2006: Time to treasure

Before we pulled out of our driveway, my two Little Leaguers – Reid, 13, and Jonathan, 10 – set the rules. This was to be a guys’ trip, Dad: no froufrou lunches, no shopping and no family minivan. I was happy to oblige.

Three baseball freaks on a dream trip to Florida’s Treasure Coast, filled with good grub, great golf and a lot of spring training. Heck, the only thing missing were the cigars. (Give it a few years, guys.)

Jupiter

After arriving at the Jupiter Waterfront Inn along the shores of the Indian River about 1 a.m., we grabbed a few hours of sleep, a few pastries from the lobby and were off to our early morning tee time at Abacoa Golf Club.

I’d chosen Abacoa, a 1999 Joe Lee design, because of its proximity to Roger Dean Stadium, where we would watch the Florida Marlins play later that day, and ended up pleasantly surprised. The fairways are wide and forced carries are at a minimum – perfect for the boys. The course was in prime shape and the wavy greens were lightning fast, making every putt an adventure.

Afterward, we headed a block up the street to J.J. Muggs Stadium Grill, a family-friendly sports bar where the beer is cold, the burgers big and the ribs delicious.

From there it was a walk across the street to the ballpark, where the Marlins – after undergoing yet another offseason fire sale – were starting their exhibition season against the University of Miami.

Opened in 1998, Roger Dean Stadium is one of four facilities to host two major-league teams for spring training. (The St. Louis Cardinals also train here.) The 7,000-seat park is impressive, with every seat a good one. U of M – aluminum bats and all – put up a battle before the no-name Marlins rallied late for a 9-8 victory.

After a trip to a public beach on Jupiter Island – and a futile attempt to locate Tiger Woods’ new $38 million pad – it was off to dinner at Little Moir’s Food Shack, a quirky, island-inspired dive tucked between a dentist’s office and an H&R Block in a strip center off U.S. 1. The place is narrow as a single-wide, cloaked in funky Caribbean decor, and every seat in the house was taken. Our wait on a Wednesday night was 45 minutes, and worth every one of them.

The grilled fish tacos were splendid, but the sides – coconut rice, cucumber slaw and tropical fruit salad – are what really made my taste buds roar. Just save room for the raspberry key lime pie – a terrific twist on an old Florida favorite.

Vero Beach

On our way to Dodgertown, we stopped in Hobe Sound for a late breakfast at Harry and the Natives, an irreverent local hangout that opened in 1941 and is famous for its $2 Divorce Sandwich – “two pieces of bread and she gets everything else.” Today, however, a fluffy stack of banana pancakes hit the spot.

Vero Beach, 70 miles from Jupiter, has been home to Dodgertown since 1948, and the streets pay homage to legends like Duke Snider and Vin Scully. The facility used to include the nine-hole Dodgertown Golf Course and an 18-hole public course across the street called Dodger Pines, but alas, both closed a few years ago.

Holman Stadium reminds you of a simpler time, with only 17 rows of narrow seats, no advertisements on the outfield fence and no dugouts. (Players and coaches sit at field level.) On this day the Dodgers took an early lead thanks to three Atlanta Braves errors, then threw out a Braves runner at home in the eighth

to hold on for a 3-2 victory.

Following the game we made the 30-mile drive down I-95 to Port St. Lucie, where we checked in at our spacious, golf-themed two-bedroom villa at Kolter Resorts at PGA Village, which aside from having one of the world’s best practice ranges, has a six-hole short course, where we squeezed in a fun round before dinner.

Our selection was Conchy Joe’s, a laid-back seafood joint on the Indian River in nearby Jensen Beach. The place was packed and a band was rocking. The namesake conch chowder has just the right amount of

spices, and the “fish in the bag” (baked tilapia with vegetables, sweet peppers and a white wine sauce) was downright divine. The best part, however, might have been the bread basket, complete with a fluffy banana bread and the sweetest cornbread I’ve ever tasted.

Port St. Lucie

We slept late – guys’ trip, remember – before heading to PGA Golf Club and the Tom Fazio-designed South Course, a Florida-style layout against a backdrop of wetlands and palmettos. Other options are Fazio’s North Course, a pine-lined layout with a Carolinas feel, and the Dye Course, a links-style design with wetlands and vast coquina waste bunkers. You can’t go wrong with any of this trio.

Bunkers abound, both along the fairways and around the greens, on the South Course, and wetlands and water also come into play. No. 4 is an excellent par 3 – 222 yards over wetlands to a false-front green protected by five bunkers, and both nines finish with challenging three-hole stretches.

After golf we ate dinner at the West End Grill, a cozy, classy spot just up St. Lucie West Boulevard that has developed a loyal following, especially among members of the New York Mets, who train about a mile away. We were told Tom Glavine sat at our table for lunch that day.

Again stuffed, we headed to Traditions Field, where the Mets and Cardinals squared off in a Friday-night contest that had a near-sellout crowd jumping. Music was blaring, Mets jerseys were everywhere and it took only a couple of innings for fans to boo second baseman Kaz Matsui (a grounder through the legs). After a three-inning scoreless stint by Cards’ Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, there were plenty of offensive fireworks, and St. Louis exploded for four runs in the ninth for an 11-8 victory.

Just like that, our three-day Treasure Coast excursion had come to an end. And without a single froufrou lunch.

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