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Springtime Springtime

While March can be fickle—pollen, sinus headaches and aggravating winds that seem never to abate—it is a month when the sports schedule is a smorgasbord of activity with unending choices.

Basketball and March Madness, spring baseball and spring football are among the options that a serious sports aficionado covets. It is the last month for quail hunting and the trout are biting in North Georgia streams. Masters anticipation builds in late March for that glorious first full week in April.

Highlights of past springs are good for reminiscing by that last fire as March tempts and teases us as we yearn for short sleeves and barefoot excursions to the mailbox. Jonquils, azaleas and dogwoods begin to emerge in our part of the world; the birds sound off with the sweetest offerings to make your day as it is getting underway.

There have been many March memories from the past to savor, from seeing Texas Western upset Kentucky, 7265, at Maryland’s Cole Field House in 1966 to spring training in Florida (and a couple of times in Arizona) to Snook fishing on the Sunshine State’s west coast to bone fishing in the keys.

There is always a sports personality or two in Florida who either has settled permanently in the state or makes their winter home there where they can play golf, enjoy the MLB spring baseball camps and get in a few days fishing for those with multiple interests. One spring, there was the opportunity to visit Red Grange, the Galloping Ghost of Illinois, which was followed by encores for several years.

Dinner came about a couple of times with Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox slugger, just before his health went into decline. You wander up behind a batting cage and you might find Bill Parcels, the former New York Giant coach, in conversation with the Braves’ Bobby Cox.

Baseball icons such as Red Schoendienst (Cardinals), Don Zimmer (Dodgers), Johnny Pesky (Red Sox), Whitey Ford (Yankees) and Bob Feller (Indians) would give you the time of the day. They enjoyed baseball conversation with most anybody, including the fans who came early and wandered down to the first row of seats.

When Vero Beach was the home of the Dodgers, time spent there was the ultimate spring experience. Streets were named for Dodger greats, the players sat in the open within arms-length of the fans—there were no dugouts—and fruit bearing orange trees near the outfield fences reminded you that you were enjoying the best of times.

You could go to Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge in Vero and enjoy a nice dinner with Dodgers, past and present, hanging around, save one— Sandy Koufax. The most iconic of Dodgers makes Vero Beach his home, but the foreground is never a place where he appears.

No former player has ever shunned the spotlight more that this Hall of Famer who retired when he was only 30 years old. At that time, he had thrown four career no-hitters and had a lifetime earned run average of 2.76. The strain and stress of baseball made him worry about his health, so he gave up the game. If you ever go to Bobby’s and find him sitting in a corner enjoying dinner, you’ll get the coldest shoulder possible if you introduce yourself and ask for an autograph. Now 85-years-old, Koufax’s incognito lifestyle is, perhaps, the most intense ever for any major league superstar. Former players make good money at card shows. Koufax has no interest. Even if you told him, he would get a thousand dollars for each signature. His privacy means that much to him. On the way home from Florida, there was always the opportunity to stop by Boggy Pond plantation, near Moultrie and get in one last quail hunt which allowed for a nice quail cookout as you got in the mood for the Masters.

The Masters! With the playing of the Masters, the arrival of spring is confirmed. Usually, the weather is near perfect, the blooms are spectacular and the completion is keen and resonating. Tranquility trumps all when the Masters comes around. Can any season top the spring and its cornucopia? Oh, yes! October.

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