2017-02-16 / Top News

Getting ready for the boys of summer

Florida Weekly Correspondent

Minnesota Twins equipment truck is loaded for spring training. 
BRACE HEMMELGARN/MINNESOTA TWINS Minnesota Twins equipment truck is loaded for spring training. BRACE HEMMELGARN/MINNESOTA TWINS Long before the gates open or the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd fills Florida’s spring training ballparks, men and women are at work.

They arrange the printing of pocket schedules and pack baseballs to transport on big trucks and clean seats. They sell billboard advertising and organize national anthem tryouts and hire seasonal workers.

The details are seemingly endless. And they must be taken care of before Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer takes the field at CenturyLink Sports Complex, Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale uncorks his first fastball of the Grapefruit League season at JetBlue Park or Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria belts his first homer at Charlotte Sports Park.

Before a bunt is placed down a first base line, somebody needs to order and deliver baseballs.

The Red Sox will go through 275 cases of baseball in spring training, according to Katie Haas, the team’s vice president of Florida business operations.

HAAS HAAS That means 1,650 dozen, or 19,800 individual baseballs.

There will also be plenty of lumber as well. Ms. Haas said the Red Sox will go through about 60 dozen bats during spring training. How many is 60 dozen? That’s 720 bats.

Baseball players like munching on sunflower seeds and the Red Sox are ready. Ms. Haas said one pallet of Giant seeds and another pallet of Spitz seeds will be used during the team’s time in Florida. And, yes, there is a brand of sunflower seeds called Spitz.

Because they work out or play virtually every day the players on all big-league teams need changes of uniform. Ms. Haas said each player and coach starts out camp with four pairs of pants, two for home games and two for road games.

They also will be given two spring training jerseys, one white home jersey, one batting practice jersey and a special green St. Patrick’s Day jersey.

HERMAN HERMAN A Red Sox spring training tradition is for the team to play at home on St. Patrick’s Day and wear green jerseys and green caps.

Any fan glancing at photos of old-time baseball players from the early 20th century might notice that the uniforms often appear grimy, if not filthy. That’s not the case now.

When teams take fields in 2017 their uniforms will sparkle. The Red Sox will go through about 50 gallons of laundry detergent during their time at JetBlue Park.

The numbers are probably similar at other spring training parks through Florida and Arizona.

The Twins fill a 57-foot tractor-trailer every winter with gear to make the long trip to Fort Myers. It is packed with fungo bats, medical supplies, baseballs, children’s toys, golf clubs, uniforms, suitcases and all sorts of odds and ends.

“My family will put a stroller in there,” said Mike Herman, the Twins director of team travel.

The team usually gives the driver four days, according to Mr. Herman, to make the trip that starts on Minnesota streets in freezing weather and ends in warm Southwest Florida. Mr. Herman estimated the truck weighs about 38,000 pounds when filled.

He said he’s always amazed at how workers jam everything in.

“It’s quite a scene to see how it’s put together,” Mr. Herman said. “It’s a puzzle.”

Mr. Herman makes travel arrangements for more than 60 players and about 25 staff members and 15 front office executives. He estimated he books about 60 flights to make that happen.

He also books buses for the team’s spring training travel around Florida and arranges for hotel rooms.

Although big-league teams carry 25 players during the regular season the rosters are more than double that in spring training because minor-league players are invited to camp.

When Mr. Herman spoke to Florida Weekly in January it appeared that 62 players would be in big-league camp this year.

“I have 62 guys asking me questions,” Mr. Herman said. “I have to get in touch with all 62.”

While fans check schedules to see when games start, team officials on are on a different timetable.

For Jared Forma, general manager of the Charlotte Stone Crabs, Jan. 1 is a magic date. And it’s not for football bowl games.

“You come back to work after the holiday break and your eyes light up,” Mr. Forma said. “Spring training is here. Let’s go.”

Ms. Haas typically starts thinking about spring training the previous summer.

“We really start planning out what we’re going to do,” Ms. Haas said, sitting in her JetBlue office.

Much of that work involves ballpark maintenance similar to that that any building requires. To help run the ballpark and prepare it for 10,000 fans on game days the Red Sox hire five interns every year. Ms. Haas said the team usually receives between 300 and 400 resumes in August for the internships.

She said the interns aren’t at the ballpark just to fetch coffee for executives. Ms. Haas said they do real work, work that will prepare them for careers in sports management.

