Last Call for Baseball

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The Nationals still have a couple days left in the Grapefruit League season before returning to D.C. Tuesday for their exhibition game against the Red Sox, but Saturday marked the end of the home season at Space Coast Stadium. The fans in Viera were treated to a good matchup, as Opening Day starter Stephen Strasburg took on the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals in the front half of a home-and-home, which will conclude Sunday in Jupiter. But the final home game of spring means much more than just what happens between the lines.

The most recognizable man at Space Coast Stadium got a standing ovation at the end of 2012 Spring Training.

The Team Store is swamped with fans, taking advantage of the final day clearance items. All the familiar sounds of the ballpark can be heard one final time before they go into hibernation until next spring. From the entryway to the ballpark we hear the program vendor hollering his old standard: “Get your program here, only fiiiiiivvvve dollaaaarrrrs.”

Of course, we couldn’t say goodbye to Space Coast Stadium for the spring without paying tribute to the most recognizable man in the park, vendor Vincent R. While he supplies peanuts and water to the crowd, he is most well known for the other commodity that rests in his blue carry-tray.

“Ice cold beer!” he belts out across the ballpark, his booming voice echoing through the concrete bowl, soliciting laughter from newcomers and regulars alike. “Beer that is cold and in ice!”

His line is so well-known around these parts that the stadium PA booth will, on occasion, play a sound effect of a carbonated beverage pouring into a glass after Vincent delivers it. Every ballpark has its nuances, the quirks that make it unique. Space Coast Stadium wouldn’t be what it is without Vincent, who received a standing ovation from the crowd after being recognized during Friday night’s game against the Marlins. After all, this is his 12th season here in Viera, where he began working at just 13 years of age.

The Team Store was buzzing for the final home game.

For Kelley Wheeler – the  Business Operations Manager of the Single-A Brevard County Manatees, who call Space Coast Stadium home during the season – the transition is bittersweet. As the Manatees are a Brewers affiliate, Wheeler and her team have to transition the entire ballpark, from the signage on the walls and scoreboard to the merchandise in the Team Store, all in a 72-hour period to get ready for their first fan event on Wednesday evening. There are no lingering memories, just an extensive overhaul to shift from the very different worlds of Major League Spring Training and the Minor League regular season.

But the end of spring means the beginning of the real season. The laid-back nature of camps in Florida and Arizona give way to the daily intensity and scrutiny of the national media spotlight in major cities all around the country. That pressure is a good thing, though. It only exists because, beginning in just a few days, the games will count. And for the Nationals, in 2012, that’s a good thing.

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