Visiting the land of Boog

Jim Crothers' wife describes him as a "baseball nut" because he let her sit in the old Baltimore Greyhound station for two hours in 1966 while an Orioles-Yankees game went into extra innings. Forty years later, the Crothers now host players for the Single-A Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks and spend most summer evenings watching minor league baseball. Crothers uses Cecil County as a starting point for baseball road trips, including an annual week-long outing with the Calvert Stogie and Rail Club -- a group of "otherwise normal, fat, old guys who destroy themselves by watching up to three games a day."

Key West isn't on the spring training circuit, but this crazy, end-of-the-road town is still a good place to start any baseball road trip. This town is as serious about high school baseball as it is about partying and fishing.

Real Orioles fans will know that Boog Powell starred here for the Key West High Conchs, as did current San Diego Padres shortstop Khalil Greene.

"Boog Powell Park" is just behind the batting cages at Rex Weech Field, but don't expect to find a Boog's Barbeque there. Instead the Conch Cafe serves up serious Cuban fare -- you've got roast pork, picadillo with rice and black beans, wings, macaroni and cheese and, naturally, conch fritters. Boosters sell hats and shirts, chances on Greene memorabilia and 50-50 tickets, while the PA announcer adds to the atmosphere and the radio station re-plays last night's game.

Key West is serious enough about baseball, but Saturday was big-time. On Friday, the Conchs won 3-2 against powerhouse American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), and the 800 fans here are thinking sweep with ace Daniel Foltz on the mound.

For six innings it was high school baseball at its gritty best: solid pitching and fielding, precision cutoffs and snap pickoffs. In the sixth, however, Foltz ran out of steam and the "potent Heritage lineup" scored five runs (three earned) to win 6-1.

Watching Foltz receive a touching "standing O" made the trip down here to Mile Marker 0 worthwhile.

Wednesday in Jupiter (March 7: Orioles vs. Marlins) won't be nearly as inspiring, but hey, it's 75 degrees, sunny, and they're playing two (split-squad games at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.). Life is good for the Calvert Stogie and Rail Club.

Throughout spring training, will publish reports by Orioles fans that made the trip to Florida for baseball's preseason. From Grapefruit League games to minor league camps, our crew of fan correspondents will weigh in with their spring training insights and experiences -- your source for a healthy dose of spring fever.