“The region is altogether valueless. After entering it, there is nothing to do but leave.”
Lt. Edward Beale, Congress report on Arizona, 1858
While I don’t completely agree with the good lieutenant, I must say that I am glad to be home. You see, we weren’t intending on going to Spring training this year. My health is still a bit dodgy and being away from our home base is a bit scary right now. We aren’t habitual Spring Training junkies, but have been a few times and I’ve always had a good time. I had a lot of fun this time as well, but it was a little different from I had expected.
The impetus for even going down at all was the wedding of two of our closest friends, who happened to be from Phoenix. Which happened to be on my birthday. Which happened to be over the weekend of my birthday. When the universe clearly wants you to go Spring Training, you go!
For my birthday gift, my wife gave me her credit card and let me get tickets to all of the games I wanted to attend, which–after I restrained myself–wound up being 4 games. I found a Motel 6 close to both Sloan Park and the dialysis center that I would be utilizing twice during our short stay and booked our room.More details on that to follow.
That is far too long of a prologue, so lets just jump right into day 1.
We ended up leaving our house a bit later than intended, but other than one issue with CD selection (Yes children, old people still use physical media to listen to music) the drive was uneventful. Traffic was easy until we hit the outskirts of Phoenix, but we still made it to Scottsdale Stadium just a little bit after the Giants v. Puerto Rico game had begun. We immediately saw an issue. After driving around the ballpark and nearby environs there was literally no parking. All the lots were either full or blocked off with “Non Event Parking” sign. We even tried to find a place to park away from the ballpark and having a car service take us to the game with no avail. By this point it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten anything for many hours, so we cut our losses and changed our quest to find lunch.
Fortunately nearby was a restaurant serving Cornish pasties–as well as air conditioning, so we went in for a fine lunch topped off with an amazing banoffee pie and began to feel human again. at this point it was late enough to check in to our motel, so we headed in that general direction.
After a quick trip to the Walmart, which was decked out in Cubs merchandise, we arrived at our temporary home.
Do you ever get a strange feeling that things aren’t good and might soon get much worse? That was the feeling in my gut as we checked in. Don’t get me wrong, all the staff that we dealt with during our stay were perfectly nice. Very helpful and professional, even “upgrading” us to a handicapped room with no extra charge.
The room though? Not so good. The sort of place that you’d expect Norman Bates to work at, were “Psycho” set in 2017. Upon walking into our non-smoking room we were hit by a cloud of nicotine–something that persisted throughout our stay minus the one day when nicotine was swapped for pot smoke. There was a dirty boot print in our shower and the whole place looked like it had been cleaned by a disinterested teenager. Yes, I should have complained, but I was afraid any other room would be worse, so we soldiered on and kept the room.
Eventually we fell asleep and were not murdered in the night. I set those odds at 50-50.
Today was exciting because we were going to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I never get tired of saying that and love getting to refer to them as such) at Sloan Park, a ballpark I had yet to see since it opened only a few years ago. With Arizona ignoring Daylight Savings Time, I mentally thought that the game started at 12:05, the same as at home, so we arrived an hour sooner than expected. Oops. They soon opened the gates and we found our way inside and immediately grabbed some hot dogs, pretzels and water. We headed down to our seats and ate our lunch, fortunately, in some of the rare shade. The game against the Mariners was fun, not counting the final score, and it was good to see Bryant, Rizzo and the rest of the crew at it again, as well as see prospects like Eloy Jiminez in person.
Sloan Park is gorgeous and I do wish we had explored it a bit more, but the shady seats were too tempting to leave and so we remained sedentary for the length of the game. The timing worked out perfectly for us to enjoy the ballgame and get to my dialysis appointment in Mesa on time.
I did manage to get my photo with the Sloan Park marquee before we left though. I DO have my priorities after all.
After my 4 hours getting my blood cleaned we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to the motel of doom for the night. As you can no doubt tell, we are some late night party animals. Like the kids in the pool. Right outside of our room. Until after midnight.
