Twins Talk Story and Photos by Gordy Jones
Great Florida Memories
Fort Myers, Florida — In February of 1991, there was excitement among Twins fans: A new training facility would soon be opening at Fort Myers in Southwest Florida. Up until then, the Twins’ training camp had been at Tinker Field in Orlando. Although the fans loved taking a trip to see their favorite team train and taking the kids to Disney World at the same time, the field was not located in the most ideal part of town–in a residential neighborhood just west of downtown, and nestled in on the west side of the Citrus Bowl stadium. Parking was always a problem, and I can recall witnessing drug deals, a purse snatching, and hookers soliciting on the nearby streets. Other than having a nicely groomed ball field, it was really not much of a training facility with its limited space.
My fondest memory of Tinker Field was getting yelled at by Calvin Griffith, the team’s owner. I was photographing part of a spring game to use with a story I had been writing for a local, now defunct sports magazine. I was told by the Twins’ media department to shoot from a platform down the first base line on the mezzanine. It was a great vantage point, but it was in front of the owner’s box. At this park I would not call it a suite; it was a bare-bones box with a tin roof, a counter to sit at, and a table with a big cooler. From the start of the game Calvin growled at me, “Goll darn it, move down a ways, you’re blocking my view.” I accommodated his wish–he was the boss. But as I got caught up in the game, I would drift back down in front of him, and so would the other photographer. Once again Griffith would shout out: “Goll darn it, move down!” In about the fourth inning, I was about to call it quits for the day, for I had captured all of the photographs that I needed for my story. It was perfect timing, because once more Cavin growled: “Get out of my goll darn way, Gordy. In fact, why don’t you just come into my box and drink beer with us for the rest of the day? Then we can all see.” The other photographer looked at him, and Calvin said, “You too. Get your butts in here and out of my way.” And so we did. As it ends up, the other photographer wasn’t a photographer at all, but “Andy,” one of the owners of the old Hubert’s across from the Dome. He had been shooting some pics for his pal, former Twins manager Tom Kelly. We both enjoyed the rest of the afternoon drinking beer, eating snacks, and listening to great stories from Calvin and his posse.
But on to 1991, as the excitement mounted. People couldn’t wait to see this training facility in suburban Fort Myers. This area was just beginning to be developed. There wasn’t much traffic, and developers were just starting to break ground on shopping centers, golf courses, and housing developments. In Minnesota there were radio and newspaper ads luring Twins fans to join their tour group, and check out this new vacationland with its state-of-the-art (for that time) spring training facility, which was known as Hammond Stadium at the Lee County Sports Facility. It was roomy, spread out, and had auxiliary practice and minor league fields. It was in a safe, pretty, friendly area surrounded by farms. I couldn’t wait to see it myself.
I flew into a quiet airport, and arrived a little late. A Minnesota storm had delayed my flight. I did not want to miss this game because I was invited to a post-game party with Twins executives, players, and announcers to celebrate the new field. The party was being hosted by WCCO Radio, which at the time was the Twins’ broadcasting partner. I rushed off the plane, and ran over to a rental car counter to pick up my ride. I checked my map and zoomed over to Hammond Field and with no traffic, it took only about 10 minutes to get there. I drove to the parking lot entrance, and the attendant said that the lot was full, but on the north side of the outfield there was auxiliary parking. They had not figured out the parking situation yet. I drove to the auxiliary lot, gave the guy at the fenced-in entrance a few bucks, and drove onto an unlandscaped, grassy field with 100 other cars. The game was in progress, and I hustled in to see this splendid new complex. It was just as grand as I had heard it would be–yet it was quaint. I enjoyed the rest of the game.
After the game I met a buddy, and we walked down to the private-party area that is still on the third-base side of the ballpark.We hung out for a couple of hours rubbing elbows with players and brass. After the party, we proceeded to walk over to the auxiliary lot, as I was going to give my buddy a ride. The lot was no longer there. It had been converted back to a cow pasture an hour after the game. My car was still there, but it was surrounded by about 15 head of cattle, including a big bull. Being a city guy, I wasn’t thrilled about entering this fenced-in pasture. My friend laughed and said he had an idea. He went to the far side of the fence and began calling cattle. They all went to investigate, at which time I ran through the gate, hopped into my rental car, and hightailed it out of there. When I see my buddy, we laugh about it to this day.
On the other side of the pasture, before they built apartments, you could see the rear of a new strip mall. In the corner of this little shopping area, to this day, sits a must-go-to sports bar for any Twins fan visiting the area. It is called Pott’s Sports Cafe. It opened in 1991, the same year as Hammond, now CenturyLink Field. Twins memorabilia covers the walls, and on game days, all of the servers are donned in Twins gear. It is a family place known for its wings, but everything on the menu is thumbs up…and with kind of a Minnesota flair. There is an outdoor patio with a one-man band, and a grassy area for tossing bean bags. Owner Jamie Masterson has owned Potts for nine years, and I credit her with its ongoing success. She hires attractive female servers who are knowledgeable and professional, and they do everything with a touch of Minnesota.
On Mondays Potts has a meatloaf special for $8.95, and on Fridays in Lent they have an old fashioned Minnesota fish fry. All of the prices are reasonable. You can get a bucket of beer for $12, and only $10 on Wednesdays. Potts is a staple of my annual spring-training trip because the staff takes good care of me, and of all of the other customers..
The place jumps on game days, and it’s not uncommon to see a player or a coach hanging out. Last week, I even saw a visiting Saints player at Potts. Jamie doesn’t like to talk about the players, (she doesn’t want to give away the team’s safe haven), but I have seen that almost everyone respects their privacy, and more often, folks don’t even notice them; out of uniform, they blend right in. Most game-day customers are Minnesotans. I have run into former classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and new friends whom I met there and now see every spring at Potts. But my favorite person to run into is anyone who wants to buy me a beer.