Saturday, March 24, 2012

Three Ancient Jocks Attempt to Conquer Spring Training in Phoenix – Post #3

We Actually Saw Some Baseball

Amidst the disorientation, forgetfulness, old-men-driving-in-a-strange-town-antics, and just general tomfoolery that all went on during our time in Arizona, we actually saw some baseball!

In fact, all three games that we took in were good baseball games other than the scores, which in two cases at least, could have been different. The first game we saw featured the Giants hosting the Cubs in Scottsdale. The good guys (Giants, of course) scored first but ended up losing the game, 8-6.

We sat behind a boisterous group of Cub fans who were enjoying the 85-degree temps with us, and who normally would be happy to be away from the friendly confines at this time of the year, but the temps in Chicago were not far behind – very abnormally in the 60’s. A gal, who obviously knew her baseball and who also was not afraid to speak her mind, began raving about the Cubs reorganization and their new president, youthful phenom Theo Epstein.

Unfortunately, the Cubs, again this year, are not figured to go anywhere in the NL Central – not with St. Louis, Milwaukee and even Cincinnati in that same division. The gal yakked on and on about Epstein, so finally I asked her, “What’s so good about him so far?” (the Cubs haven’t made many changes in the time he’s been with them).

Her answer: “He’s cute.”

About then the Cubbies rallied for a few runs and all the Cub fans came to life. I was born in Chicago, so I’m not exactly a Cub-hater. But the best part of this game, for me, was that I think sitting in the hot sun for several hours put the nail in the coffin of the bad chest cold I had had for a couple of weeks previous.

The second game we saw was against the Cleveland Indians, again in Scottsdale. But this time our seats were down the right field line – Giants territory. In spite of that, we happened to sit behind a young couple who were from the Cleveland area but who had recently moved to Kentucky so the man could attend seminary. They were Cleveland fans.

He was a married Roman Catholic who was planning to enter the Diaconate (new to me) of the Church and eventually assist a priest in a local parish. He was a knowledgeable baseball fan as well as a smart seminary student, and so he, Joe and I had a wonderful discussion about the church, his mission – and baseball.

He may be one of the most interesting young men – if not one of the most dedicated – I’ve ever encountered. Dwight and his wife talked family dynamics (wives serve equally in the Diaconate) and kids (they had two young children). Another excellent game, which, incidentally, ended up tied at 6. They don’t go into extra innings in Spring Training.

The final game – Giants against my hometown Seattle Mariners in the Mariners stadium in Peoria – turned out to be the best game of all (pic above shows M's stretching and warming up before the game -- #20 is hard hitting Mike Carp). Giants bats finally came to life in this one, and they pretty much sewed up the game early, although the M’s came on late to get within a couple runs. Final score, if I remember correctly, was 8-6 Giants.

But the interesting thing was how beautiful the Mariners stadium complex was in comparison to the Giants’. The M’s are in a farther-out suburb of Phoenix and share the complex with the San Diego Padres; however, there is a beautiful new stadium, ample parking and a slew of restaurants and shopping across the street.

The Giants, on the other hand, play in downtown Scottsdale in an older park with uncomfortable seating and totally inadequate parking (see first post). The Giants facility is fine overall, but it’s obvious the newer complexes have many fan advantages.

I’d have a photo of the three of us normally in this post. Dwight had a lady take one on his FILM camera (he’s techno-challenged) but she somehow didn’t click the shutter correctly. So when he got home and developed the film, nothing was there but the shots he took.

He told me yesterday he’s looking at an iPhone. Guaranteed more interesting stories if he gets one. :-)  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Three Ancient Jocks Attempt to Conquer Spring Training in Phoenix – Post #2

My Smart Phone Saves Our Bacon

When three old codgers, once proficient baseball team mates, rendezvous in Phoenix some 50 years after their prime to take in several Spring Training games – well, strange things can happen.

Cell phones can vanish. Deteriorating brain cells can short out and cause the loss of all sense of direction. Meticulously laid plans can unravel. And it all happened the first day we were there (see previous post).

Of the three of us, Joe is probably the least tech savvy, but I’m not around him enough to really know. He’s a retired high school teacher, as is Dwight, and they obviously had to have enough skills to navigate the school system – of 10 years ago. However, Joe had given his cell phone to his daughter recently and came on the trip without one.

As we learned after the fact, Dwight’s cell had fallen out of the pocket of his loosely fitted pants onto the floor of his car on the way to his departing airport, and he arrived in Arizona without one as well. As for myself, I’m an age-appropriate tech junkie, so my phone was strapped securely to my belt.

Why is this important? My smart phone (an i-phone4) saved our bacon. Many times.

Of course the phone has built-in GPS, and so we were able to easily navigate out of the airport and quickly head in the right direction to the ballpark of the first game we were going to see. Dwight drove the rental car, I sat in the right seat as navigator, and Joe periodically – no, often – shouted what he perceived as warnings from the back seat – which were usually ignored.

The phone GPS system does not talk to you sweetly with directions. However, it is a good mapping device, and shows your location, so you can navigate better than if you had a paper map. And it’s search feature was primarily the element which saved the hides of these old, directionally handicapped friends.

For example, after the first game in Scottsdale on Tuesday, I just plugged in the name of our hotel in Mesa (we got by far the best deal there), and my trusty phone pointed the way without error. When we got hungry later in the evening, the i-phone suggested three great restaurants, all less than a mile away.

And so it went. When Joe needed to text his daughter, it was a snap. When we needed to find the Giants’ minor league practice facility (photo above) – no problem. And when we needed to find the best way to drive 60 miles to the Mariners’ game in Peoria on Thursday, the i-phone came through again.

