Summer in St. Louis

When I was ten or eleven, possibly even younger than that, I went with my dad on a summer vacation trip to St. Louis. We did a lot of fun things while we were there, that I have vague recollections of, but the overwhelming takeaway from the trip wasn’t fond memories that we will forever cherish, but rather of how hot and miserable it was there. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to St. Louis, Missouri in the middle of summer, but there’s a good chance that satan himself lives there because it is quite literally hell on earth. The first stop on our trip was at Busch Stadium, the old one, to watch a Cardinals baseball game. From what I remember about the game, my favorite player, Mark McGwire, popped up a couple times and struck out the other, not once getting on base. The highlight of the afternoon was the frozen lemonade my dad bought for me at some point during the game, probably after seeing me watching the man walking through the stands with the delicious and refreshing treat rather than watching what was happening on the field below. After the game all of the kids were welcomed onto the field to run the bases, which was pretty cool, despite having to run in hundred degree temperatures with dirt being kicked up from the other runners hitting me in the face giving me flashbacks from my desert storm days.

The other things we did in St. Louis were go to the zoo and go to Six Flags, both of which turned out to be less than thrilling experiences. At least the zoo was free so we didn’t feel obligated to stay all that long and milk as much fun out of the day as we could. There’s a picture of me somewhere standing next to a metal statue of a cobra or python at the zoo, which I inexplicably felt the need to place my hand on, which of course was piping hot from the overhead sun and gave me a nice jolt of pain as I burned my hand. At Six Flags it was even worse because not only was it hot, but we were just standing in line for rides, barely moving, whereas at the zoo at least we were walking around and looking at different animals. The worst thing about six flags was waiting in line for the gigantic wooden rollercoaster. As a child I wasn’t the biggest fan of roller coasters, but I agreed to go on this one because I knew how much my dad really wanted to, but as we inched forward in line, that old familiar feeling started building up in the pit of my stomach, the mounting fear becoming more and more unbearable. I don’t know how long we stood in line but I think it was probably well over an hour, and by the time we got tot the front of the line, I just couldn’t stand it any longer and told my dad that I couldn’t go on the ride. I’m sure he was disappointed, but we made the walk of shame together, back through the crowd who I’m sure thought I was the biggest chicken in the world, but at least I was safe from the sure peril that would come from riding the roller coaster.

We did all of these different activities on different days, using my great aunt Sue and great uncle Milt’s house as our base, the place where we would return to each evening to sleep before heading out again the next day. My dad and I slept in the basement, and despite being across the Missouri border in Illinois, it too was unbearably hot, although it was made better by the presence of a seemingly unending supply of chocolate milk, which aunt Sue poured very liberally and would do so whenever the urge to drink some struck me, which was likely every fifteen or twenty minutes. I remember one day, some of their friends had a pool and said we could go over there and swim, which sounded like the best thing in the world to do on a day that was miserably hot, but when we got there, it was not as refreshing experience as we had built it up to be, the water also having been inflicted with the curse of that summer, causing it to be more like warm bath water than what we had been hoping for. All in all it was a very hot trip that frankly I’m surprised that we walked away from without having a heat stroke, but that being said, I’m glad I had the experience because the miserable stories that were once our reality, can be looked back on now and laughed about.

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Family Trip to the Ballpark

IMG_3679My brothers came to Memphis for a quick visit today, and with them they brought three of my cousins, Andrew, Easton, and Zeke, the third of which is going off to start school at Westpoint next month and I won’t be able to see him for a while, so I was glad they came. We met for lunch at Central Barbecue, one of my favorite places in town, and me and my brother Logan got the pulled pork sandwich, the rest of the group got the barbecue nachos, something that I myself, should have done. In all the times I’ve been to Central, I’ve either gotten the nachos or ribs and it has always been spectacular, but being who I am, in my ever infinite quest to find out if there is something better, I stray from the things that made me grow to love the restaurant in the first place, and more often than not, it’s a mistake. The sandwich I had wasn’t terrible by any means, but it just didn’t live up to the nachos or the ribs, and I’m fairly convinced that nothing ever will. We left Central and headed downtown to go watch the Redbirds, who is the Triple A minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, play a game this afternoon.

