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Every year, there are certain happenings that serve as signposts in life, signaling the arrival of a new year. The arrival of the first snow. The day we put up (and take down) the artificial Christmas tree. The first batch of mint juleps on Kentucky Derby day. The first cup of Rattler Brau on Opening Day at Fox Cities Stadium.


And, yes, starting each January for more than a decade, the beginning of the eight- to 10-week planning process that harkens another Spring Training Baseball adventure for Andrew and Don.


(For those of you wondering who Don is, he’s Elise’s sister’s son, formerly known as Nephew Boy when we all lived in Houston. It was Elise’s idea for Andrew and Don to make the first Spring Training trip for Andrew’s 31th birthday. The trip has endured as an annual tradition – and, when the bills come due, we both say it was all Elise’s idea for uncle-nephew bonding).


They said that, sure, it was a good idea when Andrew and Don first began the tradition in 1994. But they said it wouldn’t last. They said Andrew and Don didn’t have the drive, the commitment, to make it happen, year after year. They said that it would end once Andrew and Don moved from Houston. They said the wives would kill it.


In response, we say: Who are they anyway and why do they doubt us so? Identify yourselves immediately.


For 14 consecutive seasons, we have traveled each March to either Florida or Arizona to visit as many Major League Baseball training camps as possible during a four-day weekend. During the good old days, before Spring Training became a more refined tourism draw (read: expensive) and our two travelers were a tad younger, we would take in seven or eight games (day and night) during a trip. These days, it’s down to four (only day games) -- but our spirit remains as strong as ever.


Updated March 8, 2006



We visited four Spring Training sites in the Grapefruit League for this year’s adventure:



Detroit Tigers vs. Cincinnati Reds

Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, Fla.

Spring Training home of the Detroit Tigers

(Detroit wins 8-5; see game story here)


                                                                PHOTO FROM THE DETROIT TIGERS WEB SITE





3/2/2006 9:22:05 AM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) The 2006 trip begins. Don arrived in Lake Buena Vista early this morning (just as Elise departed from here after her national Girl Scouts meeting). We leave here for Lakeland, site of the Tigers. Weather forecast was described by newsies as "Chamber of Commerce perfect." Should reach 82 today.



3/2/2006 9:44:36 AM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Don rented a white Chevy Impala for our wheels... His new iPod replaced our traditional scan of stations... First song was Flogging Molly's "Swagger," followed by a Paul Anka version of Lionel Richie's "Hello." Lionel is a nod to the first trip, where it seemed all the stations played nothing but him 24-7 ...



3/2/2006 10:55:14 AM Central Standard Time



(ANDREW) This park is legendary... Beautiful.... In seats by 1130 for batting practice... Seats are just past the end of the 1st Base dugout.... Beers are a problem: Nothing but Bud and Miller generic products on tap, nothing interesting, and $5.50 a pop on draft...



3/2/2006 12:11:37 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) PA announcer: "The game time temperature in Detroit, where it is overcast and thundering, is.... 30 degrees! In Cincinnati, it is 54 degrees! And, here in Lakeland, it's 81 degrees!" Bottom of the 1st inning, just before Rodriguez's homer to put Tigers up 1-0.


(DON) Tigers vs. Reds...good to be back in Lakeland. Beats being in Detroit… it was 30 in Detroit, 78 in Fla. Plus much less chance of getting plugged in a drive by. It was good to see Pudge again. I saw him a lot with the Rangers. He is thinner, but his bat looks solid, as he knocked one out for us.



3/2/2006 1:48:43 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Doyle called at the top of the fifth.... "What are you doing in my state?"... Left the stands to take the call (the right thing to do, FYI).... Florida's gain, our loss in Wisconsin.... As I am taking the call, Don text msg-ed for a beer (“Beer Me”).... Can't believe how technology has changed things.... Kudos to Sonny Lewis BBQ, a real ballpark treat....



3/2/2006 2:16:30 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Elise called at the top of the 7th to say that she made it OK from Orlando to Milwaukee...  Tigers over Reds 5-3.



3/2/2006 3:15:23 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Tigers win 8-5..... Game ends at 407pm, so we feel we got our money's worth... "Eye of the Tiger" blares on the PA as the Detroit team packs up.... No. 38 of Tigers walks off the field holding hands with his young daughter.... A very family moment for the Tigers.... Don reminds me of the thing we were told years ago here: "Everyone come here for a different reason.".... Again, that rings true.



