Friday, March 23, 2007

march 23,2007

In the "Browns" thinking...

This is in regarding hearing the DJ on KJR950 in Seattle...yes, Gas... You, sir, are a DJ... Mr. Gastineau, I do agree with you about the Washington Wizards giving no "oomph"to their name. i agree, dear lord, indeed. The history of the professional basketall in the nation's capital is rather rich in NBA history.

The Bullets, born from the Chicago Packers. Then Baltimore, Capital, and Washington. The Bullets were a very formidale team in my recollection of profesional basketball. NBA Finals with the Knicks, Warriors, and Supersonics..seeing the banner in the Kingdome for game 3 of the '79 Finals of "Buck the Fullets"... next to the cardbord sign well drawn that asked, "Mama, Mama! What's a Musburger?"...

I have no problem witht he name Bullets; it's a Clash song, for one thing. Nah, no problem with that name. But I have to agreethat the current name does nothing in my mind in terms of history, sports trivia, cool things to mention, etc.Wizards is just a stupid name.What is a wizard and what does he have to do with basketball? Yeah, who really knows who Gus Williams is, you-guys-of the-oh-so- smart- reference-to- basketball geeks -whom -I've- known- in -my- lifetime.

Keep some tradition. Name it for someone in their history, ala Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns.

Name it for someone fierce, a good player. Someone who is a Bullet.

No, Unseld is a great Bullet but not a team name.

The Bullets were to me the team of Elvin Hayes.

The Big E.

The Washington E's.

Tradition, a unique nickname, and named after a guy who not only has a great history in Washington, DC basetball but also in the deveopement in the game itself...

The Washington E's...

It's just a thought...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

$1.50 Pizza and the Smell of Chlorine

All-Alaska Swimming Championships
July 14, 2006 Bartlett High School Swimming Pool, Anchorage, AK.

A swimming tournament for kids ages 7-15. Would I like to go and see my cousin's son, Luke, participate? Sure, why not.The tournament was for three days and my in-laws were going to be there for most of it. They encouraged me that I didn't have to be there for all of it. Dang right. See a few of the kid's races, bask in family pride for a few minutes, and then go and do something else. One day in "tournament time".

I have been through the "tournament" experience countless times before, both as participant and spectator. Go to the site and set up camp for a day or more. Pack a bunch of things to eat and bring reading material or, in this day and age, i-pods, CD players, or laptops. Prepare yourself for the "hurry up and wait" rigors of the day. Grab a program/schedule and keep it near you because that is your bible.

Oh, yes, I've been through it before. My younger brothers wrestled in high school and both were good enough to make the Washington State finals (my brother, Rob, won the 1996 cruserweight title and my youngest brother, Chris, finished second in the heavyweight division in 1997 and 1998) and wrestle in other invitational tournaments throughout the state and the nation. First match is at 10 A.M. If you win, you wrestle again at 3 P.M. Lose, your next match is at noon. And so it goes. Hours of waiting to get to moments of something that you care about. Sure, you can watch all the others competing and it can be exciting but your interest wanes as the day goes on. When's whatshisname's race/match? How long? How soon? Do I have time to go get something to eat? Do I have time to hit the head? Yes, yes, I know tournament time well.

And coming to the Bartlett High School pool on this day was no different. Walking through the doors, I was greeted by a group of girls sitting in a corner playing Pokemon. They were wrapped in towells and and wearing swimming caps and were enjoying themselves in this little place away from all the hubbub. Tournament indeed, I thought.

I climbed up the steps to the balcony overlooking the large pool and was immediately hit by sticky warmth of an indoor pool followed by the smell of chlorine. Never have liked that smell. I spent a day swimming at my local pool when I was in eighth grade, about four hours straight of swimming and diving, and came home sick as a dog. I felt feverish and couldn't hold down any food. My mother suggested that I had chlorine poisoning. Is ther such a sickness. In any event, since then I have always limited my swimming pool time to an hour or so and to always use that shower that the signs at the pool instruct you to use. The smell of chlorine always sends me to a sense memory. I filed in my mind where the doors were to go get fresh air.

