Friday, April 6, 2012

THERE USED TO BE A THEME PARK

THIS 33-CARD SET WAS CALLED TOP RUN MAKERS AND FEATURED A GLOSSY FRONT.


It opened in 1987, right at the time I rediscovered baseball. It was the closest thing to heaven, I thought, coming two years before Field of Dreams trademarked "Is this heaven?''


Boardwalk and Baseball was the greatest theme park of all time. Its calling card was baseball, live baseball 365 days a year. Upon opening, it promised to feature a game every day of year. It later became easier to meet that quota when the Royals moved their spring training and Florida State League and Gulf Coast Rookie League teams there.


SUITABLE FOR DRINKING OUT OF
 OR HOLDING FLOWERS.

Located about an hour east of Tampa in Davenport, near Haines City, B/B was given its own dateline: Baseball City. How appropriate. Along with rides, it featured restaurants, batting cages and my favorite attraction: A Taste of Cooperstown, which consisted of more than a 100 artifacts on loan from the Hall of Fame. It also ran the 30-minute video The Eternal Game on a loop. I loved that video and ended up buying it.


There was a lot of other crap to buy, too. In addition to the video, I got a couple B/B card sets, mugs and especially Orioles jerseys and caps. At Baseball City Stadium, there was a shop that had every team's authentic team jersey and cap and a lot of batting practice jerseys, too. 


THESE WERE PRODUCED IN VERY LIMITED QUANTITIES.
I saw plenty of spring training games. It's where I saw Bo Jackson do his spring thing early in his career. I saw George Brett during the latter part of his career. And I saw Bret Saberhagen in his prime, thinking this guy's headed to the Hall.

ESPN taped a quiz show there, and early in '87 I was sent by my paper to cover an American Legion tournament. That was one of the best assignments I ever had. For a couple years, Pizza Hut sponsored a charity softball game at Baseball City Stadium right before spring training started. Many of the game's biggest stars participated. I got Brooks Robinson's autograph for the first time before one of those games. I also saw Kirby Puckett slam a softball more than 350 feet. When rounding third, a few of his awestruck teammates came out of the dugout, lifted him on their shoulders and carried him across home plate.

Oh, the memories of B/B.


THIS 44-CARD SET WAS CALLED ALL-TIME RECORD HOLDERS
AND FEATURED A LOT OF THE OLD-TIMERS.

Unfortunately, not enough people shared my love. It closed in 1990, with industry experts saying it was victimized by bad management. It's all torn down now. Never a theme park fan, I felt they took away my theme park. Well, they can't take away the memories. When I look at those card sets or pop in the VHS tape, the park always comes alive again. 

Joe Raposo wrote the song There Used to be a Ballpark that Frank Sinatra recorded. It's a fitting tribute to Boardwalk and Baseball:

Oh, there used to be a ball park
where the field was warm and green, 
and the people played a crazy game
with a joy I've never seen.

And the air was filled with wonder
from the hot dogs and the beer. 
Yes, there used to be a ball park 
right here.

And the people ate rock candy
on a great big 4th of July, 
and the fireworks exploded 
all across the summer sky.

How the people watched with wonder,
how they laughed and how they cheered. 
Yes, there used to be a ball park 
right here.

Now the children try to find it,
and they can't believe their eyes. 
For the old team isn't playing, 
and the new team hardly tries

And the sky has gotten cloudy
when it used to be so clear,  
and the summer went so quickly
this year.

Yes, there used to be a ball park
right here.

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