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SPRING TRAINING: Ghost stories abound

"People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." — Rogers Hornsby

Florida's welcoming arms have always been home to baseball greats like Hornsby and a parade of others simply trying to hang on for another day.

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Small communities throughout Florida have been home to

spring training

since the early 1900s, fostering hopes for players and fans.

That hope still resonates. The quaint innocence doesn't. The cozy confines of Dodgertown and other spring training ballparks have been overrun by modern megaplexes. Teams have cut deals and bolted to Arizona. Parks have been shuttered, bulldozed and ignored.

But now is not the time to bemoan Florida's loss. It's a time to look back and celebrate the splendor of spring training.

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columnist George Diaz and photographer Gary W. Green recently took a road trip through Florida, going back to some of those forgotten places. They asked a few people familiar with those spots to come along to share their memories. From

Easter

eggs in Winter Haven to

Ted Williams

fishing in Sarasota to lions and tigers on the fields of Orlando, there's a precious memory at every turn.

YEARS OF OPERATION:

1914-present.

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TEAMS:

Reds (1923-33), Dodgers (1934-35), Senators (1936-42, 1946-60), Twins (1961-90).

NOTEWORTHY:

Jackie Robinson

makes his first visit to Orlando in 1946 before an overflow crowd estimated at 10,000.

YEARS OF OPERATION:

1947-present.

TEAMS:

Yankees (1947-50, 1952-61), Giants (1951), Cardinals (1947-97), Mets (1962-87), Orioles (1991-95), Devil Rays/Rays (1998-2008).

NOTEWORTHY:

Officially called Progress Energy Park, Home of Al Lang Field since 2003, the current site was known originally as St. Petersburg Athletic Park, which was the spring home base for the Boston Braves and New York Yankees from 1923 until after World War II.

YEARS OF OPERATION:

1966-present.

TEAMS:

Red Sox (1966-92), Indians (1993-2008).

NOTEWORTHY:

The concession concourse was famous for its funnel cake stand.

YEARS OF OPERATION:

1949-present.

TEAMS:

Dodgers (1949-2008).

NOTEWORTHY:

There was no outfield wall until 1971, when a chain-link fence was added after Philadelphia's Richie Allen ran into a palm tree.

YEARS OF OPERATION:

1924-1988

TEAMS:

Giants (1924-27), Red Sox (1933-58), Dodgers (1959), White Sox (1960-88).

NOTEWORTHY:

John McGraw, owner of the New York Giants, was persuaded by one of his good friends to bring his team to Sarasota for spring training. The friend was John Ringling, of circus fame.

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