Right now the MLB Playoffs are in full swing, the NFL has a month under its belt and NCAA Football is well underway. Amongst all of that you may have missed the fact that the NHL season just began again. Hockey is struggling to gain a larger share of the sports spotlight again, and perhaps one of the reasons they have trouble drawing fans is that they make it nearly impossible to find the entrance to their Hall of Fame.
Strolling down Main Street in the village of Cooperstown is a bit like going back in time. You feel transplanted to the days when people walked to town to take care of their errands and visited with neighbors along the way. And kids would ride by, unscheduled and unsupervised, with baseball cards in their bicycle spokes. You can buy those same baseball cards in collectors’ shops on Main Street or you can head down a few more blocks to the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum and see displays of them and other treasures while learning all about the history of the game.
Alas, football season is over. But take heart, sports fans, because Major League Baseball spring training begins in just a few short days. Both the Grapefruit League in Florida and the Cactus League in Arizona launch their seasons on February 25th.
Florida’s Grapefruit League is home to 16 of the 30 Major League Baseball club’s spring training programs:
- Atlanta Braves: Champion Stadium, Lake Buena Vista at Walt Disney World
- Baltimore Orioles: Fort Lauderdale Stadium, Ft. Lauderdale
- Boston Red Sox: City of Palms Park, Fort Myers
- Cincinnati Reds: Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota (moving to Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear, AZ in 2010)
- Detroit Tigers: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland
- Florida Marlins: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
- Houston Astros: Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee
- Minnesota Twins: Hammond Stadium, Ft. Myers
- New York Mets: Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie
- New York Yankees: George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa
- Philadelphia Phillies: Bright House Field, Clearwater
- Pittsburgh Pirates: McKechnie Field, Bradenton
- St. Louis Cardinals: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
- Tampa Bay Rays: Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte
- Toronto Blue Jays: Dunedin Stadium, Dunedin
- Washington Nationals: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Arizona’s Cactus League hosts the remaining 14 teams:
- Arizona Diamondbacks: Tucson Electric Park, Tucson
- Chicago Cubs: HoHoKam Park, Mesa
- Chicago White Sox: Tucson Electric Park, Tucson (moving to Glendale, Camelback Ranch in 2009)
- Cleveland Indians: Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear
- Colorado Rockies: Hi Corbett Field, Tucson
- Kansas City Royals: Surprise Stadium, Surprise
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe
- Los Angeles Dodgers: Camelback Ranch, Glendale
- Milwaukee Brewers: Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix
- Oakland Athletics: Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Phoenix
- San Diego Padres: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria
- San Francisco Giants: Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale
- Seattle Mariners: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria
- Texas Rangers: Surprise Stadium, Surprise
Fans are especially passionate about spring training because, unlike regular season play, there is ample opportunity to get close to the players. The majority of teams have workouts that are free and open to the public. Some teams even conduct batting and field practice after the game, which is a great way to see your favorite player without the big crowds.
And if fans need a reason to attend spring training other than being passionate about baseball, they can always use the excuse of needing a break from the cold weather, because both Florida and Arizona enjoy delightful warm temperatures and mostly sunny skies throughout the winter and spring months.
MLB spring training extends through April 2, 2009. An complete schedule of games is available at the SpringTrainingTips.com website. But if you haven’t yet made your reservations, do it soon, because Florida accommodations and Arizona hotel rooms fill up quickly during spring training season.
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels
As the clock ticks down toward the long anticipated Super Bowl XLIII, Tampa is putting the final touches on festivities leading up to the big match. The elaborate schedule of events includes celebrity autograph sessions, football clinics, football card shows, parties, concerts, bike days, golf classics, fireworks, and a game day half-time extravaganza that features Bruce Springsteen. But the game is not the only excitement in town. After the Super Bowl champions have been crowned, visitors will be delighted to discover that the Greater Tampa Bay area is home to hundreds of attractions, festivals, and cultural events. From the big city glitz of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, to the dozens of small towns that comprise the metro area, Tampa Bay has something for everyone.
Along the Gulf shores and on the barrier islands, dozens of pure, white sand beaches beg to be discovered. Several have made Dr. Beach’s list of top ten beaches in years past, including Caladesi Island, where thousands of unblemished shells wash ashore each day.
In addition to spectacular beaches, Tampa Bay is home to unique theme parks, professional and non- professional sports teams, fabulous shopping, museums, music venues, abundant parks and preserves, cultural activities, great nightlife and some of the best dining in Florida.
Some of the more popular attractions include the following:
SHOPPING, DINING, MUSIC, AND ENTERTAINMENT:
- From Downtown Tampa, hop on the trolley and head over to the Channelside District, near the Port of Tampa. Channelside has been the center of Tampa’s waterfront since it was opened in 2001, merging shopping, entertainment, dining, and the arts into a single complex.
- Chosen by LIFE magazine as one of “America’s 21 Wonders,” Tampa Theatre is a spectacular 1926 movie palace. The theatre hosts indie and classic films, concerts, special events and tours.
- The St. Petersburg Pier, known for its five-story inverted pyramid shape that juts out into Tampa Bay, offers fishing, boat rentals, shopping, dining, entertainment, weekly festivals, and is home to a small aquarium. A replica of the HMS Bounty used in the 1962 movie starring Marlon Brando is frequently docked at The Pier. More recently this same ship was used in the filming of sequels to Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
- Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center provides a venue for a wide variety of world-class events, include one of the nation’s leading Broadway series, grand operas, concerts, performances, and events.
