Friday, July 8, 2016

Comparatively Speaking

Someone once said to me, "Everything isn't a competition," and I have adopted the saying as my own. It can be said in jest or as an admonishment or somewhere in-between.

On 4th Avenue South, between Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field.
Some phenomena are more quantifiable than others.

Everything isn't a competition but Melvin and I do make comparisons when we are on the road. Often the first conversation of day begins with the question, "How's the shower?" That was true of our May trip to Florida as well.

Friends who are baseball fans often ask upon our return, "Did you see any good games?" All of the games we saw in Florida were entertaining, although none really stood out among the others. (Home teams listed first.)

St. Lucie Mets 5, Palm Beach Cardinals 4
The drama in the first match-up of the trip came in the sixth and seventh innings, when the Mets and Cards respectively scored three. For the home team, the middle third of the line-up—Kevin Taylor, the much touted (at least in New York) Wuilmer Becerra and John Mora—provided the offense, going eight for 12 and each scoring once.

Several of the games we saw were sparsely attended.
At the first game of the trip, the answer was, B. 321.

It was the bottom of the line-up that powered Cardinals' drive but Orlando Olivera, Steve Bean and Andrew Sohn, with a run apiece and a combined .500 batting average, came up short.

Brevard County Manatees 8, Dunedin Blue Jays 2
With a team batting average of .395 for the game, it is not surprising that the Manatees came out on top. Dunedin had its chances but plated only one of the 16 runners in scoring position. Melvin had his eye on former major leaguer Michael Bourn, who went two-for-four with a triple and a walk and has since found his way back to the show. Seven stolen bases, always exciting.

Tampa Bay Rays 5, Los Angeles Dodgers 10
Both teams had .500 +/- records then but on the mound and at the plate, it was all Dodgers on May 3. About half of the Expos-sized crowd (14,116 paid) was happily rooting for the visitors. Although I brought my Brooklyn Dodgers cap on the trip, I didn't wear it to a game that was played indoors.

Tampa Yankees 5, Clearwater Threshers 7
Twenty-five combined hits, 10 for extra bases, but Clearwater out-powered the home team. Jorge Mateo, the Yankees' best prospect, went four-for-five, including a triple. He stole 82 bases in 2015 but was caught stealing all three times when we saw him. The school groups who came to the game made the crowd half as large as at the Trop' the night before.

Fort Myers Miracle 3, St. Lucie Mets 8
Miracle starter Keaton Steele gave up eight hits, four walks—all four would score—and seven runs in four innings plus two batters. That was the game. Most of the St. Lucie batters had multi-hit games, which was nice to see as a Mets fan.

Jupiter Hammerheads 3, Palm Beach Cardinals 1
Under a cloudless sky with a slant breeze, this was the sleepiest game that we saw. The Cardinals had eight hits, including a couple doubles, walked three times and saw three batters hit by the pitcher. The Hammerheads—the visitors at what is also their home field—hit seven singles and drew three walks. For all that, a 3-1 game.

(Almost?) overshadowing the play at Roger Dean Stadium
were the school students clamoring for a souvenir ball.

Miami Marlins 6, Philadelphia Phillies 4
Another match-up between teams with comparable records. The Marlins scored a couple runs in each of the first two innings but the Phillies tied it up over the next three. Giancarlo Stanton hit a two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth, giving the home team the victory. All 10 hits and six RBI came from the first four Miami batters. The roof was open and it was a pleasant 81 degrees at game time.

Or, sometimes the first thing baseball fans ask about are the stadiums. All of the Florida State League games were played in stadiums built for spring training and much larger than is typical for High-A baseball.

HONORABLE MENTION: Tradition Field (St. Lucie Mets)
There was nothing memorable about Tradition Field but staff opened the team store just for me, so I could buy a lapel pin for my collection. (Surprisingly one of the few I picked up on this trip; I would have thought the spring training complexes would be merchandising machines.) If only the parent club treated its fans so graciously.

FAIL: Space Coast Stadium (Brevard County Manatees)
The Manatees, a Brewers affiliate, play in the stadium used by the Washington Nationals for spring training. Would it really be that hard to remove or cover the Nats' logos when the Florida State League season begins? Perhaps it is a contractual obligation.

Al Lang Stadium (Tampa Bay Rowdies)
Built in 1947 and home to spring training, minor league and winter league baseball for over six decades, Melvin and I poked our heads into the home now to professional soccer.

Right on Tampa Bay, I bet Al Lang Stadium was a great place
to see a game and maybe still is if you go in for that soccer stuff.

Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)
It really is pretty awful, inside and out.

Steinbrenner Field (Tampa Yankees)
The statue of (a young) George Steinbrenner, the "legends monuments," everyone but the pinstriped faithful can't help but laugh. The stadium in the Bronx is a mausoleum; this is the Colesseum.

FIRST PLACE: Hammond Stadium (Fort Myers Miracle)
I like the ballparks that completely break the mold; Melvin kinda scratched his head. We haven't seen anything like it since visiting Dr. Pepper Ballpark in 2008.

