Thursday, June 4, 2009

Last Weekend, Rays Win, Twice!!! With A Bevy Of Firsts...Part One of Two

The Rays and The Royals are all tied up in the 6th inning... I just got home from school, I went to school directly from work and I feel like I’ve been running non-stop. I couldn’t continue to neglect my blog, so here we go… This is my first real post in about a week, and my first ever post in the month of June. I am gonna make that my segue and run with it. This past weekend was insanely busy and wonderfully awesome; it was also full of firsts, so that will be the theme of this post. (-Troll, June 2,2009 PS. The camera was forgotten on Friday, so be prepared for a whole lot o' words and no pics, sorry)

Friday May 29, 2009.
Both the wife and I worked all day. The night before, her Dad called and said he had a load (he is a long-distance truck driver) to go to Bradenton, (the towne we live in) Florida. This was pretty exciting because it had been about two years since we had seen him. We stayed up pretty late on Thursday, hiding the drugs and porn and all the things you do in preparation for a visit from a parental unit. He never said on the phone how long a visit it would be, so we prepared for a weekend long stay. We cleaned up all the cat puke (thanks Sally) in the extra bed room, changed the sheets, removed the “we hate truckers” sign from the wall, washed 3,000 dishes, took out the trash and generally got our apartment ready for a Better Homes and Gardens photo shoot.
I think he ended up calling mid-day on Friday to say that he was getting a hotel and would only be in towne for a day.
Nuts! (This is a family-friendly blog) Well, we had one day to catch up with him. Too bad we were gonna be completely exhausted for that one day, since we stayed up all night getting ready for the weekend long stay…
Either way, it was great to have him in towne. We made plans to meet up at the Banana Factory (a local bar). We went to his motel to pick him up and her Mom made plans to meet us at the tavern. We were gonna drink beers (duh), play trivia and watch the Rays game. It was so great to see him again! It was the first time he was in Bradenton since our wedding (3 years back) and he is definitely an awesome in-law. He travels (works) with his wife and two dogs (Faith and Annie) in a giant tractor-trailer, complete with a camper and a working mini-machine shop. We arrived at the bar just as the game was starting. James Shields was on the hill for the Rays, going for win number 4. It was the first time I had watched the Rays with either of her folks. Linda (Mom) remarked at how empty Tropicana Field looked. “Doesn’t anyone go to baseball games anymore?” she asked.
I groaned in reply. We hadn’t been to the Trop all year. Neither Ms. Troll or myself are too pleased with that, either. We both love the Rays and love to go to games. Our bank accounts don’t seem too interested in baseball of late, but that is gonna change and soon!
The bar was short on trivia terminals, so Heather and her Dad formed Team Bacon and her Mom went solo. I sat it out, but chimed in with an occasional answer. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many questions about baseball cards, punk rock or machining. I did get to help with a Seinfeld question (what game did George play with the Bubble Boy), though. Each round went 10 questions and Momma Linda and Team Bacon took turns winning first place.
They announced the paid attendance in the fifth inning, while Shields nursed a 1 to zip lead. Less than 20,000 paid and it looked like about 8 thousand in the stands. Pathetic. It was a pitchers duel between Shields and Scott Baker, with no scoring other than a solo shot by Crawford in the 3rd. He doesn’t hit a ton of homers, but he blasted this one about 440 feet to straight away center field.
Mike Cuddyer eventually put the Twins on the board in the sixth with a solo shot of his own. It looked like the end for Shields, but he finished the inning. Longo had his back and he blasted a 3-run homer in the bottom half of the inning. J.P Howell came on for the 8th, with Shields being the pitcher of record, sitting in the dug-out with fingers crossed. It was around that time that we called it a night at the bar. I felt confident that Howell and crew had it under control and we exited, ready to pick up Dad’s wife and the doggies at the motel. We went to an overpriced pizza joint down the street, which offered dog friendly outdoor seating. I ordered and asked the waitress (who was dog-o-phobic) what the score was and she told me 5-3 Rays going into the 9th. Cool.