I wonder how bad-off these three old friends would have been without a smart phone. Not sure I want to think much about that.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Three Ancient Jocks Attempt to Conquer Spring Training in Phoenix

POST #1 – Almost A Strike Out on Day One

I can’t remember exactly when we decided to go to Spring Training, but I think it was back in January. Several of us San Jose State college roommates (from back in the late 1950’s) had been emailing about which San Francisco Giants games we wanted to attend this year – something we did initially a few years ago.

Somehow we struck on the idea of going to Spring Training in Arizona where “you can see the teams and players up close,” rather than going to regular season games. After many digital discussions, we picked some dates that seemed to work. The Cubs at the Giants home stadium in Scottsdale last Tuesday afternoon (above photo), the Indians (also at Scottsdale) on Wednesday afternoon, and the Mariners at their home stadium in Peoria against the Giants on Thursday evening. We were happy with the schedule.

The two other guys, Dwight Klassen of Discovery Bay, California, and Joe Medal of San Jose, California are Giants fans of course. I’ve been a Giants fan since the Bobby Thompson home run in 1951 against the Dodgers, which got them into the World Series that year. All three of us lived together in college and have been friends ever since. Our birthdates are separated by only a month, and all of us love every aspect of the incredible game of baseball.

I should point out that we played a fairly high level of organized softball together for almost 10 years after college – not the slow pitch variety that is so popular now, but the fast pitch version where the ball travels nearly as fast as a baseball, but the pitcher’s mound is 20-feet closer to the batter than in baseball. If you blink at the plate, the ball is in the catcher’s glove.

Enough history. We planned to meet in Phoenix at Sky Harbor airport last Tuesday morning about 10:30, which would give us plenty of time to get to Scottsdale by the 1:05 game time. Or so we thought.

I tried calling Dwight’s cell phone as soon as I landed about 10:15. I muttered as the phone message said, “the Verizon customer you are trying to reach is unavailable at this time.” “Where could he be?” I thought. Dwight is not exactly a techno freak, and I immediately wondered if he had forgotten his phone (which has happened before).

I called his wife a bit later when I realized that Dwight and Joe came in at one terminal and I had arrived at another. There was no way we could meet “at baggage” as we had arranged, because each terminal had its own baggage pick up. STRIKE ONE.

I determined that the best chance of meeting up with them (especially if Dwight had no phone) was to take the shuttle bus over to the car rental center and we would likely run into each other there. Wrong. After an hour’s wait, I finally called Dwight’s wife at their home and asked if she knew if he had taken his phone with him. She had no idea, but thought so. So I told her I was at the car rental center in case Dwight called home asking if she’d heard from me. Turns out it was good that I had done so.

I then went over to the car rental agency with whom I knew he had made the reservation and asked if they had a car ready for Klassen. After several minutes of looking, the agent said, “We can’t find a thing under that name.” STRIKE TWO. And it was less than two hours to game time. I was getting very antsy.

Finally, a half hour later, here comes Dwight and Joe, looking frustrated and a bit disheveled. “Where’s your phone? I ask him. “It must have dropped out of my pocket in the car before I walked into the Oakland airport,” he said sheepishly. “I don’t have it.” Fortunately, he had been able to call his wife and find out where I was.

Ok, now to solve the car dilemma. Of course the biggest dilemma was the comedy of misunderstandings, wrong turns and incorrect assumptions made by three old men who used to be able to easily get ‘em out on the ball field. Age is not kind, even to old athletes.

To make a long story short, using my cell phone, Dwight finally tracked down the persons with whom he had made the reservation (a “travel club” with special deals) and we were able to get our car and head towards Scottsdale. In the frustrating process, we learned the rental agency would have been happy to provide us with a car for three days – but at more than $800! Our “club rate” was only $165, so we were pretty freaked until Dwight got it worked out. Amazing how supply, demand and a simple advance reservation can affect the price you end up paying. O yeah, and spelling the customer’s name correctly (they had it under Klaason, not Klassen, so the computer search did not bring it up).

Our buddy Joe just sat contentedly under his large, fedora-like wide-brimmed hat while Dwight and I stewed over the mix-up. Joe is a straightline guy – relatively unaffected by circumstance.

We finally arrived at the stadium just as the National Anthem was being sung. But of course in downtown Scottsdale, there wasn’t a parking place within a half mile of the stadium. We finally found a spot quite a ways away and began the long, slow walk. Tres viejecitos andando mas despacio.

The first good thing that happened to us that day was in the form of a pretty young college gal who was driving a converted golf cart that was carting passengers from their cars to the field. We jumped on, and, later minus $10, arrived at our seats just as the Giants were coming to bat.

The Cubs eventually won, 8-6, but something happened after the game that had NEVER before happened to any of us. We couldn’t remember where we had parked. New city. New ballpark. New streets. Pretty girl driving the golf cart. We were doomed.

For 45 minutes after the game we drove around the stadium area to no avail. We kept explaining to the kind post-game cart driver where we thought the car was, and he would drive there – but our car was nowhere to be seen. Dwight might could be excused as he sat up front next to the young lady, while Joe and I were talking in the back and never paid attention to where we got on the jitney. And I didn’t mark the gps on my phone.

Eventually the after-game driver found the car, based on descriptions of the area we each thought we remembered. Ageing is wonderful in many ways – but not when you’re in a strange place. It was almost STRIKE THREE, but we finally, sheepishly, got in our car and headed for the hotel.