Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spring Training, Day 7: Surprise

Today is the last day of spring training. It’s hard to believe that the week is over, as the experience has gone by so quickly.

The plan this morning was to join Candi’s group on the bus, and let the driver take us to Surprise, Arizona, for our final game, A’s vs. the Texas Rangers at the Ranger’s spring training home.

We had breakfast with boosters Marge and Arlene this morning as they asked to share our table in the hotel's small patio. They were about to catch a shuttle to the airport. They were two of the women behind us the other day yelling “Down in front!” at Phoenix Municipal, probably in their late 60’s. They told us that they took a shuttle to the Fashion Mall yesterday. The driver of the shuttle they took told them that he picked up Barry Zito the other day. Zito was just sitting on the curb, strumming his guitar and waiting for a ride when the van driver pulled up. They also heard from the driver that Zito had rented a condo in Phoenix with his girlfriend.

Arlene told me that she had a private conversation with A’s manager Ken Macha the other day at a game in Phoenix. She told him that he needs to keep Eric Byrnes as a player because “he’s just so cute out there,” and “he knows how to run, on his tiptoes – Kotsay could learn a thing or two by watching Byrnes run.” Macha looked disgusted and replied, “You think Byrnes is cute?” Apparently he disagreed.

At that point, Marge left hurriedly so that she could get her luggage ready for the shuttle, due in 15 minutes. “She’s a Type A,” said Arlene, as she rolled her eyes and slowly continued to sip her coffee.

It was nice not having to struggle with mapquest directions to find the little town of Surprise since we rode on the fan bus. However, there was a lot of traffic on the little feeder streets to the stadium once we got off the freeway, and the bus sat in traffic at least half an hour before we pulled in.

I’m glad we took this 7th day, an extra one, because Surprise Stadium was the best one yet. It’s home to both the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. The office of the Rangers is off the 1st base line, while the offices of the KC Royals are off 3rd base. It has an antiquated feel about it due to its architecture, although the seats were nice and modern. Almost all the seats were on the field level, but there were two elevated grandstand bleachers, one on each side, right around 1st and 3rd bases, respectively. Lots of interesting food smells greeted us as we wandered around the stadium in search of Section 107. Rick and I had a corn dog, and he helped himself to a fried twinkie later. Section 107 was filled with Oakland A’s boosters, the only part of the stadium, it seemed, that rooted for the A’s. We were so close to the field that I thought I could reach out and touch any of the players. Taking photos was definitely fun.

The game started with the Rangers making mincemeat out of Rich Harden, scoring 5 runs in the bottom of the 1st. However, the A’s hitters came back as Rich settled down and they scored 7 runs (!) in the 3rd inning. After that, the A’s chipped away with their steady replacements, 1 run in the 5th, 2 runs in the 6th, until they won the game handily, 15-8. Justin Duchsherer did very well as a relief pitcher for three innings. The boosters were happy as we slept on the bus on the way home. We stepped off the bus at 5:30 pm, “just in time for happy hour” as one booster said, a smile on his face.

But no happy hour for us. Rick and I climbed in the car and set off for dinner before we went to the airport. We stopped at Bill Johnson’s Big Apple Restaurant, which boasts a steer and a palomino on the roof and sawdust on the floor. The waiters all wore six guns riding low on their hips (with straws stuck in the holsters). We had a nice dinner and went to the airport to drop off the rental car.

Going through security wasn’t as easy as I thought it should be. I dress for security, as I’m sure most travelers do these days. I wear a thin belt and tennis shoes, with no metal in my pockets. The TSA rep advised me to take off my running shoes, or I would face a 10-20 minute delay. “Is taking off my shoes required?” No, he explained again, but it would mean a delay in processing. I decided to call his bluff and kept my tennis shoes on.

It was no bluff. Even though the magnetometer didn’t beep when I walked through, he told me to go over to the side and wait. “What about my money?” I asked as I pointed to my fanny pack on the belt, a good 15 feet from me. “You can watch it from there,” he said. When the female TSA agent came over to process me, she asked the first agent if I was….something. Yes, he said, and I took that to mean that I was a suspicious target. He had answered no to the man in the secondary area before me.

She was very polite and explained every move as she wanded me, told me to unbuckle my belt when she heard the beep, and then patted down my sides. I have no idea why she ran her hands only along my sides, but it was over within about 5 minutes. Rick calls me a troublemaker, a TSA menace. I just like to observe the process, and I trust that American government security personnel are properly trained and will treat me with respect and dignity. I may be wrong one of these days.

As we were standing in line to board the aircraft back home, the passenger in front of us told me that his wife trips the magnetometer every time due to her underwire bra. She finally figured it out after several business trips. “You go through Customs – that’s what I call TSA – and you strip and they search you. We business people know what to expect, but it’s always upsetting when you get some newbie who doesn’t know how to read the x-ray, or insists that everyone is a terrorist.” Rick cut him off by saying, “I know Customs, and TSA, sir, is no Customs.”

But nothing could upset my good mood. I just did 7 spring training games in 7 days, journeyed to four charming ballparks, talked with players and fans alike in an almost total immersion environment, drinking in the experience as one magnum glass of champagne. I felt like I had just hit a homerun in the World Series, and now I was going to Disneyland.

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