Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chain O' Lakes sinks into history

Chain O’ Lakes Park in Winter Haven, spring home of the Cleveland Indians, is one of the best in the Grapefruit League circuit.

Built in 1966, it appears older, a throwback to days when fans went to a spring training park to see a spring training game.

Grandstands covered by a roof, bleachers down the lines and behind the left field fence for those hoping to work on their tans, and Dairy Queen at the concession stands. What can be better?

Oh yeah, there’s a good chance you can get Bob Feller’s autograph in the Pepsi Pavilion down the right field line.

He’s signing today. At least that’s what the sign says.

But this jewel tucked off U.S. 17 is on borrowed time.

The Indians are headed to Arizona next season and the condos that are encroaching behind right field will cover this place like the weeds that have taken over my backyard these last few weeks, a product of spring training-enforced neglect.

Too bad.

Another piece of Florida is about to be forgotten.

Wade Boggs trained here. Ted Williams watched him hit, telling the future Hall of Famer who ended his career a Devil Ray with 3,010 hits, not to change anything.

Teddy Ballgame was right.

There’s a photo of Bob Feller outside the gift shop. It lists the Indians in the Hall of Famers and an autograph from Feller, thanking the Winter Haven baseball fans.

This place has charm.

Surrounded by lakes.

Steep in history.

Soon it will be history, and I will miss it.

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