What’s it like to visit the locked-out Boston Red Sox spring training site | Chris Cotillo (MLB book)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — At this time of year, MassLive would normally bring you comprehensive coverage of Red Sox spring training, reporting on everything from tight hamstrings to players who showed up in the best shape of their life. But MLB’s ongoing lockdown, which has shown no real signs of an end soon, means that’s not happening. While some Sox coaches, staff and minor leaguers work at Fenway South, no one on the 40-man roster is allowed in the complex. Needless to say, jetBlue Park and the resort around it are much quieter than normal years.
But how far is the silence? To find out, I traveled to southwest Florida to explore. Here is what I found:
ARRIVE AT THE COMPLEX
From the moment I arrived at Fenway South, a common theme emerged from every conversation I had with the resort’s friendly security guards. Almost everyone – and I don’t blame them – was very confused as to why a reporter was there when nothing was happening. Even the guy who stopped my Uber at the entrance told us there was no point going in, but noted that the team store was open.
The team store would therefore be my first stop. But even that looked different from normal years. The brand new Sox spring training caps had arrived in anticipation of camp, as soon as it started. Generic memories lined the walls as always. But notably, no equipment with current players’ names was on sale – and that’s no accident. The team hasn’t sent any player-related articles to Fort Myers this year because it doesn’t recognize the guys on the 40-man roster while the lockdown drags on.
Playing dumb, I then ventured out to left field, where reporters typically enter the backfields and can access the clubhouse. Another guard greeted me there and asked me why I could be there. Telling him I was a reporter on an exploratory mission didn’t help much.
“A reporter? Well, you’re definitely not going to come in,” he joked. But I knew it, as media access to the minor league camp doesn’t begin until March 6. He told me. also said he was fed up with the lockout and if I wanted to get into the stadium I would have to take the jetBlue Park Tour Normally at this time of year the backyards are open to the public and To the media The stadium is only used for matches, which were due to start on Friday.
As someone who’s spent countless hours in the stadium since joining the beat, spending $10 on a tour didn’t seem particularly appealing at first. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so I ventured to the box office to see when the next one would come through.
There, the nice woman behind the glass told me that the tours were going on as usual and that tickets were – at least for now – available for matches from March 5th. If the lockdown resulted in more matches being cancelled, she said, fans who bought tickets for matches would be fully refunded. Imagine if it wasn’t?
I bought a ticket for a 2:15 tour and noticed a few Red Sox fans passing by. Normally, New Englanders would flood the fort to soak up the sun during a school vacation week. It’s impossible to know how many still made the trip, only to find other forms of entertainment in the area. At least there are a bunch of Outback Steakhouses to choose from.
The 2:15 tour really took off around 2:00, and after some Red Sox history lessons outside, we entered jetBlue Park, which was not ready for prime time at all. Normally, the concession stands would be ready for the spring opening, scheduled for Friday. But instead, the halls were empty and doors blocked access to certain sections of the stands.
The lockout has lasted so long that there seems to be even some confusion about the relationship between the Red Sox mascots. While I was at jetBlue I heard someone describe Tessie – Wally’s sister – as his girlfriend. It seems that the work stoppage has been a trying time for our four-legged friends.
The course, which hasn’t been raced much and probably won’t be for a few weeks, was in perfect condition. The Sox dugout — on the third base line at jetBlue, which is opposite Fenway — didn’t look like anyone would be inhabiting it anytime soon. Perhaps the saddest scene in the entire establishment was an empty laundry cart motionless at the end of the dugout. No cart ride detected.
Shortly after we left, the playground came as the highlight of my tour. I think (although I can’t 100% confirm, which is never a good thing for a journalist to admit) that I saw the back of Chaim Bloom’s head from afar. To be completely honest, though, I wasn’t on my game to spot any familiar faces that day. I thought I spotted Red Sox PR manager Justin Long in the parking lot and texted him to turn around, only to be told he was inside, away from the car park. It’s spring training – in whatever form – for everyone.
A quick note on what’s really going on at Fenway South: Bloom, manager Alex Cora and the rest of the club’s staff have been in town, at least for part of the time, since early last week. Cora and her coaching staff can’t talk to the players, but they come together to meet and prepare for the season. Bloom and his staff are surely preparing for the wave of post-lockdown transactions. And while some employees have been commuting from Fort Myers to Boston in recent weeks, it’s clear many of them prefer to work in warmer weather.
The tour continued to the top of the fake green monster, where we got a view of the largely empty back fields. Only one guy (wearing Red Sox gear) was running on one of the conditioning fields. It was likely one of the few minor leaguers to practice at the facility, even though camp doesn’t officially start for them until March 6. would remain in Fort Myers for the entire month of February. It looks like at least some players have accepted the club’s offer.
While players from the 40-player roster are not allowed in the facility, everyone else is. This includes guests not registered at the major league camp and all minor leagues. Theoretically, Cora and her coaches could work with some of these players before the big leagues arrive. But at this point, it looks like the resort’s player population is light. A few notable Red Sox players are in Fort Myers, working together at Florida Gulf Coast University. On Thursday, a six-man squad featuring Chris Sale, Matt Barnes and Nick Pivetta kicked off at FGCU’s Swanson Stadium.
After climbing the Monster, we continued to see backstage areas behind home plate, including the press box (it just wasn’t the same with no free sandwiches and my colleagues complaining about the pace of play), the suite by John Henry (no Sidney Crosby jersey coaching) and select luxury suites that are available to fans for the low cost of $3,000 per game. We didn’t get to see the media cafeteria, but that’s probably because they’re putting up a plaque to commemorate Henry’s last session with the reporters, which was there some time ago. more than two years.
At the end of the tour, our friendly guide expressed hope that we would all return soon, but for games instead of a tour. The scoreboard read “Welcome Huskies,” not because the Sox were going to face Northeastern on Friday, but rather because they were offering the program the chance to practice at the ballpark on Thursday as a kind of consolation prize after the game. cancellation of the annual match.
For now, the February epicenter of Red Sox baseball is unusually quiet for this time of year. Hopefully that won’t be the case for long.
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