Friends, Family, Food and Baseball

Trip Start Apr 02, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2011

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Where I stayed
Mom's House in Fort Myers

Flag of United States  , Florida
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The day started early as I left my hotel in Atlanta to catch an 8:45 flight to Fort Myers (RSW for you airline folks).  Returned my Hertz car.  Used some accumulated points and the total for the day in ATL was $8.40 (including tax).  Took the train to the airport and checked in.  I had already printed off my boarding pass last night.

My flight was fine and I called my sister, Donna when I landed.  She and Mom were on their way to the airport to pick me up.  Got my bag and about five minutes later, Donna drove up.  Good to see both Mom and Donna.  We went to relax at Mom's house for a while before making the 1:30 minute or so drive up to Tampa (actually St. Petersburg) where the Rays play ball.

My Mom deserves every positive thing that ever comes her way in life...and not just for having to put up with me...although she gets extra credit for that!  I don't want to bore anyone with too much family history here (but I will), so feel free to skip this portion if you find yourself nodding off.  

My Mom was married in 1947 to a man named Don Colee.  In 1948 (9/1), she had my sister Donna.  In 1949 (9/11), she had my brother Dale.  In 1950 (9/10) she had me.  I'm guessing cold winters back then.  Then in December of 1950, Don left Mom and us three kids at Grandma's house (on Christmas Eve no less) and ran off with his high school sweetheart.  I guess he figured he could handle Donna and Dale, but when I came along, he said, "That's it, I'm out of here!"  For the next four years, Mom kept us kids fed, clothed and sheltered by cleaning other people's houses, taking in washing and ironing, and cleaning the church.  Oh, yea, the church became very important in our lives.  In fact, when we were growing up, if we came into the house and there was a pie or a cake sitting there, we'd always ask, "Is that for us or the church?"  There always seemed to be enough for both of us.  Mom worked for the church for many years as a bookkeeper and usually their chief cook! Yea, she could cook!!! 

Mom remarried when I was four years old to a man named Carl Ray.  He was a State Policeman, and the guy I called my Dad.  I finally did meet Don when I was in college, but that's another story. Couple of quick anecdotes...Donna was six and in first grade when Mom and Dad got married.  She went to school the following Monday and told the whole class during "Show and Tell" that her Mom and Dad got married last weekend.  Now that may not be shocking nowadays, but back in 1954, it signaled a bit of panic by the teacher and an immediate end to show and tell!  And Dad loved to tell the story about when he and Mom got married.   He said I went around the neighborhood and told everyone that "Mom and Dad got married so they could sleep together."  Mom was mortified.  Dad told her, give the boy credit for telling the truth!  

Later on, Mom and Dad had two girls of their sisters Mary and Patty.

Anyway, Mom's been through a lot.  She's now experiencing some pretty severe short term memory loss. That's why Donna is down in Florida with her.  God bless Donna for doing that!  

Back to reality. We drove the 90 miles to St. Petersburg, missing the turn-off when my friend, David Abbey called me.  DOH!  

I said, "my friend," David Abbey, but I truly didn't know him until today.  David is a friend of a friend.  He is an interesting story.  He's from the big town of Cropsey, IL (you know, the town near Fairbury).  I got in contact with him via a friend by the name of Don Knapp.   Any of you ISU folks know the name Don Knapp? Don Sr. was Captain and sometimes acting Police Chief of the ISU Police department.  Don Sr. and I have known each other for many years...since I was a dorm director in Manchester Hall in he early 70's.  Don's wife, Donna was a long time PE teacher and coach at Heyworth H.S.  Their son, Don Jr. was a tuba player in the ISU Marching Band (for which I have done PA for the last 30 years).  Donnie and I have been friends for many years...he is an attorney.   

Anyway, Don (Jr.) read my blog and when I told him I was going to Tampa Bay, he got me in contact with David.  David had seats for Mom, Donna and me at the Tampa Bay Rays game. 

Let me tell you about a good man named David Abbey.  He is, as I said, a farm boy from Cropsey, IL.  After graduating high school and tiring of working on his father's farm and his uncle's gas station, he attended ICC in East Peoria before eventually graduating from ISU in Political Science and History...I knew I liked this guy!  He then attended Stetson Law School in St. Petersburg and has never left the place.  He got to know Donnie through an ISU alumni lawyers meeting.  I could tell after meeting him why Donnie liked him. Very cool guy!

