Sports fans flock to Tampa

If you are a fan of baseball and college basketball, Florida's Suncoast region is the place to be this weekend. With eight major league spring training camps within a three-hour drive along the west coast and the NCAA men's basketball tournament second and third rounds at the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday and Saturday, there's something for every sports fan.

Are you a Princeton fan who roots for the Phillies? You could have watched Princeton take on Kentucky on Thursday and made a short drive over to Clearwater for the Phillies-Pirates on Friday. How about Michigan State and the Detroit Tigers? The Spartans played UCLA on Thursday night and Detroit hosts the Braves just up the road in Lakeland on Saturday.

Paul Katcher, a Yankees fan who lives in New York City and graduated from Syracuse University, couldn't wait to make his fifth straight trip to Tampa for Yankees' spring training. He and his friends start looking at dates as soon as the schedule comes out. "When I saw the NCAA tournament and Yankees baseball," Katcher said, "This one was a no brainer."

Fair warning -- this sports combination can be exhausting. Katcher woke at 5 a.m. on Thursday, took a morning flight from New York and arrived in Tampa at 11 a.m. He didn't even have time to drop his bags at the hotel and came straight to the St. Pete Times Forum for West Virginia vs. Clemson, which tipped at 12:15 p.m. After three more basketball games on Thursday, Katcher switched to baseball on Friday, when the Yankees visit the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.

This baseball and basketball combination isn't appealing just for sports fans. At least one major league baseball player is excited about the NCAA tournament coming to town. Tampa Bay Rays' center fielder B.J. Upton, a huge college basketball fan (he's from the heart of ACC country and his father is a long-time NCAA basketball referee), enjoys college basketball games in Tampa whenever he can. He's attended both the SEC and ACC conference tournaments in the past few years.

Of course there was one potential snag in a sports fan's plan. What's a devoted Orange fan to do when his/her team is also in the tournament at a different site? "I was so relieved to see Syracuse playing late Friday night," Katcher said. "Its game won't conflict with either our NCAA tickets on Thursday or the Yankees-Blue Jays game on Friday afternoon. I was prepared to bury my head in my cell phone if I wasn't able to get in front of a TV for my beloved Orange."

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