I’m up, I’m up

I suppose the same is true about everybody, but when I wake up in the morning, my voice always gives me away that I’ve just awoken. I hate being stirred from slumber by a phone call because it is always instantly obvious that I had been sleeping. I’m really not sure why I consider this such a problem, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of, not being woken up by a call, but the caller knowing he or she woke me up.

I’m sure this has happened to me many times, but the one that stands out most to me for some reason is back on Thursday, May 10, 2008. I was planning on going to the Cubs game that day. I didn’t want to go to the Cubs game that day but I was going.

As my memory continues to disappear, I lose track more and more of why I have ever gone to a game, and this day is no different. I was in the midst of finals, finishing up my first full year of college. I was mostly done by Wednesday afternoon, with just two more tasks to finish. The first was a philosophy paper. I forget exactly what it was about, but it was probably pretty bad. The second was a Friday morning test in my Writing for Mass Communication class.

I have always preferred writing papers to taking tests because when you’re done, you’re done. Since I had nothing to do this particular Wednesday, I set a 9:00 deadline for finishing my paper, which was only about five pages, nothing to really worry about. Many times in the past, I waited until the last minute and stayed up all night writing. Actually, I usually slept on it and woke up at 4 a.m. to write. Not this time. I told myself I would finish in time for my nightly walk around the neighborhood.

Whenever I got a little stir crazy in my dorm room (which was pretty much all the time) and the weather was nice, I always indulged myself in an evening walk around the south suburbs. Now on this particular night, I was working under the recent realization that The Wonder Years, one of the great TV shows, had shown back up every weeknight at 9. For this reason, my walk, which I preferred not to be too late – you never know what kind of weirdos lurk around Evergreen Park on Wednesday nights, myself being a good example – would have to wait until 10. Naturally, I could have finished my paper at ten and gone right out a-walkin’, but I would have lost the reward of my show. Therefore, the ultimatum was no paper, no reward, including TV and a walk.

I worked all afternoon and into the evening on this philosophical composition, and was just a concluding paragraph away from finishing at 9:00. At the television program begun, I decided to allow myself to move along with my evening plans even thought the paper was not quite finished. I proceeded to enjoy the next several hours which took me through two episodes of The Wonder Years and a walk in Evergreen Park – not Oak Lawn, though I often toured that neighborhood as well – that featured a gazebo among other thing. Yes, I’m aware that if a gazebo sighting is the highlight of your night that you remember four years later, the night may not have been as wonderful as you thought, but I’m still happy with it.

The following morning, I awoke to the buzzing of my telephone. It was my brother, calling to check in about meeting up for the Cubs game that afternoon.

“Did I just wake you up?” he asked rather indignantly, responding, no doubt, to the hazy quality of my “Hello.”

“No,” I told him, not wanting to ever admit when someone wakes me up. In fact, I had set my alarm for right around this time and felt as though I had managed my time perfectly. Furthermore, I thought I had done an excellent job of disguising my tired voice.

On the first count, I think I got it right. I got up, turned in my paper and met my brother in plenty of time for our trip to Wrigley Field.

On the second count, I’m not so sure. This story is relevant to almost nothing, but it’s what I think of when “morning voice” occurs to me. That morning, i was rather embarrassed to be awoken by the phone and I was very conscious of my voice as I answered. I wanted to make it sound as though I had been up all morning. It didn’t work; he saw right through me (or heard right through as it were).

Recently, I was listening to a radio broadcast I had done earlier this season of a 10:05 game. 10:05 games are not much fun for almost anyone. I usually have to be up by 5:30 to get to the ballpark in enough time to get my work done. Coming off a night game the day before, this doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleep. On one occasion, we actually had a morning game after a road trip. We returned home around 1:30 a.m. with a the game less than nine hours later. Naturally, that doesn’t lead to a lot of sleep either.

The day games tend to kill me because it is near impossible to get all my pregame work done. But I’m not so worried about that in hindsight. I’m more concerned with the quality of my voice. Coming off little sleep and going right on the air, I have the same kind of voice that my brother recognized four years ago when we were going to the Cub game. I guess the concept is the same, I’m being woken up for a call. This bothers me more than having my phone wake me up.

This season has had a lot of ups and a lot of downs, but maybe my biggest concern for myself is the sub-par performances in day games. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I know I’m going to work harder from now on to pick up some energy. I just need to write this down so I can come back to it whenever I sound dead for a morning game. Complaining about early games is a pretty weak move. I won’t do it anymore.

