My father and I just got back from Lakeland after 11 hours of highways, airports, delays and planes. The first thing we saw upon landing at Orlando International Airport was the Space Shuttle. As we traveled on the airport train, we saw some people in front of us yelling excitedly and pointing into the distance We then looked up and saw a big yellow light ascend rapidly into the Florida Sky. It was the first time I had ever seen the Space Shuttle live so that was a pretty cool and unexpected experience.
Spring training is a great baseball experience because you get to see the Major League players in a relatively low key atmosphere. I would recommend that every baseball fan try it some time. Still, this trip to Lakeland was quite a bit more crowded than my past trips to see the Lakeland Flying Tigers in May of 2007 and 2008. Whereas the Flying Tigers draw just a few hundred fans many nights, spring training crowds typically approach the 8,000 Joker Marchant Stadium capacity. While Lakeland is a pretty laid back town in May, it has more the feel of a bustling tourist town in March. The good thing though is that most of the tourists are Tigers fans.
On Monday, we saw the Tigers play the Cardinals - my father's favorite team. The sea of red at the park was evidence that Cardinal fans travel well. Not surprisingly the preferred clothing of Cardinal faithful was an Albert Pujols jersey and his supporters were rewarded with a long home run to center field.
The Tigers won the game 7-6 thanks to a ninth inning run. They scored on a bunt single by Ramon Santiago and singles by Timo Perez and Placido Polanco. Perez had four hits including a home run and a triple for the day and two more hits on Tuesday. Brent Clevlen also added a home run, a long blast to center.
Other than Zach Miner who gave up four runs in three innings the pitching was solid. One of the highlights of my trip was getting the chance to see Ryan Perry for the first time. As advertised, the 2008 first rounder threw bullets. He was sitting at 96-98 MPH throughout a scoreless ninth inning.
Game two versus the Astros was again well attended but the presence of Astros fans was a little less obvious that that of Cardinals fans the previous day. Instead of red, there was a lot of green at the stadium including Tigers players wearing green caps in honor of Saint Patrick's Day. The game ended in one to one tie after eleven innings. Spring training games rarely go deep into extra innings and will sometimes end in ties depending on the availability of pitchers.
Justin Verlander had his best start of the spring allowing just a run on one hit through six innings. Although he walked three batters, he was much more efficient than he had been in previous starts throwing just 68 pitches for the six innings. He was working on his curve ball and threw very few fast balls on the day. Casey Fien, Fu-Te Ni and Kyle Bloom all looked impressive in pitching one scoreless inning apiece. The only Tigers run scored on a home run pulled down the left field line by Scott Sizemore.
One somewhat amusing side note was that Brandon Inge received the loudest ovations of any Tiger. I found it funny because he seems to get so much grief from online Tigers fans. I'm sure people will be comforted to hear that he still wears his socks high. He was actually the only Tiger in the starting line-up both days to do so.