Florida Spring's Old Sweet Song

Preseason baseball's charm survives slick new parks

Dry palm fronds rattle behind the right-field fence. The odors of peanuts, mustard and beer waft over the emerald green grass, and in the inebriating sunshine, laughter and catcalls issue from the bleachers. An eight-year-old boy waves a miniature bat, a bikini-clad college student ogles the first baseman, and a pair of guys in U.A.W. T shirts argue earned-run averages in the shade of an entryway tunnel. At the plate, a nervous hopeful up from the minors squares his batting helmet and prays to the puffy clouds above the orange groves: God, please send the next one right down the chute.

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