June 26, 2009
Granite State Getaway
The 25th Anniversary League Trip is now in the books, and the junket hereafter known as the “Granite State Getaway” was indeed one for the ages.
Undaunted by the forecast of 72 consecutive hours of torrential rainstorms, 10 league members descended on the Big Apple for the annual rite of summer that consists of baseball, bonding, BS’ing, and a bender (chiefly undertaken by a select few). The trip was lengthened to four days this year, but there was nary a moment to relax as we filled the weekend with enough activities to ensure that there was no chance of taking a side trip to Albany to look at a gold dome just to say we had been there.
Thursday, Day One
Seven of us brave souls originated our trip in Omaha on Thursday morning, hopping a Continental Express flight with the faint hope that our pilot might make it into Newark without croaking in the cockpit. Our departure was uneventful, but things started to get a bit interesting once we got to 35,000 feet. The pilot was fine, but the Possum decided that staying in his seat with his seat belt fastened and his tray table in its full upright and locked position was a bit boring, so he made the decision to circumvent the directives of the crew and to engage all passengers in the cabin in a “stream of consciousness” diatribe. Positioned halfway in his seat, halfway in the aisle, on his knees and facing backwards, the Possum regaled all travelers with various yarns about baseball, puts and calls, and reversion to the mean while the flight attendants bristled at his unwillingness to yield the aisle to the beverage cart. “Sir Lawrence Oblivier” eventually realized that his entire audience had suddenly become sleepy to the point of a mandatory nap, and conceded his position so that the beverage cart could make its way to Curby, who was quite firm in his request for a Bloody Mary. Even though it never occurred to Curby to offer the rest of us a drink, he “broke the seal” and set the tone that would let the rest of us put aside our worries for a few days to have fun for just once in our life. Even Screech, dealing with numerous domestic and familial issues, was able to let his mullet down once we arrived in New York.
Due to the precise planning and significant clout of Mouse and the Possum, the limos were waiting for us upon our arrival, ready to whisk us off to the new Yankee Stadium after a quick stop to drop off our steamers at the Millennium Hotel in Times Square. Four of us had the good fortune to be escorted by Mumbai Roy (Roy is a very common name in India, it’s just like Mike), who was not concerned with timing nor focus in reaching our destination. He was, however, concerned with getting paid, and spent the better part of our trip through the Lincoln Tunnel looking into the back seat in an effort to identify whose credit card was going to cover his fee. After his inept maneuvering resulted in the merger of orange and purple paint from the Fed Ex truck and my shoulder, Roy was admonished to “Focus!!” and get our asses to the stadium right now. You’ll get your damn rupees when you get us there safely. Roy complied and we arrived in the Bronx at about 1:05, just in time for the first pitch.
We walked into the new House that Jeter Built but immediately realized that we were once again hit with the Joba Jinx, which is defined in Webster’s dictionary as a mandatory five-hour rain delay whenever there is an HSL trip to a stadium where Joba is slated to pitch. It happened in Detroit, and it happened in New York, but with the vendors open for business and selling food and beverages at bargain basement prices, we passed the time munching on $6 funnel cakes and washing them down with $9 beers.
After the brief five hour and twenty minute rain delay, Joba launched the first pitch at 6:25 EDT, and it was “game on.”
We settled into our lower level seats,
knowing full well the game would be a slugfest, with this being an Interleague matchup with the powerful Washington Nationals lineup coupled with the jet stream that flows out to right center field. But instead of the slugfest, the HSL crew once again witnessed a game that went down in the history books. That’s right. In addition to attending the latest finishing game in the history of the American League in Detroit, we can now claim our presence at the first game EVER in New Yankee Stadium in which no home runs were hit. Perhaps even more shocking, this was the first ball game I ever personally attended where beer sales were shut off in the first inning.
With the Yankees playing like their charter jet was waiting on the tarmac with the engine running, the Nats built a 3-0 lead with some timely hitting and held on for the win due to the defensive play of slick fielding shortstop Cristian Guzman (sorry Ted). Only later did we find out that the Yanks had been playing a bit short-handed, with A Rod soon to be benched for “fatigue.” I guess Joe Girardi is tired of him hitting .219.