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Good food found here

I always cherish our annual trip to Gateway. It was, after all, the first road trip I ever came along for. As an intern in ’09, I only worked home games but I was granted the privilege of attending the July 29-31 trip to Gateway. It was then that I discovered what a different world we lived in on the road. While the home games are filled with constant work, stat accumulation and reading, when you’re on the road, the world is your oyster. There is still plenty of work to do, but you can do it at your own pace. It’s just a totally different atmosphere to operate in.

Last year, when I became a little more experienced as a traveler, I realized that Gateway really isn’t such hot stuff. I generally judge road trips on hotel quality, the surrounding area and the stadium, and though Gateway does not receive negative marks in any of those areas, there are better. Still, I couldn’t shake the positive feelings that I possessed simply for the memories of my previous year’s trip.

It was Friday, July 2 when we reached the hotel in Fairview Heights, IL last year and I was discovering that it was easier to navigate the area the previous year with a car than it was on foot. Despite the 210 degree heat, however, I made it to the mall and looked around wondering why exactly that had been my destination. Sure, I had been there before, so it had the familiarity factor working for it, but what else? Then I saw what else. In the food court at St. Clair Square there was a Chick-fil-A. Over the past year, I’ve had Chick-fil-A a number of times and the shine has worn off a little bit to the extent that it has gone from being the Holy Grail of foodstuffs to just being a wonderful meal. But at the time, I hadn’t partaken in the chicken delight in over a year and it was calling out to me like the sirens. I looked around the food court, which was more full than just about any food court at any mall I’ve ever seen. While I glanced across the tabletops, I noticed that not everyone was eating Chick-fil-A. This confused me. Was it possible that heaven nuggets sat within arm’s reach but these people were OK with Subway? i tried to disregard this crazy notion and strolled to the counter, the first time, I realized, that I had been at a Chick-fil-A restaurant, my only previous experience coming at a catered event. As I took my first bite into that golden brown nugget, I decided that it was far too hot. I burnt my tongue and was unable to fully enjoy the rest of my chicken. I took this as a sign that I had flown too close to the sun and ate lunch the next day at Charley’s.

That night, we lost to the Gateway Grizzlies 16-4 or some obscene score like that. When we returned to the hotel, I turned the TV on to discover the movie “George Washington Slept Here” starring Jack Benny. All’s well that end’s well I always say.

This year, on our only trip to Gateway, I made sure to visit Chick-fil-A day one and on my way out, I spotted Five Guys. Could it be, my two favorite chain restaurants within a stone’s throw of one another?

Over the last few days I’ve decided something. The novelty of the first trip may have worn off and maybe there are better hotels in the league, but I really do enjoy my Gateway time. Now I’m off to eat the Krispy Kreme burger.

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It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame

And yet, it never seems to be a good day for writing anymore. This is probably the worst blog I’ve ever kept and for that, I apologize. To myself mostly. I wish I had more to say, but I find that I am always stifled by my inability to properly describe…things.

There are a few essays I’ve been working on and hopefully some day they will appear here. For now, I just want to say that I find myself less tired right now than I remember being at this time last year. We are 62 games into the season and .5 games out of first place. I feel good about baseball and I want to enjoy it. Also, I enjoy this:

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All Hope is Lost

Life on the road is exhausting. Travelling with a baseball team for four months out of the year may not be a permanent road trip, but spending every other week bouncing from dreary hotel to dreary hotel with long bus rides in between can be grating after a while.

All that said, I really rather enjoy it. It’s fun to explore new towns and experience the region and its many different aspects. It’s interesting to see all the other ballparks in the league and it’s refreshing to sleep in and not have to worry completely about work the way I might when we are playing at home. I can’t get too complacent about my job, but it’s not as demanding during road games.

A successful road trip, though, requires a number of things to go right. Number one: you have to stay at t a nice hotel. I’m not asking for five stars, just give me a bed that’s not infested with bugs. Secondly, the hotel has to be in a nice area. I don’t have a car, so if I can’t find food and hopefully some interesting sights within walking distance, the hotel is not properly placed. Finally, the baseball experience has to be enjoyable. After all, that’s why we’re here, right?

There is one wonderful place where none of those things is accounted for, the magical land of Southern Illinois. Since I’m always so keen on complaining, I will explain.

I’ve been travelling with the ThunderBolts for two years now and during that time, I have never seen a win at Rent One Park in Southern Ill. That’s a big 0-6. 0-7 if you include last year’s All-Star Game in which the West trounced my beloved East.

