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Travel

For Boog Powell, Key West is favorite place to travel

He's a legendary Baltimore Oriole, has starred in Miller Lite beer commercials, and in recent years, has become a barbecue king.

Yet to fans in Baltimore and beyond, John Wesley Powell Sr., is simply "Boog" — friendly and down-to-earth, despite all his fame.

The Florida native grew up playing baseball in his hometown of Lakeland, Fla.; he was 12 when his local team earned a spot in the Little League World Series.

Beginning in the early 1960s, the 6-foot-5 first baseman would go on to play 14 seasons with the Orioles. Along the way, the four-time All Star and American League MVP helped lead the team to World Series championships in 1966 and 1970. He ranks third on the O's all-time home run list, behind Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray.

After brief stints with the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers, Powell hung up his cleats in the late 1970s.

Since that time, the husband, father and grandfather has stayed busy with family and various pursuits: writing a cookbook, "Mesquite Cookery," and serving as a Miller Brewing Co. spokesman.

These days, Powell can often be found signing autographs at Boog's BBQ, the popular sandwich stand he owns at Camden Yards. A second location on the boardwalk in Ocean City is run by his son, J.W. Powell, Jr.

During the baseball season, Powell, who will turn 71 this month, lives with wife Jan in Grasonville on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

But every winter, he packs up his pickup truck and heads south to his home in Key West — a 7.4-mile-long island that straddles the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. His family set down roots here back in the 1950s and it's still one of his favorite places.

You were 15 when your family moved to Key West. Today, the town has a Boog Powell Park in your honor. Why is it a special destination?

When we first went to Key West, it was a sleepy little town. Locals are called Conchs [pronounced "conks"] and we lived in what was known as a Conch house — built in the 1800s of Dade County pine. Dad was a big influence and very active in everything. We kids learned to swim, fish and snorkel. One of my favorite things was diving for lobsters. You'd go down less than 10 feet and bring one up. I still enjoy that, and if I'm not there for the start of the lobster season, I miss it.

What else do you like to do in Key West?

I'm an avid fisherman — at one point, I owned a marina, but I got out of the business. I used to have a boat for many years and loved being out the beautiful waters. I also play golf, although I'm not very good. [Laughs.] I like walking around in Key West, too — one of my brothers still lives there, and I have lot of ties. People are very friendly. Even if you forget a name, everybody just smiles and waves and says, "Hey Bubba!"

Besides sun and that laidback vibe, Key West is known for its seafood. Do you have any favorite eateries?

There are some really good restaurants in Key West, and with all the fishermen here, they deal in the freshest fish. Some of the places I like are off the beaten path: Hogfish [Bar and Grill] is right on the water. So is the Rusty Anchor — the seafood is served on paper plates, and it's great. B.O.'s Fish Wagon is owned by a buddy of mine from high school. There's an old truck parked out front, and they have good conch fritters, a square grouper sandwich and the coldest beer. Also, in the morning, I enjoy a traditional Key West breakfast: fresh Cuban bread, avocados, Key limes and Cuban coffee. Oh, my goodness.

Key West also has a reputation for its share of watering holes, right?

When I was growing up, there was a large naval base in Key West and probably more bars per square feet than anywhere in the country. The Navy boys kept 'em full. There are still a lot of fun bars on Duval Street, one of the main tourist areas. There's Captain Tony's Saloon — that's one of the places where Ernest Hemingway used to go. And Jimmy Buffett's bar, Margaritaville.

What time of the year do you usually visit Key West?

I usually try to be there from October to March. A great time to go is around Halloween, when Key West holds Fantasy Fest. It's a big street festival, with parades, costumes and entertainment. People are everywhere. It's wild.

Besides Key West, where else have you traveled?

My son and I have hit cities like Memphis, Austin and Kansas City to test barbecue. And I've had a chance to visit some international places — London, England; Norway; and other parts of Europe. Tahiti was wonderful. Just incredibly beautiful. And the people were so sweet. When I shopped in stores, they had clothes that fit me! [Chuckles.] I would love to go back.

What would you say travel does for your mind and spirit?

I've been on the road half my life, and looking back, it was harder in those days. When I was playing baseball, we'd catch a train bus, boat, whatever, to get there. We'd be on a bus for hours, and there were a few white knuckle-flights and prop planes. Now, after all these years, I look forward to going on a trip.

If you goGetting there

Travelers can fly from BWI-Marshall to Miami or Tampa and then connect to Key West. Carriers include American Airlines, United, Delta and AirTran.

Lodging

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa, 601 Front St., Key West, 305- 809-1234, keywest.hyatt.com. The 118-room resort is on the Gulf of Mexico and within walking distance of Key West's famed Duval Street. Amenities include Jala Spa, a 24-hour gym, an outdoor swimming pool and small beach. The hotel's fine-dining restaurant, SHOR American Seafood Grill, is known for its Key lime dessert, fresh lobster and Key West pink shrimp. The casual Blue Mojito Pool Bar and Grill serves up fresh fish tacos, burgers and tropical drinks.

Conch House, 625 Truman Ave., Key West. 305-293-0020, conchhouse.com. Owned by descendants of Key West settlers, this historic B&B in "Old Town Key West" has 10 rooms with pretty decor and names that pay homage to Ernest Hemingway and the island's Cuban connections.

Attractions

The Hemingway Home and Museum is where the famous novelist wrote several books. Descendants of Hemingway's equally famous six-toed cats live on the grounds. Go to hemingwayhome.com.

The Conch Train Tour hits the town's favorite bars, eateries and shops on Duval Street, and historic sites such as Harry S. Truman's winter White House.

The Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square is a nightly Key West ritual, complete with music, vendors and revelry, including jugglers and stilt-walkers. The square features an aquarium, shipwreck museum and a memorial sculpture garden. Don't miss a small section with engraved "Baltimore" bricks.

For more info on Key West, visit fla-keys.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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