Wrapping up a trip to the Sunshine State

We’re back from a week-long stay in Florida, where after a few days of clouds and showers, it was all sunshine (but quite hot too!). We flew into FLL (Fort Lauderdale) on Saturday Night and then spent Sunday in the Deerfield Beach/Boca Raton area where we were staying with my wife’s grandparents. Saw a few sights, including Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, the largest butterfly park in the world and it certainly was beautiful. On Monday, the entire day was spent in Fort Lauderdale touring the area. We took the Water Taxi to travel different places and get the pseudo-tour, which showcased many multi-million dollar homes and yachts on the intercoastal waterway. Fort Lauderdale is known as the “Venice of America” and I certainly saw why! Even though the bulk of the famous population has moved to Miami, I enjoyed this beachfront city as it seemed surprisingly and pleasantly quiet. While there, we also strolled and ate on Las Olas Boulevard, toured the Stranahan House and went on the city’s beach. Fort Lauderdale has three stadiums on The List, but none were in action. The most “known” is likely aging Lockhart Stadium, where FAU plays it’s football and some soccer is also played.

Tuesday was spent in Jupiter…Florida that is, where we went to visit Roger Dean Stadium and the Jupiter Hammerheads of the Florida State League (Single-A ball). We left in the afternoon so we could spend time at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum. The red lighthouse had a nice little tour that went with it and was pretty good. After eating dinner at Pep’s Island Grill in town, it was off to the ballgame. The park is located in the Abacoa community, on the Southwest side of Jupiter and this community is a recently-made mini-town complete with houses, businesses, restaurants and a golf course. Here are a few impressions: I love Florida ballparks featuring that classic Florida design and architecture with pastel colors and palm trees landscaped about. Roger Dean certainly had that with a warm, inviting exterior, though there were almost too many trees as it kind of hides your view of the actual building. Inside is a much more bland appearance with a standard ballpark and nothing more. I have to stop going to Tuesday Night games because attendance is terrible. Maybe that’s why Kraft picked that night to have a promotion for buy one get one free tickets across MILB. The plus side was that somebody gave us free tickets before we got to the box office and I ended up parking for free on the side of the road right next to the ballpark. I thought that it would be some tow-away zone until asking and finding out that the spots are open because nobody is really in the ballpark! After some research, I’ve learned that attendance overall at Florida League games are abysmal with the #1 drawing team only around 2500 (and the stadiums tend to range in the 5000-7000 seat category). Maybe it’s the hot summer weather, maybe it’s the type of population in areas with teams…not sure what the explanation is.

As for the game itself, I unknowingly walked into a doubleheader. Jupiter and Charlotte were in the middle of the 6th inning when I arrived and it didn’t take long for me to see why the Hammerheads were stuck in last place. Bottom of the 7th (last inning) and Jupiter’s down 3-2 with one out and a runner at third. All of the sudden the runner takes off for home! A suicide squeeze? Nope the batter doesn’t swing. Trying to steal home? Nope he left a second or two after the windup. Must have been a botched sign because he was out by a mile. Then the batter grounded out and the game was over as I sat stunned. In the next inning (inning 1 of Game 2), Jupiter failed in a rundown and then lost a flyball. That’s all Charlotte need for their 3 winning runs. One other note on the park…it’s quite busy as it is home to two spring training teams (St. Louis and Florida) AND two minor-league baseball teams (Jupiter and Palm Beach). For more pictures and a full review click “#89 Roger Dean Stadium” to the right.

It was then off to Orlando as we made the three hour drive Wednesday Morning. We spent the next two days at Universal Studios, which has two parks: Islands of Adventure and Florida. Completely overpriced and overrated if you ask me. We had to try it once as we’ve already been to DisneyWorld…but believe me, stay at DisneyWorld. If you do go, the Florida one is much more worth it, unless your a Harry Potter Fan has Islands of Adventure as that whole new section, which my wife loved. Most of the rides are motion simulated rides, where you go inside to different kinds of these rides. Some were pretty cool, but they get nauseating after a while. Friday, we went to SeaWorld which was much more worth it. Had a great time there and the shows are quite enjoyable. Saturday, it was time to cool off as Aquatica (owned by SeaWorld) was the waterpark of choice. The morning was a perfect time to go as lines were short and they had some pretty sweet waterslides.