To put it simply, the game experiences there are miserable. The inning breaks always last too long. Why? I don’t know, but I am always left with 30 seconds to kill. That isn’t fun.  And the PA announcer is too loud. Yes, that seems like a minor complaint, but you have to understand that when you stick a microphone out your window to pick up the crowd noise, except all you can hear is the PA announcer drowning out everything including myself, you have to turn the mic level down. By the point it’s quiet enough, you can’t hear the crowd. At all.

And what’s with all that heat?!! Yeah, I’m a cantankerous old buzzard, but seriously, it’s always really hot out there.

Now I’m not saying that there are no positives about Marion, IL, but the sign that welcomes us to the town reading “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” might send out the wrong message. Then again, it is a very appropriate message.

Last summer, wallowing in the despair of being trapped in Southern Illinois, I took a walk. i don’t know where I was going. There isn’t anything of interest within the walking distance of even the most voracious pedestrians, especially at night, after a game, but I needed to walk. I wandered by the DMV, which had a sign outside identifying the Secretary of State as Jesse White.

It can’t be! I thought. Jesse White is our Secretary of State, not this wasteland. And that’s when I had my Planet of the Apes moment. I was home all along; I never left my home state.

Damn you! God damn you all to hell!

The reality is that it really doesn’t seem like we’re in the same country let alone the same state. My hope and happiness completely disappear when I enter the confines of Marion. As if everything else weren’t bad enough, our hotel brought tears from my eyes. I think it was contaminated. Maybe the best thing I heard about the Southern digs came from another broadcaster in the league. “Make sure you bring a full body suit to sleep in at that hotel,” he warned me. I thought he was kidding. My mistake.

One thing I’ve discovered is that it’s hard to get work done when there’s no Internet in the hotel on the road. In Southern, I couldn’t get much done.

Just lay back and forget about it, I tell myself. I don’t have to go back again. it’s been two days since we left. I can feel my sanity slowly returning. Now we just need a win. Please?

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Happy Independence Day!

Note: This was supposed to have been posted yesterday. Whoops.

On days like today, I’m left to consider my patriotism, or rather, my lack of patriotism. No, I had it right the first time.

As an American citizen my entire life, I have very little to compare my residence in the United States with. In 23 and a half years, I have spent a grand total of about four months in other lands, but without knowing too many foreigners, I still feel like I can say pretty confidently that people are people and the inhabitants in Finland, Australia or Turkey are no better or worse than the people who live down the street from me. Different, maybe, but not any better or worse.

But that’s just it, they are different. They come from different cultures with different belief systems and different way of acting. Is this why we celebrate America’s independence every July 4? Because other people in other countries are different from us? I don’t think it is, but it probably should be. Let me explain.

The celebration of the 4th of July began because of our established independence from England. The holiday started as a blind celebration. It became important, I guess, in the same way that it might be important for an 18-year-old, out of his parents’ house for the first time, to celebrate his new-found freedom. “We’re our own bosses, with no unfair rules to follow! We’ve broken free and can do whatever we want! Let’s shoot off some fireworks to prove it!” At least that’s the way I imagine it.

Over time, the United States became a pretty dominant force, as far as countries go. We are middle-aged men, who respect and get along with our parents, so what’s the point of throwing the big parties anymore? Wouldn’t it be nice to relax on the 4th of July instead of making a big to-do of our independence?

Instead, we’ve acted, not as the recently emancipated 18-year old, but the one who butchered his parents to earn that freedom. Every year, we have to remember another slaughter in order to hold on to that sense of community and nationalism. Or that’s the way I feel the holiday is fed to us every year. “It’s July 4th, remember to support our troops today!”

This is not an anti-war nor an anti-military blog post, though admittedly I don’t understand those things. I am not trying to diss our troops, though when they tell us to rise and applaud the men and women serving overseas during today’s pregame, I will not be joining in. I have nothing personally against any single member in the military. I just don’t understand why what they’re doing is more important than what I am doing. More importantly, I don’t understand why what they’re doing is supposed to be the meaning of my Independence Dy. I look at it much differently.

I have spent years of my life wondering exactly why I am supposed to love America. Like I said before, we’re all people; how does the place I was born or the place I live make me any different from anybody else. It was kind of a strange way that I found an answer.

It happened in the summer of 2008. Incidentally, this event occurred just after I returned from my four-month sojourn in Europe. This was the season after my summer covering the Chicago Fire on the radio. The Fire made a pretty serious announcement while I was gone and I was ready to go off on them when I returned. Only, I didn’t have the radio show anymore, so no one was really willing to listen. (This is why it’s important to have a radio show; even if no one actually is listening, you can always pretend they are.) So, I held my thoughts inside and never fully dictated them.

