Monday, September 25, 2017

September 25, 1917: Holy Cow, It's Phil Rizzuto's Centennial!

September 25, 1917, 100 years ago today: Philip Francis Rizzuto is born in Brooklyn.

Actually, 2 Yankee stars are born on this day. John Franklin Sain is born in Havana, Arkansas. Johnny Sain went on to pitch for the Boston Braves, was a 3-time All-Star, and was the 1st man to throw a regular-season major league pitch to Jackie Robinson. Had there been a Cy Young Award in 1948, he probably would have won it, going 24-15 and helping the Braves win their last Pennant in Boston.

He then helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1951, 1952 and 1953, and retired with a career record of 139-116. He became one of baseball's greatest pitching coaches, winning Pennants with the Yankees in 1961, 1962 and 1963; the Minnesota Twins in 1965; and the Detroit Tigers in 1968. He nearly helped the Chicago White Sox get into the postseason in 1972, and returned to the Braves, where his last major league job was in 1986. He died in 2006, at the age of 89.

But he's not the biggest Yankee born on this day. The tallest, but not the biggest.

*

The son of a trolley motorman, Phil Rizzuto graduated from Richmond Hill High School in Queens. Other alumni include his eventual Yankee teammate Marius Russo, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, and singer Cyndi Lauper. Despite being only 5-foot-5 and maybe 140 pounds, he was the quarterback on their football team.

His dream was to play shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He went to them for a tryout, but the manager told him he was too small: "Go get a shoreline kit, kid." Phil never forgave that manager. His name was Casey Stengel.

So he took his revenge by going to the Dodgers' arch-rivals, the New York Giants. With considerably more tact, their manager, Bill Terry, also turned him down. Then he went to the New York Yankees. In 1937, they signed him.

In the minor leagues, a teammate named Billy Hitchcock, who went on to play for several major league teams and manage 3, saw the way he moved around the infield, and gave him the nickname "Scooter." 

After hearing him curse after making an error, his manager told him an umpire could throw him out of a game if he heard that, so he should come up with something clean to say when he got upset. So he went back to saying what he used to say in such situations: "Holy cow!"

For the record: Harry Caray was saying, "Holy cow!" on the radio when Phil was still playing; but Phil was saying it before anybody ever heard of Harry. So neither stole it from the other.

In 1940, helping the Kansas City Blues win the American Association Pennant, Phil was named Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News. He was called up, and made his major league debut on April 14, 1941. In front of an Opening Day crowd at Griffith Stadium in Washington, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he led off, played shortstop, wore Number 10, and went 0-for-4, but the Yankees beat the Washington Senators 3-1, as a Joe DiMaggio triple backed up Russo against Dutch Leonard.

The Yankees won the American League Pennant that year, as Phil's .307 batting average, alert baserunning and slick fielding contributed. Had there been a Rookie of the Year award at the time, he surely would have won it.

They faced the Dodgers in the World Series. By this point, Stengel was managing the Boston Braves. Ironically, the Dodgers had traded for not one, but two fine shortstops. First, they got Leo Durocher, and even made him their manager. Then, as Leo's skills declined, they got Harold "Pee Wee" Reese.

Grantland Rice, the greatest American sportswriter of that time, predicted a Yankee victory, and included this reason:

Billy Herman and Pee Wee Reese around the highly important keystone spot don't measure up, over a season anyway, with Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto, a pair of light-footed, quick-handed operatives who can turn seeming base hits into double plays often enough to save many a close scrap.

The Yankees won in 5 games. They won the Pennant again in 1942, as Phil made his 1st of 5 All-Star Games. Phil then entered the U.S. Navy for the duration of World War II. Shortly before his entry, he met Cora Anne Ellenborn. He married her in his Navy dress uniform, and they remained together 'til death did they part. They had a son, Phil Jr., and 3 daughters, Cindy, Patricia and Penny.

Like several other Yankees, Phil had trouble getting his swing back after returning from The War in 1946. But he helped them get back into the World Series in 1947, and he started a double play to get the Series' last 2 outs.

In 1949, the Yankees hired a new manager: Casey Stengel. Some of them, so used to the way Joe McCarthy managed them, never took to Stengel. Two, in particular, hated him, the men who, by this point, were the 2 most important players in the team: Rizzuto and DiMaggio.

The Scooter hadn't forgotten how the Ol' Perfesser cruelly dismissed him in Brooklyn 12 years earlier. But Stengel knew he'd made a mistake, saying, "If I were a retired gentleman, I would come to Yankee Stadium just to watch Rizzuto play."

The Yankees overcame a slew of injuries in 1949, needing to beat the Boston Red Sox in the last 2 games to win the Pennant. Not only did the Sox have Ted Williams, but Phil's minors teammate Billy Hitchcock, and were managed by McCarthy.

Still, the Yankees won, beginning a string of 5 straight World Championships, which, as Phil's teammate Yogi Berra later said of Din Larsen's perfect game, "It's never been done before, and it still hasn't."

Phil would later write The October Twelve, about the 12 players, including himself and Yogi, who were in the World Series roster all 5 times. The book also included reminiscences of DiMaggio, who retired after the 1951 season; Mickey Mantle, who arrived that year; and Whitey Ford, who arrived in 1950, missed the next 2 years serving in the U.S. Army for the Korean War, and returned for the 1953 title.

In spite of the 1949 title, Phil finished 2nd to Williams in the voting for the AL Most Valuable Player award. But in 1950, he overcame a terrible start to win it, batting .324 - with a bat borrowed from one of the biggest and best hitters of the era, a man known as the Big Cat:

I started out hitting 0-for-12. Couldn't buy a base hit! Then, Johnny Mize said, "Phil, why don't you use my bat?" It was 36 inches, 36 ounces. It was almost as big as I was!

First time up, I tried to duck away from the pitch, and the ball hit the bat and went over the infield for a base hit! And I ended up getting 200 hits with that bat!

As with most players then, Phil needed an off-season job. He worked at a clothing store with some other local ballplayers. Then, he and Yogi went halfsies on owning a bowling alley, which they sold for a tidy profit. In 1950, Phil was the mystery guest in the 1st episode of the CBS game show What's My Line?

The Yankees won another Pennant in 1955, but late in the 1956 season, with Phil in decline and about to turn 39, they released him. Let's just say the fact they used was closer to Stengel's in 1937 than to Terry's.