She said intern duties includes running national anthem auditions the Red Sox hold every winter to find singers for JetBlue games, working with corporate sponsors and ballpark operations.

On game days the Red Sox have about 200 employees. That doesn’t count, Ms. Haas said, concessions workers. Aramark handles ballpark concessions. She said there might be another 100 or so concessions people working on game days.

Ms. Haas works year-round at JetBlue and resides in Fort Myers.

But other baseball officials such as Dustin Morse, the Twins’ senior director of communications, come down for spring training and can spend six or seven weeks out of every year in town.

“For me it’s almost like I have a satellite office,” Mr. Morse said.

And more. In January Mr. Morse told Florida Weekly he would likely arrive in Fort Myers on Feb. 8 and leave on March 31,

“It’s our second home,” Mr. Morse said.

Mr. Morse’s enormous workload includes assembling the team’s media guide of more than 400 pages, overseeing social media and making sure reporters get spring training credentials.

Ms. Haas and Mr. Morse are a full time, year-round employees of their teams.

But every team hires seasonal workers to handle the thousands of fans who attend Grapefruit League games. They need parking lot attendants and ticket sales staff and ushers and concessions workers and people to run the scoreboards and video boards and public address announcers.

Mr. Forma, the general manager for the Charlotte Stone Crabs, said it takes about 200-to-250 people to put on a Rays’ spring training game at Charlotte Sports Park. The Stone Crabs are the Rays’ affiliate in the Class A Florida State League season and its front office helps run spring training for the big-league club.

The details are endless. Many fans no doubt pick up little pocket schedules at ballparks, drug stores or restaurants. Somebody has to work with a printer and sell ads for the pocket schedules and then make sure they’re distributed.

The same is the case with outfield billboards and game programs. In the months before the Grapefruit League begins, men and women are at work selling programs and tickets, preparing the fields and sprucing up ballparks.

Mr. Forma said 90 percent of the programs and pocket schedules are other material fans will pick up at the Charlotte Sports Park is printed at Monarch Printing in Port Charlotte.

Details, details, details. …

Mr. Forma said Stone Crabs’ staffers are out in the community during the winter promoting Rays’ spring training as well as the Stone Crabs.

Unlike the Twins and Red Sox the Rays are very close to their big-league affiliate, which plays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The ballparks are only 79.8 miles apart, according to Google maps.

The contrast between Southwest Florida’s other two Grapefruit League teams and their home stadiums is stark.

Fenway Park is 1,454 miles from Jet- Blue Park, according to Google maps. The Google folks said the drive could be made in 22 hours and six minutes. And six minutes?

That’s a mere Sunday drive compared to the difference in miles between CenturyLink Sports Complex and Target Field, the Twins’ home in Minneapolis. Those ballparks are 1,715 miles apart and the drive will take 24 hours. That doesn’t take into account, of course, sleeping or eating or bathroom breaks.

While Red Sox fans from New England and Twins fans from the upper Midwest flock to Lee County to escape northern winters and fill ballparks, most Rays fans are a short drive away in the same sunny and warm weather.

Palm trees and sunshine is no lure for Rays fans, unlike with the Twins and Red Sox.

The average high temperature in Fort Myers on March 1 is 79. The average high on that date in Boston is 39 and in Minneapolis it is 34.

The average high on March 1 in Port Charlotte is 79. In St. Pete it is 74.

Rays fans don’t even have to go far to see their team. They can often catch the Rays in Grapefruit League road games in towns close to Tropicana Field such as Sarasota, Bradenton, Clearwater, Dunedin and Lakeland.

That might make selling spring training tickets more challenging.

“So we probably have to go do a little bit extra as far as local community outreach programs and really marketing locally,” Mr. Forma said.

The staffs of the Miracle and Stone Crabs are doing double duty – preparing for spring training and the minor-league season.

As in any business customer service is critical in baseball, whether spring training or a minor-league season.

“I always say from phone to home,” Mr. Forma said. “Because the fan’s experience really starts with the customer’s first interaction.”

That could be a telephone call, over the Internet or at a box office window, all well before the games begin.

On game days it starts in the parking lot.

“They better be nice and welcoming you,” Mr. Forma said of parking lot attendants. “There’s only so many touch points with a customer.”

Those touch points have been made for weeks as the teams prepare for the Grapefruit League, long before the first home run is clubbed in any of the ballparks. ¦

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