There was no fatigue in our traveling party, so with the game in the books the group headed down to Times Square for a little revelry and a few highballs to finish off the night. Imagine the shock and dismay when we found out that our entry to the ESPN Zone was denied. Yes, that’s New York, the city that never sleeps, unless it is 11:00 on a Thursday night and they are closed. Go figure that one. Undeterred, we made our way over to the Hard Rock Café to re-live the day’s activities. While Big Guy reconnected with a high school buddy to discuss the relative importance of biochemistry, zoology, and the human genome in a lab setting with a placebo group, the rest of us talked baseball and planned out our quick hop over to Cooperstown the next day. All in all, a banner first day.
Friday, Day 2, Cooperstown Here we Come
Our transportation of choice for the drive to Cooperstown was a 15 person passenger van, nice and clean at the start but soon to be transformed into a rolling dumpster by spilled alcohol, flatulence, Skoal drippings, day old French fries, unbathed males, urine stained cargo shorts and cat feces. BT opted to take the helm of this beast, and over the course of the next two days became quite close with a British woman whose only contribution to the ongoing dialog consisted of one word: “Recalculating.”
As we set out on the five hour journey to upstate New York, we were all keenly aware of the sights and sounds around us, including a life lesson in Management/Organizational Behavior playing out right there on the streets of Manhattan. Before we could hop on the interstate and get rolling, we were privileged to see Sal from the union instruct one of his employees on the proper procedure for handling a shovel and using it to move freshly poured concrete into an unfilled hole. The young black male seemed somewhat unreceptive to his boss’ instructions, so Sal opted to give him a “hands on” demonstration of the desired behavior, and added a little color of his own. While this clearly showed us the necessity for employees to follow their supervisor’s wishes, the lesson learned was somewhat bittersweet as we later found out that Sal was found on the very same street corner with two slugs in his head and a red bandanna tied around his genitals. Sal, don’t gang the gangster.
We arrived later that day in Cooperstown, hungry for some Foo Kin Chinese food and anxious to visit the hallowed halls of baseball’s greatest shrine. We spent the better part of five hours in the Hall of Fame, taking in the wonderful displays such as the evolution of World Series rings, the no-hitters thrown through the years, Hank Aaron’s battles with racism on the way to the all-time home run crown, Barry Bonds' asterisk home run ball, and Sam Crawford’s propensity to hit triples. Nothing though, captivated the group like the numbers that are such a fabric of the game of baseball. Without a doubt, any true baseball fan must be able to recognize and cite the numbers that are indelibly etched into the history of the sport:
If you don’t recognize these numbers, you’re no baseball fan. I know Scooter Krause, and you’re no Scooter Krause.
After our history lesson in the Hall, we checked into our spacious accommodations at the Baseball Hotel, marked off our territories, and decided to venture out to the local pubs to see the best that Cooperstown has to offer for night life.
The “fun meter” got ratcheted up a bit this evening.
While the bars filled with nurse oncologists and desperate housewives looking for a touring gentleman to provide their ticket out of Cooperstown, Jagerbombs magically appeared on a tray, neatly lined up in a 5 x 5 grid. Alcohol consumption accelerated, and we suddenly all became smarter, better looking, richer, and funnier. While one member of the group was dubbed “Sally” by the bartender for his inability to keep up, the rest of the group dutifully consumed the concoctions served as part of the now mandatory HSL ritual.
“People watching” was the order of the evening, with the nurse oncologist providing the most fodder for our group. In one evening, this married woman was picked up more often than Luke Hochevar in the free agent draft; three times to be exact, including once by Mumbai Roy’s little brother, Delhi Dan.
After several hours of observing these “Cooperstown Debs” trying to hook a man, we got wind from the locals that Sherman’s was the real hot spot bar in town, and that was the joint where we should go to really get our drink on. Not wanting to buck tradition or get sideways with local customs, part of our group complied while the others in the pack retired for the evening.
Once in Sherman’s, we ordered a few drinks and felt like we were blending right in when we suddenly witnessed the 2009 version of the scene right out of “An Officer and a Gentleman,” when the local flannel shirt-wearing, pool-playing, tough guy has had enough of the out of town visitors trying to mow his grass and make off with his woman.
