I had the privilege of spending three days in Florida watching baseball this weekend. I saw three games in three different ballparks: Nationals at Braves at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Tigers at Yankees at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, and Yankees at Red Sox at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
You could hear an audible gasp in Tampa when the Yankees subbed out their regulars for minor league players, and that was after five innings of watching Kevin Youkilis, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, and the rest play baseball. You could sense an even greater frustration in Fort Myers, where Brett Gardner, Jayson Nix, and Eduardo Nunez were the most famous players in the ballgame. But for me? I came to see the scrubs. Here are some observations on a few that I got to watch this weekend:
Tyler Austin - I'd never seen him in person before, but one glance could tell you all you need to know about why scouts peg him as a 1st baseman and/or possible tweener. He isn't as muscular as someone like Luke Murton--a lumbering first baseman if you've ever seen one--nor as agile-looking as Corban Joseph, who fits the second baseman profile perfectly. I didn't see enough of him in right field to cast judgment on his defensive abilities, but concerns about his future speed are noted, and I definitely don't see him muscling out a lot of home runs with his flat, line drive swing. A successful major league career for Austin will come despite his body type, not because of it.
Corban Joseph - The Yankees started the aforementioned Corban Joseph at third base against the Red Sox. He was visibly uncomfortable at the position. Only one ball was hit in his direction, which was a moderately tough play that most third basemen would normally dive for. Joseph reached for the ball, and let Eduardo Nunez pick it up but fail to get the out. When he was throwing the ball between innings, Joseph definitely lacked pop going from third to first. I wouldn't hold my breath for him at the position.
Melky Mesa - Now we're talking about a guy who looks the part of an athlete. Mesa looks both muscular and quick. Watching him throw the ball is a thing of beauty. He easily slings his throw for long, straight tosses. If only he didn't strike out like Mark Reynolds.
For all three games, the weather was very un-Florida. It was about 55 and very windy all weekend, but that didn't prevent us from enjoying the experience. Each of the three ballparks had its own unique charm.
Steinbrenner Field - When you drive up to the Yankee complex in Tampa, you can't help but be immediately impressed. On the road in is a huge "27 World Championships" sign, leading up to a giant facility. The Yankees have a number of field houses, baseball diamonds, and other buildings surrounding Streinbrenner Field. I got to watch a little bit of minor league batting practice on the auxiliary field, where GCL games are played, which was a nice experience.
The field itself does everything it can to feel like Yankee Stadium. The dimensions of the field match old Yankee stadium, as does the color scheme and most of the (increasingly dated) between inning entertainment. While undeniably smaller than any major league (or Triple-A, for that matter) ballpark, you never felt like you were in a minor league ballpark.
jetBlue Park - I hate to say nice things about the Red Sox, but their facility in Fort Myers is absolutely beautiful. Just two years old, jetBlue looks modern and open. The ceilings have an air foil-like look to them. The layout is a replica of Fenway Park (branded 'Fenway South'), and feels just as cozy. If you're in Fort Myers during the season, don't leave without catching a game.
Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex - This place was something different. The ballpark is shiny, new, and feels larger than the other places. Production values were very high, including the great between-round entertainment that you would expect out of Disney. The between-round guy trotted out my new favorite ballpark game called, "What's in My Pocket", where he challenged anyone in the ballpark to bring him a specific item in return for a prize. Other fun touches - such as playing a broken glass noise when a fly ball flew over the crowd - lightened up the game. Another ballpark you shouldn't pass up.