Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fire Ants

As much as I love living in Florida there is one minor nuisance here that I'd just as soon live without - fire ants.

Tuesday night while returning from the baseball game in Fort Myers I had to answer mother nature's bugling call and did so by exiting I-75 and looking for a place to step off the road. I found such a place and instantly on stepping from the concrete verge of the road wished that I had not because at the same instant my right foot was on fire from a barrage of attacking fire ants.

Unlike most ants, fire ants inject their victims with a poison that makes your skin feel like its on fire - hence their name. You can learn more about them at this link.

Tearing off my shoes had no immediate positive effect but it allowed me to scratch like crazy on the affected part of my foot. Wednesday morning my foot had 21 little white pustules that erupted at the point of each fire ant bite.

As I learned last year the pain lasts for a damned long time and right now my right foot looks like hamburger. The only way to avoid fire ants is to not step on them (duh!) but in the middle of the night that is a tad difficult. I guess you just have to grimace and bear it with these little suckers.

Charlotte Sports Park

Last night I attended a game between the Charlotte Stone Crabs and the Tampa Yankees in the beautiful Charlotte Sports Park near Port Charlotte. This newly renovated gem was a real pleasure to watch a game in. Although the total capacity of the park is about 6,100 people it feels much smaller than that. I was behind home plate about 7 rows back from the field. That was the first seat available anywhere in the three sections behind home plate - all the rest of the seats were taken by season ticket holders. What a concept!

I left Sarasota about 5:15 p.m. intending to arrive at the park about 6:00. When I left Sarasota there were just puffy cumulostratus clouds in the sky with just a hint of storm clouds to the south. Off to the west everything was clear. However when I arrived at exit 191 just 22 miles south all hell broke loose. Suddenly the sky blackened - and I mean suddenly. A couple miles further on the freeway and I drove into a rain storm that reminded me of driving in a tropical storm. I exited the freeway at mile 179 and took Toledo Blade Road south toward Port Charlotte. I later was told that this road is a favored hangout of the Charlotte County Sheriff's deputies armed with radar. So be aware.

I arrived at the park at 6:05 to a howling gale and horizontal rain. Some hapless guy was standing under a tent top collecting $3.00 to pay for parking. I parked my car and then sat in it for another 30 minutes waiting for an ark to float by me but eventually the deluge stopped and all of us in the parking lot emerged like an armada of soaked muskrats and walked to the stadium.

I purchased a ticket then grabbed a Charlotte Stone Crabs baseball cap to add to my growing collection.

Inside the park I found the seats to be spacious and quite comfortable - well as comfortable as hard plastic that just had 900 inches of rain fall on it can be. With my seat located I took off to explore and was able to circumnavigate the park along the "Baseball Boardwalk" that surrounds the outfield. This stadium, like the one in Clearwater, has a Tiki Bar in left center field. I now have two "most favorite" stadiums. However unlike Clearwater the tiki bar in Charlotte does not have Landshark Lager on tap. It has Red Stripe and Cerveza Presidente - two close seconds but there is no parrothead beer on tap.

Because of the rain delay, the 7:00 scheduled start didn't get started until 8:15 p.m. As the final score indicates, the Stone Crabs should have prayed for a postponement. The Tampa Yankees demolished them 7-0. It wasn't even a contest. Charlotte leads the southern division of the Florida State League and their loss to the northern division leaders from Tampa allowed the Sarasota Reds (who won - with me not in the stands) to move up to within 2 games of first place in their division.

All in all it was an enjoyable game in a beautiful ball park. Of the 7 I have been in I'm still leaning toward the Fort Myers stadium being the best one - but there are four more to visit on the east coast before I know for certain.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers - and a FM Miracle Loss

I just returned from watching a hard fought baseball game between the Brevard County Manatees and the Fort Myers Miracle played in beautiful Bill Hammond stadium in Fort Myers. Even though this stadium lacks a Tiki Bar in left field like the Clearwater Thresher Sharks stadium, it is by far the nicest of the six Florida State League stadium's I have visited in the past weeks. In fact the only thing I could fault this stadium on is the fact that the professional baseball team from that state that borders Wisconsin on the west, and whose name I absolutely refuse to utter, uses Bill Hammond stadium for the spring training each year.

Tonight was two-fer Tuesday with everything on the menu, including libations, for sale for 2 fer one. Thus I could stock up on hot dogs and large beers and cut my cost in half. They told me that on Friday nights the stadium has a happy hour from 6 - 7 p.m. where all libations are $1.00. Knowing this I may have to travel down to Fort Myers more often for ball games.

