Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., but it felt like the Christmas holiday to me.
Maybe it was because of my first-ever glimpse of the Florida sun with my home state Detroit Tigers beating the St. Louis Cardinals 10-3. The win improved the Tigers to a league-best 11-1-3 in the Grapefruit League.
Or maybe it was watching and teaching the game to road trip friends Brooke and Ryan, who also traveled 1,400 miles to witness their first professional baseball game. It was like watching kids open the big present first.
Likely, it was the color scheme that filled the left-field berm — St. Louis fans showing off their red-shaded 2011 World Series champion gear, intertwined with Detroit fans sporting special green Tigers St. Patty’s shirts and hats.
In the end, it was the Christmas spirit from the fans, who come from all over the country to watch these exhibition games. One slow roll of the head from left to right and I counted 12 different MLB hats. St. Patrick’s Day hats from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Baltimore Orioles were all around me.
And no matter the age, gender or race, these people know their hardball. The two Cardinals fans to my left traded analysis with me on Detroit’s fifth starter competition (Adam Wilk‘s three surrendered runs in the first two innings didn’t help my argument for the needed lefty in the rotation).
We talked about Albert Pujols departure: “It was win-win for both sides,” the Cardinals fan from Wisconsin said. “He’ll have a great and lengthy career as a DH and we’ll have money to spend on a couple good players.”
We talked about Mike Matheney’s first managerial position, shared laughs about former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa’s attempt to convert Tigers manager Jim Leyland to sushi and a non-smoking future and Prince Fielder, who tripled down the right field line.
“Remember this day,” the elder Cardinals fan told me. “That’s going to be the only triple you’ll see this year from Prince and that’s because it’s 340 feet down the right field line. That won’t happen in Comerica.
“But you’ll get a lot of memories from this guy. And I’m glad I won’t have too many more memories of this guy.”
Christmas is a time for sharing those memories, talking about the past year and what the future holds.
Yeah, that atmosphere certainly was in the air Saturday in Lakeland. And I saw enough gray beards that I think Santa Claus was in attendance.
- Both teams wore the exact same green-trimmed uniform tops. The only difference was the Cardinals gray pants and red helmets. The guy in front of me kept yelling “Go green team!”
- Watched Ryan Raburn butcher a play at second base. But with his fifth home run of the spring, Raburn finally has pop in his bat in the early going and is proving second base belongs to him.
- Lakeland tap water tastes like latex. You can even taste it in the lemonade. Luckily, my favorite Michigan-crafted beer — Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale — is offered here.
- As the reserves slowly started to take over in the sixth inning, one can’t help but continually glance up at the light towers at Joker Marchant. Ospreys have built huge nests in three of them. And watching them glide through the air so gracefully, you cringe even more watching Delmon Young track a fly ball.
- After moving down near the Cardinals dugout in the eighth inning, I witnessed a woman disgusted with Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont that he didn’t have more time to take a picture with her between innings. My first thought was to ask her if she’d like someone badgering her on the job. Then I thought that maybe distracting Lamont at key points of a rally could help the Tigers.
- Cardinals shortstop Daniel Descalso is fun to watch. Besides a terrific leaping grab to snuff a Tigers rally, this kid is a natural in the field heading into his second season in the big leagues. Descalso, who made a spectacular play against the Texas Rangers in game seven of last year’s World Series, likes to crash bunt situations with good reflexes to get back to position if the bunt is off.
- Cecil Fielder was one of my favorite players growing up. I see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Prince Fielder plays the game very loose and it showed after the big guy sprinted to second base on a wild pitch. He caught a good chuckle with Descalso on the play. He’ll take a lot of pressure off his teammates this year.
- Caught sunset at Fort Myers Beach after the game. I’m ready to check on my fantasy baseball players from the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins in the next couple of days.