An Evening in Lakeland with Southpaw

  In our ongoing effort to enjoy minor league baseball here in Florida, we took an evening out to indulge ourselves with a trip to Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland to see the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
  Because of a rainout the previous night, this turned out to be a double-header against the Charlotte Stone Crabs (another great baseball nickname) and despite some wet and humid weather, it turned out to be a lot of fun.
   The promotion for the evening was “All You Can Eat for $10.” Those participating were able to have all the stadium food they could consume for a single price (drinks were extra). Although we saw some people handing the cards around to their friends,  it looked to be a successful promotion.
  We did not participate, inasmuch as we already had found a nice little restaurant downtown and had all we could eat – more on that later.
  The stadium apparently is the oldest of those we have visited so far, originally opening in 1966. Since that time it has had a lot of renovations and now holds a capacity crowd of 8,500. The crowd fell quite a bit short of that the evening when we were there, with an usher gesturing in the general direction of our seats and telling us to “find a spot you like, we have plenty of room tonight.”
   One of the nicer features was a netting that went nearly around the seats from third base to first. It cut down on the chance to get a foul ball, but also provided security from some of the screamers that came off the bats.
  Joker Marchant Stadium is a more compact venue than others that we have visited. It put us right on top of the action where we could yell and holler and generally become part of the game.
  The home team won both ends of the twin bill, despite a persistent light drizzle that periodically wet down the field. Early on we sat down closer to the field but as the night progressed, we moved up under the overhang to stay dry.
  The first game was exciting as the Flying Tigers came from behind to win. After a half hour break, both teams changed their jerseys giving a different look to the second half of the contest. The Tigers won that one convincingly with a no-hitter going on into the last inning of the game.
  The Flying Tiger mascot, named Southpaw” was not as prevalent as some of his counterparts but we surmised that may have been due to the wet weather. He was out for a while – and we did see him several times in the covered concourse downstairs during the break between games.
  There’s lots of fun things to do at a Flying Tigers game, there are a couple of “selfie-spots” in the concourse downstairs with a backdrop showing all the teams in the league. There’s also plenty of food and an official merchandise store.
  They did not have as many “kids’ games” between innings as some of the other teams although there were a few. They did have youngsters do a couple of ceremonial tasks including delivering a rosin bag to the mound, and giving the official command to “play ball!”
   One thing that we missed was the ability to hear the official play by play. There is Wi-Fi available at the stadium, there was no official call of the game.
   Before attending the game, we discovered a great little restaurant in the downtown area, a little coffee house called “Black and Brew.” There are plenty of seating options including regular tables or high tops for two or four, bench seating along the wall for those on their computers, a few stools along the front window and some tables inside the outside foyer.
  The ambience inside is great with a natural brick wall festooned with hand-painted designs on one side, and a mirror on the other giving added depth to the space.
  There’s a wide selection of sandwiches, salads, flatbreads and soups, with an option to “choose two” and have a pair of selections. It’s a great way to try more than one offering by people who pay attention to what they’re serving.
   Being a coffee shop they naturally have a full line of coffees, cold press, frappes, lattes, cappuccinos, macchiato, mochas and expressos. There’s also a lot of different teas, craft beers and specialty wines.
   Did I mention the desserts? The sweets are featured in a glass case and one of the first thing you see as you enter. They admittedly were hard to resist. Although we arrived late in the day, there still was a good selection of cookies and cakes on display.
  For dinner we each selected the “choose two.” I had the Meltaway sandwich with a Caesar Salad, my wife had the Grilled White & Cheddar sandwich with a Sweet Tango salad. The portions were just right and absolutely filling. It made a great start to the evening.
  Dinner and a ballgame make a great night and both these choices were entertaining and more than reasonably priced. If you’re headed to Lakeland, we recommend both.
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