Cut4 Spring Training Road Trip, Day 5: I went to Florida and all I got was this unicorn T-shirt
Some of the Cut4 staff has traveled south for spring, taking shelter in beautiful sunny Florida to enjoy the sights, sounds, foods and fans of MLB's Spring Training. As we venture through the many stadia of the Grapefruit League, we'll keep you updated on what it's really like to check out 15 MLB teams, explore the backroads of the Sunshine State and watch a whole lot of baseball. Past recaps: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.
Today's lineup: Phillies, Rays
Team Visited: Rays
Ballpark: Charlotte Sports Park
Total miles driven: 371 miles
By Dakota Gardner
While the Braves' classy digs at Champion Stadium had a big league feel, the Rays' stadium, Charlotte Sports Park, is far more like the classic Spring Training atmosphere of old:
Even though it was built in 2009, Charlotte Sports Park really does capture the old feel -- there are small grandstands, intimate sightlines and strange culinary creations:
Yes, you're reading that right -- this particular dish is served in a pineapple and, as the sign says, I made sure to have a taste. One of the more refined dishes I've seen at a Minor League stadium, the Chicken Pineapple was both substantive and refreshing. The acidity of the pineapple really helped cut through the peppers and onions. It was well balanced and quite tasty:
One of the cooler features of the ballpark is the receded dugouts, which puts fans right along side their favorite big leaguers. Carlos Torres, Mets pitcher, kindly demonstrated that feature here:
And while the ballpark itself is gorgeous, it's really the fans that make it hum. The Rays are unique in that many of their fans began supporting the team later in life, such as this Mets fan who's since made a show of his love for the Rays with a tattoo on his leg:
Of course, with the Mets and Rays facing off in this particular game, he was thrilled to see both teams. After all, his love of the Mets is just as permanent:
Team Visited: Phillies
Ballpark: Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.
Total miles driven: 30 more than yesterday, so infinty. Infinity miles.
By Mike Bertha
After five days on the road of sleeping in cold hotel beds and not seeing my dog or girlfriend, I was starting to get a bit homesick ... and then I walked into Lenny's in Clearwater and forgot all about 'em. (Kidding, I love them.)
For real, though, Lenny's is a home away from home for fans down at Phillies Spring Training. They've got Yuengling and scrapple and give you a free basket of danishes if you order the right thing.
I spoke with the owners who regaled me with tales of Phillies yore. They said Roy Halladay used to go in and eat breakfast before they opened every morning and that Mike Schmidt was a regular back in the day. (They don't get as many players in now because they've actually been tasked with providing breakfast for the teams at the ballparks down here, every day.)
Ballparks not included, it's definitely the coolest place I've been since leaving Philly (though I might hit Hulk Hogan's bar on the way back to the airport, so don't hold me to that).
Bright House Field is literally right down the street from the restaurant and offered a litany of other reminders of home, be it the big Wawa ad on the right-field wall or the aroma of Tony Luke's roast pork sandwiches that hovers near the third-base gate.
Ryan Howard hit a home run for the Phillies (as did Jordan Danks and Cord Phelps) en route to an 11-4 win over the Red Sox, so that was exciting:
And I got to meet a gentleman in a homemade jersey who knows how to change with the times:
Now, if you'll excuse me ... I've got that date with an umbrella drink at Hogan's Beach I was tellin' you about. It's been real, Florida.