There are only a couple of things I miss about New York since our family moved to Florida twelve years ago.
One thing, of course, is family. My brother and his wife, my sister in law, her husband, and their kids, and Mom all live on Long Island. I do miss 'em.
Another is good pizza. A few places down here come close, but none has gotten it just right yet. I miss the pizza that passes the elbow test. Roll up your sleeve, fold a slice in half, and wait. If the oil makes it down to your elbow, it's a good slice of pizza.
I miss the dirty water hot dog. A chili dog, a potato knish, and a can of soda was my lunch at least a few days a week when I worked in Manhattan. I don't know how long that dirty water sat in the cart before being changed, and I don't particularly care. The hot dogs down here just aren't as tasty, even those from the Sabrett carts parked in front of the Lowe's and the Home Depot on weekend mornings.
The thing I miss most of all, though, is the freedom to decide on a Saturday morning that I want to go to the Mets game that afternoon or evening. When I lived in New York, I didn't make those sort of spur-of-the-moment decisions too often; I prefer to plan my spontaneity ahead of time. But the fact that I couldn't do that today if I wanted to, makes the few times I did much more special.
So when the spring training scheduled came out late last year, the annual hunt was on to find a weekend Mets game for me and my buddy Johnny Gunnz. Johnny's my Mets companion; my wife doesn't mind. Sharon works only two days a week, Saturday and Sunday. While she's a lot of fun in a lot of different settings, a ballpark is not one of them. She'd bring her nursing magazines, or a novel, and read her way through the afternoon while the rest of us were screaming and getting sunburned. I think she's been spoiled by accompanying me to luxury suites at various sporting events. Once you've tasted the suite life, it's tough to get excited about a foldable plastic seat and other people's elbows in your belly.
Most years, our date with the Mets is a no-brainer. The Mets come up to play the Braves at Cracker Jack Stadium in Disney's Wide World of Sports a few times each spring, and until this year, one of those dates was always a weekend afternoon. This time, no dice. Thursday afternoon the 22nd was no good. If I took the day off, Johnny would have to stay behind -- we work in the same department in the same office, and the walls of the building would crumble if both of us were AWOL.
We quickly went to Plan B, the Astros' spring digs in Kissimmee. Nope, the Mets only came up there once this spring, and that was a weekday as well, this past Tuesday. Plan C -- Viera, the Space Coast home of the Washington Nationals. Saturday the 10th looked good, until we both checked our schedules, and realized neither of us could go. Monday the 12th? Another dang weekday. Grrrrrr!!!
Next try: a trip to Lakeland on March 11th to see our boys against the team they should have played last October, the Tigers. Our pal Tim, a Michigan native, proposed this trek, but he backed out after an unfortunate accident involving a garden hose, bleach, and his eyes. Don't ask.
I was beginning to think a look at the 2007 Mets was just not in the cards for us. Yuck. Cards. Then an interesting thing happened. A harmonic convergence of sorts.
One of my daughters announced she wanted to visit her friend in Connecticut all next week. Virginia is the only college student I know to ever deliberately head north for spring break. My other daughter had a one-day youth group retreat scheduled on Saturday, March 17th. Denise would be gone between 6am and midnight. Sharon had her usual caseload of Saturday nursing visits arranged, and I realized I'd be all by myself on St. Patrick's Day, for the first time in a very long time, for at least twelve hours.
We shifted gears, from when the Mets would be playing near us, to who's playing near us that day, again radiating outward from our Orlando base. If we couldn't see the Mets, by gum, at least we'd get a little Grapefruit League action somewhere.
The closest game to us on that day was a Braves game. A Braves/Cardinals game. I couldn't bring myself to even consider that one. I know who to root against, but who would I root for? Strike one. Kissimmee? Not that day. Viera? Also idle.
John grew up in the Tampa area, so we quickly checked out the matchups on that side of the state. Indians/D-Rays? Ugh. Yankees/Phillies? Absolutely freakin' not. Twins/Pirates? Hey, if their own fans won't even go to the games, why should we?
The Astros/Dodgers game looked like a possibility for a while. The Dodgers are moving their camp to Arizona next spring, so this would be the first and last time I'd get to experience Dodgertown. I'd heard it was an excellent place to see a spring game, from friends who are definitely not Dodger fans.
However, as a wise man once said, "F@#$k the Dodgers". I realized that if we were going to drive all the way to Vero Beach, nearly a three hour drive from Orlando, we might as well go a couple more exits down I-95 to Port St. Lucie and watch the Nationals play the Mets at Tradition Field. Surely, though, tickets would be long gone. Surprisingly, we got a pair just back of third base, in clear view of the Mets' bullpen, and behind their dugout.
This game's a split-squad affair, which would bum me out in most instances. However, there are so many question marks that won't be close to being answered in the next week with this team, I know we'll be well entertained. I plan on hitting the road between 8 and 8:30 am, so we can get there before noon and soak in the atmosphere a bit. Me so happy right now.
Could we make it back to Orlando International Airport in time for Virginia's flight back from Connecticut at 8:00 that night? I guess we'll have to see. If not, I've got some 'splainin' to do to Sharon, Wish us luck.