Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Sunshine Boys of Summer

One of the joys of my new assignment as host of Dodger Talk on KABC is getting to go to spring training in Florida, and one of my joys as a dad is being able to bring my son along with me. For five days Matt and I drove around the state, went to ballgames, watched ballplayers in their natural habitat, and bonded as only a father and son can at Hooters.

First stop was Ft. Myers. As a blog reader reminded me, it’s in the county with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Every county wants to be number one.

Ft. Myers is the spring home of the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox. I saw a thousand people wearing Red Sox hats and jerseys. The only time I saw the Twins logo was on a really scary rally monkey in a CVS pharmacy.

Stayed at the LaQuinta Inn. There’s a sign in the elevator: “In case of fire – RUN”.

People think of Ft. Myers as a beach community, a golf community. No, it’s the home of furniture stores. Hundreds and hundreds of furniture stores. No wonder there’re so many foreclosures. In every condo there must be seven divans, eleven coffee tables, and three dining room sets. Who has anything left over for mortgage payments?

Ft. Myers is also where Thomas Edison invented the phonograph so it’s the birthplace of music piracy.

Hit the Dodgers-Red Sox game on Thursday at City of Palms Park, not too far from the estate of noted anti-semite Henry Ford. It was a typical well-played spring game with the Dodgers scoring seven runs in the ninth inning off of two pitchers who will spend the summer as mop up men in a beer league.

Convenience stores don’t get robbed enough that a Florida chain had to name theirs “Grab n’ Go”?

On Friday we hit the ATM machine at the Fifth Third Bank (I’d hate to be the voice-over announcer doing those commercials), took in the Red Sox game, and sat with ESPN baseball guru Peter Gammons who told us some great stories like the kid who played winter ball in Venezuela and mailed an entire shipment of cocaine to the team’s spring training ballbpark. He’s in the outfield one day and seven federal agents call time and take him away in handcuffs.

The three-hour drive across the state through “Deliverance Country” went without incident. No banjos, no townfolk who make Henry Ford seem like the B’nai Brith Man of the Century.

You think I’m kidding? There’s a Yeehaw Junction.

Based on a three star rating, we checked into the Windsor Garden Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens. Their slogan: “Taste and see the artistry”. Our tiny room was practically on the highway. We could see and taste the artistry of fumes. There went one star.

Since it was Friday night and even the Outback Steakhouse had a 70 minute wait (Why??? It’s an Outback Steakhouse!), we decided to give the hotel’s highly regarded restaurant a try. It was five tables and a bar filled with loud drunks from Ohio. The waiter was also the one bartender and I imagine the fine chef. There went star number two.

Later in the room, I stepped into the bathroom to discover water pouring down from the ceiling. A virtual waterfall that destroyed all of my toiletries. We were moved to an ugraded room. Next to the drunks from Ohio. Three stars and you’re out.

Caught up with the Dodgers again Saturday at Jupiter to play the Cardinals and do my first of two daily radio shows. There was nowhere to sit. You’d think with all those goddamn furniture stores in this state they would have a few chairs.

NFL icon Bill Parcells was in the next booth with Tommy Lasorda. They played a three-hour game of “Can you top this?” Tommy won because he now has his own brand of wine. I so wish I were making that up.

In the 7th inning a vendor yelled out, “Last call for beer and soda!” Soda??? People can’t drink soda after 3 PM?

On to Vero Beach after the game. Thought I saw one motorist off to the side failing a breathalyzer test for having one Pepsi too many.

Matt, my broadcast partner Josh Suchon, and I went to grab a fast bite before our radio show. We made the colossal mistake of going to Applebee’s. Yes it had tiffany lamps and was very colorful. But as the saying goes: “you can put lipstick on a pig, it’s a still a pig.” The worst service ever from a staff that collectively was dumber than Kellie Pickler. The food, when it finally arrived after an hour, was essentially army chow with fun names. As we were leaving, one of the Dodgers was coming in. We told him, “No!! Go back! Go somewhere else!” He did. I consider it a favor worthy of his next World Series ring.
This is probably the Dodgers’ final season at Vero Beach. For 60 years they’ve been coming to this converted World War II naval base and it is finally sinking in why the Navy chose this location. It takes forever to get to it. No Axis Power army would bother. So you can understand why even die hard fans from Los Angeles go as far as the Epcot Center and stop.

But if you do arrive it is baseball heaven. Fans can stand right by the batting cages and practice fields. It’s your chance to call a guy “a piece of shit” and have him actually hear it!

Streets in the complex are named after Dodger Hall-of-famers. “Jackie Robinson Ave.”, “Duke Snider Drive”, “Vin Scully Way”. Next year the Baltimore Orioles might take up residence there. Somehow it won’t be the same walking down “Boog Powell Road”, “Moe Drabowsky Blvd.”, “Gus Triandos Way.”

