icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Florida Is Going, Not Coming

I began my book for the University Press of Florida, They Dared to Dream: Florida Women Who Shaped History, with words above. It continues:

“Our fragile peninsula used to be almost twice as big, extending more than a hundred miles further west into the Gulf of Mexico. As the last Ice Age ended and northern glaciers melted, sea levels rose in the Atlantic and the Gulf, covering the land. The change, of course was imperceptible to our prehistoric ancestors. Yet it occurred recently enough in time for divers to find evidence of prehistoric humans on undersea ledges on the continental shelf of Florida’s west coast.”

They just did it again. National Geographic published a story last month about a diver who, in 2016, found what he thought was bone from a giant, now-extinct shark – and then realized it probably was a human relic. He sent a photo to Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research, which confirmed that “we are dealing with a prehistoric individual.” With other underwater explorers – who should be credited for keeping the location secret -- they discovered an ancient cemetery. Prehistoric peoples used carved wooden stakes to hold bodies down in a peat bog. Similar boggy sites – a few with brain issue in skulls -- had been found on the east coast long enough ago that I included them in my 2015 book.

The newly found site is off the coast of our Venice – and rising sea levels makes me think of the original Venice in Italy, which is so close to the water table that canals are used as highways. The point is well established now: sea levels are rising, and coastal cities increasingly are endangered. You may have read that Miami/Dade streets are so frequently flooded that planners are considering moratoriums on new construction. We should think about that re our shorelines, too. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen – and with the inevitability of hurricanes, those condos on the coast will be underwater. Literally, not just financially.

My advice? Buy land in interior Canada. That’s the upside of climate change. If global warming – whether manmade or not – continues at the rate of the last few decades, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, northern parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and more will be arable lands in a couple of generations. Look at a map of Canada and Greenland and Iceland; see how big they are; and buy some acreage for your great-grandkids. With so much more land available, maybe even Europeans and Asians will stop their ancient quarrels and head for Siberia or the Arctic Circle. That’s the new frontier.

Meanwhile, There’s Baseball

My father-in-law was good enough as a pitcher that his friends in rural Arkansas scraped together $5 to hire him for a game. That was during the Great Depression, and a fiver was meaningful. He already had three kids, though, so even thinking about moving beyond this semi-pro status was not an option. But the family grew up listening to the St. Louis Cardinals’ games, at first on a battery-powered radio before they had electricity. After they had a TV, we kept quiet when the Cards were on.

So somewhat in honor of him, our daughter, who lives in Washington, DC, made arrangements for something of a family reunion at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney. We joined relatives from the Jacksonville area to watch St. Louis beat Atlanta 3-0. Neither side scored until the fifth inning, so it was a competitive game and fun even for me, someone who doesn’t follow sports closely. The grounds are impressive, with Disney’s penchant for cleanliness, nice landscaping, and efficient crowd movement.

For dinner, we went to the Animal Kingdom’s lodge. You can watch giraffes and other herbivores there, and it reminded me of the old Swiss Colony at Busch Gardens. People from USF regularly went there for lunch, paying for neither admission nor parking. We ate their delicious beer-cheese soup and watched animals graze. No chance of that anymore, as tourists are much more important than locals.

But back to baseball. This was a Saturday afternoon and the first day in a while of really warm weather. March visitors brought I-4 to a near-stop, of course, and even within Disney, the traffic was horrendous. Yet there were many empty seats, even before Braves’ fans started vacating them. It really made me think about the wisdom of a new stadium for the Rays. Even if we use hotel-bed tax dollars from tourists, we locals will inevitably have to kick in for infrastructure – and maybe those hotel taxes would be better spent on attractions that aren’t professional sports. The Riverwalk shows that people want alternatives, especially history.

History indeed is proving a pull, and building a stadium in Ybor City probably will harm its 19th century charm and its culinary tourism. Certainly it will be harder for us locals to hang out there. We did that with the visitors on Thursday, and even in mid-afternoon on a weekday, it was hard to find a parking place. In fact, I parked illegally at HCC. School was on spring break, so no one cared – but if there had been a baseball game nearby?? Cities with downtown baseball – Boston, Washington, etc. – also have efficient public transportation and a longtime habit of using it. We have neither.

The Grapefruit League

I think we should stick with what we do best: spring training for the majors. I did a little research on this and was surprised to learn that Florida’s Grapefruit League can claim a 138-year history. The first game was in Jacksonville in 1888, when New York beat Washington 10-2. Connie Mack, grandfather of Florida’s former senator, played in that game. More than a decade passed before there was a repeat, and by then, he was a manager for Philadelphia. According to the Grapefruit League’s website: “Predictably, Mack blamed the year-long [1900] slump on the tropical temptations of Jacksonville, where his star pitcher, Rube Waddell, had been distracted by several misadventures, including a wrestling match with a live alligator.”

Tampa Mayor D.B. McKay – from a pioneer family and a journalist/historian, as well as mayor – brought the Chicago Cubs here for spring training in 1913. He spent tax dollars on this, promising to reimburse expenses up to $100 per player. They used Plant Park, part of the Tampa Bay Hotel, and where Henry Plant also got more than his share of tax dollars. It was there, in 1919, that Babe Ruth hit his longest home run ever. Across the bay, businessman Al Lang recruited the St. Louis Browns to St. Petersburg, while the St. Louis Cardinals trained in St. Augustine. Yes, two saint-named Florida towns and two teams from St. Louis, Missouri. How the mighty Midwest has fallen since then.

The Roaring Twenties roared nowhere as much as here in Florida, and by 1929, when Wall Street crashed and the Great Depression began, ten of the sixteen major-league teams trained in Florida. Our region was particularly popular, with teams not only in Tampa and St. Pete, but also Lakeland and Bradenton. In 1933, the Red Sox came to Sarasota -- when it was a town of just 2,500. World War II meant a temporary halt, as travel restrictions allowed no spring training south of Washington.

Dunedin began hosting the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977, thereby finally putting some of the “world” into the World Series. Its deliberately small stadium still is considered one of the most charming places to watch a spring game. Plant City built a stadium for the Cincinnati Reds in 1988, but they deserted in 1998 for Sarasota. That was two years after Tampa’s Legend Field opened in 1996 for the New York Yankees. Over the years, 35 different teams have trained in Florida – mostly in west central Florida. Today, the east coast has just three, while there are none north of Orlando nor south of Palm Beach.

Milwaukee is the only city east of the Mississippi that goes to the western Cactus League for the season, as it is among just six of today’s majors who don’t train here in Florida. The others -- the Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, and Seattle Mariners – quite reasonably stay closer to their homes.

All in all, though, I think we should give less attention to the Rays and concentrate on promotion of the Grapefruit League. There’s a reason it’s called “The Summer Game,” and the pros belong Up North, not here in the sub-tropics. We’ve got a good thing going with spring; let’s not push it into summer. Besides, lots of economic studies show that sports bring in less money than the arts, and this is particularly true of baseball. I enjoyed the sunny day in the fresh air with the Cardinals, but the ghost of my father-in-law hung heavy. It was his generation’s game. Like Florida itself, it is going, going, gone.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
Make a comment to the author