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You have to love a place where in the winter you can go to bed with the window wide open, sleep with only a sheet and quickly fall into REM listening to the crickets croaking – reminding you of summer. As an added bonus, you wake up to bright blue skies and birds chirping. If you sleep late like I did, you hear the roar of your neighbor’s lawnmower -- but at least it comes with the smell of fresh-cut grass. That pretty much describes what this past week was like for me in South Florida.
During the first part of my trip I stayed at my sister Carol’s house near Delray Beach. After dropping my bags I took a short walk to the beach. I relaxed in the clean, soft sand, and went for a swim in clear, refreshing 73-degree water. Afterwards Carol, her husband Tom, their kids Johnny and Amanda, and I had an early dinner at Lucille’s BBQ. We went there not only because they serve tasty BBQ (which I love) but also Kids Night, which means kids eat (not drink) for free. An added bonus is a very talented face painter who works for tips. There are three Lucille’s in South Florida. Lucille’s, Delray Beach International Plaza, 710 Linton Blvd, Delray Beach, FL; tel.: 561-330-6705.
The next day I was invited by my friends at the Palm Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to attend a baseball dinner at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, a 40-minute drive from Delray. (The PBCVB promotes and markets Palm Beach County tourism. It’s the number one industry, generating over $2.6 billion annually for the area's economy). Roger Dean Stadium is shared by two spring training teams: the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. The annual dinner is hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. It sells out quickly after tickets go on sale to the public (usually in January). The evening is a great opportunity (and deal) for any baseball fan, especially those of the Marlins and Cardinals. It costs only $35 for nonmembers, $30 for members of the chamber, and $15 for kids. The price includes a gift bag given to everyone at the entrance, with two souvenir baseballs with each team’s logo, a water bottle, team posters and a team pen.
The pen and balls are included so that everyone can go down both lines of tables and get autographs (there are 20 players and coaches from each team). Although most big-name players like Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Carlos Delgado were not in attendance, there were some All-Stars and Hall of Famers. That made it even more fun to walk down the line and meet each player/coach. However, it was a little disappointing that many of the old timers I admired growing up were not very friendly. Hal McCrae, Andre Dawson and Tony Perez all had the same reaction when I asked if I could took a picture. "I don’t care" they said, but they didn’t stand up or even smile. However, managers Tony La Russa and Jack McKeon made up for them. Maybe that’s why they’re managers: They have good people skills. Afterwards we all had BBQ together, and I gained a little insight into spring training talking from one of the players. He said it’s really tough, especially for those trying to make the team. Everyone has to be at the field at 7 a.m. seven days a week. That means they can’t really party, except go to an occasional happy hour for a couple of beers. After dinner the managers made speeches and complimented each other’s team. Tony LaRussa said he believes the reason both teams are so good (the Marlins won the World Series in 2003, and the Cardinals lost in the World Series last year) is because they share the same stadium and play each other seven times in exhibition games.
Roger Dean Stadium is an awesome place. I went three times last week: for the banquet, to a watch practice (it was pouring earlier so they had to practice under a roof), and to attend opening day of the exhibition season. The stadium is located at Florida Atlantic University and looks brand new. There’s not a bad seat in the house. It holds only 7,000 and there is plenty of close, free parking (except on game days when it costs $5). The Marlins opened their spring season by taking on the Univeristy of Miami. One would think the highly paid pros would kick the no-name college kids’ butts but surprisingly the opposite happened--and it wasn’t like the Marlins didn’t have their best players on the field. Their starting line up was filled with many of the same players from that 2003 world championship season.
Going to the game was a big treat for me, because I took my niece and nephew to their first baseball game. It was also the first time I had taken them anywhere without my sister or brother-in-law. We had a great time, and watched the game from two different locations. The first was behind home plate; the second was from the Berm. That’s an area of grass near the right-field foul line. The kids liked the Berm better, because they could run around and ask the players in the nearby bullpen for autographs. I liked it better too, because it was a new experience and the sun was not shaded. Tickets for the game are between $5 (for standing room) to $21 for Field Box seats. The Berm is $7.
