Monthly Archives: March 2005

March 29, 2005

Autograph Day 2

We hadn't been able to get tickets to the Boston Red Sox game at all, but we had managed bleacher seats to see the Reds play the Yankees. I'm not so much impressed with the Yankees, but I have to admit: this was exciting.

The day before, we'd gotten the first two autographs of our trip, and that was pretty cool, but they were not either of the autographs that we had actually had in mind coming into the trip: Ken Griffey Jr.'s on the baseball card that Jon had treasured since he was 13 or Ryan Freel's on the sweaty t-shirt I'd been wearing all over the state of Florida. We knew that the liklihood on the former was low, but I was feeling confident that I could get Freel to sign the shirt, assuming the armpit fumes didn't knock him down before he had the chance.

We entered the park as soon as it opened and camped out in the front row next to the dugout, even though our seats were in the bleachers, on the off-chance that one or more players would actually make an appearance.

Like always, we primarily stared at the grounds crew for the better part of two hours. Winter and I revisited our game of identifying the letter S on all the billboards and pointing at all the planes that flew overhead. The park was already pretty full for the sold-out game when Jon noticed Freel over by the bleacher wall, signing autographs.

“Should we go over there, or do you think he will he make it down here?” Jon asked. I took a look around. If we left our spot, we definitely would not get it back, but Freel was a good 100 yards away and the knot of people that had formed down next to him made it look like he wasn't moving any time soon.

“We'd better go,” I said. I took up my shirt and pen and let Jon follow me with our bag and child. The wall in front of the bleachers is wedge-shaped, so it is low close to the infield and gets progressively higher toward the edge of the outfield. Plus, there is a 3 1/2 foot chain-link fence covered with a tarp atop the concrete wall. The effect is such that where the bleachers meet the regular seats, the chain link fence comes about to your waist, but by the time you work your way down to the other end, the concrete part is up to your hips and the fence part is topping six feet.

Guess at which end Freel was standing.

As you would expect, people were standing on the cement wall to peer over, pretty much right in front of the sign asking you not to stand on the wall, so the ushers were constantly telling people to get down. Despite the crush of people, it didn't take very long for me to get to the front of the group, and though it felt totally awkward to present something for signing without so much as eye-contact by way of permission, I really had no choice, so I draped my t-shirt over the fence and made my pen available. I was able to hop up long enough to confirm that I was at least getting the correct signature, but that was about all I could do.

My pen soon disappeared from my hand and reappeared a moment later. It was done.

To write it out, this does not really sound like that big a deal. So it's probably difficult to understand that I was completely and totally awe-struck. Disproportionately so. With my head spinning, I looked around for Jon and Winter, but they were nowhere to be found. I stepped away from the crowd to get a fresh perspective and collect my wits that were suddenly scattered all over.

Meanwhile, Jon and Winter were directly behind me the entire time. When I had looked around for them, I had apparently looked Jon straight in the face, but my gaze passed right through him. Jon had the foul ball that he'd caught the day before, and once I was done with the shirt, he'd anticipated me taking Winter so he could have it signed as well. He had not counted on the severe effect my hero-worship would have on me, and since I'd wandered off in a daze, he was left at the front of the line with Winter.

Jon had passed the ball over the high, high fence successfully, but Winter, having that precise timing that only small children have, chose that moment to be knocked down by a passing stranger. Jon, of course, had no choice but to bend down to pick Winter up, but in doing so made himself unavailable to receive the ball back from Freel. He hardly had a second to worry about what would become of our spring training ball, though, before it came sailing back over the fence and bounced squarely off the top of his head.

Jon collected himself, then collected Winter and the ball and came to find me, still wandering around in a stupor despite the fact that I had not actually been the one to take a blow to the head.

Having acheived our goal, we found ourselves a spot in the bleachers and camped out until the game started. It was a good game, punctuated by a homerun by the man of the day, Ryan Freel, that would provide the winning margin in the 5-4 victory.

As in all of the spring training games, the starters didn't play the whole game, and once they were done with their contribution they wandered off through right field, past the home bleachers. Usually these players get a dencent ovation as they walk past, but this group in for the Yankees' game apparently didn't know what they were doing because both Griffey and Dunn walked by with no more than a smattering of applause.