There were no Gold Gloves then, although once Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians retired, Phil would have had a better chance. He retired with a .273 batting average, 9 Pennants and 7 World Championships.

*

But Phil's baseball career was far from done. The Giants took him on as a broadcaster for the remainder of the season. That got the attention of WPIX-Channel 11, and they hired him for the Yankees' broadcasts. He stayed on them for 40 seasons.

His broadcast partners included:

* Mel Allen, 1957-64, and again 1982-86
* Red Barber, 1957-66
* Jerry Coleman, 1963-69
* Joe Garagiola, 1965-67
* Frank Messer, 1968-84
* Whitey Ford, 1969-71
* Bob Gamere, 1970
* Bill White, 1971-88
* Fran Healy, 1982-83
* Bobby Murcer, 1983-96
* Spencer Ross, 1985-87
* Mickey Mantle, 1985-88
* Billy Martin, 1986-87
* Jim Kaat, 1986, and again 1995-96
* Ken Harrelson, 1987-88
* Lou Piniella, 1989
* Tommy Hutton, 1989
* George Grande, 1989-90
* Tom Seaver, 1989-93
* Al Trautwig, 1990-96
* Dewayne Staats, 1990-94
* Tony Kubek, 1990-94
* Paul Olden, 1994-95
* Dave Cohen, 1995-96
* Rick Cerone, 1996

Coleman, Ford, Mantle and Martin were former Yankee teammates. Healy, Murcer, Kaat, Piniella, Hutton, Cerone and Kubek (who ended up replacing him as Yankee shortstop) also played for the Yankees.

Phil Rizzuto and Bill White, 1986

Those are the bare facts. They cannot tell you what Phil Rizzuto meant to generations of Yankee Fans.

Several teams have a former player who became a beloved broadcaster. The Philadelphia Phillies had Richie Ashburn. The Cleveland Indians had Herb Score. The Cincinnati Reds have Joe Nuxhall. Among those still living: The Boston Red Sox have Jerry Remy, the Pittsburgh Pirates have Steve Blass, the Minnesota Twins have Bert Blyleven, the San Francisco Giants have Mike Krukow, the Houston Astros have Larry Dierker, and the Seattle Mariners have ex-Yankee Mike Blowers. The St. Louis Cardinals had the now-retired Mike Shannon, and now they have Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky. And the Mets? Who does their guy think he is? "I'm Keith Hernandez!"

(The late Ernie Johnson Sr. pitched for the Braves in Milwaukee, but broadcast for them in Atlanta, so he doesn't count. For the same reason, nor does F.P. Santangelo: He broadcasts for the Washington Nationals, and did play for that franchise, but while it was still the Montreal Expos.)

Some people got upset that he usually called Bill White, a former National League 1st baseman who was the 1st black man to be a regular announcer for any MLB team, by his last name: "I tell ya, White, these Yankees... " It wasn't a racial thing. They didn't get that he called his other broadcast partners by their last names, too: "Messer," "Murcer," "Seaver," and so on. Sometimes, he used both names, particularly "Frank Messer" and "Bill White."

Phil Rizzuto did "shout-outs" before anybody thought to call them that. He would wish people Happy Birthday, Congratulations on graduation, or Get Well. He would wish couples Happy Anniversary, or Congratulations on the birth of a baby. He would plug restaurants he liked, usually Italian ones. There would always be food, often cannoli, in the booth, when the Scooter was in the booth.

If he was in the booth. He would sometimes wander off. It wasn't due to advancing age: He did it when he was younger, and his mind was just as sharp at the end as it always was, however sharp you think that was. Sometimes, he'd say, "I'll be home soon, Cora!" Every now and then, an aerial shot of the George Washington Bridge would be shown, and he'd think about going home to Cora in Hillside, and say, "I gotta get over that bridge!"

Cora and Phil Rizzuto.
He was right: "She's a doll!"

He would go into stories that seemed not at all connected to the game at hand. His mind would drift so much that, one time, White saw a notation on his scorecard, and asked him what "W.W." meant. It meant "Wasn't Watching." As a result, one of the more popular Yankee-themed blogs is known as Was Watching.

Phil made a mistake that Mel Allen made, which John Sterling makes today: He watches the ball as it flies toward the outfield. Red Barber pointed out that you should watch the outfielder: If you know whether he thinks he can catch the ball, you'll know if it's going to be caught. Many times, the Scooter would say, "That's gone! No, it's not!"

Yeah, he made a lot of mistakes. He liked to say, "I like radio better than television, because if you make a mistake on radio, they don't know. You can make up anything on the radio."

And, in his homerism, he might yell, "Stay fair!" One time, around 1985 or so, Mike Pagliarulo hit a drive down the right field line, and Phil said, "All right! Stay fair! No, it won't stay fair. Good thing it didn't stay fair, I think he woulda caught it."

Oh, was he ever a homer! "Ooh, these Yankees can get the clutch hits, Murcer! I might have to go home early! I just got a cramp in my leg!" He never did explain why a cramp in his leg was going to affect his broadcasting.

Yes, he was a homer. And Yankee Fans loved him for it. For cumulative total, he might have been the most beloved figure in Yankee history. More than Babe Ruth. More than Mickey Mantle. More than Derek Jeter. Yes, Michael Kay, even more than Don Mattingly.

There were many Scooterisms. Everyone remembers "Holy cow!" He used it twice when describing Roger Maris' 61st home run of the 1961 season:

Here's the windup, fastball, hit deep to right, this could be it! Way back there! Holy cow, he did it! Sixty-one for Maris! And look at the fight for that ball out there! Holy cow, what a shot! Another standing ovation for Maris, and they're still fighting for that ball out there, climbing over each other's backs. One of the greatest sights I've ever seen here at Yankee Stadium!

And he used it twice when describing the home run that Chris Chambliss hit to win the 1976 Pennant, off Mark Littell of the Kansas City Royals, after there had already been a delay to pick trash thrown by the fans off the field:

He hits one deep to right-center! That ball is out of here! The Yankees win the Pennant! Holy cow, Chris Chambliss on one swing!"

(After a momentary pause, as fans poured onto the field, tearing it up for souvenirs) And the Yankees win the American League Pennant. Unbelievable, what a finish! As dramatic a finish as you'd ever want to see! With all that delay, we told you, Littell had to be a little upset. And, holy cow, Chambliss hits one over the fence, he is being mobbed by the fans, and this field will never be the same, but the Yankees have won it in the bottom of the 9th, seven to six!

