ESPN's Wide World of Sports - Spring Training, Disney-style

 

March means a lot to sports fans in America. For many it’s the madness of the NCAA tournament as their favorite college basketball teams battle for glory. For others it’s the beginning of the NFL free agent signing period.

To those of us devoted to America’s pastime, it means baseball is back. Our long winter of discontent is finally over!

In the timeless classic Field of Dreams (at least classic to those of us who understand that “can of corn” really is a sports term, “chin music” is not a calming lullaby and a steal shouldn’t always warrant an arrest), James Earl Jones’ character said America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This game is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that was good, and could be again.

Brian McCann swings through a Cliff Lee fastball

He described baseball fans as people who would sit where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. They’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. The one constant through all the years has been baseball.

And that, friends, is why I, like millions before me, made the annual March pilgrimage to Florida, to watch our favorite teams work out the kinks in Spring Training games (practice games, to non-baseball fans).

I’ve come to Orlando, to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Disney World, spring home to my beloved Atlanta Braves, to watch as we take on our hated rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies.

Everything about that is great, except for the fact that we’re in Disney.

at least Mickey is a Braves fan

My favorite Braves beat writer, David O’Brien, calls this place “Dark Star,” so much does he loathe the corporate culture that has replaced the innocence of Spring Training baseball.

I, too, find myself nostalgic for the once intimate facilities dotting Florida and Arizona, which have today been replaced by corporate sponsors and $6 hot dogs. Once you could buy cheap tickets to watch your boyhood heroes, maybe shaking their hands or giddily passing over a ball to be autographed before games in dilapidated parks we somehow viewed as cathedrals. Over the years these small, charming ballparks have given way to lavish stadiums, with valet parking and Playstation Pavillions, where parents can deposit kids more interested in video games than time-honored tradition.

Baseball fans are poorer for it (and not just because tickets now cost $40.) Though, if I’m being completely honest, I must admit that I’m not sorry to see the self-centered Ritalin-charged children go elsewhere. In my two days at Disney I’ve been trampled by more bratty kids than you could pack into a Chucky Cheese. It’s a strong inducement for birth control. Rick Santorum would hate it.

enjoying the game at beautiful, and expensive, Champion Stadium

And a side note, ladies. If your babies can’t yet form words, we don’t want to “meet” them. If your children can’t possibly quote today’s Braves scores, have only recently discovered and are fascinated by their thumbs or stand a reasonably good chance of pooing themselves during the “meeting,” I’m not interested. Call me in ten years, when, of course, Spring Training tickets will probably cost $100.

All that aside, we thoroughly enjoyed the game. The Phillies were typically merciless, jumping out to a 7-1 lead in the 4th inning, but it was still Spring baseball, and even the corporate clowns at Disney couldn’t ruin that. (I’m pleased to report that my boys staged a comeback in the late innings, and the game ended in a 7-7 tie, as can only happen in Spring Training.)

"Mission: Space" at dusk

After the game we wandered over to Epcot Center, Disney’s theme park “dedicated to the celebration of human achievement, international culture and technological innovation,” where we emptied what cash remained in our wallets to tour the park radiating “joy, hope and friendship!”

Epcot’s stated mission is to “inform and inspire!” showcasing pavilions it claims are accurate representations of eleven countries, plus attractions like the iconic “Spaceship Earth,” “Imagination” and “Mission: Space.”

In truth, Epcot does little more than play into cultural stereotypes. The Germany Pavilion features, of course, an Oktoberfest Biergarten, the China pavilion has regular costumed Dragon parades and the French Pavilion smells funny and doesn’t shave its armpits. I’ve actually been to Germany, China and France, and can tell you that there’s a lot more to Germany than beer, dragon parades are a rarity in China and in France . . . well, never mind.)

with Soo in front of "Spaceship Earth" at dusk

Epcot is interesting and even entertaining (though the “American Adventure” show is 30 minutes of tacky, white-washed history, riddled with fist-pumping, out-of-control patriotism). But I find myself rather snobbily irritated with people who’ve been to Epcot and think this makes them cultured.