So, having have pulled myself together somewhat when Freel came out of the game the inning after the homerun, I took matters into my own hands. From 3/4 of the way up the bleachers, I shouted down, “Nice hit, Ryan.” Everyone in the bleachers seemed to suddenly look up and notice who was passing by and clap their approval. I had started the single loudest ovation that any player got going off the field that day.

That right there, my friends, was the single moment that made the entire trip worthwhile.

After the game, we got a souvenir program for my Jeter-loving sister-in-law and wandered out, sore of buttocks from the bleachers, but floating on a cloud. At least I was. Jon may still have been rubbing the top of his head.

March 28, 2005

Autograph Day 1

After a week and a half of spring training games, Jon and I finally felt like we knew the lay of the land well enough to try to get the two autographs that we'd had in mind when we started this trip.

The first of these was from Ken Griffey Jr. Jon had pain-stakingly brought with us the baseball card that had been the one and only birthday present that his family could afford for his 13th birthday. I was sure that if Griffey had understood the role in Jon's life that baseball in general and Griffey specifically had played, that he would have been falling over himself to sign the card, but there's just no quick way to communicate that kind of depth of knowledge as a guy is running onto the field. “HEY GRIFFEY! YOU WERE INSTRUMENTAL TO MY HUSBAND'S FORMATIVE YEARS! COME SIGN HIS CARD” just doesn't roll off the tongue, you know?

And to avoid any unintentional build-up now and unnecessary letdown later, I'll just go ahead and tell you now that we did not get said card signed. Something for us to keep working toward, I suppose.

The second autograph that we'd had in mind was Ryan Freel's on a t-shirt that I had gotten over a year before and had sported proudly, feeling like I was very much ahead of the curve. In fact, I had sported it so proudly, every single day at the gym, that it was starting to get a little worn out. To make matters worse, I continued to proudly sport this shirt to many of the games, which didn't exactly leave it in the best shape for signing.

Actually, wearing the shirt had prompted several conversations over the course of our trip. People would ask me how I thought Freel was going to do this year (well, awesome, if he can get any playing time, yadda yadda yadda), whether I'd seen him lately (you mean, other than on the field?), and whether I knew him personally. That last one cracked me up. If I did know him personally, I certainly wouldn't wear his number. I'd probably wear 3 just to get on his nerves. I can be like that sometimes.

But I digress. What I've been trying to get at over the last four paragraphs is that, except for a dirty t-shirt and a 15-year old baseball card, we didn't actually have anything for anyone to sign. So, on the day that we set aside to try to get some autographs, I sat alone in the front row of our section, wondering what I would do if anyone other than the two previously mentioned people showed up.

It wasn't an issue for quite a while because no one did show up and instead Winter and I spent quality time identifying circles, flags, the letter S, and whatever other shapes he could point out on the billboards around the field. As we were passing the time, something for the other players to sign fell out of the clear blue sky when Jon caught a foul ball from Twins batting practice.

If we didn't know it was meant to be already, we were sure then.

The front couple rows began to fill up with autograph seekers like us. A woman in her 30s sat next to me with her two sons, probably about 7 and 9. The kids were as cute and enthusiastic as could be and were doing their best to flip through the program to identify the players and sound out the words in their descriptions. The didn't have to wait long until a couple people came by to sign that program for them.

The first person by was Jason Romano, whom the woman said she thought was very good-looking. I couldn't disagree more, though; Romano is, in fact, breath-taking. The photos definitely do not do him justice. I'm just lucky I didn't actually have to come up with a coherent sentence while he was signing my ball, because I would have opened by mouth and all that would have come out would have been “homina, homina,” which might have been a little embarassing for everyone involved. (Though, apparently admitting it later is just fine.)

A boy nearby, probably about 15, had Romano sign his hat, then immediately turned to his father and said “maybe I can get someone else I don't care about to sign this hat, too.” For crying out loud, he could at least wait till the poor guy was out of earshot to start being an unappreciative little ingrate. But rather than smack him, which is what I wanted the father to do, he laughed, so I guess we can figure out where he picked up that kind of behavior.

A little later, Danny Graves came by. The woman also thought he was very good-looking and went on to some length about his smile. When he made his way down to us, she actually stammered a bit, but managed to get up the pluck to ask him to sign her arm, which made him smile even more, which made her stammer even more. She was very disappointed to find out from the program that he was married.

