WISH YOU WERE HERE
SI's Steve Wulf sends a postcard from spring-training-less Florida:
At least I saw Bo Belinsky pitch. He retired the only batter he faced in a game sponsored by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association last Friday night at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. With the spring-training lockout in effect, this was literally the only game in town. It was nice to see players I cherished long before I ever heard the words collective bargaining agreement: Wally Moon, Dick Radatz, Tito Francona, Bill Mazeroski....
Before the ball game got under way, pitchers Mudcat Grant and Tug McGraw led the crowd of more than 6,000 in the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner. For once, the fans didn't take the anthem for granted. They joyfully joined in, as if to say, or sing, Hey, this might be the only chance we get this spring.
Each day the lockout inflicts more damage. Take Tommy Walton, the operatic hot dog vendor who has delighted crowds at Al Lang Stadium for years. Walton has just recovered from costly foot surgery. Now the lockout has jeopardized his springtime income.
He's hardly the only victim. Nine-year-old Matt Harmon of Scarborough, Maine, saved up five years' allowance so he could come to St. Pete to see his beloved Cardinals. He and his father booked rooms in a hotel by the stadium and bought tickets for the first three exhibition games. At least they saw Bo Belinsky pitch.
Some Floridians are getting fed up. City commissioners in Sarasota, the spring home of the White Sox, passed a resolution asking the major leagues to compensate their city for lost revenue. You can't blame them. These communities in Florida and Arizona go to great lengths to make teams feel comfortable, then are left to hang while the owners and players haggle.
In Bradenton, Fla., where the Pirates train, civic leaders fear that as a backlash, city voters will reject a bond proposal needed to raise money for a new stadium for the Pirates. The team, whose spring training presence generates $9.6 million a year for the local economy, may move to another city if the ballpark isn't built. "I hear people saying, 'Let 'em go somewhere else. Why should we care about them if they don't care about us?' " says Jack Stuhltrager, president of the Bradenton Boosters. "Those people will find out, as the saying goes, that you never miss the water till the well runs dry."
Baseball is missing out on the little things that make spring so special, the palm trees in Florida, the cacti in Arizona, Walton singing He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. All I can say is, baseball, I wish you were here.
GAME ON THE LINE