Saturday, March 30, 2013

Florida mancation: Spring training baseball, Everglades, good food and beer

Every year or so, I like to take a man vacation, or mancation.
In March 2010, my brother Bill and I went to Arizona for Cactus League spring training baseball, the Big Sandy Shoot, a tour of the Bagdad copper mine and to walk in the desert.
In September 2011, Bill and my young son, Christopher, traveled to South Dakota for the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup and to visit national parks and monuments like Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and Devil’s Tower.
This year, Bill, Christopher (now 9) and I traveled to Florida for Grapefruit League spring training baseball and to see the Everglades. It was a quick trip (March 23-27), but we packed a lot of things in it.

Day one: Nationals home game

We arrived in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday night March 23.
The next day we attended Palm Sunday mass at a Catholic church in Orlando. Afterward, we drove an hour east to Space Coast Stadium, the spring home of the Washington Nationals, in Viera, Fla.
We watched the Nationals take on the visiting Atlanta Braves. It was a sold-out game, with a lot of fans visiting from Georgia. Traffic was bad getting into the parking lots. Good thing we arrived early. A wind and rain storm ended the game in the eighth inning. The Nationals beat the Braves 11-2, with Ryan Zimmerman hitting three home runs and Wilson Ramos hitting two. (See articles by Associated Press and SB Nation.) That night, we had dinner at Brick House Tavern and Tap in Orlando. The place has great decor and specializes in meatballs, steaks and other manly eats. The words “Man Cave” are painted on the inside front wall. It also has an extensive beer selection. We sampled a couple of brews and then ordered a mini-tap at the table to dispense Hurricane Reef Caribbean, an American lager from Melbourne, Fla. The waiter called the tap a beer bong.

Day two: Disney Hollywood Studios and Nationals away game

On Monday March 25, we spent the day at Disney Hollywood Studios. I had visited the park years earlier when it was called Disney-MGM Studios. This excursion was primarily for my son, but I enjoyed the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the Toy Story Midway Mania and the Star Wars ride.
In the evening, we attended our second Major League Baseball spring training game of the trip.
We watched the visiting Washington Nationals vs. the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla. Twenty-year-old phenom Bryce Harper batted three-for-three in the game. But the Nats lost 6-4 after they replaced most of their starters. (See articles by the Associated Press and SB Nation.) I almost caught a foul ball, but I couldn’t make a clean, bare-handed grab.

Day three: Everglades

On Tuesday March 26, we drove three hours south to the Everglades.
We stopped at the Everglades Holiday Park near Weston, Fla. It’s a tourist trap with long wait lines. We took an airboat ride through the swamp and then watched Chris Gillette from the Animal Planet show “Gator Boys” wrestle an alligator.
Next we drove an hour south to Everglades National Park. We stopped at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center near Homestead, Fla. and then walked the Anhinga Trail, where we saw a couple dozen alligators basking in the sun. We also saw a lot of water birds such as anhinga and heron. One heron caught a big fish close to shore while we were there.
It was a beautiful spring day and we enjoyed the weather and the wildlife.
At night, we had dinner in Miami at a cozy hole-in-the-wall bar and restaurant called the Filling Station. The eatery has great burgers and a large beer menu. I had the Hamborghini, a burger topped with fried Genoa salami, provolone cheese and pesto mayo. I washed it down with a Radeberger Pilsner (Radeberg, Germany) and an Orange Blossom Pilsner (Orlando, Fla.). We spent the night in Miami and flew home the next day.

It was fun to see the Washington Nationals play in spring training. Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine both have picked the Nationals to win the World Series this year, so expectations are high.
But as the Washington Post notes, beware “the curse of high expectations.”

Photos: Everglades alligator and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. (March 2013 photos.)

Previous mancations posts: 

Arizona ‘mancation’: Part 1 – Desert drive and the Bagdad copper mine (March 2010)

The Big Sandy Shoot: Arizona ‘mancation’ (March 2010)

Baseball spring training: Arizona ‘mancation’ (March 2010)

Exploring Phoenix: Arizona ‘mancation’ Part 4 (March 2010)

South Dakota mancation: National parks and the great buffalo roundup (Sept. 2011)

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