The woman and the kids yelled at some other players to come over (I managed to correct their pronunciation before they started shouting to “FEE-lipe”) but that was all the excitement that we were going to get that day. Soon it was time for the game to start, and we filed back to our seats to watch the Reds lose, 12-11.

We hadn't gotten the two autographs we'd set out for, but we did get an awesome foul ball and some bonus autographs. And there was always tomorrow.

March 27, 2005

Almost Enough To Make You Go Philly

Sunday's game was early and at the stadium of the Philadelphia Phillies, but, after a couple trips to the beach, my flip flops reeked of dead fish. I couldn't represent in away stadiums smelling like low tide, so we headed to Splash to find some cheap sandals.

Splash is a chintzy souvenir shop where I would later return to buy chintzy souvenirs for everyone back home. Today, though, we just made our way to the back of the building where they had what I expected: an enormous rack of clearance footwear. I got some $6 flip flops with big 3″ soles. Cool.

Finally, we were on our way to the game. Jon missed the turn to take regular highway 41, so we ended up on business 41. It was an interesting drive through town, and we got to go over a different bridge. We finally found the stadium, and we were surprised at how much like a regular-season stadium it was. The shops, seats, and everything felt just like the regular season, only in miniature.

As we went in, the ticket-taker gave Winter a little packet of baseball cards. We found our seats and first watched the children of the stadium workers have an Easter egg “hunt” in the outfield. They also announced that a few hundred eggs were hidden around the stadium, but we never saw them. What we did see was some relatively cheap nachos that was enjoyed in the shade before the start of the game.

Finally the game started. It was lackluster, like the players didn't really care, so when Winter asked to go on a walk, I said I would take him. I planned to find a philly cheesesteak sandwich, since this stadium even had Philly foods for sale (alternately, you cannot get Skyline chili at Ed Smith to save your life). We didn't find the sandwich, but we did find the Kids' Zone: a full-on playground, inflated trampoline house, and kid-centric snack area, plus bunches of potential playmates for Winter. Seeing the Kids' Zone was probably the single most exciting moment in the trip for Winter.

Which might be why he wasn't thinking clearly and immediately ran under the monkey bars where he promptly was kicked in the face by a much bigger boy who was innocently swinging along. But Winter was stunned for only a moment, and the big red welt he was developing wasn't bleeding, so he went back to playing.

Maybe two innings later, Winter noticed the giant inflatable SpongeBob Square Pants trampoline house. He announced that he was done playing here; he wanted to play there. We went over just in time to join a group of other 3 and 4 year olds taking off their shoes and getting ready to crawl inside the flap. I stood outside watching through the net while he hopped around, giggling gleefully with every bounce. He was so happy that he drew the attention of the woman standing beside me who said that they come down from Philly every year for spring training, and they can never get their daughter to leave the Kids' Zone. A true family vacation.

The game ended with the Phillies beating the Reds, but the kids in the Kids' Zone did not clear out. We soon learned that the family-friendly park stays open after the games. On this night there was a musical performer and you could hang around at the restaurants. We even saw a couple of the Phillies players come out to mingle with the crowds and sign autographs.

Winter played on the playground until he could no longer keep himself upright in his exhaustion, and Jon carried the tired little guy out to the car. Right in the parking lot, we saw a pizza place that advertised during the game, so we drove some 50 feet over there and had a lovely meal.

All in all, just about enough to make you a Phillies fan, if only for spring training.

March 21, 2005

Our First Real Spring Training Game

When we awoke on Monday morning, the room had failed to brighten as much as my outlook on life, but we had bigger things on our minds. Our son had been talking about going to the beach and making a sand castle for weeks, if not months, and the day was finally here. We got ourselves dressed and covered in sun block, packed up our shovels and pail, and headed off to the beach.

Lido beach was easy to find and we had no trouble getting parking. It was an overcast day, and not many people were there. I suspect that to the locals the weather seemed horrible, but to us Hoosiers, it felt balmy and lovely. We hadn't dressed to swim, but we were able to fill the bucket with sand a few times and turn it over to make little towers. Our son loved it when we took the bucket down to the water and came back to pour the water over the sand. He would splash in the puddles, which, we would find, was the closest he would come to playing in the bay.

Soon we needed to leave to get ready to go to the first ball game of our trip. We went back to our hotel for a quick regroup before heading out to the ballpark. At the stadium, we found some free (and later, we would learn, not really allowed) parking across the street and walked over. We had lovely seats in the lower section on the first base side, and we got to see a slightly boring game. The Reds beat the Devilrays in unspectacular fashion.

