Spring Training 2016 Experiencing the GrapefrUit League

February

February is not usually unbearably cold in Charleston, but we do get enough cold days to dream of an early Spring. I had just returned from Disney with the Cliffords, but I started thinking of going back to Florida. Hey, I could take a few days off the first week of March. We have a spring break now after not getting one last year. Hm, baseball spring training is starting too. The Braves are in Orlando at Disney. Where are all the other teams based again? If I only had some magic answer machine... Oh, I do. OK Google, where are the spring training sites in Florida?

I was just dreaming at this point. Then my nephew Travis texted me the next day. "Hey, we should take Pop down to Florida for Spring Training."

Ok, Travis and I must think alike. This has to happen. We worked out the dates, and I started looking at game tickets and hotels. Braves tickets would be easy. They play in a large stadium, and they're not expected to be that good this year. We'd base ourselves in Orlando, see a Braves game, and go to either the Tigers or Astros for a second game.

Apparently Tigers Spring Training is a serious tradition. Their games were almost sold out. It seems that "Tigertown" always draws a crowd of snowbirds from frigid Detroit and Florida retirees. So we were going to see the Astros.

Tickets bought. Now there's the issue of waiting three weeks to go.
And why not add an Epcot trip too. The Flower and Garden Festival is going on then.

My dad had never seen Epcot. The Flower and Garden Festival would be a great time to go. We would go on a Monday. The crowds should not be too bad then either.

March 4

The Drive Down

Travis and Dad stop by Charleston to pick me up. We pile into Travis' Honda for the drive to Orlando. Jacksonville traffic is horrible, but Travis and Waze know a few ways around that.

When we are around St. Augustine I realize there's a rocket launch scheduled for that night. What time? Fortunately the magical answer machine was with me - IT'S RIGHT NOW! Too late to snap a picture of my own, but Twitter had this.

Space X rocket launch

We could only see the bright white part due to trees and clouds, but we can say we saw a rocket launch. We started noticing a large number of trucks with trailers and motorcycles. Uh oh, this is Daytona Bike Week. We're going to need to stop in Daytona for food and gas...

That turned out to be a non-issue. We ate at Firehouse subs, filled the tank, and hit I-4 for the final push into Orlando. We made it to our hotel around 9:00 PM.

March 5

The walkway to Champion Stadium

Braves vs Pirates and Downtown Disney

We had breakfast at the hotel then set off to Disney's Wide World of Sports to see the Braves - Pirates game.

I'm not sure the Braves dreams will come true this year. They're in a rebuilding mode, and most of their talent will be in the minors.

Dad and I at the entrance to the Wide World of Sports complex

Pop and Travis with Champion Stadium - the Braves Spring Training home in the background.

We went down to the practice fields to see a few players taking some extra batting practice.

Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox drove by in a golf cart with current Braves general manager John Copolello.

Spring training makes it fairly easy to get autographs. We happened to see the entire group of starting pitchers coming by on their way to the bullpen. Travis went over and got Julio Tehran's autograph.

He also got Mike Foltynewicz and Aaron Blair's autographs.

We had a sausage with peppers and onions and found our seats.

We were on the second deck looking straight down the first base line

There were a surprising number of Pirate fans about. They would cheer at the smallest sign of a Pirate good play. Still the Spring Training atmosphere was much more relaxed than any regular season game. Occasionally an extra player would show up on the warning track and run wind sprints while the game was going on.

Champion Stadium - The Braves Spring Training Home

The honorary first pitcher and his coach take the mound.

Hall of Famer Phil Neikro brought out the lineup card

Bud Norris delivers the first pitch

Our view

A very full dugout in an early Spring Training game

Freddie Freeman fouls one off

AJ Pierzynski takes a cut

And argues with an umpire

Starling Marte had to get out of the way

Centerfield prospect Mallex Smith came into the game in the sixth

Highly touted prospect Dansby Swanson came in to play shortstop

And get an at bat or two

Nick Markakis hit a homer to right

And Ryan Lavarnway hit one to left

But the Pirates prevailed 9 - 6

We decided to go to Disney Springs for dinner. Travis was craving the Holiday Sandwich at Earl of Sandwich. We found the parking garages full, so we detoured over to Saratoga Springs and took the boat.

Travis wanted the sandwich so much he ordered one as a side
Orbit!

March 6

Osceola County Stadium

Astros - Blue Jays and 'Ohana

We lingered around the hotel then drove through Kissimmee to Osceola County Stadium. This is the Astros last season in this tiny stadium. Osceola is very different from the world of Disney. It only seats 5000, there's nothing around, and you park in a grass lot. People had set up grills and were tailgating

Someone has to have this for breakfast at least once

Our view - we were really close this time.

Toronto ace Marcus Stroman

Colby Rasmus hit a booming homerun.

Singleton hit another

Houston ended up winning big

Travis had somehow managed to snag a reservation to 'Ohana at the Polynesian. We headed there for dinner.

Pop made a new friend
Travis enjoyed the attention of the ukulele player

We all enjoyed the wings and dumplings. Travis avoided the salad. He was waiting on shrimp.

Shrimp!

And more shrimp.

And finally more shrimp!

We think he had at least 60

Went then went to the beach at the Polynesian Resort to watch that night's Wishes! fireworks show.

March 7

Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival

Travis said we had to get the boss' approval before we could really do Epcot, so we did.

Epcot is truly gorgeous during the festival.

March 8

The Drive Home

We set off on the drive home fairly early on Wednesday morning. We didn't stop until we reached St. Mary's, Georgia. I had noticed a BBQ place on an earlier trip, so we went there.

Excellent Georgia Pulled Pork at Malson's BBQ

We also decided to stop at the Old Sheldon Church Ruins

Now that I'm back, I'm ready to go again. When can I start planning our trip for next year? Maybe we can go se the Gulf coast teams then.

Created By
Gary Heaton
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