Tricounty News

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, It's the Grapefruit League for me

It's been a long Minnesota winter, and a couple of very contagious fevers have recently been infesting local households. They are cabin fever and baseball fever. The latter is even stronger than usual this season, with all of the talk about Target Field's debut and MVP Joe Mauer's contract.

One sure cure for both afflictions is a family trip to Twins spring training in Fort Myers. If you are a small family, it might be reasonably affordable for you to fly. If that's your plan, you should go online and find your best airfares and car rentals. This late in the season, you'll find your best values through various travel sites on their "fire sale" pages. Remember: you need not fly directly into Fort Myers. Many times, I have saved several hundred dollars by flying to Orlando, where you can always find airfare and car-rental bargains. From Orlando, you have an easy little three-hour road trip on the sunshine-lit Florida freeways. You may also check prices to Tampa, Sarasota, and the least desirable possibility (because of inner-city driving out of the airport), Miami. A short road trip from another airport might save your family $600 to $1000 and give you some quality time together. There are various orange groves, fruit stands, farmers' markets, and flea markets you can visit along the way. Don't forget: if you have an early morning return flight, you may have to drive to your departure city the night before you leave, so plan accordingly.

If you have a large family and some extra time, and you aren't sure such a trip is in the budget, you might want to drive to Florida. No air expenses, no car rental, and you can make it in just two 12-hour days of driving. However, I prefer to break it up into three 8-hour days, an extra hotel expense, but a bit more relaxing.  I like to go through Louisville and tour the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. There you can watch them make bats for current players, and see contracts signed by greats from the past such as Babe Ruth, along with other players' equipment and contracts.

The only advice you need, if you're driving, is to plan your trip so that you hit Atlanta either on a weekend, or midday during the week, because the Atlanta rush hour is long and horrendous. And in southern Tennessee, you go through some mountains that I advise you to drive in the daylight. They are no big deal, but if you are not used to them, use extra caution.

I would book all hotels, including hotels along your route to Florida in advance. You'll be surprised how many families you'll see on the road, and many hotels along the Interstates sell out.

Before you go, you'll want to decide whether you will stay in the city of Fort Myers near the ballpark, or at Fort Myers Beach. If you are going for baseball, stay near the park, because when you're coming from the beach, it can take an hour or even longer with the Florida "high season" traffic. It is a little less expensive, too. Maybe stay at the beach for a couple of days when the Twins are on the road. At the beach you can leave your car at the hotel and travel on a free trolley through the congestion to the many restaurants and shops. 

When going to Lee County Stadium, it is fun to go early in the morning, when players are arriving. There is less stress in the morning and the players occasionally have time to be cordial with the fans. You can watch them work out for free. You'll see the Twins' special spring coaches mentoring them. You might see Paul Molitor, Rod Carew, Terry Steinbach, Tony Oliva, and most years Harmon Killebrew (Harmon recently had surgery) working with both major- and minor-league players.

If you don't have tickets to the day's game, you can watch the morning workouts, then stroll across the complex and watch future stars at the minor-league fields for free. It's there that you'll see Joe Mauer's brother, Jake, managing his team, the Fort Myers Miracle. Then walk back to major-league camp after the 5th inning, when the gates are generally open, and you can enter for free. Also: there are many fans - not hardcore scalpers - who will have extra tickets and sell them around the grounds, so tickets aren't impossible to find before gametime.

As the players exit, they drive through the lot and sometimes stop to sign autographs. Some veterans are allowed to leave before the game is complete. Be courteous to the players. Do not mob players' vehicles. Joe Mauer recently told his dad he is frightened he may hit someone the way fans swarm his car.

As you rub some aloe on your slightly burned skin, you might hear someone talk about a State Tournament blizzard due in Minnesota. As you listen, you might decide to go to the orange grove across from the ballpark to sample some free, fresh-picked oranges and juices, and maybe ship a case of oranges home. You can eat them in April as you watch your Twins play at Target Field.