Winter wanted to get up several times to walk around the park because, really, baseball is not exactly suited to holding a small child's attention, but he also played a little GameBoy while sitting on the ground in front of his seat, which not only allowed us to watch the game, but also made it much less likely that he would take a foul ball to the noggin.

The skies were overcast, so it wasn't overwhelmingly hot, and I came away with just a minor sunburn on my back in two small places where apparently I had not gotten enough sunblock. After the game, we went to Wal-Mart to try to get some of the things that would make our room feel a little less disgusting and little more livable.

It took a while to find the Wal-Mart, which would set the tone for us trying to find things in this area. We spent quite a while walking around the place collecting snack foods, dishwashing soap, and shower cleaner. We unpacked, and the place felt a tiny bit less nasty. Our vacation was finally really underway.

March 20, 2005

Driving to Spring Training, part 2

Sunday morning I wake up in the guest room at Mike and Laurie's apartment. I was feeling exhausted and groggy. The apartment was silent, so I was very cautious as I tried out my failiing voice. I needn't have worried about waking anyone up though: I had no voice at all. It wasn't that it hurt to talk; it was that I physically could not. We got up relatively early, 6 a.m. or so, and turned on the t.v. in our room to entertain Winter. We tried to keep the volume down so as not to wake up Keigan in the adjacent room, but she did start crying a while later. I hoped it was her normal wake up time.

We got ourselves around and dressed and went downstairs. Winter announced that he wanted to go for a walk, so he and I went out to stroll around the neighborhood while Jon finished packing up our room and taking stuff out to the car. Winter and I walked until he didn't want to walk anymore, which if you know Winter, is impressive. I had to whisper anything that I wanted to say, and Winter always whispered back, thinking that I was implying he had to be quiet. When we got back to the house, Mike made us a lovely breakfast and soon we were facing another 8-hour drive the rest of the way to Sarasota, Florida.

I felt pretty bad for this part of the drive. Not only was my voice gone, but my nose had started to stuff up, and I was still very tired. Talking in the car was almost impossible, so I felt useless for helping to keep Jon awake. I nodded off a few times, and after what felt like forever, we were at the Florida border, stopping for some free orange and grapefruit juice.

We'd forgotten to prepare Winter for the concept of the vistor's bureau and the specialness of the orange juice, so when we went in and asked him if he wanted some, he said “no, I want apple juice!”, to which the Florida orange juice woman made a half-hearted attempt to hide a sneer. The Welcome Center was in the middle of reconstruction, and a bunch of it had been closed off or torn up. There was pretty much no where to go except into one big room, and the lovely area out back that we remembered relaxing under the trees was all gone. Maybe when it's all done being remodeled it'll be nice, but for now, a big thumbs-down for the Florida Welcome Center.

Back on the road, it seemed like the trip would never end. Winter started saying that he hurt his foot, and was clearly in actual pain. He was, like us, also tired and sore from being in the car too much, and it was not much consolation to any of us to tell him “just three more hours.” By the end, the drive had been so awful, I just couldn't see how we were possibly going to make the trip back.

But finally, our motel appeared. My experience with motels is that they are never as nice as you hope they will be, so I was trying to prepare myself for it to be really awful. The drive had been so long that I knew there was nothing we'd be able to do about the room that night at least, no matter how bad it was. From the outside, the place looked OK. We'd seen some real dumps along the way, so it was a relief to note that the neighborhood appeared to be OK, the outside of the building looked well kept, and a handful of respectable-looking people were sitting out by the pool.

The room itself, though.

We walk in, and there are clearly one or two pictures missing from the wall. We pull the bedspreads off the beds, and the sheets have dark circles on them. Winter is so exhausted, I lay him on one of the beds, but the pillowcase is so dingy that I worry that I shouldn't have. The shower walls were just grody. It was a dark, dark moment, and I really didn't know what to do. Like I said, I knew there just wasn't anything we could do about it that evening. We didn't have the energy to try to find any place else, and we had no way of knowing what would be better. Plus, I know that after such a long, horrible drive, that I don't have the best attitude in the world.

We go out to dinner at Perkins, come back to plug with tissues the mysterious holes in the wall, go to bed, and hope to awake with a brighter perspective on what had, so far, been a less than fantastic vacation.