Sports Map

View Sports Map in a larger map

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Life, In A Nutshell

Since I once again find myself playing catch-up on writing about my travels and sports in general, it must be time for a wrap-up post. Here's a little bit about what I've been up to since August 1st. Note: the sections are in chronological order, so if any part doesn't appeal to you, feel free to skip it and read the parts you like.

August 13-17: San Francisco and Oakland

This was one of the two "big" baseball trips I had planned for 2010. Earlier in the year, I had crossed Atlanta and Tampa off my list on a driving tour through the Southeast. On this trip, I visited California for the first time since I was an infant, timing the trip to catch both the Giants and A's. I was also excited because my good friend and fraternity brother Brian (who happens to have one of the sharpest baseball minds I have encountered) was flying down from Seattle to join me. He used his hotel points to hook us up with a great hotel, the Sheraton at Fisherman's Wharf, which was only a few short blocks from Pier 39 and the waterfront.

When I drove to the Detroit airport that morning, it was so muggy that I had to run my air conditioning at 4am. When I stepped out of SFO, I was greeted with the most wonderful, cool, crisp air and 60-degree late morning temperatures. I was so very glad that I chose August for this trip! I had gone online to purchase tickets for the Alcatraz ferry and tour about a week earlier. If any of you are considering checking out "The Rock," make sure you buy those as early as possible. A week before my visit, virtually every possible tour slot was sold out. I managed to get one early that Friday afternoon, and once I walked down to the pier to check in, I saw a sign that all tours were sold out for a full week thereafter. I stopped in a small restaurant for a snack while I waited to hear from Brian. Unfortunately, Friday the 13th was unlucky for him, as his flight was delayed, and we were unsure if he'd make it to the pier in time for our ferry. By the time his plane hit the ground and he called, it was obvious that he wouldn't make it in time, so I made my way onto the top deck of the boat, hoping for some good photo opportunities.

The ride over to the island was fun, and I did manage to get some decent shots of the local scenery. Upon our arrival, a very helpful ranger gave us some tips on exploring the island and taking the tour. The prison itself is set at the top of a large hill, and I began the long walk to the top, trudging up steep paths with occasional switchbacks until my good leg felt an awful lot like my bad leg. I arrived at the building and stood in line to get the self-guided audio tour. The line itself winds through the intake and shower area of the prison, and the tour is available in so many languages. I think I was the only English-speaking person in a stretch of about ten individuals or families in line, and I was definitely able to pick up folks speaking Italian, Spanish, German, and a couple of Asian languages nearby.

I highly recommend the audio tour if you visit Alcatraz. It's narrated by former guards and inmates, and it does a very nice job of explaining life in the prison and some of the notable events in its history. I was able to see the cell blocks, recreation yard, control booths, and more. Plus, the views of the city from the island are magnificent! As the tour finished, I wandered into the gift shop, where the last guard to leave the prison when it closed in 1963 was signing copies of his book. He graciously signed a copy for my friend Andy and posed for a picture. Upon my return to the city, I made my way back to the hotel to catch up with Brian, and we had dinner and wandered the city a bit that evening.

Saturday was devoted primarily to sightseeing. We went for breakfast, then took a walk down to Presidio Park. My uncle was stationed at the Presidio (in its incarnation as a U.S. Army fort) when he returned from Korea, and I wanted to see it. Unfortunately, the fort itself was not convenient to reach from Crissy Field at the Marina, and we settled for some great pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, I had to wander the famous Pier 39. The sea lions were very cool, but the rest of it was basically a bunch of overpriced shops and restaurants. The place reminded me of Chicago's Navy Pier, a tourist trap with a few cool things to see and beautiful waterfront views. We also rode the famous cable cars, which trivia buffs know are the only moving U.S. landmark. Dinner was an excellent all-you-can-eat dim sum at a little hole in the wall in Chinatown, called Dick Lee's. A trip to Ghirardelli Square capped the evening.

