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Live from the New York Yankees’ Spring Training

Justin Hargett, Associate Publicist

In part one of a two part series on Major League Baseball’s spring training, OUP editor, Theo Calderara reports from Tampa, FL on the New York Yankees‘ season prospects and financial standing. Stay tuned for part two from Port St. Lucie, FL and the New York Mets, coming soon… To learn more about spring training check out Under The March Sun: The Story of Spring Training by Charles Fountain.

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before. Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost.”—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

These days, it’s a rare baseball game that is over in two and a half hours. And a trip to the Yankee Stadium can hardly “be got for very little cost.” But with the economy collapsing around us, can baseball still help us keep our minds off our troubles? Oxford marketing’s own Brian Hughes and I headed to Tampa, spring home of the Yankees, to search for the answer.

It’s certainly not a foregone conclusion. Baseball is bigger business than ever, so money is never far from the field, and for no team is that more true than the Evil Empire. The Yankees are set to open a new, $1.5 billion stadium this year, but with New York’s financial firms collapsing, they’re having trouble selling the luxury boxes that were the unspoken motivation behind the so-called House that Jeter Built. When we arrived in Tampa, the Yankees’ 275-million-dollar one-man circus, Alex Rodriguez, had just left town to have hip surgery, placing third base in the hands of the less-than-immortal Cody Ransom, and drawing attention away from his other offseason travails. Scheduled to take the mound in the first game of the weekend was C.C. Sabathia, the team’s latest high-priced free agent acquisition, who is poised to take home $161 million of the $441 million the Yankees committed to new players this offseason.

It has been eight seasons since their last World Series title—an eternity in Yankee Years—and angry ticket holders, already upset about the byzantine process of obtaining seats in the new Stadium, could be forgiven for feeling as if their money was being used to bail out yet another failing corporation.

So what would the mood be like at George M. Steinbrenner Field? Would bloodthirsty populism rule the day? Would fans decry supposedly wasteful spending and demand a return to fiscal responsibility?

Absolutely not. We heard no complaints about the new ballpark in the Bronx. And nobody said a word against the Yankees’ new starting pitcher, who turned in a couple of solid innings, working around some incredibly shoddy defense by two players who, luckily, aren’t expected to see much action this year. No one grumbled about Spring Training ticket prices—which, as Charles Fountain could surely tell you, aren’t so far off regular season prices. The only time anyone brought up the recession was in response to the price of beer—far below prices at the old Yankee Stadium, much less the new one—and even that seemed more like the old fashioned New York tradition of amusing oneself by giving other people a hard time than like a serious complaint. After all, nobody actually turned down the beer.

And once Sabathia let loose the first pitch, financial worries seemed to melt away, replaced by a whole other set of worries: about the movement on C.C.’s fastball, or the durability of Joba Chamberlain, or the aging outfield. So we soaked in some sun, saw a pair of good games (one win, one loss), and even stimulated the local economy a bit by indulging in that other great American pastime, eating. Ultimately, we found that, while you can’t take the money out of baseball, you can at least forget about it for a few innings.

Maybe President Roosevelt was on to something. I wonder whether he had any interesting ideas about how to solve an economic crisis.

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