Disney is a fairy tale, and as such functions beautifully when we remember that. But when the made up place presents a made up world as if it were an accurate reflection of reality, the lines between education and entertainment are hopelessly blurred.

And Epcot is but a microcosm of what’s happening to the world. The Disneyfication of global society has been accelerating for years. Today you can enjoy a Big Mac at McDonalds in 123 countries. Kentucky Fried Chicken is the most popular restaurant in China, and Disney movies are translated into nearly 130 different languages for billions of eager fans around the globe.

enjoying Epcot's brilliant "IllumiNations" fireworks extravaganza

And that’s a shame.

The homogenization of societies means that the world my grandfather saw while touring as a young naval recruit no longer exists. The cultures I’m lucky enough to experience in my travels now will be unrecognizable when those kids who so aggravated me today come of age.

And we’re all the poorer for it.

This is not an indictment of Disney. I like Disney. I just don’t like my world, or my baseball, becoming Disney.

After spending a few hours people-watching at Epcot (probably the best attraction there) I’ve concluded that I’m terribly worried about Florida. Judging by the average weight of Epcot’s visitors, Florida must surely be on the verge of tipping into the ocean, drowning millions of retirees and Cubans.

The finale

On a happier note, we ended our day at Paradiso 37, “Taste of the Americas!” Paradiso 37 is a wonderful joint featuring live music on the water-side deck and a tequila tower stocked with 37 different types of tequila. We did our best to try them all, though, being in Disney, it cost an arm and a leg. But it was late, past most kids’ bedtime, so we did so in relative peace.

Best of all, I only had to “meet” one infant, who gurgled adorably at me then vomited on his mother, though in a terribly cultured way, since he’d spent the day at Epcot.

20 Responses on “Disneyfication

  1. OMG! I love Disney but this was freaking hilarious! And I do sort of see what you’re saying. It’s a great place for my kids but I do want them to see the world too and learn history. Florida is sinking! LOL!

  2. Adam, I love your writing. I like how you write a lead.
    I can’t believe that Spring Training game tickets cost so much now. While I was in my military training school for a year near Baltimore, I had the pleasure of attending quite a few Baltimore Orioles games. Sure, the team wasn’t great but the atmosphere in Camden Yards turned me into an Orioles fan. Most games, you could get a good ticket for less than $10. Smart fans would go early, tailgate across the street where you could get beers for less than $3 along with inexpensive hot dogs, burgers, peanuts and anything else. The great thing about that, the ushers at Camden would let you bring in the stuff you purchased outside the gates. That’s a baseball club that has not forgotten about the fans- at least when it comes to the product off the field.
    As far baseball itself, I always tell people that you have to attend a game. Even if its just a college game. That’s the way to truly appreciate the sport. Television has spoiled us with sports and it has also ruined the experience of actually going to games. When you’re at a baseball game, there isn’t any boredom between innings or pitches. Half the time you might not even watch all the action: the people watching at baseball games is great, along with interacting with the people seated by you.
    Love your line about Rick Santorum. Is there any thing he likes? I can’t imagine how a man running for president can be against college, sex, birth control and drinking and expect to gain any of the 18-25 year old vote.

    • Fidel – I TOTALLY agree! I remember going as a teenager and getting by on $20, for food and my ticket. Times change, not always for the better. Camden yards is such a great park – was the first of the new retro-style parks, and I used to love watching Ripken play. Best sport in the world

  3. Disney-It’s kinda like pro wrestling….pure entertainment and we all know its not real.

    As far as pro baseball…forget about it. Players, owners and the entire league are all over paid and ungreatful shleps. The fans are abused and taken for granted. Two burgers and two cokes at a braves game is $30.00. If you buy two tickets, pay to park and grab something to eat you have dropped a hungie before you even sit down.

    There’s no heart in the game. Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose now that’s heart baby! Where did that go? Oh ya it went to Disney!

