Jim Crothers uses Cecil County as a starting point for baseball road trips, including an annual week-long outing with the Calvert Stogie and Rail Club -- a group of "otherwise normal, fat, old guys who destroy themselves by watching up to three games a day."
The greatest thing about spring training is obviously the weather. And the balmy, sunny days make all the participants -- players, managers, vendors, parking guys and fans of all flavors -- happy and unrealistically optimistic.
During this trip we sat in the stands with bikers, spring breakers, families with kids, little old ladies and old guys like us. Always friendly, the conversation was brisk and informative -- much more interesting than at Camden Yards. And do not underestimate the older women who keep score. One woman was counting pitches -- at a spring training game!
Speaking of which, keeping score at these games is not recommended. Have you seen the box scores? At one Orioles game, we counted 67 players and eight coaches lined up for the national anthem. When you have players with no names on their uniforms and numbers into the 90s taking the field after the sixth inning, there is no reason to abuse your scorekeeping pencil.
And what's the use anyway? Two games we saw ended in ties. Was baseball commissioner Bud Selig here? It may be technically wrong to have a victory cigar after a tie, but hey, it's spring training, and who's keeping score, anyway? So while enjoying our stogies, the Calvert Stogie and Rail Club made several observations that we -- and most of our fellow seatmates-- modestly believe could solve most of MLB's problems:
Reduce the TV-mandated time between innings -- this will cut game times by 18 minutes. Non-TV spring games move faster than regular-season contests. We know the money argument, but one minute less per half-inning shouldn't be a deal-breaker.
Show fans how to keep score and give them scorecards and stat sheets. We all got hooked on baseball by memorizing Cal and Boog's statistics. If that's the hook, use it. You can still sell the program.
Finally, the ultimate suggestion spring games move along because pitchers work themselves out of jams and usually pitch full innings. The manager's slow parade to the mound to console, then yank the pitcher, and then instruct the reliever is tiresome, overused and outmoded. Every fan we talked to wanted to limit the manager's trips to one and done. These are multi-millionaire, professional pitchers -- they know the score. And give the reliever a limited time to warm up, not a number of pitches. What have they been doing in the bullpen for two innings? It may even make them run in from the bullpen ...
So spring training is having a deep, philosophical effect on the Stogies -- or it may just be the sun and too many Miller Lites.
Throughout spring training, baltimoresun.com will publish reports by Orioles fans that made the trip to Florida for baseball's preseason. From Grapefruit League games to minor league camps, our crew of fan correspondents will weigh in with their spring training insights and experiences -- your source for a healthy dose of spring fever.