3/2/2006 3:56:08 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) We get in the car.... And the iPod shuffles to a Lionel Richie song ("You Are")... So funny... It ends a political discussion, during which we concluded everything was going to Hell (but we got there, oddly enough, from different points, but I digress).


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Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Cracker Jack Stadium, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves

(Braves win 8-7; see game story here)


                                                                     PHOTO FROM SPRINGTRAININGONLINE.COM





3/3/2006 9:13:24 AM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) We left the Quality Inn, our 2006 camp in Kissimmee, just after 10am.... It's a dump, but it's cheap at $53 a night.... Today, we head back to Disney, to the Braves site, to watch Atlanta take on the Los Angeles Dodgers....



3/3/2006 10:35:26 AM Central Standard Time



(ANDREW) The Ballpark at Disney is "one of the better parks," said Don, in his typical understated fashion. And I must again confirm that it is a wonderful feat of Imagineering.... Our seats are superb: 11 rows from the field, right behind home plate.... Braves are taking batting practice as I type.... Coors and Coors Light only on tap (very weird)..... Great quarter-pound dogs, which with a beer cost $10 total.... No cup holders, which is an odd lacking for a Disney site.



3/3/2006 11:25:02 AM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Coors is going down like water as the temps go higher and the sun gets brighter.... Dodgers taking batting practice now.... Big crowd for one hour before first pitch.... A gyros stand beckons, but is it baseball fare? I say, "Why not?".... Bought a green St. Patrick's Day hat with the Braves logo, the official souvenir I buy each year.... Don bought a green hat and a white hat (bold!)...


(DON) Hot at Disney. Braves bats are not. Good park, free parking. Renteria rhymes with diarrhea… Sloa, some scrub numbered 54 for the dodgers signed a ton of autographs. I think his name was Cody Ross, and it looked like he did play 14 games with la last year. Maybe those autographs will be worth somethin .



3/3/2006 12:31:36 PM Central Standard Time


Is "She's a Beauty" really a one-hit number, as Suzy Q, the on-field DJ says.?.... Tom Jones now playing between innings and new pitcher change.... Dodgers up 4-0 at the end of the first.... In line for more Coors.... E.J. Mitchell called before first pitch to give me grief about being at Spring Training...



3/3/2006 1:41:39 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Dodgers are whomping the Braves, 7-2 in the middle of the fifth.... Don bought peanuts.... We are baking in the sun.... Lesser fans are leaving because of the heat.... Not us!.... Don enforces rule that I can only blog with each new beer.... Homer by No. 67 (Schuerholt).... They do it right here, with fireworks and the Star Wars theme when the ball leaves the park....



3/3/2006 2:39:11 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) We realized at the top of the 7th that ESPN was televising the game.... Called Elise to DVR it (is that a verb?).... The sun is starting to move behind the park, giving us a radiation break.... Don switched from Coors to water (so responsible).... Dodgers lead 7-4 at the end of 7th.... 7,263 at today's game... Beats yesterday's 4,000-plus at Lakeland.... 80's music rules between innings, with "Tonight We're On The Loose" playing....



3/3/2006 3:34:29 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Braves win 8-7 off a 9th inning homer by a high-roster catcher we called "Salty" because we couldn't pronounce his name (it has 5 As in in)... Very dramatic finish, with fireworks and all... Driving back to "camp" now.... A restaurant called “Smokey Bones” beckons....


Read more about this park:



Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves

Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee, Fla.

Spring Training home of the Houston Astros

(Braves win 10-6. see game story here)


                                                                      PHOTO FROM SPRINGTRAININGONLINE.COM





3/4/2006 11:18:07 AM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Got to the Astros camp at 1105am.... We've done a good job this year of getting to the parks early so we can watch BP.... Stros are playing the Braves today, which makes two in a row for us with Atlanta.... Again, a drought of good drafts, with only the most basic of Bud products on tap.... $5.50 a pop seems now to be the universal charge (except for Disney, who upped it a quarter)..... The renovations here make this park quite a bit nicer, with much better exterior and a greatly improved concourse (but still a bit small... Saw a t-shirt in the Team Store that said, "A rainy day at Spring Training is better than a sunny day at the office." Very true.... I would have bought the shirt, but $24 is too much to pay for such a garment... Today are our "worst" seats, upper section 211 behind home plate, but they are still darn good (upper really isn't too far up).... Cooler day, about mid-70s for the high, and we are in the shade.


