Ken Davidoff's baseball insider

Yankees, Mets, trade rumors, free agents, off-the-wall predictions and other MLB musings.

Sunshine State

VM._CR0%2C0%2C362%2C362_SS90_Allowed myself to sleep in this morning, blowing off the 6:00 wake-up call and getting up at 7 instead. While I made it to Mets camp yesterday in time to hear Pedro Martinez needle Roger Clemens, I did so in long sleeves and jeans, having flown in from Washington. Today will mark my true indoctrination to the wonder that is spring training.

It's my favorite time of year, work-wise. We get great weather, nights off (generally) and more freedom to pick our subject matter than during the regular season, which is obviously shaped by the games.

Given our New York readership, there's not enough compelling storylines to merit a trip to Arizona this year, so I'll spend the next few weeks in Florida _ mostly with our two locals, but perhaps with some bouncing around to other camps.

Sadly, I've never been to Vero Beach. Maybe I'll find my way over there to check in with Joe Torre, before the Dodgers head West forever. For now, however, for those of you making your way down or contemplating such a trip, here are my thoughts on the other Florida locales:

St. Peterburg (Rays): Beautiful hotels, and a great, old-school ballpark that should generate positive memories for old-time Mets fans. Nothing to dislike here. Unfortunately, they'll soon be leaving here for disgusting Port Charlotte. Grade: A

Tampa (Yankees): While I know people in my business who will disagree, I enjoy Tampa for its convenience (the airport is 10 minutes from the ballpark - still struggling with that new name), its central location in the state and its abundance of amenities in both the dining and shopping arenas. Grade: A

Clearwater (Phillies): Love the beach area, and the new ballpark is pretty nice, too. Grade: A-

Fort Lauderdale (Orioles): Great city, perhaps the best of all Florida spring training sites. Horrible stadium, although they're trying to get the funds for upgrading it, and it's far, far away from all opponents. Grade: A-

Lake Buena Vista (Braves): Your stance on Disney World will dictate your feelings of this place, since it's located right on campus. The ballpark is highly regarded enough to have hosted big-league games (the Rays played Texas in a three-game series last year) and World Baseball Classic action. Grade: B+

Jupiter (Cardinals and Marlins): No major complaints here. Nice new facility, and pretty close (about 15 minutes) to Palm Beach International Airport. Grade: B.

Lakeland (Tigers): After spending four years in Michigan for college, I can appreciate the charms that Joker Marchant Stadium offers to Tigers loyalists. You can buy Little Caesars pizza _ which makes sense, since Tigers owner Mike Ilitch owns the pizza company _ and daily copies of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. Nothing much better than chain restaurants in the surrounding area, but what's wrong with chain restaurants? Grade: B

Port St. Lucie (Mets): For years, I heard horror stories from veteran writers about "Port St. Lousy" and "Port St. Lonesome." But since coming here in 2005, I've had no major beefs. Both the town and the ballpark _ and, I suppose, the Mets themselves _ have benefited from upgrades. Grade: B

Sarasota (Reds): The Reds might move out of here, but that speaks more to finances than the area itself, which is fine. Grade: B

Bradenton (Pirates): More than anything else, it smells like oranges here, thanks to this. Who doesn't love oranges? But not much of interest, otherwise. Grade: B-

Winter Haven (Indians): A charming, old-school ballpark (so old-school, however, that it didn't have wireless Internet access as of last year for hacks like myself) with pleasant crowds. Pretty surrounding area. Grade: B-

Dunedin (Blue Jays): Profoundly unmemorable in all regards. At least it's close to Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Grade: C

Kissimmee (Astros): The surrounding area is pretty gross. The ballpark is serviceable. Sort of close to Disney, at least. Grade: C-

Fort Myers (Red Sox and Twins): Someone please explain to me what I'm missing here. I find this to be one of the more dreadful places in the country. How does it support an international airport? Naples, which is 45 minutes away and quite nice, must have more rich people than I realize. The two ballparks are good enough, but otherwise, it's a hellhole. Grade: D-

Viera (Nationals): The absolute pits. Terrible ballpark, terrible area, terrible team. Only for die-hard Nats fans. Grade: F

UPDATE: Okay, I'm at Space Coast Stadium as I type _ it's Saturday, at about 1:00 _ and this has become less awful since my last visit in 2000. They've built up the town a little bit. So I'll change the grade to a D+.

Feedback, as always, is encouraged. Have a great weekend.

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