After a little relaxing in the hotel, it was off to Stadium #90: Bright House Networks Stadium, home of the UCF Knights. Before I get to the stadium, let me re-hash my experience because it’s not too often I have a bad one, but this was one of those rare occurences where everything seemed to wrong: I went to buy tickets a month ago and UCF posted on their website “ALL tickets to the South Dakota game are $25”. So when I tried to buy them, it was surprising to see eight different pricing structures ranging from $25 to $130. I emailed the ticket office only to get the lame excuse that it’s non-priority seats which are $25 (and of course, those are just the upper corners and upper ends). I ended up calling the ticket office to order my tickets, which still didn’t arrive the week before we flew out. After another call (they must hate me there), they said the tickets would definitely be there Friday. They weren’t. So they just ended up cancelling them and holding at will call…which is cool, because that’s how I usually do it if I have to buy tickets before hand when worrying about a potential sell-out. Fast-forward to game day and the general parking garages are about a mile from the stadium. Even though I was prepared for that, it’s quite a hike when the sun’s blazing and it’s 95 degrees. We get to the stadium and the main ticket window says nothing about will-call. So, I do some more walking and circle the entire stadium to find nothing and learn that where it says: “Tickets Available” is Will-Call. And there were only four windows with one line and the line quadrupled in size. Well that one line went slow because other people just started coming up to the other three windows until finally everyone realized “Gee, let’s make four lines”. Finally, we’re inside. At halftime, we grab some food, which was regrettable (especially for me later in the night). While eating, I proceeded to drop my plate and spill ketchup all over my leg. At this point it just became comical. We left the game, only to get lost traversing campus and trying to find the correct parking garage. After finally arriving at the garage, the elevator was broke and we walked up the four flights and then circled around the entire top deck as we came up the wrong side. It was nice to put UCF in the rearview mirror, but it was really the night that needed to end as we stopped off at Sonic for a “Sonic Blast” only to be stuck in the drive-thru line for 20 minutes…with a total of three cars in line! (20 minutes may not seem long, but think about that for a second while in a drive thru). The topper of the night came when we arrived back at the hotel, at the exact same time a bus-load of teenage steppers (like tap-dancing) were dropped off. In the elevator, I knew where they would be going…right to our floor. Good times!!!!

In summary, we saw the game and new stadium as that’s all that matters. Sometimes you just have one of those games…and this was it! Looking back the whole thing was quite comical. Anyway, the stadium itself is rather basic for a new one built in 2007. There’s nothing special to the outside or inside and it’s a two-level, completely enclosed facility, with the seating bowl following the dimensions of the football field and being rounded off in the corners. What I did like about it is how intimate it is, helping to generate a lot of noise and the fans in the first level are very close to the field.  The tailgating scene was pretty good and UCF actually sets up tents on a sections of campus called “Memory Mall” and there were a ton of people tailgating there. Fans were excited for the start of the season and I thought the atmosphere inside was decent. Even though the song by Zombie Nation (forward to the :45 mark), has become way too overplayed at college events, it was cool to see general fans (and not just students) jumping up and down during it, plus it literally shook the aluminum and metal stadium when fans started jumping! As expected UCF romped FBS South Dakota, 38-7 and now look forward to NC State coming to town for their next game.

