There is a magical land where any fan can watch Yankees prospects practice and play actual games for free.
The weather, aside from a passing shower, is almost always perfect. The sun feels warm on your skin in March on Himes Avenue in Tampa, Fla. The best part about it in the first and second week of March – when the Minor League Grapefruit League season swings into play, is every player at every level is a winner with high hopes for the coming season.
We can say the environment at the Yankees Player Development Center, otherwise known as the Yankees Minor League Complex, is unique, in a good way. Once the players are divided into Working Groups of Triple-A, Double-A and the two Class-A clubs, a fan catch watch at least two games – side by side – on Himes Avenue.
Prior to Spring Training last year, the Himes Complex underwent an upgrade. Dugouts replaced open-caged benches on the main Fields 1 and 2, and areas of high fencing in several areas were removed, making it more enjoyable for fans and others to watch. Under Gary Denbo, players; families and other supporters are especially welcome.
Speakers ow pipe music during batting practice, The complex looks a lot more like a big-league baseball facility. The dugouts were certainly welcome during the Gulf Coast League season when the weather is super hot and humid and especially sticky.
Overall, the experience for the fan has really been enhanced. Without the fences, there is free-flowing access two watch baseball. If you see a writer at Himes – we have often performed this function – ask who a certain player is. We are glad to oblige a fan who flew down to see a hometown favorite or the like.
Over the years, we have found it especially enjoyable to exchange information with players’ families. They will give you outstanding background information and they will ask us for opinions on where their player will end up and have we heard anything they have not.
Players’ families will also engage fans if asked. They have pride when talking about their player and will often asks fan’s opinion as well.
All this with the sprawling edifice of Raymond James Stadium in the background just north, and Steinbrenner Field just a block west and three blocks north. Yes, players can be “called up” or a game or inning if both the Yankees and Triple-A group happen to be playing in Tampa on a certain day.
Another thing we all get used to are dozens of airplanes bringing thousands of northerners to watch baseball. The landing pattern for nearby Tampa International passes right over the Himes Complex.
We’ve been to plenty of these gatherings since 1976, first with the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., and the Yankees n Tampa. Have things changed much in Central Florida 30 years? Outside Spring Training, certainly. Inside Spring Training, not at all.
The suggestion is this if you are a fan of Yankees Prospects. Find a good airfare, and a hotel for a decent price. As January turns to February, make your plans. Watch some free baseball in the daytime, take your best gal – or best friend – to Donatello nearby on North Dale Mabry nearby or Bob Hellman’s Beachcomber on Clearwater Beach about a half-hour away for a gala dinner.
We can guarantee you will have a smile on your face.
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