For years, I have tried to make it to Florida during March. While down there, I always attempt to make it to Tampa so I can watch a Yankees’ Grapefruit League game at The Boss. Last year, my kids and I were in the second row right behind the catcher. Excellent seats. Excellent time. Great memories!
This year was my first year going to spring training, not as a fan, but rather as a writer. Being that we, here at Pinstriped Prospects, specialize in the Yankees’ minor leagues, I was told to head to Himes Field. I have been a Yankees fan my entire life, and I have never heard of Himes Field before. Let me tell you if you consider yourself a baseball fan, and you have never experienced this, you must go.
Not knowing exactly where I was heading, I arrived very early. The games start at 1:05 and I were there at 10:30. It gave me a chance to take in everything. As I walked in from the parking lot, I followed a 20-foot wide path past two fields. There were pitchers taking fielding practice on the right and infielders doing the same on the left.
At the end of the path, there is a pavilion. On the other side, there were an additional two fields, for a total of four, neatly manicured fields at the complex. There were similar paths between the fields with pitching areas and a walkway that heads to the Yankees’ offices and locker rooms.
There were probably 150 Yankees’ prospects littered throughout the various fields. They were each participating in some activity or another. Some batters were in the cages. Fielders were shagging balls. Infielders were practicing cutoff throws and runners in game situations. Pitchers were in their groups throwing, and catchers were blocking balls in the dirt.
The grounds crew his continuously raking, watering, and caring for the diamond, keeping the fields in immaculate condition. The fields are numbered 1,2,3, and 4 and are named after Billy Martin, Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig respectively. The pavilion houses the restrooms, water, plenty of shade, plus the day’s lineup for the games.
As game time approached, the Yankee players headed to the locker room to put on their uniforms while the opponents arrived via their bus. Two games are played simultaneously right next to each other. For every player in the Yankees’ dugout, another is sitting behind the backstop watching the game. Players serve as the bat boys. Other players keep track of the radar gun.
Admission to the complex is free, and the access is unparalleled. Fans are there getting autographs. Coaches are sitting on the bleachers. MLB scouts are watching everything closely. The man in charge, Gary Denbo, is accessible while watching the product that he has helped create.
During my days there, I was attempting to get video and live-tweet, but the action is fast and non-stop. At one point, I had just recorded Chris Carter crushing a monster home run on the one field and headed to the other field. I was trying to figure out who number 24 was as he launched a home run of his own into passing traffic. That blast was courtesy of Gary Sanchez. Many of the Yankees beat writers were right there next to me as the videos they posted were from the angle I was sitting.
In addition to seeing the Yankees’ stars of tomorrow, I got to watch Vlad Guerrero Jr. impersonate his father. Mickey Moniak hit a bases-loaded double. Every day brought another celebrity to the stands. Throughout the week, I sat and spoke with Bernie Williams, Reggie Jackson, Brian Cashman, just to name a few.
The experience was fantastic. I am planning to go back next year. Now that I know what to expect, I fully anticipate enjoying it even more. Anyone that enjoys baseball or has kids that do should make it a point to join me there.