The Fire’s announcement was that they would now have Best Buy written across the front of their jerseys instead of the team name (It now says FIRE again, thank God). This bothered me tremendously, but what I found even more vexing was the total lack of outrage I heard from my fellow Fire fans. Why weren’t people angry?!

The consensus opinion seemed to be that it was OK to do this because that’s the way they do it in Europe. And after all, this was more their game than ours, wasn’t it?

Well, it burned me up. If the Chicago cubs became the Chicago Best Buys or the Best Buy Cubs, their fans would be up in arms. Why? Because that’s our sport. We can’t put advertisements on the uniforms in our sport! It’s not done here.

Here’s the thing, American soccer is our sport too. MLS is our league and should be treated as such. Some people are so concerned with trying to keep up with European football that they lose their sense of national identity. To me, that is what living in America is all about. It’s not supporting those fighting in wars just because their equipment is supplied by the US government; it’s supporting our shared culture.

I discovered a fascinating dynamic when I spent my four months travelling through Europe, something that didn’t really strike me until I had been home for a while. When I was living in a flat with 11 other American students, mostly from the midwest but not from Chicago, I spent a lot of time sparring with them about whose locale was best. When we were confronted together, though, by a Floridian or New Yorker, we banded together to defend the sensibilities of the midwest region. When all of us came upon a Brit (which actually happened sometimes in England), the entire troupe was able to unite against the ideas of the Englishmen. No arguments were ever serious, but it was fun to be a part of a local identity, a shared culture that exists on many different levels. I’m sure if any Martians showed up, we could all have gotten together to defend our beloved earth.

Over time, I have realized that nationalism comes from a love of your surroundings and those traits and ideas that you share with people from like backgrounds even though you may never have met. Even though my national pride may not extend much further than supporting the US at the olympics or arguing with a foreigner about who has the better food, I think that’s about as important as patriotism gets.

During last night’s broadcast, I somewhat facetiously, parodying Lee Greenwood’s song, said that I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I can watch baseball every night and see a cool fireworks show afterward. I meant those words as sincerely as I could have. Being from the United States doesn’t make my existence more important or meaningful than anyone else’s, but it does mean that I can be an American and if that involves getting a steady dose of baseball, pretzel rods and Tubz root beer than I am certainly proud to be here.

Coming next: One place in these United States I hate

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No No-No’s

I’ve been broadcasting sports over the air for almost eight years now, and there are really only two things that I’ve never seen that I would really like to. The first, and I suppose more important, of the two is a championship. I don’t think I’m the first broadcaster on earth to desire announcing a championship, although it does make me feel a little greedy. The other is a no-hitter. That one only counts in baseball, I guess.

I have been incredibly lucky over the last eight years. I have covered high school basketball for both boys and girls for three years, college basketball for four years, college football for four years, major league soccer for one year and minor league baseball for two years and I have never witnessed a losing season. But I have never seen a championship.

Sure, I’ve seen conference or division titles, but I want to see the big thing. There have been a lot of close calls:

  • In 2005 the Fenwick High School girls’ basketball team made it to the Elite Eight.  They were heavy favorites to win that game, but they didn’t. Very disappointing.
  • In 2006, the Fenwick girls’ basketball team was ranked third in the country. They didn’t lose a game in the state of Illinois all season…until the playoffs. Scratch that one off.
  • Again in 2006, the Saint Xavier football team made the national semifinals, where they lost by 30 points.
  • In 2007, the Chicago Fire reached the MLS semifinals, but lost a devastating 1-0 final.
  • Again in 2007, the Saint Xavier football team made the national quarterfinals, where they lost by 40 points.
  • In 2009, the Saint Xavier women’s basketball team made the final 16 and looked to be cruising to the national quarterfinals. Then they didn’t score a point in the final four minutes. I went home.
  • Later in 2009, the ThunderBolts went to the Frontier League playoffs, but got swept out of the first round.
  • Later still in 2009, the Saint Xavier football team made the national semifinals again, where they lost by 40 points.
  • In 2010, The Saint Xavier women’s basketball team was ranked second in the country and made the national quarterfinals. They lost a nail-biter.
  • Finally, in 2010, the ThunderBolts won their division and went into the playoffs as the hottest team in the league. They won the first game in the playoffs but lost three in a row.

