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Keeping Score

Keeping Score: Home trip

Good morning!

Searching for a local restaurant on the drive out of Florida I stopped at Granny’s in Starke, home of Florida State Prison where 86 convicts have been executed since 1976. At the main intersection a sign for the prison points west, and I wondered if any of the condemned knew the town well enough to order their last meals off of Granny’s menu. I had the grilled chicken.

Hunger pangs hit again in Georgia, the state with the best roadside snacks. Peanut farms are plentiful in the Peach State, and so are pecans. A billboard on I-95 beckoned me off at Exit 87. It was small and independently owned and the proprietor offered me free samples of homemade peach and butter pecan ice cream.

A woman down the road, he said, made the cinnamon-coated pecans and pecan pralines. I left with a bag of each, and would’ve bought a gallon of both flavors of ice cream if it could stay frozen the next thousand miles. Instead I had two scoops of each in a styrofoam cup and waited until it softened into a heavy, luscious frappe.

Gas is cheap in South Carolina, $3.19 a gallon at a station near the Coosawhatchie River. The place sold beer, maps, and fishing lures and crickets chirped from inside an old wooden box next to the men’s room. “Crappies love ‘em,” said the clerk.

The drive through the major thoroughfares of Washington and Baltimore was uneventful, though my heart quickened when I saw brake lights from cars headed into the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The mile-and-a-half tunnel goes under Baltimore Harbor and serves 115,000 vehicles a day. It’s not a place I’d want to be parked for a very long time, and fortunately the brake lights were a false alarm.

The view from the top of Delaware Memorial Bridge was brief but awesome, and northern New Jersey was the usual tangled mass of highways and overpasses. Police cars are nonexistent here, nobody in his right mind would want to pull anyone over in the midst of such traffic chaos.

I missed my exit onto the Garden State Parkway and drove 25 miles further west, pounding the steering wheel and cursing the poor signage. At midnight I was home, unpacking my suitcase and longing for a bowl of peach ice cream.

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Hinsdale’s Bill Faucher hopes he’ll be able to open his off track betting parlor on Easter weekend. He’ll have a “soft opening” followed by a grand opening the day of the Preakness Stakes. First though he needs to get his gaming license from the New Hampshire Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission. “The meeting’s in two weeks and I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” he said.

The process of filling out and submitting the 70-page application was arduous, and Faucher wasn’t sure the New Hampshire attorney general had signed off on it. “They don’t tell me nothin’ ya know. My attorney says don’t worry we got political pull. We got political sh*t.”

Once the license is approved, Faucher will install tote machines. “They’re up in Maine, I’m working with the same individuals who take care of all the fair tracks. I know them all personally and if I say I wanna hook ’em up tomorrow they’ll be here tomorrow.”

Faucher’s goal is to resurrect the days when harness racing was a viable operation in the Granite State. He is working in concert with the Western New England Harness Horsemen’s Association to raise enough money for a bank loan to build a track. Three years of OTB profits will be used for the down payment.

The facility can hold only about 50 people, but Faucher doesn’t need on-site bettors. Phone wagering is the key and referring to the closed racetrack which is now a patch of grass up the road he said, “Joe Sullivan did $22 million the year before he closed. If I could do half that, at twenty cents on the dollar I’d be tickled pink.”

First though he needs the gaming commission to put the golden egg in his Easter basket.

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The NMH hoops team scrimmaged last Saturday so that Creighton and Brown coaches could get a look-see at the underclassmen. NMH coach John Carroll’s program is highly regarded by college recruiters, attested by the four who played at Harvard this season for coach Tommy Amaker (a Mike Krzyzewski protege). The quartet that helped the Crimson go 27-5 and reach the NCAAs were senior captain Laurent Rivard, junior guard Matt Brown, sophomore Evan Cummins and freshman Zena Edosomwan, who helped NMH win the 2013 National Prep Championship.

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At one time or another this year, five of the University of Florida’s athletic teams have been ranked No. 1 nationally — men’s basketball, women’s softball, men’s and women’s indoor track and men’s swimming and diving. Women’s gymnastics peaked at No. 2.

The school’s Gainesville campus is a Garden of Eden for athletes. It has outstanding weather, meticulously-kept playing fields, state-of-the-art facilities, and is ranked in the top 50 academically by U.S. News & World Report.

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Boston hates the Yankees and Baltimore hates the Red Sox. Radio announcer Joe Angel calls Fenway Park a “toilet bowl,” manager Buck Showalter wants to see how Boston would fare with Tampa Bay’s payroll, and the PA system played “Loser” during the Red Sox pre-game introductions on Monday. This resentment likely stems from all the Red Sox fans who infiltrate Camden Yards and turn it into a home away from home.

Meanwhile the aforementioned “toilet bowl” is the most expensive ballpark for a family of four to watch a game, according to Team Marketing Report’s fan cost index. It cost $350.78 for four tickets to Fenway Park, two beers, four sodas, four hot dogs, two programs, two Red Sox caps and parking. That’s up there, but cheaper than a Bruins game, which cost $441.13.

The Diamondbacks offer the most affordable ballpark family experience at $129.89 for four. The D-backs have $4 beers and an all-you-can section for $34.

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Baseball Notes: All things considered, Jackie Bradley Jr. would have preferred being in Pawtucket on Monday. ... Eleven of this week’s 14 home openers sold out. Chicago, Tampa Bay and Anaheim did not. ... Not only did NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio short-arm the ball at Citi Field, he did it from in front of the mound; Obama and Bush have both thrown from the top of the mound, quite presidential. Obama is a White Sox fan, not a trendy Cubs fan. ... Yankees fans turned out in Seattle to boo Robinson Cano on Monday. “That’s courageous,” said M’s announcer Dave Sims, noting the contradiction. ... Don Baylor broke his leg receiving the ceremonial first pitch from fellow Angels’ MVP Vlad Guerrero during the ceremonial first pitch on Monday. Yeah, it sucks getting old. ... Off topic, WMECO is sending Home Energy Reports comparing energy usage among my 100 neighbors. A No. 1 ranking is most efficient and 100 is the least. I scored 100. “Congratulations,” says David Lorenz. “You must be very proud.” And lighter in the wallet.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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