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Greetings from Fort Myers

Mar 9, 2010, 7:57 AM EDT

Hrbek Road.jpgPro tip: when the GPS in your car tells you to take a boring interstate and the map in your hand shows you a nice, winding rural route, follow the map every time. Interstates are death.

The trip across the state to Fort Myers was a lot of fun. No traffic, nice weather, a big lake and lots of ranches where cattle grazed amongst palm trees. I stopped and had lunch at some little roadside joint with a sign that said “best food in Okeechobee County.” I didn’t ask if it was the only food in Okeechobee County. That would have been rude.  Good burger, though.

I made it to Fort Myers mid-afternoon, checked into my hotel and decided to run by Hammond Stadium — spring training home of the Twins — to pick up my media credentials for today’s game. The place was mostly empty — the Twins were up in Sarasota playing the Orioles — but the gate was open so I drove on in to what may be the most beautiful ballpark parking lot I’ve ever seen.  There’s a grassy mall lined with palm trees leading to the main gate, with nicely landscaped parking rows on either side. Each row has a street sign, naming it after a Twins great.  As you can see from the pic, I parked on Hrbek Road.  Strangest thing happened though: when I thought I was safely parked, a big dude came over and wrestled me off my space. Cop standing nearby didn’t do anything about it. Huh.

I walked into the empty ballpark and wandered around a bit.  Port St. Lucie and Tradition Field remind me of an office park. Hammond Stadium screams spring training. It’s really a beautiful place. There’s the landscaping, sure, but the facade has this Churchill Downs thing going which walks that line between cheesy and quaint that characterizes all good minor league ballparks.  Inside some men were attending to the infield while the outfield grass was being watered. I sat down on a seat near the third base dugout for a bit, smelling the grass, enjoying the sun and thanking the fates that I get paid to do this.

After a few minutes of bliss I found an elevator which led to the Twins’ offices. It was mostly empty, but a fellow named Dustin Morse was still working. My credential had already been sent down to will call, it seems, and will call was closed for the day, but Dustin was nice enough to fill out a new one for me so I could get to the ballpark early this morning before the ticket booth opened up. After that he gave me the lay of the land at Hammond and patiently answered my questions despite the fact that he probably had 100 more important things to be doing. Great guy, Dustin. And friendly with the sabermetric media too!

I left Hammond, and decided to take a drive down to the beaches, which were emptying out for the day. I met three baseball fans walking along the beach. The first two were a young couple wearing Cardinals’ t-shirts. I chatted with them a bit. They’re from central Illinois and are down here to follow the Cards around (they had been to the Red Sox-Cards game here in Fort Myers that afternoon).  Seems they come to spring training every year. It’s the wife’s obsession more than the husbands, they said. I’m a happily married man and I’m not violent by nature, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have thoughts of bumping the dude off and taking his woman to be my bride.

I met the second one in the parking lot near the beach when I decided to play good samaritan and gave him my little pre-paid parking ticket that still had some time left on it so he wouldn’t have to buy one of his own.  I had on a Giants’ t-shirt and he said “your giving me this may make me have to rethink Giants’ fans.”  I told him I wasn’t a Giants fan. I just liked the shirt.  He said he was relieved to hear that, because he really doesn’t want to have to start liking Giants fans, what with him being a Dodgers guy.  And no, he’s not happy that the Dodgers train in Arizona now.

Back to the ballpark first thing this morning. Twins vs. Cardinals at 1:05 PM.  I’ll be checking in throughout the day. Also if you’re on Twitter, follow me at @craigcalcaterra. I have a tendency to bring the snark during games if that’s your bag.

  1. Ice Berg - Mar 9, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    Too long; didn’t read.

  2. David - Mar 9, 2010 at 8:49 AM

    Strangest thing happened though: when I thought I was safely parked, a big dude came over and wrestled me off my space. Cop standing nearby didn’t do anything about it. Huh.
    You must have forgotten to put your car in park and it just idled off the spot into the waiting arms of that guy. Critical mental lapse in such a critical situation.
    Seriously, that line made me laugh. Awesome.

  3. stultusmagnus - Mar 9, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    Winding, rural all the time, every time.