It seems that the Possum, in the role of Zack Mayo, must have brushed elbows with the Town Pump, and Pool Shooting Guy took exception and was ready to throw down with our league eccentric. “You Hot Stove Leaguers come in here like you're hot stuff, wearing your ice cream suits and trying to make off with our women.” Luckily, the Possum’s 90 decibel guffaw scared the daylights out of the dude, and order prevailed.
Having had enough excitement for the evening, we headed quietly back to our rooms, careful not to upset the tranquil environs of our lodging mates.
Saturday, Day Three, the morning after
On Saturday, we started our morning with a hearty breakfast at the Triple Play Café.
After consuming some sandpaper flapjacks, undercooked eggs, and three month old jelly, we left to deal with our own triple play. It seems the local constable was not real happy with the parking spot that was occupied by the 15 passenger van, and cited the driver with three traffic violations of the local Cooperstown traffic code. BT took over negotiations with Constable Fife, and after threatening him with the wrath of the six lawyers present in the traveling party, BT succeeded in getting two of the violations “comped.”
With our legal troubles now behind us, we set out for the return to New York City. With a lengthy drive ahead of us and the Mets/Rays game scheduled to start at 4:10, it was pedal to the metal for most of the drive. The trip back was rather uneventful, save for the Possum’s roadside antics after an emergency restroom stop and his five hour obsession with Troy Tulowitzki.
As we approached the city, there was some debate, led by Shemu, as to whether or not we should take that “Tarzan Bridge” to avoid traffic or stay the course that the British babe had laid out for us. The debate was moot, as we all know that BT marches to his own drummer in deciding the proper route to his desired endpoint. True to form, we pulled into the parking lot at the new Citi Field on time and under budget, ready to witness Met ace Johan Santana duel with the Ray’s James Shields.
The near unanimous opinion of the group is that Citi Field blows away the new Yankee Stadium as far as being a preferred venue for taking in a ballgame. It didn’t hurt that Curby had secured seats located in the on deck circle, but it is definitely a stadium that will likely fall in everyone’s top 10. If it didn’t happen to be located in a Hellhole city, it would likely vault to number one for most of us. The only other negative was that we were all flabbergasted that we couldn’t find a Wells Fargo ATM at Citi Field. Just because a company pays $500 million for naming rights shouldn’t give them exclusivity on ATM deployment. What the hell are they thinking?
The game was indeed a pitchers' duel, and after another hour and a half rain delay in the seventh inning, the Rays went on to close out the Mets and pull off the victory, with the game being saved by the Skipjacks own J. P. Howell.
With a final evening in New York awaiting us, we took the recommendation of Dan the Citi Field Security Officer and opted to partake in an Italian dinner in Manhattan. We knew it would be a safe bet, as Dan proved himself to be an expert on all cuisines and all things in life. He let us know that he had tried to live in various places outside of New York, but was pulled back to his roots because in those others places, you just can’t go get a piece of pizza at 3:30 in the morning. He was unwilling to make the trade-off for a better cost of living, cleaner city, increased educational opportunities, lower crime rate, and less traffic because there is no 3:30 pizza. Enjoy the Big Apple, Dan.
Nine of us feasted on an authentic Italian meal while McJester left the group to go have dinner with Darren “Dutch” Daulton. It was the third time they have had dinner together, so we are all anxious to be updated on what’s going on in his post-Phillies’ life.
With our stomachs full and our bones weary from travel, we retired back to the Millennium for a quick forty winks before scattering to various airports for the Sunday trip home and the adulation awaiting us all for Father’s day.
What a great trip.
Special thanks go to:
Mouse for all his hard work in lining up the logistics of the trip. For any of you that have carried that banner before, it is no small task to make everything click for a traveling party of 10.
Magpie for arranging a professional photographer to snap a mugshot of this motley crew in front of the Hall of Fame. This photo is an instant keepsake, and one that I’m sure will be proudly displayed by many of us on the trip. Also thanks are due for the tickets at Citi Field that were unanimously proclaimed as the “best seats ever” on any HSL trip Scott for his generosity and creativity in producing the 25th anniversary T-shirts, and for “focusing” for hours upon hours of driving through the Big Apple and the winding roads of upstate New York.