Walking through the balcony to find my relations encampment, I took in all the sights and sounds of this All-Alaska Swimming Championships. Nothing really different from what I, and you, have seen before. As I said, "tournament time". Races going on with a fraction of people watching. Huge Olympic-sized pool. Whistles and cheers adding a bit to the din. Parents reading books, sitting on cushions in the bleachers or on their own lawn or camping chairs. They look up occasionally to see what time it is and to glance at the huge scoreboard to see where they are in the program. Young kids of all ages and all types of swimming gear running around with juice boxes and orange slices. Girls are usually wrapped in towells or bathrobes, boys walk around slightly wet and allow themselves to air dry. Most of them have a listening device in their ears to block out all the clutter around them. Coaches walk around making sure the kids are aware of their start times or are talking to other coaches.

On the northwest side of the building, several parents manned a concession stand that had fruit, candy, earplugs, swimming goggles, water, soda, what have you. Adjacent to the food stand were racks of swimming clothes and other accesories, some provided by a local swim shop but most of the gear were fro parents: a garage sale of sorts. Another section was sponsored by a pizza house and there were stacks of boxes of pizza inside warmbags. They were pushing slices of pizza, cheese or meat, for $1.50. A little girl kept walking around the facility holding a cardboard sign that promoted the price. It caught my eye. I asked the girl if she was getting paid in pizza for her work. She smiled and kept walking. Nothing was in the contract about talking to people. apparantly. Yes, i bought a couple of slices and I bought some for my participant cousin.

Watching the races were only exciting for me when Luke was in it, I must confess. In all of the races I watched, the pattern seemed to be that one racer would get the lead early and then extend it more as the race went on. The battle was always for second, third, and fourth with no exception. Luke finished third in one race and then fourth in the other one I witnessed. I'm sorry I can't tell you what races they were: butterfly, freestyle, fifty-meter, etc. I really have no enthusiasm for swimming. I know the important names at Olympic time and know some of the greater programs in the NCAA and in Washington state high schools, but that is as far as my fandom will go. I believe I fall in the George Carlin adage that swimming is not a sport; swimming is what you do to keep from drowning, to paraphrase. So I was happy to watch my cousin compete and do well. He's ten and I hope he keeps up with the sport. He seems to like it.

I watched two races. spent some money, and left before the chlorine got to me. Another experience in "tornament time".

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Big City

Alaska Goldpanners vs. Anchorage Glacier Pilots
July 13, 2006 Mulcahy Stadium, Anchorage, AK.

I still remember the words of the gentleman I met at the Mat-Su game: "You'll never catch me in Anchorage. I don't like the big city."

The third stop on my tour of the four Alaska Baseball League ballparks was in the "big city". Mulcahy Stadium is located in the center of town in a big area of forest and water called the Cooper Creek Complex. All the sports facilities in Anchorage are here: Anchorage Football Stadium (which is home to high school football), Ben Boehke Ice Arena (high school hockey), Sullivan Arena (Alaska Aces minor league hockey, University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves NCAA hockey, the Great Alaska Shootout college basketball tournament every Thanksgiving, concerts, etc.), and Mulcahy...the baseball stadium.

Mulcahy is home to the two Anchorage ABL teams: the Galcier Pilots and the Bucs. During the short ABL season, there's always a game there, in theory. Each team has a merchandise booth in the stadium but, naturally, the Bucs store was closed this evening. It also appeared that banners for both teams would be put up or put down on who was playing on which date (a huge banner by the concession stand proclaimed "The Glacier Pilots: Anchorage's First Nationally Recognized Team". Take that, Buc fans!). I couldn't really get a feel if there was a rivalry between the two clubs. Talking to fans in line for tickets (prices range from $5 - $7, but a guy in a Red Sox cap gave me a voucher for a ticket and I got in with no problems...thank you, sir, whoever you are), the general consensus is that people in Anchorage will root for both teams but never for the Goldpanners (boy, I came on the right night).

Mulcahy is a servicable ballpark with a wooden grandstand that extends from third to first base. Aluminum bleachers line the outfield lines, pretty much like all the small fields I've been to but Mulcahy has more capacity for more people. The grandstand seats are built in benches on the upper level with the lower level, being the "box seats" area, are a series of platforms with folding chairs acting as the box seats. Well, you could move them, I guess.

Now, I've seen box seats in Fairbanks and Palmer, but there was always something homespun about those two ballparks that made the experience unique. People talking to me, proud of their club and the feeling that they all had something to do with it, especially the Mat-Su club. Here in Anchorage, Mulcahy gave the experience of any minor league ballpark in the States. The anonymity of being at a ballpark was here. Baseball as entertainment being first, community after that. Not that it's a bad thing but I had become accustomed to seeing things in the state as something uniquely their own. The "professional" approach to baseball was here.

