Went yesterday to the last spring training game of the Cleveland Indians Chain O' Lakes Park in Winter Haven. The team is moving to a new spring facility in Arizona next year.
That ends 42 years of spring training in Winter Haven. The Red Sox trained there until about 16 years ago. The Indians moved to Winter Haven when the new facility they planned to occupy in Homestead blew away in Hurricane Andrew. Just so happened to match their existing colors. 'Twas mighty convenient.
In 1993, I covered the deaths of Indians players Steve Olin and Tim Crews after the boat they were riding in hit a dock on a lake behind Crews' ranch outside Winter Haven. That was back when Albert Belle, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga were playing for them. Mike Hargrove was the manager. The team was rocked to the core. Those guys wouldn't have died that night if not for Hurricane Andrew.
At a memorial service a few days later in an auditorium adjacent to the ballpark, Tommy Lasorda stepped on my foot walking into the building. Bastard.
Chain O' Lakes is one of my favorite spring parks. Built in the early 1960s, it looks exactly like Old Florida. Spare. Cozy. Worn. Unpretentious. Intimate. Fun.
And other adjectives as well.
What was the mood? Pretty nostalgic. People were stripping signs off the joint. Bob Feller made one last autograph appearance at the park.
This guy walking around with a frown-faced sign said it all:
For more photos, click here.