All of you for your commitment to the joys of this league, the camaraderie, and the lifelong friendships that have been borne out of a “rotisserie” baseball league.
This was an all-time great trip, and for those of you that couldn’t make it, you were there with us in spirit. If you ever do make it to New York, make sure you visit these two new stadiums but more importantly, make sure you take that trek to the top of the Granite State Building, that architectural icon that has been a symbol of New York for years.
Best of luck to each of you in your race to the HSL finish line.
Itchie "The Gangstah" Thielen flashes a sign to a Yankee
Stadium beer vendor, signaling an immediate call
for liquid refreshment for him and his peeps.
Don't get cheated, McJester.
Different day, different city, same routine.
"Lookee here, guys, they have fancy built-in cup-holders. Shazam!"
Nice touch, Mouse! You da man!
The moment in every game that McJester lives for.
Dinner at a quaint spot in Cooperstown, as the boys
rest up for the big night ahead.
Tricko and the boys in the "best seats ever" at Citi Field,
courtesy of a top drawer Wall Street law firm.
Santana vs. Longoria: How it looks from the fifth row.
Shamu scans the concourse for a funnel cake vendor,
as Itchie plans to hatch his next scheme.
A quartet of HSLers pay tribute to Jackie Robinson.
The boys and Citi Field boss "Dan," the 3:30 a.m. pizza lover.
Skipper congratulates B.T. on another
successful HSL ballpark visit.
Nothing but the best for the boys!
B.T. attempts to hand off the breakfast tab to any other
Hot Stove Leaguer. Stretch can't get his hands in his
pockets fast enough.
Thought bubble: "Why on earth is Possum texting me to walk
across the street to another bar? We have all the
Jagerbombs we need right here."
Sir Laurence Oblivier ignores the activity and tumult
On the streets of Cooperstown.
Chief Bender snuggles up with Big Guy
and Mouse, just prior to urging them to buy
him just one more cold ale to satisfy his
Native American thirst.
June 11, 2008
The Hot Stove League’s annual “brain drain” began with eight of the league members (Skipper, Magpie, Screech, Shamu, BT, Possum, Stretch, and yours truly) descending upon our nation’s capital last weekend from various endpoints in helter skelter fashion. The inefficiency with which this trip’s logistics were managed (no advance tickets, eight separate flights, unidentified hotel accommodations, and no advanced scouting out of watering holes) would have made lesser men “Nervous Nellie’s”, but given the collective experience and laid back temperament of this aging posse, there was not a fret to be heard
As noted in various posts on the HSL Message Board, the beautiful stadium, Chamber of Commerce weather, discounted beers, and hotly contested ballgames between two of the league’s premiere teams made for a weekend to remember. Well, maybe not.
After waiting a mere thirty five minutes for the lone hotel clerk to process the reservations of a lobby full of visitors waiting to check in, we were assigned room accommodations based on arrival times and/or personality conflict avoidance. I’ll give you one guess as to my assigned roomie. I know you all think this is the part where I’m going to start complaining about Stretch snoring, but this year it was different. There was something changed about Stretch’s personality. I guess I should have recognized it based on the feather plume in his hat and the puffy purple shirt he was wearing when I first saw him, but I just didn’t make the connection at the time. More details on that situation later.
After check in was complete and we took a brief moment to unpack, the HSL’s “DC 8” met in the lobby and hatched a well conceived plan to gulp a few cold ones and get a feel for the town before heading to Friday night’s game. Given that there are literally no dining or drinking establishments within five miles of the athletic venue, we leveraged the Possum’s intimate familiarity with the Metro subway system and Georgetown area bars to find a place to kick up our collective heels.
The Possum circumnavigated the traditional subway routes and led us directly to a fine watering hole where we quaffed our beers, munched a few wings, and collectively lauded the athletic prowess of Tom Kropp. BT was conspicuously absent for a large portion of this pre-game meeting, but when he ultimately surfaced a short time later, the reasons were clear. Perhaps feeling out of place and a bit socially removed from the trend setting Georgetown crowd, and faced with the realization that he is careening out of control toward his 50th birthday and a middle age crisis, BT had vacated our session to frequent one of the avant garde boutiques in the area and came back clad in new outerwear. The size small “ochre” t-shirt he was sporting gripped his Michelin Man physique quite snugly, letting him fit right in and be passed off as one of the locals. The color “Ochre” is described on Wikipedia as designating flamboyance….or did they mean flaming…either way, mission accomplished BT.
