Thursday, February 28, 2008

Roger Clemens, most of Houston Astros stick tongues out at fans

Astros pitcher Wesley Wright must be the Michael Jordon of spring training baseball as he warms up, tongue out, Monday in the open bullpen along the left-field foul line in Kissimmee, Fla.

On my way Monday toward a restful weekend in Clearwater Beach, which is more than three hours west on the Gulf Coast, I stopped in Kissimmee for about an hour to check out the Houston Astros' spring training facility.

Kissimmee has been the red hot French Kissimmee in the past few days because Roger Clemens just started to throw batting practice to minor leaguers. And because he's fighting off accusations of steroid use, he has had more to worry about than the L-screen and the occasional line-drive that gets by it. I wonder if he would do any better against major leaguers.

Much like Dodgertown and unlike the Nationals' camp, Osceola County Stadium isn't exactly the best facility for fans.

Snooty personnel - mostly older people with nothing better to do than to work a low-paying job to pass time - shewed away fans who tried to get near players. They were in the middle of an intra-team exhibition game, and the closest fans could get was the left-field stands, far from much of the action.

People were clumped in the seats on one side of the aisle, and I thought I'd sit on the other side. Why? It was shaded from the hot Florida sun. But once I sat down, I noticed there wasn't a sole on my side. Soon enough, an old man said, "Young man ..." Then, he waved four of his fingers toward the side with people on it. He was telling me to move.

Much of the stadium was lame. The bullpen set up along the left-field foul line offered the most action.

This is just a typical spring training scene: pitchers and catchers warming up within an arm's length from the fans. Once, a wild pitch almost flew into the stands. It's probably only a matter of time before someone gets whacked with an errant baseball from the bullpen.

The guy on the left, pitcher Ryan Houston, is on the team because of his name. The guy on the right, Wesley Wright, is on the team because the Astros thought he was right for the job.

The complex seems pretty new, above proudly displaying the boring logo of the Astros. Below is the stadium from the upper left-field stands. In fact, Osceola County Stadium was considered state of the art when it was built in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, the Astros had moved from "Astrotown" in Cocoa, which is only a few miles away from Melbourne. Cocoa certainly would be a lot more convenient for me to visit.

This is the guy who tended to be kind of wild with his throws. He must be from the North, because that arm still is thawing out a bit. Because the fans are just feet from the bullpen, without a fence separating them, they're in danger of getting the old ball in the face. Either way, I think this guy still is better than old Roger Clemens.

This symbolizes the dropping of the ball. Well, actually, Wright IS dropping the ball. But if Roger Clemens doesn't step up and fess up, the proverbial ball will be dropped, stomped on and made into gumbo. "Mom, this is leathery."

The Boys of Spring home

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