Return to the Road: Spring Training Present, Spring Training Past
Today’s blog once again returns to Florida, in order to cover that which I couldn’t squeeze in the first time around. And there was PLENTY that couldn’t be squeezed in. There always is.
Day 2 of my journey began with breakfast at a Clearwater institution, one conveniently located two doors away from my hotel. Lenny’s:
This place specializes in gut-busting portions of greasy and satisfying breakfast food, and as such is popular with the hordes of Philadelphians who make annual treks to Clearwater to watch the Phillies in Spring Training.
Unfortunately, it was too early in the morning for me to have my act together. My camera’s battery died, and so I didn’t get any interior shots. But my dining companion Dave Deas (aka Clearwater Threshers’ mascot “Phinley”) did send over this pic of the menu.
Not the best resolution, but I hope it conveys the sort of personality the place has. So, yeah, go to Lenny’s if you’re in Clearwater. It seems like everyone does.
On my way out of Clearwater (heading toward Fort Myers) I drove past what was labeled as the “original” Hooters restaurant. From humble beginnings…
Soon I came upon what was perhaps the most visually spectacular bridge I had ever driven across: the Sunshine Skyway, which spans Tampa Bay. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but keep in mind that I was driving and probably shouldn’t have been taking a picture at all.
My ultimate destination this day was Hammond Stadium, home of the Fort Myers Miracle. I already wrote all about that experience, but as a prelude I stopped by nearby JetBlue Park. This is the new Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox, and it is known as “Fenway South” for a reason:
Red Sox fans absolutely swarmed this place during the month of March, as the facility was sold out throughout the entirety of the Grapefruit League schedule. But things were quiet when I arrived, as that evening’s “big” event was a softball tournament for JetBlue employees.
I more or less had the place to myself.
Not that anyone can just walk in and start taking pictures on the field. My visit was thanks to the generosity of Red Sox Spring Traning Operations employee Kevin Walsh, a Utah native and recent University of Richmond graduate who had extended the invite after seeing my Florida trip itinerary on this blog.
As soon as the park was opened to the public this past February, Red Sox fans swarmed to “Pesky’s Pole” in order to add a personalized touch.
Walsh’s primary gameday duty had been to work the manual scoreboard in left field. The numbers had to be updated from the warning track, meaning that he was a constant between-inning (and sometimes between-batter) presence during all Spring Training games.
We then entered Walsh’s lair, where numbers were stacked upon numbers were stacked upon numbers.
The view from the inside was beautiful (albeit limited) with the field resembling a water color painting:
While the outfield view seen above is not available to the ticket buying public, the following are:
Behind the stadium exist a complex of fields, utilized by Red Sox Minor Leaguers as well as softball players employed by an airline that sprung for a naming rights deal.
JetBlue Park is downright palatial, and cost $80 million to build (paid for by the county). It is rather stunning to contrast this super-sized Spring Training present with the region’s Spring Training past. The next morning, before leaving the Fort Myers area, I stopped by Terry Park. This (comparatively) small complex of fields first opened in 1925, and hosted Major League Spring Training through 1987 (teams that trained here included the Philadelphia A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Royals). It is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, and still hosts myriad college and amateur teams.
It’s a decidedly intimate environment throughout, and striking in that this was a Major League site as recently as 25 years ago. Times have changed, and fast.
But some things never change — how come martinis are never allowed at the ballpark?