Sunday brought my first ever San Francisco Giants game. We made our way down to the beautiful AT&T Park, dressed for the cool, windy conditions for which Giants games are known. We walked past a statue of the great Willie Mays on our way to the gate and found the excellent box seats (lower deck, halfway up, just past third base) that Brian had arranged. We were lucky enough to catch two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum's turn in the rotation. It amazes me that someone so tiny (at least by professional athlete standards) can throw like that. I have a suspicion that his violent motion will limit his longevity, but it sure is fun to watch when he's on his game. Sadly, that was not the case for our visit, as Lincecum was a bit wild and very hittable. He didn't survive the fourth inning, and despite a HR from amazing rookie Buster Posey, the Giants dropped the game to division rival San Diego by a score of 8-2.

As for the ballpark itself, the place is beautiful. It has a classic baseball feel to it, and the view out over McCovey Cove in right field is awesome. The prices are pretty typical for a major league ballpark, and the fans seemed both passionate and pretty knowledgeable. I found the food decent, with the highlight being a very good Italian sausage sandwich and the weak point being some greasy, soggy garlic fries. The biggest surprise on that day was the weather. Although the forecast called for mid-50's and cloudy, the gametime conditions were in the low 70's and blazing sun. I quickly shrugged off my jacket and watched the game in my t-shirt, but Brian was wearing a warm, long-sleeve shirt and actually ended up buying a t-shirt for himself to wear. Unfortunately, neither of us brought any sunscreen, and we could not find any for sale there. So we suffered with very uncomfortable sunburns for the remainder of the trip.

Sunday evening featured an excellent sourdough bread bowl filled with clam chowder from the world-famous Boudin Bakery, as well as a trip to Walgreen's for some Solarcaine. The Oakland A's game was Monday night, but that left the day on Monday to wrap up the sightseeing wish list. We opted for two bus tours, the first of which was a very interesting loop around the city atop a double-deck bus. Of course, I had to see and cross the Golden Gate Bridge, so we then took an open-top, single-deck bus to do so. The sights were magnificent, especially on and around the bridge. I managed to get some great pictures, and I have posted some to our Facebook page (more details on that at the end of this post).

Monday afternoon meant time to catch the train to Oakland for the A's game. As much as I was looking forward to bringing my ballpark count to 23 out of 30, I was not expecting great things from the ballpark known derisively as the "Oakland Mausoleum." The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum lived up to my low expectations. There is absolutely nothing around the ballpark, which makes it pointless to arrive early or find something to do afterwards. Actually, I should not even call this a ballpark, as it's really a football stadium that hosts baseball games. I bought first row seats in the lower deck, just past first base. Yet, we were still farther from the action than I have been in the upper deck of some ballparks. The place is an absolutely ugly hunk of concrete, devoid of any charm at all. The staff was very friendly, and with the actual attendance not even surpassing that of an average Toledo Mud Hens game, there were few lines. The food was mediocre, with a nice barbecue pork sandwich offsetting yet another disappointing order of garlic fries.

The game itself didn't feature much action. The visiting Blue Jays took an early lead, and the only real drama was watching their starter, Shawn Marcum, take a no-hitter into the 7th inning. I have never seen a no-hitter in person, and I hope it happens before I die. It was not to be on this evening, as A's outfielder Conor Jackson hit a solo HR. Marcum finished his complete game victory, yielding only that hit. As the game ended, we took a long, cold walk across the pedestrian bridge and back to the train station, and I was thankful that I had no reason to ever visit Oakland again.

Tuesday morning was our departure from the Bay Area. Brian's flight was a bit earlier than mine, but eventually I made my way to the airport and returned to reality. The A's game notwithstanding, it was an outstanding trip, and I'll have many great memories of the sights and time spent in San Francisco. To the best of my knowledge, I did not leave any vital organs there.