Inside the park I found the seating spacious and in the box seats each seat had a beer glass holder (important stuff!). Distance down the foul lines was 340 feet (like Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota) and dead center field is 405 feet (five feet more than Sarasota). The ball park is fringed with palm trees adding to the tropical ambiance of the place. I've been keeping a list of bird species observed in ball parks and tonight at Bill Hammond I added Red-tailed Hawk and Loggerhead Shrike to that list.

The first pitch was thrown at 7:05 p.m. with the bone-chilling temperature at 79 degrees! I was shivering. The Manatee pitcher threw a perfect game through the first four innings. This kid was hot. The scoreboard in left field showed the speed of each pitch thrown and on several occasions this kid had 100 mile per hour pitches. My hand hurt just imagining the Manatee catcher picking up those pitches. There were multiple pitches in the 94 to 98 mph range also.

Fort Myers never got its groove going allowing two runs in the top of the first and another run in the top of the third. With the way the Manatees were pitching they could have rolled up the sidewalk at that time and gone home.

The final score was Brevard County 4 and Fort Myers 1. My buddy Chris Cates, the 5'3" shortstop for Fort Myers had a miserable night at bat but made some sterling throws to nail Manatee runners. There were more than 1,200 people in the stadium - a nice change from the meager audience at a Sarasota Reds game. One encouraging thing about the fans is that many of them were loud and obnoxious in their pestering of Manatee players. Several came up with lines I had never thought of!

This was my sixth Florida State League ball park where I was able to get my sixth FSL team baseball cap. The Miracle cap has a palm tree on it making it almost as cool as the Thresher Shark on the Clearwater cap.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Living The Life Jimmy Buffett Only Wrote About

Here's my new theme song

I've Got a Beach in My Backyard

Last night as I was returning from the Reds victory in Dunedin I had my satellite radio locked on Radio Margaritaville. About the time I was in the middle of the Sunshine Skyway across the mouth of Tampa Bay I heard this song by Tropical Rock artist of the year Brent Burns come on the air. It seems like the type of tropical rock song appropriate for the sun baked coast of West Florida so I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

As the information about the video indicates this was shot at Lulu's Restaurant at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores Alabama. If you're not familiar with Lulu she is Jimmy Buffett's younger sister who, like her big brother, has carved out a very lucrative niche catering to Parrotheads and those of similar ilk on the beautiful Alabama coast. Next time you're in that part of the world make sure you stop by Lulu's for an ice cold Landshark Lager and a mahi sandwich. Its almost as good as being at a Margaritaville Cafe - almost. And who knows, Brent Burns might be there singing this song.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dunedin Stadium and a Sarasota Reds Win

I just returned a minute ago from a Sarasota Reds VICTORY against the Dunedin Blue Jays at Knology Stadium in Dunedin.

This stadium feels like a postage stamp when you are in it. Everything seems so compact. The weirdness begins when you are driving north on Douglas Avenue in Dunedin and suddenly on your right you see the stadium. Its sudden because there are NO signs indicating an approach to a ball park. No signs suggesting that you might want to turn right to enter the parking area. No nothing. Its just there out of the blue. Strangest thing you could imagine regarding a ball park. Of course I am a tad biased after Monday night's game at the Clearwater Thresher Sharks stadium where there is a Tiki bar just behind left field. In fact I drove by the stadium tonight as I darted north on US 19. I guess I was wishing longingly that they had done the same thing in Dunedin. They hadn't.

The picture below was taken during a Toronto Blue Jays spring training game. The stadium's capacity is about 5,500 people. Tonight there were just over 700 in the stands but it seemed like even fewer people were there. I think the thing that makes it seem so small is the line of trees directly along the outfield fence line. They just make it feel like they are on top of you rather than the other way around. I'm not sure how else to explain it. Its 330 feet down the right field line and 334 feet down left. Center field is 400 feet. These are almost identical to both George Steinbrenner Stadium in Tampa and Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. Yet everything seemed closer in.

I was perched in the front row directly behind home plate where I had a perfect view of the plate and the pitches and any plays at the plate. It was a perfect place from which to watch a ball game.

Tonight was "Thirsty Thursday" night with a promotion of $1.00 glasses of beer. All they had on tap was Budweiser so it really wasn't beer in the sense of beer but it still tasted good, especially at $1.00 a glass. It was also "Super Hero" night - a promotion I never really understood. The crowning glory of the promotion was watching these three guys dressed and outfitted like Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in "Ghostbusters" I'm not sure what the hell they were supposed to be doing and never saw them involved in any of the promotional stuff. They, like the stadium, were just strange.

