“For lo, the winter is past; the rains are over and gone; the time of the singing of birds has come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” Taken, of course, from the Bible’s Song of Solomon, but many people in Michigan attribute those words to Hall of Fame radio announcer Ernie Harwell, who, each February, opened his first Tiger spring training broadcast from Lakeland, Florida with the phrase.
Ernie’s voice painted a happy mental picture of baseball players running around in the Florida sunshine on emerald green grass in their bright, white Tiger uniforms while we remained under winter’s gray curtain of cold.
Meteorologist John McMurray reminds his television and radio listeners that, despite conventional geography, the Mitten State actually has three peninsulas. “The Upper Peninsula, the Lower Peninsula…and Michigan’s ‘Southern Peninsula:’ Florida, says McMurray. “It seems like at some stage the entire state flies or drives right down Interstate 75!”
Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza owned the Detroit Tigers from 1983-1992.
“That was the best thing about owning the Tigers – Spring Training,” says Monaghan, who admitted it would be fun to go back to Lakeland and look around.
Detroit’s complex in Lakeland is just 40 minutes from Orlando, and its’ renovated Joker-Marchant Stadium, doesn’t disappoint. “Tiger Town” feels much like what a U.S. Embassy in a foreign land feels: a little island of home.
“Spring Training is a great experience. You can get close to the players. Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander and some of the other even own homes here. It’s cool to drive around and run into the guys here,” says Kris Keprios, with Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing. “Lakeland’s a great town. It’s got a growing downtown area but retains a small town feel. There are s lot of lakes if you like to fish and more than 50 golf courses nearby for when you’re not watching games or workout. ”
Unlike the fun-seeking snowbirds and vacationers, former Major League All-Star Lary Sorenson, who pitched for seven big league teams, went to Spring Break on business.
“I always tried to get to Spring Training even earlier than the reporting date so I could get used to the weather. It gets windy in Lakeland in the spring time and there is heat and humidity. You want to have the sunshine so you can get your work in every day,” said Sorenson, who also served as radio color commentator for the Tigers. “I enjoyed Florida’s ‘Grapefruit League’ much more. The ‘Cactus League’ in Arizona was so dry you couldn’t work up a good sweat. I felt Lakeland was a better place to train. I felt like you were working hard because of the sweat factor.”
No sweat when it comes to tickets and lodging, though, as options vary.
“It’s not hard to get a ticket, but you have to get them early. Most of them come close to selling out,” Keprios advises. Tickets range between $8 and $22. You can visit www.Detroit.Tigers.MLB.com for ticket information, but www.VisitCentralFlorida.org also offers ticket and lodging packages. “Many people don’t know but we offer fully-furnished, three and four-bedroom vacation homes, complete with swimming pools, for between $160 and $200 per-night, which is a nice price when split between families or couples.”
For National League flavor, and even more non-baseball attractions, the nearby Walt Disney World Resort, between Lakeland and Orlando Airport, is home to the Atlanta Braves.
“We’re a great location to see several Spring Training teams, actually. And coupling it with visits to Disney is a great option for families,” says Joel Kaiman, spokesperson for the Walt Disney World Swam and Dolphin Resort Hotel. The unmistakable luxury towers, with their massive namesake sculptures, rise directly in the middle of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Sports Complex and water parks, while being adjacent to EPCOT Center and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. “The hotel has 17 restaurants and lounges including Shula’s Steakhouse, the Mandarin Spa, five swimming pools, health club, and recreational activities for kids, plus convention and meeting facilities for those mixing business, pleasure and baseball.”
Ground and water transportation from the Swan and Dolphin carry guests to the ballpark…or any of the Disney parks.
“We will be celebrating a re-launching of the Disney Sports Complex later this month with the branding of ESPN on it,” says Dave Herbst, Walt Disney World’s manager of press and publicity. Herbst spent part of his career in Michigan and is an unabashed baseball fan. “There are actually 60 different professional and amateur sports which take place here in the course of a year on 220 acres of fields and facilities.”
See www.SwanAndDolphin.com for details.
February 23, 2010