The PA announcer was pleasant but always selling something. I saw my only sighting of a mascot in the ABL at Mulcahy: a huge, friendly moose in a Pilot uniform and old fashioned pilot's gear atop its head. He silently went about hugging and playing with children, as to be expected. Two waitresses served beer and hot dogs to those sitting in box seats only, just like back at home. The ballpark did have the wonderful smell of burgers and onions on a grill, and thats what they had at the concession stands ($4 for the Onionburger, $2 for hot dogs). Beer was $3 - $4 for bottles and a few choice brews on tap. The radio broadcast of the game can be heard throughout the ballpark so you never missed a moment. The Pilots were the only team on my trip that I saw that had their names on the back of their jerseys. And just like back in the lower forty-eight, the bathrooms were not all that sanitary.

The game itself was a laugher. I had seen both teams before: the Panners on Sunday night in Fairbanks and the Pilots just two days before at Mat-Su. But where the Pilots relied on bunts and "small ball" on Tuesday, tonight they were just rocking Alaska pitching with solid hitting to take a 3-1 lead in the third. And where the Panners I saw four days ago had some good slugging and wonderful pitching, tonight they looked inept on defense and couldn't get anybody on base past the second inning. The Glacier Pilots ended up winning the game 5 - 1.

But the thing that really stuck with me from this night was the on-feild announcer for the Pilots. From the first inning on, I kept wondering who this very pretty blonde woman was walking around the ballpark with a microphone in her hand. She wore very short denim shorts and a glittery pink halter top with enough space to show the tattoo on her back. She talked to the scouts with the radar guns with a sauciness of a truck stop waitress and wherever she went she got whistles from most of the men of the 500 or so in attendance that night. "Crazy as a fox, the Pilots management..." I thought as I watched this lady strut onto the field for between-inning promotions where she encouraged young girls to hula hoop, led a kindergarten chorus for "Take Me out to the Ballgame", and read raffle ticket numbers. Sex appeal, baby.

The promotion that I couldn't stop laughing at was the "Pepsi Crawl", sponsored by Pepsi, naturally. Two tweener-aged boys were selected for this romp as oversized hats were placed over their heads, then spun around by the pretty woman's two assistants, and then the boys crawl up the baseline ten yards or so to where a twelve-pack box of Pepsi is waiting for the one who arrives first. The comedy I drew was not necessarily by the boys doing this summer picnic exercise, but in the blonde lady's commentary on the proceedings. When she was explaining the instructions of the game, she had the emotion of a football coach with stern pronunciations of each word and the feeling that she would bite your head off if you asked a question. The game began with her barking, "SPIN 'EM!" and her assistants obliged. The drill instructor kept muttering "Spin them more!" as the spinning went on a little longer than I thought it should. Finally she commanded her minions to stop and help the guinea pigs to their knees. When the boys were ready, the pink lady bellowed, "CRAWL!". The boys went about in their dizzines with the laughter from the stands as the soundtrack along with the lady's "getting in their face" shouts. "You're not even close! Where are you going?", were some of the nuggets heard. One of the boys got to the box first and polite applause and pats on the back were given to both of the young men. "Good job!" the lady smiled as she turned off her mic and walked off the field laughing, satisfied. I looked at a person sitting next to me with the look of someone who couldn't beleive what he just saw. "Man, she's tough." he said to me as I nodded.

I guess that's just life in the big city.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Scouts, Thieves, and Irritants

Anchorage Glacier Pilots vs. Mat-Su Miners
July 11, 2006 Hermon Bros. Field @ the Alaska State Fairgrounds, Palmer, AK.

The Chevy Tracker pulled up next to me in my minivan in the parking lot. After being on the road in Alaska for the last two days, this car stuck out because it was new. Every car and truck I saw previously had some sort of dent, ding, weather damage, or at least it had a sheen of dirt, mud, dead insects, or all of the above. This Tracker looked like it came straight form the lot. Glistening blue color with nary a scratch or smudge on it.

