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A wrestler, a prince of Monaco and a wine tasting

By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 27, 2002

Keith Simmons, a 6-foot-1, 266-pound Brandon High wrestler and football player, was physically bigger than the man who stood before him. But not bigger in status.

Keith Simmons, a 6-foot-1, 266-pound Brandon High wrestler and football player, was physically bigger than the man who stood before him. But not bigger in status.

Not yet, anyway.

On Friday, Simmons traveled to Big Cypress Swamp Reservation to meet Prince Albert of Monaco (for the record, it's Crown Prince Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre of Monaco). An American Indian, Simmons was honored along with five other Seminoles who won medals at this summer's North American Indian Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The prince reportedly met representatives of the tribe during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and agreed he would visit when he got a chance. Keith's father, also named Keith Simmons, said it was difficult to get a picture of the prince because of the crowd and entourage surrounding him.

Simmons won the gold in the heavyweight wrestling division, pinning three of his four opponents in less than a minute, but he took away more than a medal.

"It was very different just being around so many Indians," said Simmons, whose mother Mayra is an American Indian. "We all wrestled, but we also all had the same family values and stuff like that. We've all gone through the same things. It was like being a big family."

Some day, Simmons may be head of the Seminole family. He aspires to join the tribe council and perhaps be chief.

"I would like to bring my tribe greater success," he said.

* * *

There seems to be a growing number of restaurants -- Armani and Profusion, just to name two -- looking to lure diners with fancy wine tastings. So are a host of charitable organizations. The reaction of those of us who typically dine at Checkers is "too stuffy for me."

But after an evening of wining and dining at Profusion, I discovered you don't have to utter the words "wine tasting" with your nose in the air. Honest.

We had a connoisseur, Alan Matthys of National Distributing, guide us through an evening of Kenwood Vineyard wines. I have to admit some of his phrases went right over my head. He kept saying things like buttery, grassy, fruity, etc., and I nodded my head like I was hanging on every word. I was really waiting for him to be quiet so I could grub on my five-course, $65 meal.

Yeah, that's a little steep, but with each course, you get a different wine. Plus, when I freed my mind, I realized I could come away with enough knowledge to impress my other non-wine drinking friends the next time we dine out -- assuming we go to a place that serves wine, instead of Golden Corral.

Imagine: the waiter asks if I want a sauvignon blanc or a pinot noir, and I actually know the difference.

* * *

My only training comes from a six-month stint at a Chik-Fil-A during college, but on Friday I'll be the celebrity bartender at Big City Tavern. Come out from 5-7 p.m. and lend some support to the Guardian ad Litem program, which will receive the tips.

I'll be joined by WFLA radio host Jacks Harris, Daytime host Brian Fasulo, WFLA reporter Jackie Barron and Mix 100.7's Marti Ryan.

* * *

I'm torn about Lou Piniella coming to the Devil Rays. Not only does he have Hall of Fame credentials as a manager, but he is one of our own. The marriage of natives with our team is one of the aspects that initially fueled desire for a baseball club.

But while Piniella brings much prestige, how much of a difference can he make in wins and losses? Unless management infuses the team with needed talent at key positions, it could be another long year.

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com .

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