For those of you who can't get tickets to PNC Park, it's time to start planning your spring training trips. All away games in Grapefruit League play are driveable, you know, once you get to Bradenton. And my new place on the South Side cuts my Bradenton commute from 1,068 miles to 1,066. Who better to review these away game destinations than someone who has been to one FSL stadium in his life?
At Port Charlotte (Rays) - Feb. 26, 28, March 11, 25
I've never been to Port Charlotte because nobody has been to Port Charlotte. It looks like a really offensive suburban trash town wih no jobs. Also, it seems like it should be on the beach and isn't. It's kind of close to the beach, meaning that you'll attempt to drive there after the game and get there like 40 minutes before sunset. It's only 60 miles from Bradenton but Florida traffic rules apply.
It's sad that the Reds left their longtime and nearby home in Sarasota for one in the middle of nowhere in the desert - which apparently made the Rays Pittsburgh's primary spring training opponent. What went on in 1987, in 2009, is still history and shouldn't be thrown away. Recommended Dining: Beef O'Brady's, 1825 Tamiami Trail.
At Dunedin (Blue Jays) - March 3, 12
An hour's drive in the opposite direction lies Dunedin, a quiet town of retirees. This is a good destination because Dunedin Stadium is a classic and historic minor league type of spring training park, where seats are really close to the field. There's really nothing to do there since it's primarily residential, but Clearwater is directly south and has some nice stuff along the beach. And by nice stuff I mean girls from the University of Mississippi who are on spring break. Recommended Dining: Beef O'Brady's, 1100 Tarpon Woods Blvd., Palm Harbor.
At Clearwater (Phillies) - March 5, 18
Bright House Networks Field is at the other extreme. Luxury boxes, video boards, plazas, fountains, batting cages, fake Spanish architecture - the Phillies have built themselves a real palace. It's good for what it is. Just keep in mind that it's impossible to get anywhere in Pinellas County. It's a regular grid system yet you always get lost. There's no way to make a left turn even; you have to make a U-turn and then turn right. You can be lost while you can see your destination. There's a large Scientology presence in Downtown Clearwater but by the beach it'll be Spring Break of course. Games end around 4 and Spring Break girls become intolerable around 5 so there's a short window. Recommended Dining: Beef O'Brady's, 10799 Park Blvd., Seminole.
At Fort Myers (Twins) - March 8, 28
Hammond Stadium is a nice stadium, underrated like Comiskey Park. In 1991, construction people weren't really concerned with real historical buildings, but they were concerned with building nice and clean designs that omitted fake historical features. So that's something. This is the longest road trip at about 90 miles so don't expect to see many stars make the trip. Especially since there is one star on the Pirates team. Despite being small, Fort Myers is a legit city with a fairly large ghetto. So overall, a nice location and trip. Recommended Dining: Beef O'Brady's, 11841 Palm Beach Blvd.
At Tampa (Yankees) - March 9, 26
Tampa is a charming city where the main library has more homeless people than books despite having a lot of books, and you have the opportunity to get shot on a quaint and charming street paved in red brick causing a tapestry of red colors the likes of which haven't been seen since the book cover to the bullshit new paperback edition of some book by Ernest Hemingway that came out in 1955 but somehow costs $18.95.
I've explained this to several people, but here's the deal with Yankees fans. There's nothing wrong with Yankees fans who have a legitimate claim to Yankee fandom. Like you're from Middletown, New York, you're a Yankees fan, go for it. Unfortunately during spring training you will deal with a heavy concentration of Yankees fans from like, Sandy Springs, Georgia, and there is something wrong with non-New York metro Yankees fans. Plan accordingly. The March 9 game is the only one of these away games that's at night. Recommended Dining: Beef O'Brady's, 4235 West Water Ave.
At Sarasota (Orioles) - March 14, 24
Once the Reds moved out of Sarasota, the Orioles moved in. Sarasota is the closest spring training town to Bradenton so it's surprising that the Pirates make only two trips there.
I stayed in Sarasota once with some friends once. We were 20 years old. There were two non-senior citizen girls in the city, ages 26 and 27, and both amazingly hot. We talked to them and they advised us to go to Key West. Recommended Dining: Beef O'Brady's, 5170 Clark Road.
At Kissimmee (Astros) - March 20
Don't even think about using this part of I-4 unless you have a joint. And it's illegal to have a joint. Catch-22. Recommended Dining: Walt Disney World Character Breakfast.