Starting each February, Major League Baseball teams prepare for the upcoming season by participating in six weeks of spring training. Although most camps are uneventful, business-as-usual affairs, the practice itself has a rich history. From the resort town that started it all to the astounding feat of strength by a legend of the sport, here are four stories you might not know about the origin of spring training.
A cemetery might seem like an odd destination on a tourist circuit, but the one in Key West, Florida, has a lot of history and some rather interesting tombs. This 19-acre graveyard was founded in 1847 after a terrible hurricane in October 1846 washed away the old cemetery that was located near the coast. After this, the new cemetery was built on the highest point in Key West, and the old graves that survived the hurricane were moved here. Because of the high water table, most of the graves lie above the ground in vault like structures giving the cemetery the appearance of a small town with narrow streets and rows of whitewashed rectangular boxes for houses. The cemetery’s only living residents are chickens and iguanas.
The three block area of downtown Sanford has more than 20 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Most were constructed in the late 1800s, and the newest one was built in 1923. All of the buildings in Sanford’s downtown historic district are remarkably well preserved. The residential area directly adjacent to downtown Sanford is also designated as an historic district, with many early 20th century houses listed in the National Register of Historic Homes.
Late January toward the end of hunting season, this slice of Highway 65 through the Apalachicola National Forest feels like an armored convoy. All around me burly pickup trucks rumble along, each jammed with aluminum toolboxes, gun lockers and the occasional dog kennel. I greet passing drivers the same way they greet me, a slow nod of the head, a quick lift of two fingers from the steering wheel. This part of the Florida Panhandle, the Big Bend, is where I grew up. I spent enough weekends and summers on my family’s land just north of here to know that’s how country people, black and white, greet each other on the road.
In the last few weeks, archaeologists digging under the floor of a wine shop in St. Augustine, Florida, have discovered the skeletal remains of seven people, including three children, believed to be some of the earliest colonists in North America, report Jessica Clark and Melissa Guz at FirstCoast News. According to FirstCoast, last October hurricane Matthew damaged a wine shop on St. Augustine’s plaza. After the hurricane, building owner David White decided to renovate the space. According to a press release from the city, the floor of the building was built on a joist system constructed in 1888, which left the soil below relatively intact. White offered the city archeologist Carl Hibert a chance to take a peek under the floor before the repairs began. Hibert accepted the offer, but did not have high hopes of finding anything. He was wrong—after just a few shovelfuls of dirt, he found human remains.
A weekday morning rife with early spring coaxed tourists into the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, where towering trees offset sunshine with shade. The comedic trill of the park’s notorious peacocks reverberated across the picnic area, instigating craned necks and curious glances. The cacophony didn’t distract John Walter Fraser, though, who sat at one of the tables with a Coca-Cola in hand. “Now this is the place where legend meets history,” said Fraser, third-generation owner of the Fountain of Youth. Admittedly, Fraser said the fountain’s claim to endless life and youth is, at best, a tall tale. Ponce de Leon might have fumbled through Florida wilderness to reach the magical spring, he said, but it’s hard to prove.
To celebrate the close of Black History Month, Daytona Beach’s Leisure Services Department in collaboration with Bethune-Cookman University’s College of Liberal Arts spent a day touring some of Florida’s Black history sites on the east coast. History professor Dr. Anthony Dixon and about 50 students from his African-American history and Florida history classes were part of the Black Heritage Trail bus tour. Joining them were 55 senior citizens from the Leisure Services Senior Oasis Program at the John H. Dickerson Center. The sites included the following in Jacksonville: Kingsley Plantation, the historic Durkeeville community, Edward Waters College and the Ritz Museum. St. Augustine sites were Fort Mose Historic State Park, the Lincolnville Historic District and the Accord Florida Civil Rights Museum.
Looking for a good Florida book to read? You may find a good recommendation via the 11th annual Florida Book Awards, which were announced this week. Among the winners: Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman, for his irreverent nonfiction book “Oh Florida!: How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.” “Learning that I’d won was so exciting that when I heard it I nearly dropped my machete,” he said.
It seems like Floridians eat twice as much seafood as the average American. Every time I escape to Tampa to visit family, I find myself enjoying my catch-limit quota of yellowtail and snapper. With the exception of Mahi-Mahi (due to overfishing), this week is another week of chumming for angler favorites. While hiking at swampy Lettuce Lake, we came across a happy sportsman reeling in an ancient fish called the bowfin. The big catch would be prepared with his grandma’s recipe dinner, smoked and flavored, enough for him and his family. Armed with that information, we too decided we’d dine at a restaurant with Florida freshwater.
Featured Image Courtesy of Library of Congress