Within 25 seconds of dropping our bags off in our St. Pete Beach hotel room my buddy Marc was out the door headed to the beach. It jump started an unforgettable week in Florida. We created lifelong memories and stories we can share for years down the road. It’s senior year spring break, we did it the best way we knew how. Enjoy some photos from our week in the Sunshine State.
Our first stop was Gainesville, home of the University of Florida. It was a Sunday and the campus was fairly dead but we ventured out for a self guided tour. The campus is much more flat than what we are used to in Morgantown, but it was very nice, nonetheless. Right in the middle of campus, is a swimming pool. Can’t beat that.
The Saturday night security guard must have been slacking because a gate to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was left wide open. We explored the 90,000 seat stadium through all its nooks and crannies. We were able to run on the field and climb about the bleachers. It is an impressive structure with plenty of college football history.
We checked into our luxurious St. Pete Beach hotel room on Sunday and immediately hit the beach. The white sand between your toes, cool water flowing up along the shore and the calm rays of a setting sun creating the recipe for relaxation.
Monday meant baseball. Pirates baseball. Bradenton was the destination and McKechnie Field was where the afternoon would be spent for a taste of spring training baseball. The Pirates hosted the Twins and I was giddy from the moment that I woke up my three groggy friends as soon as the sun rose.
Not only was the promise of Pirates baseball enough, MLB Network was there filming its 30 clubs in 30 days hour long special. While may of the cameras and personalities were behind the scenes interviewing coaches and players, their broadcast truck was outside the ballpark for the fans.
Activities included the chance to film your own video postcard. Now, it wouldn’t be seen on MLB Network but it was a video to remember a special day. Introduced by a pre-recorded Harold Reynolds and Hazel Mae, the 45 second video was my chance to shine. I had a nice crowd of senior citizens around listening to what I had to say.
The treats kept coming. A special first pitch was thrown by Twins commentator, former 1979 Pirate and 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Bert Blyleven threw out the first pitch.
I took nearly 100 pictures at the game. Photos that ranged from players signing autographs (I was lucky enough to get a hat Andrew McCutchen threw up to the crowd which he signed for me), batting practice and great stadium shots. You can see them all on my facebook page. This photo, though, stands out. It is Pirate City which acts as the dorm for players during spring training. It is a state-of-the-art facility which is also the entry way to the five practice fields.
In all honesty, I could have spent the whole week in Bradenton. But, the show must go on and if I had a second favorite place in Florida it would be Disney World, our next stop. The next spring training game on the agenda was Marlins Braves at the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.
I was never the biggest Nate McLouth fan when he was in Pittsburgh but I was totally shocked on that fateful day when he was traded to the Braves. He has underperformed greatly with Atlanta but seems to be breaking out of his funk. He collected three hits in the game.
The atmosphere at the game was very electric. I was a hot and packed day with the temperatures nearing 90 and the attendance reaching almost 10,000. It was a first class operation and a rewarding experience. After all, its the Disney way. Also, it may have been the most unique game I will ever attend. The Braves trailed by one in the bottom of the ninth but a solo home run by Brandon Hicks would tie it up. It went to extras with the score remaining the same after 11 innings. Then, it was called. Yep, the game was tied. Ended in a tie. Highly doubt I will ever see that again.
We had one more game schedule for our spring training swing. Cardinals-Nationals was on the tab in Viera, but we got word that it had sold out quickly with it being a night game, fireworks night and Albert Pujols. A trio like that is impressive. Chris, Marc and Jared were surprised with the high turnouts at games all week. I wasn’t. People love spring training and I’m glad I finally got to experience it first hand.
We were down in the dumps about not seeing that final game but we took matters into our own hands. It was a hockey night in Tampa. Yes, I agree hockey is not meant to be played in Florida. We spent a full day in the Gulf of Mexico then go inside to watch guys skate on ice. It was a fun time, though. Free jersey giveaways and 12 dollar tickets made a guy who knows next to nothing about hockey a little happy. I’m talking about myself. The Lightning do know how to put on a good show despite them falling to the Islanders that night.
Another stop included a race track. Actually, the best they come. Daytona Speedway has been the epicenter of NASCAR action for many decades. Now, if there is one thing, besides hockey, that I don’t understand its NASCAR. But, the infrastructure is just inspiring. The huge track is the mecca for race fans everywhere. There are a lot, and I do respect them.
The rest of the week consisted of more beach time, swimming, good food and drinks, putt putt and meeting new friends. Basically we were living out the music that Jimmy Buffett sings about. It was a great, yet expensive week, but you can’t put a price on good friends and good times. I just hope to do it again soon. I will be spending a week in Bradenton! I can only hope.