On entering the stadium I paid $6.00 for a general admission seat that allowed anyone to sit anywhere. Getting my ticket I darted over to the Blue Jays store and purchased my Dunedin Blue Jays baseball cap. I now have been in five of the 12 stadiums in the Florida State League and have 5 of the 12 team baseball caps. Monday night I'll be down in Charlotte Harbour for a Stone Crabs game and Tuesday night in Fort Myers for a Miracle game so I'll get a couple more stadiums and caps early next week.

Not long after taking my seat I heard three men behind me, each with a "sho'nuff" Georgia accent, talking about that afternoon's golf game. One of the three mentioned that he was a 1969 high school graduate. My ears perked up when I heard this and it happened just about the same instant that the rest of the beer in my glass misteriously disappeared. Walking past these three men as I went to replenish the missing beer, I asked the 69'er, "did I Hear you say you graduated from high school in 1969?" He said he had. I then told him I went to high school in northern Wisconsin and our unofficial class motto was "Booze, broads, butts, wine; we're the class of sixty nine!" I had intended to ask him if his class had a similar motto but didn't have to because by the time I got to "wine" he was already reciting the motto with me! Last year I met a 69er from Seattle Washington whose class had the same motto as ours. Now this guy from Georgia. Maybe its safe to assume that 69ers were similarly warped throughout the United States.

As the box score of the game shows, the Sarasota Reds won, but not convincingly, over the hapless Dunedin Blue Jays. Dunedin scored first and early with runs in the third and fourth innings. The third inning run was one of the biggest mistakes I have ever seen in a ball game. With runners on first and third the Sarasota Reds pitcher let his guard down not calling a time out. As he ambled back to the mound after talking to the catcher the smart-thinking Dunedin runner dashed for home and made it while the Reds pitcher stood there wondering what the hell just happened to him.

We entered the top of the 8th inning with Dunedin ahead 2-0. Luckily the Reds scored one run bringing us out of the shut out column but not close enough for a victory. Just as I was getting ready to leave and chalk up another Reds loss with me in the stands I was overcome with guilt and decided to stay for the rest of the game. I'm glad I did.

In the top of the 9th inning the Reds kicked ass and took names. The inning started with Alex Bucholtz getting a double and from there it just became fun. By the time right fielder Dennis Phipps caused the third out the Reds had scored 4 more runs taking the lead 5-2!! Dunedin came back with one run in the bottom of the 9th but that wasn't enough and the Reds won 5-3. This is now two games in a row that the Reds have won with me in the stands. A new team record!

For this, the second half of the season, the Reds are now solidly in third place four games back from the Division leading Charlotte Stone Crabs. I won't see them again until Sunday afternoon when the Reds play the Daytona Cubs in Sarasota.

Swallow-tailed Kite - the Coolest Raptor in Florida

Although hawks, eagles, and falcons are much maligned and misunderstood, they serve a vital role in the proper functioning of an ecosystem. Some like the Golden Eagle are essential in the maintenance and control of populations of jack rabbits and ground squirrels on the grasslands of the western United States. Still others like the Red-shouldered Hawk common to almost all of Florida and the eastern United States are essential in keeping populations of small rodents in check. Despite most raptors being considered meat eaters, the Swallow-tailed Kite is an insect eating raptor. It is one of very few insectivorous raptors in North America.

I started thinking about this beautiful raptor, to me the most beautiful raptor in North America, while bicycling this afternoon and watching a probable family group of four of these gorgeous birds slowly drifting south over University Parkway. Given the time of year I couldn't help but think that if they weren't already migrating south from some place north of here, these birds were practicing for the big push by early next month.

Data from the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas show that Swallow-tailed Kites nest throughout almost all of the state from the Keys northward to Georgia and Alabama. The first Swallow-tailed Kites I ever saw were along the Altamaha River near Brunswick, Georgia in June 1984. Their presence soaring over live oak trees that dripped with Spanish moss epitomized the "south" to me.

Swallow-tailed Kite breeding range in the United States is much reduced from historic times. I well remember a diorama of this species and its habitats on display in the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History on the University of Minnesota campus. The diorama depicted a nesting site of this species along the bluffs of the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota in the late 1800s. Those days are long gone. As the current range map indicates, this raptor nests in the southeastern United States south through Central America and as far as Peru in South America. Most birds that nest in the US winter in South America.

I remember like it was yesterday a scene in the mountains of Bolivia in October 1997. A group of 6 of us were walking along a lake at about 8,000 feet in the Andes hoping to find a bizarre species of duck when suddenly our attention was drawn to movement over the lake. Not 100 feet from us we saw a group of four Kites, possibly a family group, gliding gracefully and effortlessly over the surface of this lake plucking freshly hatched dragonfiles from the air as they emerged after hatching in the lake's water. Despite having seen bundles of birds in my life, that scene in Bolivia watching these birds is one of the scenes most completely etched in my mind.