The passenger door opened and out jumped this kid in a Cub Scouts uniform. He was a little puffy boy with his cherub face and his paunch accentuated by the blue shirt and yellow kerchief. With his brown curly hair, he looked like a brunette version of the kid from Bad Santa. He closed the car door and then froze. "Hey, mom..." he screeched, "I broke the new car door handle!" I looked at him and sure enough in his hand he held a door handle . How did the kid do that, I thought holding back laughter. His mother came to him and she was absolutely non-plussed by this. Taking the broken piece from him, she told him not to worry and that the car was already broke. She tidied him up a bit and then said, "Let's go get with your troupe, honey. Now, remember, be on your best behavior. It's Scout Night."

And thus began the second stop on my tour of ballparks in the Alaska Baseball League.

Hermon Bros. Field is located on the far end of the Alaska State Fairgrounds just on the outskirts of the city of Palmer. The Chugach Mountains come right up to the end of the gravel parking lot and lend their beauty. Alaska, if you've never been, is worth it just to see the mountains throughout the entire state. Hidden behind some trees and a cyclone fence was the entrance to the ballpark which had simple wooden shack for a ticket booth and a wooden plank above it exclaiming Hermon Bros. Field, home of the Mat-Su Miners (Mat-Su is short for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough which houses the Matanuska Valley, Alaska's agricultural district). A bunch of kids in scout uniforms were there at the gate and a scoutmaster was handing out tickets. As I walked past, I couldn't help but try for some free tickets. "I was a scout in Pacifica, California from 1971 to 1974. Do I qualify?" The scoutmaster smiled but didn't know what to do. He was probably thinking he had enough tickets and if I had bothered to bring it up..."It's alright, sir. I'll buy my tickets. ", I assured him. Tickets were only five bucks and I'm not that cheap. He continued to smile as I went to the ticket window.

The entrance to the ballpark is most unusual. Normally when you enter a ballpark, it's either at home plate or anywhere near third or first base or all of the above. At Hermon Bros., you enter right at the center field wall and you have to walk the path either to the left or the right to get to the grandstands...and you can't see the field til you get past the outfield wall. Too far to walk? A man in a green and gold golf cart (the colors of the Miners, naturally) is there to give you a ride if you need it. He had two in the cart when he approached me. "Hop in, young fella.", he beckoned. I jumped in and got a lift to the grandstands.

The grandstand behind home plate are wooden and have real homey feel. These were the box seats and only season ticket holders could sit there (of course, i sat there for most of the game). Aluminum bleachers line the first and third base sides. Three wooden cabins are right behind the grandstand: the cabin on the first base side are the restrooms (no sanicans!), the home plate cabin is the concessions ($3 for a foot long hot dog, $1 for peanuts among some of the fare), and the third base cabin is for beer and souveniers (there is Budweiser and Corona in bottles for $3, but on tap is a local brewery's hefeweizen, porter, pale ale, and amber for $4...wonderful!).Bought a few beers and a shirt for a gift for someone back in the lower 48. The whole place was funky and had a charm about it. But what I couldn't get out of my mind was the rusted storage lockers and dead tractors and trucks that were all around the ballpark. A ballfield in a junkyard, I wrote in my notes. And yet those mountains just made this place look awesome. I struck up a conversation with the husband and wife team serving beers. I said I was touring the ABL parks and the gentleman brought up that he was writing a book on the golf courses of Alaska. "Are there many?", I asked. "No, but they are interesting.", he said leaving more to my imagination than anything (moose delay?). The lady asked how I liked their park. "Very unique." I nodded after a moment. "Well, we like it." she smiled. I hope I didn't offend.

Most of the 682 in attendance that night were indeed Boy Scouts, Webeloes, and Cub Scouts. The constant din of noise was present throughout the evening. The boys were silent only when they were on the field to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and when the National Anthem was played (an American Idol-esque singer on tape). Kids running around or congregating in medium to large sized groups were everywhere. I wondered if they cared about the game going on. If you wanted something from the concession stand, forget it. The line died down only after the seventh inning. No line for the beer cabin, though!

The Pilots and Miners were involved in a tight game up to the fourth inning. The pitching was fantastic: great control and nice fastballs. The Miners, as a matter fact, featured three pitchers from the NCAA champion Oregon State Beavers and the pitcher tonight was one of them, Daniel Turpen. I walked over by the Miners dugout, put my shirt on the ground, took pictures of the scenery, and watched a couple of innings there. I started talking to this gentleman in a Miners windbreaker and talked about being a Miners fan. "Just my speed," he beamed. I told him of my travels and where I was headed next. "You're going to Anchorage next? Never catch me doing that. I don't like the big city." I stifled my laugh. How would he feel about Seattle, Boston, New York?