Larry King was on hand for Sunday’s game. He threw out the ceremonial first wife.

Did our three-hour radio show from the press box Sunday night. We were on the scene live to call the action if a fan who had too much Tommy Lasorda wine snuck onto the field and took a pee. I’ve got to say I love my broadcast team. My partner Josh is terrific and a breeze to work with, and our producer/engineer extraordinaire (also named) Josh keeps us laughing even when we have to go back on the air in five seconds with the injury report.

Drove to Orlando on Monday to reluctantly fly home. I found it amusing that just after you pass Disney World there’s a billboard advertising VASECTOMY.COM, “It’s easier than you think”.

If you turned in an Avis car needing gas it was $7.20 a gallon. If you went to the gas station right near the rental car return locations it was $4.60 a gallon. But if you drove another two blocks (like we did) it was $3.19.

This was one trip I hated to see end. So many laughs and stone crabs. And as a lifelong Dodger fan it was a very meaningful experience for me to be able to introduce my son to the players. I just wish he wasn’t wearing his Red Sox sweatshirt when I did it.

For Matt's views on the trip (which is a little more baseball oriented) visit his blog, Dirty Watah and just scroll down a little. Commentary and photos.


Anonymous said...

Ken you forget who owns the Orioles. If they take over from the Dodgers, it's going to be “Peter Angelos Road”, “Peter Angelos Blvd.” and “Peter Angelos Way.”

And I suppose training in Arizona will make it easier for Dodger fans to make the commute from L.A. to watch the games. But you'll have to replace the glut of furniture stores with the glut of RV trailer and accessory stores in next year's narrative.

(Also, I hope you didn't do anything during your Floirda visit to make Joe Girardi send someone after you with a spike to the groin.)

TCinLA said...

And here all along I've thought that all those e-mails from the "Fifth Third Bank" that my online account (that I don't have) had been suspended were e-mails from someplace not nice in Bulgaria. Just goes to show...

As to Outback Steakhouses (particularly in Florida), the term "Outback Steackhouse" has long been known as the synonym for "Republican Feeding Trough."

What's so hard? You're in JebBushLasnd? Something there surprises you?

TCinLA said...

Ken said:

I found it amusing that just after you pass Disney World there’s a billboard advertising VASECTOMY.COM, “It’s easier than you think”.

This is surprising? How? Don't you have to visit "" before going to Disney World???

Adam said...

"If you turned in an Avis car needing gas it was $7.20 a gallon."

Yeah, I found out that one the hard way. What was even worse was my GPS told me to get off at an exit that was closed which caused me to have to pay a toll. After I payed the toll, my GPS told me to go back through that same toll booth.

Its probably my fault for listening to the stupid gadget, but the extra $1.50 won't put a damper on my 4 days in paradise. Wish it could have been longer...

Anonymous said...

Best post in a while, Ken. If the Orioles had sense they'd name the roads after people Baltimoreans people actually cared about. "Omar Little Drive", "Barksdale Ave", that sort of thing.

Tim W. said...

Sure, put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig. Stick 'em in a dress and it's a Republican scandal waiting to happen.

Anonymous said...

aw, ken, you came to florida and didn't come see me? i'm presently about two hours or so north of orlando.

today i spent a very nice afternoon walking a trail at San Felasco State Preserve and then watching the sun set over Paynes Prairie.

at the Prairie (formerly a huge lake in years gone by), egrets were out looking for dinner on one side of the road, and on the other side of the road a very large alligator was thinking the egrets would make excellent appetizers.

been through YeeHaw Junction myself once or twice. that was enough. haven't the land developers discovered that area yet? aren't there any "Gates of YeeHaw Junction" upscale housing developments? no? give 'em time. all of florida is only folly for land speculators and developers - same as it ever was, thank you Mr. Flagler.

y'all come back, ya hear?

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, daddy. There's a fifth third bank next to the hotel where you stay when you come to visit me. You can open up your account in May.

Anonymous said...

Ken - I'm so delighted to discover your blog. You really are an exceptional broadcaster -- I lived in Seattle when you were there. We just got back from 10 days traversing the Sunshine State from head to toe...Including the Deliverence territory between Miami and Naples -- gawd, I swear I heard banjos... Pity that the Dodgers are heading west - my mom, who lives 90 minutes north of Orlando, really liked being close enough to visit her beloved blues... Most of Florida seems like a giant exurban wasteland, or a forgotten, sun blasted town with too many closed hardware stores and way too many near-abandoned motels. I can last about a week before feeling my brain atrophy. Cheers.

Alto2 said...

Thanks for the shout-out re: the foreclosure rate. If you would have given us non-wheelchair-bound Floridians some advance notice, we could have given you better restaurant recommendations than Outhouse Steakhouse and Crapplebee's. Blech x 2.

