Two Guys & a Map
Sunshine State Mini Tour
After completing the 2006 Life on the Mississippi Tour, we sat down and made a list of which ballparks we hadn't been to yet on a Two Guys trip. At that point there were still eleven. We realized that three pairs of those were close enough to each other that they could be visited in mini trips - two or three day trips to a couple of cities.
One afternoon in February of 2007 Dave had the radio on, listening to news of spring training. It was a cold, overcast, blustery day - typical of Washington weather at that time of year - and news of baseball sounded really nice. Suddenly a new email popped up in his in-box - Southwest Airlines ("The Official Airline of Two Guys and a Map") was having a sale on flights to Florida.
This got him thinking - cheap flights to Florida where there are two ballparks we'd never seen. We both have friends and family down there. Hmmm. The deal was sealed when he found that we could each see our teams - DC's Yankees and Dave's woeful Nationals - on consecutive days.
After our mini University of Maryland reunion, we all piled into Andy's convertible and headed to the game. The Marlins play at Dolphins Stadium, home of Miami's NFL team. There are a lot of stadiums across the country that were designed for both football and baseball - the dreaded "multi purpose stadiums" of the 1960s and 1970s. That trend has been dying out over the years, thanks to the success of baseball-only ballparks that began with Baltimore's Camden Yards in 1992. But Dolphins Stadium doesn't even qualify as a multi-purpose facility.
Football and baseball are both played there but this is a round hole of a football stadium into which they've shoved a square peg of a baseball field. The dimensions of the baseball field are controlled by the football design, leaving a very large outfield. The stadium itself is rather bland. Once you're inside, other than the Dolphins colors, there is nothing that makes you realize you are in Florida - no palm trees ringing the field, no food that is distinctly Floridian. Another sign that they are playing baseball in a football town - cheerleaders, a first for us at a baseball game. After some discussion, we agreed that even the Metrodome in Minneapolis is a better place to see baseball than Dolphins Stadium (it does however appear to be a great place to see a football game.)
To add insult to injury, Dave's boys got creamed. The final score was 12-6 and it was only that close because Ryan Zimmerman hit a grand slam with two outs in the ninth inning. Dan Uggla of the Marlins broke out from his slow start for the season by hitting two home runs including a huge smash into the upper deck in left field. We had great seats on the first base side and despite the less than stellar circumstances, had a great time roasting in the hot Florida April sun.
The next morning we bid adieu to Andy (and his very friendly dog Vinny) and headed across Alligator Alley. This is the road that connects the Atlantic coast of Southern Florida with the Gulf of Mexico side of the state. It is 90 miles of straight highway with only a couple of places to stop on the way. We did see (and manage to avoid being stopped by) a HUGE speed trap - there were at least eight State Police cruisers waiting for people who put pedal to the metal there.
That is not the most direct route from the Miami area to Tampa. However, at the Gulf Coast end of Alligator Alley is Naples, home of Dave's father-in-law. Charles had become an Honorary Guy with a Map when he joined us in Atlanta for a game on the 2000 Y2K Southern Tour. We hung out with Charles for awhile and then hit the road for Tampa.
After settling in at our hotel, we headed for Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It's actually located in St. Petersburg, across Tampa Bay from the city of Tampa. The Devil Rays had been having attendance problems for years and we were delighted to find that one of the things their new ownership was doing to get people to the games was allowing everyone to park for free. It was a beautiful night for baseball - unfortunately, we had to go inside to watch it. Tropicana Field is a domed stadium that looks like a lopsided cupcake. About the only old fashioned touch to the place is the hand-loaded lineups posted outside the stadium.
The area right inside the doors of Tropicana Field resembles a shopping mall more than a ballpark. You have to walk a long way to get to the seating area along a mezzanine filled with shops and amusements. We stopped at a baseball trivia booth where DC bested Dave in a best 3 of 5 contest (he won a plastic medallion.)
Then we settled in for the game and found much to our amusement that we had come to Tampa on Cowbell Night. This probably made for a much noiser evening than one normally finds at Tropicana Field. Dave enjoyed the game far more than DC as the Yankees lost to the home team by a score of 10-8. We did see history made as the Yankees Alex Rodriguez set an American League record and tied a Major League record for home runs in April (a total of 14) with the second of his two home runs in the game.
The next morning it was off to the airport and home. Even before we left for Florida, plans for another mini trip had already been hatched. The Two Guys formula has always included parks we've never been to and family and friends we can visit along the way - those considerations, along with another low fare sale on Southwest Airlines led to plans for a Two Guys Midwest Mini Trip in August.
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