BRADENTON, Fla. - Greetings from Florida.
After a smooth trip on the Amtrak Auto Train, accompanied by Jack and Joan Camberg and Dave and Marsha Dravis, we arrived here last Sunday.
Before heading to Bradenton, we stopped at church in Orlando, where, surprisingly, we saw a familiar face - Katie Labriola of Altoona, who is working at Disney World.
Natives and snowbirds report the weather has been good most of the winter, and the temperatures have been in the 70s and low 80s this week.
We no sooner unpacked at our Timber Creek condo than we were off to a Super Bowl party hosted by Lee and Jeannine Fagley's group at nearby Ironwood, and we haven't stopped since.
Caught up with my cousin, Tom Lane, and his wife, Andrea, on Monday, then made the 125-mile trip to Naples on Wednesday for the annual Southwest Florida Altoona Day. Bill Kearney was in charge of that affair which attracted about 100 people to the Cypress Woods Country Club.
Our traveling party to Naples included the Cambergs, Ken and Betty Wilkinson and Don and Petey Beichler.
We also reacquainted ourselves with Mixon's Fruit Farm, the Red Barn Flea Market, Cafe on the Beach and spent an afternoon at the pool.
Pirate pitchers and catchers report next week and it won't be long before position players are in camp, too. The Grapefruit League season opens the first week in March and will be here before we know it.
We stopped by Pirate City on Thursday and several Pirates already are working out. Spoke briefly with Neil Walker, Starling Marte, Jeff Locke and Ray Searage. Walker said he's been in town working out for two weeks.
The big off-the-field news concerning the Pirates is a $7.5 million upgrade that will be made to the Bucs' spring training home at McKechnie Field.
Right now, the Pirates are in the process of covering the roofs over most of the seating at McKechnie. The roofs were damaged last summer during a Bradenton Marauders game and should be repaired for spring training in a couple weeks.
Bradenton city officials, along with Manatee County officials, have already approved the improvements to the 90-year-old stadium. Upgrades will include new seating, enhanced fan plazas, a boardwalk that will encircle the stadium, a tiki bar, more concession stands, restroom improvements and an upgraded sound system.
It's hoped that the project will be complete for the start of the 2013 spring training season.
Until next week
Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in February and March.