Oh, and Central Florida is NOT Deliverance country. It is Redneck Country. To get that fine breed of inbreds, you need to be in the vicinity of the Okeefenokee Swamp.

Next year, you need to take a ride up to Bradenton to see McKechnie Field (Pirates): 80 years charming and recently lit. Or up to Winter Haven to Chain O Lakes Park to see The Tribe, or even to Lakeland to see Tigertown. All great old parks -- that's what we're doing every weekend this March.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Manners,
When one’s foreclosure rate is highest in the nation, which enlarged foam finger would be appropriate to take to the ballpark? And are you certain all of that commotion is real estate activity or merely a gaggle of elderly snowbirds in their traditional impossibly colored blazers? Yet, be still my heart, the Frank Deford of online sports travelogues is baaa-aack! Farmclub fresh. (No lie, we once stayed at a Prince Edward Island B&B, where the mimeographed menu included: “potato salad when in season.”)

You think Vero Beach is a long haul now? Wait until the Orioles take over and they redirect you down Cal Ripken Hwy. It just keeps going, and going, and going. Take an astronaut diaper, no rest stops. Let’s hope they don’t go any further overboard with the thematic names. Chan Ho Park in Vero Beach sounds just too much like a 40’s stag film noir. But the starting lineup looks formidable. Just once I want to here you exclaim, “Looks like they’re going to take him out, that Kuroda has been tossing nothing but Nakamoras all night.”

That said, we are all terribly excited over your opportunity to make this a family outing. God knows, what we all need is more Jews in Florida. Rumor has it that there on the Gulf Coast they are changing the name of one of the cities from Sara- to Dr. Brown’s Cream-sota. Although the place has become somewhat of a true melting pot with the growing Juban population.

As Yeehaw Junction attests, yes, isn’t the South grand? Of the two-dozen signatures ahead of my wife’s in Nashville’s faux-Parthenon guest book, fully one-third were from different towns whose names included the suffix “Holler.”

With regard to your Guide Michlevine, averse as we are to any hostelry conceivably named for a Spanish body part, I have been known to frequent the occasional La Quinta in my day, and, even worse, in some of my nights. The attraction, which you neglected to mention, of course being the complimentary breakfast affording one the opportunity to “make your own waffles.” If one can marshal the dexterity to employ any device resembling a cross between Farberware and a Soloflex. With this back-to-basics mentality, I look forward to our South Dakota road trip, where Comfort Inn’s thematic hook is “grow your own wheat.”

Much as you will savor your Windsor Garden golden automotive memories, the next time you head on up to Boston to either visit your son or experience the Sox in their native habitat, I urge you to run, not walk, to overnight accommodations at the world-renowned Sheraton Newton Hotel. This Starwood facility boasts the unique architectural feature of spanning the entire breadth of the Massachusetts Turnpike. There is nothing like the experience of both seeing and feeling the highway traffic rumbling directly under your room, 24-hrs. a day.
Should you commit to this experience, I would caution limiting your room selection to either the south end, westward-facing rooms or the north end, eastward-directed. Only then can you be assured of the frightening shock of oncoming traffic coursing directly into you upon opening the curtains in the morning. Essentially the hands-on experience of a bird’s eye view from a low-flying blimp at the Daytona 500. I am not making this up. And you thought having sex in the back seat of a car could be dicey? Best of all, only a short 8-mile drive to Logan via the Ted Williams Tunnel, so named because it tends to freeze over in winter.

I must, however, beg to differ with one of your restaurant reviews. I can honestly state without fear of equivocation that we have never had a bad dining experience at any Wanda Sikes-recommended eatery. As far as “army chow with fun names,” what part of on a shingle don’t you understand? While one tends to throw a little caution to the wind and experiment while traveling -- like suddenly experiencing the urge to order tomato juice or stewed prunes off the breakfast menu -- I would encourage you to avoid the Tommy LaSorda Merlot with the farm animals on the label and ask the sommelier to proffer the drier Parcell’s white with its familiar big tuna signature, and a hint of both oak and mercury.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

I went to Dodger fantasy camp in January and I must say, it was an incredible experience. Thanks so much for writing about Dodgertown, it deserves every honor it gets.

You can read about my week at camp here.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I enjoy the Mother's Day countdown, because Outback Steakhouse runs its seasonal radio commercial featuring a lovely little song in tribute to "Mum"--the term being more fitting to the Australian vibe of the well as allowing the jingle to have as a rhyming lyric "Even when she whacks you on the bum".

Anonymous said...

Just you wait, Levine. My Twins will beat your Dodgers this year. Wait . . . do they play them?

By the way, Minnesota has a gas station chain called "Pump n' Munch". Gross.