What is becoming my annual pilgrimage to Florida for Spring Training is also yielding what is becoming my annual Limey Time. Following on from last year’s recap, here now is the 2011 trip report.
Thursday, March 10: Nationals 5 – 6 Astros
The day began with a quick trip to the office which turned into a bit of a mess, but I got out in enough time to collect Miss Limey and head to the airport. Not too much fuss in Houston, the flight was fine (other than having Jabba the Hut in the next seat) but Orlando is a bait ‘n’ switching motherfucker of an airport. All seems calm as you disembark and head to the monorail to take you to your bags. But then you reach the main terminal and find yourself in some kind of travelers purgatory where you are forced to ride endless escalators up and down, dodge all manner of brain-dead tourists (and their kids) and wait an elephant’s lifetime for your baggage. In the end, though, the rental car was ready, didn’t suck, and carried us to the ballpark via the hotel without incident. In deference to Miss Limey, I waited at least 15 minutes before calling a Florida driver a “twat”.
It was a cool, clear evening in Osceola County Stadium. Miss Limey and I sated our need for a ballpark hot dog and beer – which aren’t priced as excruciatingly badly as they are in Houston – and found chuck already ensconced in his fabulous seats; front row, just off the HP Ump’s left hip. The anthem had already been sung and the Astros took the field.
Tonight’s starter was Wandy Rodriguez, and he immediately set about being spectacularly “meh”. 4 innings, 4 hits allowed, 4 strike outs, one walk and one run given up. The 4 punchouts might sound interesting, but they really weren’t. There was little snap to his curve and I suspect that he had many a hitter down 2 strikes because they could not keep the pitches they’d just smoked fair. The relief corps who followed him – Lyon, Fulchino, Wright, Wolf and Escalana were similarly underwhelming but successful (this is the Gnats, after all, and not even the full squad), except for the Dread Pirate Wright Wesley, who sucked to the tune of 4 earnies on 3 hits and 2 walks.
Wright’s bowel evacuation on the mound gave the Nationals a tie in a game where the Astros’ offense had treated their starter – Gorzelanny – roughly; knocking him out before even three innings were in the books. His replacement – Mock – fared little better, going 1/3rd of an inning longer and giving up 1 less run. But don’t let that fool you; the offense was not firing on all cylinders this evening – benefitting from 3 Gnat errors. The only thing getting consistently hit on was Miss Limey in her seat next to the on-deck circle (Chris Johnson, I’m talking about you). Pence is somehow batting over .400 for Spring but went 0-4 with 3 Ks. I still cannot fathom how he isn’t oh-fer his career.
The Astros’ night was saved by some defensive hilarity in the bottom of the ninth that allowed the unearned winning run to be pushed over despite some effort on the part of the Astros not to score. This was good news as it was getting decidedly chilly and lip-reading had suggested that the managers were up for some extra innings. We three took a nightcap at one of Orlando’s famed “there’s-one-on-every-street-corner” establishments, before calling it a day.
Friday, March 11: Red Sox 9 – 3 Astros
A glorious spring day in Florida was the perfect set-up for a home-road, day-night double-header. The opener brought a split-squad Red Sox to visit the split-squad Astros in Kissimmee. CJ was spotted in civilian clothes in the crowd, and didn’t feature this afternoon despite his Dad being here with the Sox. It has yet to be confirmed if he strained his neck muscles the previous night trying to ogle Miss Limey while simultaneously grounding out to the shortstop.
Myers started for the home team, and it’s hard to decide which is more hideous: his pitching or his facial hair. When I say “facial”, it would be more accurate to say “cranial”. His entire head seems blanketed in thick, red fur. Either he is auditioning for “Castaway 2”, or is using it to shield his embarrassment at his pitching exploits. 3 in the 1st and 2 in the 2nd is not a good way to start an outing. It was a hole out of which the Astros would never climb. The offense did clock 3 runs off Boston’s Weiland, before Dot Wheeler came in and slammed the door shut.
