Out and About (Sort of): Mindless in Florida by Howard Freedlander


For three days last week, my friend, Paul Cox, and I watched Grapefruit League spring training in Dunedin and Sarasota, FL, repeating what we had done in the first days of March 2017 at the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fl. In both cases, our three-day immersion enabled us to watch America’s pastime while escaping the unpredictable wintry weather in the mid-Atlantic region.

In Dunedin, which adjoins Clearwater, we experienced a venue far different than the modern ballpark housing the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros in West Palm Beach. When we traveled to Sarasota to watch the Baltimore Orioles play the Toronto Blue Jays at the 8500-seat Ed Smith Stadium, we again found ourselves in a spacious and more comfortable setting than the Blue Jays temporary home in Dunedin.

Of course, the ballpark may make no difference. In two games at the Dunedin Stadium and one at Ed Smith Stadium, the Blue Jays convincingly hammered the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Orioles. So much for size and pizazz.

What got my attention in Dunedin was that most fans seemed to walk from the surrounding community to the ballpark, as we did from our hotel. An asphalt walkway, which likely ran along the right-of-way for a former railroad, was a major route to the stadium.

The community feel was unmistakable. It was as if we were walking to a neighborhood park. It seemed like a throwback to another time, though the 5,500-seat facility was built in 1999, 20 years ago. It once had 6,000 seats.

This cozy ballpark also was remarkable for its fans. We sat amidst Canadians, who naturally would flock to Florida to escape frigid weather colder than we normally experience in the United States. When both national anthems were sung, I heard far more Canadians than Americans singing the words.

On a personal note, I deliberately wanted to watch the Orioles, as I did growing up in Baltimore. In recent years, my allegiance has wavered, as I’ve seen far more Nationals than Orioles games. Perhaps it’s because one of the Nationals’ principal owners is a college friend. Both of my daughters have chided me for what they consider my disloyalty to the Orioles; they have reminded me that one of my guiding principles is loyalty, as often expressed to them.

Turnabout is fair play, I guess. Yet loyalty does not have last a lifetime.

I hope my daughters are satisfied.

As most people know, Florida offers sun, warmth, retires galore and many different American dialects, as well as the English spoken by our North American neighbors. I sense that spring training is a favorite pastime for Florida’s large population of retirees.

I also noted some young families. Perhaps they were retirees’ children and grandchildren. Maybe they live in the neighborhood.
Watching baseball nearly 1,000 miles from Easton has a special attraction. I’ve already mentioned the warmth and lack of fear about an upcoming snowstorm. It’s refreshing too to talk about on-filed action, a good for bad pitcher, a good or bad call by the home plate umpire and even some of the noisy fans sitting nearby.

No politics at the ballpark. Thank goodness.

I mentioned earlier in this column about the difference in the ambience at Dunedin Stadium, compared with the Ballpark at the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, or Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fl. It makes no difference. Baseball compels attention, slow moving that it is.

This is my second spring training column. It’s not very profound. I’ll probably write another one next year.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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