Monday, March 21, 2011
2011 Spring Training Travel Diary -- Part I: Flying, Driving and a Frayed Labrum
I'm countin' down to the day deservin'
Fit for a King
I'm waitin' for the time when I can get to Arizona...
-- "By the Time I Get to Arizona", Public Enemy
Friday, March 11
4:30 AM -- I've been under the covers, wide awake, for the past 30 minutes waiting for the alarm clock. As most of you know, my lifelong irrational aversion towards air travel was born out of the 1980s when plane crashes and hijackings made more appearances on the nightly news than Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings put together. Then, about five years ago, I overslept and missed the San Diego-to-Los Angeles leg of a cross-country business trip to Washington DC. My omnipresent pre-flight anxiety has become quite the psychological dichotomy: I'm afraid of flying, but I don't want to miss my flight. This is how it started with Harvey Dent.
5:15 AM -- My usual scalding-hot shower is followed by the medicinal monotony of my Neti pot, allergy meds and asthma inhaler. The routine is somehow soothing and gives me a chance to ease into the day at my own pace. Our flight to Phoenix is still more than three hours away. Hard to believe that our shoebox-sized second bathroom can be such an effective buffer from...
"TODAY'S THE DAY WE FLY TO SPRING TRAINING, DADDY!"
My seven-year-old son Jalen has exploded through the closed door, giddily revisiting our itinerary for the first time today and the 200th time this week. I've commissioned a reenactment of this moment by a local collegiate acting troupe. So much for "soothing".
7:00 AM -- I was never a huge fan of the sitcom Seinfeld. In fact, during its groundbreaking run in the 1990s, I didn't watch the show. My Thursday night broadcasting dance card was actually quite full. In syndication, I caught up with the show's assortment of pop culture moments. The only one that really stuck with me was the episode in which Jerry and Elaine debate the appropriate gratuity for the skycaps who handle luggage at curbside check-in. Since then, I've always tipped five dollars per bag. I put the tipping question out on Twitter. Based on the responses, I'm grossly over-tipping. Whatever. I've never had a piece of luggage lost when I check-in at the curb and I'd like to believe the gratuity has something to do with it. We checked three bags, so I tipped the skycap $15. Based on his response ("Oh, wow. Thank YOU, sir!"), I'm grossly over-tipping. I've still never had a piece of luggage lost, though.
11:00 AM -- It was a wonderfully uneventful flight. We took off on time at around 8:45 AM and landed in Phoenix at 10:55 AM local time. As we waited to deplane, a gentleman sitting behind us noticed Jalen's "Athletics" t-shirt and politely initiated some baseball-related conversation. I mentioned to him that while we were excited about our vacation; I was disappointed to pull my son out of Little League for the weekend. Without missing a beat, the gentleman replied, "I'm missing Little League, too, and I'm the manager! I left the line-ups with my coaches and told my son where he'll be playing before I left. Everyone understands. It's Spring Training! This is my 'guys weekend'!"
For the record, I've never missed a game that Jalen played in.* That alone won't win me any "father of the year" awards, but I've got to finish ahead of that guy, right?
* -- In the interest of full disclosure, I should once again mention (before Mrs. Bootleg beats me to it) that I did miss ONE day of visitation while Jalen was in the neo-natal intensive care unit for five weeks after his premature birth. I fell for the ol' "give your man permission to be absent when you're really just testing him" bit.
11:10 AM -- We've made our way to baggage claim. Much to my surprise, there actually IS a socio-political position here in Arizona that my family and I can get behind! Vote "Yes" on Proposition 51!
11:45 AM -- Mrs. Bootleg handled the reservation of our rental car. She went with Thrifty – a company that allows customers to pick their vehicle from rows identified by size (e.g. SUV, sedan…) after you've paid and filled out all the paperwork. Mrs. Bootleg then outsourced this innocuous choice to our son. The ONLY choice in our row was a Ford Escape. There must've been a dozen of them – six were silver, five were white and one was red. And, Mrs. Bootleg let Jalen choose. This is the same little boy who copyrighted the five-minute remix to "Eeney Meeney Miney Mo". He's now meticulously examining each vehicle as if it were a crime scene.
12:00 PM -- We're on our way to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the 1:05 PM game between the Athletics and Dodgers. It's Oakland's chance to exact some exhibition season vengeance on Los Angeles for the 1988 World Series AND the two A's losses I've witnessed live at Dodger Stadium – first in 2000, then again in 2009. Mrs. Bootleg has programmed our destination into her cell phone's GPS feature.
12:02 PM -- And, we're lost. A new record! Somehow, Mrs. Bootleg had mistakenly charted a route across the continuous United States. I pull into an industrial area parking lot so that my wife can figure out her phone. The same phone she's had for six months. I bite my tongue and hold off on any overt show of annoyance. If I say anything now, it'll take away from my patented "exasperated spousal sigh" when Mrs. Bootleg reveals the invariably simple error that created this confusion.
12:05 PM -- "Oh, I forgot to input 'Phoenix' as the city!" I manage to exhale my ensuing sigh for a full five seconds. Also, a new record.
12:50 PM -- We've arrived at the stadium, parked and made the l-o-n-g walk across the overpass. Near the main gate, I spy a sign highlighting a handful of former Major Leaguers who are signing autographs along the concourse. Pete LaCock?! This is the reason cell phone cameras were created, kids.
1:30 PM -- The game is underway, but Jalen and I have made our annual trip to the in-stadium "Kids Pitch Zone". Three pitches for one dollar with radar gun bragging rights at stake. Jalen breaks 30 mph after topping out at 29 mph last year.
Meanwhile, with my first pitch, I hit 51 mph on the gun. On my second pitch, I feel a pinch in my right shoulder. 48 mph. I'm shaking my arm loose, knowing I probably shouldn't take my third pitch. "Can I have your last pitch, daddy?", asks Jalen considerately. "No. Move.", I sweetly respond. On my third pitch...ouch. Yeah, I probably shouldn't have taken my third pitch.
2:00 PM -- There's a gimmicky ice cream stand manned by a regional company called Sub Zero. Back in the 1980s, the frozen yogurt fad made inroads on the traditional ice cream industry's frozen dessert monopoly. Over most of the past two decades, the Dippin' Dots conglomerate has tried to sway American taste buds with their gummy, icy and inedible BBs. Sub Zero's 21st century twist on something that didn't need to be changed combines liquid ice cream ingredients into a stainless steel bowl, followed by a blast of liquid nitrogen. It makes for a great visual, but who will it impress after the first visit?
"That was AWESOME! Can we buy some more ice cream and watch him do it again?"
OK, besides a certain seven-year-old.
2:30 PM -- I've stumbled across a sausage stand and order a bratwurst. I ask for it with grilled peppers and onions which evidently offends the culinary sensibilities of the chef. "You want my advice?", he offers. "Take it plain with just mustard." Great. I've only recently been exposed to the good-natured mocking that accompanies those of us who still put ketchup on a hot dog. Now, I've been eating bratwurst wrong for all these years? Who writes these food rules?
3:30 PM -- No, really…we did watch the game. Intently! The A's defeated the Dodgers, 9-2. Oakland's starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez alternated shakiness with dominance and centerfielder Coco Crisp walloped a long home run. It had already been a long day, so we drove over to our hotel in North Scottsdale and settled in relatively early. Quality father/son time, accomplished.
Maybe there'll be time for you tomorrow, Mrs. Bootleg.
Next: The museum! The swimming pool! The brewery! And, no baseball?!