Heading south in February for family, weather … and a little sports?

Last month my wife and I hit the road for Florida. The main purpose of the trip was twofold. We wanted to spend some time with our daughter in Port Charlotte. We also were looking for some relief from the cold winter days here in Seneca County.

The first purpose was a given. The second was up to Mother Nature. The Sunshine State came through in flying colors. Mid 80s and sunny every day! It does make me wonder why we came back so soon.

There was a secondary reason to go south, for me at least. I knew we were going to attend a spring training baseball game. Charlotte Sports Park is the site for the Tampa Bay Rays annual “get ready for the season” month. The game was a given, but I also wanted to see if other sports stories came up. It does appear that I will drive great distances to find a topic for my column!

Most of you have probably driven down I-75 a number of times as I have. Do you remember seeing a motel called the Cumberland Inn in Williamsburg, Kentucky? I had seen it several times as it is located next to collegiate playing fields. I always thought it would be a neat place to stay, if ever I was near there when driving for the day was over.

Not leaving early in the morning made a stay there possible. I can tell you the lobby of the Cumberland Inn is gorgeous. We checked in and headed to our room just before 6 p.m. When I opened the curtain and looked out the men’s lacrosse team was practicing.

I don’t know about you, but when I think lacrosse, the name Jim Brown always comes to mind. Before he became a famed running back for the Cleveland Browns, he was an All-American in two sports at Syracuse University. Everyone knows about his football prowess, but he was also an excellent lacrosse player.

I watched the practice briefly and then didn’t think much more about it. The next morning at shortly after 7 a.m., I again looked out the window. What I saw was the lacrosse team back at it. At least I hope it was “back” at it as opposed to “still” at it!

When I was in college I had some marathon practices in both basketball and baseball, but certainly no overnighters.

We went to the dining room for breakfast where I saw a large painting of the Cumberland College Indians complete with a headdress in the middle. Knowing that the fence surrounding the lacrosse field read the University of the Cumberlands Patriots, my curiosity was piqued.

I asked the gentleman at checkout about the painting and he informed me that the school changed its name some 15 years ago. When I asked if the switch from Indians to Patriots was due to political correctness, he did not know. I’m guessing that was indeed the reason for the change.

Back on the road our next destination was the Comfort Inn in Ocala, Florida. We had stayed there previously and had been directed to an Italian restaurant. I was a little surprised that only a couple of rooms were still available. Reaching Roma’s (their lasagna is superb) we found out why the motel was nearly full.

Sitting in the booth behind us were four women. Their conversation involved horses. It seems they were in town for an equestrian event. Given the fact that Ocala refers to itself as the Horse Capital of the World, I should not have been surprised that an event of this nature was taking place.

The next morning two things happened that again stirred my interest. Riding down the elevator with a woman dressed in riding gear, I found out she was from upstate New York. She was participating in the competition. When I asked if she was just trying to get away from the winter weather, she would only admit to that being a bonus.

At breakfast we sat near three women who just happened to be the judges for the event. When someone approached the three, a comment was made about how the one judge stopped the competition the previous day. Apparently this is not a common practice and I wanted so much to learn more, but the women soon departed.

Have you ever seen the routine from comedian Lewis Black where he talked about being in the mall when a female voice from behind him said “if it wasn’t for my horse, I would have never spent that semester in college.” He froze for a second, then knowing he needed to hear more, whirled around, but the girl was gone.

Now you know how I felt!

So there you have it. Two unexpected sports crossed my wake before I even got to Port Charlotte. I guess that’s all I have … Wait, I almost forgot the spring training game!

We met friends from Ohio for the baseball game. Dale and Mary Morgan live in Norwalk except in January and February. Those months are spent in Florida and this year they spent the time in Englewood which is just a few miles from Port Charlotte.

So they accompanied us to the game. Our first order of business was to get to the

Tiki Bar which is located beyond the left centerfield fence at Charlotte Sports Park. Four seats opened up as we approached so we had a cold drink and talked baseball with some other patrons.

Dale, more commonly known as “Cubby” due to his lifelong infatuation with the Chicago Cubs, found some other Cub fans at the bar. Their belief that the Cubs will again win the World Series in 2019 was a bit much to take, but I will admit they have as good, if not better chance, than the Indians.

As for the game, well the highlight might have taken place in the first inning as the Phillies’ Scott Kingery hit what has to be called a “little league” home run. He hit a long drive to centerfield where the Rays Kevin Kiermaier proceeded to fall down.

By the time he recovered and fired the ball into the shortstop, Kingery was rounding third. The throw from the shortstop would have had him by 30 feet except that it was so high the catcher could only deflect it away.

Our thoughts on the play… Welcome to spring training. The play on the field will improve as time goes on.

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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