Of other former Astros, we also saw “Hey! Hey! Het! It’s…” Matt Albers, who was effective, but the offense was really starting to look horrible by that point. Of course, the hitting looked a lot better than the defense, which was auditioning for “Major League 4: Can We Go Any Lower Than The Minors?”. Pop-ups and fly balls were hitting the ground at an alarming rate – specifically and ironically when Urckfitz was on the mound. Only Willie Lopez appeared to have any idea what he was doing out there.
One point of note: Jonathan Meyer has an arm for which the terms “cannon” or “laser” do not do justice. He took low grounder about a step-and-a-half behind the bag at 3rd, made the transfer, planted and fired a comet across to 1B – nipping the speedy runner by half a step. The throw never got above head height, never dropped below shoulder height. Comparisons to Caminiti abounded.
One other point of note: a stadium-full of Red Sox fans – there to cheer on their own team – is less obnoxious than two random Yankee fans there to see the wrong Matsui.
Friday, March 11: Astros 7 – 6 Nationals
Speaking of errors, Miss Limey and I conspired to leave the night game tickets at our hotel. We had to backtrack to get those before hacking across country to get to Viera for the nightcap. Florida’s freeway system seems to be a bizarre combination of roman-straight roads with interchanges so swirly that Chuck Yaeger would throw up while navigating one. Add to that the glacial pace of Florida drivers and the randomness of visiting tourists, and it’s a rage-inducing effort to move around the State. Credit where credit’s due: when it comes to separating Sun Pass holders from cash payers on the toll roads, they have their shit together.
The Nationals’ “Space City” stadium is a quaint little place, despite being noticeably newer than Osceola. The food is a darn sight better too (the “Strasbourg” BBQ bacon cheeseburger was a particular hit – which meant they’d sold out before I got one). Other attractions included some pre-game fireworks, that were some distance away but managed to hit us with a compression wave that was quite impressive, and post-game fireworks of the normal “ooooh…aaaaah” variety. In between, NASA launched that mysterious Delta IV rocket that was in the news, which was incredible to watch – even to the point of being able to see the SRBs detach and fall back to Earth.
The Astros started Pendleton, and he posted the only clean outing by a “starter” of the weekend, albeit only over2 innings. Dotel Villar pitched two strong innings behind him, with all the drama of tea and cakes at Grandma’s. The rest of the relievers did ok, until Carrillo came in for the 9th, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
The offense was facing Livan Hernandez, who is still sporting his winter blubber. He did punch out 4, but over 3 innings the Astros cracked 7 hits and 3 runs. “Levo’s” change was doing the damage, but his other stuff was not sharp. As an aside, this game was the first occurrence of unfortunate seating luck – being right in front of Mr. Home-Team-Knowitall-Loud-Monotone Guy.
Bourgeois and Barmes (pronounced “Bar-mez”) had good days at the top of the order. Wallace had some very solid hits and – of the “on paper” starters, looks to be the sharpest. Pence had 2 hits and didn’t look horrendous in the outfield. CJ went 2-4, undistracted this night as Miss Limey was wrapped up like an Eskimo against the 40-something degree temperatures during the later innings.
The Astros were cruising to victory – and we were ready to get back to the car to turn the heater on – taking a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the 9th. Carrillo took the ball, and dispatched the first 2 (I think) hitters with seeming ease. Then a combination of wild pitching, hit batters, errors in the field and big hits had the Gnats poised with the tying run on 3rd and the winning run on 1st. I can’t remember how he ended the inning, as my hands were covering my eyes. But it ended 7-6.
Saturday, March 12: Orioles 6 – 4 Astros
Another glorious afternoon in Kissimmee saw us joined by Ty in up from Tampa. We convened at a Kissimmee restaurant for a pre-game lunch that was as surprisingly good as it was cheap. We were also going to be visited by chuck’s stalker this day, but more on that later. For now, we were happy to be in our seats, beer in hand and J.A. Happ on the mound. That was, until we saw our third starter in a row have a 3-run pant-filler.
