Red Sox Baseball Continues in Florida After Spring Training Ends
June 27, 2001
After a couple of trips to Ed Smith Stadium for spring training games, I finally had the opportunity to see the Class A Red Sox affiliate that makes the well-to-do city of Sarasota, Florida its home after the big leaguers leave.
My first visit here in 2001 was on March 23 when a standing room only crowd of 7,595 showed up to watch Pedro Martinez throw a six inning, two-hit spring training masterpiece as the Red Sox beat the Reds 5-3.
Three months later I returned to Ed Smith Stadium, as the Sarasota Red Sox defeated the Daytona Cubs 3-1 before crowd of 3,159 on Fireworks night. Although most of the names on the field were foreign to me, there was one man in the stands that garnered more attention than any of the players.
|In addition to being home to the Sarasota Red Sox, Ed Smith Stadium is the spring training host of the Cincinnati Reds
Sarasota resident and talk-show host Jerry Springer was among those in attendance, sitting near where I sat behind the visitor's dugout. Fans flocked to him for autographs and pictures between innings as word of his appearance spread through the ballpark. Springer left after the fourth inning as the game was probably not eventful as any of his shows, as Sarasota starter Greg Montalbano held the Cubs to one run over six innings to pick up his organization-leading eighth win.
The one recognizable name for Sarasota was second baseman Joe Kerrigan Jr., son of Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Although you'd think Kerrigan Jr. would become a pitcher after so many have prospered under the tutelage of his father, the younger Joe is a second baseman and a pretty good one at that, playing in the Florida State League all-star game held on June 16.
As for the ballpark, Ed Smith Stadium seats 7,500, but that number is only reached when the Reds train here in the spring. There are very few, if any, nights that the SaraSox fill half that many seats. Sarasota is among the 11 of 12 teams in the Florida State League that play its home games in a stadium that was built for games in the spring, and the typical sparse gatherings look even smaller because of the large size of the ballpark. The only team in the league that doesn't play their games in a major league spring training stadium are the Daytona Cubs.
|An overflow crowd of 7,595 watched Brian Daubach and the Red Sox defeat the Reds 5-3 on March 23, 2001.
Among the leftover oddities from spring are the 2001 Spring Training Cincinnati Reds souvenir drink cups at the concession stands, and an advertising sign in right field for a company based in Cincinnati that reminds Reds fans to buy their products when they return home to Ohio.
Unlike other full-season minor league affiliates in Pawtucket, Trenton, and Augusta, the Sarasota Red Sox are owned by the Boston Red Sox, so player development is placed ahead of profit. A Sarasota game is more about baseball than the economics of making the franchise a financially successful entity. Even the team's Web site remains virtually untouched throughout the season, and there are no sections for player stats or game results.
Although Ed Smith Stadium is nice-looking, it doesn't contain too much personality. After going to spring training games in nine stadiums in Florida in March, Sarasota's ballpark didn't stand out in comparison to the others. It is nowhere near as nice a facility as Boston's spring training home in Ft. Myers, the picturesque City of Palms Park. I'm not suggesting Ed Smith Stadium is not a good place for baseball. It just doesn't have much that will make it stand out in your mind. It's a no-frills, symmetrical stadium with a bad PA system (it's like listening to AM radio instead of FM). That's about it.
Like most minor league teams, Sarasota has its share of promotions to get fans to the game. Among their weekly promotions, Thursday home games are set aside as $1 nights, with hot dogs, sodas, beers, and general admission tickets all selling for $1 each. On Monday the area's large senior citizen population is targeted, as those 50 and older can get a ticket for $1 on Seniors Night Bingo. There is even a baseball-related promotion in July: broken bat giveaway day.
After being surprised in Pawtucket with free parking, I assumed that was the status quo at all minor league parks, so I was equally surprised to pay a $1 fee in Sarasota. If there are no promotions, tickets are $5 for box seats and $4 for the grandstand, although it doesn't matter what you buy since you can sit anywhere you desire due to the small crowds.
For the 2000 season, the SaraSox drew 47,371 fans for a 70-game home schedule, an average of only 677 per game, and ninth in the 12-team league. Although the minors are known for long bus rides, that's not necessarily the case in the Florida State league, as Sarasota is within 150 miles of all the teams. As a result, there are a number of one and two game home stands.
The Red Sox have had a team in Sarasota for eight years and are the only team in the league besides Daytona that doesn't play in the major league spring training stadium in the city where their parent club trains, although Ft. Myers is home to a team in the league. The Minnesota Twins have a team there, and since there are barely enough fans to support a team in each town, the thought of putting two in a city may never be a reality. In addition to Ft. Myers, the city of Jupiter also hosts two major league teams in the spring, the Expos and Cardinals, but only Montreal has a minor league team in the state of Florida.
The one really good thing about Ed Smith Stadium is you never know whom you'll see there. Although I saw Jerry Springer in the stands, Boston often sends well-known major leaguers here on injury rehab assignments, as the Red Sox of the future are often mixed in with players from the present. Bryce Florie and David Cone have pitched here this season and Bret Saberhagen will likely pitch here if he is to ascend to the top level.
On one last note, Sarasota is located only a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and what better combination can there be than a day at the beach and an evening at a baseball game?