Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Feature Stories

Reflections on Spring Training

Reflections on Red Sox Spring Training at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers

Now that Red Sox Spring Training has wrapped up over at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, I've had some time to reflect on the games I attended.

 

Baseball may be Americas' Past Time, but Red Sox Spring Training games will always be my guilty pleasure.

I'm not one of those face-painting fanatics, shouting obnoxiously from two rows behind you.  I'm not one of those statistic-heads, keeping score on a notepad and informing everyone around me about the hot prospects for this season.  I'm not an autograph-seeker, clutching a baseball and trampling people to get it signed.

I don't know the names of most of the players.  I don't really care who wins or loses.  Truth be told...I've never even stayed until the end of a game to celebrate a win or mourn a defeat. 

I just go see the Red Sox at City of Palms Park every spring for the same reason most people celebrate the Fourth of July or Halloween.  It's all about celebrating the fluctuation of seasons for me.  Spring Training is one of the few reminders of seasonal change we have here in Southwest Florida.  Our weather is practically identical every day all year long...with the exception of those two or three cold nights we're forced to endure in mid-January.  Autumnal leaves never fall from our trees.  Snow never falls from our sky.  Frost never freezes our windshields.  All we get are the three cold nights, the threat of hurricanes, and 15 minute torrential downpours every 6:00 PM for a month or two.

In this place that always remains the same, the Red Sox are like exotic, migratory birds fleeing a winter I can barely remember.

Each March I make the 15 minute trek from Cape Coral, clutching tickets for a stadium with no bad seats.  Near the park there are always scalpers with their ubiquitous "I Need Tickets" signs in hand.   Industrious home owners in the vicinity have their "Parking $7.00" signs up and wave the cars onto their front and back lawns.  The parking attendants in the official lot are always older, jovial men.  Energetic and smiling they take your money and urge you to "Enjoy the Game".

On the walk to the stadium, most of the license plates are from places in the far North.  Massachusetts.  Connecticut.  Maine.  Amazing how far some will drive to watch grown men play a game.  How lucky we are to have this destination right down the road.

The road in front of City of Palms park is always blocked to traffic.  A Blue Lizard representative is usually handing out promotional packets of sunscreen.  At the entrance, another elderly person half-heartedly does a security check on any bags entering the park.  "Don't forget to put on your sunscreen."

Inside the park it's always crowded.  A visit to the Red Sox Team Store to peruse the overpriced merchandise is mandatory.  Shirts.  Hats.  Decals.  Monopoly Games.  Bike Flags.  Spare Tire Covers.  Lighters.  Programs.  Book Bags.  Beer Bottle Openers.  For a few hundred bucks you can be the walking advertisement for Red Sox Nation you've always dreamed you'd one day become.

The next order of business is to wait in line for food and an overpriced beer.  Lots of folks converge at the vendors on the lower concourse.  The best kept secret is the food and beer stand on the upper level in the left field corner.  They've got picnic tables with great views of the field.  The lines up there are only as long as the lines at the vendors below, and they only charge the same ridiculous prices every other vendor is charging...this place is full of equal opportunity price-gougers. 

If you've made it through the gauntlet and have your sausages with onions and peppers in one hand and your $6.25 Amberbock in the other, congratulate yourself...you've come a long way.  Now the decision is, "Where in the hell can I eat this?"  Don't fear, however, there are a few options.  You can stand and eat wherever you are.  This is only recommended for advanced Red Sox fans...if you don't know what you're doing, you will get messy or worse.  You can try to wait for a picnic table...it could happen...I guess.  You can stand on the top level overlooking the field and use the metallic counter for a table...and the second you take your hands off the food a gust of wind will knock it all onto the ground.  "Let's go look at where our seats are...we'll eat over there."

Empty Chairs

The seats look like a safe place to eat.  Looks can be deceptive.  You utter some obligatory apology at the couple trying to eat in the end seats as you make them get up so you can get to your chairs somewhere down the row.  Sit down.  Put the sausage in its wrapper on your lap and the beer on the ground next to your seat.  Try to take a bite.  Someone will immediately enter the row you're sitting in aiming for a seat beyond you.  It happens every time.  You fumble your sandwich together and pick up the beer so it doesn't get knocked over.  They mumble some half-meant apology at you.  You sit down and start over again.  You go to take a bite.  Another person arrives from out of nowhere and needs you to get up so they can pass.  You go through the motions again.  The same sandwich fumbling.  The same quiet apology.  You start again.  Five minutes into this process you're sure that everyone in the stadium will be sitting in your row at some point during the game.  You finally get to take a bite.  That's when you'll realize you forget to get some napkins.

Down on the field, players from either team are stretching and playing catch.  Billy Idol is blaring through the loudspeakers.  The sky is cartoon blue with wispy clouds.  The grass is green and manicured.  The sun is hot.  Palm trees grow on the horizon.  Somewhere near the front, an enthusiastic fan holds up a homemade Red Sox sign.  "Cold Bee-ah hee-ah!", shouts a young man with a tray of beers slung around his neck and Massachusetts in his voice.  Money and alcohol travel to center seats through the hands of strangers.  I never hear anyone say "Tell the guy to keep the change," as the money is being passed.  I wonder how they sort out the tip situation from such a distance.  Manny Ramirez runs out onto the field.  Applause comes up from the dugout and spreads itself intermittently among all the people in the park who like to clap when they see a ballplayer they recognize.  "Mannneeeey.  Hey, Maaannneeeey!", scream all those people who want a signature to prove they stood near the man or to sell on Ebay.  He obliges and signs some stuff, never really looking up or saying a word.  I don't think his English is that good.  I don't think I've ever seen him talk.  The kids are so excited.  They have a piece of the experience to bring home with them.  It makes the dream seem within reach.

Manny Ramirez Signing Autographs

Before long, someone sings the national anthem.  Everyone joins in.  Patriotic bunch, these baseball fans.  Apparently they always sing this song.

They start each game by letting some local business guy with connections and sponsorship money throw out the first pitch.  It's not a real pitch...there's never really a batter there...but everyone claps anyway.

The Peanut Salesman

This is where the game becomes a little repetitive.  All the team members get a chance to hit the ball, while the entire audience collectively reacts to their performances.  If an errant ball ever gets hits into the stands, everyone watches to see who gets it.  If you get it, you're supposed to hold it up and smile, then high-five someone.  You get extra points for tossing it to the nearest child.  I got one when I was a little kid.  I'm not sure what ever happened to it.

The Beer Guy

In between the ball-hitting turns, the announcer plays music and makes witty comments. 

"And now for the weather report, brought to you by Cibo.  Today in Fort Myers, Florida it is eighty-four degrees and partly cloudy.  Present conditions at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts are a temperature of twenty-eight degrees...cloudy... ...with a mixture of snow and rain, the dreaded, 'wintry mix'.   Aren't you glad you're here?

We all laugh in unison, and proceed to make related comments to the people we're with. 

"Can you imagine?  Snow?  Jesus, am I glad I don't live there anymore.  Why the hell would anyone want to live up there.  What's wrong with those people?" 

And that's the high point for me.  I think that's the reason I go...just to remind myself the other world I came from actually still exists.  Sometimes the arctic tundra of Massachusetts I once called home seems no more than a distant and fading dream.  Sometimes it's good to look objectively towards the place you've come from, if only so you can more truly appreciate where you are right now.

City of Palms Park at Night

--writing and photography by Eric Taubert

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