My Good Wife and I recently traveled to Champion Stadium at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World to watch the last two Atlanta Braves Spring Training games ever to be played at that venue. It’s the end of an era that lasted twenty-two years. The Braves moved their Spring Training headquarters from West Palm Beach to Lake Buena Vista in 1997.In 2020, they’ll move it to a brand-new complex at North Port, Florida, which is in Sarasota County. In fact, they played the final game of this year’s Spring Training in the new stadium. Reports are that it is fantastic.I look forward to visiting the new place next spring. I’m sure it will be a great place to watch a baseball game. I understand that it’s configured so that 70% of the seats will be in the shade for a 1:00 p.m. start. It has the added advantage of having beaches nearby. But I’m sad about the end of the Braves’ relationship with Disney. I admit I won’t miss such silliness as having Mickey or Goofy accompany the tossers of the first pitch to and from the mound. Still, Champion Stadium is the only place I’ve ever watched Braves’ Spring Training games. I will always wax nostalgic about it. I expect to tire of hearing myself say, even as I sit in utter contentment at CoolDay Park (that’s it’s name) in North Port over the next couple of decades, ‘Remember how back at Disney/ESPN’s Wide World of Sports/Champion Stadium/Lake Buena Vista they used to’¦?’We tend to be nostalgic. After the new Lamar County High School opens this fall, students who have attended classes in the current facility since 1975 will smile and say, ‘Remember when’¦?’ People of my generation who grew up in Lamar County are that way about the schools at Booker, Gordon, and Milner. And that’s okay. Memories that bring smiles to our faces are good things. Change is okay too, because it creates opportunities for the creation of new memories that will bring new smiles to our faces. My nostalgia will always be tied to Dr. Howard Giddens, my teacher and mentor with whom I went to Spring Training every year from 1995-2005. For a few years, I went with a small group of friends. One year our son went with me. For the last few years, my Good Wife and I have made the trip together and will, Lord willing, continue to do so. (She loves baseball. It was a necessary prerequisite for marrying me.) The best kind of nostalgia isn’t so much about missing the place or wanting to go back to the time. It’s about remembering the people with whom we shared the experiences. The Braves have signed a thirty-year lease with Sarasota County to hold Spring Training at CoolDay Park. By the time it runs out, I’ll be ninety years old. Maybe the Braves will be ready for another change by then. Maybe I will too.Who knows what I’ll be experiencing at that point (if anything)? Perhaps my wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be with me as I watch the Braves play some Spring Training games. Wherever I am and whomever I’m with, I’ll cherish the people who are with me. I’ll also cherish the memories of the people who have been with me in years gone by.
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