22 Days of Bliss - 2001 Recap

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City of Palms Park - Ft. Myers
The following is a brief write-up of the overdue vacation that was planned from March 16, 2001 through March 30, 2001.

March 16 (Friday) Peachtree City, Georgia to Melbourne, Florida
After a long week at work it would take a long day of driving to escape my Georgia home for the paradise that I perceive to be Florida. My car rolled out of the driveway at 8:17 AM, virtually on schedule. At 11:48 AM, 243 miles later, I crossed the state line. At 5:00 I arrived in Melbourne and simultaneously received a call from my employer for the last time, as they informed me that due to the fact the company was barely in business, they had to let me go. Bad timing and shoddy way to break the news, considering it was the first day of my vacation, but these things happen, especially to me. But this vacation need not be ruined, meaning there was no need to limit this vacation to 2 weeks now. My return date now unknown, I was somewhat happy to be granted an indefinite amount of time to do all things that I pleased, and my first stop was to watch my first spring training baseball game, the Astros versus the Marlins. Staying in Melbourne with my friend Christina's mom, we saw Jeff Bagwell hit a home run and the Astros beat Florida 9-3 in what would turn out to be one of the nicest little facilities I would see in Florida. Afterwards we hit the town, and two of the bars in it. My job already an afterthought, all-in-all today was a good day.

March 17 (Saturday) Melbourne to Bradenton
A busy day began with a quick rollerblade around town for some exercise and then bidding a fond farewell to Melbourne to meet with my brother in Baseball City, just a few miles west of Orlando, for a spring contest between the Royals and Tigers. After a long drive I made it to Baseball City Stadium by the 3rd inning as we watched the Royals win before a sparsely gathered crowd in an area that had seen its better days. Baseball City was once baseball's answer to Disney with the short-lived Baseball and Boardwalk amusement park. It's days as a tourist destination long gone, the Royals are leaving for Arizona after next year, and the Stadium will be torn down, replaced with condos and a shopping area. From Baseball City we drove to Tampa to meet Georgia transplant Joe, stopping at the Ice Palace to witness Mario Lemieux in his comeback and the Lightning take on the Penguins. Joe arrived just before face off, and while he finally showed up the Penguins never quite did, losing 5-1 before a sell-out crowd. Lemieux, however, did not disappoint scoring the lone Pens goal. All we had to do to complete the long, eventful day was complete the drive back to Joe's nest in Bradenton, but a lack of communication lead to mass confusion, as Bobby mistook Exit 42 for Exit 41, and if not for my cell phone would have been stranded in the bowels of South Florida at 1 AM with nowhere to go.

March 18 (Sunday)
A day of rest, Bobby and I headed to the beach. Once we got there it began to rain, so my time in the sun and surf would be delayed, but Bobby would be stymied, having to return to Mobile on Monday. As I would get used to over the next couple of weeks, Joe's dedication to his job would prevent him from enjoying the one time of year that it is best to be a Florida resident.

March 19 (Monday)
More rain would wipe out seeing a Pirates game in Bradenton and Bobby was forced to return to Alabama. With Joe at work in the evening, I bid my time at the dog track, finishing the night with $52 more than I came with. My separation agreement was now in route from corporate offices to Joe's palace in Bradenton.

March 20 (Tuesday) Bradenton to Ft. Myers
Having lost my brother to Alabama and Joe to Chili's, Scrub entered into the equation, with a scheduled visit to the Farnsworth home in beautiful Ft. Myers. Highlight of the day was watching Purdue hammer Auburn in the NIT, while enjoying good food and spirits at The RawBar.

March 21 (Wednesday) Ft. Myers to Dunedin
After 3 days of no baseball, Joe took a day off and I drove up to Bradenton, from which we departed for Dunedin. The Blue Jays have trained here since their inception, and the no-frills Grant Park experience was somewhat marred by the coolest weather I would experience on my vacation. Enjoying another Astros victory and a free copy of the Toronto Sun, day passed into evening and cold rain and a scarcity of tickets made us skip the planned nightcap in Tampa. We ate dinner at the Chili's of Tampa, enjoying yummy fajitas.

