2009 Season

Edition No. 3

March 19, 2009









Spring is here, and life is good, so very good!  Skipper pens his praise of the Season and all its trappings and delights from Punta Gorda, Florida, a neighboring community to Port Charlotte.  It was the business of deposing Tampa Bay Rays reliever Grant Balfour which delivered me to Port Charlotte for these glorious two days in the Florida sunshine.  It is from this venue that I share with you the grand adventures of this past week. 




On Thursday morning last, Itchie and I jumped a nonstop on Southwest to Phoenix for a four-day golf and baseball swing with B.T. and his long-time sidekick, Big Tommy (who could have guessed that after four days in captivity with “Big Johnny,” Tom Doggett would take on a new moniker?).  Armed with 52 free-drink coupons (not an exaggeration) on Southwest Airlines, Itchie quickly snapped his fingers, told our flight attendant that he was her “Customer of the Day,” and ordered up a round of Bloody Marys, admonishing our smitten stewardess to “keep ‘em coming.”  She did. 


Somewhere over southwest Colorado, Itchie and I rashly decided that we would land in Phoenix, catch another Southwest plane headed west, and keep doing so until we had used up all of our (his) drink coupons, hoping that we might be able to make it at least to the Pacific Rim.   Regrettably, this sensible caper was scotched when Itchie decided on touchdown that he didn’t want to relinquish half of his free drink coupons to the Skipper.  Consequently, Foster Thielen and I instead caught a ride to his rental car lot and picked up his beautiful old Crown Vic (this would be Shamu’s dream vehicle) for the drive into Scottsdale to hook up with B.T. and Big Tommy. 






After getting a tour of B.T.’s posh new condo in the high-roller district of Scottsdale, our foursome jumped into B.T.’s sleek people-mover and headed north to the outskirts of Scottsdale for eighteen holes of golf at Troon North.  Other than Sandjigger—who has carded more rounds of golf than the rest of our foursome and the Hot Stove league put together—our scores at Troon North would not properly reflect the good time that was had by all that afternoon, but several of us did our part for the local economy by leaving behind multiple sleeves of lost golf balls on this treacherous desert course. 




Our golf adventure continued on Friday with eighteen holes at Las Sendas, a delightful but fairly uneventful tour of the links, with the usual amount of tomfoolery and braggadocio from the backslapping Purveyor of Dreams, Brother Itchie.  Mostly, the afternoon was a setup for the following morning, when we got up early and headed over to The Sanctuary for our final round of golf on Saturday morning.  At first, B.T. had to be persuaded even to keep our tee time for this third and final round of golf, as our late night escapades on Friday night on the Scottsdale social circuit (we almost made it till midnight) had B.T. concerned that he would not get his customary ten hours of beauty sleep.  Once persuaded to tee it up, however, B.T. a/k/a “The Desert Weasel” donned his Rommel skypiece and a Gladiator mindset and immediately issued a challenge to Itchie for a mano-a-mano contest for supremacy on the links of The Sanctuary.  Our Man Foster, never one to back down from a challenge, immediately accepted the proffered stakes and handicap formula, and the rest, as they say, is HSL history. 




Now provided with a reason to focus on his otherwise mediocre golf game, B.T. began hitting shot after huge shot, as the usually finely-honed game of Itchie began to unravel like one of his cheesy sales pitches.  Slowly but surely, Itchie’s wise-guy cracks and ripostes gave way to sweaty palms, mussed hair and muttered expletives. 


The fierce competitors made the turn with B.T. holding a slight and precarious lead over the once cocksure, now shaky, Itchie.  The tipping point of the match came on consecutive holes on the back nine, beginning with a one-foot (at most), pancake-flat putt for Itchie which, under normal circumstances, would be considered a “gimme” at any level of play.  But these were not normal circumstances.  After Itchie’s plaintive “You’re not going to give that one to me?” fell upon B.T.’s deaf ears, the rest of the foursome watched on as if witnessing a train wreck, as Itchie’s putter suddenly went flaccid and his wobbly putt drifted off to the left, barely catching a whiff of the cup.  Advantage, B.T. 