  4. Old Gator - Mar 9, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    A Guide to the Monitor Lizards of Fort Myers
    There are three types of feral monitor lizards currently infesting Fort Myers. Here is a handy guide to the identification and proper response if you are confronted by one:
    1) The Nile Monitor Lizard (Varanus niloticus): dark brown to black ground color with bright yellow hatching and spotting patters, black and yellow banded tail. Up to six feet long. Often but incorrectly called “the second largest lizard in the world” (see the section on the Water Monitor below). Teeth like shortened steroid syringes. Claws like curved butcher knives and a long tail, broad near the center for effective swimming and long and tapering to the end, about half the lizard’s length. They lash with their tails when cornered and can take out your eye with them; the Linnaeus Society recently declined to renominate them Varanus indianajonensis but if a few more idiots who’ve had one too many tries to pick one up this summer, that could change. They climb like pros and their primary mission in the hospitable Gulf Coastal Florida ecosystem is to raid every wading bird nest in every tree from Marco Island to the southern end of the Sunshine Skyway and consume every nestling down to the last tragic feather. They are projectile defecators and will crap on your head from a tree limb. If you are hit, forget it. It stinks like a horsemeat and velveeta sandwich with extra Limburger that’s been left out in the sun for three days. Send your clothes to the dry cleaners and don’t even think about going out to pick up your date without a rigorous hot shower with deodorant soap. Baby Nile Monitors are cute but they bite and hiss like Feelies fans. Feed them mice so that when they get big enough to tear the screen off their terrarium and escape, they’ll be inured to rodents instead of egrets.
    2. The Water Monitor Varanus salvatorensis or “Salvador Monitor,” so named because folks who suddenly spot one of these monsters sitting on a canal bank or tree branch usually exclaim “Jesus!” This is the real “world’s second largest lizard” – up to seven or maybe eight feet in an environment virtually bereft of effective predators – and it’s an honor to have them here in Florida. Unlike their only larger cousin, the Komodo Dragon, they don’t carry pulmonary anthrax in their saliva and they’re not venomous. It’s really cold comfort, though, if you are either hapless or hopelessly stupid enough to let one get ahold of you. Built like a brick shithouse, only very agile. Effectively, we’re talking about a slightly reduced version of The Beast from 50,000 Fathoms here. Their teeth and claws are much like those of the Nile Monitor only half again as large and twice as sharp. When the cops get calls from hysterical housewives that “there’s an alligator in my tree,” they already know what they’re in for and they’re not happy about it. Largely fish-eating, they also eat water moccasins and seem to be more or less immune to their venom. That means that you can’t kill them by biting them so, unless you’re a Feelies fan who ate a horsemeat and velveeta sandwich a week ago and haven’t brushed your teeth since then (don’t laugh, I’ve sat in front of Feelies fans like that at Joeprodolsharklife Stadium during the last championship season), don’t even try to bite one. It will tear all of your major blood vessels open and then scamper away like all was right with the world. Clean and sober is better.
    3) Various versions of the Savannah Monitor Lizard (Varanus exanthematicus ssp.) Repeat that scientific name to yourself a couple of times. Varanus exanthematicus, Varanus exanthematicus. Cool the way it rolls off your tongue, ain’t it? Has a lot of the same cadences as “Mariano Rivera” or “George Steinbrenner.” This is a smaller variety than the Salvador and shorter than the Nile, but they’re built like reptillian pugs. Wheres both the Nile and the Salvador Monitors have faces like John Turturro and are long and lithe, this one has a face like Fred Ward, short tails, stocky bodies, blunt, low-slung heads. Four feet long on average, but that’s four feet of sheer muscle. Not as psychotic as the Nile and not as vicious as either the Nile or the Salvador but an adult is still more than a handful. Not as numerous as either, largely because they’re not aquatic and don’t have recourse to the canals, rivers and ponds when threatened. Primarily rodent eaters but will be happy to take ground-nesting birds and eggs. Also a projectile pooper but not nearly as offensive as the Nile. You can actually make very docile pets of these and they will subsist happily on dog food and hard boiled eggs for three or four decades, and you can even walk them like dogs – although they will try to attack and eat small dogs if you happen to encounter your neighbor walking hers. Personally, I think this is fine; dogs that go “yip! yip!” instead of “woof” should never have existed in the first place.

  5. TF in Tampa - Mar 9, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    There you go Craig,
    You have created your own Frankenstein creature. I tried to warn him of himself, in my thread last night about all this fame and notoriety he was receiving. Yesterday his own headline, today…. I’m starting to believe he is not human, at least as we know humans to be. Borderline genius?
    Well, good buddy, I should think that you have scarred the hell out of Craig by now, and for the rest of his trip he will be looking high and low for these creepy critters.
    Not to worry, Craig, we don’t allow them there varmints here in the Tampa area.

  6. will - Mar 9, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    Interstates are death.

    I assume you mean that in the sense that they’re boring. Mile for mile, Interstates are far and away the safest roads in the country. The interesting little twisty rural highways are the ones that’ll kill you.

  7. Omega in Colorado - Mar 9, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    Craig, I had no idea you could actually ‘write’ I thought you were just a blogger. Helluva a nice article man, made me feel like I was tagging along with you on your adventure. Thanks!

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