We got our pizzas to go and headed to our freshly cleaned apartment, it would be her Dad’s first ever visit to our place. We ate and talked and spun a little Janis Joplin on the turntable and I snuck off to check the final score on the computer. Howell, Dan Wheeler and Randy Choate combined to shut the Twins out for the final two innings, striking out 4 batters total. Not too shabby. Choate faced one batter, struck him out and got the save. It was his first save as a Ray, his first save this year and it was first save ever! If you have never heard of Randy Choate, that probably isn’t too impressive, but the guy has been in the bigs for 10 years. He pitched in 198 games without a save! As a reliever, he won 5 games, he even lost 7, but he never had a save. Crazy. Part of that is because he spent his first 4 seasons with a Yankees team that didn’t allow people not named Mariano to close out ball games, but still, getting your first save in your 199th relief appearance. Wow. So, the Rays win!
Now, I can hang out with my father-in-law with no worries or distractions.
We chatted a bit more until Heather mentioned that we had recently got a pool table. That was all it took and we were off to the garage to shoot some nine ball. Her Dad is an amazing pool player, but so is Heather and she won the first game. It took me a few tries before I won my first game. It took even longer before I won my second. Before long Chris and Lydia, our upstairs neighbors, came down to join us and get in on the fun. We shot game after game, learned the life history of the puppies and learned a bit about the game of pool, too. It was around 1 in the morning before we gave up and decided to take them home.
It was great to see them, so naturally it was hard to say good-bye, but we did, after we promised to visit this summer.
By this time I had a splitting headache (beer+peanuts+sweating all day = serious dehydration), but my trooper of a wife took the wheel and put up with my complaining all the way home. Obviously still giddy from seeing her Dad, my awesome wife invited me to a baseball date the following night. Of course I obliged.
Despite my awful headache, I was able to fall asleep with visions of Rays hitting homers dancing in my head.

Saturday May 30, 2009
I woke up Saturday morning (early afternoon) feeling much better. It had been a long week, but nothing recharges my batteries like 15 hours of sleep! My lovely wife had agreed to fund the date, but I was left in charge of planning it. I assured her that the game started at 7:05 and we would get our tickets from an independent, licensed ticket agent (scalper) when we got there. Judging by the pathetic attendance the night before, they would probably be letting people in for free.
We lazed around for most of the afternoon. I drank my typical two pots of coffee, while eating nothing. Around 3 o’clock I started to get hungry and decided to whip up a big bowl of pasta to fill us up so we wouldn’t have to buy any overpriced stadium food. I was rotating between sending e-mails and stirring my pasta when I heard “holy s*&%*t” in the next room. I ran to see what could possibly be wrong on such a perfect day. Apparently, Ms. Troll was channel surfing and had stopped on Florida Sports Network to see the Rays game was about to begin. S*&%*t indeed! My sole responsibility on this soon to be amazing day was to check the game’s start time and I didn’t do it. For some reason, they decided to throw the first pitch 3 hours early. S*&%*t. Well, the game is underway, we are still in our pajamas and I have pasta boiling away on the stove, what should we do? Of course we opt to get dressed (her in a Pena jersey, his in a Bartlett jersey) as quick as we can, throw the pasta in some Tupperware and haul ass to the Trop! Heather drove and drove quite quickly and we arrived in no time at all, but the game was going quickly and had already moved into the 4th inning. Price and the Rays were winning and we could hear the noise of the crowd as we walked through the parking lot. I hate being late to a ballgame, but we were here and I needed to be in attendance for David Price’s first win of the season. Apparently, I wasn’t the only dumbass who didn’t check the start time because there was an abundance of people showing up when we did and the line at the ticket window was at least 50 people long.
I opted to go with my original plan and seek out a scalper. We walked as fast as we could through the parking lot (which has zero shade) and made our way to the far, dark, corner which we had nicknamed “Scalper Row”. There was no one there. What the heck? Then, I noticed a sign that said (effective 5/1/2009) that no one was permitted to sell tickets other than box office on Trop property or in the parking lots. That explains it. We gazed around and noticed a few suspicious guys across the street. Fortunately, they exemplified the stereotype with their slicked back hair, dark sunglasses, suede jogging suits and pinkie rings. We walked over and I asked if anyone had tickets.
