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More spring training memories

The rich history of spring training in South Florida has been slowly wearing away during the past two decades as teams that once made Florida’s southeast coast their spring homes have moved elsewhere to fancy new venues. The news this week that Sarasota has lured the Baltimore Orioles to the west coast next year, means Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium, where the Marlins and Cardinals train, will be the closest place to watch spring baseball.

But there are plenty of memories from the years that saw the Orioles in Miami (1959-1990) and Fort Lauderdale (1996-2009), Yankees in Fort Lauderdale (1962-1995), Washington Senators/Texas Rangers in Pompano Beach (1961-1986), Atlanta Braves in West Palm Beach (1963-1997) and Montreal Expos, also in West Palm (1968-1972; 1981-1997). The dozens of star players: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Hank Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr. and on and on. Ted Williams managed the Senators from 1969 to 1971, when they trained in Pompano Beach.

Spring training actually stretches back nearly a century in South Florida with teams playing the in the teens in Miami and in the 1930s in Miami Beach, but its glory days followed World War II.

Here are some memories, with help from Marlins beat writer Juan C. Rodriguez, that didn’t make this morning’s story in the paper:

“We’re losing our rich tradition, that’s the sad part about it. We loved it. You could play a week without ever having to leave the area ... The tradition in that part of Florida. It was unbelievable. Thurman Munson, Bobby Murrcer, Yogi Berra. Billy Martin was my manager there, Mickey Mantle. All the guys, Gene Michaels, George Steinbrenner was always around then some.”

Rick Dempsey, catcher for the Yankees, 1973-1976, Orioles, 1976-1986, now a broadcaster with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network

“One of the most enjoyable times I ever had broadcasting a game at Fort Lauderdale Stadium was with my partner [former Brooklyn Dodger] Duke Snider when the Expos were playing the Yankees. Mel Allen had come down to visit the Yankees … He sat in the broadcast booth for about an inning and I just let Duke and Mel tell stories about the old days. Here I am with the voice of the Yankees, Mel Allen, and the Duke of Flatbush, talking about the old days.”
Dave Van Horne, Marlins and former Montreal Expos radio broadcaster

“Back then the fan accessibility was a little bit more lax. They were close to you. They were down close to the field. Every morning you’d go out to stretch and there would be a bunch of people. There was more accessibility to the players back then."
Marlins hitting coach Jim Presley, who trained with the Atlanta Braves in West Palm Beach in 1990

“It was Bobby Maduro with the Orioles and now Fort Lauderdale with the Yankees and Orioles, now that’s going to be gone. Growing up down there, that’s where you went to see games before we had a Major League team. As players, it was great. You have the beach there for spring training, great restaurants, great cities. It wasn’t a little sleepy town like Vero Beach. That was nice. When the Yankees were there in ’87 it was packed every night, every day. I remember playing a lot of night games there in spring training. It was a packed house every night and I thought it was a state-of-the-art building at the time in ’87.”
Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, who attended spring training with the Yankees in 1987

“Over the years I got to know a lot of the Yankees because I was also the director of administration at Pompano Harness Track. I’d leave them passes and programs. It was very interesting to have that personal touch with them. One night I had Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford and later on, Catfish Hunter. The thing about the Yankees more so because of the tradition than the Orioles, is they brought a lot of old players back to camp.”
“I picked my seats behind the visitors’ dugout so I could see all the visiting teams. I took my ballplayers from Lauderdale High out to the games, especially if they got a lot of hits. It was a real fun thing. They kidded me my first year, being from West Virginia I’d take a mason jar of chili and sit there watching spring training … It’s just a little bit special time March down here, starting the season. That’s when you smell the flowers, the rosin bag and pine tar, and the crack of the bat. We’re going to miss that.”

Jack Trainor, retired Fort Lauderdale High School baseball coach

Categories: MLB (110), Spring Training (11)

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About the author
CRAIG DAVIS In more than 33 years at the Sun Sentinel, Craig Davis has written about a wide variety of sports topics from baseball to yachting, fishing to triathlons, and also worked as a copy editor and page designer. Recently he reported on local sports, including running, swimming, cycling, equestrian and beach volleyball. He enjoys sports as a participant as well as a spectator, is active in the South Florida running scene plays in the curling club at Saveology Iceplex. This blog offers a glimpse at the business side of sports in the interest of enhancing enjoyment of the games and sporting options as a spectator as well as a participant.
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