Hotel or stadium?

Roger Dean Stadium (Palm Beach Cardinals & Jupiter Hammerheads)
Lushly landscaped in an upper middle-class (at least) subdivision, the ballpark concourse and seating are purely functional.

HONORABLE MENTION: Marlins Park (Miami Marlins)
Melvin and I are not quite sure what to make of the Marlins' new (2012, Populous) stadium but its resemblance to an airline terminal is certainly notable. We had our tickets checked at both the bottom and the top of an escalator, as if we might have boarded somewhere in-between—eat your heart out, TSA. And, of course, there is the Red Grooms' home run extravaganza, which we saw twice. (Sorry, Maikel Franco, home team home runs only.)

Architectural Attractions
I have mentioned this before but one working title for this blog was Baseball, Buildings and Beer. (Thank you, Watson, for saving us from this embarrassment.) Melvin and I check out a lot of architecture and urban planning on our baseball byways but almost nobody asks us about it.

Celebration, Florida
The further a visitor gets from the starchitecture of the town center, the more Celebration resembles, well, a thoughtfully planned town.

Wat Florida Dhammaram
Both pious and unpretentious, unlike any (the?) other temple that we have visited.

former Kapok Tree Inn
Melvin and I sort of reverse engineered nostalgia for this theatrical mega-restaurant that we never dined in ourselves.

To my regret, we did not have time to tour the building (2013, Herzog & de Meuron) or the collection. If we had, it might well have earned a first place.

The landscape design is credited to Raymond Jungles but it is unclear
whether that includes the layout and furniture or just the horticulture.

HONORABLE MENTION: Miami Marine Stadium
Very cool, but we had hoped to get inside. Alas, an event just south of the structure was swarming with cops and a guy sat in a parked car next to the most obvious entrance.

The plants in the foreground were still in burlap
making it appear that a renovation might be forthcoming.

1111 Lincoln Road
Also designed by Herzog & de Meuron (2010), this parking structure is sculptural.

Monomaniacal Attractions
Someone has a vision and depending on trajectory, the thing they build maybe becomes a thing to see. Or maybe the thing isn't really that interesting.

Tupperware Brands "museum"
This probably doesn't belong in this category but the "museum" defies categorization. Imagine a Tupperware Pavilion at a world's fair.

Airstream Ranch
Melvin deftly navigated us around to the rear of the installation but it is designed to be seen from the Interstate and you shouldn't follow our example.

If the story Willie (real name Joe Brown) told us is true, that he has received major design commissions, then this assemblage of detritus is even more of a disappointment than it appears.

Whimzeyland, Safety Harbor
I had a great visit here in 2013 but on Melvin's and my return in May, I realized that what I enjoyed most was comparing which folk art environments Todd Ramquist and I had visited.

The ornamented Volkswagen out front is new
since my earlier stop and an absolute delight.

Solomon's Castle
Melvin remarked about a couple and child, who were doing a very poor job of hiding how badly they wanted to leave. I was sympathetic.

Edward Leedskalnin carved his home and garden from 1,100 tons of coral limestone at night between 1923 and 1951. Fascinating, monumental, a remarkable achievement, but not the mystery that our tour guide tried to make it out to be.

View from outside Leedskalnin's residence.

Absent Attractions
At what point does Gertrude Stein's statement, "There is no there there," actually come to mean what most people incorrectly think it does?

Splendid China Boulevard, Orlando
Although we knew that it had been torn down, Melvin and I hoped to drive through the site of the former theme park. We got as far as the sign warning against trespassing, took pictures of that, and left.

"Second Largest Alligator Gator Ever Built", Orlando
I saw it in 2013 but three years later ... gone.

Are all the smaller alligators pleased
to move up one position on the list?

Eli's Orange World, Orlando
Architecturally, it's "a duck"—a term popularized in Learning from Las Vegas by architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour—but inside it is just another gift shop. Disappointing enough that Melvin, who at least bought a bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice, declared that the destination belonged here and not with the architectural destinations.

International Independent Showman's Museum
"The Museum is open Friday - Sunday from 12 - 5 pm (except holidays)." No, actually, it is not. Thank you for wasting our time.

"Unit 11," failed Palm Beach County subdivision
Almost a half-century after the 1,770 acres of wetlands were platted, there is not much to see. The streets are discernible by their relative lack of vegetation but this was basically just a walk in the woods.

The Marguiles Collection, Miami
Closed May-September, in this case our oversight.

The showers were functional at best until we got to Fort Myers.

The Palms Hotel and Villa, Orlando
A little frayed around the edges but at half the price of similar accommodations, we aren't complaining.

HONORABLE MENTION: Ponce de León Hotel, St. Petersburg
Stylistically situated somewhere between boutique hotel, thrift shop and Ikea showroom, the 1922 Mission Revival hotel is not without its own funky charm.