We left my car at the Bass Pro Pyramid, and I rode with the rest of the family to the game, figuring taking one car would be a wise choice so we’d only have to pay for parking one car. I’m very aware that given the right effort and determination, one can generally find a free parking spot downtown, especially on a Sunday afternoon, but for all the things I do well, I’m not at all savvy when it comes to finding a parking spot, always paranoid that I’m going to return a few hours later to find that my car had been towed and I would have to pay an outrageous fee that I would struggle to afford, so I opt to pay a few dollars up front for a secured parking space, with some assurance of my car being there when I return for it. We spent a good ten minutes trying to usher my mom’s bulbous car, that my brother had borrowed for the extra seats, into the tight fitting space of the parking garage. I stood in front offering little help but to hold up my hand when he was about to hit either the concrete side of the garage or the blue sports car on the other side. When he eventually put the car in park and turned off the ignition, it was quickly apparent that he would not be able to exit the car in a normal fashion, through the drivers side door, but rather had to climb out of the trunk like a raccoon out of a dumpster, and it was pretty funny to watch.

We bought our tickets, which were really good seats, right behind home plate, my brother’s reasoning being that he wanted to be able to tell if the pitches were balls or strikes, like there weren’t professional umpires calling out that information after every pitch anyway. The seats were good, but the stadium had more empty seats than not, and we realized that we could have bought the cheapest tickets and sit anywhere that we pleased. Live and learn. The ballpark was beautiful, as was the day, albeit a little bit hot, the temperature topping off at a swelteringly ninety-one degrees, but for most of the game we were in the shade of the stadium and a gentle breeze occasionally came through the stadium, refreshing us all over again. It was a fun and action packed game with quite a few runs scored, and we even got to see one of the Cardinals players, Randal Grichuk, who had been sent down to work on his swing, play, so that was pretty cool. Overall it was a really fun day spent with family, and I’m absolutely convinced that there’s no better way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon than at the ballpark.

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Forced to Steal

Why must everything be complicated? Okay so obviously I’m being hyperbolic when I say that everything is complicated because clearly that is a massive exaggeration. Some things are actually very easy, like letting people down or sleeping when you are tired, but it just seems to me that a lot of things that should be easy, are not, like for example, watching my favorite team play baseball on TV. My wife and I both really like baseball and were discussing the possibility of getting MLB.tv the other night, a service that allows you to stream any baseball game for just twenty-five bucks a month. We decided to do this for a couple of reasons; first, it is way cheaper than getting dish or direcTV and then having to add an additional package just to see the Cardinals, which is my favorite team. Secondly, the reason we ultimately decided to go with MLB.TV was because my wife is a fan of the Dodgers (please forgive her, I know I have) so it’s only fair that if I get to watch my favorite baseball team, she should be able to do the same, something that this service would allow us to do.

Tuesday night was the big night. I was already watching the Cardinals on my laptop with the borrowed credentials of my mother in Arkansas, and the Dodgers game was just about to start. It was now or never. My wife took the plunge and put in our debit card information and within seconds we had all of major league baseball at our fingertips. My wife began watching the Dodgers on TV and I asked her for the login info so I could switch over to MLB.TV on my computer during the commercial break just to check out our new service. At the end of the inning I switched to MLB.TV and sat in horror staring at my computer screen. The St. Louis game was blacked out in my area. But how could this be? The team shown on the local fox sports affiliate is the Atlanta Braves, not the St. Louis Cardinals, hence the reason I would need to purchase an extra pack if I had gotten dish. I checked the Braves game that was on and that too was blacked out. How are two different teams in opposite directions of where I live both blacked out? Why are things so difficult? I guess I have no choice now but to continue using my mom’s DirecTV credentials to watch my favorite team. I don’t want to steal and I certainly don’t feel good about doing so, but what other choice do I have? I tried to pay for the service, in fact I did pay for the service, but for some reason beyond my comprehension I wasn’t able to watch the Cardinals, which was the most important reason for me to get MLB.TV. I know that stealing is wrong, but at least at the end of the day I’m getting what I want, and isn’t that what’s most important?

