Big Natural's Travel Blog: South Georgia, St. Augustine, and Yankees Spring Training
For those of you who don’t know me that well, my life is a constant blur of work. Day job, writing, trying to build a comedy brand here, and a number of other personal responsibilities I’d rather not mention to the Internet. I forget birthdays, forget plans, and basically forget my social circle even exists. Some weeks, I have to literally write “relax for 30 minutes” on my to-do lists or else I won’t do it. I have to make plans months in advance. You get it – I keep busy.
So, as you can imagine – I need a few damn days off every once in a while. But, my introverted side forces me to continuously plow through work, ignoring my emotions and exhaustion, until at one point, I just mentally collapse.
Thankfully, the First Lady organized a road trip for us at just the right time.
Night One: Chattanooga
We weren’t supposed to leave until Wednesday morning, but when we got word that our fearless leader, President Trump, was coming to Nashville, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Literally, we left for our road trip after work on Tuesday – walked out of the office, hopped in the car, and off we go.
I love Chattanooga – it’s one of the real gems of Tennessee. Only 1.5-2 hours away from Nashville, it’s the perfect spot to get away for a day – plenty of natural beauty, a laid back vibe, strong art scene, and some good ass food.
Particularly, there’s a spot we stop at every time we’re in Gig City – Brewhaus Bar. Seriously, we’ve made trips to Chattanooga JUST to eat, drink, and unwind at this neat little spot. I usually alternate between the curry wurst, the Brewhaha, and the grilled pimento cheese sandwich. But, the one thing we can’t leave the place without is an order of the Bavarian nachos.
It’s hard to describe what happens to your body when you eat these Bavarian nachos – the only thing I can equate it to is ‘finding yourself’ spiritually. Like, you take one bite and instantly find your purpose in life. Instead of tortilla chips, Brewhaus builds their nachos on a pile of potato cakes – sour cream, lettuce, tomato, gobs of cheese, and your choice of buffalo chicken or sausage (pro tip: ALWAYS go sausage). It’s borderline out-of-body.
We had no hotel reservations on night one – again, we were essentially running from Trump, so with Florida being our ultimate destination, we decided to just hit the road and see what happens.
What happened was we ended up staying at a Howard Johnson in Dalton, Georgia and not sleeping at all. The bed was a veritable picnic table with a bedsheet over it, and I’m pretty sure my pillowcase had blood on it, but oh well. Big Natural DGAF.
We awoke at 4:00AM and GTFO of Dalton with Jacksonville and St. Augustine in sight.
Night Two: St. Augustine
Honestly, one of my favorite components of a road trip is the road itself, and boy – South Georgia did not disappoint. I mean, the billboards were an emotional rollercoaster – one second I’m getting ‘adult superstore,’ the next I’m getting ‘Jesus is coming.’ There was a host of anti-abortion billboards, followed by liquor store ads, back to Jesus saving you, and then back to sex stuff. In a way, that’s kind of the South in a nutshell. A lot of pressure to do good by the Lord, but also a lot of drunks and freaks.
Anyway, I wish one of you fuckers would’ve told me there ain’t shit in Jacksonville. We dodged a real bullet there. Initial conversations and planning had us spending the night there before the First Lady’s friend talked her into booking a room in St. Augustine.
We spent less than an hour in Jacksonville – seriously. It’s like the city was lost in the 80s or something. Completely desolate, old, run down, and very unsettling. I immediately understood why all my friends from Florida asked “why are you going to Jacksonville?” when I informed them of our trip.
Nonetheless, we were thanking our lucky stars to get into St. Augustine and get settled in. We enjoyed a nice ride around town, found the giant lighthouse, and enjoyed a tour of it.
Let me tell y’all something about this lighthouse….shit was 14 stories high and had a spiral staircase inside…219 steps you had to climb to get up top. But, we pushed through. I’m not usually the type to be afraid of heights, but this freaked even me out.
You could see down the stairs at all times and the damn things would shake and wobble because kids were jumping around like it was a damn trampoline. But, hey – the view was well worth it.
Once we settled in, we met a family friend for dinner who literally said, “yeah, if you go to Jacksonville, you’re taking your life into your own hands.” Cool – glad we weren’t just a couple of sissies for nothing.
The Sunset Grille was ranked the number one restaurant in St. Augustine by TripAdvisor or whoever the First Lady used to find somewhere for us to eat, so we gave it a shot. Boy, did they not disappoint. Hankering for some seafood, your boy here ordered the fish sandwich. When they brought it out and it literally looked like an entire fish had been battered and fried, I’ll admit, I lost it a little bit. Didn’t know if I could pull that one off. Of course, it tasted delicious and was a massive sandwich, but it looked too much like an actual fish for it to settle easily into my stomach.
