On Tuesday night, David Brown attended the Governor's Baseball Dinner at St. Pete's Tropicana Field. Here's his report.
The governor of Florida appears to be a genuine baseball fan who also happens to value what major league spring training means to his state.
Just how much value does it bring? Well, the teams and their fans bring about, oh, $450 million, according to Charlie Crist.
So Crist loves baseball ... LOVES IT.
But Crist cringes when teams such as Winter Haven's Indians and Vero Beach's Dodgers hightail it for the Arizona desert, continuing a trend that is expected to soon include Sarasota's Reds.
In response to that flight, Crist has brought back the governor's baseball dinner, held Tuesday night at Tropicana Field for the second consecutive year after a reported 15-year absence. (Other reports say 10 years, but who's counting?)
Crist said the dinner — which featured a few Hall of Famers, commissioner Bud Selig, managers Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon, plus reps from each of the 16 teams still training here — is a way of reminding baseball how much Florida wants its business.
"All the more important to have this dinner to thank the ones that are here," said Crist, who could give George Hamilton a tan for his money. "We’re going to keep fighting to get them back. It breaks my heart. We need ‘em."
Then there was Crist crusading poetic, like Humphrey Bogart cooing about how a hot dog at a baseball game is better than roast beef at the Ritz:
"It’s a great diversion for people. It’s a great way to sort of forget what ails ya’ for a little bit. Get out to a game, have a dog and get out with some friends in the Florida sunshine. Doesn’t get any better."
He's not wrong. Crist, it also should be noted, used to be the lead legal counsel for minor league baseball. He also owns the distinction of having been sued by Major League Baseball. As attorney general of Florida, Crist inherited a case involving the proposed contraction of, perhaps, the Marlins and Rays in 2001. Wonder if he and Bud reminisced about that while they were sitting on the dais?
That's only the first tale from the Trop, home of the defending American League champions.
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Manuel and Maddon meet again.
This time on the chicken dinner circuit instead of the World Series.
The boys gave it their best Abbott and Costello, Fred and Barney, Herman and Grandpa Munster — whatever — in this give-and-take with emcee Milo Hamilton officiating:
Maddon: "I'd like to do it [get to the World Series] again this year; I think that'd be neat.
Manuel: "Tonight, there's no cowbells here. Hopefully we can meet again. I'd like the results to stay the same, though."
OK, so maybe it's no "Who's on First?"
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Please, Hammer, don't stop sending video: This year will mark the 35th anniversary of Hank Aaron's 715th homer, which pushed him past Babe Ruth into first place all-time.
Hammerin' Hank (right) missed the dinner, but he sent a video to help celebrate the moment and to remind everyone what a cool guy he is.
Man, Aaron is good at making videos and uploading them when he's not able to be somewhere for a special occasion. He's a multimedia hall of famer, too. He should be on money. The $44 and $756 bills.
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It's not just for breakfast: Tropicana Field, in case you have yet to visit it, looks like an old-school orange juicer from far away. Appropriate name for it, then.
It's like God's fist will just come down holding a giant halved orange and make a juice flood on the roof, with the juice trickling down the gutters and accumulating until there's enough sun-shiny goodness for all to drink.
How sweet would it be if OJ were really produced that way?
Get a little closer, though, and the orange juicer disappears, and the Trop starts to look like the Kingdome hiccuped and got displaced on its side.
Inside, it's even stranger. In the twilight, from center field, the ceiling looks like the spokes and hub of a Cadillac baby carriage. Can you see it, too?
The Rays and Marlins are trying to convince their respective communities that they need new stadiums, but the Trop ain't so bad at first glance. Maybe make the roof retractable. Add an animated giant hand squeezing juice on the roof every time it opens and closes. My advice is, as always, free of charge.
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Tampa Bay's Prodigal Son: That's not a Madame Tussauds wax dummy of Wade Boggs sitting between Mike Schmidt and Al Kaline; that's Boggs himself, looking shiner and hairier than most probably remember.
How about the olden times, when Boggs and Margo Adams was the worst scandal that Major League Baseball could come up with? Yeah, it had been a few years since the Black Sox scandal and the sport was out of practice.
After leaving the Red Sox, Boggs rode atop an NYPD horse for the Yankees. That was OK. But finishing his career in St. Pete? In THOSE uniforms? Before Maddon came and made it all better?
Right up there with Michael Jordan with the Wizards and John Unitas with the Chargers for least-sensical final destinations. Wack-a-doo.