Security new part of spring lineup
By LEONORA LaPETER
The most casual baseball games of the year are about to become a little more serious.
The heightened security that has marked just about every other public gathering in America since Sept. 11 will hit spring training games, which start today.
The baseball teams promise it will be just like it has always been. Laid-back. Quaint. Bountiful autographs. Lots of contact between fans and baseball players.
But expect some longer lines, a little waiting.
"The novelty of spring training is the closeness between the players and the fans, and we've tried to limit hurting that," said John Cook, general manager of the Clearwater Phillies. "If we've done our job, hopefully we'll just be limiting what they bring in and still preserve that contact with the players for our fans."
All of the stadiums will limit the types of bags that can be brought into spring training games. Large bags, backpacks and coolers are banned. Only smaller bags, the size of a woman's purse, will be allowed. And those will be searched.
The rules are different for each stadium. For example, some stadiums, such as Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in Clearwater, will not allow autograph-seekers to bring full-size bats in the stadium. The Devil Rays are allowing them at Florida Power Park though.
"After they walk through the turnstile there, it really is going to be just as it has always been," said Rick Vaughn, vice president of public relations for the Devil Rays. "They may notice one or two more security people, but it's not going to change at all. It'll be an extra couple of eyes."
All of the stadiums plan additional security officers, many at their own expense. At Florida Power Park, the Devil Rays will have 16 security officers on hand when the Rays play the University of Tampa at 1:05 p.m. today, up from 10 to 13 officers per game last year.
In Clearwater, the Phillies are spending another $14,000 to hire two additional off-duty police officers and a private security firm that will provide five officers for the entrances. The Phillies play Saint Leo University at 12:05 p.m. in Jack Russell Memorial Stadium today.
New York Yankees officials didn't really want to talk in detail about security plans at Legends Field, but they said fans can expect a delay and bag searches, just like at other ballparks. The Yankees play the Blue Jays at 1:05 p.m. today in Dunedin.
Several fans purchasing tickets in St. Petersburg on Wednesday said they didn't mind the additional security.
"So be it," said Burt Reynolds, 34, a machinist from Palm Harbor who plans to attend several spring training games. "That's fine and dandy. It's only for everybody's well-being. Everybody needs to understand what the situation is and be patient."
The fans said the new rules might affect parents with large bags for diapers and snacks and drinks.
"I do know a lot of people who bring in backpacks of food for their kids," said Gail Prouty, 44, as she and her husband left Tropicana Field after purchasing tickets to half a dozen spring training games Thursday. "But I have no problems with the checks at all."
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