If you think me very whiny right now, that’s because I am. No one who has experienced as much in a relatively brief broadcasting career as I have should be complaining about his aints. And in full disclosure, my dream is to be on the play-by-play for a championship. In several of the above examples, I covered the team in a different capacity.

As for my other complaint, I want to see a no-hitter. That is the only individual athletic accomplishment that I really want to see that I never have. It’s been on my mind recently because of two close calls. Two ThunderBolt pitchers took a no-hitter into the seventh inning within the last eight days. They both lost them on infield hits.

Again, I feel like it wouldn’t really be proper to moan about my misfortune. I’ve seen a lot and I’m insistent on seeing a lot more, but sometimes I just can’s help but quote Hank Hill: “I hate infield singles.”

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I had a flat tire

Last week, on my trip to Florence, I sustained a flat tire. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know exactly when it happened. What I know is that  I was on my way from Cincinnati to the ballpark in Florence on Saturday afternoon (day 2 of the series) and not a block into my journey I realized that my car was not right. i pulled over and found, as I suspected, that my back left tire was out of shape.

This was an inconvenience for a number of reasons. The first and most immediate problem was how I was going to get to and from the stadium. Fortunately I found a ride. OK, one problem solved. My second problem was how I was going to get it to a tire place to get it repaired. I didn’t have a spare, you see. This was a concern best left for a later time.

And so I waited until the next day. it was a beautiful Sunday, and I’m sure someone somewhere was having the best day of their life. Maybe there was a wedding. Congratulations to that bride and groom. Maybe there was a picnic in the park. But I was unhappy. I spent the day sitting around as others did my dirty work. My tire was changed – It took me a day to realize that I had a spare because I am an idiot. I did not buy my car new so I didn’t even think about it, but of course there was a spare. There’s always a spare – and I had people researching facilities where I might get my tire patched. As it turns out, no such place existed. At least not on a Sunday.

The discovery was finally made that there is a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of towns that does tire work. I drove the half hour to get there only to encounter…well, Wal-Mart.

People don’t like Wal-Mart. I understand this. Their practices are shady and unethical. Fine. But I am not going to stop shopping at Wal-Mart. I’m not a noble person; I’m not a particularly good person at all. I am, however, a cheap person. Wal-Mart has low prices, therefore, I shop at Wal-Mart.

Here’s the problem, as my very anti-Wal-Mart companion was quick to point out: they really don’t care about people over there. I walked in with my tire problem and the woman standing at the counter asked me what I could be helped with.

“My tire has been punctured,” I said. “I need it fixed.”

Now, as I said this, she turned around to make a slow walk over to a garbage can, with her back to me. I was kind of hesitant as I spoke because I wasn’t sure she could hear me as I walked away. But she’s the one who asked me before she turned around, so I thought I had the green light to speak.

I was done talking when she returned to the counter and stared at me. It was a little unsettling. “Yeah?” she asked.

I looked around as though I didn’t know who she was talking to. Hadn’t I just told her what my problem was? I opened my mouth, but before anything actually came out, the man next to me said, “He needs a flat tire fixed.”

She appeared to understand this and told me that it would be a two to three-hour wait. That seemed unreasonable to me because there was only one other car in the place, but I accepted it and resigned to never having my car fixed because I had to be at the ballpark in two hours. Why was it so difficult to get a ten-minute job done!?

My encounter with the rude woman at Wal-Mart is over, but I want to expose her rudeness. As Tommy B says every Friday night, “Rudeness will not be tolerated.” OK, just another Wal-Mart employee, I was told. But don’t Wal-Mart employees exist before they work at Wal-Mart? Was she always this rude? I get myself worked up over things that I shouldn’t, but she really bugged me.

A little research determined that Monro Muffler Brake and Service, which was right down the street from my accommodations opened at 7:00 Monday morning. I figured that I would be alright as long as I left by 8:00 on Monday, so I stayed an extra night. Of course, if Monro was open on Sunday, i wouldn’t have had any problem.

My initial plan was to head home Sunday night, get a good sleep in my bed and head into the office Monday morning. Instead, I left Cincinnati at 8:35 Monday morning – it took way too long to patch that tire; I was there at 6:55, even before it opened – and drove straight through to the home park. I had slept a whole three and a half hours that night. It was not my favorite ballgame. But I survived.

The only reason I tell this whole story is because of something I saw last night. We’re staying in Westlake, Ohio as the team takes on the Lake Erie Crushers, and last night, as I took a walk around the neighborhood, I walked past a Monro Muffler Brake and Service.

It was open. On a Sunday.

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