Spring is here and so are the swings as the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins take to the field for Spring Training at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium. 2016 marks the end of an era for the Marlins and Cards’ as the only game in town, with 2017 ushering in two new teams—the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros—at West Palm Beach’s Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which is currently under construction. That means all of PBC’s collective baseball eyes will be on Abacoa for one last year before the new shiny ballpark opens its gates.
The beauty of the Jupiter facility is its duel-use makeup; with two teams sharing the facility, stadium, and auxiliary fields, there is always action to be seen, and always a game at the stadium. And games there are. As part of the Grapefruit League, fifteen Major League Baseball teams call Florida their Spring Training home, carrying on a tradition more than 100 years in the making. Rosters swell during the six-week warm-up session, with remaining 40-man roster players, new acquisitions, and invited minor leaguers all joining the scrum for workouts, tryouts, practice, and exhibition games. It’s a chance for up-and-comers to make a name for themselves, injured vets more rehab time, and returning stars a chance to show off their latest convertible—the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes keeps bringing the fire up in Port St. Lucie.
For Jupiter, the undisputed kings of Spring Training are the Red Birds. Cardinals’ fans are largely considered the “best fans in baseball,” not just for their knowledge of the game, but their willingness to travel. And travel they do—Roger Dean is usually awash with red this time of the year. This year however, the Cardinals are looking for redemption. After tallying the best regular season record in baseball in 2015 (100-62), the Red Birds fell to divisional rivals (and Wild Card play-in team), the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS last season. There is a bad taste of missed opportunity still lingering in some fans’ mouths. Top that with the loss of the Rams, St. Louis’ former NFL franchise that’s hightailing it for Los Angeles, and you have a recipe for some heartland baseball fans looking for a reason to cheer. Luckily spring is here—and a new brewery in the stadium’s shadow.
Cardinals’ players to watch:
- The hits keep on coming from the Cubs. Jason Heyward and John Lackey, both short-term St. Louis leases last year, have signed with the little Chicago franchise that could this offseason, rubbing a bit of salt in the wound. But that shouldn’t worry fans. The fantastic collapse in the postseason was largely due to injury, with key players like Yadier Molina, Matt Holiday, Matt Adams, Randal Grichuk, Brandon Moss, and most importantly, ace pitcher Adam Wainwright, all sidelined at times throughout the season (for Wainwright nearly the entirety). Health is an issue, especially through 162, but as the 2016 season begins, everyone has a clean bill of health.
- Matt Carpenter is invaluable. Last season, he experienced somewhat of a power surge, swatting 28 over the fence, while his OPS was .871. Either leading off or batting second, Carpenter is as good as any finding their way onto the bags. And he has company. Randal Grichuk, though battling injury for parts of the season, made a name for himself, working his way around the lineup, delivering no matter where he batted. With the loss of Heyward it will be interesting to see how the lineup works its way out, but expect Grichuk to be a productive member.
- The Cardinals are in good hands at the end of games—the hands of closer Trevor Rosenthal. His heater of a fourseam fastball—an average 99 MPH—and wicked slider (89 MPH), as per BrooksBaseball.net, can be unhittable when the game is on the line. An All-Star in 2015, he is one of the best relievers in baseball, and a serious asset if things are close down the stretch next year. This spring look to see how the Cardinals work their bullpen; the less work Rosenthal has to put in throughout the season, the better the chance he can put some serious damage in the post.
Mark your calendars:
The St. Louis Cardinals’ first workouts begin on February 23, with their first game taking place on March 2 against Florida Atlantic University—don’t be surprised if FAU pulls an upset, they’ve been on fire as of late.
The Red Birds will take the Mets on twice this spring—March 7 and 28—giving fans a taste of what’s to come this October.
For some red-on-red baseball action, get your tickets for the March 21 matchup now; the Boston Red Sox are coming to town. Though the BoSox were pretty dreadful last season, there is a healthy contingent of fans here in South Florida, and those up north travel well.
- For the Cardinals’ complete schedule and to purchase tickets, click here.
In typical ownership fashion, it’s once again a new-look Marlins this year. Out is Mike Redman, 2015’s opening day manager, as is Dan Jennings, 2015’s interim manager (previously the squads’ General Manager who turned manager in a bizarro move that only the Marlins could pull off). 2016 is starting fresh with new manager, Don “The Hit Man” Mattingly. With his hire, the Marlins will have a total of 10 different people (Jack McKeon twice) to hold the managerial position since Jeff Loria bought the team in 2002—that’s the most in the majors during that timespan. Mattingly had some success with the Los Angeles Dodgers, leading the team to three consecutive playoff appearances from 2013-2015. The Marlins have some pretty young talent on the roster, as well as some wily veteran presence—Ichiro Suzuki comes to mind—so there are hopes of 2016 being a bounce back year for the squad who saw the injury bug rear its head in 2015.
