• 12 April
  • By
  • TeamBrevard County Manatees
  • Location
  • Tagged
Hot diggity dog

I knew the day would come. The day when I would break my vegetarian streak of more than 18 months and cave to the ballpark hot dog. That day was Thursday.

As Matt walked toward me, one hot dog in each hand, I psyched myself up for the first bite. It’s just one hot dog. It doesn’t have bones. It won’t look nearly as gross as the frog legs Matt ate a few days ago.

I covered it with Stadium Mustard and sweet relish to the point that you could only see its golden ends sticking out either side of the bun. I closed my eyes. Took a bite.

It was crispy with just enough juice once it hit my taste buds. The flavor was sweet, and not because of the condiments I piled on top. Could have done without the white, flavorless bun. Was it delicious? Eh.

The whole thing went down in about 10 bites. And, miraculously, I’m still here to tell about it.

Don’t get me wrong, some meats are delicious – I often crave bacon cheeseburgers topped with cheddar cheese, a poached egg, onion and tomato. But I’m just too sensitive to be a carnivore, and have been since I read Dr. Seuss’ Hop on Pop. It all goes back to a scarring childhood memory when my summer camp took a behind-the-scenes field trip of a grocery store and we got a glance of skinned animals hanging in the freezer.

But this summer is supposed to be an adventure. And I’m open to trying almost anything. More than a week in, I’ve had catfish, alligator and a sliver of frog leg – which I made Matt cut off the bone.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLGSeason 



  • 11 April
  • By
  • TeamLakeland Flying Tigers
  • Location
  • Tagged
Our own blue highways


The words seem to appear out of nowhere on a big red sign with white lettering at the intersection of U.S. 441 and State Road 60. The Desert Inn is a relic and, at first glance, looks as if its best days are behind it. But that sign – and a smaller one near the road offering the specialties of Cuban coffee and drinks – are inviting.

The motel and restaurant are like an oasis at YeeHaw Junction, which is part of the surprise and allure. Its history dates back to the late 1880s, and between 1917 and 1930 it was one of the only places for cowboys, business people, moonshiners and lumber men to stop on their way from Kissimmee and Orlando in the north to the Indian reservations in the south. Today, the parking lot is filled with motorcyclists, 18-wheelers and back-road travelers looking for a night to sleep at a place on the National Register of Historical Places. As it was nearly a century ago, the Desert Inn is still the main attraction at YeeHaw Junction.

The last three days, we’ve crossed the southern part of central Florida, first east to west, and then west to east, traveling on mainly state roads, two lanes across, and far from the thousands of tourists that pack the coasts and Orlando attractions. Central Florida is as green as the coast is blue. It’s cattle farms, sod farms and citrus groves. It’s Southern.

A yellow cement building sits alone with the simple signs “Country Kitchen” and “Pork chops here.” A local appliance store puts out front a big sign with black letters congratulating, “Tyler Green, you are now a blue belt.” There are signs about God, signs about Western wear, signs about fishin. It’s clear what matters in these parts.

It’s the kind of drive we expect to do dozens of times. It’s the kind of drive that calls for the windows down and Bob Dylan singing about the land, the road, love and freedom.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

  • 10 April
  • By
  • TeamFort Myers Miracle
  • Location
  • Tagged
Perfection, 13 inches across

FORT MYERS, Florida | There is one food in the world that can make me cry. I take one bite, and it makes me think about my childhood and the 1980s and birthday parties and Friday nights together with my parents in a red booth — unless either of them had quarters, in which case I would clutch those pieces of sheathed copper and walk to the back of a restaurant that still feels enormous and drop them in the slots for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “Pole Position” or “The Crane Game” — and tears will form in the corners of my eyes.

It also makes me burn the roof of my mouth.

I grew up in a village south of Chicago called Flossmoor. I remember the years now as something like what Kevin Arnold lived, the perfect childhood, with friends next door and more across the street, a short walk to school every morning, a yard just big enough for a kindergartner. But the best part of that childhood and that village was the restaurant right over the border in Homewood, Aurelio’s, where we ate pizza what seemed like two or three times every week. If you live anywhere in or around Chicago, you have a favorite pizzeria, and ours was, still is, Aurelio’s. I inherited the love from my parents, and it developed for all of those most formative years. I turned 1 in that big restaurant that used to be a car dealership. Turned 2 there, too. And 5. I spent afternoons there, in the kitchen, with one of my babysitters, a beautiful woman named Edith, who let me call her E. We moved before I turned 7 and I cried for days. I would miss all my friends, and that short walk to school. More than anything, I would miss the pizza.