The First Lady’s coconut shrimp, though, was otherworldly. We started the meal off with some shrimp and crab egg rolls. For our first taste of real seafood on the trip, it was great – nice atmosphere, too. Also, keep in mind, we’re from landlocked Nashville, Tennessee. It’s hard to get good seafood.
Night Three: Tampa
Up and on to our ultimate destination – New York Yankees spring training in Tampa. But, first, let’s sit through two hours of traffic in central Florida. Yeah, Orlando traffic fucking blows – and we didn’t even have time to stop and look at the giant WWE Championship belt displayed in downtown Orlando. But, the new soccer facility down there looks phenomenal.
Arriving in Tampa just in time for lunch, we hit up a spot right on the water named Gator’s. Probably the best seafood of our trip – we got started with some fried gator bites (my first time taking a crack at gator), I had some coconut shrimp, and the First Lady had the crab cake sandwich. All phenomenal choices that have my mouth watering just thinking about it.
We followed lunch up with a round of drinks at Sloppy Joe’s and now I can officially say that life cannot possibly get any better than pounding margaritas at a bar on the beach while your alma mater is playing in the NCAA tournament.
That’s Middle Tennessee State, aka the Harvard of the South, for those of you who don’t know. Sloppy Joe’s was a place we frequented over the course of our stay in Tampa. Margaritas lacked the amount of tequila I usually go for, but you can never screw up an ice cold Yuengling. Plus, our host in Tampa made me one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had.
That night was spent resting and visiting with family and friends of the family, watching the wealth of basketball that is the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Night Four: Tampa
Rise and shine – the weather warmed up and we made our way to Lakeland, Florida for the first of our spring training double header. The whole ‘spring training’ thing is incredibly bizarre to me. It’s like the Detroit Tigers set up shop in central Florida, so there’s this subset of Tigers fans in what feels like a thousand miles away from Detroit. Same with a lot of the other teams down in Florida.
I just wonder – does Lakeland root for Detroit during baseball season or one of the teams that play the season in Florida? We even got weather updates for Detroit during the game!
Maybe it’s just me being a football guy, but this entire concept was extremely foreign to me. Nonetheless, I had an absolute blast – got to see Tanaka pitch, the game finished 3-0 in favor of the Yankees and we saw a no-hitter. All in all, the family was happy, I had Chick-Fil-A, a hot dog, and a couple Coronas
Though, since I shrugged off sunscreen, I was sunburnt as hell. But, man – nothing like baseball in the spring.
That night, our hosts prepared an incredible home-cooked meal for us, and afterwards the First Lady and I snuck out to watch the sunset, and OMG THEY HAVE GIANT INFLATABLE SLIDES ON THE BEACH!
Another round at Sloppy Joe’s, then it’s back to get some sleep.
Night Five: Tampa
Our final day of vacation, and it’s the pinnacle of our entire trip: George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for a New York Yankees home spring training game.
Wow – that’s about all I can say about this little haven. The weather was warm, the air smelled fresh, and accompanied by the knock of a ball hitting a bat and the pop of a baseball glove, it was about as close to a natural high as I’ve ever been.
The stadium is beautiful – from your first glimpse at the giant Yankees signage to settling in to your seat, hoping you don’t get socked by a foul ball. The team store is fantastic – a wide array of Yankees merch to choose from. We even had our picture taken with the World Series trophy. And, by God, the bar adjacent to third base was heaven on Earth. Cold beer in souvenir cups and hot dogs slathered in mustard and relish. Not to mention, for the first time in my young baseball traveling career, I got to see one of my favorites, CC Sabathia pitch.
That night, the exhaustion finally sat in, and we quietly enjoyed a meal and drinks at an establishment in St. Petersburg, watching Butler land what I believe to be 500 three pointers against Middle Tennessee State and knock our beloved Blue Raiders out of the tournament.
I have a list of sporting events I’d like to one day take the SoBros Network to for live coverage, and spring training made the list after this trip. I came away thinking Tampa is definitely a place that I could retire in 80 years (I plan to work a while, and hopefully, by the time I’m 90, we’ll have advanced anti-aging practices that will raise my life expectancy to 130 years).
Driving from Tampa to Nashville in one haul made for a long drive home. But, I could not have asked for a more relieving, exciting, fun road trip and companion than I experienced with this one.
Stoney Keeley is the editor of the SoBros Network, Tennessee Titans Featured Analyst for Pro Football Spot, Contributor to FanSided’s Bama Hammer, and covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley, @PFSpot, @WrestlingNewsCo, @Bama_Hammer
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