Olen & Monti Sikes, Tony  at spring trainingWarm weather, sand, sea, and baseball—an awesome combination! About five years ago, my husband and I discovered the wonder of heading south to Jupiter, Florida for the St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp.

It was a fantastic experience. We came upon practice fields with pitchers throwing, batters batting, fielders fielding all open to the public. We learned that after camp opens in mid-February, visitors can stroll from a picturesque little street around an arrangement of wire fences and spend hours watching players at whatever practice fields are being used at the time. After that, we found ourselves following small crowds of fans to two more remote fields where game play was underway.

Although we’ve never found the weather quite as warm as anticipated, the team store located inside the stadium is stocked with lots of jackets and other logo items to layer on when it’s cool. The store is the first place to visit if you want balls so you can join in the autograph lines.

Mark McGwireLast year was Mark McGwire’s first year as Cardinals batting coach. Fans waited in really long lines each day to get his autograph. Of course, we don’t like waiting in lines, but it is fun to have a chance to talk with players and get their autographs.

Many fans with the time and funds to do so travel to Jupiter and rent condos for two months. In late February or early March, the spring training game season begins. Since the Florida Marlins and the Cardinals share the practice fields and Roger Dean Stadium, there are games almost every day until the teams head north for the start of the regular season. A festive atmosphere fills the stadium, where you can get much closer to the players than in a regular season game in one of the big city stadiums. We like seats in the loge section next to the grass berm because the bullpen is located right in front of those seats. It’s amazing to watch and photograph superstars like Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter warming up right in front of our seats. J J Muggs located right across from the stadium gates is a great gathering place for a meal or for a drink before and after the game or following a visit to the practice fields.

Breakers HotelSince we like to go for about ten days, we purchase one of the spring training packages for a portion of that time. Embassy Suites at Palm Beach Gardens is one of the hotels we enjoy visiting as part of our package. Some of the players stay in the hotel adding to the excitement. Then there are the breakfast buffets with egg omelets made to order.

In past years, we’ve spent a week of our time at Palm Beach Shores overlooking the ocean on Singer Island. Sipping a glass of wine on our private balcony there and gazing at the sunset make the day complete.

Roger Dean StadiumOpportunity abounds for side trips (when the team travels out of town) to the historic Breakers Hotel, built in 1896 about the time many other famous railroad hotels including the Hotel Del Coronado in California were constructed. West Palm Beach grew up on the other side of Lake Worth as a service community for the hotel. Shoppers tired of baseball will enjoy a visit to stores along famous Worth Avenue.

Matt Holliday battingI’m always thrilled by the opportunity to take hundreds of photographs on these spring training trips. Upon the return home, I often wonder how I can use my experiences to create a novel set at baseball spring training. Then, I wonder if I really want to? After all, sometimes it’s nice just to have fun.

–Mary Montague Sikes  http://www.marymontaguesikes.com/ http://marymontaguesikes.blogspot.com/

Night Watch by Mary Montigue SikesI’ve always enjoyed settings that include the beach and water. Night Watch, my latest novel in the Passenger to Paradise series, is set on the island of Trinidad and involves lots of thrills on and off the water and beaches there. Based on some of my own adventures while visiting Trinidad, the story begins with a crazy car ride from the airport to the shore and ends following a terrifying boat ride into the Grenadines. Night Watch is available in paperback from Amazon and from Barnes & Noble. It’s also available as a Kindle book from Amazon and Nook Book from Barnes & Noble. Amazon link: http://tinyurl.com/4p45gw2 Barnes & Noble Nook Book link: http://tinyurl.com/4mwcoaw