Passion for baseball hasn’t dampened spirits in light of spring-training cancellation

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Batting practice setup before the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers game. KELLEN FORREST/TORONTO OBSERVER 

A Tale of Two Fans

While the dedication of players will garner the majority of headlines, spring training always brings out the devotion of fans.

Two particular loyal supporters stood out at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Fred Abell, a 65-year-old man with cerebral palsy, was born in Ohio and moved to Lakeland where he’s been watching the Detroit Tigers since 1984. He remembers his first spring like it was yesterday.

“It was the spring of the ‘84 season and they went eight and eight,” said Abell. “That April they went 40-5. They just killed everybody.”

He began coming in crutches when a season seat for spring training cost him only $80 US. Today he comes to the seat in his motorized wheelchair and says it costs $530.

Despite the losing state of the Tigers, the long-time baseball fan is grateful for the glory days.

“I’m spoiled you know. When you’ve seen greats play great, what can I tell you,” he said. “Name any player within the last 34 years, and I’ve seen him.”

William Ashley, 72, is from Detroit, but he actually prefers to watch the Tigers play in Lakeland during the spring.

“You’re so close to the field, to the players, every player from both teams have to walk right by my seat,” said Ashley. “It’s quite a thrill.”

Ashley has been a season-ticket holder in Lakeland since 2006 and his family has joined in on the fun of watching spring-baseball annually.

“I have seven seats all in the first row and I’ve been coming for 14 years,” said Ashley. “My sons, my grandchildren and my friends all come and help me use my seats.”

LAKELAND, Fla. — Despite the looming cloud of the coronavirus, the day wasn’t ruined for the fans that attended the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers game at Joker Marchant Stadium on Thursday.

While this day will forever be known for when Major League Baseball suspended spring training and delayed opening day by two weeks, fans remained in cheery spirits and escaped the doleful reality with one passion that brings them all together — baseball.

Both teams are on different trajectories heading into their respective seasons. The Tigers currently find themselves in an aggressive, multi-year rebuild and show no signs of breaking out of this monotonous cycle. While the Braves, who loaded up with acquisitions in the off-season, have World Series aspirations. 

“Everybody’s optimistic,” said Gary, a Braves fan. “(They) are going to win the pennant and the World Series.”

Listen: Spring is in the air

Tigers’ fans use a different method of optimism and continue to have faith in the organization’s process. 

“The Tigers are in the rebuilding phase.” said Matt Teitsma, who has been supporting the Tigers through the highs and lows. “We (have had) the first overall pick two of the past three years, that’s the good part of the rebuild.”

The bad part of the rebuild is watching your team deteriorate before your own eyes. Although this hasn’t prevented fans from visiting the sunny confines of Florida to watch their team play its exhibition games.

A young Tigers fan quenches his thirst ahead of the game vs. the Atlanta Braves. KELLEN FORREST/TORONTO OBSERVER

For many in attendance, spring training is about spending time with family and using it as a getaway from their everyday lives. The atmosphere is great for fans of all ages.

Collin, a young Tigers fan, recounts his experience during last year’s spring training, when he won a race on the baseball diamond (in Crocs) and received a free pizza as his prize. He remembers the adulation that he received back at his hotel later that day, and exclaimed it was the proudest moment of his life.

Rick, an older gentleman who resides just outside of London, Ont., said he comes down for “the weather” and “(to get) close to the players.” Another fan Amy, who with her son Matthew, said she comes down because “(her) dad brought (her) down when she was a kid” and now she has the opportunity to do the same for her children.

Positivity was expressed throughout the day and excitement for this season was shown by both groups of fans. Their hope is that baseball will not be taken away from them for too long.

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Posted: Mar 13 2020 10:12 am
Filed under: Special Reports Baseball COVID-19