The HSL Boys in Georgetown; BT in his latest fashion look
Before the waitress could get comfortable shouting “Big Johnny” or scare up a few Jagerbombs for the group, it was time to head to Nationals Stadium to witness the highly anticipated series between the hometown team and the visiting San Francisco Giants. Off we went for our first glimpse of the jewel of the Potomac.
The HSL Super 8 visit Nats Park
Let me think…..bland, unspectacular, disappointing, Cincinnati…..these were the words that flashed around in my head as I got my first glimpse of the stadium. But then again, how else can you describe a corrugated steel box in a burnt out warehouse district? Upon our grand entrance to the stadium for a Friday night game, we made our way past the other 15 people interested in attending the game, through the main entrance, only to walk nine feet further into a painted concrete wall. Somebody really put some thought into the aesthetics on this one.
The stadium is isolated like Denny at a Republican fund raiser, so there is nothing to get you pumped up like the Flats in Cleveland, Blake St. in Denver, or Murphy’s Bleachers at Wrigley. Just walk on in, grab yourself an $8 brew from the concession stand, and settle in for the old ballgame. The crowd gave me the feel of a Millard West versus Westside game on a Wednesday afternoon, but for what we were about to witness talent wise, that would be a slap in the face to the Wildcats and Warriors.
The Nationals, beset by injuries and a crappy roster, started with Big Guy’s own Jason Bergmann on the bump, and the Giants countered with BT’s flame throwing Tim Lincecum (there’s that BT / flame connection again). The Giants struck early and often, putting up a 7 spot in the third inning on their way to a 10-1 victory and a minus 18 for Bergmann. Interest was held throughout the game due only to the ongoing over/under wagering on total runs, pitches per inning, and the temperature/humidity combined total. The latter line was set at 200, and the over prevailed easily. It felt like a combination of Death Valley heat and Orlando humidity.
As you might suspect, the heat took its toll on Brother Shamu, causing him to go Albert Brooks in Broadcast News and sweat through a minimum of three shirts. Shamu’s saving grace was the ice cream cone he purchased and subsequently attacked like a porn star. The guess here is that Shamu will never again consume an ice cream cone in front of his HSL brethren.
Shamu fends off a minor hypoglycemic episode
Sapped from the oppressive heat and stress of the wagers, we were in need of a collective cocktail to replenish our souls, so we made our way to the only available saloon, located back in our hotel lobby. The ambiance was top notch, what with about 50 sweat filled males trying to secure a drink in an area designed for a capacity of 20. Not to be deterred, we arranged for several appearances by Captain Morgan, and drank the night away. The last of the group retired about 1:45, a tame night by HSL standards.
Itchie “Chin-Chin” Thielen has fun for once in his life
After a restful night of slumber, several of the league brethren gathered for breakfast and the opportunity to discuss the day’s plans. There’s nothing like runny scrambled eggs, greasy bacon, and biscuits and gravy to soak up the previous night’s liquids. Skipper, Shamu, and I enjoyed a hearty breakfast, and finished up as Stretch made his way down to the lobby. Sensing Stretch’s trepidation at dining alone, Shamu offered to stay with him while he ingested some grub. In a grand gesture of selflessness, Shamu even offered to go ahead and eat another breakfast so Stretch would not have to wear the stigma of eating alone. Three crepes, a blintz, two donuts, a syrup covered chocolate chip waffle and some more bacon later, Shamu had demonstrated his graciousness and was ready for the day’s activities
The wide range of social interests among league members caused the group to splinter into three sections on Saturday. The intellectuals (Shamu, Skipper, Stretch, and Itchie) opted to take a tour of historical monuments; the nostalgic ones (Possum and Magpie) opted to reunite with an old law school buddy; and the sedate ones (BT and Screech) opted for prone position in the room.
