Cardinals Fan’s Primer for Planet Jupiter

Does the snow have you ready to run away to somewhere warm? Are you dreaming of beaches, warm weather, and maybe Cardinals frolicking under palm trees?  Missing baseball so much it hurts worse than the icy wind blowing in your face? Wishing you could teleport yourself into those pictures coming out of Cardinals Camp? Thinking about actually joining them? You’re not alone!

As winter weather statements and advisories blow up my phone, I take solace in the fact that in about 4 weeks, I’ll make my 6th annual to pilgrimage to Jupiter, Florida and St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training. Mixed in with those incoming winter weather alerts have been messages from friends and acquaintances asking for information on to make the most of spring training. Just thinking about the answers warmed me and made me forget about the frosty forecast.

I’m not an expert on this, but I have picked up some useful information over the years. Tips on where to stay; how to navigate practices; purchase tickets to games; grab autographs; where to eat; and killing time when not watching baseball or laying on the beach.

While I’m not a travel agent, I do stay at a Holiday Inn Express. The Holiday Inn Express Juno Beach has been my spring training home every year. It is billed as “Oceanview”, but only a few rooms have that view and even from those, the view is limited. Personally, it’s not a big deal, there are rooms that overlook the pool if you must have water out your window. The Holiday Inn Express is a half block from the beach, so it is very close. Beach with kite IMG_2905Guests can grab a loaner beach chair from the front desk at no charge. If I’m not watching baseball, I’m on the beach. My friends have stayed at the Hampton Inn across the street from the Holiday Inn Express, and enjoyed it. Both hotels have breakfast included in the room rate and are about a 10-15 minute drive to Roger Dean Stadium and Cardinals baseball.

Let’s get to the real reason we find ourselves in South Florida in February/March: Baseball! St. Louis Cardinals Baseball! Roger Dean Stadium Roger Dean Stadium is located in an area called Abacoa. In addition to the baseball stadium and practice fields, Abacoa is home to restaurants, businesses and a large residential area. Street parking is available, but at a premium and there are restrictions (2 hour limit, etc), so watch for signs. There are also 2 parking garages fairly close to the Roger Dean complex.

The big leaguers practice on fields 1 & 6, behind the actual stadium. The players usually come out to the fields about 9:45 and practice until about 11:15/11:30.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA For a run down of practice, check with the security guys at the gate to the players parking lot (which is between the stadium and the practice fields). They usually have a sheet that shows the practice schedule for the day and which players will be where & when. Fields 1 and 6 are adjacent, so you can watch both fields without much walking. (Although, there is quite a bit of walking from the parking to the stadium/fields, so be prepared). There are bleachers available, but know that many people will be lined up along the fence to watch practice, so your view might be slightly blocked. Arriving around 9:00am will more than likely get you a spot along the fence, but know that you will be standing for a couple of hours and leaving your fence spot will probably result in forfeiture of said spot. Sometimes, after practice, a player or coach will come to the fence line and sign autographs. Hence, the high demand for that fence spot.

Once practice is over, if there is a Grapefruit League game, many in the practice crowd file into Roger Dean Stadium. I recommend purchasing tickets ahead of your trip. Unless you buy “season tickets” or a 6 game ticket plan, your best bet is to call the ticket office, as only full season and 6 game ticket plans can be ordered online. As with the regular season, there is a dynamic ticket price scale, based on opponent. The sooner you order your tickets, the better your chance of sitting in the seat of your choice. The ticket windows are open for walk up sales, but some games do sell out. There are also “Grass Berm” tickets, sold the day of the game. These tickets give you access to a grassy area in right field. There are no actual seats and lawn chairs are not permitted. Blanket seating only.

The games do have a different feel than a regular season game.IMAG0693 You will still see Yadi and Holliday, but the starters usually only play a few innings. There will be quite a few pitching changes. This is a time for players to get up to “game speed”; pitchers to get pitches in; and the coaches to see youngsters in game situations. Yes, they keep score, but spring training games are really about the work

If, after the big league practice, you don’t have tickets or the team is playing an away game (there is usually still practice on those days, but it may be shorter and/or more informal for the guys not on the road trip), you can wander to the minor league fields. They are located farther back, behind the fields where the big leaguers practice. The Kissell Quad is the hub of the fields where the minor leaguers build their skills. You will see lots of coaching and skill drills. You won’t have to fight for a prime viewing spot. Most of the sparse group of observers are parents or friends of players.