As we drove up the pier to a restaurant David suggested, he called me on the phone.  We valet parked our car and David was kind enough to take us on a brief tour of St. Petersburg.  Beside the pier, David noted several landmarks...the Vinoy Hotel (remember this), Al Lang Field (later Stadium) - (remember this) and Tropicana Field.  What a great little tour of downtown St. Petersburg.  

Al Lang Field was the place where major league baseball teams first played spring training.  Former Mayor Al Lang brought the major leagues to St. Petersburg. Legendary teams like the Boston Braves, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and the city's hometown Tampa Bay Rays came here. The sport's most illustrious figures have run the bases in St. Petersburg – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and more. 

David also told us about the Vinoy Hotel.  We would learn more about it later.

David dropped us off back at the pier and we went in.  We headed up to the 4th floor to the Columbia Restaurant.  I don't know whether it's dejavu, or whether I'm becoming my mother, but I couldn't help feeling like I had been there before (do you remember if we went there during that Purchasing Conference in Tampa, Jeff Samp?).  

Anyway, the Columbia is well-known for their Cuban sandwiches.  Donna and I ordered one and Mom ordered a half...with all the fixins'.  One of the best sandwiches I have ever had.  It reminded Donna of the old Tops Big Boy "Slim Jim" sandwich.  We sat there overlooking Tampa Bay and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Then we went to a place suggested by David, the Vinoy Hotel. What a great venue.  It was built in the 1920's and immediately became the hotel of the rich and famous.  Rates were $20 a night...highest in the area and drew celebrities like Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge and Jimmy Stewart.  It was closed in the 1970's and became a home for vagrants, until the 1990's when Renaissance bought it and refurbished it to it's former grandeur.  You can't miss it in St.'s pink color gives it away.  Price now...$200-$250 a night. 

We invaded the lobby and looked at all the historical pictures and memorabilia. What a wonderful historical building.  

As we started to leave about 5:00 pm, (I need to weave a little golf in here), a nice young man approached me and asked if I would like to participate in the "5:00 o"clock challenge."  Having not heard of it, but being a consummate golfer, I immediately said, yes.  As the story of the Vinoy Hotel goes, in 1923 legendary golf “bad boy” Walter Hagen made a bet with several of his more affluent friends that he could hit a golf ball off of his friend’s pocket watch without breaking the crystal. Hagen did it about 20 times without even scratching the watch face.

Well, now they ask you to sink a putt and win a history book of the Vinoy. Although I could not accomplish that feat (the green was really sloping to the left, and I didn't do enough whining to get it in the hole), I won a golf ball which will go into my more than 1200 ball collection at home.  And a good time was had by all. If you get to St. Pete, you should definitely visit this institution.

On to Tropicana Field.  Great parking, right across the street from the front gate thanks to David's parking lot pass and Mom's Handicapped Parking pass! It's a nice ballpark.   You need a dome down here with the oppressive heat.  Besides that I wasn't worried about the "Albuquerque Curse" getting me.  It seats 45,000. Our (or should I say David's) seats were fantastic. About 8 rows behind the Yankees dugout. Great place to watch a game. David had a dinner to attend and didn't make it until the 7th inning. He introduced me to his law partner who also has season tickets in the same area.  

Some of you probably know the team was originally called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  About four years ago they got rid of the Devil and just became the Rays.  Mom's name being Doris RAY, she liked when the fans chanted "Let's go Rays!"  

The game was a good one.  The Rays took a 2 run lead on a home in the 2nd, but single runs by the Yankees in the 3rd, 5th and 6th gave them a 3-2 lead.  It could have been worse, but the Rays turned a triple play against the Yankees in the top of the 6th inning...around the horn, 5-4-3.  That was the second triple play I have seen this year.  And people go years without seeing one!  Then local product (Eureka, IL) Ben Zobrist hit a 3-run go-ahead homer in the bottom of the 7th to win it for the Rays.  I'm now 16-13 for the home team.  What a great game for the next-to-the-last one of my quest. Many thanks to David Abbey and Don Knapp for their assistance! 

Donna and I talked all the way back to Mom's.  It was a good, good day!  

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