White had the call when one of Phil's successors as Yankee shortstop, Bucky Dent, hit the home run that turned the 1978 Playoff with the Boston Red Sox around. A couple of batters later, Phil walked back into the booth. White asked him what he thought. "I was in the Red Sox press room, I let out three holy cows, and I thought Frank Malzone was gonna bite me on the ankle!" After the game, Phil was on the field, got the interview with Bucky, and said, with the biggest grin his tiny body could muster, "You gotta have a shortstop!"
October 2, 1978. Bucky and the Scooter.

Other Scooterisms:

* "Unbelievable!"
* "Did you see that?"
* "How do ya like that?"
* "I tell ya, (broadcast partner's name)... "
* A player hitting a home run was "really stroking that potato!"
* And, of course, when somebody did something inappropriate, "You huckleberry!"

One of my favorite moments was when the camera focused on the Con Ed Kids in the left-center field bleachers. Consolidated Edison, New York's electric company, sponsored a program to bring inner-city kids to the game for free. Willie Randolph, later a Yankee 2nd baseman and coach (and a Met manager), was a counselor for the Con Ed Kids as a teenager.

And Rizzuto said, "White, you were deprived as a child, you didn't have the Con Ed Kids."

And White, who grew up in Cleveland, said, "Well, we had Ohio Edison. They took us to Indians games."

And Rizzuto said, "Oh. Well, I guess that's all right."

In 1977, Phil was asked to narrate a baseball scene for "Paradise By the Dashboard Light," a song written by Jim Steinman for Marvin Aday, a.k.a. Meat Loaf. It was designed to illustrate Meat's character "getting to first base" with his girlfriend, "getting to second base," "getting to third base," and, finally, trying to "score," before she tells him to "Stop right there!"

He asked Steinman, "Do I have to be high to understand this song?" He was told he didn't. I have no idea what would have happened if he had been told that he did.

He also did commercials for Miller Lite beer and lenders The Money Store. In 1998, he "broadcast" a Claymation ad for Lipton Brisk Iced Tea, which also featured figures of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, and Reggie Jackson doing his own voice. Joe Grifasi played him in Billy Crystal's Yankee tribute film 61*, and actual recordings of his broadcasts were used in the film about the 1977 Yankees, The Bronx Is Burning (in which Grifasi played Yogi).

In 1994, after he was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Phil was named one of the honorary captains at the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, along with Buck Leonard, the Negro League star who played for teams in that city. Meat Loaf sang the National Anthem.

Yankee broadcasters would occasionally have to come back from commercials on Channel 11, and plug shows the station was showing. When it began showing Seinfeld reruns, Phil said, "I love Seinfeld. That Kramer, he cracks me up. I tell ya, I haven't had this much fun in bed since my honeymoon!"

Rizzuto was a good Catholic. Most of the time. He became friends with Ed Lucas, a student at St. Joseph's School for the Blind, and when Ed became a sportswriter and broadcaster despite his handicapped, he and Phil became fundraisers for Ed's former school. But when the announcement came over the wire on August 6, 1978 that Pope Paul VI had died, Phil said, "Well, that kind of puts a damper on even a Yankee win."

The Vatican didn't hold it against Phil: When he finally got into the Hall of Fame, one of the gifts he received from Yankee management was a free trip to Italy and a meeting with Pope John Paul II for himself and Cora.

Phil also introduced Ed Lucas to his 2nd wife, who was legally blind. They became the only couple ever married on the field at the old Yankee Stadium.

*

In 1984, Pee Wee Reese and Luis Aparicio were elected to the Hall of Fame. Pee Wee was Scooter's contemporary, his fellow New York City shortstop. Aparicio was also a shortstop, albeit in the generation after. Both were deserving inductees. But fans began the old game of, "If Player A is in the Hall of Fame, and Player B is similar, why isn't Player B in?"

Phil was every bit as good of an all-around player as either Reese or Aparicio, and more accomplished than either. Each won only 1 World Series (Reese with the 1955 Dodgers, Aparicio with the 1966 Baltimore Orioles, although he's mainly remembered with the Chicago White Sox), while Phil won 7 (1941, '47, '49, '50, '51, '52 and '53).

Surely, if playing and broadcasting could be combined into a single category, Phil would have been in -- and so would Ashburn (more about whom in a moment), Score, Nuxhall, and perhaps others. But baseball doesn't work that way. Nor do they combine playing and managing, to the detriment of Gil Hodges and, until his great managing career was complete, Joe Torre. Phil could be elected as a player or as a broadcaster. Or, theoretically, in each category. (In the big 4 North American sports, only 2 men have ever been so honored: Football's Frank Gifford and Len Dawson.) But not for his playing and his broadcasting combined.

On August 4, 1985, the Yankees held Phil Rizzuto Day. I was there. They retired his Number 10, and dedicated a Plaque in his honor, calling him the greatest Yankee shortstop. (At the time, it was a completely fair statement.) Mickey Mantle came out, and gave him some golf clubs. (This was the 1st time I got to see The Mick in person. Both men loved golf.)

And he was given a cow with a cardboard halo. A "holy cow." It was named Huckleberry. It was to be donated in his name to a local petting zoo. And it head-butted him, knocking him over. Phil was approaching his 68th birthday, and we all worried that he'd gotten hurt. He wasn't.

And in his speech, he said, "This means more to me than being elected to the Hall of Fame ever could." Huge ovation.

He was lying. He knew it. We all knew it.

On July 27, 1991, the Yankees held Old-Timers Day. The theme was the 50th Anniversary of DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, and the World Series win that resulted. There were 8 living members of the 1941 Yankees. Bill Dickey was too ill to come, and Frank Crosetti never returned for Old-Timers' Day. The other 6 came: Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Russo, and 2 guys who aren't usually remembered as Yankees, Johnny Sturm (it was the 1st baseman's only season in the major leagues) and Stanley "Frenchy" Bordagaray (a 3rd baseman better known for playing elsewhere).

Joe said, "Nobody had a better view than I did of Phil playing shortstop." He gave a few details, and said, "And, Phil, I just want you to know that you're my Hall-of-Famer. And I mean that." That statement got a bigger ovation than either of them, or Mickey, or Whitey, or Reggie Jackson got on their introductions. (Yogi was feuding with George Steinbrenner at the time, and refused all invitations between 1985 and 1998.)