Some pizzas have a perfect crust, and some have a perfect sauce, and some have a perfect cheese, and some have perfect toppings. A small number have perfected two of the four, a smaller number still have perfected three. 

Aurelio’s has perfected all four. Its crust is thin enough to bite, thick enough still to crunch, and its sauce is sweet, almost as if they mix in some sort of natural sugar. I have no idea what the recipe actually includes, and I never want to know; my faith in that sauce is blind. Its cheese is a thick blend, another whole layer, not just a sprinkle, and its toppings cover the whole pie, literally and visually obscuring everything underneath.

The original and the best is still in Homewood, but there are 43 locations now in six states, including one in Fort Myers, less than nine miles from Hammond Stadium, where we were headed to watch the Miracle play the Jupiter Hammerheads on Tuesday night. I had planned to hold out until June, when we visit the Kane County Cougars on a Sunday afternoon, plenty of time after the game to drive east to the mothership and eat with family. But I have no willpower, and Carolyn helped me cave, and we stopped for lunch two months early. 

The Aurelio’s in Fort Myers is big, with high ceilings, brick walls, a prime spot in an outdoor mall designed for walkers. We ordered the buffet. I ate 10 squares, almost all of them the best sausage pizza in the world, and I wanted to cry.

The late, great New York Times political reporter and food critic R.W. Apple once wrote something along the lines that you are a coward if you say you can eat your favorite hamburger anywhere other than your hometown, and he was right. But in Chicago, the sentiment extends to pizza. There are so many good local shops — and so many more that have opened and closed in the last century — and every one of them is somebody’s favorite. So what if Aurelio’s is a minute or so over the border? And so what if there are franchises now? They all use the same products, designed to the exacting specifications of Joe Aurelio. They all bake delicious pizza. As far as I know, they all make me burn the rood of my mouth.

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

  • 9 April
  • By
  • TeamSt. Lucie Mets
  • Location
  • Tagged
Modern history, fried

FELLSMERE, Florida | Southern women voted for the first time less than a century ago right here, in Fellsmere, a city that trumpeted its population of 502 back then, when the ballots were open to everybody, when an annual subscription to the Fellsmere Tribune cost a dollar and fifty cents. Plenty has changed since then, of course. Plenty changes everywhere in 97 years.

On Easter, more than a thousand people ate at the Marsh Landing Restaurant off North Broadway, but only a dozen or so walked in late Monday morning. “Do you want the catfish special? Or the catfish platter?” Mike asks a woman at another table. Mike waits at Marsh Landing, has almost since the restaurant opened 11 years ago. He wears a purple T-shirt and khaki shorts, and talks with a thick Northeastern accent, which is about the last kind of accent you would expect to hear inside a self-proclaimed Florida Cracker Restaurant. “The special is just strips, the platter comes grilled, fried or pressed. I’ve been selling the special for years. The platter is new.” The woman orders the platter.

Marsh Landing is the kind of restaurant we hoped to find somewhere in Florida, a local spot recommended by locals where we can eat good food. Who cares that the restaurant has only been around for about a decade? It sits inside the old Fellsmere Estates Building, a staple since 1926, before record floods and Black Tuesday and the Florida land boom crash all forced Fellsmere to switch course. The building housed the Florida Crystal Sugar Company for a few decades, sat empty for a few decades more. 

Fran and Susan Adams, a mother from rural North Carolina and a daughter who grew up in Fellsmere, helped restore the building in the '90s. Today, it’s a new restaurant that feels old. The original cypress wood used during construction 86 years ago still frames the doors and windows. Dozens of taxidermied animals fill the floor and the wall, including boar, turkey, a bobcat in full flight, a deer standing sentinel near the bathrooms. Old tools and ads are everywhere, like a Cracker Barrel if Cracker Barrel served fried gator and frog legs and swamp cabbage.

Somewhere around 5,000 people live in Fellsmere now. Down North Broadway, past Marsh Landing, one of them, a fireman, sits outside the station, the doors open and the engine ready for a call. Another sits outside the church across the street from the restaurant. But on a Monday morning, the rest is quiet. Gators and frogs are fried, a delicacy, and life moves forward, a dozen or so patrons at a time.