Happ pitched 4 innings, but the damage was done in the 2nd as he got slapped around by the visitors, with Harris, Fox and Snyder doing all the damage. At some point in this game, Fox smoked a line drive into the left field box seats that looked life-threatening and had the crowd waving furiously for the medicos. After a long delay, the game was restored, but we heard later that a lady had been cracked in the eye and her husband had feinted at the sight. No idea how that ended.
The Astros were stymied until the 8th. Lee was (again) DHing and looking bad at the plate. Swinging at balls and taking strikes. Bourn doesn’t seem to be interested in running out grounders, and it’s hard to see where runs are going to come from this year. However, the home 9 jumped on some inopportune defense by the Orioles, and suddenly made the game 5-4 after 8. But, once the Orioles tagged on an insurance run off Carpenter in the 9th, the Astros’ goose was cooked. 6-4 is how it ended.
After the game, we all agreed that Miss Limey’s idea of getting some crawfish was a very, very good one. How do you find crawfish in central Florida? There’s an app for that. As it turned out, the Google search pointed us to King Cajun, in the Vietnamese section of downtown Orlando. The crawfish was good, spoiled only by the appearance of chuck’s stalker who invited herself, lectured us on any topic that was raised, explained how the sudden increase in phosphate levels in her pool are some portent of the coming socialist apocalypse (and not at all to do with the over-zealous spring feeding of her lawn by her yard service), ate, drank and didn’t pay. She’s a piece of work. After some sad (and one happy) goodbyes, Miss Limey and I found a couple of cool spots in downtown Orlando to hang out for a few hours. It’s actually a quite decent and notably less trashy part of the State.
Sunday, March 13: Astros 1 – 7 Braves
It is impossible to explain how ugly this was. The box score doesn’t do it justice, mostly because the ugliness wasn’t limited to the play on the field. The Disney-ESPN-Wide World of Fat Ass-This is supposed to be Spring Training for Fuck’s Sake-Stadium in Orlando Kissimmee is actually a pretty decent facility. A bit of shade would help, but we had great seats right behind home plate, two rows behind the scouts, one row in front of Mr. Home-Team-Knowitall-Loud-Monotone Guy and directly under the stunt pilot who spent an hour writing and re-writing “Jesus Loves You” in the sky.
It is the Braves, however, so the ignorance and trash factors are ramped way, way up. Along with the prices (more expensive and shittier than Aramark is no way to run a food concession, son). The fans even booed the Astros as they were announced. Classy! Slacker Jones got a big cheer and everyone looked confused when the word “manager” wasn’t followed by the words “Bobby” and “Cox”. The over-the-top Disneyfication of this place is beyond words.
Bud Norris started for the Astros, gave up 5 runs in 3 innings, including two dingers – one of which was to Chipper. Oh joy. Norris wasn’t helped by a Lee boot on a routine grounder to LF, but all his runs were earned so it’s not like he was the victim here. The balance of the pitching was decent, but the Braves had the Astros’ hitters in a vice – the only highlights being a pointless Nash solo swat in the 9th, and the Braves’ infield conspiring to let a towering pop-up hit the ground somewhere between home plate and the mound.
With a flight to catch and an overpowering need to flee this scene, Miss Limey and I bailed on the game – and poor chuck who’d rather have been at the other game in Lakeland – in the middle of the 8th. There was no telling how high the dumbfuckery would’ve been piled trying to exit the stadium and the Disney complex had we waited until the final out. We had time – as it turns out – because Continental is rapidly being absorbed into the giant steaming load of horse shit that is United Airlines. However, the salad bar at the airport’s Ruby Tuesday concession was a welcome relief from ballpark food.
These guys are shitty.