Last week I had my first spring training experience, three straight days of Mets games in three different Florida locations. Luckily a good friend of mine decided to move from NYC to Jupiter, within a 45 minute drive of all three locations, and is also a huge Mets fan. What else is there do in Florida in March anyway?
Day 1: Mets vs. Astros, West Palm Beach
At the box office of the brand new stadium of the Astros and Nationals, my first impression of spring training was “why are tickets to exhibition games so expensive?” My second thought, upon entering the stadium, was regret that we had paid so much for great seats, considering how intimate spring training stadiums are, and how lax the ushers are compared to Citi Field, where trying to move up a row is considered a federal offense. That’s one of the coolest parts of spring training – the crowds are so small that there isn’t a bad seat in the house, and so quiet that you can hear every word of every fan’s loud chant. Despite it being a road game, most of the crowd consisted of Mets fans, either a testament to the team’s recent rise and growing popularity or the fact that seemingly everyone in Florida is from New York.
Experiencing the game was great, especially watching two innings of Jacob DeGrom pop the catcher’s mitt while sitting five rows behind home plate, but the real highlight came that night. While waiting to be seated at a popular Jupiter restaurant, we spotted David Wright walking towards the exit, holding his infant child.
I mustered up the courage to ask Wright for a picture and he obliged, handing said child to his wife, resulting in the only selfie I’ve ever taken and not not been embarrassed to show people. On a high from having met Wright I was certain that I had also spotted Noah Syndergaard sitting down in the restaurant, only to be disappointed that it was a just a 6-inch shorter look-alike. Oh well, 1-for-2 ain’t bad.
Day 2: Mets vs. Cardinals, Port St. Lucie
My anticipation for this game was high, even before I ran into Keith Hernandez frantically rushing through the stadium security line in flip flops, as it was Matt Harvey’s first time pitching since undergoing surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in July.
Harvey’s outing was mixed – a great first inning followed by a disastrous second – but it was his pre-game routine that gave the Mets fans hope for both him and the team overall. Another great part of spring training is that pitchers throw their warm-up pitches on the sideline, rather than in a bullpen, so fans can watch from about 10 feet away.
In this case, just about every Mets player, including Syndergaard, DeGrom and Steven Matz, also surrounded Harvey, intently watching his every throw with the same intrigue and excitement as us fans. After Harvey threw his last practice pitch the entire team gave him an ovation and then, one-by-one, lined up to give him a high-five or a hug – a cool team chemistry moment to see up-close.
Day 3: Mets vs. Marlins, Jupiter
This may have been my only day without a Mets celebrity sighting, but it did not disappoint. Remember when I said that spring training crowds are small and quiet? Well, that means you can hear every word of every drunk, loud fan’s chant no matter where it’s coming from, which sounds awful at a packed Citi Field but is actually quite entertaining in the relaxed, sunny spring training setting, where focusing on the game is almost an afterthought.
As you may have heard during the WOR or SNY broadcast, every single pitch was preceded by a loud “Let’s Go Mets” chant by a single, very energetic and likely intoxicated fan. He was not to be outdone, either in beers or garnering attention, by another fan who came up with something encouraging yet still funny to yell at every Mets player who failed during their at-bat, like each one was his son striking out at a little league game (“Keep at it, Biondi, they’ll put your name on your jersey eventually!”).
As much as I love the intensity of being at Citi Field with 40,000 Mets fans, there was something about the casual nature of spring training games that was, in a way, even more enjoyable. It’s real baseball, up-close, without the stress of actually caring whether or not the Mets win – in 75 degree weather in March, no less. I’d recommend the experience to any baseball fan that has the chance; I’ll even let you know where David Wright’s favorite hang-out spot is.