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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spring Training is a Crock

I’ve been to four spring trainings, two each in Florida and Arizona, traveling to different parks while on assignment for various publishers.

There are some great things about spring training. You get amazing access to players, and not only if you’re in the press. Players are simply more approachable during the spring, for autographs, conversations, or what have you, whether they be on the practice fields, hanging around the dugout, or even out at night in Scottsdale, Clearwater, Tucson, Kissimmee, or Phoenix.

Sitting in the warm sun and watching a ballgame is in itself beautiful, and being surrounded by mountains, cacti, and sand in Arizona, or lakes and shorebirds in Florida, is a nurturing experience.

But I honestly don’t think I’d go to games if I weren’t working. Not with what teams charge today for spring training.

The Boston Red Sox get $44 for field box tickets at their clunky old stadium in Winter Haven, Florida. Yes, $44 for a spring training game. For that price, you ought to get Kevin Youkilis serving your beer. The least expensive grandstand tickets there cost twenty-one smackers.

You want a dugout box to a spring game at Hammond Stadium in Lee County, Florida, to see the Twins? That’s “just” $35. Yes, $35. Standing room? Oh, that’s a relative bargain at ten bucks.

Legends Field in Tampa, home of the Yankees, has no general admission seats. The cheapest ticket to a game is $17. That’s also the cheapest ticket to Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, home of the Astros. I've been there, and it ain't worth $17.

It’ll cost you $14.50 to sit on the lawn at the Braves’ spring training home at Disney, and a rather stunning $12 for weekend SRO seats at the Giants’ Scottsdale Stadium, where you can be charged as much as $26 for a box seat.

Of course, not all teams charge that much. Phoenix Municipal, one of the oldest spring training parks in Arizona, tops out at $24 for boxes and $6 for standing room. That same six bucks gets you a seat on the berm at Mesa’s Ho Ho Kam Park to watch the Cubs. Field boxes are $22.

But that’s still a lot of money for exhibition games, especially ones that may not even be played to a decision.

First of all, rarely will tie games proceed past the ninth inning, and then generally only through the tenth. Well, that’s a ripoff. Whether it’s a spring game or not, fans deserve to see a real game for their money. Shutting down a game after ten innings is just cheating the public, which is paying good money to see players wearing major league uniforms. If they don't finish the game, how about giving some of that money back?

Second, how many star players end up going a full game in the spring, or even half of one? Fans paying full price to see the Cubs travel to play the Royals in Surprise, Arizona may end up watching Double-A players wearing Cubs uniforms for the last several innings—if not more. Often, star players don’t even have to make road trips, instead getting dispensation to do their morning workouts, then head off for an afternoon of golf. Spring training, indeed.

The length of Cactus and Grapefruit League schedules also can lead to more injuries—not from players being out of shape, but simply because baseball can be dangerous. In the last week, Rafael Furcal, C.C. Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, Jason Repko, Nook Logan, Chone Figgins, and others have been shelved by everyday baseball injuries.

But there’s no way, now that spring training is a moneymaker, will we ever go back to a shorter schedule. The chances are greater, in fact, that spring training will be stretched out even further.

In the old days, probably up until about 15 years ago, spring training for nearly every team was an expense, rather than a profit center.

But now, between increased television and radio rights deals, high ticket prices, souvenir sales, and the sweetheart park and maintenance deals laid out for the teams by their host cities—which benefit from the tourist trade—it now behooves teams to have longer, rather than shorter, spring trainings.

Maybe I'm one of those pain in the ass purists. But I say it’s a crock.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New listenings

Here's some of what I've been grooving on lately. Comments, suggestions, etc. always welcome.

Odell Brown and The Organ-izers: Mellow Yellow (Cadet)
This out-of-print album from 1967 features the Chicago-based (though Southern-born) quartet tackling Latin jazz. Brown's organ runs are rich and tasty, and the tenor sax duo of Duke Payne and Tommy Purvis is absolutely stellar, especially on a rave-up of Les Baxter's "Quiet Village."
Other standout cuts include "Que Son Uno," "Mas Que Nada," and a funky take on the title cut. Everything on this album is good, and a lot of it is truly great--iconic, in fact.
If you like danceable Latin-oriented sixties groove, with a little touch of modernist jazz, this is something you should try to find a way to check out.

The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby
In which a jazz harpist (odd enough already?) takes on epic poetry by Omar Khayyam...and wins!
The late Ms. Ashby, a musician of great dexterity, taste, and vision, would have already been guaranteed a place in my heart before this album for lovely songs like "Little Sunflower." But here, she outdoes herself.
Writing music to fit the lyrical and often strange works of Omar Khayyam, Dorothy created a masterpiece of "cosmic soul." With "Joyful Grass and Grape," "Wine," and "Drink," you can feel the languid lyricism, intoned in Dorothy's unique voice, and feel the touch of her fingers on harp strings.
In addition, she also brings the Japanese koto into the middle Eastern atmosphere and makes it work.
The backing arrangements are sensitive and satisfyingly "Eastern" without being overdone, and the final song, "The Moving Finger," is one of the great afro-psychedelic joints of all time, with Cash McCall's guitar fuzzing out the game and Stu Katz vibing the whole thing into freak-out land.
Yvonne Daniels, a former DJ on WSDM, WVON, and WLS (whom I remember listening to in my childhood), provides the liner notes.
This is still in print, including (!) a limited edition in vinyl. Essential stuff, in my mind, for deep meditation, relaxation, and for understanding the phenomena of acid jazz and downtempo. It's music of its time, for sure, but also for this time.

Simon and Garfunkel, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
This is the one to get, sports fans. A great mix of the well known ("Homeward Bound," "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," "For Emily") and the undeservedly obscure ("Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall," "Poem On the Underground Wall," "Patterns," "Cloudy"), this 1966 elpee shows the duo at the height of their power, making intelligent, well-crafted pop music with adventurous instrumentation, charming harmonies, and a general lack of the pretense that sometimes has plagued Simon's songwriting.
Some (including my friend Jimmy Guterman) point to "The Dangling Conversation" as an example of the worst kind of pop songwriting and production, featuring as it does a very square string arrangement--but I think the detractors miss the point.
The song is a satire, a play on posh East-Coast sensibilities, and as such demands instrumentation relevant to the lyrics (classic American poetry, the theatre, etc.). I've always found the song rather touching, because the narrator, in his straitlaced ennui, knows something is desperately wrong. In fact, dread and misery are common threads in Simon's songwriting, and nowhere are they more perfectly matched with various musical shades and settings than here.
Oh, and if you're a vinyl junkie, the mono mix is the one to get.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Circular Self-Realization

People who sit in judgment of others deserve to be punished.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

March 1, 2007 Haiku

Winter and spring fight,
Sun, snow, hailstones, and rainstorms.
Muddy slush? Or shit?