Interstate Rte. 60 winds through swampy Yeehaw Junction and across desolate. Lake Kissimmee from Vero Beach on the Atlantic to St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Mexico.
That ribbon of blacktop - surrounded by a wilderness inhabited by alligators, pelicans and snakes - cuts a line across Florida.
It is a line that connects the old and new in baseball's spring-training world. Spanking new Vero and lazy old St. Pete are the extremes of the grapefruit league in atmosphere, philosophy and taste.
Vero Beach is color-coordinated, youthful, profit-conscious Dodgertown - a 410-acre complex that dominates the life of its small town.
Unhurried St. Petersburg with its wide boulevards and palm-filled parks is proud to be called Codgertown for its legions of senior citizens. Baseball is just part of a way of life devoted to moving slowly and smelling every flower.
The seats of Al Lang Field in St. Pete look out across the sailboat-speckled expanse of Tampa Bay. The fans at Lang joke that their average age is deceased, or it would be if not for the therapeutic climate of Sunshine City.
The Grand Old Game, especially at half-throttle in March, appeals to fans who like to arrive hours early and chat through batting practice. What's the rush?
The old green-on-green ballyard where Ruth sweated is gone, replaced by a new concrete stadium to accomodate the Cardinals and Mets. Naturally, traditionalists - that's to say, everyone - are riled up.
Don't like the newfangled thing, they say. It'll give you sunstroke because so many seats have no shade. Or a foul ball will conk you from behind after it deflects off that fancy overhang behind home plate. Ought to string up that young architect.
Baseball just suits the St. Pete mood. George Foster can be measured against spring memories that go back to 1922. The game's action is orderly, not too sudden. The rules don't change.
Before and after games, a parade of fans strolls along the three blocks of Beach Drive that separate Lang Field from the venerable Soreno Hotel. The fans help each other along with their canes and walkers, or just a friendly elbow.
"You know, my husband, Stanley," said a little lady in a Cardinals cap. "He thinks he'll live to be 95 and die in his sleep. I'm the practical one. I told the children, "I don't want you to keep me alive to be a drain on everyone."
The Soreno's ballroom is crowded each night for chamber-music concerts. Hundreds listen to Bach. In a TV room to the side, two watch Kojak.
In such a gentle, old-world atmosphere, it is no surprise that ushers stop guarding the ballpark gates in the second inning.
Who would keep anyone - whether in a first or second childhood - outside the park over the matter of a $2 ticket?
For those too proud to walk through an unattended gate, there are free bleachers outside the fences. Lang, it is understood, is another of St. Pete's open-to-all parks at which anyone can while away five minutes or five hours.
Most of Florida's camps have some of the St. Petersburg flavor. In Winter Haven, home of the Red Sox, orange trees drape their fruit over the outfield fences.
For every town like Miami (Orioles) or Bradenton (Pirates), where the park is old and in a decaying section of town, there are several like West Palm Beach (Braves), Tampa (Reds) and Ft. Lauderdale (Yanks) where the view is of light sparkling on water or palm trees beyond the fences.
The scenes in all these parks are reassuringly familiar. This is the way spring training should look.
Thurman Munson and Steve Yeager, the catchers in the last World Series, meet at home plate during warmups in Ft. Lauderdale and compare stomachs, each trying to look fatter than the other.
"When are you guys going to get some infielders" queried Yeager.
"Didn't we have some last year?" answered Munson. "I'm not even sure I should be talkin' to a guy who weighs 225 and can only hit about a dozen homers a year."
Only in Vero Beach does it seem like the season has already started. Every game in Vero is a sellout and, the traffic jam stretches back a dusty mile.
Almost all Florida camps, even the prettiest, are depressingly close to major highways littered with gas stations, fast-foot chains and general asphalt blight.
Dodgertown is set back in its own woods, surrounded by 27 holes of Dodger-owned golf courses.
The wealthiest teams - Reds, Yanks, Phillies - only have a spring training "complex" with perhaps two auxiliary fields, a few batting cages and a main clubhouse.
Dodgertown, which has been completely rebuilt in the '70s, is a nexus of seven industrious profit centers spread over 410 acres, each trying to outearn the others.
There is a Dodger restaurant, a Dodger citrus farm, a Dodger mobile-home park and a Dodger Pines Country Club. The streets running through this flourishing miniempire are named Campanella Drive, Koufax Boulevard, and the like.
Nothing in all of Dodgertown is painted in any color except blue and white, and nothing has a name that is not a baseball spinoff.
"Every other spring-training camp is an expensive tax writeoff to the club," said Charlie Blaney, manager of Dodgertown. "We're not a drag on L.A. money.
"We look on the spring-training part of Dodgertown as simply the research and development end of the baseball business."
Beautiful little 7,000-seat Holman Stadium, which almost looks like a blue miniature of L.A.'s Chavez Ravine, is what Blaney calls "the flagship of Dodgertown."
In 1974, Dodgertown opened a new 23,000-square-foot administration building with nearly every well decked out in life-size Dodger action photos and memorabilia.
The building includes (in part) a major league clubhouse, a minor league clubhouse, a small but self-sufficient hospital, dining rooma nd kitchen, main lobby, canteen, recording studio, photo dark room, Western Union office, interview rooms, staff social rooms, press room, trainers' rooms, equipment room and two laundries.
Does Dodgertown start to sound more like a retreat for IBM executives than a locker room for jocks. Well, that's just what the Dodgers thought. Why make money six weeks a year when it could be 52?
"Of course, I'm the wrong person to ask about Dodgertown," said, Manager Tommy Lasorda. "I think it's heaven on earth."
It is a long, long way from the leisure of St. Petersburg to the constant hyperactivity of Dodgertown. At Lang Field, fans stay after the game to watch the sun glint on the bay.At Holman Stadium, a crew of dozens of cleanup men have swept away every discarded program and fallen kernel of popcorn before the last pitch is an hour old.
Once, Dodgertown was just an abandoned World War II air base. More than 600 Dodger rookies cavorted in the old, dilapidated barracks. Snakes basked on the steps. Horseshoes was the big nightlife activity. The showers turned themselves on, usually, legend has it, when the venetian blinds were dropped. And a deluxe room in the leaky barracks was one that came with two buckets.
All that is gone. Progress has arrived. If a flower moves, paint it blue.