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Spring can't be skipped

IS IT FALL YET? Blame Himes Avenue asphalt or heat from the Sickles-Robinson tennis match: At 4:43 p.m. Monday, a thermometer south of Kennedy Boulevard hit the 100-degree mark. It was two days before spring's official start.

CARDINALS HID in the shade. The Gryphons, Sickles' tennis team, would be forced to return to the frozen tundra of Carrollwood after a match with Robinson outside the Interbay YMCA. Sickles seniors Brian Smith, Matt Eichmann and Matt Thompson served up ideas on where best to witness a South Tampa spring. Bayshore, they said. And? "Hyde Park's a great place to walk with the females," said Thompson, 18. Girls can be expensive, noted Smith, 17, alluding to shopping.

SHOP? WHATEVER could he mean, when a girl's fancy this time of year naturally turns to ball parks? In a batting cage at the Little League field next door, Tommy Baker took a whack at a pitch. Tommy, 7, is a nickname for Tenia. She goes to Roosevelt Elementary but also dresses out for the Beef O'Brady's Yankees. "I can hit the ball high in the sky where no one can catch it," she said with a waiting-for-the-tooth-

fairy grin.

HALLUCINATION: What's up with this private fundraiser to build a $350,000, reduced to $150,000, fence along one side of Plant High School? (Details in this week's City Times.) True, the old chain link conveys an image of an abandoned steel mill. But dying kidney patients have received less attention.

ONE THEORY: Julie Palios is the organizer. People donate out of fear that the Palios Brothers chicken empire would otherwise be forced to build a fence out of drumsticks, cutting into South Tampa's poultry supply. Better dig deep.

TRIVIA: Number of Palios' drumsticks that $150,000 would buy: 111,111, which, as it turns out, looks a little like a fence.

GRYPHONS, by the way are mythical animals, with the body and hind legs of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. They sound impressive but are difficult to deep fry.

GRYPHON COACH Travis Hall's favorite place to enjoy spring? Player Thompson swiftly answers for him. The ace breaks the sound barrier: "His couch."

NO COUCH for Shauna Powell, 31. Walking is what she likes best about spring. Her 14-month-old son Hunter, infatuated with his own feet, explores a YMCA playground with sister Mackenzie, 6. "We live where we're able to walk places, so we walk to Eckerd's, walk to Blockbuster, walk to the park," their mother said. Today? "We drove."

A STEP AHEAD: An open-air Mercedes. Meg Brown, a counselor and airline employee who lives in Hyde Park, exits a veterinary office on Kennedy Boulevard and climbs into a mineral green, special order CLK320. Cleopatra in the kitty carrier hardly complains. Brown seems close to purring herself. "The kitty's bathed, the carpet's been cleaned and the top's down," she says. "Spring has sprung."

LAST WORD, courtesy of Palios. Check out the apartment doors above the restaurant: First door, "2B." Second door, "Not 2B."

_ Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or