The Unwritten Bucket List Loses Another Item

The view from left field at Charlotte Sports Park, spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by John Nash)

Before I ever loved basketball – before I even truly knew what love was, in fact – I loved baseball.

It was 1975. I was 9. And it was beautiful, even after it broke my heart.

The Boston Red Sox went to the World Series that summer and captured my heart my heart while doing so.

My first favorite player was Doug Griffin, a little-known second baseman who played on a team that included a host of quick-hitting one-namers — Yaz. Rico. Pudge. Rooster. Louis.

The team featured two pitchers that season – one who gave me my first autograph (Jim Willoughby) and one who gave me my first double-entendre schoolboy giggle (Dick Pole).

As the 1970s rolled by players like Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Bill Lee, and Butch Hobson would just continue to grow in stature to a young boy growing up in Maine, which was as much Red Sox country as downtown Boston.

I loved just two sports in my life … baseball and basketball. Basketball would be the girl with the great body and all the right moves and we were connected by affection for one another … but baseball, that first love, is something you never forget.

All these years since 1975 – and that’s 41 and counting – I’ve seen baseball games played far and wide at all kinds of different levels.

I’ve seen a 10-year-old national championship game in Florida. I’ve seen a college no-hitter in a conference championship game. I’ve been to dozens of Minor League Baseball games. And, I’ve sat in the nosebleeds at a World Series in New York City in 2015.

But I had never been to a spring training game.

Until Monday.

That’s when I trekked to Port Charlotte, Fla., to the Charlotte Sports Park – home of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Single-A farm team and site of the parent squad’s annual spring training pilgrimage.

I joined an old friend of mine and we watched the Pittsburgh Pirates hold off the Rays by a 5-4 count.

We saw players we knew – Evan Longoria of Rays and David Freese of the Pirates – both stood at third base not more than 10 yards from us when the game began.

By the time it was over we had seen a plethora of players take the field, grab a bat and throw off the mound.

We drank beer, ate a steak and cheese, circled the stadium and watched baseball at a leisurely pace under a gorgeous Florida sunshine.

Like baseball itself, it was almost perfect.

If I’m going to watch a sport on television, I’d pick basketball. College basketball to be specific.

But if you’re going to give me a ticket to go to a game, I’m likely to pick baseball.

I’m old school that way.

I like to sit back, relax, let the game unfold, while people watching and eaves dropping and talking to the people around me. (One of my Facebook friends is a woman I met when I trekked to Pittsburgh to watch the Red Sox play the Pirates in a three-game series a few summers ago at PNC Park).

To this day, baseball is pretty much the same it was when I was nine.

Nine innings. Four balls. Three strikes. No clock ticking down.

You throw the ball. The ball is hit. You field the ball.

Watching from the stands with 5,000 people was just what I needed on my first Monday in Florida, this latest work-ation that I find myself undertaking in the spring of 2017.

Would a Red Sox game have been better? Not necessarily. If the scheduled had fit better, I would have tried, but it didn’t, so that’s OK, too.

I don’t have a bucket list of things I want to do before I die. But I do have a mental list and I’d say attending a spring training game was on there somewhere.

Not anymore.

The played baseball on Monday in Port Charlotte and I was there to see it.

Mentally, she’s checked off.

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