His­tory

A Tale of Two Sports

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - CON­TENTS - Glenn Miller is pres­i­dent of the South­west Florida His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

One sport is played on a di­a­mond and an­other on a court. One has been a sta­ple of South­west Florida for nearly 90 years, re­turn­ing every spring, bring­ing leg­ends along with jour­ney­men per­form­ers. The other sport has been played in the area just as long, but only a cou­ple of times have its leg­ends com­peted on our courts.

Ma­jor League Baseball spring train­ing has been a fix­ture of the lo­cal sports scene since be­fore the Tami­ami Trail was com­pleted in 1928, con­nect­ing Fort My­ers by high­way with Tampa and Mi­ami.

Davis Cup ten­nis was played at the Sani­bel Har­bour Mar­riott Re­sort & Spa in the late 20th cen­tury and fea­tured play­ers as iconic in their sport as their baseball coun­ter­parts are in theirs. The Davis Cup is the pre­mier in­ter­na­tional team event in men’s ten­nis played an­nu­ally at venues around the world.

Baseball re­turns to Lee and Char­lotte coun­ties every Fe­bru­ary with the Min­nesota Twins at Cen­tu­ryLink Sports Com­plex, the Bos­ton Red Sox at JetBlue Park and the Tampa Bay Rays at Char­lotte Sports Park. Top-level pro­fes­sional ten­nis has not re­turned to South­west Florida.

SPRING TRAIN­ING HIS­TORY

South­west Florida’s con­nec­tion to big-league baseball goes back to a time be­fore tele­vi­sion, night games and the In­ter­net.

In 1925, the Philadelphia Ath­let­ics be­came the first team to call Fort My­ers its spring train­ing home when its mem­bers started work­ing out and play­ing games at Terry Park just east of down­town.

The team was des­tined within a few years to be­come one of the great­est ever, win­ning the Amer­i­can League pen­nant in 1929, 1930 and 1931. The A’s won the World Se­ries in 1929 and 1930.

It also be­gan a spring train­ing tra­di­tion un­matched by any other city in ei­ther Florida or Arizona, the only two states that now serve as spring train­ing lo­cales.

Four other fran­chises have trained in Fort My­ers and gone on to win a World Se­ries: 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates; 1985 Kansas City Roy­als; 1991 Min­nesota Twins; 2004, 2007 and 2013 Bos­ton Red Sox. No other spring train­ing city can boast as many fran­chises that trained in their ball­parks and went on to win the cham­pi­onship.

Some of the great­est names in baseball his­tory have called Fort My­ers their spring home, from Lefty Grove to Bob Feller to Roberto Clemente to Ge­orge Brett to David Or­tiz.

DAVIS CUP LEG­ENDS

John McEn­roe and An­dre Agassi were so fa­mous that even non­ten­nis fans likely knew their names when they came to what was then called Son­esta Sani­bel Har­bour Re­sort in spring 1992 to play a Davis Cup event. Those events are known in Davis Cup par­lance as ties.

McEn­roe and Agassi played for a pow­er­house U.S. team in a quar­ter­fi­nal match against a coun­try that doesn’t ex­ist any­more—Cze­choslo­vakia. The coun­try dis­solved it­self in 1993 and is now two coun­tries: Slo­vakia and the Czech Repub­lic.

At stake in the tie was a spot in the tour­na­ment semi-fi­nals, then on to the world cham­pi­onship.

McEn­roe, then 33, was the team cap­tain. At the time his re­sume in­cluded four U.S. Open ti­tles and three Wim­ble­don

No other spring train­ing city can boast as many fran­chises that trained in their ball­parks and went on to win the cham­pi­onship.

ti­tles. He had been the world’s No. 1 player from 1981 to 1984.

Agassi was 21 and was, he said at the time, “jazzed” to play in the tour­na­ment. As he told re­porters then, “Davis Cup. There’s noth­ing quite like it. The grand slams and Davis Cup. I think that’s where you make your game.”

He helped make his own game that year at the re­sort by the cause­way lead­ing to Sani­bel Is­land. The event was held in the re­sort’s 5,500-seat ten­nis sta­dium, which was packed or nearly packed for all three days of the com­pe­ti­tion.

The U.S. team in­cluded an­other su­per­star, Pete Sam­pras, who was then ranked No. 4 in the world. Team­mate Rick Leach was No. 7.

The Czech team wasn’t filled with slouches. Hardly. Petr Korda was No. 10 in the world and Karel No­vacek was No. 12.

McEn­roe, though, pre­dicted the U.S. would sweep the Czechs 5-0. It started off that way on Fri­day, March 27, 1992, when Agassi beat Korda, and Sam­pras beat No­vacek. Both matches were won in straight sets. The Czechs bounced back the next day by win­ning the dou­bles match and started Sun­day with Korda up­set­ting Sam­pras 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

The event was tied 2-2, set­ting up a show­down be­tween Agassi and No­vacek. The Amer­i­can won 7-6, 6-0, 6-0, giv­ing the home team a 3-2 vic­tory.

The Amer­i­cans then went on to beat Swe­den in the semi­fi­nals and Switzer­land in the fi­nals.

Once, leg­ends in their prime graced the courts right by the Sani­bel Cause­way.

No­table mo­ments in Fort My­ers baseball his­tory: Left, Ty Cobb, Thomas Edi­son and Con­nie Mack, the leg­endary Philadelphia A’s man­ager, at Terry Park; mid­dle, Mack with Edi­son at bat; right, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on a visit to Terry Park in 1929.

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