We went our separate ways, with the understanding that we would re-convene at the ESPN Zone in time for the Saturday night game. The intellectuals stayed at ESPN through the running of the Belmont, feasting on the “4 for $40” bottled beer special they were promoting in conjunction with the race.
Once again, we headed for the ballpark ready for Saturday night’s game two of the series. This time, we entered the stadium from the outfield, and I will reluctantly admit that this point of entry allows for a more positive perception of the grounds. Once they get some restaurants, bars, and shops built up around the area, it might even crack someone’s top 15 stadium list, just not mine. The planning of such construction has begun, so perhaps a return here in five to ten years will yield a different experience.
The Jonathan Sanchez-Shawn Hill matchup for this tilt yielded nothing but goose eggs for the first seven frames. The Giants broke the game wide open in the eighth, highlighted by John Bowker’s grand slam, and closed out the 6-0 victory by shutting down the Nats fearsome bats for the final two innings.
The boredom factor for this relatively insignificant game was broken up by Screech’s unbridled enthusiasm for the Nat’s new mascot (Screech),
That lovable Nats mascot, SCREECH
and Stretch’s bristling at having to sit through the Presidential mascot race. Just to ensure that the race results are properly documented in the HSL annals, Teddy Roosevelt’s three length victory was overturned by Screech (the mascot) for using a motorized vehicle.
Back to Stretch for a second. It is interesting that when you spend a little more personal time with someone, you get to learn more about what they are all about and what drives them in their everyday life. During the “intellectual’s” tour of the monuments on Saturday, Stretch found the inner strength to come forward with a confession to the group that I think he has been bottling up for years. What we didn’t know is that while Stretch is indeed a true baseball fan and a history buff to boot, his real passion lies in attending Renaissance Faire’s and transforming that weekday lawyer into the weekend Jester. Stretch (from now on, Stretch McJester is his new moniker) dons that plumed hat and puffy shirt most every weekend, loads the family in the Town and Country van, and scours the country for a Renaissance festival where he can ply his trade as a jouster/jester.
Now it is all starting to make sense to me. I have heard him talking in his sleep, shouting phrases like “Mount your steed, young knight; I have challenged you to a duel for the honor of m’lady”. I now also know why he has been referring to his family members as Maid Marian, Warrior King, and the Baroness. I would encourage you all to ask him about his medieval escapades with the scalawags, pirates, and wenches as he seeks to storm the castle. I think he will be much relieved that he can be “who he is” without having to suppress this passion any longer.
Sunday brought the end to this annual rite of summer. Four brave souls once again ventured to the stadium, perhaps motivated by the opportunity to watch the Skipjacks own Barry Zito continue his trend of moon walking points, while the other four headed out to wait for their delayed flights home. What those four at the game didn’t take into account was that Zito was facing the Nationals, and thus was spared the whipping that those 83 mph fastballs normally would bring. The Giants prevailed 6-3, and actually went on to complete a four game sweep of the home team on Monday. Them Nats got some work to do.
Thanks to everyone who attended for the camaraderie, the laughs, the baseball talk, and another great trip. Next year in New York will be fabulous with full attendance by all league members.
Just a reminder to whoever takes ownership of scheduling for that trip: Check dates for the jousting camps and festivals, and work around those dates so all of us can attend.
Bartolo Colon is a dyslexic Andre the Giant. His bio says he weighs 240, and we all know that should be 420. Are you kidding me? 240?
Akinori Iwamura has been picked up more times by more league members than anyone I can ever remember.
Your perpetually inebriated scribe
So who wins the boiler reduction contest?
Shamu spots the ice cream vendor and contemplates a bull rush
Screech is tickled pink to have made a new friend and
fellow Yankee fan, Maurice “The Mole” Moncraft
Stretch frowns at the thought of another Presidential mascot race to endure
“Look, McJester, a damsel in distress for you to rescue!”
The crack Nats emergency team saves the day again.
Another “monumental” HSL moment.
“I am your next President!”
Itchie displays abject disgust at how far and hard
former HSL Trip guest 1-Way-Tony has fallen
Shamu prepares to change into shirt No. 7 on the sweltering Tour De Monuments
The one time that Itchie wasn’t slurping down an alcoholic beverage—his tribute to Abe.