Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cactus & Grapefruit Leagues


When I lived in South Florida from 1981-1984, the only chance I had to see the Detroit Tigers in Spring Training was in Lakeland.

The Tigers never came to Pompano Beach to play the Texas Rangers, Fort Lauderdale to face the New York Yankees or Miami to meet the Baltimore Orioles.

But that was then because Baseball's Spring Training Landscape has drastically changed!

The Cactus League, based in Arizona, took a page from the Movie "Field Of Dreams." If you build it, they will come.

Five former Grapefruit League Teams made the trek west out to Arizona.

For years, the Kansas City Royals played in Fort Myers, Florida and then moved to the Baseball City Complex Haines City.

The Texas Rangers were in Pompano Beach then moved to Port Charlotte.

For decades, the Cincinnati Reds played at Tampa's Al Lopez Field and eventually moved to nearby Plant City and Sarasota.

The Cleveland Indians were supposed to move to Homestead but Hurricane Andrew sent them to Winter Haven.

Dodgertown in Vero Beach was the home to the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers until just a couple years ago.

Now the Royals and Rangers share a stadium in Surprise, AZ. The Reds and Indians share a complex in Goodyear, AZ. The Dodgers moved to Glendale and are neighbors with the Chicago White Sox.

It's hard to believe that the  Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals are the only Midwest Teams in Florida.

I'm amazed that the New York Yankees ever left Fort Lauderdale since their fan base is off I-95.

But considering their late Owner George M. Steinbrenner lived in Tampa, I understand why the Yankees relocated. The New York Mets once trained in St. Petersburg but they moved to the East Coast of Florida to be near the transplants and fill the void left behind by the Yankees.

As I glanced at the Spring Training schedule two weeks ago,  I was surprised to see the Tigers and Mets playing Sunday, April 1, 2012 in Port Saint Lucie. However, they could have played at two other I-95 locations.

The Washington Nationals are in Viera, while the St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins are in Jupiter, Florida.

It's impossible for me to get to away games during the week with my crazy schedule. But this worked out fantastic because I couldn't ask for a better Sunday drive then to see my close cousins Cindy and her husband Peter Spyke in Fort Pierce just 15 minutes north of Port Saint Lucie at 8:30 am, then going to cover the Tigers Vs Mets.

When we made plans, I told Cindy, "How often do I get to cover the Detroit Tigers in your backyard?"

She added, "There was no way I'd miss this opportunity to get together with you."

With gas prices hovering around $4 per-gallon, Port Saint Lucie was a bargain compared to Lakeland. It was a 90 minute drive compared to four hours, plus I was able to spend time with two of the closest members of my family.

All of this was made possible because five teams moved to Arizona and the Tigers had to find new opponents because of the Grapefruit League's decrease therefore, Detroit had to travel Southeast.

But because of circumstances, the Tigers were able to connect with their Gold Coast Fan Base.

This was a win-win situation and from 1981-84, it wasn''t even a thought, just a pipe-dream.

Indeed, the Spring Training Landscape and Times have changed.

During the Tigers and Mets contest, Prince Fielder belted a long homer to right-field as the Mets fans cheered in the fourth inning. Fielder hitting home runs is something Tigers fans should see a lot. This homer run cleared a canopy.

The Mets fans were either happy it was in Spring Training or relieved that he's now in the American League and won't be a headache for them anymore in the Regular Season.

The attendance of 5,836 saw Detroit come away with a 9-2 win.

All in all this was a great way to spend April Fools Day. But this was no April Fools joke.

Just the Modern Day Version of Spring Training, 2012 style.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Public Relations Debacles


The FAU Owls and FIU Golden Panthers have more things in common besides being rivals in the
Sun Belt Conference and being small mid-major schools in South Florida.

Over the past few months, both schools have made changes with their revenue producing sports where each have taken a hit in the Public Relations Department.

On December 1, 2011, Carl Pelini became the successor to Howard Schnellenberger as he hopes to revive a 1-11 program. This is Pelini's first head coaching job and FAU is paying him $375,000 to rebuild the program. When Pelini was hired, his introductory press conference was handled poorly. He told the university's Sports Information Department to hold an impromptu Press Conference and gather as many media as possible regardless of how many didn't make it without knowledge.

I was told later by the FAU Sports Information Department that Pelini's accessibility would be far less then Schnellenberger, who would be extremely accommodating realizing how necessary it was to gain the free publicity to promote his program.

Pelini is due to have his first spring game soon and although I've never met the guy, he isn't going to get much of a honeymoon period if the Owls continue to lose over the next few years.

Schnellenberger is an icon and built the program from scratch while Pelini has more recruiting tools to work with, in addition to the new stadium. It's his job to win and put rear-ends in the seats to pay for his salary.

Speaking of putting rear ends in the seats, down in Miami, Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas averaged 1,071 for the Golden Panthers in three seasons while attendance was four times that amount on the road.

However, Thomas, who was hired in 2009 to a five-year contract, never had a chance to see his rebuilding project through. He was fired after three seasons posting a 26-65 record.

Prior to Thomas arrival, FIU's last winning season was in 1999-2000 and its winning percentage of .315 since, according to STATS LLC, is 329th Out of 344 Division I Men's programs that competed over the last 12 years.

I've known Thomas since the late 1980's and I know that he wouldn't have taken this job if he didn't have a chance to see it through.

This is a guy that loves basketball and didn't take a base salary his first year agreeing to a deal where he would receive nearly half of any gross revenues from ticket sales, commissions collected on food and beverage concessions and sponsorships.

Thomas put FIU on the map and the average college coach usually gets five years to recruit his players and institute his philosophy.

The timing couldn't have been worse for FIU to make this change and I do believe it will backfire. It's not like the university is a cash cow since it's football stadium holds 20,000. There will be a small budget and Thomas controversial firing only puts a stain on the program. What reputable coach would come to FIU with a sub-par basketball stadium?

Thomas will likely land back in the NBA while FIU will go back to being an unknown commodity that is the Miami Hurricanes infant brother.
FIU's Football Program is best known for a controversial brawl that it had with the Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl on October 14, 2006.

As for Pelini, I hope his second impression is better than his first. There is no doubt that both situations are under a major Public Relations Microscope and we'll see how they both play out.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

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