St. Petersburg, FL – After being unable to keep the OOB Spring Training trip an annual event in 2006, it was with great anticipation that we approached the departure date this year. Our last March baseball experience (2005) took us to Arizona, where I was able to take in the remaining facilities we had not seen in 2003. So this year we planned to head back to Florida and pick up a few more of the parks in the Grapefruit League. If things go as planned, I will have seen all but two spring training parks currently in use, and even a few that have gone the way of the dodo.
Yet another new group set out this year for what promises to be the most entertaining trip yet. Naturally, we are still led by Kenny “The Lizard” Lattin, and naturally that is the last time I will refer to him as Kenny in print. It is the Lizard’s seventh spring trip, and his first since joining the ranks of fatherhood. Unlike certain other individuals in the past, he planned the appearance of his progeny so that his arrival would not encroach on a spring junket – and I would expect nothing less from a savvy veteran such as the Lizard.
To prepare for the trip, the Lizard booked out hotel, picked up the rental car, and collected an assortment of snack items for the long drive. Despite all this, he still says he has never been this unprepared. I guess when you are as experienced as he is, these things just come naturally. The Lizard still holds down the fort over at Texas Bank and Trust when he isn’t watching baseball.
Our second team member this spring is making his second trip to Florida for Spring Training and his first with the Lizard and me. My very own brother Caleb “Buddha” Best joins us with great anticipation of adding to his budding spring tally. Buddha is a guitar instructor and virtuoso who lives in Dallas. To prepare for the trip, he apparently packed every piece of clothing he owns. Now, he packs well, so we didn’t know this until we arrived and the unpacking process was something akin to clowns piling out of a VW bug. I guess when I said we were returning on the 14th, he must have thought I meant the 14th of June.
And of course there’s me, your trusty source for all things Grapefruit League for the next week. I am making my fifth spring training appearance, the third to Florida. To prepare for the trip, I ordered all the game tickets and made entertainment arrangements by eating up the majority of our cargo space with CDs, DVDs, and computer equipment, most of which probably won’t ever be used, but that we must of course have.
I also went for my annual spring training haircut on Wednesday before we left. My wife said if I was going to shave the sides again and leave that “carrot patch” on the top I might as well shave it all off, so that’s exactly what I did. Cojack got nothin’ on me now. So just before we left, I decided to go ahead and take the razor to it to remove the stubble and start with a nice shiny hue. I soon learned why the Buddha referred to the top of the head as “that most tender of regions” because after you pass the razor over it the third time it starts to hurt. A lot. I stopped after twenty minutes with only the sides and back silky smooth, with a nice red hue to match. We were fifteen minutes late in departing because I had to rub a pint of Vasoline Intensive Care Therapy lotion on my noggin.
We pulled out of Longview Thursday morning in our rented Dodge Stratus at 5:00 AM. The trip was a relatively easy experience and went by quickly. I took the first 400 miles, Buddha the next 400, and the Lizard took care of the home stretch. During this time, we shuffled through the stations on the XM radio and took in some baseball trivia time, a staple of these outings.
Since we are three music lovers, much of the drive was passed listening to CDs. We decided to make a game of it and alternated the selecting of artists between one another and in alphabetical order. It was an entertaining way to select the music and we all enjoyed it far more than normal humans should enjoy such a thing. To beat you down even further, here’s what a roster of alphabetic artists sounded like as we traversed the Florida panhandle:
All American Rejects
The Electric Light Orchestra
Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong
Hootie and the Blowfish
The Israeli Philharmonic
Joan Osbourne and Ricky Skaggs (yes you read that right)
Thirty Eight Special
Union Station (featuring Allison Kraus – ha!)
*Since we didn’t have any artists that started with X, we instead chose songs that featured the letter X. The Lizard gave us “Heard it on the X” by that little band from Texas, an excellent choice.
We arrived in St. Pete at 11:00 PM local time and were no worse for the wear. A little tired, but feeling pretty good nonetheless, we checked in and were off to bed before too long.
There are no “do not disturb” signs on the hotel room doors, and I found out why. Endeavoring not to be disturbed has about as much chance of success as Rosie O’Donnel on a hunger strike. Just as we settled in for a good night’s rest, a siren of some kind blasted us back into fully-awake mode. It was the loudest siren I ever heard, but I was afraid to go look and see from whence it emanated. I didn’t want to get run down by the fire truck that was obviously driving down the second floor sidewalk outside our door.