  4. Ha! French people…

    I tired looking for you on tv…but didn’t see you. Was a nice comeback though for sure! :)

  5. One thing I hate about Disney is how well they get into the minds of my children. They know what they are doing, and as such, I try to keep my kids as far away from that sort of living fairy-tale mentality as I can. I’d rather take them on a hike than to Chuck Cheese, and they are better kids for it. Of course I am biased as I think they are mini-geniuses and a credit to our species, but their imagination is far more powerful when they don’t need Disney to jump start it. Still its hard to keep them from being victims of corporate mind-washing, and don’t get me started on what I’m going to have to do when they start learning “history” in school. I appreciate your view on this Adam, and I wish more people shared that mindfulness. Instead, they “deposit” children wherever they can, and rely on the corporate realm to tell their kids what is important, and what they should pay attention to.

  6. Such good points. People need to remember that the world was better before all the corporate influence. Life was simpler. Disney is nice and all but I remember growing up playing catch with my Dad was a great time. Nowadays its got to be video games and cell phones and MP3 players. Bad for society I say.

  7. LMAO hilarity insued………….HA

    Well at least you didn’t get trampled by the numerous people in those little scooters…..TRUE STORY….me,mom and the kid (at the time she was 3), we stayed Disneyworld during her birthday which was June 30 til past the 4th of July, well the entire 3rd day we was there, it seemed that the entire park was bombarded with folks who were too lazy to get off their butts and walk like the rest of us and decided to rent out those god forsaken scooters.

    Well it seemed that this one lady, who was behind us the entire time in one of those things, kept hitting the back of my heel and ankle with one of those things, it took all of me not to go off on her that day and even when I moved away from her, another one took her place and kept right at that sore heel of mine.

    But yeah….even though I do love DisneyWorld and Disney and such, it’s gotten way too outta hand now!

    And yes I am happy to say that I did at one time ride Space Mountain 3 times in a row…..the guy was nice that day so he let us have fun and ride! :D

    • Oh my gosh, Jamallah! Yes, they were everywhere, and we were so annoyed with them, but luckily no one kept bumping into us. They are, as you note, yet one more example of how spoiled and lazy we’ve become. They’re great for those who are actually handicapped or genuinely in need of assistance, but they’re certainly abused by others too lazy to walk. Ugh!

  8. I’ve said before I think you’re secretly a crusader! You always manage to point out important social issues but in such an entertaining fashion. Thank you for sharing your adventures and perspective with us!

  9. “Only recently discovered they have thumbs”!!! That’s my nephew! So funny and true

  10. Awesome stuff Adam…I actually had to scalp tickets a few years back for a Mariner game in Peoria ($75 apiece!!! and then the hot dogs and cokes for the girls). I am fortunate to live within walking distance to the Mariner’s AAA affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers and those games remind me a lot of what spring training used to be! GO MARINERS!!!

    As for Disney and the “corporatification” of America, it was not all that long ago that you either farmed or worked for a BIG corporate behemoth…think Carnagie, Frick, Weyerhaeuser, Rockefeller, Vanderbuilt, Hamilton, Durant, Harriman Astor and so many others that controlled the US in the 19th centery the way the Microsoft, Google, Apple do today (and actually most of those early businesses continue to exist today). Sure it is more in your face, as is everything these days, but the influence, power and money exuded by the huge corporations is nothing new and the working conditions of the old guard were certainly nothing to admire.

    Can’t agree more with respect to the stereo-type comments. I love Disney, but it is no place to begin to understand the world. The world outside our borders is the place for understanding and reality…and it is a beautiful world.

    Thanks!!!

  11. Nice photos. I’ve never been to Epcot but I guess I don’t have any desire too either since I prefer to actually travel to different countries and experience it all first-hand! The firework show looks great though.

  12. I do enjoy reading your posts! You’re making me excited of my Disney trip this Christmas. Can’t wait to see Disney World for real. My kids are excited as well as my husband.

  13. Braves aside. Love Epcot. The Food and Wine event in October is very good eating indeed. Love the fireworks pictures. Keep traveling and writing.

  14. It’s great to read somehthing outside the normal “Happiest Place On Earth” routine about Disney. Laughed a lot and I bet I’d feel the same

  15. ok, I love Disney, but I get your point. It is too expensive, not like it was when I was coming here as a kid. It’s a huge expense to bring our family. But the kids love it so we do. Your blog was funny though, and some good points

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