Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
February 18, 2012
Major League Baseball's spring training will be in full swing with games starting on the first weekend of March and your Postcards columnist will be reporting from at least one Grapefruit League destination.
But there's another option for baseball in the Sunshine State that I'd also highly recommend. The game at the college level is highly competitive and the atmosphere can be a better throwback to the old-fashioned notion of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" than attempting to make some fleeting superficial connection with a multimillionaire ballplayer who might look at you as an annoyance.
Eddie Murray, the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer, once yelled at me as I was standing in a crowd of autograph-seekers and I promise you, I wasn't doing anything impolite. So it's possible for the Field of Dreams to turn into a nightmare, at least in terms of hurt feelings.
Things are more laid-back at the college level.
In that realm, my favorite stop is Melching Field at Conrad Park, the home of the Stetson Hatters on South Woodland Boulevard in DeLand. The team concludes its opening homestand with a 1 p.m. game today against George Washington University. (You can check out the schedule and admission information at gohatters.com).
Stetson baseball tickets are $8 for general admission ($6 for students and seniors), $10 for box seats, but the upgrade really isn't necessary. The park is intimate, with an inviting grassy area close to the field along the right-field line. In that area, you're close enough to the bullpen to get a perspective on the speed that these college pitchers can throw. There's nothing better than the smack of a baseball against a leather mitt.
Any seat in the stadium is close enough to be part of the action. Stetson's longtime head coach Pete Dunn isn't above giving an umpire a piece of his mind, in a style that's at least a vague throwback to the New York Yankees infamously fiery Billy Martin.
Melching Field is minutes away from downtown DeLand and its assortment of restaurants and shops. Eat at Tony's New York Pizza, a block west of Woodland on New York Avenue, and poke your head inside Florida Victorian Architectural Antiques (112 W. Georgia Ave.). And if you can't get enough baseball, stop at Casey's on the Corner (124 N. Woodland Blvd.) for a hot dog that's a home run.
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