Vic Raschi, a member of Phil's "October Twelve," once said, "My best pitch is anything the batter grounds, lines, or pops in the direction of Rizzuto."

Paul Richards, a decent catcher who became one of the game's best scouts and executives, said, "Among those shortstops whom I have had the good fortune to see in action, it's got to be Rizzuto on top for career achievement. For a five-year period, I would have to take Lou Boudreau... But, year after year, season after season, Rizzuto was a standout."

And poet Ogden Nash, who called himself "an all-time incurable fan" of the New York Giants, called Phil "this dandiest of shortstops."

My grandmother, Grace Golden, was a fan of Nash. And a fan of Rizzuto. She was with me on his Day, as were my parents. Grandma was a Dodger fan, and later a Met fan. She hated the Yankees. Hated Mickey Mantle. Hated Yogi Berra. How can anyone hate Yogi Berra? She did. She really hated Casey Stengel. And hated Billy Martin more than anybody.

But she loved 2 Yankees: Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. She loved the Scooter because he was a little guy who made it big. And she loved the Chairman of the Board because he was so cool under pressure, unlike Martin, whom she called a "hothead." There was nothing, except maybe errors and bases on balls, she hated more than a hothead. But she loved Phil and Whitey. The fact that, like her, they were from Queens may have had something to do with it.

But it did bother him that he was passed over, over and over again. In public, he said things like, "I never thought I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is for the big guys, pitchers with 100 mph fastballs and hitters who sock homers and drive in a lot of runs. That's the way it always has been, and the way it should be." But, in private, he said things like, "I'll take anyway to get into the Hall of Fame. If they want a batboy, I'll go in as a batboy."

The Baseball Writers Association of America, which votes on recently retired players, never let him get close. The Hall of Fame Committee on Veterans, which elected Reese, passed him over repeatedly as well.

In 1993, 2 members of the Veterans Committee died, both Hall-of-Famers themselves: Charlie Gehringer and Roy Campanella. Neither voted for Phil, despite Campy having seen him up close in 4 World Series.

Ted Williams was on the Committee as well, and when Ted wanted to make a point, he could talk your ear off. He told anyone who would listen that Phil belonged. In what could have been taken as a slight to his teammate Johnny Pesky, Ted liked to say, "If we'd had Phil Rizzuto at shortstop all those years, we would have won all those Pennants, not the Yankees."

Yogi and Whitey were appointed to the Committee to replace Gehringer and Campanella. On February 25, 1994, a call was placed from Montclair, New Jersey to nearby Hillside. It was Yogi, calling Phil. No need for Yogi to get cute with one of his sayings: He simply said, "Congratulations: You're in."

It was like the weight of the world had been lifted from his little shoulders. I went to his induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York. (By the way: If you haven't been to Cooperstown, don't go on Induction Weekend. Trust me on this one. It's next to impossible to get a hotel room, and a town that is home to 2,500 people simply isn't equipped to handle 100,000 visitors at once. Go any other time.) And, interrupted a few times by flies (it was hot), he gave a long, rambling speech that was alternately hilarious and touching.
He stayed with the Yankee broadcast team through the 1996 season, Derek Jeter's rookie year. He didn't need long to call Jeter "my favorite." He had no problem with people saying Jeter had surpassed him as the greatest Yankee shortstop.

During the 2001 American League Championship Series, Jeter escorted him to the pitcher's mound for a first ball ceremony. At first, Phil seemed to be wandering back to the dugout, and we wondered if the 84-year-old Scooter was losing it. Nope, he knew exactly what he was doing: He got to the point on the field where, in Oakland a few days earlier, Jeter had done "The Flip," and threw the ball to Jorge Posada behind the plate the exact same way, and the fans, getting the joke, erupted.

As part of the celebrations around his Hall election, Channel 11 showed him taking the tour of the Hall's museum that all new inductees get. Included was a scale model of Yankee Stadium before its 1973-76 renovation. He said, "It would be a shame if they ever tore it down."

By 2005, it was no longer a matter of "if," but "when." That year, he showed up for Old-Timers' Day, but, for the 1st time since he was elected, didn't make the trip to Cooperstown for Induction Weekend. In 2006, with the groundbreaking for the new Yankee Stadium a few weeks away, he didn't show up for Old-Timers' Day. It was soon announced that he was in a nursing home in West Orange, New Jersey. Although his mind and memory were intact, he was too frail to leave the house anymore.

On August 13, 2007, 12 years to the day after Mickey Mantle died, Phil Rizzuto passed away, a few weeks short of his 90th birthday. The Yankees put black 10s on their left sleeves for the remainder of the season.
When the old Stadium hosted its last game on September 21, 2008, some of the Yankee Legends who had died were represented by family: Billy Martin by his son Billy Joe, Mickey Mantle by his son David, Elston Howard by his daughter Cheryl, Roger Maris by his son Randy, Bobby Murcer by his wife Kay and their children, Catfish Hunter by his wife Helen, and Thurman Munson by his son Michael. Derek Jeter escorted Cora Rizzuto, wearing a Number 10 jersey, out to the shortstop position. (She died in 2010.)

Today would have been Phil Rizzuto's 100th Birthday, his Centennial. Holy cow, I loved that huckleberry.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

How to Be a New York Football Fan In Tampa Bay -- 2017 Edition

If you had the Jets winning their 1st game of the season before the Giants did, you lost.

Next Sunday, the Giants travel to Florida to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets visit on November 19.

Before You Go. Unlike Tampa Bay's baseball and hockey teams, their football team plays outdoors. The weather could be a factor. Also, Florida must be where the cliché, "It's not the heat that's so bad, it's the humidity" began.

Indeed, even in early Florida, the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) and the Tampa Tribune are predicting high 80s for daylight hours, mid-70s for evening, and "periods of showers later in the day." So if you're flying, pack summer clothes, get on the plane with a short-sleeved shirt and a jacket, and then remove the jacket at your hotel. And be advised that the stadium has no roof of any kind, so you might get wet.

The Tampa Bay region is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to change your watch, or the clock on your smartphone. And while Florida is in the South, it was readmitted into the Union, so you won't need your passport, and you won't need to change to Confederate money.

