KISSIMMEE — Garrett Atherton brought his 10-year-old son William to a Houston Astros spring training game Sunday, along with memories of his father taking him to Minnesota Twins games at Tinker Field.
James Patterson was reliving with his boys, Austin and Davin, the Astros games his father took him to while growing up in Louisiana.
Hermino Pagan sat beside his 5-year-old son Joel at the spring-training game in Kissimmee the same way his dad sat next to him at Yankees games in New York City.
James Palmer came with his two sons, Joshua and Jonathan, which reminded him of attending New York Mets games with his parents.
"We love the atmosphere, the family atmosphere here and the ability to get the whole family together and enjoy a game," said Palmer, 47, of Kissimmee. "I remember going to games with my parents when I was 5 or 6 years old."
There were mothers, too, on Sunday whose childhood memories included baseball games with their parents and the desire on a clear, hot day at Osceola County Stadium to keep the tradition alive with their own children.
And there were daughters, including 11-year-old Freya Ross, who drove in from Houston with her father, Barry, to spend the week going to Astros spring training games because it's just too long to wait for Opening Day on April 6.
Freya was in line to buy Astros memorabilia wearing an oversize orange foam hat autographed by 40 Astros players — and hoping for more before the week is over.
"This is our first spring-training game," said Barry Ross, 41. "You have more access to the players here."
Baseball might be beyond its prime as the National Pastime, eclipsed in popularity by football, basketball and maybe even soccer, but there is no sport in American that goes back through the generations like baseball.
They've been playing spring training ball in Kissimmee since 1985, long enough for a generational transfer of the love of the game. The Astros plan to bolt in 2017, along with their opponents on Sunday, the Washington Nationals who train in Brevard County. The Atlanta Braves may also leave their spring training home at Disney.
But even if it is a sporting event on borrowed time, spring training draws families like the Athertons, Palmers, Pattersons and Pagans for as long as it's still around.
And just as spring is the season of hope for every major league team, so is it for the fans of spring training in Osceola County.
"We're going to have to get another team to move down here," said Diane Palmer, 48, who grew up attending major league games with her parents.
There is much more to spring baseball than runs scored and strikeouts counted. There's the organ music, somewhere between church and circus, playing the Beer Barrel Polka and the Addams Family theme song.
There's the crack of the bat, the smack of a fastball in the catcher's mitt, and the sound like a bomb exploding when a foul ball hits the metal roof of the stadium. There's the public address announcer who let everyone in the 5,300-seat stadium know that the owner of a white Nissan Altima left the keys in the car and the car is still running, but nobody is inside.
And there's $8 beers in souvenir plastic cups and $10 Biggio burgers and $2 rainbow-colored shaved ice. There's large orange foam fingers and virgin baseballs in clear plastic cubes. There are sunburned necks and sweat-stained T-shirts.
There is the a cappella sounds of vendors yelling, "Ice cold beer here!" and "Popcorn, peanuts, Craaaaacker Jacks!"
And there are little boys like Joel Pagan, who just now started T-ball, but hopes someday to grow up to be like No. 27 on the Houston Astros, second-baseman Jose Altuve. And even if that doesn't work out, he may still grow up to be like his dad and take his son to see a spring training baseball game.
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