Results tagged ‘ Spring Training ’

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

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?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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