ST. PETERSBURG - Just inside the banquet area, normally referred to as Tropicana Field, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker stood in what usually is short right field.
"This is the first time I've been here," Baker confessed as he studied the orange-lit dome. "Do any balls ever hit the roof?"
Such was the mood of the 2008 Governor's Baseball Dinner, a celebration of baseball in the Sunshine State, including amateur, collegiate, minor leagues, spring training and of course, Major League Baseball.
Representatives of teams that train in Florida attended, as did some heavy hitters such as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, former Tampa mayor and governor Bob Martinez, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker, Cal Ripken Jr., former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, Fred McGriff, Don Zimmer and actor Bill Murray.
The event was a resumption of an event that originated in Tampa in 1947, becoming a Florida rite of spring to honor baseball. The dinner had not been held since 1993.
Despite the good mood, the lingering effects of congressional hearings about baseball players using performance enhancing drugs loomed. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who was scheduled to attend, bowed out to prepare for a hearing on the subject before Congress today.
Bob DuPuy, president and COO of Major League Baseball, attending in Selig's absence, said he thinks "fans are willing to put that drug scandal behind if they feel we have a clean sport."
Hall of Famer Ripken said, "The cloud has been hanging over baseball for a while. Suspect it could get worse, but everyone is looking out for the integrity of the game. The players' association and MLB have gotten together in unprecedented ways, and the game seems to be well as long as you focus on what happens between the white lines."
Teams leaving Florida for Arizona and new spring training complexes also was a popular topic.
The Dodgers and Indians are leaving Florida at the end of this Grapefruit League season. The Reds, after years of battling for new facilities, might not be far behind.