Results tagged ‘ Lakeland Flying Tigers ’

Return to the Road: Days Inn and A Night Out

I plan on posting my next road trip itinerary before the week is out, but for now the supplemental Florida content keeps on rolling along. When we last left off, I had visited two wildly different Spring Training venues in the Fort Myers area before heading to Port Charlotte (home of the Stone Crabs).

Before checking in to Port Charlotte’s Days Inn, I stopped for lunch at this quality dining establishment.

I mention this because this marked the only time on this trip that I had a chance to order grouper (one of Southwest Florida’s most prevalent seafood options). The Olympia did a good job with it, I thought.

The Olympia Restaurant and the Days Inn were both located on “Tamiami Trail,” a quaint sounding name for what was in actuality a heavily-trafficked commercial road. If that’s a “trail,” then you might as well call the Empire State Building a shack…

But I, once again, digress. The Days Inn itself was nothing special, but its awesome backyard boasted an appealing otherworldly-ness. I was disappointed that the subterranean music club was closed, as that surely would have provided a hallucinogenic evening of down and dirty swampland jazz.

My final note on the Days Inn is this classic piece of passive-aggressive corporate communication:

And since I’m on the topic of hotels, the next day I traveled to Lakeland (home of the Flying Tigers) and holed up at the Imperial Swan. Did you know that this is the official winter home of the Detroit Tigers? It’s kinda obvious:

My room at the Imperial Swan was indeed fit for a regal waterfowl. For some reason I decided that Johnny Damon once spent a lot of time in this room while clad in a bathrobe. It was just a hunch.

The Imperial Swan had a decidedly Twilight Zone feel to it, however. The energy was just off. I felt like I was the only one in there, and as I rode my big wheel down the deserted hallways I half expected to come across a set of pallid hand-holding twins beckoning me to come play with them.

But that night’s dinner was an unexpected surprise. I decided on an unassuming Mexican place called “Peso’s,” and in addition to the standard-issue Mexican fare they had a menu of Cuban specials as well.

I can’t remember what this platter was called, but it made me glad to be alive. What a beautiful array of foodstuffs:

So, yeah: Next time you’re in Lakeland, go to Peso’s! It was so good that I was almost able to ignore the domestic dispute going on at the table across from me. Some chest-puffing Dad got so mad at his teenage son that he followed him out of the restaurant to, like, fight him in the parking lot. To distract me from that I decided to flirt with the waitress, which in my case means smiling and maintaining eye contact for half a second longer than usual.

Before leaving Lakeland, I made a pit stop at Henley Park Ballfield to soak in an old-time baseball atmosphere. Built in 1925 and currently on the National Register of Historic Places, this facility hosted Major League Spring Training through the mid 1960s. Since then it has served as the home of the Florida Southern College Moccasins, who do a great job with the upkeep.

I’ve got two or three more dispatches from Florida left, unless the public demands the immediate cessation of such content. Your wish is my command.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Catching an Early Flight in Lakeland

I am not a morning person. Not by a long shot. In the early part of the day I only feel half-there, moving at a corresponding half-speed and feeling listless and uninspired. Nights are more my time, absolutely.

So, I was less than thrilled to be attending a 10:30 a.m. game in Lakeland on Monday morning. Especially since I was waking up in Port Charlotte, located about two hours away (yes, here I am complaining about attending professional baseball games for a living. Cue an Artie Lange-style “Waaaah!”).

I pulled into Joker Marchant’s massive parking lot right on time, as the first thing I heard from the outside was a kid yelling “Play Ball!” over the PA. The presence of this kid, and the 10:30 a.m. start time in general, was because it was a “School Day” at the ballpark. This was the preferred transportation option:

As for Joker Marchant Stadium, it looks like it was built by Spanish conquistadors who watched a lot of Golden Girls re-runs. It’s got style to spare, as well as plenty of room to move. It was built in 1966 and has been renovated and expanded several times over, but there have been constants amidst the change. Throughout nearly the entirety of its existence, Joker Marchant has hosted Detroit Tigers Spring Training as well as the organization’s Class A Advanced affiliate.

That would be the Lakeland Flying Tigers, who added the “flying” adjective to their name in recognition of the fact that before it was a baseball mecca, the entire “Tigertown” complex (of which Joker Marchant Stadium is a part) served as a World War II-era aeronautical training facility.

I’ll get to those high-flying roots later on in the post, and for more (you always want more, right?) please read my companion piece over on MiLB.com. 

After much strategizing regarding the ideal point of entry, I made it inside. From certain angles, Joker Marchant Stadium looked deserted. The massive left field bleachers section was closed off…

Special delivery

and down the first base line wasn’t much more populated. But behind home plate was a different story — there were 1400 kids from a variety of local Polk County schools, making their presence known via an auditory pitch that is only possible prior to the onset of puberty.

It may not be apparent from the picture, but those kids in the red shirts were from a school called “Ben Hill Griffin.” (For a brief moment, when I first saw the shirts, I thought they were wearing them in celebration of Minor League Baseball’s premier blogger. This bit of self-delusion quickly subsided, as the kids started chanting “Stranger Danger!” in response to me asking them if they’d like an autograph.)

