News-Sun photo by LARRY LEVEY Sports travel writer Joe Connor documents old photos at the Avon Park Historical Museum Saturday morning.
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published: Sunday, March 03, 2013
Sports writer digs into history of Heartland's baseball
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
AVON PARK - Travel sports writer and San Diego resident Joe Connor has traveled throughout the state of Florida picking up pieces of history along the way. The baseball fan learned of his passion for the sport as a teenager from his father, who he gives credit as his inspiration for his love of travel and sports.
"He took me everywhere. We'd go to spring training games and season games and I just loved. I also played baseball for a while," Connor said.
For the past three weeks, Connor has kicked his love of travel and sports into high gear as he visited nearly 30 cities in Florida gathering pieces of history to showcase for his story - a piece that documents the approaching 125th anniversary of the MLB's spring training season.
From Jacksonville to Avon Park, Connor has learned a great deal of information regarding the history of the sport as it has unfolded in the Sunshine State.
MLB and its minor league counterpart have traditionally trained for the season in either Florida or Arizona. Connor has visited most of the most famous, and historic, sites throughout both states. Though the journalist did not come right out and say it, it seemed that Florida might be a little more favorited by the writer.
"There is such a rich history here," Connor said. "Arizona has nicer facilites there, but not the history. In the entire state I think only two fields and stadiums are older. The rest are younger than 1965."
The lush history of baseball in Florida is the reason that so many MLB teams continue to come here every spring, year after year to train and get themselves ready for the approaching season.
Some of the sports greatest, most recognized players not only stepped onto the big fields in Florida but made history in little towns and cities like Avon Park and Sebring.
"I just got back from Sebring," Connor said excitedly. "They have signage there and the marker where Lou Gehrig hit the first home run during spring training at the right field wall."
Connor was impressed and excited to learn about the other historical facts that baseball has brought to the Heartland area.
A baseball bat, on loan from Dr. Ron Sevigny, lies on display at the Avon Park Depot Museum. Connor was thrilled to find out that the citizens of Avon Park had the bat made for none other than Babe Ruth during the St. Louis Cardinals stay at what was then known as Columbus Cardinal Field. Avon Park served as the spring training home for the Cardinals during the 1928 season.
Ruth spent time in Avon Park as well as Sebring during the training seasons. According to Museum Director Elaine Levey, the cities would shut down on game days to show support of the sport and the players.
Other players and hometown heroes Hal McRae and Tom Gordon were discussed in depth during Connor's visit. Connor had made plans to visit McRae in Bradenton to speak of the history of Avon Park and his life's passion of baseball.
"There is just an incredible amount of history around here. Other cities like Leesburg, and Sanford. Players like Jackie Robinson and Daytona where they named the field after him. The thing about it is these fields, like Head Field here, are old but they're historic. They are being used for further inspiration by the players out there using them now," Connor said.
Much of the state is a beacon for baseball and adds so much to the game as well as to the nation as a whole. Florida has always and will continue to play a huge part in that.
"There are those who dreamed of bringing people down here to play. It's a long traditon. It's the tradition and it will continue," Connor said.
Connor's adventures and feature story of the history of baseball in Florida and the 125th anniversary of MLB spring training season will be featured on www.nbcsports.com/ in mid-March.
Baseball (by: Al - 3/3/2013)
Avon Park has always been a baseball town.
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