August 29: Yankees at White Sox (#35 Retired)

Sunday, August 29 was a date I had anticipated for most of the baseball season. My good friend and fraternity brother Owen had joined me in making the drive from Toledo to Chicago for the White Sox game. Of course, I am always excited to see my hometown ChiSox play, but this day brought a very important bonus. The team was retiring the #35 jersey of my favorite Sox player ever, "The Big Hurt," Frank Thomas. Thomas will almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible, and I hope to be in Cooperstown to see his induction. For now, I settled for the unveiling of his number and likeness alongside the team's other greats on the left field wall. As an extra treat, another friend and fraternity brother had already planned a trip to Chicago to visit his wife's family and decided to buy a ticket to the game and join us. Coincidentally, his name is Brian, and he is also one of the smartest baseball people I know, but he hails from outside of Washington, D.C.

From my vantage point in the upper deck, down the right field line, I saw many Sox legends, as well as Big Hurt's teammates take the field. It was then time for the man himself to address the crowd. He spoke eloquently and emotionally about his many years on the Southside and his attachment to the team and its fans. When he mentioned his only World Series title, as an injured member of the 2005 White Sox, the fans erupted. As he concluded his speech, he received a loud and extended standing ovation, and everyone watched as #35 was unveiled along the wall. For this fan, who had been present as a 14-year-old for Frank's second major league game in 1990, it was a magical moment.

Unfortunately, the Sox were unable to muster much offense against the not-so-legendary Yankees starter Ivan Nova. Gavin Floyd gave up only two runs in 6 2/3 innings against a B-team lineup (no A-Rod, no Teixeira), but that was enough for the Yankees to overcome the home team, 2-1. On the plus side, I did get to see quite possibly the best relief pitcher in baseball history, Mariano Rivera, come in to get the save. Despite the outcome, I was very pleased to spend time with good friends and see perhaps the greatest hitter of our era honored.

September 3: Mets at Cubs

Once per year, I take my aunt (a huge Cubs fan) to a game at Wrigley for her birthday. This is also the only time I ever cheer for the Cubs for any reason. We had excellent seats (lower deck box, right field line) and the most perfect weather imaginable. We even received bobbleheads of pitcher Carlos Zambrano playing soccer, which was somewhat odd, since most baseball fans are not really into soccer and Zambrano had been previously suspended by the team and sent to anger management treatment. A fan walking by bumped my bobblehead and knocked its box over, and the figurine proceeded to cry and writhe for almost two minutes before it realized a foul would not be called. The visiting Mets stormed to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first off ineffective starter Randy Wells, and it took the life out of the ballpark. I told my aunt not to worry, as today seemed like the kind of day that would feature a lot of offense. Alfonso Soriano and Blake DeWitt each backed me up with three-run HR for the Cubs, and the Northsiders led 7-4 after six innings. As the beer flowed freely, the Wrigley denizens got a lot more animated, and their team survived a few scares (and a pinch-hitting appearance by Mud Hens legend Mike Hessman!) to eventually win 7-6.

2010 World Series

Just a few thoughts on the World Series. I was rooting for the Rangers, since I like many of their players, the fans are a long-suffering bunch, and I am generally an American League fan. That said, I was not at all upset to see the Giants bring San Francisco its first baseball title ever, the Giants' first since their New York days in 1954. I also really enjoy seeing a team with so many cast-offs succeed. Half of the Giants regular position players were not with the team at the end of 2009, and quite a few of those were really unwanted by other teams. There is a definite schadenfreude in seeing teams with mega-payrolls and many "superstars" (Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, et al) sitting home and watching the Rangers and Giants play for the title. Also, the Giants' victory made 2010 the fourth of the previous six years in which I have seen the eventual World Series champions play a home game (2005 White Sox, 2007 Red Sox, 2008 Phillies, 2010 Giants). I guess I'm doing something right with my baseball travels!

Nov. 5-7: WFTDA Championships

At the time the Cincinnati Rollergirls (CRG) were battling at North Central Regionals for a berth in the WFTDA Championship Tournament in Chicago, I decided that I would travel to cheer them on if they made it. Although they played very well, pushing some outstanding teams to the limit, a top-three finish barely eluded them. I thought it would still be fun to go and see some of the great teams from across the country, but I put the decision on the back burner for a while to see if my schedule would cooperate. As some of the CRG skaters announced that they would attend, I began to lean in favor of going, both to visit with them and to see teams like Oly, Gotham, and Rocky Mountain. I managed to find a substitute for the class I teach on Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, I could not find a way to clear my schedule enough to stay in Chicago and see all three days of action, so I settled on attending Saturday's six-bout schedule.

