In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

First day of spring today? Old news here in Florida

bg2While the rest of the country celebrates the first day of spring, those of us here in Florida shrug our shoulders, say “meh,” and continue to enjoy the bright temperatures and balmy sunshine we’ve backed in for the past several months, with only a few cold snaps to remind us just how lucky we are.

Granted, this past winter has been a particularly vicious one, but when I live in Chicago, I quickly got tired of even the mild ones. It wears on the soul to trudge through snowy, gray day after snowy, gray day from November through March. It’s no fun to force your way through arctic temperatures as frostbite grips you from your nose to your toes or to slosh through sloppy slush puddles during those oh-so-brief interludes between the deep freezes.

Here in Central Florida, it’s coat time when it hit the 60s, and the 30s are cause for panic. My once Chicago-thick blood is now Orlando-style cherry Kool-Aid, and you’ll quickly mark me as a local as I move among tank-top-and-shorts-clad tourists in a sweater and jeans when it’s in the 70s.

bg9The date also means that another springtime rite of passage is just around the corner: the first day of the regular North American baseball season. But here in Florida, we even get a jump on that. Central Florida is the spring training home of several teams, like the Atlanta Braves (Disney’s Wide World of Sports), Houston Astros (Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee), and the Washington Nationals (Space Coast Stadium in Cocoa Beach).

I was invited to enjoy a game at the latter stadium between the Nationals and Astros. Better yet, it was in a suite, so I got to enjoy the experience in style. I’d never been to Space Coast Stadium before, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a nice, intimate spot to catch a game. Being from Chicago, I cut my teeth at Wrigley Field and like smaller ballparks that have some personality. (I’m from the South Side, so don’t tell anyone that my family is made up of rabid Cubs fans who all eschew the White Sox.) At Space Coast Stadium, you’re close to the action, and there’s a nice level of energy from the fans that draws you into the game.

bg7I felt even more at home because the Nationals were pretty much playing like the Cubs. They didn’t even manage to score a run, despite several teasing moments when they managed to get a few players on base. After years of being immersed in the Chicago sports scene, I’m used to such things.

Besides, I was still having a great time. The suite was right behind home plate, so I had a perfect view, and inside there a never-ending stream of beer and wine to drown my woes, as well as popcorn, wings and grilled hot dogs. The suites at Space Coast Stadium are very nice because there are plush couches inside, as well as a section of reserved seats outdoors, right in front of the suite.

Of course, spring training is just about over, but that doesn’t mean that the Stadium will sit silent. It’s also home to the Brevard County Manatees, a Milwaukee Brewers Minor League affiliate. Their season kicks into gear on April 3. If you’re in the area, that first game is a Fan Appreciation Night with post-game fireworks and $2 soda and beer through the end of the fifth inning.

bg10Space Coast Stadium is very easy to get to from the Disney area. Just hope on either I-4 or the 417 toll road to 528, which you take to I-95. It doesn’t take much more than an hour to get out there, especially if you opt for 417 over the traffic nightmare that is known as I-4.

I’ll be covering other fun things to do and places to go on the Space Coast in future blog posts. Although it’s best known as the home of Kennedy Space Center and the gateway to cruises via Port Canaveral, it’s actually a robust area packed with options for both tourists and locals seeking a day trip or a quick weekend away.

Locals’ Secret

If you want to hit the beach, head out to Jetty Park for the day. Not only is it a great place to swim, with full comfort facilities and lots of nearby dining, but if you choose the right day, you can watch the parade of cruise ships heading out to the ocean.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

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