After a moment, another gentleman approached us and got in the conversation. I was informed that this man was the general manager of the Miners, Pete Christopher. We shook hands and told him what a nice ballpark he had here. He said thanks but he kept looking around at the kids. He seemed a bit irritated. "The kids are in fine mode tonight." he said under his breath. He then looked at the field. "God, that is just ugly!" "What?", I asked. "The dead spots!" he said pointing to the field. I knew what he was talking about because it was the first thing I noticed when I saw the field. The all-grass field had big patches of dead grass throughout, both infield and outfield. He talked of how he resodded the field after last season to prepare for an Alaskan winter. But the winter was schizophrenic: a steady snowpack melted early, followed by rain, and then more snow. The inconcistency killed off some of the grass (apparently, once you get snow, the grass can deal with it but not snow-melt-rain-snow). Mr. Christopher sighed. "The price you pay for having a grass field in Alaska." All three of us then watched the inning as the Pilots scored three runs because the Miners couldn't cover a bunt. The players converged on the ball but when the player getting the ball turned to throw to the appropriate base, he found nobody there covering the base. This happened twice in the inning; the second resulted in the Pilot baserunner, seeing nobody covering third on a bunt and he coming from second, continued home just getting in before the late throw. Mr. Christopher ws not pleased by this. "They can't cover bunts?", he asked to no one. He then excused himself to get ready for a between-inning promotion. I shook his hand and wished him luck.

I then turned to retrieve my shirt and found that it was gone. "What?" I said to no one. "Somebody stole my shirt on SCOUT NIGHT!?!" I thought about all the slogans of the Scouts: honor,truthfull, be prepared...well, maybe not me, not now.I looked around to see if someone was trying on the XXL article of cl0thing and catch them red handed. Alas, no one was doing this. I went to the lost and found to see if some honorable kid did the right thing . "Some unfortunate soul misplaced his souvenier and I am doing the right thing to give it to you, nice lady in the Lost and Found booth." Yeah , right. No, they didn't have my shirt, either.

Well, I took that as a cue to be on my way. I meandered a bit aound the park til I got to the minivan. Despite my "loss" and the disbelief I felt of a Scout taking the shirt, it was still a nice experience. The crowd was very boisterous and the Miner experience is definitely their own. A nice night. The Pilots won the game, 4-1 and I notched another ballpark in my belt. I got back to my car and looked again at the Chevy Tracker with a busted right passenger door handle. That laugh came again, folowed by a nod, a shrug, and a need to move on.

A note here: If you want to follow up on this team and the adventures of the GM, Pete Christopher, look them up at They have a nice website and it was interesting to read Mr. Christopher's notes. They are nice people trying to run a club and it shows.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Add People

Athletes in Action Fire vs. Alaska Goldpanners
July 9, 2oo6 Growden Memorial Park, Fairbanks, AK.

Begin the tour of baseball ballparks in the state of Alaska!

Well, yeah, and visit in-laws too, but I could now visit the most well known summer collegiate baseball league in America, next to the Cape Cod League.The Alaska Baseball League. OK, yes, I am the only guy in my vast circle of friends that know there is summer collegiate baseball. Yes, I had to endure the sarcasm and snickers of people quizzing me, "You're going to Alaska to do what? Baseball in Alaska?" I even got that from the cousins living in and about the Anchorage area. Geeze.

But now all that was over. I arrived in Alaska two days before, borrowed a minivan from my cousin, John and his family, and on this Sunday drove the close to four hundred miles from Anchorage to Fairbanks to see my first game of my tour. I planned it, booked motels and tickets, thought about it all spring long, and now I was here.

And I stood there at the corner of 2nd and Wilbur in Fairbanks, the site of Growden Memorial Park and the home of the Alaska Goldpanners, and my first reaction was, "Dear lord, what a dump!"

From the outside and looking at the facility, it seemed to have no symmetry. A bombshelter-era grandstand stood at home plate and then everything was just tacked on from there. Wooden bleachers down the left field side, aluminum on the right. The bricks on the grandstand were painted a faded whit and atop the grandstand was weather-beaten sign, hand painted citing this as the home of the Goldpanners. Sanicans stood on the periphery of the facility, makeshift wooden booths served for tickets and concessions.

