Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spring Training, Day 4: Giants Vs. A’s

This morning after breakfast, we’re going to look for an internet connection. Although the Embassy Suites advertises wireless in every room, their server has been down the entire time we’ve been here. Rick also wants to look for a neutral or Giants sweatshirt; we’re going to a Giants vs. Padres game today, and he thinks wearing an A’s pullover would be a mistake. It’s rather chilly today and threatening rain.

It took us awhile this morning to find the Kinko’s I thought I saw on Thomas Road yesterday. But the Walgreen people helped us out. We both logged onto the internet in Kinko’s – what a neat deal. And they’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 20 cents a minute. I’ll have to remember Kinko’s when I’m traveling.

The mapquest directions for Scottsdale Stadium, home of the San Francisco Giants during Spring Training, took us east on McDowell Road, and then north on Scottsdale Road. It was only a few blocks from Scottsdale Rd, and we parked in a makeshift parking lot and walked across the small street to the stadium. In fact, we walked all around the stadium, as it wasn’t quite 11 a.m., too early to go in. Once we were behind the stadium, we climbed the “grassy knoll” and were treated with a view of the entire diamond. That grassy area was completely filled with squatters by game time.

We were seated in Section 121 lower box, which put us just off 3rd base, but only two rows from the smallish fence separating us from the field and the players. The Padres were warming up next to us, and a couple of them came over to the fence, right in front of us, to sign autographs for the small crowd: Klesko and Nady. One pitcher, Otsuka, was very friendly, and stayed until every last person at the fence had his or her autograph. We didn’t get any autographs, but if it had been Giants players, I know I would have stepped up with the unsigned baseball I kept in my bag.

As soon as we sat down in our seats, we recognized a couple of A’s boosters in the row. One gentleman, who was still decked out in his A’s bright green colors, was probably in his 80’s. He took one look at Rick when he said hi to him, and instead of returning the greeting he said, “Are you going to be quiet today?” Rick, somewhat taken aback, answered honestly: “No.”

The weather seemed iffy. In fact, it did drizzle a bit, and we felt a few drops all through the game. It was overcast all day and a bit windy, with the temperature in the low 60’s. But still good baseball weather.

The game itself was entertaining, but we both felt we were too far away from home plate, and the ability to accurately call balls and strikes, to really stay in the game. It was a hitfest. There were over 30 hits in the game, with the Padres winning, 6-4. Starting Giants pitcher Jerome Williams struggled, and was taken out during the 3rd inning after giving up three runs. Almost all of the Giants pitchers met the same fate, with several hits being charged against each of them. David Franklin pitched one-and-a-third inning and gave up 1 hit, the new closer Benitez gave up 1 hit and 2 runs in 1 inning, and Christiansen really got shelled, like Williams, with 4 hits and 2 runs given up in 1 inning. Eyre looked a bit better, but Brower gave up 1 run in 1 inning.

On the offensive side, however, things looked promising. J.T. Snow looked ready for the season with two hits out of three tries, including a double which ricocheted against the center field wall. Moises Alou looked good defensively but whiffed during his two opportunities. Infielders Edgardo Alfonso (1 hit) and Ray Durham (2 hits) looked effective defensively and with a bat. However, the absence of Bonds, who is out for several weeks due to more surgery on his knee, really showed in that there was no one with the big bat to knock runners in and protect Alou.

We kept getting line drives coming to our section from mostly left-handed hitters. In fact, I can easily say that most of the foul balls today landed squarely in our section, on someone or next to someone. The kids, so noisy at the start of the game, scrambled madly for the errant balls, but for the most part could not beat the 40-year-olds trying to recapture their childhood with a dive to the concrete. However, there was one touching moment when a 12-year-old boy, one of the rowdiest of the kids, caught the foul ball right in front of a little old lady. He stood up, turned, and handed it to her, and she hugged him to much applause from onlookers. There was one scary moment, however, when one man three rows above us took a line drive in the chest. The paramedics responded quickly to help him recover his breath, and gave him a cold compress for the bruise that was about to pop up on his chest.

Scottsdale Stadium was built in 1955 for about $72,000. The Giants announced at today’s game that they signed an agreement to spend spring training at Scottsdale Stadium over the next 20 years, through 2025. When I looked out at the field, I could imagine Ted Williams playing there so many years ago. But the stadium holds 10,000 people, 3,000 more than Maryvale, and with its old fixtures it reminds you more of Candlestick than a smallish modern spring training facility. It is definitely not my favorite of the parks we’ve visited.

After the game, we stayed in old Scottsdale and went hunting for a restaurant. We parked and walked over to the Pink Pony – a restaurant where legends Barry Bonds and Ted Williams had both eaten -- but they were booked until 9 pm. So we took a chance and walked across the street to the Italian restaurant called Buca di Beppo. We waited in Buca’s lobby for an hour while they waited for one of the limited numbers of tables that seated two, but finally we got in. The restaurant was quite a sight, with Italian memorabilia and photos pasted all over the walls. You walked through the kitchen to get to the restaurant rooms so that they could show you the specials. The rooms in the back were crammed with family parties, including little kids screaming for attention. The menu was filled with old-fashioned Italian favorites which felt like you needed an Italian interpreter to order. We took the advice of our waiter and split the chicken cacciatore along with the garlic bread. It was the best I’ve ever tasted

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