Spring training with kids is tough to beat


Houston Astros catchers at work during spring training in Kissimmee, Fla. (Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

If you’ve ever been to spring training, you probably feel some nostalgia at this time of year as you see photos and film of players frolicking in warmer climes (although not that much warmer than Washington, this year). If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it, with this caveat: Take a kid.

Actually, take two. They’re small.

My best spring training was about 15 years ago, when I took my nephew Dustin to Florida for a week. He was 9 or 10 — neither of us can remember now — and he was crazy about baseball. What could be better?

These were the days before Google, Mapquest or Garmin. We had to agree on which teams we most wanted to see, then I went to work with maps and talked to friends in the Miami area, where we would start and end our journey. In between, I arranged tickets and a one-night stay at Disney World — a first for both of us.

I wrote up a detailed itinerary and copious driving instructions (for my own benefit, because that’s what I do) and bought airline tickets. We would meet in Charlotte and fly together to Fort Lauderdale, spend the night with my best friend and her family, see the Orioles play, and head out on our adventure.

I’d been to spring training several times before. In fact, my boss in Detroit years ago sent me to Lakeland (home of the Tigers) for a few days of R&R after I fainted at work and doctors thought I had had a heart attack. (I can see people falling on floors in offices all over the greater Washington area, but it turned out I have a really weird heartbeat that just looks like a heart attack. Who knew?)

But there is nothing like spring training with a kid. We had to arrive two hours early for every game, of course, on the off chance we — and by “we” I mean “he” — might get an autograph. He brought all the appropriate baseball cards, just in case, plus a few baseballs. And Sharpies. You always have to have Sharpies.

During the games he would sit with me for awhile, then head to the outfield in hopes of getting a home run, then go outside the fence in hopes of getting a foul ball, then go to the concession stand in hopes of getting a hot dog. I kept a weather eye on him, of course, but it was a fairly safe place for a kid to wander.

After the game would come a drive — sometimes long, sometimes not so bad — and I had come prepared with tapes (tapes!) of my favorite baseball books and songs. Either he loved it or was too polite to say he didn’t, but we listened to Ernie Harwell and “The Glory of Their Times” and Danny Kaye singing about the D-O-D-G-E-R-S.

Which was appropriate as we headed to Vero Beach, where we had the best seats of the entire trip, Dustin ran into Steve Garvey in the men’s room, and I got the worst sunburn of my entire life. That night we landed at DisneyWorld, where Dustin had room service for the first time in his life, and we watched the Academy Awards together while I slathered on creams and prayed for relief, because the next day was . . .

Disney! And if dragging him across the state of Florida and back — including Alligator Alley, which was disappointingly gator-free — didn’t prove how much I love my nephew, riding Space Mountain with him with the worst sunburn of my life should have. I hate roller coasters. I would have done it for exactly one person in the world — and I did.

And that’s where the “two is better than one” rule comes in. As fun as Aunt Trace is — and she is a laugh riot — I would recommend taking two kids. They can run around the stadium together, get their hot dogs together, have kid adventures together — and ride Space Mountain together. You still get your memories, and so do two kids instead of one.

My nephew is a grown man, working in New York City, and we’ll never have a chance to tool around Florida again in a rental car, stopping at a different ballpark every day, living out of suitcases and talking. Talking! Can you imagine? No cell phones, no GameBoy, no DVD player in the car.

So grab a couple of baseball-loving kids — please make sure you know them — and head to Florida or Arizona. Make sure to bring baseballs and Sharpies. Get a very basic rental and put all the PDAs in the trunk. And talk. I promise you won’t regret it, even if you get the worst sunburn of your life.

For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/
hamilton
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