I arrived in Chicago midday on Friday and spent the remainder of that day visiting with family and relaxing a bit before what promised to be a long Saturday. When that morning arrived, I made a relatively easy 30-minute drive down to the UIC Pavilion and found a place to park just after the doors opened at 9am. By the time I had purchased my ticket ($30, and zero in Ticketbastard fees) and made my way inside, many of the best GA seats had already filled in. I camped out near the jammer line and managed to hold a block of seats for the CRG skaters, who had yet to arrive. I sat back and watched warm-ups and the first half of Gotham vs. Texas (my first ever live tourney action) before learning that the CRG ladies were sitting in a different section.

I settled into a seat in the row behind Miss Print and others and was quickly joined by Poppy Chulo and the Librarian, who both sat with me for most of the morning's action. As we enjoyed the Rocky Mountain vs. Charm City quarterfinal, I got to meet a few CRG skaters whom I didn't know previously, such as Buckhead Betty and Pistol Whippin Wendy. We chatted about a variety of topics as we cheered for Charm City to keep it close. I learned quite a few things over the span of the first two bouts, including the skaters' views on Men's Roller Derby (mixed, but somewhat more negative than positive) and that a male cheerleader dressed as a banana is easily one of the worst things about roller derby, and possibly about life in general. Most importantly, though, I learned so much about the sport. I must admit to feeling very stupid as The Librarian, Poppy Chulo, Miss Print, Susie Shinsplintski, and others pointed out so many strategy points that I missed. It was a great experience, and I was very grateful to learn from experts, especially those as delightful as my companions. I can only hope that my analysis of future bouts is more intelligent because of the insights I gained.

The afternoon's action began with Philly knocking out Kansas City. While there was a good deal of conversation about the action, in which the Liberty Belles hung on to win by 21, by far the most chatter focused on Philly's attire. The Belles wore low-cut, tank-top style shirts, and even the smaller girls were showing off some cleavage. Unfortunately for some of the larger skaters, the uniforms did not seem to come with reinforced undergarments. As they rounded the turn in front of our seats, many of them looked as though they had two pendula hung around their necks. It bordered on uncomfortable for many spectators, so I can only imagine the struggle for the skaters to manage such mammary oscillation. As a single man, I must admit to generally enjoying the show, but I would have gladly offered t-shirts to a few of Philly's skaters to cover up.

After that third quarterfinal, most of the CRG crew and I made plans to head to Giordano's for some awesome deep dish pizza. To minimize the amount of action we'd miss, we managed to make a reservation and order the pizzas ahead of time. After much debate, we decided to leave at halftime of the Oly vs. Windy City quarterfinal, in order to make it back to the arena in time for the Rocky Mountain vs. Gotham semifinal. While a huge majority of the crowd, including myself, was cheering for the home team, I didn't have much faith in its ability to knock off Oly. The fans' support certainly seemed to drive Windy City to skate even harder, but there was a clear talent disparity, and Oly steadily increased its lead as the bout neared halftime. Although we weren't there to see it, it appears that Windy City struggled significantly in the second half and saw its season end at that point.

Fifteen of us took the half-mile walk from the UIC Pavilion down to Giordano's for my favorite Chicago treat. We arrived and were seated immediately, chatting as our server struggled to get us situated. I am somewhat surprised that more than one person wasn't assigned to manage a group our size, and the service was generally subpar. Fortunately, once the pizza arrived, things got considerably better, as many Chicago-style pizza virgins experienced the splendor of deep dish. We enjoyed good conversation, and I was glad for the opportunity to get to know Candy Kickass and her husband, as well as Rabid Derby Fan Earl and Penal Eyes. Our dinner excursion was one of my favorite parts of the day, and by the time four large pies defeated the last of our appetites, I was ready to stroll back over and watch more roller derby. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend engaging in a session of mutual mastication with your favorite derby girls.

