FORT MYERS, Fla.
Random thoughts while watching an exhibition baseball game between Philadelphia and Boston at City of Palms Park:
Can't think of a more perfect setting for a spring game. Bright sunny day, temperatures in high 70s. Neat, fan-friendly ball park. This is what baseball is all about.
Red Sox fans, many of whom either can't buy or can't afford a ticket to a regular-season game at Fenway Park, have packed this place since 2003. Thursday afternoon a standing room only crowd of 8,111 turned out, marking the 107th consecutive sellout. The average ticket price is about one-fourth of that at Fenway Park.
The outfield fences are crammed with advertisements. Everything from autos to beer to donuts are listed. And the relief pitchers for each team sit beyond the fence under canopies with CVS logos.
In an effort to make the Boston fans feel at home, the retired jersey numbers of Hall of Famers -- such as Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski -- that hang on the facades at Fenway, are posted on the right-field fence. And they even sing "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the eighth inning.
Speaking of jerseys, both teams wore red tops, something you'll never see during the regular season. Did the team color coordinators miss-communicate? Or was this just another example of the relaxed, 'who cares' atmosphere of spring training?
Interesting contrast in the starting lineups. The Red Sox, probably in an effort to please the home crowd, had a lineup that, except for one position, might very well be fielded on opening day. The Phillies left many of their regulars -- Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, etc. -- back home in Clearwater.
Come to think of it, this is not surprising. Teams usually let most of their stars stay at home when they travel for early exhibition games.
Phils manager Charlie Manuel did surprise many when he let one of his ace pitchers, Cole Hamels, go four innings this early in the spring. Hamels looked in mid-season form, allowing only one hit, one walk and striking out three with his 50 pitches.
The Phillies' three relief pitchers -- Scott Mathieson, Mike Stutes and Juan Perez -- looked pretty good, too, pitching no-hit ball over the last five innings.
Boston manager Terry Francona took a completely different approach than Manuel, using eight pitchers. They gave up seven hits and four walks. It will be interesting to see which pitching staff is in better shape when the season begins in four weeks. I'm betting on the Phillies.
The Red Sox and Phillies will play three games that count at the end of June and if the Las Vegas odds-makers are right, they'll meet in the World Series in October. With all the money each team spent on free agents this winter, anything less will be a disappointment for fans in Philadelphia and Boston.
Final thought: I had not sat in a pressbox for several years until Thursday. Much has changed as far as high-tech communications is concerned (that's good), but surprisingly male writers still outnumbered females by about 6 to 1 (that's bad.)