Today we were headed to Tempe to see the Padres play the Angels. Looking back on it now, I don’t know why we didn’t just go and see the Cubs play the Mariners in Peoria, but seeing 2 of my favorite teams play each other was not a bad option either.
On the way we stopped for breakfast at a Whataburger, which I had never tried before. It had been described to me as “the Texas In ‘n Out” so I had to try it. Though it was breakfast time I felt the need to get the eponymous burger, but lo! On the breakfast menu was biscuits and gravy…one of my all time favorite meals. Decisions, decisions. In the end, although my appetite has been waning as of late, I ordered both. And finished them too.
While eating, a woman at a table across from us asked me about my cane and other, increasingly personal questions, which I answered, since I generally don’t know when to shut up. We finished our meals, ended the conversation and continued on to Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim…who train in Tempe, Arizona. Why not add a few more locations for the poor Angels?
Unfortunately unlike Sloan Park there were virtually no shaded seats at Tempe Diablo Stadium and I started to bake from the moment I sat in our seats watching the teams warm up. Kindly, Lauren went and got us a huge frozen margarita concoction to try to cool us down. Yes, I realize that alcohol probably has an adverse effect on remaining hydrated, but it was delicious. More importantly it was cold.
We downed that sucker fast enough that I didn’t even have time/ presence of mind to get a photo. The bottom of the drink vessel was actually molded into a baseball which Lauren wanted to keep, but was rebuffed by an usher as we left and forced to throw it away. We will never forget you, margarita baseball.
By the second inning the sun was beating down on my poor little body and we decided to leave the seats in favor of shade. It turns out that many people were doing the exact thing that we were and the mass of humanity clogged the concourse and made it extra hard just to walk around, let alone pop into the team store.
We decided that for the sake of my health (we still had a wedding reception and yet one more game to attend on our Arizona adventure) we should leave and go back to the air-conditioned motel room, to rest before dialysis.
I must have looked the way that I felt, because a kindly usher had me sit down for a moment and called to have a cart come to drive us over to our car. Unfortunately, once at the car we were blocked in by a fire truck parked directly behind us. We sat in the car for at least 20 minutes until a firefighter came back and moved the truck and in doing so, free our car.
We drove back to the motel where I had a short and cool nap. Our room hadn’t been cleaned yet, nor would it be that entire day.
I had my dialysis and then immediately began my backslide with dinner at The Cracker Barrel. We only recently got one in California and it’s a bit of a drive from our home–not that Phoenix isn’t–so on the rare occasion that we find one we are there!
We returned to our uncleaned room, got new towels from the front desk and looked forward to a long sleep in, since the following day was baseball-free.
I’ll try to keep this short since there is virtually no baseball connection. Today was my birthday, as well as the reception for our friends’ wedding. They had done a real wedding ceremony, very small, the day prior and then had their reception at a local barcade. For those unaware, a barcade is a combination bar and arcade, generally featuring older video games for those of us that grew up playing them.
There was lots of good food, good drinks, virtually unlimited free games and so a good time was had by all.
That evening, Lauren and I planned on going to a charity function to raise money for clean drinking water in the Dominican Republic and reportedly featuring many baseball players in attendance. Since I had been virtually shut out of autographs the whole trip, I thought this would be a fun way to celebrate my birthday. The universe had other plans and struck Lauren down with some sort of bug, so we got halfway to the venue and turned around to go back to the motel. We grabbed some Sonic for me and called it a night.
Today was our last day in Arizona and we were pumped to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I told you I loved saying it) take on the Oakland A’s at the Cubs old ballpark, Hohokam Stadium. I was primed and ready to go. Earlier I had visited the Walmart again and gotten all sorts of defense against the sun. Cooling towels, sunscreen and a big floppy hat were amongst the items purchased.
