Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Memories at Osceola County Stadium

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
KISSIMMEE, FL

On March 23, 2016, the Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 in what appeared to be their last game at Osceola County Stadium. If everything goes according to plan, Houston and the Washington Nationals will move into a new ballpark in West Palm Beach, FL in 2017.

On March 11, 2016, the Detroit Tigers faced the Astros and this stadium brought back some nostalgic memories as I returned here for the first time since 1985.

Back then, I was a Sports Writer for the Tampa Tribune.

I was covering the Florida State League (FSL) All-Star Weekend during the stadium's first year of operation. That weekend, I had the good fortune to meet Hall of Fame Pitcher Sandy Koufax.

This was the first year of Spring Training for the Houston Astros and their Class A Advanced Team the Osceola Astros.

What stood out about this game wasn't the score of the Old-Timers Game or The All-Star Game.

Instead, it's what happened in the Press Box.

For the weekend, I used a Tampa Tribune Computer which had "Rotary Phone Cuffs" where you stick the phone in and transmit the story through the land line. Ah yes, the technology of "Yesteryear."

After the game, I had both my stories done and attempted to send two articles. I repeat, I attempted to send two articles.

Needless to say, after six attempts, I was unable to get them to the Tampa Tribune.

Luckily, My Desk Editor Rick Nelson was able to extend my deadline to 12:30 AM with the cooperation of production.

I dictated the two stories to Rick for 25 minutes and when I saw it in print, Nelson did an outstanding job when I returned to Tampa and saw it in the paper. These stories are framed in My Office at home.

As I reminisced with my longtime friend Lynn Henning (in the photo) of the Detroit News, he said, "that had to be traumatic for you."

I told him I was the oldest 22-year old that night in a building which was working out the bugs after being open for just four months. There wasn't any gray hair and I was MUCH THINNER back then, weighing in at a whopping 135 pounds.

Before and during the game, I was sharing this experience with Astros PR Guy Chris Peixoto (25) as well as the Tigers PR tandem of Aileen Villarreal and Michele Wysocki. Like Peixoto, Wysocki wasn't even born. Villarreal, Wysocki and Peixoto actually gleamed as I was talking about this experience.

Their version of technology is far different than what many of us "old school" media types had to work with.

During my years of covering Spring Training, I've rarely attended a game with a clear cut story idea. But as we drove 2 1/2 hours North up the Florida Turnpike, and weeks leading up to this, this was an obvious story idea.

Besides, on the road, you never know what players will travel with the club and will be available.

On this day, the Detroit Tigers sent familiar names to Osceola County Stadium.

Alan Trammell was throwing batting practice, GM Al Avila was around, in addition to Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, Ian Kinsler, Anthony Gose, JD Martinez, Victor Martinez, Bruce Rondon along with top prospects JaCoby Jones and Steven Moya.

Prior to the game, I had a chance to ask Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus about his thoughts and memories at Osceola County Stadium.

Ausmus, 46, is seven years younger than I am. He played for Houston from 1997-98, and again from 2001-2008.

"I had a lot of memories having been here 10 years," Ausmus said. "There were some good restaurants. There were some good and tough times."

"One thing that stood out was moving into a new facility after it was renovated. We really had a small and old major league clubhouse. When it was renovated, we really had a small and old major league clubhouse. When it was renovated, and we moved into this new building, it was a major upgrade."

On Monday, March 7, 2016, The Tampa Tribune printed out it's last paper in it's downtown 202 S. Parker Street facility off The Riverfront. The Tribune will be joining forces with the Tampa Bay Times with the production operation being relocated to St.Petersburg, FL. The editorial staff moves out in May into another Tampa Office.

My old stomping grounds will be torn down for a new apartment complex.

I worked at The Tampa Tribune  from 1984-1986. I had the pleasure of working with some of the best colleagues during my development as a Sports Writer.

My All-Star line-up includes late Sports Editor Tom McEwen, Joey Johnston, Chris Harry, Mike O'Keefe, Jim Henry, Herb Branham, Nick Pugliese, Roy Cummings, Executive Sports Editor Joe DiSalvo and Nelson.

Johnston gave me a strong recommendation to get the FSL beat, and DiSalvo gave me the free reign to do whatever I wanted to keep it interesting.

Nelson helped me get a free lance writing job with RedsVue Magazine in Cincinnati. He edited my stories for both the Tribune and RedsVue as I covered the Reds Class A Advanced League FSL Tampa Tarpons, plus all the Reds Fantasy and Spring Training assignments.

But on this 1985 FSL All-Star Game, it was A Night to Forget and a Night to Remember.

I got an on the job training lesson that you won't get majoring in a Mass Communications Curriculum in college. Boy did I ever!

Yet, when I think about the advances in technology, the words internet, wireless, net books, laptop computers, tablets and smart phones have turned technology upside down.

It's great to tell stories about the Wonderful World of Yesteryear and for the Tigers vs Astros contest, I even had the opportunity to sit in My Old Seat in the Press Box at Osceola County Stadium with the only difference being that I weighed 260 pounds, sporting gray hair and facial hair.

To this day, the best job I had in college was working at The Tampa Tribune.

On March 11, 2016, it seemed like June of 1985 all over again, only without the deadline pressure, but the technology was working as I prepared this story.

Nelson taught me to be composed under pressure and I've used that into my adult years in every situation imaginable for the most part. We all have our moments of extreme frustration, but mine are much less as they were before. Yet, once again, I'm very proud of what Nelson and I accomplished in June of 1985.

As for the Tigers vs Astros game, Cabrera hit the most exciting fly ball to not leave the stadium in front of 4,237 fans. Meanwhile, Moya hit his third home run of the spring.

When we saw the Astros last spring on Sunday March 8, 2015 at Lakeland's Joker Marchant Stadium, Houston hammered Detroit 14-9. The Astros would reach the playoffs and defeated the New York Yankees in the first round.

With the Tigers numerous off-season moves, it will be interesting to see how this season plays out.

But as I look at Osceola County Stadium 31 years later, it's a beautiful ballpark and it's cozy 5,300 capacity is the smallest in Spring Training.

Yet, The City of Kissimmee, FL has done an outstanding job taking care of this venue.

It looked even better on this 81 degree sunny afternoon in Central Florida, watching the "Boys of Summer" reminiscing about "Memory Lane" for those that wanted to hear me at the FSL All-Star Weekend that I can now laugh about.

The Tigers lost to the Astros on this day 10-4, but that was a mere after thought.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.

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