Spring training games pushed back again, fans react to MLB-MLBPA strife

By Sally Tippett Rains

The news about Cardinals spring training games at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium  got worse on Friday as stadium general manager Mike Bauer confirmed to STLSportsPage.com that MLB pushed the start of spring training back to March 17.  With all the push backs and cancellations it is affecting fans’ travel plans.

For the entire nine days of baseball negotiations at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium  fans stood outside the locked gates. Many had photos they hoped to get autographed and many were hoping to see their heroes and possibly get a picture with them. The waiting game outside the stadium was the only game in town since the lockout was in full force. Throughout the week there was hope that both sides might come to an agreement, but that was dashed on Wednesday when baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced early games in the regular season– the first two series to be exact– would be cancelled.

Once the news hit that no agreement was struck many fans felt they were the forgotten ones in the talks.

As Manfred  delivered his smiling speech containing the news that the regular baseball season would start late, fans on the other side of the wall could be heard chanting “We want baseball!”

Up until then, fans had hope that they would be able to watch at least some of the games at spring training, but many who traveled to Jupiter have returned home and others are cancelling their trip upon hearing the bad news.

On Monday the dining room at the Homewood Suites in Palm Beach Gardens was filled with red. Even though questions loomed, many optimistic fans kept their plans and came to spring training. On Friday, there was not a Cardinals shirt to be seen and it appeared less than usual people at breakfast.

One family of three were seen leaving with their bags. They had been wearing Cardinals shirts all week and had planned on staying until the month of March. “No Cardinals baseball; no reason to stay,” they said.

Margie and Chuck Schaub live in New Jersey and travel to Jupiter every year. They have pushed back their trip this year several times hoping to see games.

“We’re very disappointed that spring training has been negatively impacted for three years in a row, with the events affecting this year being avoidable,” Schaub said. “Two years ago Covid hit and we got to see one spring training game before camps were shut down, last year access and attendance were very limited, and now this year the lockout.

“I have just rescheduled our Jupiter trip from next week to two weeks later in hopes that an agreement will be reached and some games will be played but at the very least I hopefully will be able to see the minor leaguers on the backfields and watch some of their games.”

Despite living so far away from Cardinals country Margie says, “Chuck will always be a Cardinals fan!”

Tim and Melissa Lange from Cottleville, Missouri,  (shown left) have been coming to spring training for 12 years, and while they plan to go to games once they start up,  they will have a much more guarded attitude about buying tickets.

“We bought tickets to London and when it was cancelled it took us so long to get our money back, both from MLB and the airlines that we aren’t going to buy tickets until it is a sure thing, ” said Melissa Lange. “It took us months to get our refunds. Usually by now we have tickets to several games at Busch Stadium, but we have bought zero tickets this year. We figure once the lockout’s over we’ll buy tickets. We do still plan to go to games once they start.”

The Langes always come from Saturday to Saturday and had Cardinals shirts on every day despite the ongoing talks. The night after the announcement was made they had their Blues shirts on, and the next day their new St. Louis FC shirts. Despite the negativity surrounding baseball they remain Cardinals fans.

“I’m not going to be that fan that says ‘I’m not going back again,'” said Lange.

Their attitude seemed to be one of disappointment but they look forward to baseball when it does start.

The day after the talks broke off, various players took to social media to express their opinions. St. Louis native Max Scherzer put a lot of emphasis on how the players wanted to support the younger players and the future of the game. They are trying to project a unified stance that they will not back down. While the owners and players both remain staunch in their proposals, it’s the fans who are left wondering.

Many Cardinals fans enjoy going over to  the minor league side so they were wondering if the gates would be open to watch them practice.

“We are minor league people,’ said Melissa Lange. “We like traveling to the minor league cities and going to games. We build our trip around going to the minor league side to watch the players work out and then going to some Cardinals games. This year you can’t even get in over at the minor league complex.”

The official opening date for the minor league practices is Monday, but usually players trickle in and the Cardinals are training there, and fans enjoy milling around watching the practices.

“If the gates would open I’d go over there right now,” said Tim Lange.

On Thursday Rob Rains had some good news to deliver to fans wanting to see the minor league players.

“When Cardinals minor league camp opens on Monday team official tells me fans will be allowed inside the quad to watch the workouts on the backfields of complex,” he said.

That is at least some consolation for those already in Jupiter.

Lange said when he told people that they were coming to Jupiter for spring training this year he was met with a lot of “why are you going?” type of questions, because mlb had already instituted the lockout.

“I told them ‘there are still the minor league players to watch,'” he said. “But we haven’t even seen them yet. Right now people may be mad at mlb but they would like to see the minor league players.”

What advice does Lange have for the Cardinals when the disputes are resolved?

“Make the tickets cheaper,” he said. “Have cheaper beer.”

Brian Garner and his family from Imperial, Missouri, have been coming to spring training for 13 years, so we asked him if they were still coming.

“I don’t want to mess up our family vacation so we’re coming,” he said, “But I’m done with baseball.”