Tickets. You would think that, being a football team, the 1st major league sports team and the 1st team to win a World Championship in a football region, and also being in a football State, the Bucs would have good attendance.

But they don't: They averaged 60,624 fans per game last season, 92 percent of capacity. Only Cincinnati, Chicago (both with smaller stadiums), and the lame-duck Chargers and Raiders had fewer.

In the Lower Level, seats on the sidelines are $190, and in the end zones $115. In the Upper Level, they're between $85 and $115 along the sidelines, and $70 in the corners. There are no Upper Level seats over the end zones.

Getting There. It is 1,136 road miles from Times Square in Manhattan to downtown Tampa, and 1,132 miles from MetLife Stadium to Raymond James Stadium. Sounds like you're gonna be flying.

If you play your cards right, you can get a round-trip ticket for under $700. Otherwise, it's going to be over $800, and you may have to change planes. The stadium is a short bus ride from the airport. (Tampa International Airport was originally named Drew Field, after John H. Drew, a land developer who gave it to the Army.)

If you want to take a side-trip to Disney World, you could fly to Orlando (which is 84 miles from Tampa) and rent a car, but I suspect that hotels will be cheaper in the Tampa Bay area, and get more expensive the closer you get to Disney.

Amtrak is longer, but a bit cheaper: $386 round-trip from Newark Penn Station. Amtrak's Silver Star train leaves Penn Station at 11:02 every morning, and arrives in Tampa at 12:23 the following afternoon. That's right, 25½ hours. It leaves Tampa at 5:27 PM (arriving in New York at 6:50 the following night).

Greyhound has 5 daily departures from Port Authority to Tampa. It takes 28 1/2 hours, and you'll
Round-trip fare is $450, but it can drop to as little as $270 with advanced purchase. You'll have to change buses twice, in Richmond and Orlando. And the layover in Richmond is 3 hours and 15 minutes. And I don't like the Richmond Greyhound station, and I doubt that you will, either. There's also hourlong layovers in Fayetteville, North Carolina and Jacksonville. The Tampa Greyhound station is at 610 E. Polk Street, 4 blocks from the Amtrak station.

If you do prefer to drive, see if you can get someone to split the duties with you. Essentially, you’ll be taking Interstate 95 almost all the way down, turning onto Interstate 10 West at Jacksonville and then, after a few minutes, onto Interstate 75 South to Interstate 275 South. Take Exit 46B, and go west on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., County Route 574. It's about 3 miles, including over the Hillsborough River, past St. Joseph's Hospital, to U.S. Route 92, Dale Mabry Highway, on which you'll turn left. Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees' spring training facility, will be on your right, and Raymond James Stadium will be on your left.

It should take about 2 hours to get through New Jersey, 20 minutes in Delaware, an hour and a half in Maryland, 3 hours in Virginia, 3 hours in North Carolina, 3 hours in South Carolina, 2 hours in Georgia, and about 5 hours between crossing into Florida and reaching downtown Tampa.

Given proper 45-minute rest stops – I recommend doing one in Delaware, and then, once you’re through the Washington, D.C. area, doing one when you enter each new State, and then another around Orlando, for a total of 7 – and taking into account city traffic at each end, your entire trip should take about 26 hours. Maybe you can do it in 24 if you speed and limit your rest stops to half an hour each, especially if one of you drives while the other sleeps, but I wouldn’t recommend this.

Once In the City. "Tampa" is believed to be a Native American name meaning "sticks of fire," while St. Petersburg, like the city of the same name in Russia that was known as Leningrad in the Soviet era, is named after the first Pope, the Apostle Peter.

Tampa, founded in 1849, is home to 380,000 people; St. Petersburg, founded in 1888, is home to 260,000; and the metro area as a whole 3.1 million. So, while neither city is big, it's a decent-sized market (and thus should be drawing more people for baseball and football games).

In Tampa, Whiting Street divides the city's streets into North and South, and the Hillsborough River into East and West. In St. Petersburg, Central Avenue divides the city into North and South, and while there appears to be no East-West divider, 1st Street seems to set off a section with Northeast addresses.

HART, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, runs buses, $2.00 Local and $3.00 Express. PSTA runs $2.00 buses around St. Petersburg. So, if you want to go into St. Pete, taking the 100X bus from downtown Tampa ($3.00) and transferring to a bus in St. Pete ($2.00) will be $5.00 each way.

The sales tax in Florida is 6 percent. ZIP Codes in Tampa begin with the digits 335, 336 and 346; in St. Petersburg, 337; in nearby Lakeland, 338. The Area Code for Tampa is 813, 727 for the St. Petersburg side of the Bay, and 941 south of Tampa Bay.

Going In. The official address of Raymond James Stadium is 4201 N. Dale Mabry Highway, about 5 miles northwest of downtown. The old Tampa Stadium was just to the north. Take Bus 14 to the West Tampa Transfer Center, and switch to Bus 45.

Dale Mabry was a Tallahassee native and Tampa resident, a Captain in the U.S. Army Air Service, the earliest forerunner of the U.S. Air Force, and a pilot in World War I. Unfortunately, he was also the pilot for the 1st large-scale air disaster in American history, piloting the Roma, a dirigible that crashed at Norfolk, Virginia in 1922, killing 34 people, including himself. (There were 11 survivors.) The cause was found to be mechanical failure, and it was the last U.S. airship to be filled with hydrogen; all American airships since, including the Goodyear Blimps, are filled with helium. Mabry, not at fault for the crash, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Raymond James isn't a local politician, or a figure from local football history (including the Bucs'). Rather, it's a locally-based financial services holding company, founded in 1964 by the merger of companies run by St. Petersburg broker Robert James and Edward Raymond. James' son, Thomas A. James, is the executive chairman of the company, but is now retired from day-to-day operations.

Parking is plentiful at "Ray Jay" (but ya doesn't hasta call it "Johnson"), and can cost as little as $16. This being the South, and Central Florida being the home of Southeastern Conference titans the University of Florida, tailgating is not only permitted, it's encouraged. Escalator towers are at each corner.
The stadium opened in 1998. It has hosted Super Bowls XXXV in 2001 (the Giants lost to the Baltimore Ravens, unlike their win over the Buffalo Bills at the old Tampa Stadium 10 years earlier) and XLIII in 2009 (Pittsburgh Steelers over Arizona Cardinals). It will host Super Bowl LV on February 7, 2021.

