FORT MYERS, Fla. – “Where’s Derek?”
A young woman on crutches hobbled into a cluster of tents set up a few hundred feet from the ticket window at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. She needed an audience with the Mayor.
Derek DeArmond emerged to see what was up. The woman had cousins coming in early the next morning, she told him, and they needed to get on The List.
“Have them see me when they get here,” he told her. “I’ll be up early.”
Meet Derek DeArmond, the “Mayor of Fenway South,” organizer of the Great Spring Training Camp Out, keeper of The List — the handwritten document that chronicles who showed up when to purchase Red Sox Spring Training tickets. His name appears first, just like it has for the past 10 out of 11 years.
Tickets go on sale Saturday, 10 a.m. DeArmond, 56, and his crew arrived Nov. 29 at 8:30 a.m., fresh off a Black Friday camping excursion at Best Buy, and pitched camp in a grassy parking area.
There are 10 of them who’ve spent the week there, rotating out at various times to work, shower, make a food run. The rule: They’ve got to spend the majority of their time at camp or forfeit their spots in line. That’s the town charter here, and this mayor doesn’t play around.
“If you’re gone for two or three days, what happens to all the people behind you? It’s just not right. Everybody who comes here and sits in line gets a fair chance,” said DeArmond, a prepress specialist at the local daily newspaper who schedules his vacation time around ticket sales.
Tonight, he’ll start herding people into line, and Red Sox staff (who trust DeArmond to police the process) will hand out numbered wristbands to ensure no one cuts, cheats, or otherwise messes with The List. About 35 people spent the week there, but DeArmond expects the number to climb to between 300 and 400 overnight and hit at least 500 by tomorrow morning.
The Sox moved into their new digs, the 11,000-seat, $78 million JetBlue Park in January 2012, and DeArmond’s campsite has gotten likewise more elaborate.
This year’s amenities: three shade canopies hooked together, big top style; three sleeping tents; an Xbox and TV; assorted folding chairs, cots and air mattresses; a Coleman grill; generator-powered air conditioner; a mismatched mascot (green body, brown head, “Green Monster” jersey); corn hole, beer pong, horse shoes and a putt-putt green. Oh, and in the spirit of the holidays, there’s a Christmas tree, fabric holly leafs, wreaths, tinsel, lots of lights, pink flamingos (hey, it’s Florida!), an African-American Santa Claus acquired last year and now considered the talisman for the 2013 championship.
Beer and banter flow nonstop. They cussed over outfielder Jacob Ellsbury’s move to the Yankees. “We hope he has another accident-ridden season,” DeArmond said.
They reminisce over prior years’ escapades. “Remember that (girl) in line who got to the ticket window and tore off her Red Sox T-shirt and had a Yankee shirt on,” said Gordon Rae, 50, a software support manager who lives near Fort Lauderdale and grew up in Burlington, Mass.
“This is our house. This is sovereign territory. Red Sox fans only. (Go away) and die.”
Family friendly language inserted.
Sure, the antics are a bunch of middle-aged guys clinging to boyhood. But the great Spring Training camp-out is the unofficial kickoff to Sox season.
“It all started here last year,” said David Frost, 50, a drywall contractor, nodding at the campsite. “You could see the chemistry them boys had even here.”
Yes, the team is the Boston Red Sox, and the World Series won at the storied Fenway Park, but DeArmond and his friends want to remind the Nation that Fort Myers plays an important role in the team’s story.
“You don’t know what this does for our little town,” said Fort Myers resident Guy Sepielli, 34.
The Sox and Minnesota Twins, who also play in Fort Myers, pump nearly $50 million into the region’s economy.
Wives, siblings, friends think these guys are nuts to spend so much effort on preseason tickets.
But to them, Spring Training is where real baseball is played, and where the players are real people with opportunities for real fan interactions.
“Once they leave Southwest Florida, you can’t get anywhere near them,” says Rae, who’s followed the Sox since he was a kid. “You can see it in (the players’) eyes. They appreciate that you took the time to see them at a game that doesn’t matter.”
Jennifer Reed is a freelance writer from Florida.