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VOL. 132 | NO. 64 | Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wiedower

Lance Wiedower

The Art of the Catch at Spring Training

By LANCE WIEDOWER

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This is a story of 27 baseballs and how it took one 10-year-old boy the course of three spring training baseball games to amass that collection.

My son and I attended three Grapefruit League spring training games in South Florida during his recent spring break. For me, it was a way to celebrate recently turning 40. For him? Well, it was all about the magic of collecting baseballs.

But before we get to that story, a thought or two on attending spring training.

Sure, spring training is more than a month of games that don’t matter. For baseball fans, spring is when “wait ’til next year” turns to “this year.”

The beauty of spring training baseball is the access. Half of Major League Baseball teams play in complexes spread across the southern half of Florida, playing in what’s called the Grapefruit League.

The ballparks often hold 6,000 to 7,000 fans, meaning there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The worst seat is the equivalent to a great seat at MLB parks.

Then there is the practice element. Surrounding each park are several fields where fans can roam freely every morning to check out players taking batting practice, fielding practice and learning new positions.

My son is obsessed with honing his ball-hawking skills, something that came in handy when we spent a couple of hours around the Mets’ practice fields in Port St. Lucie. There is an art to convincing Major League Baseball players, coaches and managers to give a ball to a fan, and he seems to have it down to a science.

Standing behind the outfield fence of a backfield at the New York Mets complex, Colby had his eye on the manager, Terry Collins, who was shagging balls hit to him in centerfield.

While other kids chased down pitcher Matt Harvey for autographs, Colby convinced the Mets manager to toss over a ball while also chasing home run and foul balls all over the complex. He collected 15 that day.

The next day at the Astros’ beautiful new home in West Palm Beach, Colby collected a few home run balls during batting practice, and convinced the Mets catcher coming off the mound to toss the ball to him in the stands. It helps to have a glove and know how to use it. Maybe that’s why I’ve never collected one ball in all my years of attending baseball games.

Yes, he actually caught 27 balls at these three games. And he managed to give a few away.

I plan to return to spring training. It won’t be for more baseballs. It will be for the conversations with snowbirds from the North while enjoying a moderately priced beer and cheering for a diving catch made by a former NFL quarterback destined for the lowest rungs of minor league baseball as he attempts a new sport. Yes, we witnessed Tim Tebow make a spectacular catch and get his first hit of spring.

But in Florida, he was just another ballplayer getting dirty while the fans cheered.

Magic really does happen in March. I plan to seek more of it next year. Now it’s time for the start of the real season.

Lance Wiedower can be reached at tripsbylance.com.

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