worden, whose vacation checklist included getting tickets to the Astros’ spring training game against the Florida Marlins on March 11.
Worden paid $156 for four $27 seats, but what surprised him more than the ticket fees was the playing venue. He knew that Houston and Washington had broken ground on a new training facility 14 months ago, but being from Mass. he figured it would take about as long to finish as Boston’s Big Dig.
“I assumed they’d be in Kissimmee this year and the Nationals would be in Viera.” said Worden, “I didn’t even consider they’d have everything completed in time for this season.”
The Wordens stay in Davenport, Fla., which is a half-hour’s drive from where the Astros played at Osceola County Stadium. Now it’ll be a 164-mile trek across the state to I-95 and down the coast, but they’ll give it a shot anyway. “We’re making the trip … I’m curious to see what kind of palace they’re building down there,” said Worden.
They’ll be among the first to experience the end result of what greed hath wrought. In south Florida, real estate people refer to man-made ponds as “lakes” and call trailer parks “estates.”
It’s fitting, therefore, that the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is nowhere near the ocean. It’s built on an old landfill and workers had to remove tons of old tires, rusted cans and rancid filth before they could begin constructing the 6,500-seat stadium.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is less than four miles from the current landfill. It’s called the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, but a dump is a dump and its putrid odor attracts vultures and gulls that circle over the trash heap like a scene from an old western movie.
Fans will get a whiff of the landfill whenever the wind’s from the northwest. Newspaper reports say hundreds of birds are perching on the light standards and railings waiting for the first fan to spill his popcorn.
It’s Alfred Hitchcock meets Abner Doubleday.
Bloggers are calling it “Bird Poop Park” and posting messages like, “It took pure genius to build that park next to a smelly dump.” Another suggested the home team be called the West Palm Beach Vultures.
This ripe chapter in south Florida history was the result of a county land-grab to get two teams before anyone else came along with a better offer.
The first game is Feb. 28 and The Palm Beach Post reported hundreds of workers are putting in 20-hour days. Fans had to drive two miles to buy tickets from the back of a truck. The face value for a box seat behind home plate to watch the (Pawtucket) Red Sox is $65, and ordinary seats are selling for as high as $185 on StubHub.
“None of us are really Astros fans,” said Worden, “but they were so convenient all those years in Kissimmee we always went. The ball park was small enough so that you were right on top of the field. One year they added a split squad game against the Red Sox and we sat right next to the Red Sox dugout about three feet from Terry Francona and the tickets were $15 each. I’m going to miss it.”
There’s a lot to miss about spring training, most of all the intimacy of those old ballparks like Dodgertown in Vero Beach and now Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.
These days it’s all about the smell of money, no matter how bad the scent.
Here’s an idea: the Wordens could sell the Astros tickets on StubHub and drive 70 miles further south to watch the World Baseball Classic in Miami. Colombia plays Canada at Marlins Park at noon on March 11, and later that day the U.S. plays the defending champion Dominican Republic.
The games are separate admission and though the face value is exorbitant the tickets will nosedive on the secondary market. The Marlins were the fourth-worst draw in baseball last season and the stadium holds 37,000, ergo expect cheap seats and plenty of elbow room.
In 2009 I watched Venezuela beat the U.S., 10-6, at Dolphins Stadium. Granted it was raining, but only 16,750 fans were at the game. Most were Venezuelans, singing and banging noisemakers, and having a wonderful time.
Over 100 Major Leaguers, including Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Sandy Leon, will leave training camp to play for their homeland. Owners worry about injuries (hello, Daisuke) and the fans won’t see some of their favorite players in spring training.
The U.S. is coached by Jim Leyland and the roster includes Andrew Miller, Chris Archer, Buster Posey, Daniel Murphy and Adam Jones.
Former Red Sox catcher and five-time All Star Tony Pena will coach the Dominican Republic team that includes Dellin Betances, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano and Manny Machado.
The winner — or winners because it’s hard to believe MLB would put the U.S. and Dominican Republic in the same pool otherwise — will advance to the second round sites in Tokyo and San Diego, and the championship round will be in Los Angeles on March 20 and 22.
