Another visit to Jet Blue Park to spend the morning watching the Red Sox go through their Spring Training drills, then back through the Everglades to the east coast as part of the slow road home. A fun packed day.
There’s a bit more to it…
Up around 07:30 to pack, check-out and hit the road. WINK News helpfully told us of a crash on I-75, so we headed south on US-41 in search of somewhere appealing for breakfast. None of the many roadside restaurant chains did it for us, so we called in at a Publix in the mistaken belief it would serve fresh coffee to go. They did provide a fruit bowl and a four pack of blueberry muffins (guess which one of us made each of those purchases!?) and we were back on the road. The fuel gauge had dropped to a quarter after nearly 300 miles of driving, so next job was a fuel stop for $40 of gas to top-off the tank again. Happily, the garage also had a Dunkin Donuts concession, so we got our first coffee of the day.
It was a little after 09:00 when we parked-up at Jet Blue Park. Far fewer blue shirted stewards today and evidently nowhere near as many cars expected. We found ourselves in more-or-less the same spot as we’d been on Saturday though. By the time we walked out to the practice fields, the squad was out and working through their warm up drills. A couple of notable players were present today who had been otherwise occupied on Saturday; Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Nava. No sign of Shane Victorino though.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Once the players broke off for their specialist training drills the fun really started. We watched the second-string pitchers go through a drill where they practice fielding a ball driven straight back at them – though to lessen the risk of injury special softer balls were being used. Even so, it was a real challenge for them, especially as the rest of the group were looking on and taking the mickey out of one another. Nick said later he saw the starting pitchers doing the same drill and they were even more cutting in their comments to one another.
There was a fairly sizeable crowd today, but not nearly as many as on Saturday. There were a few who were obviously local (i.e. not Red Sox fans – “Is that David Ortiz?”). Equally, there were some serious baseball geeks who are here day-in, day-out; collecting different colour bag security tags seems to be the thing to do! Later on there was a group of kids from the local elementary school.
After a while, as the players were spread around the various fields, the tendency for the crowd to ‘swarm’ became less. Even David Ortiz was left in a degree of peace. This meant it was possible to get into a good position to photograph most of the stars at various times. At one point I was standing near one of the practice fields where not a lot was happening, distracted by watching one of the pro photographers setting up a very elaborate rig to allow a dSLR camera to take a tracking shot of some sort, when I felt two guys walk up behind me and kinda brush by. Turned out it was Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia ambling across to take “Live Batting Practice” with Koji Uehara pitching and Davd Ross catching. There was a great quote on the @RedSox Twitter feed about this later and MLB.com referenced it too.
By lunchtime, most of the stars had drifted off, leaving the ‘prospects’ to sweat it out on the field. Big Papi had spent a while chatting to one of the media pundits before he too ambled off toward the clubhouse.
We took this as our cue and we ambled off ourselves. We had a choice of two routes east (there was a third, but that was the one we came out on, and I dislike retracing my footsteps if I can avoid it). My vote was to avoid the Interstate if we could and, as time was not a consideration — and as I was driving, Nick happily left the decision to me. So we set off south-east on SR-82, and very soon saw a whole series of signs warning of panthers. That was a potential hazard I had never considered about Florida. Though now I look them up I gather there are only about a 160 of them in the wild, so I reckon there’s a sign for each panther!
South onto SR-29 through an industrial farming area called Immokalee, then past a lot more panther warning signs and into the Everglades. Passing over I-75 (which would have shaved an hour off the journey had we wished), we continued south to meet US-41, the Tamiami Trail – the road I wanted to use on the outward journey but had been thwarted by Siri’s “helpfulness”. This road was arrow straight for much of the route, and for a considerable period of time there wasn’t another vehicle to be seen in front or behind – something I love about driving in the US.
Halfway across the Everglades we passed a visitor centre and saw a crowd of folk peering excitedly into a ditch which had been running alongside the road the whole way. I had commented on the fact that there was miles and miles and miles of expensive and new looking safety fence between the road and this body of water. Quite clearly the authorities are particularly anxious to avoid vehicles leaving the road and ending up in this water. A little further and more tourists were peering into the water. Nick suggested we U turn and have a look at what they were looking at, thinking it was likely an alligator. As soon as we turned (putting the water on his side of the road) he spotted our own huge gator. We U turned again and parked up…
We reckoned that it was far enough away, would have to climb up the bank, and then squeeze under the barrier… such that we had a enough time to run for our lives if it turned out to fancy a Full English breakfast!
Onwards and eastwards, past innumerable little shacks offering airboat rides or gator experiences (had one!) and a native American village with its inevitable casino (sorry, “Resort & Gaming”). Then, heading north once we were clear of the Everglades but before we reached the Miami conurbation. From there the traffic got heavier and before long we joined I-75 then onto I-595. That’s where the nut job drivers showed themselves in abundance, coinciding with the beginnings of the evening rush. Thankfully, it was only a coupe of junctions before we exited, in itself a moment of drama which is best forgotten – at least I didn’t hit anything or vice-versa!
The hotel duly presented itself and we checked-in. Being a Renaissance, there is a lounge and once we’d dropped our bags that’s where we headed. Not that there was much doing in the early afternoon, other than a fridge stocked with soda and a fruit bowl. It gave me a chance to go through the 275 photos I’d taken today, a process which was ongoing as Nick announced he was going to check out the pool. I broke off eventually to catch Kay on FaceTime before UK bedtime, which was fun!
Given that the only sustenance which had passed my lips all day were three Publixs muffins (small!) and an apple, I was ready for something to eat by now. We set off to explore the neighbourhood and by a not very spooky coincidence, ended up in another Publix. Although tomorrow is officially Shopping Day, we used the opportunity to do some of the take home food (beer!) shopping. From there we had a circuit of SR-817 brought about by an inability to turn left and the three blocks needed to get across to the outside lane to U turn. Next we “happened across” the Broward Mall. Acknowledging the fact that we’ve not stepped foot in a true mall all week, we decided to look. Maybe there would be somewhere decent to eat there? Fat chance, and we were back out almost as soon as we entered.
It was Nick’s turn to choose a dinner venue anyway, and his fallback position in these circumstances is Golden Corral. Luckily, there just happened to be one a mere six miles away. This was a new experience for me, and a hugely enjoyable one at that; an all you can eat buffet – and unlike establishments of that ilk in the UK, there was plenty of stuff a discerning eater such as myself could manage: First course was a DIY caesar salad. Then a very acceptable pot roast with all the fixin’s. That dealt with, I was told it was compulsory to have steak here, and I’m always one to obey local customs (the steak was a little chewy if I’m being hyper-critical). That was it for me. Well, for main courses, that is. I couldn’t resist regressing to childhood with the opportunity of a help yourself Mr. Whippy ice cream machine! Oh, and I had to have the brownie that went with it. Twice.
Back to the hotel for urgent belt unbuckling.