Although we were all suffering from pizza coma, we settled in to watch the first semifinal matchup of the evening. I was very excited to see two of the sport's titans battle, especially having seen the immense talent and contrasting styles of Gotham and Rocky Mountain earlier that day. When we settled back into our seats, the arrangement shifted a bit, and I ended up with Pistol Whippin Wendy and The Librarian for most of the evening. Having never spoken with Wendy prior to that day, I was very impressed by her knowledge and personality, and truly enjoyed sitting with her. In terms of the bout, Rocky Mountain was very impressive. Even amazing jammers Bonnie Thunders and Suzy Hotrod were usually left frustrated in their attempts to manage a very strong and smart Rocky Mountain pack. Gotham seemed a bit more fatigued than its opponent, and I wondered if their lack of championship-caliber depth at jammer played a part in that. The crowd was very pro-Gotham, but the ladies from NYC were relegated to the third-place bout.

The final bout of the evening featured Oly and Philadelphia, and few expected Philly to keep up. True to form, Oly used its superior speed and pack play to efficently carve out an increasing lead. By this point, virtually no one in the building was cheering for Oly. In fact, a member of our group strongly suggested that the wheel of a skate be introduced into the feminine region of one of the Oly jammers. It's safe to say that in thirty-plus years of attending sports, I had never heard that particular outburst. After Philly's championship hopes were dashed, the CRG skaters and I wearily prepared to leave. They picked up their leftovers from my car, and we parted ways until March. I will certainly miss CRG and getting to spend time with some great women over the next five months, but I do hope to make it to a few Glass City Rollers bouts over the winter to feed my derby addiction.

I'll leave you with a few overall impressions of the Uproar By The Lakeshore. First, the Windy City Rollers deserve high praise for an outstanding job of hosting the tournament. Everything was orderly and well run, from the scoreboard and sound system to the bout scheduling and the helpful WCR skaters greeting fans inside the arena doors. Also, there was a strong pro-North Central and pro-East region sentiment among the fans (or perhaps more anti-West). While the top Western teams are absolutely magnificent squads, I believe that fans' distaste for "slow derby" and the West Coast style of play contributed to the imbalance of support at least as much as geography did. I'm interested to see if WFTDA will accede to the preferences of so many fans and ban or limit slow derby in its next rules revision.

I really enjoyed getting to see roller derby at its highest level. Aside from Philly and Windy City, I had never seen any of the teams that participated on Saturday. It was a treat to see so many of the best athletes on the track. Even more memorable for me was getting to spend so much time with the CRG skaters who attended. I honestly think I had more interaction with them in one day than I have over the years I have watched them in Cincy. For once, I didn't feel like so much of an outsider. Sure, some of those in attendance barely talked to me, but I really appreciated those who made me feel very welcome. Finally, I have a bittersweet announcement: Ruth Enasia of Windy City is no longer my secret roller derby girlfriend. It's really nothing to do with her, as she skated very well and remains quite attractive. I simply found someone new, someone who will similarly barely know that I exist, someone with whom my chances are about as good as my chances of being the Opening Day first baseman for the White Sox next season. Perhaps, unlike Ruth, this beautiful and charming skater will come to know she's my girlfriend before I have to break up with her. But I doubt it.

November 8: ESPN removes Joe Morgan from Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts

I'll miss play-by-play man Jon Miller, but Morgan was absolutely the worst baseball analyst I have ever heard. With both Morgan and John Madden no longer "gracing" our airwaves, the intelligence level of sports broadcasting will jump measurably.


With that, we're up-to-date. My next trip is a short one, a quick drive to Detroit with friends for the Bears vs. Lions game in December. As you may know, the titles of my posts are always songs, and I generally manage to tie the song into the final few sentences. There's not much to say here, except for the fact that Barenaked Ladies factored into one of the trips described above. I'll let you use your imagination as to which one and how!

Note on pictures: I am starting to post pictures from my trips on our Facebook page (Click Here). I will add more over the next week or two, so why not stop over and look? While you're there, be sure to "like" Have Sports, Will Travel and receive updates!