We took a little bit of time before going to the ballpark, which was very impressive to me. No, it isn’t as pretty or nicely designed like Sloan Park or Camelback, but it has a lot of charm and I would choose it ahead of the Brewers park in Maryvale or even Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The A’s have really made it their own, with history on display throughout the concourse. There was even some living history as Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, George Foster and Blue Moon Odom were on hand to greet fans and sign autographs for a small donation. The Cubs and the Fergie Jenkins Foundation do a similar thing at Sloan Park and I think opportunities like that are really a cool thing for fans.
I grabbed a basic hot dog, which was at least a foot long, and we got to our seats. Stamper the Elephant was cavorting around and playing with kids as we waited for the game to begin. Once again we really had no shade and I literally went through 2 bottles of water before the first pitch was thrown. I tried to tough it out, but the unjust kicked my butt, even with all of my sun gear in place.
We saw Jake Arrieta pitch a few innings, watched my boys hit and slowly made our way out of the park and began our long drive to my parents’ house in San Diego.
The one big benefit of driving to San Diego rather than Orange County is the fact that you travel by way of Yuma, Arizona, home of Chretin’s Mexican Restaurant. I’ve known about Chretin’s since I was a child. One of my pajama shirts in childhood was a Chretin’s t-shirt.
My dad used to fly for the Navy and there was a landing site in Yuma. Whenever they’d land there, they would head over to Chretin’s for magaritas and the famous Chretin’s “killer nachos.” It got to be a competition as to who could eat the most nachos, with the reigning champ getting his name painted on the wall. Sadly, the old building is no more, but the “killer nachos” live on in a new location.
Had we not stopped in, I think my family may have disowned us. The nachos were amazing and the margaritas were good, cold and cheap. We left perfectly content, even ordering a dozen nachos to-go for my family.
We got to my parents’ house safely and were thrilled to sleep in a bed that we knew had clean sheets.
Overall, it was a good time and I’d like to head down again next spring. I’ll need to find some defenses and new strategies to fight the sun and begin collecting my pennies so we can stay in a place a slight bit better than the Mesa Motel 6. Next year I’d like to get out to the back fields to check out the minor league guys and maybe check out some “B” games as well.
I’m already looking forward to it!
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
Full set of edited photos is found here!
Let me make this clear. The Angels are my second favorite team in baseball. Most years I will root for them to go 162-0. This year, however, I was pulling for a 158-4 record and the first two games of the season were two of my anticipated and hoped for losses. And they try to tell me that dreams don’t come true.
We arrived to Angel Stadium shortly before the gates opened and parked literally right next to the home plate entrance. The stadium lot is only $10 this season, either due to more parking now that the Amtrak station moved down the road or the fact that the Angels were tired of getting undercut by nearby businesses renting out spaces in their parking facilities. I was prepared to pay up to $20 due to my lack of mobility and discomfort walking the half mile from the outlying parking options, so to see the price at half of the cost to park at Disneyland, I was elated.
The aforementioned lack of mobility discouraged me from heading to the first base side of the ballpark, where the Cubs dugout was, to seek autographs or baseballs and Lauren and I headed straight to our seats above the bullpens. I spent much of the pre-game as close to the field as I could get, watching the Cubs take batting and fielding practice, watching Jon Lester warm up and chatting with fellow Cub fans.
The interesting thing about the pre-game activity was the fact that Manny Ramirez was hanging out in left field with Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber and even shagging a few baseballs himself. No one called to him for autographs or baseballs, and I wonder if no one recognized him, or if people just didn’t care. I tend to think it was the former.
While I didn’t notice any of the Cubs signing autographs at all during the pre-game, I later heard that Jake Arrieta was shagging baseballs in the outfield, pulling a pen from his back pocket, signing the ball and tossing it into the stands, which I happen to love. Post-game I saw the bullpen guys throw at least a half-dozen baseballs into the crowd, so the early reports of the Cubs being not so fan friendly on the road seem to me to be a few jilted autograph dealers upset that maybe the players weren’t signing a dozen baseballs for every fan who asked.