The food at the stadium is pretty good. Besides selling traditional stadium fare, they had some less normal offerings, like a giant smoked turkey leg ($7.50). I had to buy one of those bad boys to freak the kids out. I told them it was a pterodactyl leg, and we looked and felt like the Flintstones eating it. BTW: I think this turkey had the L-tryptophan in it. If you are in South Florida, be sure to catch a game. Roger Dean Stadium Ticket Office, 4751 Main Street, Jupiter, FL. Tel: 561.966.3309.
One day I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon at the Ritz Carlton Jupiter in their spa (steam, sauna, hot tub…) and get an incredible massage. This Ritz is not open to the public, because it’s not a hotel; instead it’s one of the four properties they operate as a high-end time share, country club and residence (they even have homes as a permanent residence). Any place that has a humidor in the lobby for freshly baked chocolate chip cookies has my vote. If you want a taste of the good life, check out their website for more info on how to become a member. What’s funny is that not only one of my uncles is a member, but I learned one of my friends (JR Benedetto-- from CT) works in the sales department and on top of that I randomly ran into my brother’s college roommate who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Ritz Carlton Jupiter, 106 Ritz-Carlton Club Drive, Jupiter, Fl. Tel: 800.278.2107.
Getting a massage was a perfect activity, because it was raining. If you ever get caught in the rain in Jupiter and are looking for an off-the-wall place to visit, try the Burt Reynolds Museum. Burt was born in Michigan, but spent most of his life in Jupiter. The city loves him, because he has brought so much recognition and money to the area. He has even filmed many movies and TV shows here like "BL Styker," which brought more film dollars ($48 million) to Palm Beach County than any other film or series. The museum is filled with glistening chandeliers, mirrored cases housing his lifetime collection of awards and personal gifts (including all kinds of awards, trophies and pictures), and film memorabilia. Did you know my friend Burt was the first star to be paid $1 million per movie? Cost $3 to enter. Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum, 100 North U.S. Hwy. 1, Jupiter, Florida 33477; Tel: 561.743.9955.
To complete a fun-filled rainy day, Limo Limo provided a car and driver to take me all around. This is the perfect way to travel throughout South Florida if you don’t feel like driving in the rain or dealing with directions. Their cars are clean, and the drivers are professional and well dressed. They have all types of cars available and are members of PBC Business Development Board, PBCCVB, BNI, JTJB Chamber, and the NLA. Limo Limo; tel.: 561-687-5466. To search rates online for limousines all around the country check out Limos.com.
Before I took off for South Beach, I babysat my niece and nephew for the second time. Uncle Johnny is now Johnny and Amanda’s favorite uncle because I taught them how to have a real water balloon fight after they tried to mess with me. I showed them the importance of filling the balloon all the way up, so it really pops when it hits the target. You should’ve seen the size of those water bombs. After I gave them a world-class water balloon beating I felt bad, so I took them to Ben & Jerry’s to show I was a good sport. Guess who was making an in-store appearance -- Ben! I’m bummed that I forgot to ask him if they would ever bring back my all-time favorite ice cream: chocolate peanut butter cookie dough. Actually, it’s probably best for my waist size that they keep it in the Flavor Graveyard. Ben was really nice and the kids loved him, not only for making delicious ice cream but he gave them a cool Ben & Jerry’s pen.
Next week we’re off to my brother’s bachelor party – the event to end all bachelor parties. If you’ve been following my new JohnnyJet Blog, then you know it takes place in two different exciting locales. If you haven’t seen the blog, you’ll just have to wait till next week.
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Destination of the month: Ireland in March |
Our search for this month's top destination leads us to the green shores of Ireland. The Irish have celebrated the legacy of the country's patron saint, Patrick, since he died on March 17 about 1,600 years ago. But even if you're not interested in the St. Patrick's Day festivities, March is a good time to go, as the weather and prices converge to offer great value for budget-conscious travelers. Click Here To Read Article
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