On Sunday, we checked out of Orlando around 8:00 AM and drove back down to the East Coast towards Port St. Lucie for a 10:30 AM season finale between the St. Lucie Mets and the Fort Myers Miracle at Digital Domain Park. There really isn’t anything to do in St. Lucie and I was surprised to learn that over 100,000 people live in this area (though you can’t get a feel for the city since the ballpark is on the outskirts). We just went in for the game, grabbed lunch at Friendly’s and then went back down to South Florida. It was another easy in/out at the ballpark and the best part of all…the whole thing was free! They gave out free tickets on Fan Appreciation Day, which I couldn’t believe (I guess their profits are doing just fine). Plus parking and programs were free. Two Single-A baseball games in Florida cost me $0.

I really enjoyed the outside and inside of this stadium. I was surprised to learn it was built in 1988, though the abundance of concrete, the roof and the small, tight concourses give it way. After coming home and looking at pictures pre-2004 renovation, it really looked like a dump, but I think the improvements they made were terrific. Many things that were new did not look out of place and I made no thought of it while walking the ballpark at the time. Despite it not having the classic Florida look and colors, the exterior had a pleasant design and had the look of a taller, bigger structure. Inside, the second sections of seats were surprisingly tall and steep and it was nice to see a roof providing sun protection. The area most appealing to me was the whole tiki bar section along the left field line and how the multi-tiered picnic tables and three rows of regular seats below that fit in so seamlessly. The park also makes good use of canopies to provide shade. Fans were relatively better here than in Jupiter and the crowd increased to a little over a 1,000. As for the game…ugh. I went 0 for 3 on this trip in terms of quality games. It started out fine with the score 0-0 after three. Then, I have never seen a pitcher lose his stuff worse than Bradley Holt did for St. Lucie in the fourth inning. He simply could not find the plate as he threw 5 wild pitches, 4 walks and hit one batter. It was horrible to watch and I felt sorry for the 23yr old. It was even worse that idiot home Met fans shouted some heckles that are easily audible in a crowd of a thousand. The manager took his sweet time getting anyone warmed up and finally after the third wild pitch and second walk, a pitcher began throwing, before mercifully entering the game later in the inning. Fort Myers won 12-2. I have seen the Mets and Mets’ affiliates seven times and they are 1-6 (losing 6 in a row) in games, I’ve attended. This year they have been outscored 5-33 in the games I’ve seen with them. My wife (a Mets fan) was not too happy.

So, that wrapped up the stadium portion of vacation and I was glad to end on a nice note with a ballpark I enjoyed. It was back to South Florida for the rest of the day and time to fly out on Monday. But, the sports end of the story doesn’t end there…We flew out of Fort Lauderdale for a mid-morning flight on JetBlue back to Newark. While waiting at the gate, I was reading the sports section and a man in his 20s sat across from me. Just before we get up to board, a woman comes up to him and says “My son is a big fan, can you sign this”. I look up, but make nothing of it as I don’t care for the whole autograph thing, but I couldn’t recognize him. As we’re on the plane, I get some sports news on their TVs and see that Darrelle Revis signed late last night. Then I hear that Jets personnel met with him in South Florida and he should be in practice this afternoon. Things started to click…We’re flying from South Florida, the Jets practice in Florham Park, NJ…this flight lands in Newark around midday. I got up to use the bathroom and get a closer look and sure enough it was him. We got off the plane and as I expected, there was the Hard Knocks crew waiting just past the gate. An interesting end to the trip, I’m ashamed I didn’t recognize him as he sat across from me for 20 minutes…not that I would ever say anything as I have the belief to let those guys be and have some privacy for once (plus I am in no way a fan of his, as a Bills fan…I hate the Jets and 2010 version has increased my dislike towards them). It cracked me up though that the most talked about athlete in the Sports World that day flew in the middle of the plane on JetBlue and the one conversation I overheard with him was how he was the Saints and someone else was the Colts and he was up 31-10 before having to leave…That caught my attention because I knew it meant one thing….Madden.

One comment

  1. FAU is opening a brand new, beach-themed, on-campus stadium on Oct. 15th, 2011. Next time you’re in town, stop by and catch a game!

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