BRADENTON, Fla. - Greetings from sunny Florida. We arrived on Monday morning, hit the ground running, and haven't stopped much since.
Our annual trip via the AMTRAK Auto Train went smoothly. We actually departed from Lorton, Va., a half hour early Sunday afternoon and detrained in Sanford, Fla., 9 a.m. Monday where we were welcomed by sunny skies and temperatures in the high 50s.
Before coming here, we took a side trip to Lakeland where the Tigers hold their spring training so we could get tickets for a Grapefruit League game next month between the Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays. The temperature had climbed to the low 70s by the time we got to our condo in Bradenton.
One of the neat things about vacationing here each year are the 50-cent movies at the DeSoto Mall. That's right, 50 cents, on Tuesdays. We saw "Flight" starring Denzel Washington. We also had a box of popcorn ($1), and a soda, also $1. Those prices are for Tuesdays only, but a nice touch, and welcome, too.
Some of the Pirate players already are working out at Pirate City. Most of them are minor leaguers, but manager Clint Hurdle is here, as well as Garrett Jones, Alex Presley, Chase d'Arnaud and Matt Hague, so Jean and Joan already are beginning their autograph search.
No trip to Pirate City is complete without a stop at Mixon's Fruit Farm, which is within walking distance of the Bucs' minor league complex. We bumped into Ken Macha, who was shipping fruit back home. Macha, a Pirate player in the 1970s and a former manager of the Oakland A's and Milwaukee Brewers, was in town for a Pirate alumni event. Macha, whose daughter lived in Altoona for awhile, said he's played golf at Scotch Valley several times. We traveled south to Naples on Thursday for the ninth annual Southwest Florida Altoona Day, which is hosted by Bill Kearney. The event was held at Cypress Woods Country Club in Naples and was attended by 65 people.
We picked up our Pirate tickets for the 2013 Grapefruit League season Friday and got our first look at McKechnie Field, which is undergoing a $10 million renovation project. They say it will be ready for the Bucs' intra-squad game on Friday, Feb. 22, and it will be a beautiful addition to the old stadium.
Baseball really moves to the forefront next week. Pitchers and catchers report Monday and the full squad is set to arrive next Thursday.
Incidentally, we were able to keep up with the Altoona Lady Lions' wins over State College and Mercyhurst, thanks to Charlie Weston's broadcasts on MSA Sports Network. Much appreciated by Altoona folks here.
Jim Lane is a retired sports editor of the Mirror. He writes from Florida in February and March.