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

  • 8 April
  • By
  • TeamSt. Lucie Mets
  • Location
  • Tagged
You cannot watch baseball every day

The Florida State League is taking the day off and so are we. Four days in and four teams down, it makes sense to keep moving. But trapped in central Florida with none of the 12 FSL teams playing, it’s hard to justify driving north to Georgia or Alabama for just one day.

There are two reasons we wanted to start in Florida. One, the weather is warm and there was little chance a game would be affected by cold weather. Last April, we went to a Lake County Captains game on a Monday night and, though bundled in winter coats and blankets, the temperature hovered around 30 degrees and we froze. Second, Florida has 14 full-season affiliated teams, the most of any state. In creating the schedule, it was essential to get through Florida as efficiently as possible, so we could save our few off days for teams in the Midwest and West Coast that are farther apart. (Our drive from the Colorado Springs Sky Sox to the Tacoma Rainers next month will check in around 23 hours.) The way the schedule is set, we’ll see all 14 Florida teams play at home in 15 days.

Even with no games to see, today includes plenty of baseball. We’re staying with college friends who are diehard Reds fans. We listed to a radio broadcast of the Reds beat the Marlins, while checking in online as the Indians edged the Blue Jays to improve to 1-0 in nine-inning games. (Good day for Ohio.)

Of the 10 leagues we’ll see this season, the FSL, the Midwest League and most of the Eastern League are not playing this Easter, with 40 games scheduled for today. So there’s still plenty of baseball to watch.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

  • 7 April
  • By
  • TeamJupiter Hammerheads
  • Location
  • Tagged
Hard work

No, the picture above is not an error. That was how dark the sky was at 5:30 this morning when Matt and I crawled out of our sleeping bags in the back of the Element in order to make it to Jupiter for a doubleheader. We wanted to be at the stadium around 9 a.m. for a 12:05 p.m. start, which meant hitting the road by 6 to drive the 186 miles south down I-95.

We were in the Daytona Cubs press box late, listening to Daytona News-Journal reporter Sean Kernan tell stories about his 20 years of covering the team, and with only about four hours of sleep, the dark was cruel. But the great thing about this project is during those long and late hours, we’re meeting people, like Kernan, who not only have great stories to tell, but work hard. And the great thing is we’re hearing stories, seeing stories, of hard work everywhere, including off the field and out of the stadium.

As we pulled on to Beach Street this morning – in the dark, of course – a farmers market was going up in a nearby parking lot. And as we drove down 95 with the sun barely rising to our left, we saw workers examining trees on orange groves.

The day-night doubleheader, with scheduled starts at 12:05 and 6:35 p.m., certainly makes for a long day – for the players, for the staff, heck, even for some fans who stayed for all nine or 18 innings. But hard work is being done and great stories are being told.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason 

  • 6 April
  • By
  • TeamDaytona Cubs
  • Location
  • Tagged
Meandering on the brink

Maybe half the people behind the wheel actually drive the speed limit on A1A. The rest meander and look at the pastel hotels and stare longingly at the beach and the Atlantic Ocean that are so close to the road, not even separated by a wall or a rail for long stretches. But why rush the sand and the water? If you roll down your window and ease your foot off the gas enough, you can smell the salt and pretend the drive will last forever.

On Thursday afternoon, Bruce Lipsky, a photographer for the Florida Times-Union recommended A1A for our drive from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach, and we listened, because Bruce has lived in Florida all his life and he knows the state and its cities and roads. Also, because when his wife hit a recent milestone birthday, she wanted a camper in place of jewelry. They hit the road every year or so for the sorts of trips most folks just dream about.

We covered only about a sixth of the 329 miles of the road that stretch from near the Georgia border down to Key West. Others before us have driven more and written more — and more eloquently — about A1A and what it means and represents: Something about Old Florida, something else about commercialism, something else again about the idea of escaping real life for a week to sit out on the beach every day and eat out every night. Route 66 was the country’s road; A1A is still Florida’s.

After about an hour of staring longingly ourselves, Carolyn turned to me for a few seconds and said something along the lines, “This is a little more calming than 95.” And, yeah, if some random Hyundai with Ontario plates was poking along 10 miles per hour under the speed limit over on that black licorice sheet of an interstate, I probably would have shouted something and accelerated around him and felt justified in leaving him far behind. But on A1A, I just wanted to keep following him a little farther South, all of us poking along.

Even with another game on the schedule, I wanted to pretend the drive would last forever.