It seems the demand for autographs is never-ending. Sports memorabilia is big business and nowhere is that more obvious than throughout spring training. Professional autograph hounds and their hired teens stalk stake out these same spots. That said, the players do sign, but it is a crapshoot. There are a few places where the odds may be in your favor. As mentioned, sometimes players sign after practice along the fence. Another place where you are more likely to grab a signature is at the gate to the player’s parking lot. There will be a line on the sidewalk and IF a player (players) sign, security will do their best for everyone in the line to get up to the vehicle safely and get an autograph. If you attend a game, standing along the first base line or near the dugout are prime spots to get players’ attention and a signature. This is true before and after a game. Good luck!

Once you have maxed out on baseball for the day, you might be ready for food. Right across the street from Roger Dean sits JJ Muggs Stadium Grill. This sports bar & grill serves up traditional fare and is a great spot to grab a bite before or after the game. Much like a majority of Florida establishments, there is plenty of patio seating.

Also within the Abacoa area is Jumby Bay Island Grill.Jumby Bucket of shrimpIMG_2933 As the name suggests, it has a laid back, fun vibe. While there is plenty of wonderful seafood here, the menu does include other fabulous items, such as pasta, chicken, ribs, and steak. A bucket of peel & eat shrimp? Yes, please!

Back near the Holiday Inn Express, there are quite a few restaurants. My two favorites are the Thirsty Turtle and the Juno Beach Fish House. The Thirsty Turtle Seagrill is a sports bar  with a seafood twist (and right across the street from the hotel). I could live on the grouper sandwich, except I’d miss the grilled tuna sandwich. “The Turtle”, as we affectionately call it, is our “Cheers”. We’ve been known to visit more than once during our stay. The beer is cold (and fairly cheap), the food is great and the servers and atmosphere are phenomenal. The owners are from New York, so the sports memorabilia is heavily New York themed, but they don’t seem to mind the invasion of Cardinals fans.

The Fish House is right next door to the Holiday Inn Express and shares part of the parking lot. As the name implies, the feature is seafood, but there are other options. Jumby Bay foodIMG_2865The nice thing about the Fish House (in addition to the location) is their “Sunset Menu”. Yes, it’s Florida and yes it’s an “early bird dining special”. No. I’m not 80, I can just appreciate a quality meal at a discounted price. If you order by 6:00 pm, you get salad, an entrée with two sides, a non-alcoholic beverage and dessert for $17.99. The Key Lime Pie is heavenly.

For a little more upscale dinner, Jetty’s is the place to be. They do not take reservations, so get there early to avoid the longest of waits. However when asked “inside or out?”, go with the outside seating. You will wait a little longer, but you will be rewarded with a view of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. It’s gorgeous (and there are outdoor heaters if it happens to be chilly). Jetty’s menu is heavily seafood, but also features steak for the non-fish eaters. My favorite is the Chilean Sea Bass, but honestly, no one I’ve dined with has had a bad or even unsatisfactory meal there. Also, Jetty’s is a favorite of many of the Cardinals players & coaches, so you never know who you’ll “have dinner with”!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere might come a day during your trip where you need or want a baseball break. The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum offers tours daily from 10:00 am-5:00 pm (Last tour leaves at 4:00). Tours cost $9 for adults and $5 for children 6-18. Children under 5 are free. If you aren’t afraid of heights or small spaces (and are at least 48 inches tall) you can climb to the top of the lighthouse. The view is spectacular!

If you’d like something a little more low-key, try a visit to Loggerhead Marinelife Center. The center houses an informational exhibit hall and gift shop, in addition to being a functional turtle hospital and rehabilitation facility. Yes, outside the center, there are tanks housing different types of sea turtles. TurtleOn each tank, you will find the turtle’s name and information on where the turtle was found and what it is being treated for. Staff members/volunteers mingle about and answer questions about the turtles and provide further information. The Loggerhead Marinelife Center is open from 10-5 Monday through Saturday, 11-5 on Sundays.