- Ruth Eckerd Hall, located in Clearwater, hosts performances ranging from world renowned classical artists and dance companies to Broadway musicals and pop stars.
- The Ford Amphitheatre, a unique open-air concert facility under a one of a kind canopy, is the site of the 2009 NFL Pepsi Smash Super Bowl Bash, which will showcase award-winning musical sensations Rihanna, Enrique Iglesias, Fall Out Boy, and Lifehouse.
- Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa features 3,300 gaming machines, 50 poker tables, multiple bars and a nightclub.
Known for its ethnic diversity, the Tampa Bay area offers unique cultural experiences:
- In 1885, a prominent cigar manufacturer named Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his cigar factory from Key West to Tampa, Florida. For the next 50 years, millions of cigars were rolled in this neighborhood known as Ybor City. Although the cigar factory has long since closed, the area has redeveloped into a popular night club and entertainment district. During the day, tourists can watch an authentic Cuban cigar roller at work and take in the sights along historic 7th Avenue. After dark, the area comes alive with live music and restaurants serving authentic Cuban cuisine.
- In the late 1800′s, when it was discovered that money could be made from the sponges that carpeted the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico, experienced divers from Greece were brought to Tarpon Springs to harvest the plants. As the industry thrived and grew, so too did the Greek population. Today visitors can experience this Greek influence at restaurants and shops scattered throughout the area and attend any number of Greek events, including Epiphany, celebrated every January 6th with the blessing of the waters and the boats.
- The delightful small town of Dunedin, located just north of Tampa, was settled by Scottish families in 1899. Evidence of this Scottish heritage is everywhere. Both the high school and middle school have pipe and drum marching bands and adult residents play in the City of Dunedin Pipe and Drum Corps. Each year, Downtown Dunedin hosts more than 50 events, including the annual 9-day Highland Games and Festival, where athletes compete in ancient Scottish sports. A Celtic Festival features Scottish-influenced music, dancing, food and fun, while the shops that line Main Street offer a variety of Scottish goods for sale.
- Busch Gardens Africa (also known as Busch Gardens Tampa Bay) combines world-class thrill rides and live entertainment with a19th century African-themed park where visitors can explore the treetops on a zipline and see exotic animals up close.
- Slides, waterfalls, and waves abound at Adventure Island, Tampa’s 30 acre water park.
- In its heyday, the Moorish architecture, opulent furnishings, and spectacular tropical gardens of Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel were a magnet for celebrities and VIP’s. Today this National Historic Landmark is home to the Henry B. Plant Museum, where the life and accomplishments of railroad magnate Henry B.Plant are celebrated.
- The SS American Victory, a 1940s-era merchant cargo vessel which served during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, has been preserved as a museum ship in Tampa, Florida.
- The Tampa Museum of Art collection includes 20th century and contemporary art and a renowned collection of Greek and Roman antiquities.
- MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry) in Tampa is the largest science center in the south. The 400,000 square foot facility is home to Florida’s only IMAX® Dome Theatre, a Planetarium, the Science Works Theatre, the newest and largest childrens’ science center in the nation, and a myriad of traveling and permanent special exhibits.
- The Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg contains the only comprehensive art collection, extending from antiquity to the present, on the Florida west coast.
- Located in St. Petersburg, the Florida Holocaust Museum houses an actual box car from Gdynia, Poland that was used to transport victims of the Nazi regime to the concentration camps.
- The Salvador Dalí Museum boasts the largest collection of Salvador Dalí works outside Europe. The museum is currently located on the campus of the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, however plans are underway for a new facility.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning, commonly referred to as the ‘Bolts,’ is an NHL ice hockey team based in Tampa, Florida.
- Reigning 2008 American League Baseball Champions, the Tampa Bay Rays, are based in St. Petersburg, Florida.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (often shortened as the Bucs) football team is based in Tampa. The team plays at Raymond James Stadium, which is the site of this year’s Super Bowl XLIII.
- The Honda Grand Prix, an Indy Racing League IndyCar Series event, is held in St. Petersburg each spring. This year’s race is scheduled for April 3-5, 2009.
- Tampa Bay Downs, open from mid-December through early May each year, is the only Thoroughbred race track on the West Coast of Florida, and is one of America’s oldest and most well-maintained racetracks.
In addition to the spectator sports listed above, a wide range of participatory sports are available. Drop a line from a pier or an in-shore boat or hop aboard a day charter to try your hand at deep sea fishing. Canoe or kayak the waters of the placid Bay. Enjoy a round of golf at any of the areas numerous golf courses. Go for a horseback ride, soar over the city in a hot air balloon, or skydive from a small plane. Or simply enjoy a leisurely walk or a day hike on a trail in any of the hundreds of state, local, and national parks that are scattered throughout the Tampa Bay area.
ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS:
- At Tampa’s Florida Aquarium visitors can follow the journey of a drop of water from one of Florida’s fresh-water springs to the Gulf of Mexico. Exhibits include a swamp/river area, a simulated beach, and a coral reef in a 500,000 gallon tank.
- Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa was voted the #1 Family Friendly Zoo in the US by Child Magazine. It features a larger collection of Florida species than any other zoo and has a hospital for Florida manatees where injured animals are rehabilitated prior to being re-released into the wild.
- The Big Cat Rescue in Tampa is an educational wildlife sanctuary that is home to more that 150 exotic cats, most of whom have been abused, neglected, or abandoned.
In truth, it is impossible to thoroughly investigate the Greater Tampa Bay area during a single vacation. With all the major attractions, ongoing entertainment, and a year round calendar of special events, a person could spend a lifetime and still not see it all!
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels