It’s been a long time. A really long time since I’ve made my presence known here. For that I apologize. I haven’t been to a baseball game in almost a year, and while i have looked for alternative avenues to write about, they proved to be much fewer and far between than I had hoped.
While my medical conditions that have held me back have not exactly abated I am making it a priority to find things to write about. This is assuming that some of you took pity on me and stayed subscribed or otherwise didn’t forget about this silly blog. If that applies to you, please accept my heartfelt thanks.
Now that we have finished up with the housekeeping let’s get to the good stuff. Long time readers may remember a few years ago when Lauren and I visited The Diamond in Lake Elsinore for the Class-A California-Carolina All Star Game. Since then the format has changed and both the Cal League and the Carolina League host their own insular All Star games. In the Cal League, that means the host alternates between the North and South divisions. Last year, the first of this new format, the game was hosted in Visalia, which was a bit too far for us to attend, but this year the game was to be held in Lancaster, which is only 1.5-2 hours away from home, plus more importantly is the home of our favorite radio broadcaster, our friend Jason Schwartz.
I was planning to purchase our tickets online, but kept putting it off for some unknown reason when I got an email from Jason. He asked if we were planning to attend and then offered that if we were to go we could do so as his guests, with him covering the cost of our tickets and parking. Obviously I leapt at this offer. I also made the decision that we would not want to try to drive home after the game, so I booked a hotel for the night and provide us with a much-needed mini-vacation.
On the Tuesday of the game we spent the morning running errands before grabbing a gourmet fast food lunch at McDonald’s and hopping on the freeway to drive up into the desert. The drive was uneventful, albeit hot since the air-conditioner in the car was on the fritz. We avoided most traffic and only had one unexpected stop, which deposited us at “The Hangar” about 15 minutes after the gates opened.
We had assumed that the pre-game “FanFest” would operate like the last game we attended, At that game the two teams took turns taking batting practice and sitting in a gauntlet signing autographs. It seems that for this game, both teams were signing at the same time, so some tough choices needed to be made, Since most of my focus was to be on players from the South team we began to hustle over to where they were–at least in as much as I can hustle these days without my wheelchair–when we were waylaid by a third line hugging the wall of the concourse.
Coming into the game we knew that Roberto Alomar was being inducted into the Cal League Hall f\of Fame and would be having a short autograph session following the ceremony. According to the literature I had gotten his autograph session was to begin at 6:30. The time was currently 4:30. There was already a relatively hefty line and if I know anything about these sorts of events, it was only going to get worse while we met the current All Stars.
While there were some Padres and Angels All Stars–rather Storm and 66’ers All Stars–I wanted to get autographs from, none were earth-shattering to me and as Alomar was my main quarry in the world of autographs for the night, I made the executive decision to join the line. Lauren was starting to fade in the heat so I let her go off and explore the various concession stands for some sort of cold treat. Sadly, all she was able to wrangle up was a cold bottle of water, but it was certainly better than nothing at the point of consumption.
While she was gone, an older man joined the line behind me and began talking briefly as to what the current time was and when the autograph session was due to begin. I passed along what I knew and he said, somewhat sadly that he didn’t think he’d be able to wait because he had heat-related health issues and had been hospitalized twice in the past year for heat stroke,
I decided to hedge my bets with karma and do my good deed for the day. I informed him that I too had heat issues that resulted in brief hospitalizations, so I could relate. I then offered to let him go find some shade or air-conditioning and come and join Lauren and I closer to the actual autograph time. He seemed rather appreciative and toddled of to cooler pastures.
At some point while all of this was going on, somehow a man and his adult son managed to cut in front of us in the line. Honestly? Not the world’s biggest deal, especially because there was something developmentally stunted with the son, but when the son was having a fit about the large family in front of us having kids coming and going and “cutting”–a crime that he had done several times himself–Lauren and I had to laugh.
The father started talking to me on one of these sojourns by the son. Whether just due to boredom or if he was trying to appear extra friendly to avoid a conflict about line positions I couldn’t say, but we had a pleasant chat. He found out where I used to work (and Lauren still does) and told me that he was a regular visitor and there all the time. I was able to tell some fun work stories and he seemed to enjoy them, while Lauren just tried to melt into the background.
