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A Visit to Chain O’ Lakes Park

October 7, 2011

Growing up in New England I dreaded winter.  It got dark early, was cold and the fluffy white snoweventually turned black before melting sometime in April.  In the middle of these cold dark months a beacon of hope emerged each February in the form of Spring Training.  It was practically a regional holiday when the trucked pulled up to Fenway Park to load the Sox’s gear for the drive down south.  Television cameras would be on the scene and the evening news would give the sports guy a little extra time to cover the most important story of the day.

As a kid the home of our beloved Red Sox was Chain O’ Lakes Park in Winter Haven, Florida.  The only time I ever saw it was when Mike Lynch gave his nightly report on how Mike Greenwell or Oil Can Boyd was progessing.  I imagined the area was much more exotic than Salem, New Hampshire.  It had to be a tropical paradise flanked by palm trees, a place truly worthy or our team.  I always wanted to see the Red Sox during Spring Training but as a 10 year old kid I did not have the independent means or transportation to make the 1,400 mile trip to the Sunshine State.

Today I was driving to Winter Haven to attend a couple of depositions.  The deponents failed to appear and before making the four plus hour drive back home I decided to swing by Chain O’ Lakes Park.  It was a short drive to the stadium which is situated behind the Orange Dome.  The area was quiet except for a few maintenance workers driving around on golf carts.  They paid no attention to me as I parked near the gate and walked towards the field.

The Sox are long gone from Chain O’ Lakes Park.  They packed up for a newer stadium in 1992 in Sarasota after calling Winter Haven home during the Grapefruit League since 1966.  The Cleveland Indians used the facility from 1993 until 2008 when the moved to Arizona.  It sits tenantless but still in relatively good repair. I walked around the concourse and took a few pictures. Standing there I thought about the great Sox players who shagged balls on the field.  Yaz, Fisk, Remy, and my favorite growing up Dwight Evans.

I got back in the car and made my way towards the exit.  Waiting to pull into my lane I noticed a water tower standing about a small strip mall.  A faded Cleveland Indian logo was painted on the side as a reminder of one of the teams who used to call Winter Haven home.  It was a sad reminder of what used to be, and barring a major overhaul of the park will never come back.

As for Winter Haven as a whole, it was shabby and run down.  Several areas I drove through were severely depressed.  It was not the exotic destination I imagined when I was younger, and I was happy to head home to Monticello.

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