Ten days after handing Dayton its only loss in the A-10, the UMass basketball team has dropped back-to-back games against two teams with losing records — Fordham and St. Louis — and after a 10-3 start are now tied for last place in the A-10 with a 2-6 record.
After fattening up on cupcakes, the roles are reversed and UMass is the opponent that every A-10 team has circled on the schedule as a must-win.
UMass has qualified for the NCAA tournament once since 1998 and were blown out in the first game, 86-67 against Tennessee.
Get used to it, because Dr. J and Marcus Camby won’t be walking through that door.
Deerfield grad Steve Kramer remembers Bill Belichick’s PG year at Andover. “I saw his name as No. 50 in the program at center. We played him my senior year when they had a Hawaiian quarterback named Milt Holt. They tore us up, 30-6. Holt was a southpaw pitcher with a curve ball that fell off the table. He went to Harvard and was a wild man.”
Kramer added that he and his son Jake went to the AFC championshp game. “We made a sign that read, “GOODELL: Who’s DEFLATED now?
Super Bowl Notes: The Atlanta Falcons’ high-scoring offense is reminiscent of the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” in 2001 that starred Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Terry Holt and Ricky Proehl.
The Patriots were 14-point underdogs versus St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI and the over/under was 53. New England won, 20-17.
Two years later, they were 7-point favorites against the upstart Carolina Panthers. The 37.5-point over/under was the second-lowest since 1986 and they combined for 61 points. The Patriots won by three points on Adam Vinitieri’s last second 41-yard field goal.
Carolina’s 12 penalties and the combined 20 flags both tied Super Bowl records.
SXM’s morning co-hosts Ross Tucker and Booger McFarland compared notes after Sunday’s win by the Patriots. Tucker was an offensive lineman and McFarland was a defensive tackle, Tucker was undrafted out of Princeton and McFarland was a first-round pick out of LSU and they complement each other beautifully.
“The Patriots have three things that I wanna have when I wanna win a Super Bowl,” said McFarland, who had 20 sacks in eight seasons with Tampa. “A good quarterback, a great defense and a helluva head coach.”
“If Atlanta wants to beat the Patriots,” said Tucker, “there’d better be a lot of man-to-man coverage and a lot of physicality.”
McFarland’s one caveat: “If Vic Beasley gets some sacks, Atlanta wins.”
McFarland’s nickname came from his older sister who sniped at him when he was misbehaving: “You’re just being a booger!”
The inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup is today at Gulfstream Park (NBC, 4:30-6 p.m.). The richest thoroughbred race in the world will be contested at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt.
The 12-horse field shapes up as another match race between BC Classic winner Arrogate and runner-up California Chrome. It could be a three-peat of the Nov. 4 Classic, when Keen Ice rounded out the chalky $37.30 trifecta.
California Chrome will break from the far outside and is the 6-5 morning line favorite; Arrogate drew the extreme inside and is the 7-5 second choice. Keen Ice is next at 12-1, followed by Shaman Gost at 20-1.
Hinsdale OTB will will carry the entire 12-race card that starts at noon. Post time for the Pegasus is 5:40 p.m. It’s the last race of the day, meaning gridlock will ensue shortly thereafter at the intersection of Route 1 and Hallandale Beach Boulevard.
Squibbers: Sports Illustrated’s preseason issue picked Arizona to beat Pittsburgh, 40-37. They got the wrong teams but maybe the right score. … Only 17 of the 53 players on the current Patriots roster were on the 2014 Super Bowl team that beat Seattle. … The LA Lakers suffered their worst defeat in franchise history on Sunday, losing by 49 points to the Dallas Mavericks, 122-73, on the 11th anniversay of Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance against Toronto. … The Steelers’ turnovers and blown coverages triggered Bill Polian’s PTSD. The former Colts executive told SXM: “Some people return their gifts to Walmart, the Patriots take theirs to Tiffany’s.” … Mary Tyler Moore was the heartthrob of every schoolkid in America. Her show aired in an age when you either watched it or waited six months for the re-run. It was edge-of-the-seat humor waiting for moments like Ted Baxter reporting an uprising in Albania and calling it the capital of New York. … Groundhog Day is Thursday and Daylight Savings Time is six weeks from today. Thank goodness for small favors, for as the poet George Herbert observed, “Every mile is two in winter.”
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.