Wikipedia has some basic information about Swallow-tailed Kites at this link.

From about now until late August if you are out and about enjoying the beauty of South Florida and its varied habitats keep an eye trained on the sky just over the tops of the forests. With luck you might see a Swallow-tailed Kite working its way south the tropics while it exhibits the grace and agility in flight that we most often ascribe to a ballet dancer. Its that grace and agility topped by their spectacular tail feathers that to me make this the coolest raptor in Florida.

Watching Baseball at Yankee Stadium - South

This evening I watched a great game of baseball between the Tampa Yankees and Fort Myers Miracle in George Steinbrenner Stadium in Tampa.

I had seats directly behind home plate (its a catcher thing) just six rows back from the edge of the playing field. This was perfect for keeping an eye on things throughout the night. As the box score for the game shows, Fort Myers did not overwhelm the Yankees but they were able to pull out a close win. The Miracle won 2-1. It cant get much closer or better than that.

These are actually the best kind of baseball games to watch because they can go either way so quickly - unlike most Sarasota Reds games! The official attendance records show that 1,060 fans were in the audience. At one point 1,059 of them seemed to be standing in line to get beer at the only pub in the place that was open. A major faux pax on the part of the Yankees. Not having a horse in this race tonight it was easy to keep my mouth under wraps and not upset any players or fans like I did Monday night in Clearwater.

Before the game I stopped in the Yankee Legends Room which was a fancy name for the severely overpriced Yankees paraphernalia on sale there. I dutifully purchased a Tampa Yankees baseball hat to add to my growing collection of hats for all the Florida State League teams.

At the bottom of the 1st inning I called my long time friend and fervent Boston Red Sox fan Jon Andrew and roused him out of the doldrums of a training class he was in in Portland Oregon. I started the conversation telling Jon that I was in an "enemy stadium." Jon, ever the Sox fan, retorted "I'll never go to a game in that stadium. Never." Spoken like a true Sox fan.

George Steinbrenner Stadium was rather a disappointment. It is built to resemble the original Yankee Stadium and it has a super abundance of seating but it felt sort of cold and barren being there. Perhaps my view of FSL stadiums has been permanently damaged by the "Beers of the World" stand and the Tiki Bar at the Clearwater Threshers stadium? Whatever the reason, given who plays there in spring, I had expected it to be more "grand" than it was. Maybe if I was a Yankees fan I'd see things differently.

I'll definitely go back to Stenibrenner Stadium for another game some time soon - preferably with the Sarasota Reds on the field. Again tonight, because I didn't have a horse in the race, I didn't get too excited about yelling at the opposing team because I wasn't sure who was the opposition. I did, however, yell words of encouragement at Chris Cates, the 5'3" shortstop/third baseman from the Fort Myers Miracle whom I hope gets to the show one day soon. The one frustrating thing at Steinbrenner Stadium involved the scoreboard in left field. Whenever a Yankee player was up to bat they showed the person's name, his position, batting average, and his picture. Yet when the Fort Myers Miracle were at the plate, that same part of the scoreboard showed the constantly flashed words "George Steinbrenner Stadium". Too bad George Costanza doesn't still work for the Yankees - maybe he could get it fixed.

Tomorrow night it will be the Dunedin Blue Jays v Sarasota Reds in Dunedin. This will be my fifth Florida State League stadium and fifth FSL baseball cap. It will be interesting to see how different this field is from the others. I'm still betting they don't have a Tiki Bar.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Volcanic Activity in Central Florida

This afternoon I made an essential Parrothead clothing run to the Margaritaville Cafe at Universal Studios in Orlando. I did this selfless action to get some proper clothing for a Parrothead party in Englewood Florida this Saturday night. When I walked in the door of the Cafe I could hear the familiar strains of Jimmy's uber smash hit "Volcano" blasting throughout the building. Not 30 seconds after the song stopped however, I heard and then saw the familiar sight of a volcano bursting. You can see an earlier rendition of the same volcano here, mon.

As you can see from this video, once the "lava" starts flowing down from the caldera of the volcano it lands in a large vat titled "Booze in the Blender." The vat must be at least 20 gallons - maybe more. Curiously the volcano belches out just enough fluid to fill the booze blender to its rim. This, of course, is not lava but margarita mix for the next hour or so of margaritas that will be sold here in Mecca.

Once the blow was over I sat directly beneath the volcano watching the blender fill with nectar. In this naturally exciting situation I called my friend of 25 years Chris Haney and gave him a play-by-play description of the volcano explosion and its aftermath. During the conversation with Chris it was determined that we need to undertake a mission to the Dominican Republic to get Double-striped Thick-knee for Chris' life list and for my West Indies list and we need to do this some time soon.

