I'm flying solo this trip, heading off to the Valley of the Sun to catch some Cactus League baseball. Last year, for the first time, the whole family went. The girls had never been before - and, if I do say so myself, if you're going to take your daughters to Spring Training for the first time in their lives, it's very cool to take them to start off the year that sees the Giants winning the World Series for the only time in their San Francisco history.
So we traveled to Tucson to see our good friend Mrs. Mellis. And we went to the Desert Botanical Garden and met my godfather, Bill, and his beautiful wife Diane. And the kids played in the pool at the DoubleTree Paradise Valley Resort up there on North Scottsdale Road - but before all that? We saw us some baseball.
It was an away game, which meant we had to travel clear down to Tempe - a whopping eleven miles from the DoubleTree. And that means I didn't even finish my Diet Coke before we arrived. The stadium is on West Alameda Drive, and it's kind of funny that we flew from Alameda (the city) only to have to drive to Alameda (the street) but that's Arizona for you.
Scottsdale and Tempe - all the environs of Phoenix - it's just pretty country. Do I want to visit in July, when the average temperature is 105? When it's gotten as high as 121? No. But March? When you're looking at 75 degrees day in and day out? When the desert begins to flower? Where the saguaro stands tall? Or when the creosote blooms, pretty and yellow? Go - really, please just go and then we'll talk about the desert.
That day, the last Saturday in March last year. It was a lovely 70 degrees, with no wind. About 8,000 fans filed into Tempe Diablo Stadium to see the team with the best record in Arizona take on the Angels. We had terrific seats there on the first base side courtesy of Randy and Katy. Some of the usual crew was there - Robby and his sons, Richy, Jason, Amber and Kip. But some notables were absent - Danny! Annie!
But the day was fine and Gene Autry Field looked lush and green and the girls were happy to have ice cream and we were happy for the beer and the Giants had been playing the best ball they'd ever played in the Spring.
Baseball. Have you ever been to a game with me? If you had, you'd know I can be a little loud. Once, at a game in Scottsdale, we had fabulous seats - behind home plate and beneath the broadcast booth. I didn't think we were that close to the booth, but a few innings in - Richy's cell rings. It's Jon Miller! The Hall of Fame announcer for the San Francisco Giants! Richy knows Jon - and Kruik and Kuip - has dinner with them with some regularity.
I mean, not that I'd personally know about the dinner thing. Not, you know, like I'd ever been invited to attend one of those dinners.
Did I say Jon Miller called Richy? In the middle of a Spring Training game? And what did Mr. Miller want of our Richy? Did he want to make arrangements to meet at the Pink Pony later that night for a fine steak, maybe an adult beverage or two?
No, not at all. Mr. Miller wanted to know if Richy was friends with the loudmouth in the Hawaiian shirt sitting nearby. And if so, could he please ask him (me) to kindly keep it down? My catcalls - consisting of such gems as Nice Socks! - were going straight out over the airwaves. So Richy told me to can it. Which I did. For Mr. Miller.
So I'm gonna get loud. And at this game - March 27th, 2010, in Tempe, Arizona - I decided to pick on Joe Saunders, the starting pitcher for the Angels. The Halos had scored two runs off of Barry Zito in the second inning, but things were looking good in the top of the third when the Giants loaded the bases.
That's when I got loud. His last name wouldn't do - Saunders doesn't trip off the tongue. But Joe? Lemme tell ya, I can get three good syllables out of Joe. Any day. You just gotta put a lot of emphasis on the J, and then really work the O. Go on, try it. Real loud now.
J-OOO-OOOOOO. Ok, that's just three syllables, but it's a start.
Anyway. Top of the third. The bases are drunk with Giants. So I start getting loud because in Spring Training? At those facilities? When Randy and Katy have gotten you great seats on the first base line? Joe Saunders can hear you. So I'm yelling and while the home crowd is ticked at me - the loyal fans who traveled 11 miles to see their mighty Giants? They're eating it up - says the gent about himself.
And I rattle Joe so much - JO-OOOOOOOO - that he does the only thing he can do when he's so rattled.
He strikes out the first guy who's got a chance to bring some of those runners home. Just strikes him out.
That's getting him but good. We can all see him shaking in those stupid socks of his.
So he strikes out the second guy who goes up there with the bases loaded.
Just strikes him out, too. Now? Now I'm now being asked by Joe's own fans to please keep it up - because obviously my vocal chords are determining what's happening down there on the field.
So I give it a good final JOOOO-OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO and really work that last note loud and hard so that it's reverberating off the desert hills peeking over the fence in right field.
Naturally, Joe Saunders finishes what he started and strikes out the side. After loading the bases. Just mows down three of our guys. A fellow Giants' fan two rows up leaps to his feet and spins around. Least, he does as much spinning as an obese fifty year old can do who's hampered by his girth and the tight orange shorts with the dark stain of sweat riding between his cheeks. But he spins, kind of, and shouts at me, Are you happy, jerk? And I just sort of laugh, because this is what I do, often, at games. Just get a little loud. But he doesn't like the laughing and if he didn't perhaps notice my two young daughters looking at the funny fat man yelling at their daddy, he probably would have flipped me off.
Did I mention that Barry Zito was on the hill that day for the Orange and Black? And that even though the Giants would make a game of it, and go ahead briefly in the fifth, Zito would cough up two more runs in the sixth and take the loss.
My damage had been done.
We bid adieu - me, Karen and our girls - to our compadres and file out of the stadium to get to our rental and head back to the DoubleTree to get cleaned up and ready for dinner. Now, Tempe Diablo Stadium isn't a huge park - this is the Cactus Leagues, not the Major Leagues - but it still can hold more than 9,000. So it takes a bit to get out of the stadium and across the street and the girls of course are waylaid by the pretty yellow flowers so we have to stop and inspect them - just enjoying a brilliant afternoon in the Arizona sun.
When we finally get to the rental, I notice that a van headed towards me is slowing down. Kind of looks like one of those special vans that a Senior Center would own. Real big. Extra axle to hold up the extra seats inside. A new van, painted shiny blue and white. While it slows I buckle Elizabeth - Kristina only wants Mommy to do her buckling but La Liz will consent to Daddy. Then I walk around the car to get to my door. I kind of feel that the van has now stopped, but I'm thinking they're just getting their bearings and will move on quickly.
And that's when, of course, I hear it.
I mean, it's not really loud, but I can hear it - real easy.
I turn around and see that all the little windows on this super big van have been cracked open as much as they can, and there must be sixteen people inside all taking a big ol deep breath so that they can let loose with another--
And they are all just cracking themselves up inside their stupid Special Van. Just cracking up and waving at me.
So I do the only thing I can. I doff my cap, it's brown and has an orange lizard stitched into its side, the lizard and the cap commemorating Spring Training the previous year, 2009. So I doff that cap and bow low. Real low. And that gets a hearty applause from the Angel fans in the van, they clap like mad and their driver toots his horn and they drive off, happy to make the stupid guy in the brown cap eat crow for his earlier loud shenanigans.
Karen and the girls want to know what that was all about, but I don't want to talk about it.