April 27th, 2013
It’s a little after 6am and I’m at the airport here in Orlando. It’s been a packed few days. I flew in on Tuesday, and like most of my trips (my solo ones anyway,) it’s been non-stop! I spent last night, if you call getting here after 1am ‘last night’, catching a few hours sleep on the bench in the food court. No sense paying for a hotel for less than 5 hours of sleep!
This trip really snuck up on me. It was only a few weeks ago that I was driving with the girls on our Spring Break trip! The trip I’d had planned here to Florida really felt more obligatory than anything. I feel bad saying that, and I certainly didn’t ‘sell’ it that way to Amy, but it was. I had to hit these 2 parks as part of my quest for all 30. I wasn’t really interested in either team, or their park, so I was curious to see if my perception changed once I was there.
Nope. Not really.
Don’t get me wrong, I had fun, but quite honestly I liked the nature stuff I experienced more than the games I went to. Florida is a bird watchers paradise. I saw all kinds of egrets, herons, pelicans, and more. I saw turtles and alligators in the wild, along with so much foliage that it felt like I was in Jurassic Park, without the dinosaurs of course.
George Steinbrenner Field (Tampa Bay Yankees)
My first stop in Tampa was to the home of the Single-A Yankees. The full grown Yankees were in town, so the crowd was less than 100 people. The park itself was nice – During Spring Training, I would bet the place is hopping. The dimensions of the park match Yankee Stadium, and they have a frieze above the stands.
The crowd was small enough that they only had one set of concession stands open that I passed on, hitting a Waffle House on my way back to the hotel after the game. The team handed out water bottles, which worked out great for my trip to the State Preserve the next day.
The Tampa Yankees won, and with that Sinatra came on with “Start spreading the news….” I’m hoping we can afford a family trip to New York next summer for my 40th birthday (when did I get so old?) and in time to complete my 30th active park.
I went back the next day to get a little something for Maddy, my Yankees fan, and just walked the park and the grounds, including their version of Monument Park, and a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
I don’t get Tampa Bay. They have a fun team with attitude, that’s always in contention, but they draw for shit. I thought it was the park, but the park really isn’t that bad. The team has really tried with the park. The lower regions of the dome are decked out like a late night carnival, and there’s a big selection of things to see and do, including the Ted William’s ‘Hitters Hall of Fame’. There’s a Rays petting tank, the park is bright, and the views look good. They’ve even put up Hollywood ‘brick’ along the upper walls to make it feel like a ‘real’ park. But no crowds.
The only reason there was any crowd at all was because the Yankees were in town. But they were short Jeter, A-Rod, and Texiera, so that didn’t help things much.
I grabbed a Cuban sandwich outside the park that was good. I ate the first half with the pickle, but took them off for the last half. There’s plenty of parking, and a great sports bar across the street, so again, it just doesn’t make sense. Locals say it’s because St Petersburg is in the ghetto, but it seemed fine to me.
I made the most of my time before the game. I hit one of the city parks that I read may have alligators in the wild, and sure enough, I saw three! I saw a lot of cool wildlife on the trip, which like I said earlier, was probably my favorite part. I also hit one of the beaches on “Treasure Island”. It was a lot cleaner than the beach I’d hit on South Beach. I waded for a few minutes before heading to the game. (I had a salted caramel ice cream cone too, which was delicious.)
The game itself was fine. I paid $20 or so for an upper deck ticket, then sat a tad past 1st base. I talked with a handful of locals, which is always a highlight. One of the guys I was talking with said he’d played Minor League Baseball in the Red Sox organization and had had a cup of coffee in the bigs. I checked Baseball-Reference and didn’t see him. He was probably full of it. He had a Player’s Association card that looked drastically different than the guy in front of me that had an MLB Pass from an umpire friend. Still, it was fun talking to locals, and like always, it turns into a lot of ballpark talk which is fine by me.
The Miami Marlins are the perfect example of how not to run a franchise. They fleeced the city of Miami for a new park, signed a bunch of free agents, then traded them all away in the offseason and slashed costs across the board. Now they struggle to get 10,000 fans a night in a park that’s less than 2 years old, and wonder why.
The park itself is nice enough. I was lucky to hit it on a day the roof was open.
Logistically though, they’re a mess. There’s zero to do around the park, and the few things they could use, like the Clevelander, go unused and underutilized before the game! The wide concourses and lower bowl reminded me of Dodger Stadium.
The team is practically giving tickets away. I bought mine for under $10, then sat past 3rd base with zero problem against the Cubs. I sat by Jesus and his friend Muriel. Jesus is fed up with the team but still has season tickets. They have the upper bowl completely closed, and were upgrading tickets at no charge. (Something that I wish that other teams did too – Teams should realize it would save them money on payroll for concessions, attendants, seats hosts, etc., if more teams closed off sections completely. As it is, I’ll visit parks that are 90% closed off in an upper bowl with 1 or 2 concessions open. Just cut to the chase and close it off.)
Desperation, thy name is the Miami Marlins. But the owner doesn’t care, he has his ring, a new park, and revenue sharing. (The ring might as well be worn on his middle finger, pointed right up at the city of Miami.)
My drive down to Miami took a while, and getting around the city is a pain. There’s zero places to park outside the Marlin owned garages, most of which open later, again, missing fans. I could have seen two games in Miami if I really loved the park, but I didn’t, so I planned Fort Myers for my last day.
Hammond Field (Fort Myers Miracle/Minnesota Twins Spring Training)
I spent the morning and afternoon in South Beach before heading to Fort Myers. I’d heard about South Beach, but it was pretty much just a tourist trap of restaurants and a beach that wasn’t as nice or clean as St Petersburg’s. I considered hitting the nude beach for fun, but knew it would probably be something closer to EuroTrip, so I passed! I had lunch at the highest rated Cuban place in South Beach, Havana 1957. It was good. I had a Cuban root beer, roasted chicken, black beans, and plantains. The black beans were my favorite part.
The drive to Fort Myers was quick and easy, so I spent the rest of the time at another city park looking for more alligators. No dice, but I did see another turtle. I didn’t make it to the beach, but since it’s on the inside part of Florida I’d expect it was like Tampa. They had more trees in Fort Myers and overall it seemed ‘higher scale’.
Next up was Hammond Stadium. I debated going by JetBlue Park, Spring Training home of the Red Sox, but I can’t bear going by a park when I can’t see a game there. (Who would have thought I’d be playing in JetBlue Park less than 4 years later?!) Hammond Stadium is the Spring Training home of the Twins. It had a real nice outdoor face to it that reminded me in a way of Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas. The fountain out front is a nice touch, as is the ‘Scout Hall of Fame’.
I had a ‘Richard Simmons’, a hamburger, with bacon, a chicken breast, and a sausage, all on one sandwich. Child’s play. It was a long ways off of from some of the super-feasts I’ve had in other cities or parks. As a whole, a great park though.
Fort Myers was a relaxing way to end the trip… before leaving and forgetting my iPhone with my ID and credit cards in it. Shit! I ran back from my car and was thankful (and stunned) to see that it was still there. Phew! I don’t know if I’ve ever been so relieved.
Florida was a great chance to get away and see someplace new, but I have to be honest, I’m not in a super hurry to go back. Other than the constant reminder that I’d rather be in Disneyworld, Florida as a baseball destination is low on my list. (The irony of that is that so many teams have Spring Training in Florida.) I have one park left on my list to do my old-speak 30, and that’s Target Field. I’m hoping to sneak a trip in later this year, but we’ll see. (I’m looking to change jobs, so that might be pressing my luck.) And next year? Hopefully New York for the active 30!