Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sox in Sarasota?

I attended my first spring training game when I was about 9 years old. It was 1973, at Payne Park in Sarasota, Florida. The White Sox were hosting the Red Sox. I know the year because I was there with my older brother Kenneth, and he took pictures. I remember meeting Red Sox pitchers Bob Veale and John Curtis. We were in Sarasota because just a couple years earlier, my grandparents had bought a condo in nearby Longboat Key. In the 35 years since, I’ve seen a bunch of spring training games, including the first full year that Carlton Fisk was part of the White Sox, and more recently, at newer Ed Smith Stadium, the spring home of the Cincinnati Reds. Last year the Reds informed the city of Sarasota that they’re heading to Arizona. So who’s seriously interested in picking up stakes and moving their spring operation to Sarasota? That’s right, the Red Sox!

And who’s helping to lead the charge in Sarasota to bring the Red Sox to town, leaving Ft. Myers? Elsie Souza! Who’s Elsie Souza, you say? Elsie is one of the most wonderful women you could ever hope to meet. I’ve known Elsie since I was a very little kid, probably not too long after I attended my first Spring Training game. Elsie’s son Chris and I were in the same carpool together in grade school when I was growing up in New Bedford. I became a big fan of Elsie and her remarkable husband Tony, and have remained in touch off and on over the years. Chris was an incredible kid. Smart, talented, funny, as much of a Red Sox fan as I was, and really just a great product of two fantastic parents. Chris went to Syracuse University, just as I had. At the same time I was working in Washington, DC, so was Chris. He was a legislative assistant in Ted Kennedy’s Capitol Hill office. In 2004, Chris was stricken with cancer, and passed away at the far-too-painful age of 26. The agony that Elsie and Tony must have endured is beyond my capacity to imagine. Nevertheless, they’ve found ways to keep going and pay tribute to Chris, one of those rare kids that you never forget, even if you only met him just once.

A few years ago, Elsie and Tony moved to Sarasota. Tony is now the executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity. And what’s Elsie doing these days? She’s the coordinator for Citizens for Sox, a grass roots effort by Sarasota residents to help lure the Red Sox to a new training complex off Fruitville Road in Sarasota. This would actually be a return to Sarasota for the Sox. They’ve been there before, most recently for 14 years in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Sarasota needs the Red Sox, and the Red Sox would do well to move just a few miles up the gulf coast and expand to a new, state of the art complex. Take it from someone who’s familiar with the area: you WANT to see the Sox in Sarasota. It’s a wonderful place to spend a week in March, and it’s vastly more interesting than Ft. Myers. What could you do to help make this happen? Read the articles on the website. Sign the petition. Write a letter to the editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

As Elsie said to me in an email today, “You know that Chris is overseeing this”. Damn straight he is, and I bet he’s grinning broadly. I, for one, have no intention of letting him down. Besides, I want to see the Red Sox in Sarasota!

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