Inside the ballpark was alright. Good views of the Alaska Interior and the mountains in the distance but the field was one of those things I hate but know for some places is a necessary evil: grass outfiels and an artificial turf infield. Well, the area behind home plate spelled out "GOLDPANNERS". Ugly, but they do have spirit, I guess.

Now, if I seem like I am being too harsh, you are probably right. It must be awfully hard to run a facility in conditions where it is awfully warm in the summer (as a matter of fact, on this day it 85* 10:30 in the evening when the game ended) and frightfully cold in the winter. It's just that after being on the website and looking up the Goldpanners, I expected a franchise that really made a trip to the ballpark a wonderful event. The Goldpanners are considered the Yankees of the ABL and summer collegiate baseball. Just below the press box is painted all the years the Panners won ABL titles followed by their national titles (16 in total, I do believe). They are the oldest team in the league and their alumni boasts names such as Dave Winfield, Tom Seaver, and Barry Bonds, to name a few. So when I came to the ballpark, I was slightly disappointed. Good prices for everything from admission ($5) to cans of beer ($2 for 12 oz. can). I bought a couple of souvenir hats touting the 100th anniversary of the Midnight Sun Game (played on the day of the summer solstice) that were $10 a pop. Not bad, I just expected more.

And then the people came into the stands.

There was probably about 200-300 in the stands and each one was having a good time. Three people sitting down in the first base box seats were drinking beers and chanting stuff that we heard back when we were young. Chestnuts like "Pitcher's got a rubber arm!" or "Batter can't swing!". It was very refreshing to hear them especially in this day and age when harsher things are said. And they didn't wear out their welcome either. Their chants were nicely timed and spaced. Up in the right field bleachers were a whole section of guys and gals with kazoos (which were being sold at the souvenir stand for $2) and did cheers every now and then. But the big moment for them was in the 7th inning stretch. They don't play "Take me Out to the Ballgame" at Growden: a tape of the Beat Farmers' "Happy Boy" is played and the entire section stood up and sang, clapped, played kazoo. It was golden. Also, a shout out to the between-the-innings music selector. Live versions of Alice Cooper, Elvis Costello, and Steve Miller was played and it was sad when they had to fade it out when the game resumed. These songs were versions I had never heard before and it was capturing the bands at a good time. It was the personal touches that made it a very nice evening.

The Goldpanners won the game 7-2 on some excellent pitching and consistent hitting (the Panners had runners on base in every inning and had a 7-0 lead in the sixth) and I was glad to get the first game on my trip in the books. A little later, I was over at this saloon a few blocks away from the park when I noticed some of the right field section having some drinks. After it was noted that I wasn't from Fairbanks, a woman said that I didn't catch them on a good night. "Sometimes we get a little more boisterous. Then, it's really fun."

Hmmm. Maybe I better go back. Well, we'll see.

A correction from the staff...

I was just reminded that in the previous entry, "Baseball...with Uncle Kevin", I mentioned the wrong town. The two of us went to the town of Edison and supped at the Edison Inn, not Everson. Everson is a little farther north and we went no where near there. My apologies to both towns and my thanks to Kev for pointing out my mistake. Also, please excuse the typing and spelling mistakes that pepper through all of my writings. I'm still figuring out this site and when I find the spell check, I'll be on it.

And thank you for reading.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Baseball on the Fourth of July....
with my Uncle Kevin

Everett Merchants vs. Skagit Eagles
July 3, 2006 Skagit Valley Dream Field Mount Vernon, WA.

Aloha Knights vs. Bellingham Bells
July 4, 2006 Joe Martin Field Bellingham, WA.

All through the months of early 2006, I looked forward to the summer of this year when I planned on going on many road trips to baseball fields wherever I could find them. Majors, minors, collegiate...whatever. I was going. I would be on the internet for hours looking up schedules and leagues to see where and when I could cobble an itinerary. I had so many possible trips drawn up. The big trip would be Alaska in July: see the ballparks of the Alaska Baseball League and visit my in-laws throughout the state. When I would return in late July, trips whenever I felt like it. One-day trips, weekends, long was the limit.

The Fourth of July weekend came and I thought I could sneak in some collegiate games. As luck would have it, I could do a game in Mt. Vernon and another one in Bellingham. Nice little road trip to get me in the mode for Alaska and such. Booked a motel in Mt. Vernon and everything was golden. Baseball on the Fourth of July in small town America. Nice start, I thought.