The University of South Florida also plays home games there. The stadium hosts the Outback Bowl on or around New Year's Day, and hosted the College Football National Championship Game for the 2016 season, with Clemson beating Alabama.
MLS' Tampa Bay Mutiny played there from 1998 to 2001, and were then disbanded. Playing there, the U.S. national men's soccer team has won a friendly with Ecuador, 3-1 on March 25, 2007; won a friendly with El Salvador, 2-1 on February 24, 2010; lost a CONCACAF Gold Cup match to Panama, 2-1 on June 11, 2011; won a World Cup Qualifier with Antigua & Barbuda, 3-1 on June 8, 2012; and won a CONCACAF Gold Cup match over Martinique, 3-2 on July 12, 2017. They also played 3 games at Tampa Stadium.

The women's team has won a friendly with South Korea, 1-0 on November 8, 2008; won a friendly with France, 1-0 on June 14, 2014; and won a She Believes Cup match with England, 1-0 on March 3, 2016.

The field is natural grass, and, like most NFL fields, is laid out north-to-south. The big scoreboard is at the north end, and the Pirate Ship, firing off cannons when the Bucs score, is at the south end, a.k.a. Buccaneers Cove. This is where mini-fan clubs of individual players are given tickets, as seen in the photo below.
Aye, matey.

Food. The Tampa Bay region, discovered by Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto, is known for its Spanish and Hispanic heritage, particularly the so-called Cuban sandwich, featuring freshly sliced ham, pork, and Genoa salami on toasted Cuban bread with Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard.

On the 100 Level, DeSoto Deli is at Sections 107 and 132 (you'll notice that all of these are on each side of the stadium, on diagonals from each other), Pizza Plank at 109 and 134, The Galley at 110 and 136, Taste of Tampa at 112 and 137, Red Sail Spice at 114 and 139, Bay Burgers at 118 and 143, Chicken Coup at 103 and 129, Captain's Grill at 123 and 148, and Endzone Galley at 124 and 149.

On the 300 Level, First Down Deli is at 309 and 334, Pass the Pizza at 311 and 336, Sideline Salsa at 312 and 336, Grid Iron Grill at 304, 317, 329 and 341; and Goal Line Stand at 307, 314, 332 and 339.

Team History Displays. The stadium flies a single flag, stating that the Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. There is no mention of the NFC Championship they won for that 2002 season to get into said Super Bowl. Nor for their NFC Central Division titles of 1979, 1981 and 1999; nor for their NFC South Division titles of 2002, 2005, 2007; nor for their Wild Card Playoff berths of 1982, 1997, 2000 or 2001.
The Buccaneers have 3 uniform numbers officially retired: 63, for defensive end Lee Roy Selmon; 55, for linebacker Derrick Brooks; and 99, for defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Selmon was their 1st-ever draft pick, suffered through the misery of the 0-26 start to their history in 1976 and '77, played for them into the rise from that and in the 1979 NFC Championship Game, and remained with the team through 1984, their last remaining original player. Brooks and Sapp both joined in 1995, and took the team their long-term status as one of the NFL's true joke franchises to the Playoffs in 1997 and to the Super Bowl win.

These are also the only 3 players, thus far, who have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame based mostly on what they did for the Bucs. Steve Young, Randall McDaniel and Tim Brown also played for the Bucs, and are in the Hall. Ron Wolf was their 1st general manager, and Tony Dungy was the coach who restored them to respectability in the late 1990s, but they fired him before he could finish the job, allowing Jon Gruden to do so -- and Gruden is not yet in the Hall of Fame. Dungy is, mainly because he won a Super Bowl coaching the Indianapolis Colts.

In addition, the Bucs have not officially retired, but nor have they returned to circulation, the 42 of running back Ricky Bell, a star on the 1979 team who died of a brain tumor while still an active player; the 40 of Mike Alstott, a running back on the 1997-2007 Playoff teams and in the Super Bowl; and the 47 of John Lynch, a safety who was also a part of their turn-of-the-21st-Century glory days and their Super Bowl win.

None of these numbers hang by themselves as "retired numbers" anywhere in the stadium. What the Bucs do have is a Ring of Honor, which includes Selmon, Sapp, Brooks, Alstott, Lynch, Gruden, original head coach John McKay (who also coached Bell on a National Championship team at USC), the late owner Malcolm Glazer, 1979 quarterback Doug Williams, tight end Jimmie Giles who was his most frequent passing target, and offensive tackle Paul Gruber, who lasted from the bad old days of the late 1980s and through the 1990s, all the way up to the return to the Playoffs, but not to the Super Bowl. Gruber held the record for most games played for the Bucs, until surpassed by Brooks.

Previously, from 1991 to 1998, the Bucs had a Krewe of Honor at Tampa Stadium, honoring Selmon, Bell, Williams, McKay, and original team owner Hugh Culverhouse, who has not yet been inducted into the Ring of Honor.
Doug Williams' name unveiled on
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor

Selmon and Brooks were named to the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2010. The Florida Sports Hall of Fame is located at Lake Myrtle Sports Park in Auburndale, 51 miles east of Raymond James Stadium. It has inducted 4 figures connected with the Bucs: Selmon, Brooks, Culverhouse, and broadcaster Gene Deckerhoff.

Stuff. According to the Raymond James Stadium website:

RJS does not have a Buccaneers or USF team store. Merchandise is sold only on event days. On the main concourse there are four permanent merchandise booths located near sections 107, 114, 132 and 139. In each of the clubs there is one permanent merchandise store, located across from sections 211 and 235. In the upper concourse, permanent merchandise stands are located near Sections 330 and 341. Other locations may be available depending on the event. Check with  Guest Services for a list of available merchandise booths.

I've never been to a Bucs' home game, but I wonder if these stands sell pirate hats and, like Rutgers University, the Scarlet Knights, foam swords.

Did I mention that the Bucs were, and may still be to some people, a "joke franchise"? This is reflected in the 1st 2 books that come up when you plug their team name into Amazon.com: Ted Mecklenburgh's The Funniest Tampa Bay Buccaneers Joke Book Ever, and Orlando-based standup comedian Rich Sims' new Tampa Bay Buccaneers Football Dirty Joke Book: The Perfect Book For People Who Hate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Why would anyone hate the Bucs enough to write an entire book of jokes about them? They don't really have rivals. The Florida-Georgia rivalry doesn't translate into animosity between the Bucs and the Atlanta Falcons, nor to the other NFC South teams, the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints. The other Florida teams, the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars, are in the AFC, so they can't meet in the postseason unless it's in the Super Bowl. Even the team they beat in their 1 Super Bowl, the Oakland Raiders, has many team they hate more.

