Part I -- Part II -- Part III -- Part IV
Hard as it seems
This ain't no damn dream
Gotta know what I mean
It's team against team
-- "By the Time I Get to Arizona", Public Enemy
Monday, March 14
1:05 PM -- This Athletics/Indians game was being broadcast nationally on the MLB Network. Our seats were behind home plate, roughly 20 rows up. Of course I had the DVR set to record back at Stately Bootleg Manor in San Diego. There was almost NO chance that we'd be seen on TV, but during an Athletics/Angels game in 1994, m'man Smitty and I made the 11 o'clock news. We could be seen heckling Angels LF Bo Jackson as he hobbled in pursuit of an A's extra-base hit in the corner. Oh, don't look at me like that. They're professional athletes! They're used to this kind of thing! It rolls right off their backs.
1:30 PM -- Erstwhile Oakland OF Travis Buck is starting for the Indians. Buck was never able to build upon his solid rookie campaign with the Athletics in 2007. His body betrayed him during the remainder of his Oakland tenure. When Buck wasn't on the disabled list, he was antagonizing A's manager Bob Geren and our boy-genius GM with his refusal to play hurt. In the end, Buck deserved better than extended, spiteful Triple-A exiles. Here in Goodyear, he just struck out on a 58-foot breaking ball. Whew. Glad he's not on my team.
2:00 PM -- Attending a ballgame with Mrs. Bootleg and Jalen means that I have to fetch their food and drinks during the first few innings. I'm convinced that my wife thoroughly observes the concourse beforehand and specifically selects the ONE menu item sold at the ONE stand that's invariably the farthest from our seats. We're several innings in before I can finally make my annual amble to Goodyear Ballpark's "Hot Dog Nation" stand. Over the past two years, the Cleveland Dog (chipotle BBQ sauce, bacon, onions and shredded cheddar cheese) earned its coveted 5 out of 5 "TBG Eats" evaluation. Last year, the Cincinnati Dog (chili, shredded cheddar cheese and onions) couldn't compare. This year, I went with the New York Dog (sauerkraut, spicy mustard). Let me get into character:
Current Weight: 161.2 lbs. I really like good sauerkraut and when it's done right, the cabbage flavor isn't entirely overwhelmed by the more sour components. The cheap sauerkraut here, on the other hand, wasn't as delicious. More salty than sour, if it adorned a lower-quality hot dog, I doubt I could've finished it. Thankfully, the Hot Dog Nation dogs are dense, well-textured and seasoned nicely. Based on the lowered bar at an exhibition baseball game…it was inoffensive eatin'. Grade: 2.5 (out of 5)
2:30 PM -- Me: "Jalen, if you want one more swim in the hotel pool, we'll have to leave no later than 3 o'clock. It closes at five and we've got a long drive ahead of us." Jalen: "I don't wanna leave. I wanna watch the game." Me: "sniff".
2:45 -- During my 30 years as an Oakland Athletics fan, there were only two A's players who displayed the kind of prodigious power that could make fans collectively stand and gasp based solely on the sound of the bat meeting the ball. This sixth-inning clip DOES NOT do it justice, but the absolute boom off of Chris Carter's bat had everyone in our area on their feet. His home run hit the scoreboard and resulted in several complete strangers -- hands incredulously clasped on top of their heads -- instinctively exchanging stories of the farthest home runs they've ever seen with whoever was sitting in their vicinity. For those who don't know, Carter led the entire organization – big leagues and minor leagues – in home runs last year. As of this writing, he's still in the minor leagues. Just sayin'.
2:55 PM -- Athletics closer Andrew Bailey came on in the bottom of the sixth inning to get some work in. He faced three batters before he was forced to leave with an apparent arm injury. In person, the words "worst case scenario" crossed my mind. This is a sport where emotionless stoicism is the unmarketable norm amongst the game's rank and file. But, Bailey was hopping around the mound, wincing and holding his limp right wing in a demonstrative show of anguish. Years ago, Mrs. Bootleg and I were in the stands at PETCO Park where we witnessed this gruesome incident. Watching Bailey, I thought we might have a new contender for the silver medal of grisly on-field injuries. (Nothing short of the opening scene of The Last Boy Scout could top two outfielders running face-first into each other.) Fortunately, Bailey's injury was relatively minor and he's expected to be 100% in a few more weeks. Don't EVER scare me like that again!
3:15 PM -- Top of the eighth inning and there might be a few hundred fans remaining. Oakland's Chris Carter steps to the plate and – again, on the first pitch – hits his second home run of the afternoon. In its own way, this opposite field blast was just as impressive as his scoreboard-denting in the sixth inning. His effortless ferocity here reminded me of two other right-handed hitters with legendary power the other way: Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza. Hold your cards and letters, kids. Carter's obviously not in their stratosphere. But, for ONE at-bat in a meaningless Spring Training game, I could impress my seven-year-old son with the comparison. Know your audience, y'all.
4:00 PM -- The Indians won, 9-8. Carter -- whose "30 A's in 30 Days" player profile was coincidentally pre-posted to run on this day, complete with Incredible Hulk clip -- actually came up in the ninth inning, but walked. The A's are winless in the three games we've seen them play at Goodyear Ballpark. However, for the first time in three years, the Indians didn't obliterate Oakland. Progress!
4:30 PM -- On our way back to the hotel. From the backseat of our rented SUV, Jalen looked a little lethargic. He had gotten a few extra innings on the Kids' Field before we made our walk to the parking lot. We hadn't been on the freeway for five minutes, when I opted for an off ramp and found a Fresh & Easy supermarket about a mile down the road. "Refreshing beverages for all!", I thought. Bottled water for Mrs. Bootleg. Red-flavored (as most of you know, it's a flavor in the black community) sports drink for me. And, for Jalen, his favorite cocktail: Nesquik Chocolate Milk.
4:45 PM -- It's seemingly impossible to drive the surface streets anywhere in Arizona without running into road construction at some point. Everything here is being built newer or bigger or wider or better. I applaud your EVENTUAL infrastructure, Arizona. But, this "work in progress" nonsense has proved to be problematic for me in the short-term. We left the supermarket 15 minutes ago and -- with only one lane of traffic open -- we still haven't completed the one mile drive back to the freeway. I'm boxed in nice and tight, inching along towards the on ramp when this happened:
Jalen: "My stomach hurts."
Me: [Instantly panicking.] "What? Jalen. Do NOT throw up in this car!"
Jalen: [Reacting to my panic with some of his own.] "NO! I have to go POOP!"
We've moved half a mile in 15 minutes! I'm idling in a single row of cars with nothing around us but several small mountains of unearthed dirt, traffic cones and the speck of a supermarket in my rear-view mirror. Oh, and a Ruby Tuesday restaurant roughly 150 yards off the street and to our right. There's no vehicular access to the eatery from where we are, so I explain to Mrs. Bootleg that she and Jalen are going to have to make a break for it. The two of them simultaneously exit the car. Without a moment to spare, Mrs. Bootleg gently takes Jalen's hand and...well, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it. Here's a real-time reenactment.
5:00 PM -- Ultimately, I had to drive past the freeway and double-back to Ruby Tuesday's. Mrs. Bootleg and Jalen both climbed back in and both were wearing identical "let's never speak of this embarrassment again" looks on their faces.