Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Our Minor League Weekend

Squeezed in between a child's Chuck E. Cheese birthday party and a Memorial Day barbecue under cool, drizzly (in San Diego…in late May?!) skies, the Bootleg Family spent Sunday in the Southern California enclave of Lake Elsinore – about 45 minutes north of San Diego.

Lake Elsinore is one of those cities that wants to be more than the dusty little cow town that it is when, in actuality, they should be content with the only two things they're known for: (1) its enormous outlet mall and (2) their minor league baseball team.

We sampled a taste of both during our visit to this side dish of a real city.

I've been driving by the outlet mall for almost 13 years during my trips up and down I-15 to visit my family without ever actually stopping to shop there. I dunno…I guess the urge to pay 2% less than retail for factory irregular, overstocked and/or out of season merchandise just never appealed to me.

But, that's why I have a wife.

Mrs. Bootleg abandoned me almost immediately after we arrived, while I was left with the boy. He stumbled, half-asleep, through the second-rate toy store under the KB Toys banner until he came across their extensive collection of replica NASCAR crap. On the one hand, this did explain the insane amount of ill-fitting denim shorts on all the white male shoppers. On the other hand, I now knew how my father felt when he explained to me why I couldn't have that Dukes of Hazard confederate flag t-shirt when I was 10. (True story: I actually ended up with a shirt that featured a cheesecake shot of Daisy Duke practically humping a pick-up truck…I've always suspected my old man would've preferred I got the Klan flag one.)

Still, $7.00 for a NASCAR #24 "shaker racer" was a small price to pay for a few hours of peace n' quiet from my kid's pie hole. And, besides, NASCAR just let one of us in!

I'd really only wanted to visit one store while I was there. Since the mid-'90s, I've been about as brand loyal as a Black man can be to Nike without being an athlete, so I had to hit up their outlet store. What I hadn't realized were just how many other minorities enjoyed brand names at negligibly-reduced prices.

With a very light rain from earlier in the day giving way to a few clouds, the Nike store scene bore a frightening resemblance, I'd guess, to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina – cluttered displays, unfolded shirts that weren't anywhere near a hanger and not ONE pair of size 11 cross-trainers. Just barbaric. Savagery.

The wife reappeared with two armloads of Gymboree gear for the boy and some assorted shorts for her. At 4'8", I assume it was one-stop shopping.

Afterwards, we drove over to the Lake Elsinore Diamond to see the Lake Elsinore Storm play the Lancaster JetHawks – the Single-A minor league affiliates of the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox (boo!), respectively.

My son's obsession with baseball has become something of a double-edged sword for me. As a fellow fanatic, I will never get tired of watching random games from the MLB Extra Innings package on TV with the boy and explaining, despite Vladimir Guerrero's shoulder-length dreads, that he is not a girl (anymore). Unfortunately, the cost of attending a game with the wife and the boy has turned me from a guy who never used to b*tch about those things into one who ain't spending $30/each for nose-bleed seats to watch the miserable Padres slog through another 18 innings of JV National League excrement.

The alternative: three seats purchased 30 minutes before first pitch (four rows behind home plate) for $10/each and $5 to park the Bootlegmobile.

Make no mistake, though…minor league baseball is, well, "minor league". There are only two umpires, so the bang-bang calls are almost always wrong. The PA announcer was standing on the dugout between innings to hype the crowd and offering up play-by-play during the game for those of us who weren't paying attention. And, the use of fart sound effects that followed every hit from the visitors was…well, yeah.

But, I still had a blast and, more importantly, so did the boy.

We feared he was scarred for life after an unfortunate and frightening encounter with the San Diego Zoo's harmless panda mascot at the age of 12 months. On Sunday, we had to stop a potty-run short so he could high-five the Storm's colorfully deformed "Thunder" mascot. He's still clinging to the free program he received and, best of all, the concessions serve up warm chocolate chip cookies that are about the size of my son's head (or just a tick smaller than mine). For just a buck, they were like diabetic pecks on the cheek from Jesus.

My mom's house in Ontario is about 40 minutes north of Lake Elsinore and just a 15 minute drive from two more California League teams. How many times d'ya think I can get up there without my mom knowing?


tom said...

Oh geez, I have to have this ridiculous NL/AL fight with YOU now, too?

Cory said...

Man, I've been reading your stuff for YEARS and never knew you had family in Ontario. I grew up there, and currently live in Norco, the essential underarm of the Inland Empire AND Riverside County. The actual city of Riverside is the other underarm.

That Bootleg Guy said...

Niice! Yeah, my parents moved to Ontario from Long Beach in 1995 - a few months before I moved to San Diego.

Ontario actually looks a LOT better now than it did back then as the housing boom of the late '90s/early '00s turned a lot of the blight into shiny new properties.

Unfortunately, the properties that were already there are, well...ugh.

Still, I've got fond memories of driving up the 15 from SD and knowing that I was getting close when I could smell the cows.

That Bootleg Guy said...

Jesus, Tom, it looks like your comment disappeared into some kind of moderation limbo. It didn't show up until today.

Actually, I love the National League. With their pitchers batting and Jason Kendalls batting ninth, it's like Little League. Everyone gets an at bat! Orange wedges and 2% milk for the winners at Albert Pujols' mom's house!