In 2011, Denis M. Crawford wrote a book about he team's early days, Hugh Culverhouse and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: How a Skinflint with a Losing Team Made the Modern NFL. Shortly after Super Bowl XXXVII, Scott Smith wrote a happier story: World Champions: The Official Story of the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The NFL released an official DVD highlight film of the Bucs' Super Bowl season, and a package featuring all their 2002-03 postseason games including the Super Bowl. In 1991, Mario Van Peebles starred in Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story, and it's available on Amazon.com.

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article on "The Most Obnoxious Fans In the NFL" ranked the Buccanneers' fans 29th out of 32 -- the 4th-least obnoxious fans, saying the following:

How do you know football is king in Florida? Because a team known for orange pants and futility has an infinitely better following than a team with two Stanley Cups in the past 11 years. When you suffer for years through game-day temps in the 90s and Vinny Testaverde QB ratings in the 70s, it breeds loyalty.

And that's what Bucs fans are: loyal. Never mind the team hasn't made a good draft pick since... okay, ever. Even after those three seasons when they were good, you never got big heads about it. Probably because you recognize that everyone still knows you as the team with orange pants.

Aside from miscounting the Cups -- the Lightning have been to 2 Stanley Cup Finals in 11 years, but are 1-1 in them -- this is about right.

Rays fans don't like it when the visiting fans "take over their ballpark." That won't be an issue, as Bucs fans do a better job of filling the place (although not a great one). If this were a game within the Florida/Florida State/Miami college football "hate triangle" you'd have issues while rooting for the visiting team. But it's Bucs vs. Giants. Don't be obnoxious to the home fans, and they'll leave you alone.

The team's mascot is a pirate named Captain Fear. The Bucs' cheerleaders are among the most highly-regarded in the NFL. They hold auditions for National Anthem singers, rather than having a regular singer. The original theme song of "Hey, Hey, Tampa Bay!" has been replaced by the hip-hop "Bucs Theme Song" by J. Skeete. But "TAM-pa-BAY!" is the best chant their fans have come up with thus far.
Captain Fear, probably the least-scary pirate since
The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie.

After the Game. The stadium is far from downtown Tampa, and is not in an especially high-crime area. And, as I said, Bucs fans do not tend to get violent. You might get a little bit of verbal if you're wearing opposing team gear, but it won't get any worse than that.

If you're looking for a place to relax with a postgame snack and drink, your nearby options are limited. South of the stadium, at the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and Columbus Drive, there's a shopping center with a Burger King, a Chili's, a Moe's Southwest Grill, a Sonic, and a VariAsian Crazy Buffet. North of the stadium, there's a Panera at MLK Blvd. and Himes Avenue.

If you're looking to spend time with others from the Tri-State Area, Bobalouie's Grille & Sports Garden is the home of the New York Giants Fan Club of Tampa Bay. But it's at 1913 E. Bearss Avenue, on the north side of Tampa, about 12 miles northeast of the stadium and about 12 miles due north of downtown. The home of the New York Jets Fan Club of Tampa Bay, Peabody's Bar & Grill, is similarly far away, at 15333 Amberly Drive on the north side of Tampa, 14 miles northeast of the stadium, and also 14 miles northeast of the arena. I can find no listing for bars that serve as gathering places for Yankee or Met fans.

If  you visit during the European soccer season (as we are now in), and want to see your favorite club play on TV, the best soccer bar in the Tampa Bay area is MacDinton's, in Hyde Park, about 2 miles over the Hillsborough River and west of downtown. 405 S. Howard Avenue at Azeele St. Bus 30 to Kennedy Blvd. & Howard Avenue, then 3 blocks south on Howard. Unless you're a Liverpool fan, in which case you might prefer Pokey's, at 100 E. Madison Street, downtown, near the Hillsborough River waterfront.

Sidelights. Somebody once called Tampa "the San Diego of Florida." I think he owes San Diego an apology. But the Tampa Bay region does have some sites worth visiting.

On February 3, 2017, Thrillist made a list ranking the 30 NFL cities (New York and Los Angeles each having 2 teams), and Tampa came in 26th, in the bottom quarter. The author wrote:

There are nice things to be had here -- beautiful beaches in close proximity, the splendors of Cigar City Brewing, a few good restaurants (Edison: Food+Drink; Rooster & the Till; a place called Big Ray’s with crazy-good fish sandwiches); it's just too bad nearly everyone I've met from Tampa (and I have cousins here, so I've met a bunch) is basically Kevin from the Netflix show Bloodline, but even more fidgety. 

The Yankees' spring training home, George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field), is at Dale Mabry Highway and Tampa Bay Blvd., across from Raymond James Stadium.

North of Raymond James was Al Lopez Field, named for the Tampa native who was a Hall of Fame catcher and manager. Between them was the Buccaneers' first home, Tampa Stadium, known as The Big Sombrero because of its weird shape. It was built in 1967 with 46,000 seats, and expanded to 74,000 when the Bucs were expanded into existence in 1976. The Giants beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV there, and the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. It was demolished in 1999.
Raymond James Stadium (left) and Tampa Stadium (right),
with Al Lopez Field in the background, 1998

One of the legendary homes of spring training baseball, Al Lang Field (now Progress Energy Park), named for the Mayor who promoted St. Petersburg as a spring training site, is at 1st Street SE & 2nd Avenue S., 2 miles east of the Trop, in downtown St. Pete on the shore of Tampa Bay.

The spring home of the Yankees from 1947 to 1961, the Mets from 1962 to 1987, and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1947 to 1997, it is no longer used as a major league spring training or Florida State League regular season facility.

In fact, it was supposed to be torn down so that the new Rays ballpark could be built on the site, but they haven't been able to get the funding, so Al Lang Field remains standing. It is the home of the new version the Tampa Bay Rowdies, in the new version of the North American Soccer League, the second division of North American soccer. From downtown Tampa, take Bus 100X to Bus 4.