For lunch this afternoon I ordered a Cuban sandwich and washed it down with an ultra cold pint of Landshark Lager on tap. This is the first and only Margaritaville Cafe that I've visited that has Landshark on tap. I remember in 1992 begging Jimmy's business manager to get beer on tap in the Margaritaville Key West cafe because a "cold draught beer" is mentioned in "Cheeseburger in Paradise" but at that time none of the cafes had any beer on tap. Thankfully that oversight has been corrected.

I nursed my Cuban sandwich through three eruptions of the volcano. After about 1.5 hours of working the same sandwich (but not the same pint of Landshark) I paid my bill and moved to the Smuggler's Hold retail store where I stocked up on essential Parrothead clothing and got another copy of the CD "Meet Me in Margaritaville." This essential CD is a perfect one for Parrotheads-in-Training.

Margaritaville Orlando is the only one of the 18 Margaritaville's that has an exploding volcano. This alone is reason enough to visit the place. This was the ninth Margaritaville I have visited where I ate a Cuban sandwich and drank a Landshark. I'll be able to rest easily once I have had a Landsark at each of the 18 cafe's. Until then I will simply savor the opprortunity to have sat beneath this gurgling pile of geology and watched it blow its top all afternoon, mon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sarasota Reds Kick Ass, Take Names (Sorta) in Clearwater Tonight

Just returned now from a great Sarasota Reds v Clearwater Thresher Sharks game in Clearwater tonight. It was great because the Reds won with me in the stands. You can read the box score here.

This was my first game as part of my quest to watch a baseball game in each of the 12 stadiums used by the Florida State League. Up front I have to admit that Brighthouse Field in Clearwater is one hell of a venue for a baseball game. This is the spring training home of the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Despite this being "enemy territory" there are many things to like about Brighthouse Field. Most important among them is the "Beers of the World" stand where you can buy any of SEVENTY beers. Its located down along the third base line. In the left field corner you can also find the Tiki Bar that has Landshark Lager on tap - reason enough to come back for another game! Also the team store was just down the third base line where I was able to purchase a Threshers baseball cap. This is part of my quest to visit each of the minor league parks for a game and to get a baseball cap for each team. The Threshers hat will make any serious Jimmy Buffett fan more than proud. In fact I'm wearing this baseball hat to the Parrothead party in Englewood on Saturday night.

With Clearwater's team name the Thresher Sharks it was appropriate that much of the theme for tonight had sharks in it. For instance, Monday nights at Brighthouse Field are "Feeding Frenzy" night. With the purchase of a $11.00 "premium" ticket behind home plate I was given access to unlimited 1) hot dogs, 2) hamburgers, 3) cheeseburgers, 4) ice cream sandwiches, 5) popcorn and 6) something else that I've forgotten. With the Shark theme for the Field it was most appropriate that Cheeseburgers were available in abundance. However my Wisconsin roots required that I eat one of the Johnsonville bratwursts available off the Feeding Frenzy menu. Luckily they did not have Landshark Lager on the Feeding Frenzy menu! I may not have made it home in one piece had that happened.

The game started with Sarasota batting first. Center fielder Dave Sappelt hit the second ball pitched in the game deep into the left field bleachers. In fact the ball hit the roof of the Tiki Bar in left field. Things were off to a good start. Thankfully Dave's smash to left field did not harm the Landshark Lager tap. I raced up there between innings to make sure it was safe. It was.

Sarasota got 2 more runs in the top of the fourth inning. They turned out to be all the Reds needed but at times I wasn't so sure.

I was trained as a catcher by baseball coaches, beginning with Richard Gay in grade 9, to be an in your face ball player. It was my role as a catcher to pester the hell out of every opposing batter that came within ear shot. That was a role and a position that I have not given up even as a spectator.

Tonight I was seated in Section 112, Row 1, Seat 1. I was directly behind the catcher and within spitting distance of the field and well positioned to pester the hell out of every Clearwater batter who came to the plate. As my training requires, that is exactly what I did from the first inning onward.

Clearwater scored one run in the bottom of the sixth and it looked like it was going to be an easy but close win for the Reds. I think it was in the 7th inning when the Threshers loaded the bases and I was sweating bullets. However the Reds played real baseball taking a slap hit to shortstop who tossed it to second for one out. Then the second baseman threw a strike to home and we nailed the runner for a double play to end the inning with no runs scored. It should have stayed positive like that.

However things dont always work according to plan.