On the next hole, lightening struck in almost the same spot, as Itchie was faced with another gimme-no-gimme putt, this one a more formidable eighteen or twenty inches from the hole, but as straight and flat as I-80 between Kearney and North Platte.  Before a hushed audience, Itchie stood over the putt with his now untrustworthy weapon, telling himself that this was a putt he should make ten times out of ten, but in his gut knowing that his odds of sinking it were no better than one in a thousand.  His gut was right.  Beneath a dripping brow and flailing arms, the unmakeable putt was unmade.  Two gimme putts, on two consecutive holes, two miserable misses, two points for Scott.


As drama-filled as these two holes were, the best was yet to come.  As the golfers headed into the home stretch, B.T. was faced with the same one-foot putt that was a no-gimme for Itchie.  After B.T. politely inquired as to whether Itchie wanted him to putt it out, Itchie tersely responded, “Let’s see it.”  In perfect mock-Itchie fashion, B.T. stared straight into Itchie’s eyes as he backhanded the putt straight and firmly into the jar, never breaking eye contact for a second.  While bringing great joy to the onlookers and great satisfaction to himself, B.T. broke the cardinal rule of play:  Never joke the joker!


His feathers ruffled and his pride hurt, Itchie battled back to make the match a contest, and in the end, was able to cut his losses to the point where B.T. could easily be paid off from his burgeoning on-line gambling account, saving him from having to take out a fifth mortgage on the Thielen winter place in North Tucson.  So, a happy ending for all.  Almost.














Being the church-going types that we are, our golfing quartet attended Saturday afternoon services at the beautiful Green Cathedral known as Scottsdale Stadium, where the hometown Giants took on the visiting Padres’ spring squad.  Amidst a packed house of sun-drenched baseball fans and surgically enhanced young women




looking for future major league husbands or presently-wealthy baseball sugar daddies, we had a great time watching Cactus League baseball in this beautiful jewel of a stadium.  As Itchie talked shop with his autograph stalker Coleman buddy, B.T. and I reminisced about an earlier visit to Scottsdale Stadium, when a screaming missile of a foul ball split the distance between his melon and Underbelly’s grape and plunked an old boy sitting behind us with a sickening thud, fracturing at least two or three ribs.  We all sipped slowly (not really) on our first-ever eleven-dollar beers (hey, I’ll get this round, I’ve got a fifty right here), and B.T. discovered the Scottsdale Stadium All-That-You-Can-Eat-In-A-Box China Buffet, tearing into his pillow-sized carton of oriental goodies like an emaciated G.I. just rescued off of the Bataan Death March.  Don’t get cheated, Rommel.  All in all, a fantastic day to be alive.






Man, I’ve never had four days go by so quickly in my life.  In addition to the golfing and baseball, we had a good time watching the Suns-Cavaliers clash on TV at Dan Majerle’s restaurant in downtown Phoenix, after Itchie’s drinking buddy Piakowski got stiffed on getting us free passes to the game (What have you done for us lately, Pike?), and after being unable to buy scalper tickets at the Arena.  On Friday night, we had an unbelievable meal at City Hall in downtown Scottsdale, and if there is a recession or depression going on, somebody forgot to tell the buzzing crowd of big shots and beautiful people who dropped a lot of coin at this joint.  On Saturday night, after the baseball game, we huddled at a happening bar/restaurant on Scottsdale Ave. and mocked all of the aging lotharios who have not managed to keep their good looks, athletic physiques, and full heads of hair like the four of us, among other topics of conversation.  And after much debate, and after some initial resistance, we all agreed that my man Obama is neither a Lenin-communist nor a European socialist, and that his well-crafted relief and reform packages will soon have our great nation back on its feet and eventually debt-free. 


With such a great time had by all, the group consensus was that there will definitely have to be a Hot Stove League spring training trip to the Valley in the near future, with the idea that all of the HSL’s beautiful people (Possum, Mouse, McJester, Magpie and SloPay) can stay at B.T.’s tony digs in the exclusive enclave of Scottsdale, while the rest of us ordinary clods can bunk down at Itchie’s spacious ranch house in Gilbert, just a short three hour drive to the south.  Maybe even next season?  Weigh in, please. 




As if my four days in the Valley of the Sun weren’t enough to make it a great week, the rigors of my law practice called me down here to Florida for Wednesday and Thursday of this week, for the purpose of taking the deposition of Grant Balfour—currently a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, but in 2007 a member of the Nashville Sounds, and the pitcher who threw a warm-up pitch in the visitors bullpen at Rosenblatt which eluded the bullpen catcher and doinked a fan in nearby Section 11.  As the defender of the Omaha Royals, and indeed of the concept of open-air baseball without a protective netting around the entire ballpark, I was compelled to travel to Port Charlotte to defend the deposition of Mr. Balfour taken by the attorney for the injured fan.  While some slackers might have thought it good enough to simply attend this deposition by telephone, in my ceaseless quest for justice and civil liberty I felt it my clear duty to make the sacrifice and travel to southwest Florida for the deposition. 





