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Sunday, February 20, 2011

See some Farmstros in Kissimmee

With big league camp in full swing today, and a minor league mini-camp scheduled to start this week, I wanted to give readers of Farmstros some insight into visiting Kissimee to see minor league spring training. Since I have only been to Spring Training once (24 years ago), I asked a veteran who has recently been to numerous Spring Trainings to share his experiences with you. As you will read below, Larry McCoy first attended Astros Spring Training in 2000. Larry was kind enough to write the following guide for fans who want to check out the ASTROS OF THE FUTURE in Kissimmee. According to Larry, minor league games start March 16. Once the schedule of games becomes available, I will post it.

Hello fellow Farmstros fans,

I was happy to be asked to write a brief (at least I’ll try to be) write-up for following your minor league Astros in Kissimmee. I have been an Astros fan for 30 years and since attending my first Spring Training in 2000, it is always a highlight of my baseball season.
The Astros hold their Spring Training at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL. The stadium is located at 1000 Bill Beck Blvd. The stadium seats over 5,000 fans with standing room of 6,000+, and it is considered one of the best in the Grapefruit League despite being the smallest. Home games for the Major league Astros start at 1:05pm Eastern time normally.
There are six minor league fields located behind Osceola Stadium filled with the minor league players and coaches preparing for the upcoming season. The bad news for minor league fans is access to the minor league fields is limited on home game days. The minor league fields are open to the public starting at 9am on days the major league team is playing away. There are 4 fields easily accessed by fans while 2 fields (used primarily for DSL and GCL Astros) are roped off and unavailable. The major league Astros can be found on the practice field located closest to the stadium early mornings and occasionally, they will sign autographs for those well-mannered autograph lovers like myself. Several big-leaguers will make the walking trip over to the batting cages and will stop as time allows for pictures or autographs. Major league coaches, executives, and other varied other notable faces (tv personalities, sports reporters, retired players) can be found walking the grounds and are also approachable for autographs as time and willingness allows. Astros alumni and dignitaries making regular appearances on the back fields have included CEO McLane, President of baseball operations Tal Smith, GM Wade, Bagwell, Biggio, Jose Cruz, Enos Cabell, Doug Brocail, and Roger Clemens (father of farmstro Koby Clemens).
Major league players (including non roster invites) reported by 2/19/11 (pitchers/catchers arrived 2/15). The first full workout was 2/20/11. The minor league players report 3/3/11 for pitchers and catchers and 3/8/11 for all position players, although several minor league players will report to camp early. (A minor league mini-camp involving some of the organization's top prospects is scheduled to begin 2/24) Practices start on arrival and the first games against other teams start 3/16/11 (although the Astros have not released the minor league schedule at this time). Each year the minor league Astros play games against the Braves, Nationals, and Tigers minor league teams.
The AAA/AA teams play together against the other team’s AAA/AA players, while the Class A players play against the Class A players from other teams. If the AAA/AA players play at Osceola, the Class A players will travel to the other team’s Spring Training site (and if the Class A play at home, the AAA/AA will travel). The games are scheduled to start at 1:05 also.
There are morning practices divided by position (pitchers/catchers, infielders, outfielders) and by playing level (AAA/AA and A). Among the 4 practice fields, fans have the opportunity to watch different drills and trainings as they desire. This is an excellent opportunity for autographs and photos with the players as most are very willing to sign if they are not in the middle of their work. Again, fans must remember this is their job and timing is key to approaching a player for autographs or pictures as they are working on their career in baseball. Morning drills/practice usually wraps up around lunchtime and players will head into the clubhouse for lunch and meetings before the afternoon session. Until the minor league games start the afternoon session, will be intrasquad games or additional drills by position. Many players are found in the bleachers watching their teammates and again this is an excellent opportunity for autographs/pictures.
Once the minor league games start the visiting players arrive around 12:30 typically and will stretch/warm-up and be available for autograph requests. Often a MLB pitcher will travel to make a start for a couple innings of work and some nice surprise autographs can be obtained. Personal successes have included Tom Glavine, C.C. Sabathia, and Fausto Carmona making surprise pitching starts. With 2 games going on simultaneously, there are plenty of things to see and lots of players to ask for autographs. The minor league clubhouse has 2 entrances and this is a great place to get autographs as players are leaving the fields after the games and practices end.
If you haven’t visited Spring Training, you should make it one of the things on your to-do list. Several parks are located within driving distance including Orlando's Cracker Jack Stadium (Atlanta Braves), Lakeland (Detroit Tigers) and Tampa (New York Yankees). The wife/kids have the Disney theme parks to keep them busy. Tons of fabulous restaurants, shops, and entertainment options are available. I have spent many 9am to 5pm days at the ballpark and can’t think of a better way to spend a March.
Thanks for reading and if you have any other questions, I would be happy to answer them for you.

Larry McCoy, devoted Astros fan and farmstro follower


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