The youthful atmosphere prevailed throughout. Between-inning contests were all standard kiddie stuff (like musical chairs and dizzy bat racing) and out on the concourse they were enjoying the make-your-own sundae station.

Winner of the “Best Posture” contest

Standard issue concessions were available at the “Mess Hall”:

Unfortunately I didn’t find too much to celebrate, food wise. It was all standard-issue ballpark fare, at prices closer to the “Major League” end of the spectrum. I ordered nachos (aka “breakfast”), and it was as bare bones as possible: chips and a cheese cup for $4.50.

But, on the positive side of things, it was interesting to see an “Education Day” in action. The students’ tickets were all free (sponsored by local supermarket chain Publix), and prior to the ballgame teachers had been given a 58-page packet full of baseball-related lesson plans (covering everything from ballfield dimensions to the game’s history to keeping score).

Taking in the scene:

One of the great things about baseball is that there is no clock, but that doesn’t apply if you’re on a field trip. As the game progressed to its later innings, the crowd grew thinner and thinner as the students were sheparded back into the buses. By the end, only a smattering of retirees and unaffiliated day trippers remained.

I then transitioned into the next part of the afternoon – a tour of the surrounding Tigertown complex (courtesy of GM Zach Burek and group sales manager Dan Lauer). As elaborated upon in the aforementioned MiLB article, this former aeronautic base is now a one-stop shop for the organization’s Florida operations.

This old airplane hangar, one of two on the premises, is now used by the county to store groundskeeping equipment and maintenance vehicles.

Moving down the road, one finds the mess hall (uninspired nachos nowhere to be found in this case). It was a mess hall for aspiring pilots in the 1940s, and it has remained largely unchanged in function and appearance.

The cafeteria is open year-round, tending to the needs of players in Spring Training, extended Spring Training, the Gulf Coast League, and, of course, the Flying Tigers. All of the tables include elaborate collages of Detroit memorabilia:

We moved from there to the player dormitories, which at this time of year are largely occupied by those in extended Spring Training. (Flying Tigers have the option to stay here, but most don’t because the schedule differences between extended spring and the FSL are literally night and day).

The massive rec room recently underwent renovations courtesy of a crew from the DIY network, and various Detroit farmhands were put to use as part of the work crew.

Downstairs, one finds an ESL classroom. This is a crucial service for the young Latin players, many of whom are barely out of their teens (if at all). In addition to learning the language, they need to learn the ways of American culture as well.

Today’s lesson

While we were in the classroom, Sharon Lockwood (an “international coordinator of player programs”) and pitcher Victor Larez came in carrying refreshments for a planned “Movie Night” that evening.

A 24-year-old Venezuelan right-hander and his English teacher — these are the sort of baseball relationships that are easy to overlook, and a reminder that much more goes into the sport than simply playing it.

And with that, my tour guides and I emerged back into what was a beautiful Florida afternoon. This runway, once a training ground for men who would go on to risk their lives in aerial combat, is now what separates the Minor League instructional complexes from the Major League proving ground of Joker Marchant Stadium.

And with that observation, I’m ready to take off!

Thanks, as always, for landing here.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

milb.jpgVisitors to MiLB.com (my “parent” site, for all intents and purposes), will notice that we have a wealth of Opening Day coverage.

As a writer (and, therefore, a narcissist), I would like to direct you to the content that I am responsible for. Let’s see here…there’s this little “Looking Ahead” piece…and this fun little number on Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s Opening Day losing streak…and, while I’m at it, please check out the latest “At Home With” as well as the latest Minors Moniker Madness voting results.

But, all this pales in comparison to the one thing that I have thus far neglected to mention: the first edition of “Promotion Preview” for the 2008 season!

Starting today, and then every Tuesday for the remainder of the season, Promotion Preview will highlight 10 of the top promos taking place around the Minors. The column includes a lot of information each week, but there is more (always more) to talk about.

To that end, I plan on using this blog to highlight additional promos, run photos and reviews, and (hopefully) jumpstart promo-related discussion and debate.

And there’s no time like the present to get started. Let’s now look at the (cue thundering voice and ocean wave sound effects): Promo of the Day:

Lakeland Flying Tigerslft.jpg
Teacher Appreciation Day — Free Master’s Degree Giveaway
Wednesday, April 2 vs. Southeastern University (exhibition game)
I was tipped off to this pre-season promo by Lakeland GM Zach Burek, who wrote that “I don’t believe that any team has ever given away a Master’s Degree.” While I can’t confirm this, I’d certainly be inclined to agree. Here are some further details, provided my Mr. Burek:

“The Flying Tigers have partnered with Southeastern University to play an exhibition game and to honor local public school teachers. One teacher will win free tuition to complete his/her master’s degree in Elementary Education, Educational Leadership, or School Counseling from Southeastern University. To be eligible to win, Polk County public school teachers must have submitted their answers to six essay questions stating ‘Why I deserve a free Master’s Degree.’ Five finalists were selected and will be recognized during the game and the winner will be announced and recognized on the field in the middle of the sixth inning.”

Some great stuff going on in Lakeland tonight, no doubt. Thanks to Zach Burek and the Flying Tigers for getting in touch. If YOU have any promo info you’d like to share, please email me at milbbusiness@yahoo.com.

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