Then, at some point just before 8:00 what I can only assume was John Bonham making a lively return to the land of the living woke us again, pounding out steady beats with an assortment of metal tools. I looked all over for the origin of these jungle rhythms, but the source was not to be found. Apparently, Mr. Bonham’s ghost is shy. I just wish he was also silent.
Friday’s games will be in Sarasota at Reds camp and then an evening affair in Winter Haven, as I make my third visit to the Indians’ wonderful old Chain of Lakes Park. It should be a great way to start the trip.
Finally, the Longview News will not be carrying my articles this year. They have sent their own guy down here – and while he has done a good job, there is still a lot he has to learn. Chief among those things is that it is probably not wise to admit to everyone (all six people who read the Longview paper included) that some of the most fun you have had was on the mini golf course with another grown man. Some things are just best left unsaid. But he’ll learn. And he has been kind enough to promote my articles on the newspaper’s blog, and I appreciate that very much.
For today, I leave you with a photo. My kids didn’t like by bald eagle impression, so I managed to find a way to cover it up at dinner last night. Even the Lizard joined in on the fun too, as you can see below.
I guess I also need to learn that there are some things best left unsaid… but he IS the Lizard King. He can do anything.
The baldness makes you look thinner!
Todd Meadows - Overton, TX
Things I've learned in post one:
You are the only one without a quality nickname on the trip.
I should never shave my head.
You play baseball with grapefruits.
Budda is a um...sissy...where the @#$% is his Burger King Hat?!
Every OOB reader is eligible to win a prize from this exciting collection of collectibles. Ranging from baseball cards to game handouts to memorobilia, the prizes are fun for fans of our north Texas baseball team. Sign up for OOB and you are eligible to win via the weekly QUIZ or through random drawing, to be held from time to time. So watch your IN-box and your mailbox - You never know when your collection of valuables will grow with a part of OOB Texas Rangers history from the "Worthless Rangers Prize Vault!"
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SATURDAY MORNING March 10
Sarasota and Winter Haven, FL – The first day of games promised to be a good one, as we visited the Reds camp in Sarasota and made a triumphant return to the Indians classic facility in Winter Haven. Neither camp, however, proved easy to locate.
Just before we left Longview, I remembered to ask the Lizard if he had a map or atlas. Perkins Pecot had been the one traditionally charged with these duties, but being the savvy veteran that he is, the Lizard was prepared. He ran over to the Tahoe and returned with a map of Florida – just perfect! Or so we thought. Little did we know that map would be the cause of much difficulty (and entertainment) over the course of the next 36 hours.
First, it was only a map of Florida. This was fine until we took a wrong turn in Baton Rouge, where we mistakenly thought 110 was the road around New Orleans. That little detour cost us about 45 minutes, and I blame that map for not having Louisiana on it.
As we navigated the Florida panhandle, I became concerned that another wrong maneuver could land us in Georgia (or worse, Orlando), and asked the Lizard to hand me the map. He rearranged items all over that back seat searching, but just wasn’t able to locate that map. Oh how I wish we had given up looking for it then and there, but no – I had to go and find it in the console between the seats. Then, the map began to exact her wicked vengeance upon us.
You see, someone thought it might be funny if all the roads in these Florida towns had numbers just a few digits apart. Everywhere we go, we start off my looking for, say 506, but have to check and recheck the map a dozen times as we are continuously drawn offsides by passing 516, 560, 615 and 556 along the way. “Is that it?” Not sure, better check the map.
As it turns out, however, the map is just toying with us. A closer inspection revealed many roads in many cities that are not marked on the map. When we arrived in Winter Haven, for example, there were no fewer than three different roads with the same number – none of which matched the one on the map. We may as well have brought a relief map of the Gobi Desert.
Our first stop in Sarasota featured what was becoming a trip mainstay – we drove a good ten miles past the exit (again due to the map) before realizing our error. That put us to the game late, but we were glad to be there nonetheless. The Reds were hosting a split squad Indians team, so it was an all Ohio day. Actually, it was an all Indians day, at least in Sarasota.
