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Kramer: Expectations for spring training 2020

| Wednesday, February 12, 2020

“C’mon, Kubel! It’s about the kids!’”

The shadow of majestic LECOM Park appeared to swallow my car in its not-so-majestic parking lot. I sprang from the scorching back seat of my dad’s rental car, immersing myself in the shade as I gaped at the finest attraction in Bradenton, Florida. Such a sight marked the end of a tireless road trip from the panhandle, one fueled by an electric Pirates-Twins contest later in the afternoon. Southern sunshine kissed the field with a distinctive glisten. Even fans throughout the stadium seemed to embrace the warmth.

Except one. As I hurried along the third base line, scrambling to find for my trusted autograph Sharpie, I settled near a hilariously drunk fan that looked decidedly out of place. Sporting a horrendous afro wig, metallic pants and an absurdly pale-bare chest, this seriously confused soul swooned over his cheeseburger like a long-lost lover, repeatedly asking himself why the unhealthiest of things needed to taste “sooooo good.”

While he affectionately counted the calories, I hollered at the smuggest of early 2000s baseball icons, Twins outfielder Jason Kubel, hoping for an autograph. With a smirk, Kubel rushed past the swarm of pleading kids and dipped his head into the dugout.

Hearing the resounding disappointment around him, the disco drunk stood up, angrily shook his cowbell in Kubel’s direction and yelled, “C’mon, Kubel! It’s about the kids!”

So began my first spring training game.

In spite of his insobriety, the disco drunk pinpointed what MLB teams need in February: a fan-centered, engaging ballpark experience in Florida and Arizona. With pitchers and catchers starting to report this week, here are three reliable expectations for spring training that will keep the kids entertained until Opening Day:

No. 1: Expect plenty of bombs in Florida. The league’s leaders in home runs last season (Twins, Astros, and Yankees) all seek to rekindle their explosive offenses in the Sunshine State, featuring a healthy Yankees arsenal in Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela and Giancarlo Stanton; the Twins’ trifecta of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, and Miguel Sano poses a serious threat to the Fort Lauderdale scoreboard. Especially in February development games, watch for the Tampa Bay Rays to join the ranks of long ball powerhouses as they showcase farm system gems Josh Lowe and Wander Franco.

No. 2: Expect robot umpires. After a successful run in the Atlantic League and Arizona Fall League last season, a three-dimensional radar detection system will be used to call balls and strikes during spring games. Human umpires hear every strike call via Bluetooth connection to a set of AirPods. For the purists in the stands, don’t worry. Everything will look like the past decade.

No. 3: Expect boos heard around the world. Kids love to boo. Houston Astros owner Jim Crane finally anticipates a formal apology from Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and other key figures once the full roster reports. Finally. Nevertheless, the widespread lack of remorse in an altogether fragmented organization leaves fans infuriated. Spectators will inflict the punishment that Rob Manfred should have imposed last month, and no one will stop them.

Bear in mind that the Astros and the reigning world champion Washington Nationals share a stadium in Palm Beach this spring. That’ll definitely get the kids excited.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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