This is not an all-inclusive list. In fact, I’m sure I’ve missed something. If you have been to Jupiter/Spring Training and feel I’ve left out anything, please include it in a comment! Have more questions? Leave them in a comment. I’ll be happy to help, if I can!

Are you ready to go? I am!Spring training 2015

An Evening With Mike Matheny

“Matheny, what are you thinking?!”

If you have asked (or yelled) this question at your television or made that somewhat rhetorical inquiry on Twitter, let me save you some time: Mike Matheny’s new book, The Matheny Manifesto, will not give you the answers you’re looking for. The book is not about Mike’s bullpen philosophy nor does it give an insight to how he develops the batting order.

Matheny bookIt does discuss Mike’s beliefs as to how youth sports (specifically baseball) should operate. So if you are a parent, teacher, coach or all of the above, it might resonate a bit more.

As a quick background, shortly after his retirement from playing, Mike Matheny was asked to coach a youth baseball team. He agreed but decided that if he was going to be the coach, it was going to be on his terms. He wrote a letter outlining the expectations he had for parents; the expectations for the young athletes who were to be on his team and what the parents could expect from the coaches. That letter, later posted on the Internet, became known as “The Matheny Manifesto” as it went viral. Hence, the title of the book.

Thanks to the heads-up from a friend, I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to attend “A Very Special Evening with Mike Matheny” at Lindenwood University last Monday, February 2. Attendees received a signed copy of The Matheny Manifesto upon arrival. The program consisted of a chat facilitated by Greg Amsinger of MLB Network, followed by a Q & A with the audience.

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Happy Birthday, Red Schoendienst

Feb. 2 is always an important day. Yes, of course, it’s Groundhog Day, but after dealing with the 13 1/2 inches of snow that fell in my hometown yesterday, I don’t think spring is on the way anytime soon.

RedMore importantly, Feb. 2 is the birthday of Red Schoendienst — today he turns 92 and been involved in baseball for more than 70 years, and of course nearly all with the St. Louis Cardinals.

How much of Cardinals history has he been part of? As this from the SABR Baseball Biography Project puts it:

On October 28, 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th World Series championship. Among those celebrating with the team was 88-year-old Red Schoendienst, who had first tasted World Series victory as a young second baseman for the Cardinals in 1946.

Sixty-five years after he savored his first World Series win, Schoendienst was still an integral part of the Cardinals organization. Officially listed as Special Assistant to the General Manager, at heart he was still a coach, donning a uniform for pregame practice at home games, at which he routinely hit fungoes to infielders.

Learning about Red and his expansive history with the team is one of the best parts about becoming a Cardinals fan. Who doesn’t love seeing him in his uniform with his No. 2 on the back, or in his red Hall of Fame blazer on Opening Day?

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Seeing Chris Carpenter At His Best Again? I’d Go Back

During these winter days where spring training is still on the horizon and regular baseball is months away, thinking and dreaming about baseball is the way to get through. Which is why the January project for the United Cardinal Bloggers was definitely well-timed.

cc2009The topic was actually one I suggested: if you could attend any game in Cardinals history, what would it be? And it’s something I wrote about last January, choosing Game Seven of the 1926 World Series. That would still be my top choice of any game, for all the reasons I stated last year. So, for the UCB project, a caveat: if I could attend any regular-season game in Cardinals history, which one would it be?

Still so many options. The double-header where Stan Musial hit five homers, or the game where he had hit No. 3,000 at Wrigley Field. Bob Gibson’s no-hitter. One I really thought about choosing: Sept. 8, 1998, where Mark McGwire hit homer 62. And then I had a different idea: what about going back to a game I’d attended, just with today’s knowledge and insight? A serious contender was April 5, 2000 — my first game at Busch Stadium since I was in high school (then a Cubs fan) and the one that sealed my decision that becoming a Cards fan was absolutely the way to go. The Cardinals won 10-4, Jim Edmonds hit his first Cardinals homer, Rick Ankiel pitched two innings in relief since his first start of the year was still several games away and he hit a triple that had the entirety of old Busch, minus my Mom and the other Cubs fans, giddy.