The pre-game festivities, including a home run derby, the Hall of Fame induction and the throwing of the first pitch were beginning to occur and I was coming to the realization that we wouldn’t be in attendance for any of them, or–in all reality–the start of the game.It didn’t matter. I was getting to meet one of my all-time favorite players. Hopefully. If the line moved like it was supposed to do.
My older friend joined us at this point of the wait, since the sun had dipped behind the stadium and we were mostly in a temperate shade. He then regaled me with stories of his life as a baseball fan and autograph collector. Many, many stories. Some of which may have even been true. I think my error is the acknowledgment that I know who these obscure baseball players from decades ago are. I should just pretend to be like the man who, after asking me what the line was for, told me he had never heard of Roberto Alomar, but if the line was for Pedro Guerrero he would have been in it right away. Sometimes I’m sorry that I speak the language.
After approximately 45 minutes of hearing these tales, somehow the line cutters in front of us connected with the man so we had a nice double-play, getting rid of both of them in one fell swoop. By this time we were rapidly approaching and passing the supposed 6:30 start time with no sign of Mr. Alomar .The young man In front of us began to slowly–and then rapidly–freak out. Having not spoken to me at all the entire time I was in line, he turned to me and said if we didn’t get an autograph he would demand to see the supervisor’s supervisor and have his dad hold them while he beat them with my cane. I was not sure what to say at that point so I just slowly backed away as far as I could.
Luckily at this point Alomar had appeared “After signing for all the fat cats upstairs” said the line cutter father. Despite Alomar posing for photos as well as signing, the line moved very quickly. At this point, he was not the most talkative guy I’ve encountered as I told him I was a long time fan, since he started his career as a Padre and I was just the right age to start remembering players at that point. The important thing is he signed a ball for me and Lauren–albeit in Sharpie–and posed for a few photos with me.
Jason had interviewed him at a luncheon earlier in the day and assured us that he was a really nice guy. Coming from a background where I used to get comments at work if I didn’t constantly have a smile on my face, I can understand that maybe something happened in his personal life, or maybe it was just a long day. Either way, he provided more than I had hoped for.
We had been keeping up with the game by listening to Jason’s broadcast that got piped out to the concourse and made our way to the seats just to the right of home plate, essentially right below his radio booth. It was the 4th inning and the North was already leading the South 4-0. That put a slight damper on the crowd, many of whom were clad in the replica SoCal jerseys that were given away that night.
One thing that was not affected by the score was my appetite. While waiting for the autograph we were stationed across from one of the concession booths and that didn’t help matters. The last time we visited The Hangar the food was rather sub-par and I was hoping that 4 years later things would have changed for the better. I realize that generally when one wishes for such things they tend to get worse by tenfold. Thank you to the big JetHawk in the sky that they didn’t only stay static, they got a lot better! n addition to a basic hot dog I had been tempted by a “Build Your Own Tots” option where they provided a base layer of tator tots and then it was customizable with 3 toppings. My hesitation was a fear that the order would be TOO big and I’d get halfway through before having to tap out. I was pleasantly surprised when Lauren returned to me with a small cardboard boat–the kind hot dogs are often served in–with the tots inside. The size was perfect, and I must say my choice of toppings–cheddar cheese, sour cream and bacon–were amazing.
I wish there were more unique options at The Hangar, but the tots were certainly a great start. By the way, I mentioned my hunger earlier? That’s why there are no photos. I was that desperate for the food. I can imagine most readers are familiar with hot dogs and tator tots. Now just imagine sour cream, cheese and bacon on your vision of tots. Theater of the mind!
By this point it was about the 6th inning and we had a text from Jason saying to come up to the booth to visit at any time. We figured to head up in about the 8th inning and catch the end of the game with him. I was paranoid, asking how we’d get up there without proper credentials. He reminded me that this was the California League and no one would hassle us. He was 100% right.
When we reached the booth it was still the top of the 8th and Jason was broadcasting so we sat down quietly to wait for the inning break to visit. We spent the rest of the game in the booth, trying to be as invisible as possible while the game was going on. As the game came to an end and Stockton’s Dairon Blanco won the MVP various members of other Cal League media teams and the Lancaster front office popped in to congratulate Jason and he was so gracious to introduce us to each of them as if we were more than just his friends who happen to run a blog.
We celebrated the end of the craziness that was preparing for the game and then Jason walked us out where we proceeded to continue talking for another 30 minutes or so before heading over to the Oxford Inn and Suites, the hotel I had reserved.
It was significantly better than the vile motel we stayed at in Arizona, with its assorted health and decency violations. The room was exactly what we needed, we felt safe staying there and leaving our car outside PLUS there was a free breakfast in the morning with a waffle bar.
We are looking to do this trip once a season from now until Jason moves on to a different team (or retires!) and this will likely be the place that we stay for those mini vacations.
One last note. On the drive up Lauren saw a sign for the Vasquez Rocks. This is an iconic area most noted for its use in “Star Trek”, but was used in Hollywood productions from “The Muppet Movie” to “Blazing Saddles.” We, of course had to stop. The drive to the parking lot closest to the rocks took about 10 minutes (Vasquez Rocks is a County Park) followed by a brief hike. I was unable to make the hike and since Lauren was alone without water there was not much exploration of the area, but maybe next time.
I know I havent written too much about the ballpark up in Lancaster but I reviewed it relatively recently and the only real change I noticed was the improvement of the food. I did truly have a wonderful time at a point where I needed something like this All Star game to look forward to.
I also want to give a special thanks to Jason Schwartz and his generosity and hospitality. His friendship means a lot. While I don’t anticipate a return to Lancaster this season, Jason may just make a return to these pages in the not too distant future! Look for that and remember…
Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!
After an exciting and suspenseful evening (Would we find a taxi? Would we ever make it back to the hotel? Did Lauren ruin Christmas by eating Rudolph?) we were up bright and early and raring to go. Not only was it a Sunday matinee game, but we wanted to grab breakfast before the game and the food challenge that awaited us.
My sister lived in Denver, actually right next to Coors Field, for a few years and always spoke highly of a breakfast place called Snooze. We were excited to try breakfast there and had our taxi drop us off in front. We saw people milling around the door, which should have been a sign, but walked in to put our name in anyway. The hostess told us that the wait would be approximately an hour and a half. We gave her my cell phone number to text when the table was ready, but we knew we wouldn’t be back.
After searching Yelp! for some more local recommendations we decided on The 20th Street Cafe, which had mixed reviews but was cheap and we were able to be seated immediately. I had biscuits and gravy with a side of bacon and Lauren had the typical breakfast platter.
As I was eating my breakfast, lost in my own world, all of a sudden I felt a nudge next to me and I looked up to see Can older lady sliding in next to me and asking for some of my food as a joke. I was immediately taken aback, but she was wearing a Ron Santo t-shirt and so I told her that any friend of Ronnie was a friend of mine.
She was there with two younger members of her family and they sat at a table adjacent to us and we exchanged comments throughout the meal. I love meeting other Cub fans, it’s an immediate bond as you know that you have both shared the years of pain and heartache. That sounds awful, but it’s really quite nice.
We paid our bill and were at Coors just as the gates opened. We picked up our tickets and stopped for lots of photos outside the stadium, but eventually made our way inside. After the pint glass fiasco of the night prior I was afraid that there might be an issue getting the day’s giveaway of a Troy Tulowitzki bobblehead, but it went flawlessly and we were soon on our way down to the field.
There were no ushers hassling us as we walked down to the Cub dugout, unlike ushers at every other ballpark I’ve been to, so I thought we’d be in great shape. I was wrong. Lauren was stopped after following me down, but she told the usher that I was just coming down to take pictures for a few minutes. The usher was very understanding and even offered to take some photos for us. I wasn’t going say no and blow our cover, so we got several more nice photos of us with the field in the background. No complaints here.
As the Rockies celebrated their 20th year, they had a special 20th anniversary baseballs that they used when they played in Denver and I wanted one. Pretty badly. So I settled in to beg the players, unfortunately to no avail. While I was panhandling for a ball I saw that Junior Lake (call-up at the start of the series and surprise offensive stud) was signing at the end of the dugout. I knew I had no chance to fight my way down to the mob, so I stood pat and was rewarded with a big goose egg on both baseballs and autographs, however as I was making my way to our seats I did get the text that our table was ready at Snooze.
By this point it had gotten hot. Really hot. So I decided it was time to make my way to the seats where Lauren had retreated earlier with a bottle of water. Once I got there I saw that there was a Cub signing autographs right where I had been, in addition to the fact that Lauren told me that one of the Cubs shagging fly balls right in front of her had not tossed up a ball because there was nobody in the “right jersey.” Timing, folks. It’s all timing.
We watched the pre-game festivities and the first inning but the heat was absolutely killing us and we had wanted to explore the ballpark a bit anyway. So we vacated our seats and went to see what Coors Field had to offer.
We made our way to the Team Store, where we ventured in search of air conditioning and something to commemorate our trip. I decided that since I didn’t get a 20th anniversary ball from the players, I would just go ahead and buy one. So now for every stadium I visit, I will be purchasing some sort of commemorative ball. Relatively cheap, compact and easy to display. I think it was a good choice.
We wandered the concourse for a bit when Lauren mentioned that she had seen a sign for shandies and she wanted to try one. For those unaware, a shandy is a combination beer and lemonade. It sounded nasty to me too but it was quite refreshing and I actually enjoyed it.
With the slight courage boost provided by the shandy, I knew it was time to do the thing that I was the least excited to try at Coors Field, and yet knew I needed to try. I speak, of course, of Rocky Mountain Oysters. Seafood this ain’t. I walked boldly up to the concession stand and told the woman behind the counter that I’d like an order.
She looked at me in disbelief.
I said that I felt like since I was in Colorado, I needed to try them.
She proceeded to laugh and said, “I’m glad I’m not you.”
With that vote of confidence, I returned to the table where Lauren was waiting and set them down. After we properly documented them I took the bull by the…well, you know…and took my first bite. It was chewy. Not much flavor. Honestly, they were boring, outside of the fact that I knew they what they were. I eventually had to take some French fries in with each bite just so there was some textural variety and flavor.
I didn’t finish the order and now I never need to try those again.
Moving on, we continued our wandering and saw Todd Helton’s burger joint, and several remembrances of the Rockies National League Championship year when Lauren decided that we should go and see the “mile high seats.”
These seats are literally a mile above sea level and are designated as such by being the only row of purple seats in a stadium of green. It was a bit of a hike up, as there were no escalators running, but getting to see something so unique was worth it.
The view wasn’t too shabby either.
After our trek, it had cooled down a bit and we returned to our seats, sno-cone in hand to watch the end of the game. Sadly, the annoying fan behind us was still there. In full voice.
“Hey! There’s 2 strikes! Only 1 to go!”
“That’s what you want! To get a hit!”
“All right! Score the most runs and you’ll win!”
It was a real treat to get the deep commentary and analysis from a real expert like this idiot. It got to the point where we were openly mocking him.
“OK! Oxygen! That’s the stuff you wanna be breathing!”
“Do the hokey-pokey! Turn yourself around! Now THAT’S what it’s all about!”
Thankfully, there was a sweet older lady sitting next to us who we spoke with throughout our time in the seats. We told her of our adventure and she seemed excited and genuinely told us ‘thanks’ for visiting Denver.
In one of the more bizarre things we saw on the entire trip was the dental hygiene race, in which a tooth raced toothpaste and a giant toothbrush. These mascot races are becoming more popular, with the sausages in Milwaukee, the presidents in DC and, as we were soon to see, the “legends” in Arizona, but the oral care race was truly something else. And that’s the “tooth”!
The Cubs fell again to the Rockies despite a fairly decent pitching performance from Edwin Jackson, going 7 innings and earning a quality start.
0-2 to start the trip was not exactly how we wanted to leave Colorado.
We picked ourselves up and after trying to choose a place to eat for close to a half hour, finally decided that room service and packing for our 4 am hotel shuttle was probably the best plan for our last evening in Denver.
Yes, readers. We really do live the high life! The Mile-High life, for at least 2 days.