Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Baseball, Tornadoes and Randy Wayne White


This afternoon I traveled down to Fort Myers to watch a double header between the Fort Myers Miracle and the St Lucie Mets. Given my disgust with the Mets after last weeks games in Sarasota it seemed only appropriate that I find a venue where I could pester them again before the season ended. Tonight was a perfect venue for it.

The games were played in beautiful William Hammond stadium off Six Mile Cypress Road in Fort Myers. This is one of the nicest stadiums in Florida not only for its aesthetics but also because they have 32 ounce draught Landshark Lagers for $6.00 each and real bratwurst that could have been made in Wisconsin. The only down side to this stadium is this is where the baseball team from that state to the west of Wisconsin does spring training. Were it not for that, Hammond Stadium would be perfect.

Before getting to the game however there was some excitement in the parking lot. Well....excitement seen from the parking lot. On pulling into the stadium the guy collecting money for parking ($3.00 per car) very excitedly said "have you seen the funnel cloud?" Saying no he got more worked up pointing to the south in the direction of the storm. I pulled ahead and saw a very prominent rope-like funnel that had apparently moved out of the ocean and onto the beach at Fort Myers Beach. How freaking cool is that?

I watched the tornado for a couple of minutes and then as quickly as it formed it disappeared. I parked my car and as I got out I asked this family if they had seen the tornado. They had and as we talked about it one of the kids of this family yelled "there's another one!" And there was! I am not sure if it was the same vortex or a new one but another funnel hung in the sky. This one also dropped to the ground (you could see debris in the air) and this one was much closer than on Fort Myers Beach. As this was going on a Delta Airlines MD-88 flew over and lined up for final approach to Fort Myers International. The plane had to be less than 1 mile from the funnel. Good old Delta - their motto is "We'll Get You There When We Get You There." I guess that was what drove the pilot to fly so close to a funnel! Not.

The last tornado I saw was in Washington DC one week after 9/11. Before that it could have been any of a dozen of them I saw while living in Grand Island Nebraska. I remember the summer of 1991 seeing 6 of them from my front steps in Grand Island.

After the tornado excitement I purchased my ticket, got a Landshark and a bratwurst and moved to my seat in Section 108, Row 1, Seat 1. This is a perfect seat. You are almost at field level and not far behind home plate - perfect conditions for pestering umpires and opposing players.

The first game started at 4:55 p.m. with a temperature of 91 degrees and tornado forming clouds overhead. The Miracle won the first game 3-1 and did so rather resoundingly. My buddy the St. Lucie catcher number 9 didn't play the first game so I chose number 22 at random to harass. It worked. He became visibly upset with me for yelling "You have a kindergarten swing" each time he swung and missed a pitch. Eventually by the end of the game he game me the finger. Mission accomplished!

Before the second game began the announcer said that there was a large group of people in the stands from Doc Ford's Sanibel Rum Bar and Grille, on Sanibel Island. This is quite possibly one of the best places to eat anywhere in Florida north of the Keys. I had wondered why this group of people down the third base line were bouncing beach balls around and when the announcer said who was there and why, the beach balls made perfect sense.

Before the start of the second game (preceded by an absolutely horrible singer doing the National Anthem) author Randy Wayne White strolled to the mound and threw out the first pitch.

This was most appropriate given Randy's local residence on Pine Island and his rabid love for baseball, especially Cuban baseball. I had hoped to dash over to talk to him before the end of the game but he split at the top of the sixth inning. I will catch him next spring at another book signing I guess.

Luck was not with the Miracle in the second game as St. Lucie won 5-4. Had it not been for a horrifically bad 4th inning the game would have turned out differently. But a 3 run homer followed by a solo blast is difficult to overcome no matter how much screaming I could do.

My harassment of St. Lucie reached a fevered pitch in the fourth inning - to the point that one St Lucie batter seemed to accidentally on purpose let his bat slip out of his hands and on a perfect trajectory for my mouth behind him. The bat careened off the mesh backstop less than 1 foot from me and this only served to kick me into an even higher gear.

Some of my favorite taunts of the Mets included "You guys suck worse than the real Mets" yelling at a player "The rookie league just called for you you loser" "Where'd you learn that swing - in kindergarten?" And of course for the umpire it was either "Open your good eye ump" or "I can call them for you from back here ump. Obviously you can't."

All in good fun and it seemed to be entertaining for the Fort Myers fans because several of them walked up and shook my hand and thanked me for firing up the crowd. My pleasure.

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