“What do you want?” the shady character in front of me asked, while puffing on a cigar.
“2 cheap ones” I replied with confidence.
“Well, I don’t have any cheap seats.” He said. “I don’t have 2 seats together either. I have two singles I can give you for 35 a piece.”
“WHAT????” I screamed to myself. I saw his tickets. They were $18.00 face value and he was trying to charge double for a game that’s halfway over. Keep dreaming buddy. Last year, we showed up in the 2nd inning and got 2 tickets directly behind home plate with full bar and wait staff for 40 bucks total and they were $270.00 each face value and it was against the Red Sox. The wife and I gave each other the “what the hell is he smoking” look and decided to pass. As we walked away, another group approached him and they bought everything he had for $40.00 each. What the hell is going on?
We trekked back over to the box office, braving the line, and by the time we were up it was in the 6th inning. It seemed ridiculous at this point to even consider buying tickets, but I really wanted to see Price pitch. I asked the (legitimate) ticket agent for two of their cheapest seats and she informed me that they only had field box available and they would be $53.00 each. She said they were closing in on a sell out. I was completely baffled by this turn of events. There were 30,000 empty seats last night. What gives? I politely declined to purchase the field box seats and we opted to head next door to Ferg’s Sports Bar to watch the game. I heard the announcer over the PA say that after 5-2/3 innings Price was being lifted in favor of Grant Balfour. Wow, how pissed would I be if we had dropped over a 100 bucks and got in there right as Price was yanked?
The good news was that the Rays were up 4-1 still, Ferg’s had the game on (duh) and they had ice cold AC and beer, which was 1/3 of the price at the Trop. I was still very angry at myself for scheduling error, I was mad at the box office, at the scalper guy, at everything. This was gonna be our first game of the season and we were supposed to be watching David Price record his first win of the year. I was pissed, but not really. We were in an awesome sports bar, drinking cold, cheap draft beer, watching the best (by opinion, not record) team in baseball beat the Twins and we were with each other and neither of us had to work today. Things were actually pretty good.
Soon after our Yuengling’s arrived Carl Crawford took R.A. Dickey yard, once again to straight away center. It was his third of the year and his second homer in as many days. We “cheers”ed to that! I watched the TV intently and tried to catch up on the action. Price had been lifted after 108 pitches in less than six innings. Better than ¾ of them were for strikes and he notched 11 Ks this afternoon. He had only faced 25 batters, so that was extremely impressive, too bad I didn’t see it! The other thing we missed of note, was not nearly as impressive (well, maybe for Liriano). Carl Crawford was caught stealing for the first time this year. It looked more like he was picked off, but it officially is a “caught stealing”. That ends his streak of 30 straight steals (32 if you go back to last year). Good job Liriano. You are the first person to stop Craw on the base paths. He is still first in the league in steals, he is still 118th in stolen bases ALL TIME, he still shares the record with 6 stolen bases in one game. He is still only 27 years old. He is still only 475 steals shy of catching up to Rock Raines and being in the top-5 all time. If he averages 50 swipes a year for the next 10 years (which is totally possible) he will be there. If he averages 50 per year for the next 22 seasons, he’ll catch Mr. Henderson. I think your record is safe, Rickey, but seriously, if anyone could come close, that would be Craw.
The Rays were still up 5-2 in the 8th. We were ready to head out of the sports bar, we were just waiting for our check so we could tab out and go. We were both pretty bummed that we drove all the way out here, paid the bridge toll, fed the parking meter, donned our Rays jerseys and we weren’t at the ball park. That is about the time when we remembered that they normally take down the security gates outside of the lower level “smoking” areas after the 8th inning. There was no real conversation. We were going to the Trop. We tried to buy tickets, but that didn’t work. We were gonna let ourselves in. We probably should have taken a shot for courage, but the 8th inning had just concluded. We paid our tab, grabbed our stuff and high tailed it across the train tracks and back to the Trop.