Opening Day

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It’s a beautiful spring day but I’m spending it inside, watching TV. How could I not? It’s opening day of the Major League Baseball season and I could not be more excited. I woke up at 4:30 this morning and had trouble going back to sleep, too excited about all of the possibilities that lie ahead. In the movie Rookie of the Year, the great John Candy said “It’s opening day at Wrigley, and oh what a sight! The diamond, the decorations, and the dread of yet another losing season”, a quote that I’m sure sums up perfectly what a lot of you baseball fans out there are thinking. It’s a great day when baseball finally arrives, possibly the best day of the year right behind Christmas, and every baseball fan has the hope that maybe this year their team will become the World Series champion. We are past that annoyingly long stretch between the end of football season and opening day in the MLB. Sure we’ve had basketball, but at least for me, football and baseball reign superior.

As I write this, the second game of the day is about to start between the Giants and the Diamondbacks. The first game between the Yankees and the Rays wasn’t a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was fun to watch nonetheless. If you, like me have come to despise the New York Yankees and everything that they stand for, then you were treated to a delightful few hours of them getting completely annihilated by Tampa Bay. I have no rooting interest in the inferior American League, but anytime I get to watch the Yankees lose, it’s a pretty good game. I don’t do a lot of things right in life, but opening day in baseball might be the one exception. I had some nachos for lunch and snacked on pistachios during the game. I know, I know, traditionally peanuts are what real Americans eat, but pistachios are nuts too and similarly you have to open a shell before you eat them, so I made due with what I had in my pantry.

Although it’s been a good day of baseball so far, what I’m really looking forward to tonight is the game between the Chicago Cubs and my favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Given how dominant the Cubs were last year, going on to win their first World Series in over a hundred years, things may not turn out so well for the Cardinals, but again, I have that opening day hope and nothing that has happened in the past can take that away. In keeping with the theme of eating ball park food today, I’ll be having hot dogs for dinner as I cheer on St. Louis from the comfort of my couch, and who knows, maybe I’ll even run to the store and pick up some peanuts by then. No matter who you are or who your favorite team is, I hope they have a successful baseball season and bring you copious amounts of joy, so long as you’re a Cardinals fan. Happy opening day everybody. Play ball!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

This morning I woke up with a smile on my face. I could already see the sun coming through my bedroom window and knew, as my weather app had predicted, it was going to be a beautiful day. With the football season over, baseball couldn’t get here fast enough, and although it will still be about a month and a half before we see any meaningful professional baseball, the University of Memphis kicked off their baseball season this weekend with a three game series against the University of Tennessee. I wanted to go to the game yesterday but it was overcast and dreary, hardly the weather you want for the first baseball game of the season, so I skipped that one and decided I would go to today’s game on a much nicer, sunnier day. My wife and I were going to meet my dad at the game, but we were running a little bit late, something I absolutely hate, but we went grocery shopping and the store was super crowded with really long lines and there was little to be done about it.

My dad called as I turned on the street towards the stadium to let me know that the parking lot was packed and we’d probably have to park pretty far away and also that the only seats left were in the left field bleachers, which didn’t bother me too much. I just wanted to see a baseball game. After parking and walking to the stadium entrance which only took about five minutes, I approached the ticket window, told the man behind the glass we wanted two tickets, and pulled out my debit card to pay. He gave me a sympathetic look and told me that they only took cash. Was there an ATM anywhere I asked. Maybe at the concession stand he told me, but I would have to get into the stadium first, something I could not do without twenty dollars in cash. I texted my dad and told him the situation and that we’d have to drive to the bank up the road to get the money before we could join him behind the left field fence.

It is completely baffling to me how anywhere in this day and age doesn’t accept credit cards. I never have cash on me unless I know that I will absolutely need it, which is when I think I’ll have to pay for parking or want to buy a lottery ticket. I find it completely ridiculous that a college baseball stadium does not have a credit card machine, but there was nothing to be gained by mentioning this to the ticket guy, so we walked back to the car and drove to the bank, got some cash, and went back to find another parking spot. Before we parked I spoke to my dad again who decided that he was going to leave the game, as it was so hot, the bleachers were uncomfortable, and the view was pretty awful, probably a wise decision. I told him we would do the same, and decided that we would come to another game when we could get there early and find good seats. I am a bit disappointed about not going to the game but it just wasn’t meant to be. We’ll try again some other weekend, and hopefully I’ll remember to bring cash.

