Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sports Weekend

It's great every now and then to get out there and do something (as opposed to, say, watching a game on TV or surfing the net for information about your favorite teams). This past weekend, I had the opportunity to do just that.

It started on Friday, when I golfed with some colleagues at a beautiful course that has few members and therefore does not have people crawling up your back or hitting into you. At one point in my life, I played 20+ rounds a year, but in my current state I play only a handful of rounds annually. This was one of them, and it was a great time. Yes, it was overcast, and yes, because of the lack of rain in the Mid-Atlantic region the greens were like glass, but the air was fresh, it wasn't too hot (as opposed to a week earlier, when it was 95 or higher with the humidity in the eighty-plus percentage range). I hit the ball well for someone who doesn't get to the range more than a few times a year, hit some good fairway woods, re-discovered the joys of the Adams Tight Lies utility club, learned (again) that I can only pop up a lob wedge (you're supposed to lob it, not launch it like a missile straight up in the air), straightened out my drives and only lost one ball (into the water adjacent to a short par three). Yes, I shot a 108, but I must have three-put at least two-thirds of the greens. Clearly, the short game needs improvement, but I hit enough good shots to keep me coming back.

On Saturday night, I took the family to Citizens Bank Park to see the still-in-the-hunt Phillies play host to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Last year I blogged about taking my son, who was four and a half, to his first baseball game, and this time it was my wife's and daughter's turn, not for their first baseball games (the former grew up in Baltimore during the Orioles' heyday, and the latter has been to minor-league affairs), but for their first time at Citizens Bank Park. We arrived about an hour and twenty minutes before game time, went to the Phanatic's Phun Zone where the kids played briefly in the playground maze, and then headed to center field for some barbecue at Bull's BBQ, where yes, the old Bull himself, Greg Luzinski, looking cool in his wraparound shades, was signing autographs.

I quickly pointed out to my Baltimore-bred spouse that the BBQ joint is a ripoff of the first new genre stadium BBQ joints, Boog Powell's place at Camden Yards in Baltimore. First, the Orioles had the idea first. Second, Boog was known both as a cook and an eater, where Luzinski was known only as the latter (if he's a gourmet chef, somehow the ubiquitious Philadelphia media missed out on that one). Third, Boog always seemed to be comfortable talking with people; Luzinski looks like he'd rather be deposed. The one-time hitting coach for Tony LaRussa in Oakland (he got the job after Jim Lefebvre went to manage the Mariners years ago, only to lose it after the Mariners canned Lefebvre) has been retired for a while. The food was pretty good.

And it proved to be an old-home week of sorts, too. As we're sitting down (note to fans: if you want to grab a table there to eat, good luck), we run into a good friend of mine from college, down from Boston with his two sons, both of whom are big baseball fans (mine is becoming one, but for right now he's a huge Star Wars fan and is much more familar with the Hutts than hits and with Chancellor Paplatine than Commissioner Selig). He has made a great promise to them -- he's going to take them to every major league park. So far they've made it to seven, including Shea Stadium, where they were the night before. His boys, who are 10 and 5, looked thrilled to be there, and it was great to see all of them. (My friend was smarter at procuring tickets. I bought mine through the Phillies and ended up on the right field line; he bought his here, perhaps weeks after I did, and sat between home and third base. Next time you want seats, go to the web site that is not the team's first).

Both his kids and mine played this old carnival game near Bull's, which has the participants stamping their feet to get Phanatics of different colors to run the bases. If you win you don't get a special prize, just a coupon to get a sticker that's about the size of your thumbnail. (If you save the coupons and amass about thirty, you could get something pretty good, but my guess is that most don't do that). After that, we parted ways, and on our way out of Bull's we ran into my son's soccer coach from last spring, who was taking in a game with his wife. There were only about forty thousand people at the game on this nice night, so it was neat to run into people we know.