Esther Gin (n Juice) always travels with brass knuckles, so we were prepared just in case things got rough. We passed the first smoking area and the barricades were still up and there were 3 security guards out there, with walkie talkies in hand. We came up on an entrance, but there were security guards who looked lively. We turned a corner and came to another entrance. The gate was ajar and seemed unguarded. Esther Gin pointed it out; we wished each other luck and went for it. Within seconds we passed the gate, but there was a guard at the entrance to the stadium. We played it cool and followed a smoker through the door. We were in!!! You could here the crowd from next door at the bar, but inside the stadium, it was loud! The Trop was rocking. We quickly made our way to the first section gate we saw, which ended up being right behind the Rays dugout. The Rays cheerleaders were on top of the dugout pumping up the crowd with a little help from Raymond. It was the top of the ninth, the Rays lead had been trimmed to 3 runs. There were two outs, Randy Choate was on the hill and Denard Span was at the plate. The entire sold out crowd was on its feet. We liberated our cow bells from my back pack and got in on the cheering like we had been there all game. Choate made it interesting, he loaded up the count. Span fouled off his first offering and then, with 40,000 fans on their feet and ringing cow bells, Choate fired an 89 MPH fastball to the plate. It was low and outside, but apparently irresistible because Span swung right through it!!! Choate had racked up his second save in as many days and the Rays win!!! We exchanged high fives with other fans and kisses with each other. We had finally witnessed our first Rays win of the year.
The cheerleaders and Raymond continued to clap and dance on top of the dugout and Rich Herrera came on the field to interview Joe Dillon, who played in his first game of 2009, which was also his first game as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. He was being interviewed because he had homered in the 3rd inning, his first of the year. He talked about how great it was to be back in the big leagues, how happy he was to have the opportunity to play for the Rays with so many great ballplayers and how he got a pitch to hit and it ended up in the seats. It was your standard post game interview fare. I wish it had been in depth, this guy has had a crazy career. He was a 7th round pick in '97. He spent 8 years in the minors, played in Japan, retired, spent a few years with the Brewers and now ends up as the player to be named later in the Adam Kennedy trade and now he is a Ray and he's hitting home runs, crazy! Anyway, Rich didn't talk about any of that, what he did say was "Make sure you stick around to watch Three Doors Down, the first band to play in the Rays summer concert series."
Could that be the reason the stadium sold out? Were all these people here to see 3 Doors Down? Did they have that big a fan base? We actually asked each other these questions. Then we agreed that we might as well stick around and check it out. 40,000 people can’t be wrong, right? I had never witnessed 3DD before. It would be my first time. She had seen them at Livestock in 2001. She was not impressed, but we were already here and it was free. She disappeared to find us some beers and I stuck around and took pictures of the roof, which is lit with orange lights in celebration of victory.
I also watched a truck drag a mobile stage out into center field, it had a Rays Summer Concert Series banner on it, this was likely where 3DD was going to be performing. People who had paid for tickets were given yellow wrist bands to allow them field access to watch the show. We had moved up and were pretty comfortable in our field level box seats, which had cup holders, so we elected to stay seated and watch from a distance.