With the score Sarasota 3 and Clearwater 1 we entered the bottom of the ninth inning. As we prepared for the bottom of the ninth the Clearwater fans kicked into gear. I had been pestering batters up to now and by the responses of Clearwater fans pissing them off royally. However the bottom of the ninth began with the theme song from "Jaws" playing followed by video of sharks leaping out of the water. It was like a Buffett concert there....all to get the Thresher fans fired up. It also fired up the one Sarasota fan in the audience.

The first batter for Clearwater got a hit but the second batter was the Designated Hitter whom I started to harass calling him the "Designated Out" I did so over and over each time he faced a pitch. Finally he flied out to right field. Out number 1.

The next batter got a single to right field advancing the first batter to second. Runners now on first and second. The next batter reaches first on a throwing error committed by the Reds shortstop and a runner scores. Score now Reds 3 Clearwater 2. I'm now sweating bullets!

The next batter up for Clearwater was a pinch hitter. The screen in left field showed his name and with it the designation "PH" for pinch hitter. I started bellowing out "PH is PUSSY HITTER" over and over each time he faced a pitch. This tended to thoroughly piss off all of the Clearwater fans near me. I was relentless in pestering him. Finally two Clearwater fans walked up to me and rather threateningly said "You need to shut up now." I politely replied "I"ll shut up when the Reds win. Now go sit down." Luckily for me they did! They didn't see my knees quaking. The pussy hitter struck out!! I like to think I helped him.

There are now two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the Reds ahead 3-2. I was about in shock. On the second pitch the Clearwater hitter grounded to first base who flipped the ball to the pitcher covering the base for him and voila! The Reds win 3-2. I was ecstatic.

Tomorrow night I'm in Lakeland to watch the Lakeland Tigers take on the Charlotte Harbour Stone Crabs. Originally I thought I would root for the Stone Crabs just because of their name. However the Sarasota Reds are tied for second place in their division, three games back from the division leading Charlotte Stone Crabs. Looks now like I'll be rooting for the Tigers to beat the Stone Crabs.

Wednesday night I'll be with Susan at the Tampa Yankees v Fort Myers Miracle in Tampa. We have seats directly behind home plate there and despite my purchasing a Yankees cap I'll be rooting for Fort Myers simply because Chris Cates, the 5'3" shortstop/third baseman for Fort Myers will be on the field. I really hope this kid makes it to the show. I'll likely not get too boisterous because I have a feeling Susan will keep me in line.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Yah Mon

The first time I traveled to the Bahamas, mon, was on June 4, 1984. I boarded an old Delta Airlines L-1011 in Atlanta and took off on my first "tropical" excursion. At the time Nassau was the furthest south I had ever traveled (has that changed!).

On deplaning in Nassau I walked into the customs and immigration area of the old airport terminal. As I moved from the plane to the building I could hear a band inside the arrivals area playing a song. It was Buster Poindexter's incomparable "Hot Hot Hot." Although the song is actually Puerto Rican salsa it made a huge impression on my hugely impressionable virgin traveler mind.

I have now traveled to the Bahamas 51 times since that first timid hop across the Gulf Stream a quarter century ago. Each time but one, when I landed in Bimini (where they barely had a building let alone a band!) this song has been playing somewhere near the customs and immigration area on whatever island I had made first landfall.

While watching weather roll in off the Gulf this afternoon I've developed an incurable urge to get back to the Bahamas, mon. This time I want to travel to Andros - an island that the US Drug Enforcement Administration specifically forbade us from visiting in the mid-1980s. There was this small issue of us with radio telemetry equipment and binoculars that made the narcs think we might be a target for a less-than-friendly reception. So I never went.

Now I want to and I thought this song would help reinforce that thought. And you might enjoy it also.

Watching for Waterspouts

This afternoon is a most appropriate one to be heeding Jimmy Buffett's advice in his song "Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season." There are no hurricanes churning anywhere nearby, however the constant procession of thunderstorms coming in off the Gulf of Mexico since late morning make it a perfect day for waterspout formation. I'm headed out to Longboat Key right now to watch for some. This video will help explain why.

Another Reason To Not Fly United Airlines

I used to be a 100,000 mile per year flier on United Airlines. With that status I was almost always upgraded to First Class almost every time I flew them including a complimentary upgrade between San Francisco and Taipei, Taiwan - not once but twice. However somewhere in the airways United Airlines lost its focus. Soon United's concept of customer service became "We let you on the damned plane didn't we?" I last flew United in 1996 on an itinerary from Lima Peru to Miami to Washington National. I will walk or swim before I fly on United again.

