This week I attended my first Spring training baseball game. Living in the North all my life I never got the chance. I always wanted to get to one. I played baseball as a kid and coached my kids when they were young. I loved the game and have followed it all my life. So, now that we live in Florida Spring training was on my radar. We looked up some games and called our friends who lived further South on the coast and plans were set for some Spring baseball. I had my sights set on a Yankees game and they were playing the Mets on a Sunday in March. On the Friday before the Mets played the Cardinals. We went to that game - my wife with her beach bag of books, towels and water (the towels were in case of outfield berm seating) - and I. I was surprised at how crowded it was and how small the stadium felt. It seated 7,000 and was packed with equal numbers of older fans dressed out in Cardinal red or less colorful Mets fashions. I actually felt young in this crowd (full disclosure: I am of retirement age but not eligible for medicaid yet). I did not realize how popular these Florida games are with the senior set. Tour buses dropped off the Northerners seeking relief from the brutal winter weather. The parking lot was filled with cars from all over the country. I saw several men wearing t-shirts emblazoned with all the Florida Spring training sites as if they were making the rounds. But, most of the fans were wearing their team's colors. I saw lots of Musial jerseys. My wife who sacrifices a lot to attend these sporting events with me asked me if people put their own names on the backs of team uniforms just like the actual players do. No, I said those names are long gone stars who these people followed in their youth. Most of the names were not familiar any more. We had seats in the second deck, in the sun, 89 degrees the scoreboard reported. Older men and women kept climbing past us, huffing and puffing and weaving side to side. I thought I should get out my phone and be ready to push 911. One old timer looked at me as he rested a moment and asked if he was still in the stadium. He was sweating profusely in his Cardinal reds. It looked like it was assisted living day at the ballpark.
What kind of a game has such power to hold onto its fans into late life? And make them dress up in such unnatural garb and sit in the sun for hours? My wife lasted about three innings before she needed to seek shelter from the sun. We found some seats back under the stands and I returned to the action standing behind home plate. I had a good view of Bartlo Colon's 88 mile an hour fastball. Colon is himself a senior citizen in baseball years still playing in his 40s. I watched for a few more innings and then collected my wife and we left. Maybe it was being in the presence of so many people who moved so slowly but I was never so aware of how slow the game of baseball can seem (it could have been the heat or the fact that I was standing so long or that neither the Mets or the Cardinals were playing many of their starters, too). We had paid $18 each for our seats in the sun, $8 for parking and about $20 for two hotdogs and two beers. When I checked into tickets for the Yankee game on Sunday they were sold out except for a few standing room only tickets going for $40 each. We discussed it very briefly and decided next year we will get tickets for the Yankee - Mets game ahead of time and in the shaded part of the stadium. Who knew Spring training games were such a hot ticket with people our age.