Part I -- Part II -- Part III
The good ol' days
The same ol' ways
That kept us dyin'
Yes...you, me, myself and I (Indeed!)
--Public Enemy, "By The Time I Get to Arizona"
Monday, March 14
9:00 AM -- It's the start of our last full day in the desert and my seven-year-old son Jalen is ending his vacation with a cacao-laced bang. His Monday sustenance began with two of those single-serving plastic "bowls" of cereal – one was Cocoa Puffs, the other Cocoa Krispies – brought together in one larger bowl. Jalen seemed surprisingly disappointed with his chocolate concoction. Then again, when a child's cereal fancy peaks at age six with the discovery of Cookie Crisp ("Mommy, can we buy this?! It's a cereal…MADE FROM COOKIES!"*) every other cereal can only aspire for second place.**
* -- The actual quote from Jalen when he first noticed Cookie Crisp on a supermarket shelf.
** -- How young is TOO young for Cinnamon Toast Crunch? I was 10-years-old when it first came out and too weak-willed for such an intentionally addictive cereal. I spent my allowance on MY OWN boxes of it. While I never developed a smack habit or crack habit, this came dangerously, deliciously close.
10:30 AM -- For the third straight year, we made the one-hour drive west from Scottsdale to see the A's play the Indians at Cleveland's Spring Training facility in Goodyear. Curiously, while I can justify this in-vacation road trip; I couldn't bring myself to make a similar 60-minute expedition from Scottsdale to…this place. Mrs. Bootleg graciously puts up with a LOT for the sake of this lightly-read blog. I think she'd draw the line at a family outing built around Quadruple-Bypass Burgers and Flatliner Fries. [Confidential to Mrs. Bootleg: Would it have been OK if just Jalen and I went? An African-American father and son reintroduce themselves to one another during a long drive across post-SB-1070 Arizona. That's not a "family outing", Mrs. Bootleg. That's practically a Spike Lee Joint.]
11:00 AM -- The speed trap cameras have been removed from Arizona's freeways! Can the locals now direct their cacophony of flawed "Constitutional rights violating" reasoning towards the exorbitant state taxes and fees that accompany in-state lodging and rental cars during the month of March? You'd never see this kind of tourist abuse in California. Here... I'll prove it.
11:25 AM -- We arrive at Goodyear Ballpark five minutes before the gates open. This gives the volunteer seniors who are stationed at each entrance an opportunity to flex their authoritative atrophy. They look down at their watches every 10 seconds and when another minute passes, one of them relays the time into a walkie-talkie. I'd witnessed this scene somewhere before.
11:30 AM -- The gates are open, so Jalen and I giddily make a beeline for the Kids' Field -- a replica baseball diamond with a red clay infield, bats, balls and bases. I've mentioned this in every other Spring Training travel diary, but I absolutely love Goodyear Ballpark. Great sightlines, pleasant employees, terrific food and close proximity to the players -- even by the relaxed standards of exhibition baseball. Over the last few years, I've enjoyed pitching to dozens of children during the 90 minutes before game time.
11:50 AM -- Wow. There is, like, NOBODY here. Were there no other irresponsible adults who pulled their kids out of school for Spring Training? It's been 20 minutes and we're the only souls on the Kids' Field. We've already exhausted every possible combination of me pitching to Jalen and Jalen pitching to me. Even Mrs. Bootleg has abandoned us. She's chatting up a lonely ballpark employee stationed in the vacant right field pavilion "party deck". Before I can explain "irony" to Jalen, a few more kids finally trickle in.
12:15 PM -- Despite the cloud cover, it's a deceptively warm afternoon. We're off to pursue autographs, but I'm already exhausted. If a modicum of physical activity has made me tired, you can bet that Jalen is almost comatose. And, whiny. He wants pizza...he wants water...he doesn't want to wait around for the players to start signing. We're standing alongside the visitor's dugout. Mrs. Bootleg is ready to appease him and leave, so I roll the dice and exercise a rare paternal veto. My theory: 15 minutes of hungry/thirsty/cantankerous Jalen trumps three hours of "Nobody signed my ball!"-wailing Jalen.
12:30 PM -- I had almost reached the limit of my patience with Jalen's incessant complaining when the first Oakland Athletic sauntered over and started signing. My son found his second wind.
Kevin Kouzmanoff -- He signed a baseball for Jalen last year during a game in Anaheim (insisting my son cut in front of the bigger kids in the autograph crowd). This time, Kouz asked my son about Little League Baseball and briefly discussed Jalen's favorite position. The A's third baseman came over two more times before the game began to sign for people who missed out earlier. He's easily the nicest Russian since 1990 Nikolai Volkoff
Michael Choice -- Selected in the first round of last year's amateur draft, Choice seemed surprised that anyone could identify him. But, he walked right over when the elderly lady next to me asked if he'd stop and sign. Up close, he didn't look much older than Jalen. Mrs. Bootleg was asking the players to pose for a picture and I'm reasonably sure Choice heard my wife ask me, "What's his first name, again? I forgot, already." Thanks for not holding that against us, Michael!
Michael Taylor -- Although Taylor's "prospect" status has become increasingly tarnished, he's another super-nice guy. Jalen got his autograph last Spring and again exchanged some polite banter. Taylor might be on the short list of most attractive Athletics players. Mrs. Bootleg is DEFINITELY on board with this notion, as are most of the women who've seen the above picture. Though, I'd like to point out to these ladies that the 6'6", 255-pound Taylor hit just six more home runs that me last year.
Brad Ziegler -- For those who don't know, Ziegler pitches with an exaggerated sidearm delivery. Jalen has been endlessly fascinated with his motion since Ziegler debuted in 2008 and my son does a decent (for a seven-year-old) impression of him. When Ziegler signed J's ball, I asked if he wanted to show off his sidearm delivery for his pitching hero. Jalen smiled sheepishly and furiously shook his head. The moral: embarrassing your son is FUN!
Chris Carter -- An absolute behemoth blessed with an eternally pleasant expression on his face, Carter practically had to dig a ditch just to get low enough for this picture. He was also the source of a good-natured debate between me and Mrs. Bootleg. She thought Carter bore a passing resemblance to NFL running back LaDanian Tomlinson. It's been three weeks and I haven't stopped mocking her. Tomlinson! From a black woman who lives in San Diego. She's seen more of LT than anyone! We don't all look alike, y'know.
Hideki Matsui -- There's simply a different aura around Matsui. He carries himself like a super-duper star and seems detached from everything else – his teammates stretching in the outfield, the awestruck fans who don't dare call out to him. A camera-carrying member of the omnipresent Japanese media that tracks Matsui's every move gestured towards our group of autograph seekers. Matsui picked up on the cue, swiftly signing for Jalen and a few other fans during this contrived – and much appreciated! – photo-op.
Coco Crisp -- This brutha is old-school cool. 35 years ago, Crisp would've had his own Afro-centric sitcom. He signed right up until the start of the National Anthem. After the song ended, Crisp took a few melodramatic moments to re-fit his sunglasses, skullcap and finally his regular cap. Or, as he calmly explained to our section when a few fans openly worried he wouldn't sign anything else, "Don't worry. I got you. Lemme finish getting dressed." Crisp was VERY animated with Jalen and shared this with my son, "Your name's Jalen? I got a cousin named Jalen!" J is still talking about this. When my wife asked Crisp if he could pose for a picture, he suavely responded, "YYYYYes, I can."
Yes, he did.
Next: The fifth and final chapter! Sauerkraut, the Incredible Hulk and the Chocolate Milk Horror Story! I promise!