The cry of “Play ball!” and the crack of a baseball bat signal Major League Baseball’s annual spring training season has arrived in Florida. With all players scheduled to report by now and full workouts in progress, the first games begin Tuesday against college squads.
Fifteen major league teams are training in Florida’s Grapefruit League this year and will play more than 150 games between Tuesday and March 29, including a handful against college teams, and a few in Las Vegas or Panama.
A schedule of all Grapefruit League games is found on Major League Baseball’s official website, mlb.com/springtraining/, where tickets also can be purchased. Another website with detailed information is www.springtrainingonline.com.
Here are the Florida cities where the major league teams are headquartered:
Kissimmee: Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros.
Sarasota: Baltimore Orioles.
Fort Myers: Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins.
Lakeland: Detroit Tigers.
Jupiter: Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals.
Port St. Lucie: New York Yankees, New York Mets.
Clearwater: Philadelphia Phillies.
Bradenton: Pittsburgh Pirates.
Port Charlotte: Tampa Bay Rays.
Dunedin: Toronto Blue Jays.
Viera: Washington Nationals.
STORMS AND SHELLS
It’s known as the Sanibel Stoop — the bent-over position of beachcombers you see on the beaches of Sanibel and elsewhere in Lee County. What they are looking for are sea shells, and Sanibel is regarded as one of the best places in the world to do just that.
While shelling is good all year on the southwestern beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast, winter is usually considered the best time for it because cold fronts push more shells onto shore. The nastier the weather, the better the shelling. An ideal time to comb the beaches is at an early-morning low tide after a storm when the moon is new or full.
Late winter is also when Sanibel hosts its annual Shell Festival. The March 6-8 event, which features crafts, food and entertainment, takes place at the Sanibel Community House. Shell buffs might also want to visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel, which has the largest collection of shells in North America.
While Sanibel is renowned for its shells, other good Lee County shelling beaches include North Captiva, Cayo Costa and Lovers Beach. Some of these can be reached only by boat, but there are shelling tours and charters that can take visitors there. Shell seekers should know that Florida law prohibits collecting live shells — that is, any shell that has an inhabitant, dead or alive — as well as live sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins.
HERE AND THERE
• Seafood fete: More than 20,000 people are expected to partake in the Marathon Seafood Festival March 8 and 9. The festival features indigenous fish, shrimp, lobster and stone crab claws, along with conch served four ways and smoked fish dip. The event will be held at Marathon’s Community Park at mile marker 49, oceanside.
Among the foods that festival goers will consume are 2,750 pounds of whole lobster, 1,400 pounds of mahi-mahi (dolphin), 1,000 pounds of stone crab claws and 750 pounds of Key West pink shrimp. Information: www.marathonseafoodfestival.com.
• Ponies and mallets: Polo is played every Sunday from January through April at the International Polo Club in West Palm Beach, climaxing with the U.S. Open Polo Championships. First round of the championships comes on March 30, followed by sessions April 6, 13 and 29, when the final takes place. Sunday ticket prices vary depending on month, seating choice and food/drink options. General admission starts at $10 for bleacher seating and reaches $330 for veranda seating for two, a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne and reception pass at The Pavilion. www.sundaypolo.com/international-polo-club-palm-beach-2014-schedule.html.
Also in West Palm Beach is the National Croquet Center, whose highlight competitions come in March during Croquet Week, March 5-16. The U.S. Croquet Association National Club Teams Championships are played March 12-16. Information: www.croquetamerica.com.