Texas Spring Baseball’s Third Team

by patriciasmall78

Clusters of baseball fans trickle into the Alamodome. It is two hours before the first pitch of the night. They are in no hurry. Inside the clusters become mixed waves of red, blue and orange all seated together. Rangers fans and Astros fans. Diehard followers and casual observers. They wait for their teams to take the field for batting practice, ready to analyze players in anticipation of a quickly approaching opening day.

Outside the babble that rises up in the stands, Miguel Ybarra stands in the late afternoon sunlight with his young daughter anxiously awaiting another team. The small girl squeezes clenched fists to her chest, bending her knees and looking up at her dad with a wide smile as a feathered hoof steps out of the first towering red trailer.

One by the one the eight Budweiser clydesdales clamber out into the parking lot outside the stadium to take their place in the lineup. Ybarra has to remind his daughter that they are here to look and not touch as she inches closer the towering animals.

_MG_7144

Ybarra photographs his daughter in front of the Budweiser Clydesdales outside the Astrodome Stadium

Ybarra is originally from St. Louis, the official home of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and he and his daughter are at the game specifically to give the young horse-lover a glimpse of the team.

“These guys are kind of a staple in St. Louis, and I really wanted her to see them. This is great because we already live here we didn’t have to travel anywhere special,” Ybarra said.

This group of eight horses has a home base in Ft. Collins, Colorado, but they spend about 320 days of the year traveling to Budweiser sponsored events, like the MLB spring exhibition game at the San Antonio Alamodome, according to team manager Todd Radermacher.

“It took two days of driving to get here. We went from Ft. Collins to Amarillo, and then came here and then we take off for Houston right after this,” Radermacher said

The team doesn’t travel light. Three tractor trailers hold ten horses weighing between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds each, the traditional Budweiser beer wagon, approximately 1,200 pounds of harness equipment, plus the supplies to keep ten clydesdales happy and healthy.

Eight horses are paired up to pull the red, white and gold beer wagon for each appearance, with two alternates rotating in and out as the team travels. Stronger horses are stationed at the back of the caravan where they bear the most weight, while more agile “showy” horses are typically at the front of  the lineup, said trainer Zachary Uding.

_MG_7147

Uding stands with the team as they prepare to make their entrance into the Astrodome

This team is one of three traveling Budweiser Clydesdale caravans that tour the U.S. for the majority of the year. Each of the horses has to meet strict requirements to travel and represent the Budweiser brand. They have to be male, must stand at least 18 hands (six feet) high, weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds, and have a bay coat, black mane and tail, and a white blaze down the middle of their face.

“When a colt is bred, it stays on the farm until it’s old enough, and then it goes to a training facility for one to two years before it joins a team. We usually retire horses back to the home farm after about eight years,” Uding said.

Uding, who has been traveling with the West Coast team for two years, said that the time and care they put into the horses is representative of the dedication and craftsmanship that goes into Budweiser beer.

“We want to make sure that they’re getting quality care, the same way we care about the process of brewing our beer. Do we have to spend five hours grooming before an appearance? No but it’s how we do things,” Uding said.

Although the meticulous attention to detail is a reflection of the Budweiser brand, for the clydesdale’s young fan, simply being near the animals is enough. She reluctantly waves goodbye to the horses as Ybarro pulls her by the hand toward the stadium, where she will wait for her favorite team to take the field.