Oh yeah, a surprise here: It was Hat Day at the park! We've never seen that in all of our years. A cheap hat, of course, and, yes, I still bought a new Astros batting practice hat, but still.....



3/4/2006 12:35:54 PM Central Standard Time




(DON) Seeing the Bravos again, although I am rooting for Houston. I pull for Texas first. It will be cool to see Saltalamacchia again, as I think he may be pretty good.


Thomson pitched and got yanked after one inning. The dodgers got four in the first, but the braves kept at it and won in stunning fashion with a 3 run homer off Saltalamacchia, an up and comer for the braves. Disney is always fun, although a little too plastic and over produced. They have a thousand sound effects for foul balls and other plays. Overall, though, a great place to watch a game. It wa sun to are Andy and Adam Larouche play against each other. Why are so many male twins named Andy and Adam? Why not Cain and Abel? Or male/female twins named Adam and Eve?



3/4/2006 12:42:05 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Bagwell and Biggio are playing in this game.... I am stunned that they are 1) Still playing baseball after all these years and 2) They are both Astros.... Baggie got a hit in the first and is up again in the second (he almost hit it out)... No St. Patrick's Day hats on sale here, but Don finds a Braves fan who is wearing an Astros Green hat. Don remembers I wore my Braves Green here and asks me if he can have it (in exchange for the extra green hat he bought at Disney). I'll be dammed if the SOB got the Braves guy to trade with him! So, what the heck, I get Don's new hat, he scores an Astros Green... Proud of Nephewboy.



3/4/2006 1:21:09 PM Central Standard Time


 (ANDREW) We are sitting next to an older gent from the Atlanta area and his daughter. For the last eight years, his daughter has taken him to Spring Training to follow the Braves. This year, they are staying here for the whole month! Note to Emily, Sarah and Rachel: I think this is an excellent idea.... Astros down 4-2 at the bottom of the fourth.... Baggie struck out.



3/4/2006 1:42:30 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Why do we do this every year? It's a fair question to ponder as we approach the 6th Inning.... Well, of course, one must acknowledge the streak, now in its 13th year, and the momentum it has. Perhaps, tho, the reason why there is a streak is because Spring Training is special... A sense of renewal..... A sense that all things are possible..... Everyone is friendly, hopeful, happy to be here.... The weather is warm, the beer is cold.... OK, enough philosophy.... The middle of the 6th nears.



3/4/2006 2:39:16 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Bottom of the 8th.... Braves lead 9-5.... Stros have two on base with one out.... But our minds turn to... Seafood! Emerging from Kissimmee's limited options is the Boston Lobster Feast... We'll see how good it is.... Stros score one more, closing it to 9-6.



3/4/2006 3:09:50 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Braves win 10-6. Stros fought hard but fell short. We moved to the second row for the 9th and enjoyed it... "I Hope You Had the Time of Your Life" played as we left.


Read more about this park:





3/4/2006 7:08:01 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) So here we are at ESPN Club at Boardwalk Disney, sitting at the bar next to two nurses from North Carolina. It's 8pm and we have an hour to go before the Duke-UNC game... Don't know their names, but the woman immediately to my right is an UNC grad but pulls for Duke, while her friend, to her right, is an UNC fan who pulls for UNC. I think, obviously, they see us as safe, father-figure types, as they continue to chat with us even as Don and I sorta ignore them.... Since there are no other sports bars of note in the area, we elect to stay here…



3/4/2006 8:11:20 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) As we sat, and attempted to keep a respectful distance between the nurses and us, a guy even geekier than us saw the opening and split the difference. Then, I went to the bathroom and a couple from Carolina came up and angled into my space (I offered my seat to the Mrs.). So, we band of seven hung out all night and watched the game. Duke-fan nurse flirted with some ESPN assistant manager and got the channels changed near us to watch all views. Ah, the power of a blonde in a camisole.



3/4/2006 9:01:18 PM Central Standard Time




(ANDREW) Kristen and Robert are the couple from Carolina. Kristen and Erin (Duke girl) are the nurses... The odd extra guy paid his tab and left.... So, it's just the six of us... And Archie Manning! He's about five down from Don, prompting a is-he-isn't-he conversation. Finally, as we were talking about who would ask him, Joe the Bartender confirms and asks us to leave him be. We comply.