While I was watching the Cubs get ready, Lauren did a reconnaissance mission of our seating area so that we could plan our food for the evening. I like nothing better than a basic hot dog at the ballpark, but sometimes it’s nice to branch out. We opted for the burger bites, which are essentially White Castle sliders, minus the onions. They were topped with a sweet “thousand island-esque” sauce that was fine, but really, I could take it or leave it. They were served in a bucket with fries that were average ballpark fries. Overall, I’d get them again.
In the same vein, later in the game we shared a sticky sweet strawberry “rum-a-rita” in a lurid shade of red and the basic Angel dog. Both items will easily be repeated as the season goes on.
The game was great, as Jon Lester was dealing against an anemic Angel offense and the Cubs bats must have brought some of the heat of Las Vegas with them when the came to Anaheim. Home runs by Matt Szczur, Dexter Fowler and one-half of the Bryzzo Souvenir Company as well as a pure hustle double by David “Grandpa” Ross highlighted the offensive onslaught.
There was a very curious moment in the top of the second inning when Angel pitcher, Andrew Heaney threw one pitch to Anthony Rizzo, stepped off the mound and disappeared into the dugout. I wasn’t sure whether he had been caught doing something illegal to the baseball, but I never saw the umpire gesture that he had been tossed from the game, and immediately jumping on Twitter, learned that he was dealing with a nosebleed. I don’t know if there is any correlation at all, but the Angels placed him on the disabled list today with a muscle strain. Not a good thing for a franchise that is already very thin in the pitching department.
Lester pitched 7 strong innings and only allowed 4 hits, which marks a significantly better start than his first Cub start last season. Later, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop all made appearances out of the bullpen and all looked very sharp.
As I said, we were seated right above the bullpens, in an area with a few fairly vocal groups of Cub fans, including a drunk man in a Cubs onesie and two of my favorite people from work, Shaun and Arvin. I really want the Cubs hockey-style sweatshirt that Arvin was showing off.
We left the game with little to no hassle and as we sat in the parking lot of the Big A I plugged in my iPhone and played “Go Cubs, Go” since the Angels didn’t have the common courtesy to play it for us after the “W.”
Thank you Angels for the 2-0 start. You can start winning now. At least until you head out to Wrigley later this summer! As usual, a gallery of game photos can be found right here.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping Baseballs!
While I don’t fully understand the reasons that the Cubs would play an exhibition game on the day before they open the season against the team with whom they are going to play to start the aforementioned season I cannot complain too much. The fairly ill-conceived game provided me with two opportunities to see my Cubs in my town, since tickets to the actual opening day were selling for slightly more than I was willing, or able, to pay. Adding to that, the fact that the exhibition was taking place on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was sold on the idea.
The crowd for the game was significantly less than I had anticipated, possibly due to the fact that the two teams were playing “for real” the following day, and there was a healthy number of Cub fans in attendance, many located on the first base side close to the Cubs dugout.
The thing that irritated me a bit was the fact that while Joe Maddon started the same lineup that will be starting on Opening Day, the Angels didn’t even bother with trotting out the regulars, even for a few innings. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols were both conspicuously MIA.
The ballpark appears much the same as it has over the past few years with no real notable additions or subtractions, either aesthetically or in relation to food offerings, which is a bit of a shame.
All of that being said, however, it was great to get back out to a baseball game, and while the end result of a Cubs loss is never a good thing, Kyle Hendricks pitched well and struck out more than a batter an inning and the Bryzzo boys crushed a pair of home runs adding to one from Addison Russell. Albert Almora showed his amazing defensive skills, as well.
I will also be attending game two, featuring Jon Lester and hopefully seeing the Cubs head to Arizona with a 2-0 record!
As always, the full gallery of photos can be found here.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping’ Baseballs!
The day that I had been waiting for was finally here and the Cubs were descending upon Anaheim. Yes, I had seen them in Los Angeles and San Diego, but having them here in my current town was very exciting and surreal for me. So was the desire to root for someone other than the Angels– the only time I’ll do that is when they play my Cubs.
