I’ll admit, as big of a baseball fan as I am, I had to commit some form of baseball blasphemy by never attending Spring Training. That is until this year, when my girlfriend, Kaitlyn, and I took off work and packed up for four days in early March and headed down to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports to check out our beloved Atlanta Braves in our first spring training.
In the beginning my excitement was all about seeing the players that I follow so closely every spring, but as we hit south Georgia on our drive and the weather began to get better and better, warmer and warmer I found myself wondering how I had never made this drive before. I’m not escaping harsh winters or having to purchase a plane ticket for spring training, I am just outside of Atlanta and a 7 hour drive down I-75 will put me right in sunny Orlando. Nevertheless, we were finally doing it, but that’s when it hit Kaitlyn and I that we were going to make the most of it.
As we entered Florida, laughing at the fake palm trees at the state line, getting gouged by tolls, and yelling about the 40 miles between restrooms, there was a sense of relief. Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports had been the Braves spring training home for almost my entire life. It looks like they are set to move out of Orlando in the coming years and I had never been to see them in the only spring training home I had known in my life as a Braves fan.
As we pulled onto the Disney property we had a couple of hours to spare, but I didn’t come here for the Magic Kingdom, I came here to watch some baseball. We rolled into the complex around 11:30 that morning and did what every good baseball fan would do, we grabbed a beer, sat in the lawn, and watched warmups. As the game wore on, Kaitlyn and I basically roamed around the park seat hopping, trying to take in the game from pretty much every section of the ballpark and load up on pictures of ball players.
The game itself was great. The Phillies were in town and I always love getting a look at the young guys within the division. Bartolo Colon started game one of our trip, which I can’t think of a better way to start a baseball trip, and every one of the Braves pitchers we got to see that day will more than likely be regulars within the Atlanta pen this year. What is even better is they all pitched well in route to a 3-2 win.
As much as I would have loved to have seen Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte, and Julio Teheran, this was right after the WBC had started so it was kind of cool to see guys like Blake Lalli, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Micah Johnson play quite a bit. Unfortunately, Dansby Swanson was also dealing with a strain so we didn’t get to see him either. That is what I look forward to most about spring training though, of course watching the young guys, but also seeing the guys that have been around the block a time or two, or have been with an organization for five or six years and get a shot at some playing time and proving themselves.
After the game on day one, Kaitlyn and I spent a couple of hours walking around the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. We covered basically every inch of Champions Stadium before heading down to the back fields and seeing where the minor league guys were getting ready to workout. I won’t go into every detail of the complex, but it is pretty impressive. For those of you that don’t know, I work in the Athletic/Event facility industry so I am a nerd for that kind of stuff. Plus I like checking out where the 2020 World Series champs are getting their work in….
After checking into the hotel, Day one wrapped up with, you guessed it, more sports. Kaitlyn and I hit the Orlando Magic vs. Chicago Bulls game that night at the Amway Center. I love hitting as many arenas and stadiums as possible so I was glad we got to check this one off of the list. The game itself ended up being pretty good despite the fact that both teams are struggling this year. The Amway center was beautiful and the atmosphere was still great despite the small amount of fans there for a Wednesday night game. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
Day two had rolled around and we followed pretty much the same schedule with an 11:30am arrival time with anticipation of seeing the visiting team’s batting practice and some of the Braves starters getting loose. However, day two was a whole different animal due to the fact that the Yankees were in town. Parking and ticket lines were a little longer, I was surrounded by Derek Jeter tattoos and RE2PECT shirts, and ticket prices were almost doubled; I mention this so I can give you a little piece of advice, buy the cheapest ticket and just wander around, it worked out great for us.
With that being said, once we got into the park at about 12:15, while still attempting to get over my giddiness of actually being in the sun and watching my team play in their spring training gear, the excitement sank in that I was about to watch the two best farm systems in baseball on the same field.
This game was one that I was particularly happy to be attending as top prospect, Ozzie Albies was set to make his spring training debut. Of course the place was packed with Yankee fans, and Brett Gardner led the game off with a HR to make sure everyone knew it, but the majority of people there were excited to see Albies take the field for the Braves and Gleyber Torres take it for the Yankees. It was an offensive game and Albies got it going for the Braves by leading off their half of the first with a base hit and eventually coming around to score on a Johan Camargo double. Despite the 8-7 score, there were some excellent defensive plays made from top prospects of both teams. I really enjoyed watching the Yankees Aaron Judge play. Kaitlyn and I made sure to slide out to right field to get a closer look at him on defense. Right when we took our seats down the right field line, Judge make a beautiful diving catch to end the fifth. Also, Tuiasosopo was responsible for five of the Braves eight runs as he went yard twice in this game.
Since I had never been to Disney before, Kaitlyn decided it was a perfect night to show me around “downtown Disney” as she calls it. We saw all the things you’re supposed to see when you’re in Disney and I won’t act like Legoland wasn’t a highlight on the trip. A nice dinner and drinks on the water with Kaitlyn and my buddy Philly Erik, who happened to be in Orlando making a long drive to Clearwater for Phillies spring training everyday, made for an awesome night on the town and a great ending to day two.
Day three saw the New York Mets make a visit to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports to take on the pitcher I probably root for the most in the Braves system, Lucas Sims. Sims pitched okay over his three innings of work. He gave up the only two runs the Mets would put on the board, but he got out of some tough spots and managed not to issue any free passes. We also got see Max Fried, who was filthy, and struck out the first two hitters of his inning. Then another guy I am a big fan of, Luke Jackson, came in to get the save in the ninth. We also saw three position players during this game that I have a lot of interest in. Rio Ruiz was in at DH, Travis Demeritte got two at bats after replacing Brandon Phillips at second base, and Ronald Acuna got a couple of at bats after taking over for Nick Markakis in right field. The long ball was the name of the game for the Braves as we saw homers from Phillips, Adonis Garcia, and the third one in two games from Tuiasosopo.
Day three ended with us taking advantage of the pool and tiki bar one last time while trying to soak up as much Florida sun as possible before heading back to 40 degrees. We capped the night off by hitting a sports bar and cheering for the U.S. in the WBC.
Overall, my first spring training trip was an absolute success. All the way from heading south out of Carrollton, Ga with Kaitlyn to zipping up the last suitcase four days later, it was nothing but fun and many memories made. I am grateful I had the opportunity to see the Braves in Orlando before they move, and I am extremely thankful to have had my partner in crime there to show me around Disney and Orlando. We got to see so many guys who are proud to wear the tomahawk on their chest and although we may have been outnumbered by the opposing team’s fans, you can rest assured I was chopping all trip long. I truly do love this game of baseball, I love the Atlanta Braves, and I am so happy that Kaitlyn and I got to have this experience. We are already making plans for at least a ten day trip next year as the Braves will have one last hurrah in Champions Stadium.