Tampa-based teams have won Florida State League Pennants in 1920, '25 (Tampa Smokers), '57, '61 (Tampa Tarpons), '94, 2001, '04, '09 and '10 (Tampa Yankees). St. Petersburg teams have done it in 1975, '86 (St. Petersburg Cardinals) and '97 (St. Petersburg Devil Rays, who won a Pennant before their parent club had even played a game). The Clearwater Phillies won a Pennant in the same year as their parent club in Philadelphia, 1993, and won another under their current name, the Clearwater Threshers, in 2007, presaging their parent club's success.

The Amalie Arena, previously known as the Ice Palace, the St. Petersburg Times Forum and the Tampa Bay Times Forum, opened in downtown Tampa in 1996, and the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning moved in for the 1996-97 season. It hosted the NCAA Frozen Four in 2012, and will host it again in 2016.The Republican Convention was held there in 2012, and Mitt Romney was nominated for President.

It is at 401 Channelside Drive, across Old Water Street from the area's premier museum, the Tampa Bay History Center, and both are across Meridian Blvd. from the Channelside Bay Plaza mall, the Florida Aquarium, and the American Victory Ship, symbolic of the American effort in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Tampa was a gathering and training center for that war.

To get to Tropicana Field, home of the Rays since their inception in 1998, you'll have to go onto Interstate 275, and cross the Howard Frankland Bridge – a bridge so traffic-ridden it's known locally as "Frankenstein" and "the Car-Strangled Spanner" – over Tampa Bay itself and into St. Pete.

Opened in 1990 as the Florida Suncoast Dome, and nicknamed the White Elephant because of its exterior color and lack of a tenant for the sport for which it was intended, the name was changed in 1993 when the NHL's Lightning came in, making the stadium the ThunderDome. But they were only there for 3 seasons, until the building now known as the Amalie Arena opened.

In their home opener, October 10, 1993, the Bolts set what was then an NHL record of 27,227 fans in the quirky seating configuration the place had at the time. So an expansion hockey team -- in Florida, mind you -- in the era before you could buy game tickets online, managed to outdraw a winning, Internet-era baseball team.

Anyway, when the Devil Rays (as they were known from 1998 to 2007) arrived, the stadium's name was changed to Tropicana Field -- but, make no mistake, this blasted thing (or thing that should be blasted) is a dome. In 1999, it became the only building in Florida (so far) to host an NCAA Final Four, and Connecticut beat Duke in the Final.

The Lightning played their 1st season, 1992-93, at Expo Hall, part of the Florida State Fairgrounds. It seats only 10,425 people, so it was never going to be more than a temporary home, but they outgrew it immediately, because, unlike the new Ottawa Senators, who came into the NHL at the same time and played at the Ottawa Civic Centre, which had almost exactly the same number of seats, they weren't horrible; indeed, they were rather respectable from the off. 4800 U.S. Route 301, about 8 miles northeast of downtown. It would take 3 buses to get there.

Tampa Bay does not have an NBA team, nor does it seem to be interested in trying for one, even though it would rank 20th in NBA markets. The Orlando Magic play 84 miles from downtown Tampa, while the Miami Heat are 279 miles away. Yet, according to a May 2014 article in The New York Times, mainly due to LeBron James (but also due to Shaquille O'Neal being much more recently in Miami than in Orlando), the Heat are more popular in the Tampa Bay region than the Magic are -- and the Los Angeles Lakers are nearly as popular as the Magic, probably because of Shaq and Kobe. If Tampa Bay did have an NBA team, the metropolitan area would rank 22nd in population among NBA markets.

Orlando is also the home of Orlando City Soccer Club, the closest Major League Soccer team. The University of Florida is 131 miles away in Gainesville, and Florida State University is 276 miles away in the State capital of Tallahassee.

Busch Gardens, with its African theme (for political correctness reasons, they can't call it "The Dark Continent" anymore), is at 10165 N. Malcolm McKinley Drive, 10 miles northeast of downtown. Take the Number 8 bus to 7th Avenue & 15th Street, then walk up 15th Street to 11th Avenue and catch the Number 18 bus, and take that to Busch Blvd.

Busch Gardens, the History Center, the Aquarium and the Victory Ship should provide you with some non-sports things to do in the Tampa Bay region. And, if you want to go there, Walt Disney World is 70 miles up Interstate 4, an hour and 15 minutes by car from downtown Tampa.

The Beatles never played a concert in the Tampa Bay region. Elvis Presley did: In Tampa, at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on May 8 and July 31, 1955, and on February 19 and August 5, 1956; and at Curtis Hixon Hall on September 13, 1970, April 26, 1975 and September 2, 1976; in St. Petersburg, at the Floridian Theater on August 7, 1956, and the Bay Front Center on September 3, 1976 and February 14, 1977; in Sarasota at the Florida Theater on February 21, 1956; and in Lakeland, at the Polk Theater on August 6, 1956, and at the Lakeland Civic Center on April 27 and 28, 1975 and September 4, 1976.

No President has ever come from Florida. Two men who served as Governor ran for the Democratic Party's nomination for the office, but neither came particularly close to the nomination: Reubin Askew dropped out after the 1984 New Hampshire Primary, and Bob Graham didn't even make it to calendar year 2004, much less the Iowa Caucuses.

Malio's, in downtown Tampa at 400 N. Ashley Drive at Kennedy Blvd., is a locally famous restaurant, known around there as George Steinbrenner's favorite. He had a private room there, as does the still-living Tampa native and Yankee Legend Lou Piniella.

The Tampa Bay region doesn't have a lot of tall buildings. The tallest, at 579 feet, is 100 North Tampa, named for its address at Whiting Street downtown, formerly named the Regions Building and the AmSouth Building.

Oh, and, get this: As New York is known as the Big Apple, Tampa likes to call itself the Big Guava. In the words of the immortal Jack Paar, I kid you not.

As far as I know, the only major-network TV show set in the Tampa Bay region  has been Second Noah, ABC's 1996-97 series starring Daniel Hugh Kelly as a veterinarian at Busch Gardens. Quite a few films have been set there, though, including Cocoon, Edward Scissorhands and A Time to Kill.

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So, if you can afford it, go on down and join your fellow Giant fans as the Big Blue Wrecking Crew take on the Men In Pewter. Enjoy the warmth -- and remember, it's not the heat that's so bad, it's the humidity!