Our Floridian journey began in Bradenton, as part of a crowd that was largely composed of Red Sox fans (though there were a few Pirates fans sprinkled throughout the park, it felt much more like a Red Sox home game). We watched some infielders at BP, made the prerequisite midget jokes, and vowed to buy some TCBY later that afternoon before heading over to our seats in right field.
Our starter* at McKechnie Field was Kyle Snyder, for whom this house harbors a soft spot--it's probably his curly locks. He's also got this endearing mannerism of shaking out his right hand, Fosse style, after each pitch. We were pretty impressed by the way the ball was coming out of his jazz hand. Only one walk and one hit in his three innings, and that just seems like a lot less than he was giving up last year, doesn't it? He seemed comfortable. Timlin and Breslow, alas, did not. It's a sad day for a Red Sox pitcher** when you're outperformed by Byung-Hyun Kim.
For Kim was there. Oh, yes. And don't think a collective shudder didn't go through the stands when he made his way to the mound. It even prompted a discussion in our section about useless players of decades past. Our immediate neighbors were rocking red caps from the 70s and were, apparently, very impressed with our knowledge of Sox past, present, and future. The fact that we could knowledgably discuss both Luis Tiant and Brandon Moss was a pleasant surprise to all of us.
Next up was Legends*** Field. Which is a seriously impressive park, spacious and landscaped and copiously water-fountained, although we question the wisdom of the ad wizards who made picnic tables out of dark blue metal and placed them in direct, blazing sunlight in right field. Nevertheless, we were undaunted. We marched into enemy territory with our heads held high, wearing our Youkilis and Papi t-shirts with pride.
And we continued marching directly to the bullpen to watch certain catchers go through their Respectable pregame routine.
A lot has been said about the condition Tek's in this season and how good he looks, by a variety of journalists who basically seem to want to make us feel a little bit better about our boundless love for the man. It was pretty amazing to see in person how hard he works--we're talking an extended series of stretches and lunges, a round of long toss that backed George Kottaras all the way out to deep center field, and a series of drills with Tuck that included pouncing on invisible, imaginary balls in the dirt. All this, and he was done in time to sign several autographs for small children before watching Bartolo Colon get loose (for all the good that did him). It was, in short, a fierce display of Captainosity.
We almost didn't want the game to start.
Our particular scalding hot picnic table was shared by several New York fans, including a family with two small children and a Brooklyn resident who was featured in Sports Illustrated because of the enormous Yankees tattoo on his forearm. His wife warned us when we sat down that they were "obnoxious fans," and there was no small amount of heckling over the course of the endless first inning. Oddly enough, none of Jimmy Tattoo-Times' taunts (many of which involved Papi and hot dogs) bothered us, because at least he was paying attention to who was at bat. The same could not be said for one soul a few rows back from us who limited his heckle to an efficient two words: "The Naaaaaay-tion." Repeat for nine innings, in an increasingly drunken Jim Carrey-esque whine.
Dude, couldn't you at least try to get an 18-1 chant* going? We're trying to be righteously insulted, but you're giving us nothing to work with.
We played another round of Who's Who with the Yankees fans ("No, that's Javy Lopez--no, not that Javy Lopez, although he did play for us a bit in aught-six, and by the way, are you guys still lugging Carl Pavano around?") and were grudgingly acknowledged as "okay...for Boston people." Maybe we had a mild case of sunstroke, but we felt the same way about them by the end of the day. It was a good way to experience the rivalry without stressing the end result of the game--we've got 162 more chances to get ulcers, after all.
We'll cover Fort Myers and the Workers' Uprising in our next post, and probably throw in some pictures as well. Viva la revolution!
*"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
**Or an Indians pitcher, if you're Breslow.
***At least on the day that we were there, it had not yet been renamed Steinbrenner Field. We really dodged a bullet.
****Jimmy Tattoo-Times did try and start this. His wife promptly shut him up by telling the world that they were Jets people.