I decided to be a decent person and not drag Lauren to the game at the crack of dawn to wait for the Cubs to come to the stadium and try to get autographs. We did, however, get there before the gates opened to wait for the guys to take batting practice and, hopefully, interact.
I waited down the right field line with two fellow Cub fans, a dad and young son. This would prove to be a good strategic move, as baseball players are more likely to respond to a small kid than to an unshaven 30-year old guy. This would prove true as the afternoon went on.
I wasn’t feeling well to begin with, and standing directly in the unrelenting Southern California sun was not doing me any favors, so I alternated standing at the wall and sitting in the seats. The first Cub that we saw was Jeff Samardzija who was coming out to run and do a bit of long toss. The kid next to me asked him if he’d sign and he said that he would after he worked out.
So…I was only able to attend the first of the Cubs-Angels games, and while I had a fairly successful evening, and I will be writing it up shortly, but here is a letter that I wrote to the Cubs regarding missing that second game.
See-ya Se-attle: The Angels Resume the Sinking of the Mariners
After the insanity of the previous night’s game, where Mike Trout hit for the cycle, Lauren told me that even as she was up in Simi Valley, her brother sprung it on her that he wanted to go to the Angels game. Sadly, they had left the DeLorean back at the hotel, so he was unable to time travel in order to make it to the Big A on time for the game.
When I heard about this, I felt bad and suggested that we try to get tickets to the next afternoon’s game against the Mariners. We were able to get good seats in the Field Level for less than ten dollars a ticket, so back to the old ballgame I went.
Lauren’s brother is a Giants fan, pretty much one of the worst kinds of people. As we were planning the details for the baseball game I made sure to tell him that he could not wear his new Giants cap. I hate it when fans wear the attire of teams that are not participating in the game. All baseball teams are not created equal and just because something is baseball related, does not mean it is appropriate for every game.
He showed up not only wearing his Giants cap, but also a Houston Astros shirt. Neither of whom were playing. This essentially sums up my relationship with Lauren’s brother.
I was excited to finally see CJ Wilson take the mound at Angel Stadium. This would be my first time to see him in person since his big signing as a free agent the year before. I have always liked CJ, even when he was a hated Texas Ranger. He has been entertaining on Twitter and was one of the first big ballplayers to embrace the new media. Plus, he has always been a heck of a pitcher.
The Angels picked up right where they had left off the night before, including Mike Trout hitting a single and a triple in his first two at-bats. Alas, the dual cycle was not to happen, but the Angels put a hurt on Brandon Maurer, a local boy from the nearby city of Orange, and he was credited with giving up all seven runs. He lasted all of three innings, and the Mariner bullpen slammed the door on the Angels, shutting them out from the fourth inning onward.
The seven runs, though, were more than enough for CJ Wilson, who went eight strong innings and only allowed one run. Mike Scioscia inexplicably brought in Dane De La Rosa for the ninth inning, and even with that six run cushion, I was uneasy. Surprisingly, De La Rosa did his job, despite some two out dramatics, and the Angels lit up the Halo.
Continuing my luck from the Royals game, we were once again treated to visiting fans who don’t understand how to behave in another team’s ballpark. As the game was winding down, they weren’t rooting on their team, they were trying to incite the home team fans, in a game that they were losing quite handily. I don’t understand how standing in the front of the entire section and basically baiting thousands of the opposing team’s fans makes sense, especially when you are being soundly destroyed by that opposing team.
I will be attending both of the Cubs-Angels games fully festooned in my Cubbie regalia, but I won’t be inciting the Angels fans. There is a way to conduct yourself with a sense of dignity while cheering on your visiting team. I will be cheering every home run and great play, but I will also not be mocking the local fans.
It’s just common decency as well as respect.
Until Next Time, Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!
