Jim Jones' Eastword column: No such thing as a bad day at the ballpark

March 10, 2013 

A hot dog with a little relish, a lot of mustard, and McKechnie Field on a fine, sunny day with the Pirates and Rays playing a spring training baseball game on a green field under a bright blue sky.

What could be finer?

Maybe a cold beer with that hot dog?

Well, if you don't have to go back to work.

But there was no complaining from anyone lucky enough to be in the comfortable, relaxed space of McKechnie Field on Thursday, especially me.

This past week I had a chance to sit next to a new friend, Tom Oliver, right behind home plate.

Actually, I had never before met Tom, a retired postal worker.

Baseball is one of those mellow times in space where two strangers sitting next to each other can have a friendly chat, and say goodbye with a handshake.

Baseball offers a leisurely opportunity to get acquainted with others, or even a refurbished ball park.

McKechnie, of course, now has a boardwalk that allows you to take a 360-degree stroll around the ballpark.

In the second inning,I went for that stroll,and stopped at dead centerfield to satisfy my weakness for Italian ice. The place invites you to linger.

Never mind that there are several signs warning spectators to be alert for long balls hit in their direction. We can only wish to catch a long pop fly, I thought.

On the way back to my seat, I had to stop to look down on the visiting bullpen, where two pitchers were warming up.

The snap of a baseball hitting the leather of a mitt is what first got my attention.

Fascinating having that vantage point on who is warming up and what their pitch looks like from an overhead perspective.

Haven't been to a spring training game yet? Spring training doesn't last all year. The last home game this season at McKechnie is March 27.

Don't like baseball? Go anyway, it's a great social experience.

Among the greatest things Manatee County has to offer are its waterways -- the beaches and rivers -- and spring training baseball atMcKechnie Field.

I feel that all Manatee County residents have a stake in the waterways and McKechnie. In a sense, they belong to all of us.

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Just as I felt privileged to have been at McKechnie Field recently, I felt privileged to be at the Bradenton Area Convention Center when Willie Taggart came home and received the key to the city of Palmetto, his hometown.

Taggart, a Manatee High School grad, has come so far since growing up in a challenging neighborhood in Palmetto.

He is the new University of South Florida head football coach, and he is generous in his thanks for those who helped him along the way, including his family, his high school football coach Joe Kinnan, his high school teammates and others.

He'll be the first to tell you that he is a work in progress, always working to be a better father, a better husband, a better football coach.

And he'll also be the first to tell our young people to get their high school education, and more if possible. Bank on the life-time benefits of an education, not on the remote chance of playing wide receiver for a National Football League team.

Wise words from someone who had more than his share of hard knocks and rose to the pinnacle of his profession,

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet@jajones1.

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