Sometimes Heroes are Jerks in Real Life

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Wise men say that you should never meet your heroes, and while Matt Holliday wasn’t my hero, he was pretty close. For those of you who aren’t fans of the best team in baseball, Holiday was a left fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals for seven years, the main power hitter once Pujols left, and the one guy on the team who always put the thought of a home run into your mind when he stepped into the batter’s box. While I was living in Florida, I was able to go to watch some Cardinals spring training practices in Jupiter, just a short fifty minute drive from us. It was early March but it felt like it could have been mid August when we pulled up to Roger Dean Stadium a few minutes before ten in the morning. That’s Florida for you. My wife and I waited patiently with other Cardinals faithful, some who’d even made the trip down from St. Louis, and then finally the players dressed in their baseball pants and red pullovers ran onto the field and began stretching and warming up.

This went on for a while and then the large team split up into smaller groups, pitchers over here, infielders over there, coaches with an alcohol problem and a pending divorce to the left. You get the idea. I shadowed the pitchers for awhile, watching Adam Wainwright and Jason Motte among others run through elementary drills that are taught in little league, then I watched the catchers, Yadier Molina putting on a clinic for the younger guys, blocking low thrown balls with little apparent effort. After that we walked around to the other side of the group of baseball fields where batting practice was taking place. I looked for players I recognized, but saw none. This must’ve been the younger guys, the kids from double A who were just happy to be there, alongside the veterans of Triple A who were unsure that they could handle another brutal season.

Then I saw David Freese walking between fields. Yes, world series MVP for the Cardinals David Freese. I asked for an autograph and made small talk with him as he stopped to sign my red St. Louis hat. He was really cool and didn’t even think twice about being a nice guy, and the ten seconds he’d stopped for me made me feel like a million bucks, and then I saw Matt Holiday walking the same path only coming in the other direction. As he got nearer I said “Hey Matt, how’s it going?” A few seconds passed with no response so just as he reached me I asked him for an autograph. His eyes never even glanced in my direction, and it wasn’t like he couldn’t hear me as I was only a couple feet away from him. That one experience changed my entire opinion of a baseball player that I once looked up to. After that when I saw him strike out, time after time, I took a little pleasure in his frustration, a feeling that he’d left me with just a couple years earlier.

An Umpire Making a Bad Call

When I was fifteen years old I got my first job as a baseball umpire thus fulfilling my dream of getting screamed at by parents of nine year olds. The pay wasn’t all that much but the benefits were amazing (a free meal and a drink from the concession stand following the game). I got yelled at by angry parents almost every game but I must have been doing something right because after a little while I got the call that I was being promoted from the pitching machine league to live pitch baseball. My mom was so supportive of me and my “career” that she didn’t even hesitate to shell out the money needed to buy me all the new safety equipment required for me to be an umpire behind the plate which I’m sure wasn’t cheap.

My first Saturday as a live pitch umpire was a double header and I was both nervous and excited about my new responsibilities. Thankfully the umpire I was working with volunteered to be behind the plate the first game so I could watch him from the field and try to emulate his actions in the second game when it would be up to me to run the game. I don’t know how I did that first game so I’m assuming it went well otherwise I’m sure I would have remembered being yelled at. Once the first game ended it was time for the most exciting part of the day, the free chicken tenders and soda that I crammed down in the half hour between the games.

With ten minutes left until the start of the game I retreated to the handicap stall of the disgusting bathroom to put on all my equipment. It was as I put the leg pads on under my pants that I realized just how hot it was outside and how hot I would be in all of the equipment. That didn’t sound all that appealing to me nor did it sound fun to have first time pitchers with little control hurling hard baseballs towards me and that is when I thought about quitting my job as an umpire. I had never quit a job before and I didn’t quit that day, at least not verbally. Not eager to deal with an upset person by quitting just before a game started I opted for the easier option of not dealing with anyone whatsoever and I just left.

I don’t know what happened after that or what lie I told my mom but I never faced any negative consequences from her or the head umpire and was never confronted by the boss which seems strange because I still played baseball at the park and saw her from time to time. I’m not proud of how I quit but I am happy with the decision not to be super hot and have baseballs thrown at me. Unfortunately all of the brand new equipment that was bought for me was never used but it did all get opened so there was no way to return it. Sorry mom.