For the second consecutive game I was dateless. Lauren’s mom and brother were coming in to town and she was planning to join them on their visit to the Reagan Library. I already had tickets for the Angel game, so I opted out and called my brother, Matt, to see if he wanted to join me for the game and the free Mike Trout pint glass. He agreed to leave work early and drive the hour and a half from San Diego to Anaheim.
Due to traffic, we didn’t get to the Big A until after 6 pm, with the game scheduled to start at 7. I had completely written off the idea of getting in for batting practice, which was fine, but I was paranoid that we wouldn’t get one of the pint glasses. We finally reached our seats in center field a few minutes before the pre-game festivities began.
We were actually sitting in a pretty neat spot as we were right next to the batters eye/national park in center field and kind of cornered in our own little box. It was cozy. We got our food before sitting down and basically didn’t need to move for the entire game. This fact would prove to be a very, very good thing.
I had been watching the Cubs game on TV, waiting for Matt to get into town, and they mentioned off-handedly that Aaron Harang was one of the biggest Cub killers of all time. Harang was the Mariners starter and I figured that it was just my luck that he would destroy the Angels as well. That isn’t exactly what happened.
After hitting a home run and a triple his first 2 at-bats, it seemed like Josh Hamilton was going to be the hero of the night on his birthday, and a candidate to hit for the cycle, having gotten the hardest part out of the way to start the night. While the Angels were smacking the ball all over the yard against the weak Mariner pitching, Mike Trout was quietly putting together a pretty remarkable night of his own. After he hit a 3 RBI double in the 6th, I turned to Matt and said, “If he got credit for a base hit in his second AB, he is a home run away from the cycle…” We whipped out our phones and checked, and it was indeed an infield hit in the third.
I’m not sure how many in the crowd realized what was happening because as the Angels’ lead grew bigger and bigger, the crowd in the ballpark got smaller and smaller, but I have been to enough games in my life to realize that a baseball game is not over until that 27th out is recorded, let alone to not leave when there is an assault on history.
Innings came and innings went, and the Angels continued scoring while the Mariners did not, but that was, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. We were waiting for one more time at the plate for Mr. Trout. He came to bat in the eighth, with no one on base.
The count against Lucas Luetge was 2-0 when Trout connected on the pitch. It was a long drive right off the bat and it was undeniable that he had hit a home run to complete the cycle. The stadium erupted and after Trout had made his way around the bases, was forced out of the dugout for a curtain call. It was an incredible moment.
As I mentioned, I have been to a lot of baseball games over my lifetime, but I have never been to a game with the historical significance as this. Previously, the closest I had come to was at the second game of a double-header in old Jack Murphy Stadium one afternoon when Kevin Brown took a no-hitter into the late innings, but, as the Padres still lack a no-hitter, we know how that turned out in the end. It was absolutely exhilarating to witness a moment of this caliber in person.
As Trout returned to the field for the top of the 9th, he was very reluctant to make his way out to center field, opting to stand near second base and chat with Josh Hamilton. It was like he knew that we were going to lavish him with love and he didn’t want it, being a bit of a quiet guy, but he eventually had to make his way out, and got loved on whether he wanted it or not.
The only issue I had with the game was the removal of Jerome Williams in the 9th after he had spent the previous 8 innings completely dealing. Albeit he had thrown 107 pitches, but given the weakness of the Angels bullpen and the strength of Williams through the 8th inning, I feel like he could have finished the game and earned his first complete game shutout of the year, but overall, this is the most minor of quibbles.
The funny thing about this whole deal was the fact that earlier in the day, Matt had been trying to see if he could pass his ticket off to one of my other brothers, since he had been relatively missing a lot of work and didn’t look forward to telling his boss that he was leaving early again to attend the game. I think, when all was said and done, he was reasonably happy with his decision to come up to see Mike Trout become the youngest American League player to hit for the cycle since Mel Ott and the first Angel since Chone Figgins.
In the years to come, as Trout continues his rise to elite superstardom, I’m sure that the number of people who will claim to have been at this game will double or even triple the actual number, but to have actually been there was truly an amazing experience, and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Until next time, Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!