Eighteen major-league baseball teams engage in pre-season play in Florida's Grapefruit League. On the west coast, the Yankees are located in Tampa, the Blue Jays in Dunedin. Clearwater hosts the Phillies, St. Petersburg, the Pirates and Sarasota, the Reds, but the city that offers fans a true bonus is Fort Myers, hosting both American League Central Division perennial champion Minnesota Twins and former World Series champion, Boston Red Sox.
Every team that has trained in Lee County's Fort Myers has subsequently won the World Series. Maybe it's the earth. Soil from the City of Palms Park was sprinkled onto Boston's Fenway Park infield and sure enough, the Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.
A draw for Canadians who are sick of snow is that Fort Myers boasts an average March
temperature of 80 F. The view is not hard to take either. For 15 miles, McGregor Blvd. is lined on each side with tall royal palm trees, the first crop imported from Cuba by Thomas Edison who recorded a few other good ideas during his day.
I watched the Twins play the Sox at the Twins' Hammond Stadium, part of the Lee County Sports Complex. If you are keeping score, the Twins won 12-7 in an action-packed afternoon featuring 25 hits, 3 errors and two grand-slam homeruns, one by each team.
Lee Rose, Communications Manager for the Convention & Visitors Bureau, estimates that
the economic impact of two major-league teams in Fort Myers is $24 million. Tourists who visit the most are Germans and Brits with Canada capturing third place.
I relished the last few hours on nearby Captiva Island where I loafed in a terrific resort named 'Tween Waters, then made my way to the game on a warm day, perfect for baseball. The stadium was packed - all 7,000 seats. I sat behind the catcher with a screen protecting me from foul balls. It was only the second game of spring training, and both teams worked in all the rookies so the pitching was so-so and several errors were committed which led to the time-honored baseball body language. Players despondently hang their heads downwards and describe a slow arc with their cleats across the dirt in the infield or the grass in the outfield. Only
two players don't perform this cleansing ritual - the pitcher and catcher. Typical Type A's, they merely glare with disgust.
To get into the spirit, I bought a Boston baseball cap for $15 and a beer for $5. The food and beverage handlers were comical - "The bases are loaded; how about you?" Or
"I've got one water left; who gets it?"
David Ortiz, the 6-4, 230 pound Boston World Series hero did not bother to run out an infield out, yet when he batted with the bases loaded, promptly unleashed a grand slam. Such is
the modus operandi of spring training baseball millionaires: pick your spot for it's six weeks of spring training and then a long season to follow, especially when you consistently make the playoffs.
Foul balls trapped by the screen were forced to roll back slowly with a little bounce at the lip, plopping into the waiting hands of the attendant batboy who managed clumsily to drop one which behaviour immediately drew instant boos from the fun-loving fans. In the third inning, the ump made a bad strike-out call despite Boston catcher Jason Veritech's drop of the foul-tip. The next pitch hit the ump, doubling him over, and fans cheered at the apparent Deus ex machina, but offered rousing applause when the contrite ump returned from working off his injury. More cheers erupted when a fan in the crowded stands expertly snared a foul-ball with one bare hand.
For athletes, I can't think of a nicer sport to play - good weather; you are allowed to sit between innings; scratch whatever itches and even spit if you must. I understand why snowbirds like this place.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Mike Keenan: Hammond Field, Boston's David Ortiz hitting a grand slam homer, Minnesota batter, full house, Twins pitcher, Johnny Damon, Martinez pitching, stealing second.
If you go
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel: http://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/
Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce: http://www.fortmyers.org/
Major League Baseball: http://mlb.mlb.com/index.jsp
What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/