Retired Gwinnett County Public Schools teacher and coach John D. Williams, a Dacula native and sixth-generation Gwinnettian, chronicled his MLB Spring Training trip — before widespread coronavirus cancellations — for the Daily Post. The former Dacula and Parkview educator caught some baseball and also caught up with Dacula grad Dexter Walker, now serving in the Air Force.
Monday, March 2
Departed Atlanta for sunny Orlando. I was greeted by my friend of many years who doubled as my LYFT driver. He is affectionately called Tommy Tutone by my grandkids. We stopped along the way back to Merritt Island to observe prominent manatees, alligators and eagles (not the Hotel California Eagles). Did some shopping at a local Walmart for some potting soil and tomato plants. Tommie is an avid gardener. Enjoyed a great Italian meal, prepared by his wife Barb, my second mother, featuring linguini, zucchini and a lot of other Italian words. Enjoyed a quick dip in the pool then crashed with exhaustion from the long flight. It is an hour and 5 minutes flight.
Tuesday, March 3
Tommy and I decided to do some fishing. We headed for this saltwater inlet known for good fish and manatee. Today was my lucky day. Using some shrimp as bait I snagged a 15-inch speckled saltwater trout. Of course, Tommie being the catch and release guy he is, made me put it back.
Next a school of dolphins came cruising by just out having a good time. When I asked them why they were so far from Miami they answered, “have you visited Miami lately?”
Moving on, Tommie and I headed back to his abode where we began transplanting hibiscus and bougainvillea plants in his back yard. It is ironic he has two giant live oak trees in his back yard which is the state tree of Georgia for all you history buffs.
Wednesday, March 4
Originally, I wanted to head to Bradenton on the west coast to see the Braves and Pirates. One cannot travel to Florida in March without catching a spring game. I have been an avid Braves fan since they were in Milwaukee. However, the only true thing in life is change, so I decided to go to Clearwater, home of the Phillies, who were playing the Pirates in a split squad game. Here is why I chose this game. My friend from Bradenton’s son was catching for the Pirates this day. He was briefly with the Braves last season. I wanted to support him in his effort to make the major league roster. We do not know the outcome because spring training was cut short as you well know. By the way, the Phillies have a great facility and very friendly fans. The game ended 7-7 with Bryce Harper going deep twice — one leaving the entire park. I believe it might have landed in Clearwater Bay. Great weather and a good time was had by all. We headed back to the east coast, which is about a 2.5-hour drive.
A quick dip in Tommie’s pool was therapeutic.
Thursday, March 5
After coffee and bagels, I cleaned Tommie’s pool. Then we headed to Cape Canaveral to the Space Center to meet one of my former students from Dacula High, Dexter Walker. Dexter is stationed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. He is a great success story for Dacula High and Gwinnett County Public Schools. This three-sport letterman attended Air Force Academy and played football all four years. Now he plays a critical role in all launches from the Cape. He mentors young athletes in his spare time on how to achieve success in the sports world. He is a fantastic tour guide.
Next Tommie and I headed to the beach for a quick dip and slice pizza. This pizza was so big I had to use a wheelbarrow to get it to the beach. One cannot go to Florida without getting in the ocean.
Later that evening, we met Coach Vern Wells and his wife Judy at the cruise ship docks. Coach Wells was head golf coach at DHS for many years and has now relocated in Cocoa Beach. He is presently working as athletics director at Cocoa Beach Senior High.
As is customary with my educator side, I always asked if working for Gwinnett County Schools and the Dacula Cluster prepared them for their new positions. Both he and his wife said they were way ahead of the curve. So, you see as a product of Dacula High I must share these success stories. It’s not always about the education, sometimes it’s about building the relationships.
I have tried to add some educational levity unless that is an oxymoron. Hope you enjoyed traveling to Florida vicariously through me without leaving your house.
Williams can be reached via email at email@example.com.