Friday, March 09, 2007

Spring forward with a great sports weekend

The Tampa Bay area is the hub of the sports universe as 3 major sports converge on the Gulf Coast

If there was a worse time to put the new & "improved" Daylight Savings Time plan in to effect I can't think of one.

What a weekend to lose an hour of sleep; there are so many events & games taking place in the wide world of sports that odds are a handful of marriages will not make it thru the NCAA Selection Special on Sunday evening.

And for those of lucky enough to be visiting Florida's Gulf Coast this weekend, there is an awesome array of events to attend in a variety of sports, all within driving distance of Tampa and the Gulf beaches.

Let's take a tour inside the sports universe, Tampa Bay edition.

ACC Tournament, Semi Finals & Finals
Ice Palace
(i.e. the St. Pete Times Forum)

Downtown Tampa (take the Ashley St. exit off of I-275)

The arena on Channelside Drive has been hailed as an outstanding site for the tourney by everyone from commentators to league officials (well, everyone except Bomani Jones, that is), and the building has already seen some great action this week, namely three overtime games, including a 114-112 2 OT thriller won by Wake over Georgia Tech last night.

That kind of excitement will be tough to top, but the weekend could be even better.

In what could be called the de facto Championship game, #4 seed Boston College will face #1 seed North Carolina in one semifinal game Saturday at 1:30. BC held off a pesky 12th-seeded Miami squad today, 74-71 in OT, while the Heels easily dispatched the Seminoles, 73-58.

Plenty of good seats should be available, as scalpers are trying to unload scads of tix for well below face value now that the travelling parties of schools such as Duke and Maryland have decided to spend the rest of the weekend trolling for shells around Caladesi Island and the Noles & Canes contingents have high-tailed it back to Tally & Dade County.

The winner of that game will take on either the Wolfpack, which knocked off Virginia today, or the winner of tonight's Va Tech/Wake matchup. Either way it looks like there should be some more great hoops being played at the Forum this weekend.

(BTW, in reference to that Bomani Jones link, the reason the ACC Tourney is so much more important in Greensboro is because IT'S IN FREAKING GREENSBORO! What the hell else are people gonna do there besides get immersed in the tourney and go catfishing? Here the fans can enjoy the hoops while also enjoying spectacular sunsets on spectacular beaches drinking spectacular, watered down drinks. Get a clue, Bomani.)

PGA Tour PODS Championship
Innisbrook Golf Resort, Copperhead Course
Palm Harbor (take US 19 N just past Alderman Road on the left)

The event formerly known as the Chrysler Championship gets a new sponsor (local portable storage container company PODS), new date (the Chrysler was played in late October) and new found prestige as a jewel in the PGA's newfangled Fed Ex Cup.

Although the tour's main draw, Lord Tiger, has yet to grace the event in any of its incarnations (before the Chrysler the event was known as the Tampa Bay Classic), top pros such as Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen and Phil Mickelson have made appearances on the famed Copperhead course.

This year Lefty, Big Easy and the Goose have decided to skip the notoriously tough Innisbrook rough, but big names such as Sergio Garcia, Vijay, Charles Howell III and local favorite Chris Gator DiMarco have made the cut and will be in the hunt this weekend.

The wife already scored some passes to this event so I will be checking out the action firsthand on Sunday as the leaders come down to 18. Not sure if I am going to try to bring my Canon because John Daly had to withdraw this weekend after suffering a camera-related injury last weekend. But if I do grow a pair and sneak it in you can look forward to some quality shots, like this one I took three years ago as Retief was on his way to accept the trophy.

If you go remember to change out of your flip flops, gob on the sunscreen, and bring enough cash to satisfy a healthy thirst for those $7.00 Michelobs in the frosty aluminum bottles.

Grapefruit League BaseballDunedin, Clearwater, Tampa, St. Pete and surrounding towns

If half price tickets to the ACC tourney are still too expensive for your liking and you're afraid that watching golf live might actually render you comatose then what better way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon than catching a spring training game? Well, other than checking for T-backs and sucking down cold ones on loosely-restricted Mad Beach?

The Bay area is home to four major league franchises in the spring, the Evil Empire (Tampa's Legend's Field); the Philles (Clearwater's Bright House Networks Field); Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin's Knology Park); and of course the rays (St. Pete's Progress Energy Park at Al Lang Stadium.)

I know, I know, the first thing you're thinking is "what quaint ballpark names, especially the dueling cable company ones." But despite the tacky monikers these intimate fields of dreams are among THE best places to catch open-air hardball. Cheap prices, scenic settings, autograph-friendly environments and players close enough to hear you scream "Ann Coulter thinks you're a faggot, A-Rod" all make for terrific springtime fun.

Only the Rays are home on Saturday, facing the Phils in a split squad game. But Sunday, all four local teams are in action on their home fields. If you head to any of these venues, keep these things in mind:

  • In Dunedin they only serve Canadian beer, so don't get all pissy because they don't have a Sam Adams or even a Bud- it's strictly LaBatt's or Molson, take it or leave it (of course in 80 degree weather everyone learns to love Canadian beer for 3 hours)
  • The Phillies stadium presents the best option for families; the kids can play either in the nice playground area or on the large outfield berm, and the parents can keep an eye on the little ones while chugging rum runners at the Tiki Bar in leftfield. Good times.
  • Al Lang is one of the best places anywhere to watch a baseball game. The leftfield berm of the historic stadium offers a spectacular view of the Pier, tiny Albert Whitted Airport and numerous sailing vessels dotting the Bay, while players routinely launch homers over the scoreboard in left center, sometimes landing on the roof of the Mahaffey Theater next door.
  • Despite my distaste for anything & everything Stankee, I have to admit their friggin' park is sweet. It looks more like a major league stadium than Tropicana Field (not tough) and is nicer than most every other park in the Grapefruit League. But the view sucks (oh boy, Dale Mabry Highway!) and the clientele is even worse. I try to avoid this stadium at all costs, unless the wife gets freebies like she did for a game in 2 weeks.

There are other teams that train nearby, like the Tigers (Lakeland), Reds (Sarasota), Braves (Orlando) and Pirates (Bradenton), but with all this action going on here, why leave the area? Just do what I do: go to whatever events you can, watch the other stuff on TV, and try to mix in some beach time or hit Ybor City.

Your tour of the weekend sports scene in the Tampa Bay area is now officially over. Please exit the vehilcle to the right and watch your step disembarking.

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