The morning of July 3 was uneventful. No major packing or planning really had to be done: a change of clothes and some notebooks and that's it. Made sure the cats had plenty of food and water, car was gassed up. Game time in Mt. Vernon was 5:30 in the afternoon so I had plenty of time to get there.

And then the phone rang. My uncle, Kevin, was calling to see what I was doing for the holiday. I told him of my plans and that I was booked up. "Baseball in Mt. Vernon and Belligham? They have teams?", he asked. I told him of the leagues the towns belonged to (the Pacific International League and West Coast Collegiate Baseball League, repectively) and what I knew of their history. Kev was intrigued and asked if he could tag along. He thought it might be good to get out for a night away from his duties as husband, father, and grandfather. I hesitated for a bit. I felt like I just wanted to be by myself. Kev can sometimes get with you and change your plans, not that that is a bad thing. Well, what plans did I really have? As long as we made it to these ballparks for the game, that's all that mattered. And then I thought it would be great to have Kev's influence and input on the adventure. "Sure.", I said and plans were set to pick him up. This was going to be fun, we agreed.

We got on the road and my worries of Kev changing plans came out front and center. I said that I had reservations for a motel in Mt. Vernon. Kev suggested we break it and stay up in Bellingham. I told him that I had made the arrangements online and that I couldn't break it without forfeiting some money. "Pish posh..." Kev countered, or something to that effect. Kev then got on his cell phone, called up the motel, and said he was me and that someone in our family was sick and that I couldn't make it tonight. He said "thank you" and hung up. "All settled , Paul, and she mentioned nothing of you owing any money." Kev smiled. Well, OK. I wasn't married to the idea of Mt. Vernon anyway.

And then it dawned on me: Kevin lived in Mt. Vernon for two years when he was in high school. His father, my grandfather, bought and operated a laundry ther in the late sixties and he uprooted his family from Bainbridge Island to live there, much to my grandmother's and Kev's chagrin. "That's why you don't want to stay in Mt. Vernon, right? You hate the place." Kev laughed and concurred. He hates the town, hated his experience there, didn't much care for the people, etc. The trip up north was full of stories of the two years he lived there, how he loved the beauty of the land but yet how he couldn't wait to leave.The feeling he always had that the town was "dead end". Mt. Vernon is an agricultural town, then and now, and after coming from Bainbridge Island this type of living was not to my uncle's liking (then again, mine also). He even said that everytime he drives through the town when he is on I-5, he has to flip off the downtown area, which he did again when we entered. "Well, is it alright that we're going to a baseball game there?", I had to ask. "Oh, sure. But we will be leaving.", he said most assuredly.

So we headed to Skagit Valley Community College where Skagit Valley Dream Field was located.. I was a little wary of the "dream" in the name of the field. Is this a blatent attempt to cash in on the feelings of the movie and what baseball means even to those here in Skagit County, Washington? After a long walk from a parking lot and through a park, you enter the field and immediately realize the name. The Seattle Mariners and Boeing have a program called "Dream Fields" where they have spent money to upgrade alll kinds of baseball fields, from Little League to collegiate, and Skagit Valley was completed two years ago. A permanent sign in right field promotes the project and Boeing and the Mariners. The field has beautiful views of the North Cascades and the lush land around it. The ballpark had perfect grass and infield. It sort of looked out of place...what's a nice stadium like this doing at a community college? A nice concrete grandstand behind home plate. A hot, sunny late afternoon just augmented the feeling that this was good decision to come here.

The atmosphere at Dream Field is very laid back. The ticket and concession employees are teenagers who probaly wished they weren't there but were friendly. The concession were located in a small trailer with hot dogs on a rotisserie that were getting too black, red vines, peanuts, and tubs of drinks. The PA announcer was low key and gave you just enough information along with pleas for people to return foul balls (an army ten year-old boys were poised around the perimeter of the park...apparently a foul ball gets you a free item from the concession stand...make out like a bandit, those kids). Picnic tables lined the outfield lines and the one thing that really grabbed me, especially in this day and age, was there were no lights in the park (old time baseball, indeed).