Then I realized the obvious selection: Sept. 7, 2009, Labor Day at Miller Park. My first-ever time seeing Chris Carpenter pitch in person — and it was an absolutely stellar game.

At the time, the Cardinals had a commanding 11 1/2 game lead in the National League Central. Carpenter was in the midst of an incredible comeback season, entering the game with a 15-3 record and 2.28 ERA after having pitched just one game in 2007 and four in 2008 after undergoing two surgeries. He’d be named Comeback Player of the Year and finish second in Cy Young voting. (Damn you, Timmy Lincecum.) Continue reading

NFC Championship Game Was Great, But Not Like Game 6

Like many of you, I watched yesterday’s NFC championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

GTY 461739872 S SPO FBN USA WAUnlike most of you, I am the rare combination of St. Louis Cardinals fan for baseball and Chicago Bears fan for football. Which means I wasn’t rooting for the Packers — I know there are quite a few Cardinals/Packers fans (I am related to several) who obviously were rooting for their team, and the Cardinals/Rams fans were for the Packers also rather than see a division rival win.

So, personally, I was ecstatic over the outcome. More than ecstatic, actually, to see the Packers implode that way.

But I definitely disagree with Bob Nightengale.

Capture

Sure, I get it — sloppy game to start with, as we remember the ball that bounced off David Freese or the one that neither Matt Holliday nor Rafael Furcal could come up with in Game 6. Yes, comparisons can be made with the four interceptions that Russell Wilson threw yesterday.

The comeback that Wilson led, with the Seahawks scoring 15 points late in the fourth quarter was definitely amazing. Incredible plays, like Seattle recovering the onside kick after Wilson scored a touchdown with just over two minutes left. Then the two-point conversion pictured above. We even had the moment similar to Josh Hamilton’s Game 6 10th inning homer — kind of — in Mason Crosby’s game-tying field goal with just 14 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

And there’s the biggest difference: time.  Or, rather, no time. Continue reading

Thank You, Anthony Rizzo, For Guaranteeing The Cubs Won’t Win The NL Central

Like many of you, I saw the oh-so-social-media friendly “promise” that Chicago Cub Anthony Rizzo made on Thursday that the team would win the National League Central division in 2015 — it was an easily tweetable sound bite, for sure. I rolled my eyes after reading it and moved on.

How often have we already heard grand proclamations about their “guaranteed” success in 2015? Joe Maddon! Jon Lester! Kris Bryant! The Sporting News! Even Back to the Future 2!! Wooooooo!!!!!

Yesterday I was catching up on baseball news during lunch and read about Rizzo’s comments — he made them during a Cubs Caravan stop at an elementary school. I saw the actual quote of what he said. And laughed.

“It’s going to happen this year.”

Now, the grammar is perfect there in its written form, but I loved seeing those words coming from a Cub. And in case you’re wondering why …

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A Win For Lance Lynn With 3-Year Extension

The most consistent member of the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation in 2014 has been rewarded for his efforts, as the team signed him to a three-year, $22 million extension and avoid salary arbitration. As the Cardinals news release also notes, Lynn is the National League’s third-winningest pitcher since 2012.

Lance+Lynn+CpfC91XpdNUmHere’s the rest of the news release.

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have reached agreement with right-handed pitcher Lance Lynn on a three-year contract (2015-17), thus avoiding salary arbitration. Financial terms were not disclosed.

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement with Lance,” stated Cardinals Senior V.P./General Manager John Mozeliak. “His performance has led to much success for both he and the Cardinals organization, and we look forward to his continued growth as both a pitcher and team leader.”

Drafted by the Cardinals in the first round (39th player overall) of the 2008 amateur draft, Lynn has compiled a 49-28 career won-loss mark with a 3.46 ERA in 119 games (97 games started). Since debuting in 2011, Lynn has been a member of a Cardinals team that has reached the postseason for a franchise-record four consecutive seasons with Lynn having appeared in a franchise-record 23 postseason games.