Right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, at bat during the April 1, 2015 game against the Washington Nationals.
Photo courtesy of Roger Dean Stadium
Marlins’ players to watch:
- All eyes will be on outfielder and the MLB’s highest paid player, Giancarlo Stanton this spring. After missing much of last season with a broken hand, the slugger is looking to make good on the massive $325 million contract he inked in 2014. He’s currently working with a new bat to help ease some of the pain in his hand; hopefully it will help, as he will be a vital part of the team if they hope to go deep in October.
- Speaking of batting, the biggest news to come out of the Marlins camp this offseason was the hiring of Barry Bonds. Named Marlins’ Hitting Coach, the much maligned slugger is making his MLB debut since stepping away from the game in 2007 under a cloud of PED scrutiny. While Bonds certainly carries some baggage, he has a sharp baseball mind and was one of the best hitters the game has ever seen; by teaming him up with power-hitting Stanton, on-base machine Dee Gordon, and up-and-comer Christian Yellich, there is no telling where their potential may lay. Batting practice is a must-see event this year at Roger Dean so arrive early; the stadium opens an hour and a half early before the game for batting practice.
- Behind the plate is one of the most important positions in all of baseball—there is a reason catchers easily convert to managers. And the Marlins have a gem in J.T. Realmuto. A converted shortstop, Realmuto filled in last year when starter Jeff Mathis went on the disabled list with a broken hand, playing in 118 games as a rookie. Athletic and quick, he’s as much a threat in the batters box and on the bags as behind the plate.
- Luckily cooler heads prevailed and the Marlins did not unload ace pitcher Jose Fernandez this offseason—though rumors hovered like stink on bad cheese. 2015 marked Hernandez’s return to the majors after Tommy John surgery ended his 2014 season. He looked sharp, starting 11 games and finishing 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA. He’s the Marlins’ best arm; Spring Training will prove how much management intends to protect it.
Mark your calendars:
The Miami Marlins’ first workouts will take place on February 22 with their first game taking place on March 1 against the University of Miami. With the entirety of the NL East headquartered in Florida for Spring Training, there are quite a few divisional rivalry games dotting the schedule. The hottest tickets on the Marlins’ book have to be on March 13, 15 and 17 when the Mets come to Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets surprised everyone with their postseason run—this year teams will be ready for them.
The Miami Marlins host the Atlanta Braves on March 20, 2015, the only night game of Spring Training.
Photo courtesy of Roger Dean Stadium
For the 9-to-5 set, there is just one 7:05 p.m. game. Scheduled on March 25, when the Washington Nationals head to Jupiter. This is probably the most sought after ticket of the spring, not only because of the time, but the talent that will be showcased on the diamond.
On March 30, Roger Dean bunkmates will close Spring Training when the Marlins host the Cardinals. This is your last chance to catch the squad before the 162-game season begins.
- For the Marlins’ complete schedule and to purchase tickets, click here.
Now, if one were so inclined to head out to the ball park to catch a game, there are a few things to know before you go:
- For baseball fans that love a great bite, then the March 11 game of the Braves vs. Cardinals is the game for you. A standard 1:05 p.m. game, following the sporting exploits, Abacoa will be taken over by roaving kitchens for the monthly Food Truck Invasion. More than 30 food trucks will be setting up mobile dining rooms throughout Abacoa’s Town Center – it’s a great, delicious time, and sure to be one heck of a party. Just expect the worst traffic jam Abacoa has ever seen as the fans attempt to leave, food trucks attempt to arrive, and Friday’s standard afternoon traffic converge.
- Expect hard-to-find parking, especially for sell-out games. There are large fields for parking just northwest of the stadium as well as a parking garage. Get there an hour and a half early to beat the traffic and see the teams warm up on the auxiliary fields. Parking costs $10 per day in the parking lots around the stadium. Spillover parking will be available at Florida Atlantic University.
- Bring cash! You will not only need it for parking, but if you want to purchase a refreshment or Cracker Jacks from a roaming vendor in the stands, it is a necessity.
- Wear a hat and bring sunscreen for sun protection.
Florida State League
When spring training ends at the beginning of April, the Florida State League starts up with resident teams the Palm Beach Cardinals and Jupiter Hammerheads, the Cardinals and Marlins’ Class-A Advanced farm teams. The majority of the games are in the evening and are a blast to attend.
- For the Cardinals’ complete schedule, click here.
- For the Hammerheads’ complete schedule, click here.