The crowd was very silent and numbered about sixty or so. Most were scouts, parents, or girlfriends. No one cheering or yelling for either team. The feeling was of encouragement for all to do well. It was perfect to hear the sounds of the game. We could hear the umpires very clearly and the coaches barking instructions. The game itself was a wonderful chess match as Skagit took an early 2-0 lead and then Everett scored once in the eighth and again in the ninth to tie the game and it remained that way into the tenth when Kev and I decided to leave (the darkness was also approaching and the game was probably going to be called soon anyway...uh, huh: and then I found out Skagit won the game in the bottom of the tenth...when will I ever learn not to leave a game before it is over? probably never...).
We were both very hungry and, thanks to Kevin, we had to find a place to stay. A great place to watch a game, this Skagit Dream Field, and a good experience. Now, on the road to Bellingham.

Rather than go I-5 up, we ventured up north via Chuckanut Drive. If you are ever up in northwestern Washington, you should take this drive. It starts off cutting through farmland and the pushes into the Samish Mountains and then hugs along the coastline of Chuckanut Bay. Wonderful views of the San Juans, even at sunset. Consider it a must. Kev led me to the town of Everson and the Everson Inn where we ate a nice pub dinner, had a few beers, and played shuffleboard (Kev overtook my early lead to win the game). Got into Bellingham, immediately found a motel, and crashed.

I lived in Bellingham in 1988 so I woke up early before Kev and drove around the town and saw what was new, what was different, what was the way of waking up, I guess. Picked up Kev after a few hours and had breakfast in the Fairhaven district. Fairhaven is an artsy, hippie-esque place with lots of restaurants, furniture and craft shops, and of course a wonderful bookshop. Kev and I meandered around for a while and then Kev wanted to find a place to watch the Germany/Italy World Cup match. We were recomended to a the Boundary Bay Brewpub downtown so there we went. Brew and soccer before baseball...but of course.

Kev and I got to the ballpark just before the firat pitch. The Bellingham Bells were the home team and Joe Martin Field is their stadium. The whole stadium district there in Bellingham ws being remodeled so there was lots of yellow tape and plywood everywhere. Joe Martin had been hosting ballgames since the 40's and it definitely needed a makeover. The old wooden grandstand, stretching from first to third, was being sanded and repainted. Where Skagit was a lush green field, Joe Martin was a serviceable field with strange valleys in the outfield and rough infield. The PA announcer here was loud and always selling something. Where Skagit was quiet and about the game, Joe Martin was like any other ballpark selling the baseball amusement park. A yellow bird in a Bells uniform walked around enticing children. Smells of hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill were welcome. A hidden table off of first base was the beer garden. Nothing was over four dollars for the concessions. A large burm on the left field foul pole was a great place to sit and soak in the sun or let the kids run around. A nice 80* day. And as Kev and I kept telling each other, we were doing the perfect American ritual: baseball on the Fourth of July. "Happy 4th, Paul." "Happy Independence Day, Kev."

The thing that struck me though watching the game was the difference in the two teams playing. Bellingham had uniforms that didn't seem right. Not all the players were wearing matching hats: some had blue hats with a "B" in the center, some had red. Now, I understand that this is a two month collegiate league and wherever you can cut corners or get cheap uniforms is understandable (Skagit and Everett had uniforms that were definitely hand-me-downs). But the opposing team was the Aloha Knights, a team that played out of Gresham, Oregon. Their colors were red, black, and white and their attire looked incredibly sharp. Everyone matched and, frankly, they looked better than some major league teams. Then it hit me: this is a team from Oregon...also known as Nike-land. Yep, there were a bunch of swooshes all over their uniforms, caps, and footwear. Then the name: Knights. Phil Knight, the owner of Nike. (Kev actually talked to a Knight player and said that the team was actually owned by Mr. Knight's wife but, yes, the team name was an honor to themselves ). Oh, yes, baseball and Nike. And it's the 4th. Proud to be an American.

But good uniforms didn't help Aloha that day. Bellingham scored three runs early and then added two more to win the game 5-0. By that point, Kev and I were itching to get back home. We both had 4th functions to attend to that night so we got on the road. We talked about how cool it was to see baseball and the ballparks here and how a quick road trip can just perk up your senses. We talked of doing it again. I mentioned my upcoming Alaska trip and Kev told me to take lots of notes and pictures. It was a good time. Kev did add his Kev-ness to this trip and I was glad we did it.

And as we drove through Mt. Vernon on our way to Seattle, Kevin flipped off the city center once again.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A thought from the staff....

The "Curse of A-Rod" = no team with Alex Rodriguez on its roster will ever win a World Series.

Our thought = A-Rod wil win the title when he is forty-two years old, mostly as a DH

with the Seattle Mariners.