FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In Hammond Stadium's sleepy center-field seating section, I leaned back, pulled down my cap and sighed.
The sun beat the perfect amount of heat onto my shoulders during one of the Minnesota Twins' last spring training games in Fort Myers. The Key lime cider in my hand dripped with perspiration. And the crack of the bat -- and the ensuing ruffle of cheers -- were the only sounds interrupting the quiet of a late March afternoon.
Yep, this was the life that so many Minnesotans truck down to Florida each February and March to live. And it's no wonder. The hometown team plays nearly every day. Balmy 80-degree days. And the ocean? It's just a short drive from the park.
What else could there be?
Well, a lot actually.
If baseball is your thing, why not consider a coastal crawl? Wander north along the state's Gulf Coast shoreline, and you'll find nine -- seriously, nine -- Major League Baseball teams making their spring homes between Fort Myers and Tampa.
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Beyond those sun-splashed diamonds, plenty of other entertaining options exist, from fishing for dinner off a pier in Anna Maria, to attending the opera in Sarasota, to strolling down St. Petersburg's super-trendy Central Avenue. And if you want to stay in Fort Myers? We've got plenty of ideas there, too, whether you're in the mood for sipping craft cocktails or stalking crocodiles.
Our guide will give you all the fodder you need to take this year's spring training trip to the next level.
For a moment, it seemed like everyone on the wooden overhang was holding their breath.
Slinking through the murky water a few dozen yards away was a slate-hued alligator with jaws big enough to swallow a watermelon. The birds in the trees perched, silent. Only mosquitoes hummed. Even a young girl on the dock was awed into a whisper.