March 22 (Thursday) Bradenton to Port Charlotte
Having yet made it to the start of any game before the 2nd inning, Joe, Scrub and I were surprised when we made it to the Rangers spring site and instead of seeing the first pitch of the game, we witnessed the last pitch of the first game of a previously unscheduled 7-inning DH against the Phillies. Despite hearing negative things about Port Charlotte Stadium, I came away thoroughly impressed with the facility. Adding to my enjoyment of the afternoon was dominating my speed-pitch showdown with Scrub, who bounced his first pitch to the catcher, amidst a chorus of chuckling. Back in Bradenton in the evening, we were denied in our quest for liquor, as Sarasota County curtails sales after 10 PM.

March 23 (Friday) Sarasota
Used comp tickets courtesy of the Farnsworth's to watch Pedro Martinez master the Reds in Sarasota then went back to Joe's to watch the NCAA tournament. Scrub uttered the famous "What's up sluts" to some of Bradenton's finest, which kept us from visiting Kash N Karry.

March 24-26 Ft. Myers
Saw my first Red Sox spring training game at their home, City of Palms Park on Saturday afternoon, then went to a minor league hockey game with Scrub and the Fransworth clan at night. Sat right behind the glass and did the chicken dance as the Florida Everblades defeated the Greenville Growl in penalty shots. On Sunday Scrub and I hit Ft. Myers Beach, hitting the monstrous traffic getting and leaving there. The traffic reminded me of Atlanta, the beach did not. On Monday I dropped Scrub off at the Ft. Myers airport and coerced Joe to leave Bradenton for a day as we saw the Twins play at the Lee County Sports Complex in the afternoon and witnessed the Red Sox final home spring training game in the evening.

March 27 Tampa
Made it to the Red Sox-Yankees game in Tampa, which Carl Everett did not after skipping the team bus to drive himself. Got tickets outside for face value to the sold out game, played at Legends Field, a gem of a ballpark, where we saw Trot Nixon homer off Roger Clemens in the first and second innings as the Sox routed the Yanks. We finished out the second straight day of spring doubleheaders in Clearwater, where the temperature dropped to 52 degrees, and we used beach towels to keep warm. Despite complaining from Joe, we managed to stay throughout the entire contest.

For the most part, my journey through the Grapefruit League had come to an end, as the beach replaced baseball. Following my last spring game in Ft. Myers on Thursday, March 29, I had seen 12 games in 10 spring ballparks. On Saturday, March 31, I met up with Charissa in St. Petersburg and we went out to a local bar to watch the Final Four. We laid out on Sunday at Reddington Beach, where I burnt myself rather badly, which would confine my to the inside of Joe's nest on Monday and Tuesday. While recovering from the burn, I updated my resume and applied for some jobs, although I never heard anything back. On Tuesday evening Joe and I took in the Devil Rays home opener before a large gathering at Tropicana Field. As we watched the Rays hammer Toronto I predicted that starting second basemen Bobby Smith and relief pitcher Ken Hill wouldn't last a month with the squad and Vinny Castilla would have a break out year. I was right on the first two predications, but after a couple of big games to start the year Castilla would be released in early May. Having enjoyed ourselves at The Trop for the opener, we returned the next evening where a sparse crowd saw Ken Hill fall apart and the Blue Jays, behind 3 home runs from Carlos Delgado, rally to defeat the Rays, sending them into a tailspin that would result in manager Larry Rothchild being fired less the 2 weeks later. After a couple of more relaxing days at the beach despite fighting off a cold, I finally made my way back to Georgia, a full 3 weeks after I had left. In 22 days in the Sunshine State I wound up logging 2,986 miles, but spent only about $500.

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