HONORABLE MENTION: Warm Mineral Springs Motel
A couple years shy of its 60th anniversary, this mid-century modern (1958, Victor A. Lundy) AIA award winner still retains some of its charm. Some, I wrote. See also: "Warm Mineral Springs Motel roommate," below.

FIRST PLACE: Comfort Inn Fort Myers
Melvin and I frequently stay at independent motels but after the previous four nights, this Comfort Inn seemed particularly comfortable.

Sleep Inn Miami Airport
Then again, some chain motels completely lack any soul.

About halfway through the trip, Melvin and I agreed that the opinions posted to some online restaurant guides come from people with values that differ from ours.

FIRST PLACE: Machu Picchu Restaurant, Port St. Lucie
Unquestionably the best meal of the trip. The chef is Peruvian but the hostess, his gregarious wife, is, as she put it, "a Puerto Ricana from boogie-down Bronx."

Fred's Market Restaurant, Lakeland
Recommended to us by a bartender at the Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour (see below), we did not share his enthusiasm. In fact, both Melvin and I had—how should I put it?—gastronomical distress later, although that might have been a coincidence.

Reececliff Family Diner, Lakeland
As I have already written,"signs over the counter advised us to 'EAT PIE FIRST.' We wished that we had."

Linger Lounge, Bradenton
We sat on the deck so we weren't able to fully appreciate the taxidermy collection. As consolation, a child-sized alligator warmed itself on the boat dock (at a safe distance) below our table.

Perhaps this is one of those restaurants where going home with leftovers is part of the charm.

Melvin's lunch (rear, essentially a Cuban sandwich
without the bread) could have fed us both.

FAIL: Garcia's Seafood Grille,
A Miami institution located on the river, the service at our late lunch was amateurish. It was entertaining to watch the two tugboats maneuver the cargo ship down the channel.

As already mentioned, "Baseball, Buildings and Beer."

FIRST PLACE: Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour, Orlando
A fine selection of draft and bottled beer. Complimentary bottle pours of Saint Somewhere Merde de Singe—a sour saison/farmhouse ale brewed with tamarind; open fermentation, unfiltered, bottle conditioned—almost compensated for the hard sell I got to order a beer I did not want.

The House of Brews, Jensen Beach
An even more extensive draft list; we created our own flights. We also bought a couple of bombers to go and then drove around with them in the Florida heat for a couple days.

FAIL: Cigar City, Tampa
I think the beers are competent but undistinguished and don't understand why many New Yorkers swoon over Cigar City. The staff in the taproom, at least on the afternoon Melvin and I went, are robots with prerecorded responses to all comments and situations.

HONORABLE MENTION: Fat Point Brewing, Punta Gorda
The Ryeght Angle IPA perfectly balances the grain bill and hops profile. We saw it again at one of the ballparks and I asked Melvin, "Would you drive us back from the game?"

HONORABLE MENTION: J. Wakefield Brewing, Miami
We liked the Berliner Weisse best. Jonathan Wakefield is doin' his own thing here and in this day and age, that alone was kind of refreshing.

New Friends
Truthfully, passing acquaintances would be more accurate but in the moment, we felt a great fondness.

Melvin and I first saw Takashi at Steinbrenner Field, notable to me for his t-shirt with the not-quite-right legend, "World Class Wrestle." We saw him later that day at the Miracles/Mets game and learned that he planned to attend the same back-to-back doubleheaders on May 5&6 that we had tickets for. What are the chances?

At Hammond Stadium.

His English was poor and our Japanese almost non-existent. Takashi took our business cards and while Melvin and I hope he will write, it is probably unlikely.

HONORABLE MENTION: Warm Mineral Springs Motel roommate
Waking up on Friday morning, I almost stepped on this little guy, who spent the night with us. The day before, we saw a wood stork outside of our room but since Melvin called it "that scary bird," forget I mentioned it.

Almost camouflaged.

Although Melvin and I (okay, mostly Melvin) plan extensively, we stumble upon the unexpected.

Tupperware Headquarters
We went to see the "museum" and discovered that the company headquarters was designed by Edward Durrell Stone, whose modernist style seemed well-suited to the product and Florida.

Bunyan-Style Muffler Man
Although Melvin has no interest in Muffler Men, he was kind enough to pull over to allow me to take a picture of the figure in front of Big Mechanic, 2802 S. 50th Street, Tampa.

True to the company name, Paul Bunyan's axe
has been replaced with a wrench.

Central Florida
Solomon's Castle was a complete waste of time, in my opinion, and Linger Lounge not particularly special. But driving through Hardee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties was fascinating. Beef production? Who knew? And acres of sugar cane. If you never leave the coast, you will never know this part of Florida.

Lincoln Road Mall
The Herzog & de Meuron parking garage anchors one end of a pedestrian mall, and you know we how much we love us a pedestrian mall.

In the self-imposed competition to find fresh ways to recount our trips, I thought categorical comparisons might be an organizational structure that would be quick and easy. Then I couldn't resist commenting on every feature, making this almost as laborious as other posts. I back-dated this entry to appear before Melvin's lament that the blog doesn't write itself. Indeed.

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