Then we made our way to our seats, the kids with their gloves primed for action, dad carrying a bag of Crackerjacks that our daughter asked us to purchase, and sat down on the rightfield line. Thankfully, the configuration of the new stadium is such that if you sit on the right field line, you are actually closer to the action than the dugout, by about 20 feet. (We witnessed Pirates RF Rob Mackowiak make a fine catch, followed by his doubling Chase Utley off first base). When we sat down, an eight year-old girl with a pageboy haircut came over to say hello -- she is a classmate of my daughter's. She was there with her grandfather, who was nice enough to take her, her sister and a cousin to the Build-A-Bear workshop (where the basic, unclothed Phanatic dolls costs $22 to stuff). So, before the game began, we saw three different people we know. Small world, a big ballpark is.

The game began with the Pirates taking a 1-0 lead, but then Utley doubled in a few runs, Brett Myers pitched well after getting shelled in this three previous outings, and the Phillies won 5-1 to stay atop the NL wildcard race. In honor of Myers' prior appearances, we purchased peanuts to make our "buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack" lyric complete, and my now five and a half year-old son spent a good part of the early innings being my personal peanut sheller. The weather was warm but not too humid, and, well, as I've written before, there's not much better a feeling than to do as previous generations before have done and take your family to the ball game. While we didn't drop a bundle at Build-a-Bear, all told our night, including tickets, parking, dinner for four, a program, photos and photo holders at the photo shop at the ballpark (where we donned Phillies' jerseys), Crackerjacks, peanuts, a foam #1 Phillies hand for my son and a program ran us a total of about $240. That's a lot of money, but it was well worth it.

That said, how most families go to more than a few games a year does mystify me, but not as much as the Pirates' fans sitting behind me, who were more than willing to drop $6.75 for a beer. Then again, if I were a Pirates fan, I would keep re-loading on the beers. The team they field might be better than a AAA team, but most of their guys would be bench players on the contending teams in the majors.

We stayed for about half the game and then decided to call it a night. The air grew more humid, and we had a day at the beach scheduled for the following day. So we took the long drive home, stopped for ice cream, and then put the kids to bed. The whole family had a great time, thanks to the Phillies and their excellent ball park. That the home team is in a playoff race is not lost on me, as the Phillies haven't generated this much excitement in twelve years.

The next day we took the drive to Manasquan at the North Jersey shore, where the kids, whose swimming skills improved markedly at day camp, were eager to see one of my best friends from college (and the best athlete I know, a former AA pitcher) at his parents' house there. I promised them that he would teach them the finer points of wave jumping and boogie boarding, and he did just that. It was my son's first time boogie-boarding, and he took to the shallower part of the ocean like a veteran, standing sideways and beginning to float before the waves would carry him toward the shore. My daughter had boogie boarded a few times before in Cape May, but she was eager to do it again. She looked like even more of a veteran, as she donned a rash guard over her bathing suit. The kids loved being in the ocean and didn't want to get out, but after four hours of the sun and Atlantic, they decided it was time to go. They had been on their feet for a while, and they were getting tired. The drive to the beach is only about an hour, and the kids enjoyed themselves very much. I know that future beach vacations will consist of the kids staying in the water incessantly, with dad giving an occasional glance to make sure that they're doing fine with their boogie boards. Seeing the smiles on their faces as they were getting the hang of it was something to behold. My daughter is a more confident swimmer, and she glides with a quiet confidence. My son showed the exuberance of a just-named lottery winner, so giddy to enjoy his newly acquired skill. At dinner that night he insisted upon being called "Champ," because that's what my good friend called him as he taught him the magic of gliding in on the waves.

Hitting a three-wood two hundred plus yards over a wide pond, eating peanuts at a baseball game, listening to your spouse explain a sacrifice fly to an eight-year old girl, standing in the Atlantic Ocean helping your kids have a ton of fun, running into old friends, we all must remember to do that more often.

It was a great weekend.


callmemickey said...

Its tough being a Pirates fan.. i watched the crap they put up with in the rooftop bleachers (where I was parked satuday night at the phillies game shelling out 6.75 a beer)..

Tom G said...

"but I hit enough good shots to keep me coming back"

For me, it takes just one.

SportsProf said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Yes, it's tough being a Pirates fan, and it's tough being a Phillies fan given their tepid history and the so-so results they have given that their payroll is now in the Top 5 or 6 in all of baseball.

As for the golf, Tom, you're probably right, but I hit a long three wood over a distant pond that I'm especially proud of. If I had putt the ball a little better, I really would have had something to blog about.

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