It didn’t take them too long at all to set up and start playing. Guitarist, Matt Roberts was wearing a Rays #23 jersey, but instead of the name that belonged on the back, it said Roberts above the number. Singer, Brad Arnold (thank you google for providing me with these peoples names) thanked everyone for coming out to see them play and he congratulated the Rays on their victory and then sang a song that no one seemed to know. In fact he sang 3 consecutive songs that I had never heard before, but that wasn’t surprising as I am not a fan of the 3DD. What was surprising was that of the sellout crowd, there was only about 1,000 people out on the field and none of them seemed all that into the band. Apparently, Brad and the boys grew tired of the crowd’s indifference and decided to bust out with some of their “hits”. They even got witty with the dedication of their tune, “Loser” to the Minnesota Twins (who had lost to the Rays earlier in the evening). This matter was documented by the scoreboard, which was still lit up from the game. It read Rays 5, Twins 2. D. Price 1-0. Cool. With all of this concert craziness going on, the Rays cheerleaders were working overtime. I’m gonna drift on the topic for a moment, because I just read a post from someone complaining that cheerleaders don’t belong in baseball. Maybe they don’t, that is what makes them so cool to me. The Rays cheer team is awesome and they are different from your standard cheerleaders. First, they don’t have any exposed body parts other than their knees, wrists and face. They cheer at appropriate times, like when the Rays hit a homer; they don’t stick to a “cheer schedule” like their brethren in football. I had a chance to talk to a few ladies on the squad last season and they were all genuine and knowledgeable baseball fans. I got the impression that they were at games anyway, cheering for their team, why not make a job of it? Seriously, these ladies aren’t just killing time till their porn careers take off, like I said, they are very different than football cheerleaders. As a matter of fact, I have, in the past, suggested to Esther Gin that she would make a great leader of cheer for the Rays. She contends that her schedule is pretty full with two jobs, roller derby and a stoopid blogger husband, so her cheer career may have to wait. So, back to Saturday night. The cheerleaders were working overtime, but they weren’t cheering. It seemed that a bunch of people (employed by the team or stadium) dumped their kids off with the girls. We imagined the conversation went something like this, “Hey, cheer girl, I’m gonna go get trashed and watch that Superman band, keep an eye on my kids”. So, they remained, working overtime and watching people’s children and occupying them with a beach ball. I wondered if the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders offered daycare services.
So, 3DD was still on stage, they followed “Loser” with “When I’m Gone” so people were actually paying attention to them. I didn’t even realize that they sang that song. I heard it at work sometimes when the boss got mad for people’s music being too loud; he would shut all of our personal stereos down and pipe the “Soft Hits That Are Safe For The Whole Family” station in through the shop speakers. 3DD were the heroes and hit makers of that adult contemporary station. My lovely wife had disappeared again, but returned with more beer. I think she felt guilty for sneaking in to the game and decided to make up for it by spending $48.00 on Bud Lite.
I wasn’t upset with the plan; in fact Three Doors Down was beginning to sound a little better. Meanwhile, Professor X came out of his hiding spot in Esther’s backpack and began to dance around a bit to the sounds of 3DD. I could here the couple behind us, “What is that girl holding?” a woman’s voice asked.
“It looks like a doll”. Her companion replied
“Is it wearing a suit?” she asked “Yeah, it looks like it. Why is she shaking a doll in a suit, I don’t get it”.
Damn right ya don’t! I didn’t say this out loud. I don’t know if I get Professor X either, but he hangs out with us and he’s funny, trust me. So 3DD took a little break from the stage and then returned with Brad Arnold (singer guy) sitting behind the drum kit. He engaged the crowd. “I can’t find our drummer, so I guess I am gonna have to play these.” He awkwardly and gingerly tapped the drum heads with a very goofy look on his face. The crowd seemed to eat it right up. I didn’t. A little post game googling revealed that he was the bands original drummer and played drums on most of their hit songs. He hired a drummer for live shows so he could be a more involved front man. I’m on to you Brad!
So, the rest of the band started playing and he realized he could competently play the drums and it turns out that this is the superman song. Well I took a walk around the world to ease my troubled mind, I left my body lying somewhere in the sands of time, But I watched the world float to the dark side of the moon, I feel there is nothing I can do, yeah.”
The whole crowd chimed in on that last word. I was really hoping that Raymond would leap onto the stage wearing a cape and seize the microphone and make seadog noises along to the song. That would have been cool. After “Kryptonite” was over, they left the stage again to wait for an encore. I had enough, so we gathered Professor X, our cowbells and camera, finished the last sips of our 4th beers and made our way outside. It was damn good to be back at the Trop for a Rays win. It was my first trip to the Trop this year. Man, it would be awesome to be back tomorrow, they’re going for the sweep!

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