GREAT AMERICAN BRO'D TRIP 2
Editor's note: With the Houston Astros' home opener set for Friday (let's just forget that Phillies series ever happened), CutureMap is running stories that highlight the national pastime. Here is part two of Jeremy C. Little's second Great American baseball road trip. This time, he attacks spring training.
The 10-hour trip from New Orleans through Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle into the swamps of the greater Orlando area is very long and mostly boring. Aside from a pit stop in Pensacola for lunch at the Crab Trap, our only entertainment came from a chance encounter at a Valero station outside Tallahassee with a group of spring breakers from Chicago who were still deciding between Orlando and Miami.
Given that there were nine of them packed into an SUV, and they were making no attempt to conceal their open containers, I’m guessing they’re currently in an Ocala drunk tank while the local police Google the phrase “student Visa.”
Although I’m rarely accused of being nostalgic or sentimental — even at almost 30-years-old — the fabricated, purple plastic wonderment of Walt Disney World does a little something to me.
I can’t quite describe it, and I won’t try, but I’ll admit to being just a bit giddy when we finally crossed the fuscia and teal border into the Happiest Place on Earth somewhere in the wee hours of a weekday morning.
Unlike last year when we stayed at the sort of budget motels usually frequented by Dateline reporters carrying black lights, we took a big step up this go around with a two-bedroom condo at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort, which, according to my GPS, appears to be on Disney-owned property. It’s the sort of American mega-resort that screams “Florida family vacation!” with seven hotel-sized buildings surrounding what I presume is a man-made lake.
The resort had four swimming pools, 10 outdoor gas grills, a pizzeria, a bar with live music, two waterslides, a plexiglas Spanish fort, two lazy rivers, a spa, a pirate ship (!) and one lonely fitness center no bigger than a freshman dorm room. That means two elliptical machines and a Bowflex divided among thousands of tenants.
I don’t know when Americans as a group decided to throw in the towel, but I’m guessing it was around the time when Pizza Hut started injecting cheese directly into the crust.
I have seen America, and it should not be allowed to wear stretch pants.
DAY 3: LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., (BOSTON RED SOX @ ATLANTA BRAVES)
Two days in, and finally some baseball. I have to admit it, Champion Stadium at Disney’s ESPN Wild World of Sport Complex is an excellent way to watch a ballgame. The yellow and green structure — although comically overpriced — had the right mixture of manufactured Disney nostalgia and genuine baseball functionality. We tried to grab tickets to sit on the left field lawn, but the 9,500-seat venue was very, very sold out.
Red Sox fans are known for traveling well, and this spring training game was no exception with more than half of the standing room-only crowd clearly cheering for the Sox. Our marked up $23 standing room tickets put us in Section 112 behind home plate along with a number of other Red Sox fans, including a grandmother, her son-in-law, and her 3-month old grandson who was wearing a Dustin Pedroia onesie and a tiny ball cap.
Out of deference to baby’s first BoSox game, I didn’t (audibly) swear once even though the Sox lost 4-3 to the hometown Braves. The lone highlight was Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro’s leadoff blast to left field.
What followed was a sloppy pitchers duel between Sox ace Jon Lester and The Braves’ Tommy Hanson. Lester gave up eight hits and three runs before getting yanked in the fifth (which was a precursor to his Opening Day struggles against the Texas Rangers). Hanson was lights out for the Braves after yielding the leadoff dinger to Scutaro, going on to strike out five, and at one point retiring 10 straight.
After the starters were lifted in the late innings, the Braves plated the go-ahead run. Fun was had by all.
Amazingly, the stadium parking lot was free, which, as far as I can tell, is the only thing in Greater Orlando that doesn’t cost more than $10. Of course it proved too good to be true. The lot at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex was inexplicably built with only one exit.
Where were Disney’s Imagineers on that one? Disney World is notorious for long lines, but there’s usually a ride at the end, or at least a snow cone. Instead we had soccer moms in pickup trucks and SUVs making kamikaze runs at the gunked-up exit, which brings us to our first spring training edition of . . .
DOUCHE / NOT A DOUCHE: THE GET OUT OF MY WAY BECAUSE I DRIVE A TRUCK I CAN’T HANDLE FULL OF MY AWFUL CHILDREN LADY DOUCHE
I almost went with the fauxhawked teenager sitting directly in front of us wearing an Ed Hardy T-shirt, cargo shorts and (inexplicably) Birkenstocks (he was a hybrid textbook / hippie douche), but it’s not really a game if it’s that on the nose, now is it?
THE EVIDENCE: For a solid 45 minutes, everybody stuck to the paved roads that criss-crossed what was a very orderly parking lot slowly trickling out onto the main road. It wasn’t fun, but it worked. Then Mrs. Black GMC Yukon said, “no more of this. My kids must be free! Screw the rest of you people!”
THE DEFENCE: Children are our future. Hopefully not her children, though, because if they’re anything like mom, they’ll be inconsiderate jerks.
VERDICT: Yes, we understand nature has deliberately made you crazy and overprotective, and that as far as you’re concerned alleviating your childrens’ mild, temporary discomfort is far more important than the safety of everyone around you. The problem is, you’re the only person among several thousand that feels this way.
Congratulations, ma’am, you’re our first ever official lady douche.
On deck: We relocated to a bigger condo as the rest of Dabbo’s friends arrive and we check out the Braves and Nationals for a St. Patty’s Day game at Disney . . .
Editor's note: Don't miss the first part of the road trip:Lasting lessons from spring training: When things smell & an institution lets you down