Florida and the Phillies.


By frozen, brittle Emmet

I’m going to Florida. You are not.
My annual Spring training trip started in 1993 when Cabin Fever during a particularly bad winter (much like this one) forced me to choose between suicide and driving to Florida for some sun and baseball, not necessarily in that order. I have been driving down ever since. I tried flying once but knocked over a pregnant stewardess to get off the plane. I know Blue Eyes was impressed. Let’s forget that story.
The very first trip was aided and abetted by Fabulous John, a former Maine Congressional candidate and South Thomaston czar, who had been banished to Tampa for having his single liberal thought. He fled to Charleston, where he has won the South Carolina “Host with the Most” award since he had (for a while) a downtown cigar bar with gorgeous waitresses. He lets me stay in his “Yankee Room,” decorated with all sort of Evil Empire flotsam and jetsam. Fabulous John and Charleston are traditionally ice-free.
That first year, I landed in Ft. Myers at the worst motel in history, the storied Royal Palm which was cheap as hell (I swear it was like, $10 per person, per day) and was within walking distance of the City of Palms Park, in Fort Myers, where my beloved Red Sox hung out. The RS had not won the World Series since 1918 (honest to God) and any old press pass would get you field access and offer you a free lunch at the ballpark press box where the real baseball writers worked. If you wanted a ticket, I think they were $8. Motels were cheap and ballpark seats were plentiful in those days.
My plan was to get more and more of my Maine and Boston friends to join me each March and we would take over the motel, walk to the park for the game, then walk back to poolside barbeque each day. In those days, baseball was fun even if the Yankees would beat our brains out each September and then go onto the World Series. In the early Spring Training days, Waldo Walter and English Grima made the trip. We pretended to be sports reporters until Grima said at the batting cage, “That chap can really hurl it across the pitch.” Then, everyone knew we were phonies.
That wasn’t bad enough. The damned Red Sox started winning. They won it all in 2004, then in 2007. We were shocked. All of a sudden, you couldn’t get a seat at the park, a room at the motel or a reservation at a good restaurant. The Red Sox and Ft. Myers were discovered, unfortunately. Red Sox season tickets jumped to $500.
I showed them last year. I gave up my motel and season’s tickets since the team was forecast (by me) for a last place finish. You can never get those tickets back because the waiting list is so long. Fortunately, I was offered a room at the Preston Hotel in Spring Hill, where proprietors Mark and Jane do more for more people than anyone since Albert Schweitzer.
Yes, Spring Hill is three hours from Ft. Myers (at 70 miles per hour) but mere minutes away from the Spring Training sites of the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies and the (ptui!) New York Yankees. You can pick up the morning paper and get tickets to any park, any time. The exception is when the Red Sox travel to the Yankee park. I enjoyed all three parks last year, especially the Phillies park which I have adopted as my home team, at least in the spring.
Naturally, my three “new teams” fizzled and failed to make the playoffs while the damned Red Sox won the division and the league championship then the World Series. I guess I showed them by dumping my tickets.
Now, when I spend glorious March at Spring Hill, I will tear myself away from the Preston Hotel pool and the toll road bike path, make a return visit (three hours) to Fort Myers and take in a few Red Sox games at the “new” Jet Blue Park. I would stay at the Royal Palm again, but they tore it down long ago and put up a parking lot. Then, I will quickly return to Spring Hill and my “new teams.”
You can’t beat the rates at the Preston Hotel.
Should I bring the kayak for the 5,000 mile trip?
Are you going to Florida for Spring Training this year? Or are you staying home for some more winter?