After flying into Tampa on Wednesday morning, my rental car, as if pre-programmed, drove itself straight into Bradenton, Florida, hometown of former Husker Tommy Frazier and the spring training site since 1969 of my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates.  McKechnie Field, the beautiful baseball-bauble shown above, has hosted baseball since 1923, and was completely rebuilt in 1993. 


With a near-capacity crowd on hand to watch the Pirates’ contest against the Minnesota Twins, I settled into my bleacher seat amongst the sun-splashed Pirate and Twin faithful.  As I scanned the ballpark to take in the glorious sights and sounds, I immediately noticed a stark contrast between the fans at McKechnie Field and the gathering that I witnessed at Scottsdale Stadium last Saturday afternoon:  These Florida fans were mostly old, wrinkled, deeply tanned and apparently quite comfortable in their own skin, as opposed to the much younger, neo-affluent, narcissistic, hyper-augmented Scottsdale Stadium attendees. 



It was Old School fans versus See-and-Be-Seen Pseudo fans, a Cocoon showing versus the Nip-and-Tuck generation.   In about twenty more years, when he is properly seasoned and grizzled, B.T. in his Rommel chapeau and a wrinkled, too-big shirt with a mustard stain on the collar, will fit hand-in-glove with the McKechnie Field faithful.





After savoring a frosty ale and a bag of salted nuts and five innings of splendor in the warm Bradenton sun, I bade a fond farewell to McKechnie Field and its Chamber of Commerce-friendly gate attendants (average age approximately 80) and hopped into my car for the forty-five minute drive to Port Charlotte.  I hoped to catch the last few innings of the Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cincinnati Reds game at the Rays’ new spring training facility (Charlotte Sports Park, also the new home of the minor league Charlotte StoneCrabs) and especially that I might get to see that evening’s deponent take the hill for an inning or two.  Just as I walked into Charlotte Sports Park before the start of the eighth inning, the P.A. announced that No. 50, the aforementioned Grant Balfour, was about to take the mound for the Rays.  I quickly hustled inside and found a choice empty seat right behind home plate and just in front of five crusty, 60-ish female Cincinnati Reds fanatics, and settled in to watch Balfour retire the side in order, the final two hitters by strikeout.  Mission accomplished.  I stuck around for the rest of the game, won by Tampa Bay by the score of 7-3, and after picking up a couple of souvenir baseballs for Joe and Will, it was back in the car and down the road a bit to the Holiday Inn Express for Mr. Balfour’s deposition.




Grant Balfour in person is a polite and pleasant young Australian with a great Aussie accent.  He testified about the warm-up toss that got away from his bullpen catcher that fateful night of June 8, 2007, when he was warming up to pitch against the Omaha Royals, and was profoundly apologetic for his role in the ordeal.  Thankfully, he resisted the invitation of the plaintiff’s attorney to throw the Royals organization under the bus with respect to the issue of the safety of the bullpen setup at Rosenblatt Stadium, and his deposition testimony was probably not the outcome determinative, smoking gun bit of evidence for which plaintiff’s counsel was hoping.  While he did testify that many of the other bullpens in which he has pitched in the numerous major league and minor league parks he has played in during his career are situated differently than the bullpen at Rosenblatt, he stopped short of criticizing the setup at Rosenblatt as a safety hazard or stating that the Rosenblatt bullpens are the only ones where the bullpen pitchers throw the ball in the direction of the stands. 


He also testified that he was in an early stage of his warm-up when the accident happened, and hence was not yet firing 92-98 mph peas at the time he uncorked his errant toss. 


After the deposition, Balfour was nice enough to autograph the two Rays baseballs that I bought for Joe and Will, and so the two of them can now lay claim to having autographed horsehide from a World Series-pitching pitcher.  Pretty nice. 




Thanks for bearing with me as I have reminisced about the terrific week that just was, a week of green fairways, green cathedrals and great friends.  Praise God.  It’s hard to imagine anything better.