This story from NBC Chicago reinforces that my decision 13 years ago was the correct one. Read the story and watch the following video. I hope this guy is successful in raising the traveling public's consciousness regarding this once great airline that has gone completely to hell in recent years.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lousy Umpiring

Out of desperation, or perhaps because I love baseball, I have continued to subject myself to repeated losses by the Class A Sarasota Reds team. I have now watched them play 15 games. Among them the Reds have won two. Could it be because I'm in the stands?

Last week the Reds played the Tampa Yankees on Monday night. Predictably they lost (I was in the stands after all). The Tuesday night game was rained out when it appeared that building an ark was the only way to survive here. A double-header was scheduled for Wednesday night to make up for Tuesday's rain out. However on Wednesday the rain was even more intense than Tuesday - and we didn't have a tropical system anywhere nearby.

Thursday night July 2 the Reds were scheduled to play another double header to make up for earlier lost games against the Yankees. I was in the stands at 5:00 p.m., directly behind home plate where logic dictates that a catcher would be sitting. There I had an excellent view of the plate and was able to watch in the first game as 8 Yankee runs scored as opposed to only 3 for the Reds. This is starting to suck!

But the real fun was in the second game when, as usual, the Yankees had the lead and had men on base. One of the Yankees got a single (I now understand why Boston Red Sox fans hate the real Yankees so badly) and the runner on second tried to score. The throw from the center fielder was dead on perfect. I mean it was a strike that would have made Willie Mays happy to have thrown.

The ball came in hard and fast and two inches off the ground. A perfect throw as the Yankee slid into home. The Reds catcher had the Yankee out by a foot and a half. Maybe more. It was perfect and a blind person would have called him out. Because he was.

However the umpire called him SAFE!!!

By this point in the game I had consumed four rather large glasses of beer that I had used to wash down two rather perfect bratwursts. I was feeling little pain and actually was feeling some disgust for the umpire who made that lousy call.

Instinctively in my alcohol induced state of euphoria, on seeing the umpire make this horrible call, I leaped to my feet (as much as four beers allows any leaping) and screamed BULLSHIT!!!! Because it was a bullshit call.

Imagine my surprise when, at the same instant that I yelled BULLSHIT, three other fans sitting near me (none of whom I knew) leaped to their feet at the same time and screamed BULLSHIT!

We could see it but the ump couldn't. I only wonder what the umpire thought when four people sitting away from each other leaped up and yelled the same advice to him at the same time!

In the two days following this game the Reds played Charlotte and beat them both games. These were away games so I wasn't in the stands. As I write this on Monday night they are leading in their current game. This is more evidence that its me in the stands causing them to lose.

Maybe I should get a job umpiring their games?

A Cacaphony of Carolina Wren Voices

The following information from the National Geographic Society website very aptly summarizes the basics of Carolina Wren biology:
The Carolina wren is an adaptable dweller of forestlands, swamps, farms, and tree-filled human communities.

Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) are small but very vocal animals. Males are especially outgoing and are the only ones to produce songs. They employ one of the loudest songs per volume of birds. They are apt to sing anytime and anyplace they happen to be.

Carolina wrens are usually found in pairs, and each pair stays on its home territory all year long. Because these wrens cannot survive cold winters, they tend to live in southern climes, and are the official state bird of South Carolina. They are found as far north as the Great Lakes, and warm winters spur them to extend their range northward. However, when colder years arrive, many northern birds are unable to survive and fringe populations plummet.

These large wrens feed on insects, larvae, and spiders but also eat berries and fruit. They forage on or near the ground and hop along far more often than they fly. They use their bills to poke about and search for hidden meals and try to remain close to brush in which they can hide.

Carolina wrens are monogamous, and breeding pairs may stay together for years. They work together to construct nests—which may be found almost anywhere. Wrens nest in natural locations such as branches, tree-holes, and stumps but also frequent windowsills, mailboxes or other attractive human-made spots.

Females lay about four eggs and incubate them for two weeks while their mates bring them food. Both parents feed their chicks for an additional two weeks before they gain independence. A mating pair of Carolina wrens may have several broods each year.

Carolina Wrens are largely restricted to the southeastern and eastern United States as this range map suggests. The first one I ever saw was singing its heart out along the route of a Breeding Bird Survey transect route in Pepin County Wisconsin in June 1974. There have been many Carolina Wrens since then!

One of the most characteristic aspects of Carolina Wrens is their distinctive voices. The mnemonics most often used to describe their voice are either "So Pretty, So Pretty, So Pretty....." or "Tea Kettle, Tea Kettle, Tea Kettle....." You can hear their voice in one of its more common forms at this link. This recording is one of about a zillion voices that Carolina Wrens possess.