Garner, shown in photo right with former Cardinals short stop Aledmys Diaz, plans to play golf while in Jupiter and  cites his other interests as what he will do instead of baseball.

“Mizzou softball is ranked 8th in the nation, and that I’m going to,” he said.

He has also recently begun doing play-by-play for high school sports with LivestreamSTL It’s hard to believe Garner could even consider cutting out Cardinals baseball as he is the super fan known for having a wooden leg full of Cardinals autographs. Rather than the pros– he is concentrating on the amateurs like high school and college right now. He says he has empathy for those who depend on baseball.

“It’s always the fans, ballpark employees and business owners around town who suffer,” said Garner, adding “I don’t need mlb.”

Dick Hellwege and his family are also fed up with the lack of agreement and cancellation of games at spring training, and they have decided not to come this year.

“We went to 21 consecutive spring training seasons in Jupiter,” said Hellwege, shown with his wife Jan and daughter Emily. “We are done.”
He said that he realizes “no hole is ever left unfilled” and other fans will replace him, but he has had it.
“This is the last straw for our family,” Hellwege said. “We take great memories of past player interactions, family and friends, and great meals.”
Some of the memories Hellwege shared were making friends, meeting players and even interacting with the media.
“We planned our life around our trips to Jupiter,” said Hellwege. “Emily was 13 when we started. We met people like Rob (Rains), became friends with Tom Ackerman. We got our pictures with Derrick Goold, the Commish (Rick Hummel) and many others. We frequented Jetty’s, Schooners, Reef Grill, Sailfish Marina, Guanabanas and more.
“We’ll miss the whole backfield experience. Emily and I would spend hours on the backfields watching workouts and minor league players then on to the stadium for games. We traveled to away games and attended your (the STLSportsPage.com) fund raiser as well.”
Hellwege said his family always thought Jupiter was a “magical” place to visit from the first time they came to the last. They have an album full of photos of players who posed with Emily. The pictures include Willie McGee, Chris Carpenter, David Freese, Ricky Horton, Mark McGwire, and the photo shown, right of Emily with the late Lou Brock.
As with many fans who come often to Spring Training, they got to know  a lot of the ballpark workers.
“We’ll never forget Marshall, the gatekeeper-  the kindest of all workers at the players parking lot,” Hellwege said. “He adored Emily and we were sad to hear of his passing when we returned in 2019.” (he is shown with Emily in the photo, left)
Marshall Meltzer was indeed a special person and Rob Rains became friends with him as he parked in that lot every day. He visited him in the facility shortly before he passed away. To read the article we put together about him CLICK HERE.
Emily got to throw out a first pitch and the family met countless hall-of-famers on their trips to spring training and they wanted to convey how special spring training is to them and how hurt they feel by the powers that be whose ineffective negotiations have not led to an agreement.
“With March Madness and NHL hockey we’ll easily fill the void,” he said.
The Hellwege family wanted us to know they did not come to this conclusion lightly– with all the great memories they have. They were not the only one who felt like that.
“Baseball has become a long and tedious game and because of this it was already losing fans,” said Bill Hepper of Grover, Missouri, “There are many old and newly established sports for people to enjoy, so mlb needs to realize that this is not the “Golden Era” of baseball.
“Fan have many more choices today on how to spend their money and their time. Mlb will lose fans because both sides are too greedy. I will be one of them. “
But there are still fans like Norm and Darlene Eborg of Bloomington, Illinois (shown left in photo from 2021). They had every excuse to cancel their trip to spring training this year, especially when their flight was cancelled, but  when that happened, they just hopped in the car and drove, arriving on Thursday, two days after the Florida negotiations ended.
“We didn’t think twice about coming,” said Eborg. “We’ve been coming for about 25 years.”
Darlene grew up on a dairy farm near Effingham, Illinois and as any farmer knows there are no days off, but her family always built one day a year that they would plan to come to St. Louis for a Cardinals game.
“We would drive over and go to the zoo and the Cardinals game,” she said  That memory has always cemented her love for the Cardinals.
They enjoy going to the games and they don’t tend to go to the minor league practices like some fans do and they’re hoping the teams come up with a way that fans can at least see some of the minor league games.
Did they have second thoughts about their feelings about baseball or the Cardinals?
“No,” said Eborg. “We are loyal fans.”
It seems fans are split down the middle on whether they are angry at baseball or they accept the work stoppage as part of life. Time will tell if the Cardinals are able to get their fan base back once the games start. It’s been a tough three years for the crew at 700 Clark Street, starting with the pandemic. In 2020 they had the shortened season and no fans and then in 2021  they had limited capacity with social distancing and had to  complying with the COVID-19 restrictions in St. Louis. By all accounts it looked like 2022 would be a great year… until Dec. 2, 2021 when the owners instituted the lockout.
Negotiators for the two sides met informally on Thursday but there is no set date for the talks to resume.
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For the latest news and features in St. Louis Sports check out STLSportsPage.com. Rob Rains, Editor.