Lessons learned as spring traning comes to a close

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Jim Crothers uses Cecil County as a starting point for baseball road trips, including an annual week-long outing with the Calvert Stogie and Rail Club -- a group of "otherwise normal, fat, old guys who destroy themselves by watching up to three games a day."

As baseball spring training closes and the real season begins, the Calvert Stogie and Rail guys return north to contemplate Grapefruit League lessons learned.

Now you understand this was work: five days, two minor league practices, five games, way too many new players to remember, lots of hot dogs and beer, great conversations with other fans, 500 rental car miles and very red sunburned knees.

We learned the hard way that even in spring training, giveaways and easy tickets are impossible when Boston or New York play. What is it with these guys with the funny accents and overbearingly bad manners? They're everywhere. There really is a "Red Sox Nation." Standing room only at all games -- even when Boston plays Florida!

It's not just sold tickets because each and every seat is occupied by game time so moving down or seat poaching is impossible.

Red Sox fans are not really ill-mannered. It's their numbers that overwhelm you. Is there anyone left in Boston in February? Besides, they know their BoSox trivia and all things Johnny Pesky -- and they actually have some sympathy for Orioles' fans.

On the other hand, Yankee fans -- under the heading of things your mother taught you -- we won't say anything at all about them.

If you want the best of funny accents, watch a Red Sox versus Toronto game, eh?

The best stadiums we saw were old Dodgertown (Holman Stadium) and new Tradition Field, although some of the Stogies tripsters disagree.

Dodgertown is legendary. It is unassuming, humble and gives baseball a high school flavor. When you can harass Tommy Lasorda from five feet away about falling off the Slimfast wagon, that's personal.

The Mets' Tradition Field we liked because it had shade -- and lots of funny Mets fans. The parking lot guy we bought our tickets from said shade would reach our seats in the middle of the game. (This being our last game, our knees and noses were sun-dried and beet red). The tickets were fine and we forgot about the shade issue. At exactly the last out of the fourth inning, the shade line crossed our seats and dissolved our last remnant of skepticism. Or maybe it was the Miller Lites. And then, of course, we moved down to get closer to the field and back into the direct sunlight.

So next spring we do the Sarasota area. Our official scheduler thinks that later in the spring with night games we can double up some action. And this summer we head south on the annual Calvert Stogies minor league marathon. In between, we are salivating about the amount of baseball available within 100 miles of Baltimore.

Fifteen years ago, the Maryland Department of Tourism sponsored a "Maryland Baseball Marathon" with three games in one day. Sure, the difficult part was the 11 a.m. start for the Hagerstown Suns, but the day drew hundreds of fans to Hagerstown, Frederick and the Orioles. Can you imagine the possibilities now with all the new teams around?

A weekend marathon or, say hey, a whole week. The Calvert Stogies will certainly be doing the research all summer with the GPS working, the Miller Lites icing and the Stogies glowing.

Throughout spring training, will publish reports by Orioles fans that made the trip to Florida for baseball's preseason. From Grapefruit League games to minor league camps, our crew of fan correspondents will weigh in with their spring training insights and experiences -- your source for a healthy dose of spring fever.

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