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Cardinals Caravan Will Cover 6 States In 4 Days

Even as Mother Nature reminds that winter really is here and spring is still a long time away, baseball season can feel a little bit closer with both the Cardinals Caravan and Winter Warm-Up coming up soon.

Cards CaravanThe Cardinals announced details of the annual Cardinals Caravan yesterday — here is the information from their news release.

In addition to annual stops in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Tennessee, the 2015 Caravan will add a sixth route with additional stops in Kentucky and Indiana. Altogether, more than 30 current and former players will embark on the journey making 22 stops in 21 cities throughout Cardinals Nation fromJanuary 16 – 19th.

A combination of current players, future stars and former Cardinals will travel on each caravan emceed by a current team broadcaster. Some of the current players include 2014 Rookie of the Year finalist Kolten Wong, Michael Wacha, Matt Adams, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Marco Gonzales, and Randal Grichuk. Minor-league prospects include Stephen Piscotty, Greg Garcia, Tim Cooney, Xavier Scruggs and more. Brad Thompson, Danny Cox, Kerry Robinson, Alan and Andy Benes, and Al Hrabosky, among others, will represent Cardinals alumni, while broadcasters John Rooney, Rick Horton, Mike Claiborne, Tom Ackerman, Chris Hrabe and Dan McLaughlin will serve as emcees. Team mascot Fredbird will also make an appearance at several Caravan stops. Continue reading

It’s 2015, So The Cardinals Will Make The World Series

During this interminable baseball off-season, looking ahead is common. We have to pass the time some way, right?

new-years-questionsWorld Series predictions based on every free agent signing also are common, and happen every year. Remember when the Angels were going to win in 2012 after signing That Guy Who Used to Play First Base and C.J. Wilson? Or when the Nationals would win in 2013? The Dodgers in 2014?

Now it’s 2015, and we’ve already heard plenty about the Cubs (yes, the Chicago Cubs) going to the World Series this year — that’s what “Back to The Future II” said! And now Joe Maddon’s their manager! They signed Jon Lester! And the Vegas odds say so! Woo hoo!!!!

Yeah. We’ll see how that goes once they actually start playing …

Instead, I not surprisingly have a different perspective. The Cardinals will win the 2015 National League pennant this year and return to the World Series. Continue reading

My Choices For Top 5 Cardinals Stories of 2014

With 2014 drawing to a close tonight, it’s the perfect time to look back at the year that’s ending — as well as time to close out 2014 with the United Cardinal Bloggers annually December project, the Top 5 Stories of the Year.

It was certainly an interesting Cardinals season. Definite highs, with another division title and fourth consecutive trip to the National League Championship Series, yet also a shocking and devastating low. And, though it doesn’t make my list, a lot of angst and frustration about the team mostly because of Mike Matheny — which I wrote about several times (Hey Cardinals, Are You There? Do You Even Care in early June and This Year’s Cardinals Don’t Do Much For Me after the All-Star break) that culminated in their final game of the season, The “Because Matheny” Season Ends Because of Matheny. (Honestly, I’m getting tense again just looking back at those posts. Maybe it should have been one of my top stories …)

Anyway, here’s a look at my choices, listed chronologically.

1. The debut of Oscar Taveras on May 31

532360868e088.preview-300From that day: “As you’ve no doubt heard by now, since rumors began circulating during last night’s game, the moment every Cardinals fan has been waiting all season for is finally here: Oscar Taveras is coming to the big leagues.”

Then there was the game — the first hit in the second at-bat, which you can see again here. That swing, the raindrops, those cheers, that smile, the curtain call … Such promise right then. So much was written everywhere that my own post was merely a wrap-up with links to those.

The season for Oscar didn’t go as gloriously as that first hit did, though he definitely continued to have a flare for dramatic homers in the few he did hit, and obviously Oscar unfortunately makes my list again. But on May 31, and with that beautiful home run, the anticipation for what could be ahead was tremendous. Continue reading