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

  • 5 April
  • By
  • TeamJacksonville Suns
  • Location
  • Tagged
And so the road trip begins, with cold feet

The Jacksonville beaches spilled over Thursday afternoon, the women in bikinis, the men without shirts. They played soccer and tossed Frisbees and reveled in the last days of spring break. Some of them tanned in rows of lotion on skin. Others camped out in the shade under boardwalks. A couple dozen actually waded out into the Atlantic Ocean.

We wanted to experience the Atlantic, even if we just rolled up our jeans and walked 10 feet into the water, which is what we did. The sand pressed against the skin on the tops of our feet and rubbed like grit between our toes. The water was colder than expected, especially considering the sun overhead, burning the sand and the asphalt hot to the touch. If the swimmers and surfers and bodyboarders were uncomfortable, they kept it to themselves. We were comfortable enough to stand there, feet submerged, but not much else. We walked, shot photos, laughed at our hackneyed attempt at a symbolic start to a road trip. But how else could we have started? We live in Ohio and never see the oceans. They really are special.

In a little more than a month, we should reach California, and when we do, I imagine a trip to the Pacific will follow. No baggie of sand or bottle of water, nothing like that, just our feet in the waves, some recognition of the enormity of the land between the two oceans. Lewis and Clark and the rest of their expedition trekked for more than 18 months before they reached the Pacific, and they started in Missouri.

We spent maybe 15 minutes at the beach before we walked back to the Element, wiped sand from our feet and headed 17 miles inland, past strip malls and a parking lot carnival, to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville and opening day. 

No talk of the ocean there, just baseball. Another season.

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

  • 4 April
  • By
  • TeamJacksonville Suns
  • Location
  • Tagged
Day 0

We packed the Element last night, packed it full of boxes and suitcases and a couple dozen books, and pretended it was all some very tangible game of Tetris, just without the Russian drone of a soundtrack. 

And at 10:02 this morning, we pulled out of the driveway for good.

Somewhere between Orlando and Jacksonville, we dubbed this Day 0. We were in the car, and we were moving forward, and it certainly felt like part of the trip, but there were still no games yet. We spent three hours in the car, two with a reporter who has an incredible interview style, two more inside the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville for Suns Media Day. Not much to report from the field, though, other than the fact that, at 3 p.m., the Suns’ roster had not been finalized. Granted, probably all of the players who will start the season in Jacksonville are already in the city, but the point is clear that enough time remains for change, no matter that, at that point, the season was 31 hours from its glorious start.

And Thursday will be glorious. There are 54 games on the minor league schedule, including Rochester at Syracuse, the first game of the season, and a doubleheader for Portland at Reading.  We will be somewhere in the Baseball Grounds for the first game of the season in Jacksonville, between the hometown Suns and the Huntsville Stars. Game 1. 

Day 1.

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

  • 3 April
  • By
  • TeamJacksonville Suns
  • Location
  • Tagged
Are we there yet?

Imagine the reaction when dozens of children simultaneously hear they have to wait two more hours to board the plane for their trip to Disney World.



“You said we were going to see Mickeyyyyyy!”

The adults -- at least those not trying to calm kids -- were silent, their looks of disgust saying it all. I was one of them. I was headed to Orlando, where Matt has been running a satellite location for A Minor League Season the last five weeks. After years of planning, I was anxious to get to Orlando and start the project.

One of the more popular questions we get about the project is “Are you flying to these cities?” Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez was one of the first to ask that. Our response: “Outside of Triple-A, how many flights did you take in the minors?” He smiled and nodded with clear understanding.

First, we’re writing about minor league baseball and America here. The majority of the teams are taking buses, sometimes through the night, to get from city to city. We want to be completely immersed in the culture of minor league baseball and you miss the road-trip experience -- watching the country pass by outside the window, stopping in small towns for bathroom breaks -- when you’re hovering above the clouds.

Second, flying to even a quarter of the 119 cities we’ll be visiting would cost an outrageous amount of money. There’s a reason minor league baseball teams drive: small budgets. Like those teams, we don’t have a Major League budget, either.

Third, we have a tight schedule, one that probably wouldn’t hold up if we had to deal with delayed or canceled flights like we did yesterday.

In the months ahead, we have nearly 26,000 miles and 119 stops in 152 days. We know things won’t always go as planned, and we’re prepared for that to happen. But right now, two days before opening day, we’re like wide-eyed prospects in their rookie year. We’re as excited as those kids on their way to Disney. And we’re going to try like hell not to throw up on the spinning tea cups.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

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