A while back, my good buddy Keith Lee posted a guest blog about his experience with baseball. Fast forward a few years later, Keith and I are both graduate students at the University of Florida. Keith is a coach and serves on the board for Gainesville Youth Baseball, the city league in town. Already a coach at the tee ball level for his son, Keith decided to take on an additional challenge this season and signed up to coach the 11-12 year old team. Looking for assistants, Keith asked a huge baseball fan that happens to stink at playing the game: me.
To say I was skeptical of our visit to Miami is probably a gross understatement. After all, Miami was home to the Marlins, a team best known for somehow managing to win two World Series titles during their 20 year history, only to blow up the championship teams, spending most of their existence woefully behind their NL East opponents. Adding to the skepticism was the Marlins 2012 rebranding and move to Marlins Park–an actual baseball field–as opposed to their previous home of Pro Player Stadium, Joe Robbie Stadium, Dolphins Park, or whatever the name du jour was for that particular year.
Marlins Park is the source of quite a bit of controversy, and for good reason. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria wanted to keep his team in South Florida and pledged to move the team into Miami proper. Some doubted that baseball could actually flourish and after nearly 20 years of sparsely attended games, no one would blame the Marlins for heading west to Las Vegas or north to Charlotte, North Carolina. Instead–much to the chagrin of Miami taxpayers–Loria got his wish and a big taxpayer funded stadium was built on the site of the old Orange Bowl in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana district.
For as long as anyone can remember, Florida has been a hotbed for baseball. When spring training first started, Florida was the place to be, with it’s fantastic late-winters and early springs. It’s a state that is home to fifteen MLB teams during spring training, two MLB teams, and a litany of minor league teams. To say that Florida is a great place to see baseball is an understatement (unless you’re frying at a Minor League game in July or August). During our short jaunt through the east part of the state, we visited two MiLB parks (one game was rained out) and paid a visit to Jeffrey Loria’s gaudy palace in Miami. Each of our three stops will have a dedicated blog post, and if you want to see additional pictures from the trip, please check out our Facebook page!
Baseball season is well underway, and after a silent 2013 that unfortunately featured no visits to new ballparks, RFTHT is back in 2014 and we’re excited to be visiting the Daytona Cubs and Miami Marlins in early May. Aside from both being in Florida, there couldn’t be fewer similarities between the two teams and their parks. Like the Chicago Cubs, Daytona plays in a ballpark that hits the century mark this year. Renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the Cubs’ home is quite significant, as it is home to the first place Jackie Robinson played an MLB game (spring training 1946).
The Marlins meanwhile, play in owner Jeffrey Loria’s gaudy palace to South Florida overindulgence. Whether it’s the sculpture beyond the center field wall that looks like something out of a 1980s-Miami acid trip, the nightclub, or the fish tanks behind home plate, Loria spared no expense with his new stadium when it opened in 2012. We’re all quite excited to see this ode to gluttony that houses the
Florida Miami Marlins.
If you’re interested in following our adventures in real time, check us out on Facebook or Twitter. Also, I’ll try to post a picture or two on Instagram, so feel free to follow us on any of those three formats.
Stay tuned for updates!
An unsuspecting man from Mobile, Alabama, with a quiet demeanor, and one hell of a quick swing broke Babe Ruth’s vaunted home run record on this date 40 years ago. April 8, 1974 is a date forever etched into the minds of baseball fans, whether they were alive or not. I wasn’t around when Hank smashed a 2-run home run off the Dodgers’ Al Downing in the fourth inning, but I’ll never be able to shake the image. It’s a glorious moment for baseball, and a man we all strive to be. Unlike more recent home run hitters, Aaron was a man–and still is–a man of few words, who played the game right, and despite the endless hate mail and death threats, Aaron persevered, never throwing it in the faces of his detractors.
As I write this blog post, I’m looking at the box score from April 8, 1974, when the Braves defeated the Dodgers 7-4 in the fourth game of the season. On the surface, it appears to be any other game as the Braves managed 7 runs on just 4 hits, but walked 7 times. Aaron’s only hit of the night was the dinger in the 4th; he went 1-3 for the night and also managed a walk. Braves’ pitcher Ron Reed pitched 6 innings, giving up all 7 of the Dodgers’ hits and all 4 runs, and managed to pick up his first win on the young season.
On the surface it appeared to be any other game.
Except time stood still in the bottom of the 4th as Aaron stepped to the plate and mashed one of the left field wall. The sold out crowd at Fulton County Stadium went bananas, and two young fans joined Aaron as he trotted around the bases. For a moment, time stood still and the entire country watched as Henry Aaron took his place in history.
It’s funny, I can’t remember seeing the moment admitted steroid-user Mark McGwire hit number 62, breaking Roger Maris’s single season record, nor do I care to remember Barry Bonds’ home run that broke Aaron’s record, but even though I wasn’t alive, I will always remember the image of Aaron hitting that home run. Unlike Bonds, who stuck his arms in the air, admired the shot, and trotted around the bases patting himself on the back, Aaron did what you should: he tucked his head, rounded the bases, and scored. He didn’t seem to mind or notice the two kids running with him, or the throngs of people waiting for him at home plate. To Henry Louis Aaron, it was a home run that tied the game, 3-3.
He was thankful the chase was over and has always seemed so humble about the record. Unlike certain characters, Aaron never martyred himself and he kept playing the game. Today, the Braves honor the true home run king, and unlike San Francisco that quickly stripped itself of anything Barry Bonds, the Braves celebrate Hank Aaron today and everyday.
Hank is a man who always put his team before himself, did his job without question, and played some of the best baseball anyone’s seen. Aaron is a 25 time All-Star, won the 1957 World Series, was the NL MVP that same year, won 3 Gold Gloves, 2 batting titles, was the NL home run champion 4 times, and holds the record for most RBIs, total bases, extra base hits, and yes, home runs.
Even if you despise the Atlanta Braves, today, we can all root for baseball’s true home run king, Henry Louis Aaron.
Cheers to 40 years, Hank.
Throughout the day, I’ve stopped what I was doing to scroll through my Twitter feed, listen to Atlanta sports talk radio, and read through the endless number of news stories regarding the Braves’ stunning announcement that they are leaving the city of Atlanta and Turner Field for Cobb County. After nearly 9 hours, I believe I’ve started to process the decision and provide a few rational thoughts before my day comes to an end.
First of all, I’m not particularly thrilled with the Braves moving to the suburbs. While it brings the Braves closer to the fans that attend games on a regular basis, it puts them in the middle of endless sprawl with nothing aesthetically pleasing about the surrounding area. Sure, the Braves are promising a massive multi-use complex, which was completely lacking at Turner Field, but the new park won’t have the gorgeous Atlanta skyline in the background (a driving factor behind Turner Field’s lack of outfield lights), nor will they be anywhere close to downtown. The team points to Colorado, San Francisco, and Cincinnati as key examples of what they want for the new stadium and other developments. What those parks have in common that the new Braves’ park does not: they’re in the cities.