Since moving to Sarasota in February 2009, I have been keeping track of the voices of several Carolina Wren males in my 'hood. Most of them sing the characteristic So Pretty and Tea Kettle songs. However there is one male here who occasionally mixes it up and instead of doing what the book says he should sing, this one says "Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger...." over and over and over again. I've never heard one do that voice.

Not long ago my friend Jon Andrew commented on my description of the voice suggesting that I should sober up when listening to it. However thats exactly what the bird sounds like it says. And then today, as I took off on my daily 16 mile bike ride, I heard and then watched a Northern Mockingbird singing a perfect "Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger...." I can only imagine that he learned it from the Carolina Wren in my backyard.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A South Florida July 4th - or - Kayaking Away in Margaritaville

Today was a great day to be on the water in south Florida and I spent it kayaking away in Margaritaville.

I slid a kayak into the water of Palma Sola Bay in Manatee County and paddled off to explore the new Robinson Preserve , a 487 acre patch of restored coastal wetland off Manatee Avenue on the road to Anna Maria Island. The air temperature was 92 degrees and the humidity not far behind as I shoved off to explore.

The principal feature of Robinson Preserve is the extensive red mangrove forest that is intermixed with restored coastal marsh (estuarine emergent to a wetland biologist). Manatee County government has done an excellent job of installing hiking and bicycle paths, several bridges, two long boardwalks, a 40-foot observation tower and a kayak trail on this patch of what once was on the Florida coast. One hundred sixty four species of birds have been found here although my list for the day was considerably less.

As I paddled across an open stretch of salt water I saw numerous Mullet leaping out of the water for no other reason than they are Mullet and that's what Mullet do most of the time.

One of the characters in Jimmy Buffett's movie based on Carl Hiaasen's book "Hoot" is a kid named "Mullet Fingers." He received that name because of his ability to catch Mullet in his bare hands. After 16 months of living here I find it hard to believe he could do that - I never see Mullet until they are leaping out of the water in front of me. Never have I seen one just sitting around waiting to be scooped out of the water with my bare hands!

After passing through a beautiful mangrove tunnel I entered an open area of restored coastal wetland that had occasional small backwater areas of high salinity. Unfortunately there were no Reddish Egrets to be found but there were lots of Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, White Ibis and Ospreys floating around enjoying the blistering late morning heat.

As I paddled I saw some critter making the water boil in front of me. Tracking it down I found a group of Redfish (or Red Drum) tailing as they foraged in the shallow water. In Jim Morris' great song "Back in the Sunshine" he says "Tomorrow I hope to find some Redfish tailing, if I can get up before 10."
Watching the Reds play in the water I thought back to the excellent Redfish lunch I had a couple weeks ago at the Beach House Restaurant on Anna Maria Island and realized that I need to get in gear and get set up for salt water fishing.

By early afternoon the temperature couldn't rise much higher than the humidity but off to the east and north some spectacular super cell thunderstorms were brewing. They like so much else in south Florida are reason enough to never want to leave here. Luckily the weather stayed further inland so I didn't have to worry about turning into a lightning rod.

Reluctantly I turned around and started the paddle back to where I had put in earlier. A "brisk" wind (well brisk for Florida in summer at least) was blowing from behind me and it pushed me along through the water making paddling a tad easier. As I left the mangroves and began my paddle across the open water to where my car was parked I heard the drone and then saw the characteristic rooster tail of jet ski's as they raced across the water.

I paddled away from the noise and disturbance of the jet skis and noticed ahead of me a considerable amount of "boiling" in the water. Not sure what was causing the boils I paddled further and was happily surprised to find a family group of Bottle-nosed Dolphins playing in the water in front of me.

The Dolphins were playing in the water and no doubt scaring every fish in the vicinity. Curious about them, I paddled closer to check them out. At one point one of the adults (I think there were two adults and one young in the group) raised its dorsal fin out of the water and as I watched it two others bolted from directly beneath me. When that happened another dorsal fin broke out of the water and this one hit the side of my kayak!! What a freaking rush that was.

A year ago I paddled over a Spotted Eagle Ray near Naples. As the fish bolted for safer water one of its "wings" came out of the water and slapped the side of my kayak. Another time I had a West Indian Manatee rock the bottom of my kayak as I paddled over its back. Now today I had a kayak collision with a Bottle-nosed Dolphin. It doesn't get a lot better than that.

My bird list for the day was pretty meager but I was able to see some great marine life and rejuvenated my desire to start fishing again. With the way the Sarasota Reds keep losing every time I go to one of their games, maybe kayak fishing would be a better use of my time? My tan is much darker than it was when I left this morning and the ice cold beers inhaled on my way home were a fitting climax to a day of blue skies and ultraviolet rays at the littler latitudes of south Florida.