3/4/2006 9:23:53 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) The women, of course, cannot resist the lure of Archie Manning. Both Kristens go up to Archie separately and ask for his autograph. The Kristen with Robert gets two and gives me one, on an ESPN napkin. Score! 



3/4/2006 10:03:32 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) The night bears on in an amusing, light and funny fashion. Since I made the mistake of giving out this URL, I opt not to share some of the best conversations. But being the graybeard of the crowd (oh, I failed to mention that I've been growing the goatee) has its advantages. I root for Carolina, if only to annoy Nurse Duke. The best night of the 2006 outing by far.



3/4/2006 10:26:22 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) UNC wins! Kristen (with Robert) buys Jager shots. Erin sorta sulks. Fun time. The clock now ticks for us, as we must go back to the Quality Inn and prepare for the road trip to Viera. Signing off for now.



3/4/2006 10:31:55 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) OK, I know I signed off a few minutes ago.... But Kristen, Kristen and Erin asked me to take a photo of them with Mr. Manning.  I did (Flash lives!).... Said Archie, "I hope this doesn't get on the Internet." Hummmm, I think.



Washington Nationals vs. Baltimore Orioles

Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Fla.

Spring Training home of the Washington Nationals

(Nationals win 10-6; see game story here)


                                                                   PHOTO FROM SPRINGTRAININGONLINE.COM





3/5/2006 9:21:09 AM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Last night ended with a stop at Krystal... And today, we're off at 10am on a road trip to Melbourne, site of Space Coast Stadium and home of the Washington Nationals. It's a hour or so drive, so this is our only real stretch by car. On the agenda: Crashing the box owned by FLORIDA TODAY!



3/5/2006 10:35:40 AM Central Standard Time



(ANDREW) Arrived at 1110am, making good time.... And we've determined that we've never been to this stadium before! What threw us off is that we saw the Expos (who became the Nationals) on a previous trip years ago, so we assumed that we saw 'em here. Turns out that the Marlins built Space Coast Stadium, then swapped with the Expos, then became the Nats.... Gates did not open until 1130am, which is odd (and ticks Don off)....



3/5/2006 10:49:07 AM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Seats are right in the sun, just beyond the 3rd base dugout.... I love it, since it's my last chance for radiation (snowy Wisconsin awaits in about 26 hours)... The foul ball poles here are memorials to Challenger (1st) and Columbia (3rd)....



3/5/2006 2:43:15 PM Central Standard Time



(ANDREW) Forgive the lack of postings at this game.... The FLORIDA TODAY crew was extremely generous and nice to us.... Editor Terry Eberle upgraded our seats to first row, behind home plate... Then, his publisher, Mark M. (we worked together in Cincy), allowed us to hang in the luxury box for the rest of the game. Poor Don, he had to listen to tons of Gannett stories, but he soldiered on... Great beer and food and company.... A nice way to end the trip.... Nats kicked butt this game, going 10-4 into the ninth...



3/5/2006 3:04:22 PM Central Standard Time


(ANDREW) Nats hold on to win 10-5.... Our 2006 trip is now in the books... Now, we road it back to K-Town... Quieter night forecasted for tonight...


Read more about this park:




Best Food: Tigers camp. Local BBQ stand allowed this park to edge out Astros in this category.

Best Beer: Nationals camp. Largest beer (28 oz.), most variety (Mich Ultra Amber and a few other brews in bottle). The big gulp sold for $6.50.

Best Anthem: Astros, who had a visitng Bluegrass trio do the deed. Worst was the Nationals camp, where for some reason they only used a recording!

Cheapest Parking: Braves-Disney. Hard to beat free. All other were $5 a pop.

Best Overall Park:  Astros camp. Its recent renovation made this place the best. Hat Day was a nice touch. Good food (best hot dogs period, plus steak sandwiches). No bad seats (and we were in the uppers). Edges out the Braves-Disney compound, which was also a true treat.


Andrew liked the best: The first beer at the first camp (Tigers in Lakeland)... Always a good feeling. Also, this year's weather was fantastic.... Made every park a notch better. :

Andrew liked the least: The overall beer selection at all camps. Isn't there any microbrew beers made in Florida? Or, at the least, can't they put in a Killian's Red keg?

Don liked the best: The playing of "God Blessed Texas" by Little Texas at the Astros camp.

Don liked the least: Why in the world does the Nationals not open its gates until 1130am?



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