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Loren’s Smith’s column: Sports and 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, 72-65, 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.