The Reds had a lead for a while, but eventually brought in Homer Bailey, their #1 prospect according to the man seated behind us. I could see why too, as he was really was a tall specimen throwing in the high nineties. Still in his early twenties, he is probably a couple of years off from making the big Reds.
Indeed this proved to be the case, as Bailey got rocked for 5 runs before being relieved. He was having difficulty locating any of his pitches and the lack of a good changeup meant that hitters need only wait for him to miss, which he did often, and they could pounce.
The Lizard and Buddha felt there were other reasons why he was having such a difficult time. You see, not since Bob Walk has there been a pitcher so cursed by his name as a guy named Homer. What chance can he really have!
I enjoyed visiting with couple behind us for a while (probably in their 50s) who were from Ohio. It started when he returned with a “Skyline hotdog” for his wife but without mustard OR onions. She was upset – “you can’t eat a skyline dog without mustard and onions!”
I turned around and said, “that’s gonna cost you later, you know.” He just shook his head and said, “has been for years.” Poor guy, you’d think he could have learned there is a real easy solution to this problem – these words: “Get your own food.”
After a couple of innings, the guy noticed legendary Reds broadcaster Joe Nuxhall walking the concourse. Nuxhall has the distinction of being the youngest player to appear in a big league game, when he toed the hill for the Reds in 1944 at the age of only 15 years. He called radio games for Cincinnati for some thirty years, always ending the broadcast with his signature phrase: “"this is the old left-hander, rounding third and headed for home." It was our first sighting of a true living legend.
How surprised was I when the guy behind us ran down the steps and started chatting with Nuxhall. “You know what he’s telling Joe Nuxhall?” I asked the man’s wife. “He’s asking him to get you some mustard!” She laughed and informed me that I was “a piece of work.”
By the end of the contest, we were famished, so we headed back to the car, which was in a small shopping center where food was available. I wanted to try out the Peruvian Cuisine restaurant, but it was regrettably closed between lunch and supper. The door advertised all kinds of interesting sounding stuff too, so I was sad to miss it. “Tortillas made of corn rolled and stuffed with pork, eggs, and olives…” I am not sure what was included in the “…” potion of that dish, but I would have liked to find out.
We settled for Chinese, where we had lopped over into the early dinner hours and received enough food to feed a small Chinatown. But it was good and we sought out a beverage for the road from the Latin Market down the way. The Lizard and I each got an “IRONBEER” – the national beverage of Cuba, where they have been making this “Kola” for some 90 years. The can boasted a “kola with a hint of island spices” and we agreed that it was quite good.
The drive to Winter Haven brought back memories of the 2004 Florida trip, as traffic was an absolute bear. Once again, between this issue and the infernal map, our arrival was delayed and we missed the first couple of innings. The Indians were hosting the Pirates in a rare night game, but Buddha and I had business to attend to first.
Over to the picnic area we wandered – and there he sat: the mortal enemy of the Buddha, Bob Feller. For those who don’t remember it, the Buddha and our other brother had a run in with Feller the last time they were here, where they were unjustly accused by the old coot of being “stupid kids” with brains that were “out to lunch.”
“I am filled with rage,” seethed the Buddha, but we couldn’t figure out a way to get the best of the Indians legend without being asked to leave, so he just stood there and growled at him for a while and we left. Buddha was really disappointed. “He was looking pretty bad the last time we were here, but he looks very healthy now. He’s going to live forever…” he lamented to our amused chuckles.
This game was the Pirates night, as the home team was dropped 6-2. Chain o’ Lakes Park is one of our favorites and at three visits, it is the park I have been to most (the Lizard has been there five times!). So we were sad to learn that the Indians will be forsaking the great old place after the 2008 season for Arizona. It was a bittersweet time, as it may have been our last opportunity to see a game there.
But we didn’t get away without a good way to remember that last experience in Winter Haven. We were surprised to find upon arrival that it was Grady Sizemore bobblehead night, so we left with a great souvenir, and a free one at that.
The drive back to St. Pete included our first stop at the Steak and Shake, capping a perfect day. I checked the emails (thanks for your comments!) and the Lizard played the guitar while the Buddha took a shower. The evening ended as we drifted off to sleep while coming up with humorous alternate song lyrics. Since this is a family publication, I will spare you the details.
Day 1 Growth
Reds Sports Complex
Another mascot photo - The Buddha, Mr. Red, and me.