Balto, Bahston and Beyond

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Sitting
in the back row of a United 757 en route to LAX, reflecting on my long weekend
in the upper hemisphere and four great ballgames.

 

The
three games in what the locals apparently call Balto where seriously good fun
including, as they did, Manny’s 500th and 501st career
home runs, a reunion with Kelly and Beth from San Diego last year and meeting
Cyn, Crystal and Brooke (Crystal’s sister) from SG.


Not
least of the new acquaintances was the legendary Steve who appears in a number
of these photos. He must be the most photographed stuffed ferret on Earth,
although some say he’s actually alive.

Steve's Harem (3).jpg


The
downer of the
Baltimore experience
for me was losing some gear to an opportunist thief who broke a window in my rental
car to nick an MP3 player and a GPS system. The Maryland Transit Police
couldn’t have been more helpful, which is more than can be said for the Hertz
tow truck guy, who took two hours to arrive and couldn’t find the Hertz lot for
another hour. The lot was less than three miles from where the break-in
happened. Dipstick.

 

Manny’s
500th came earlier that evening, after a day of torrential summer
rain and a brief palooze with Kelly, Cyn et al (who the F**k is al – Ed.) in
Sliders, a bar that contrived to run out of hamburger on what must have been
one of their busiest days of the season. Dinks.

MannyHits1.jpg

The
Manny shot was the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a ballpark, a no-doubter into
the centrefield bleachers that I followed for all of its flight. There is no other
sound like the noise which greeted its landing. The whole stadium exploded and
cheering, screaming and clapping continued well into the next at-bat. I have no
clue sitting here who pitched, what the count was, what the game situation was.
None of that matters. I saw a 500th home run. There have only been
23 before this and I was there, crying as it turned out.

 

I
was in the far right field club seats, level with the foul pole and had a great
view of the flight and the scramble for the ball, won by a true fan, a Mr Woo,
who immediately gave it back to Manny and will surely find a place in baseball
heaven.

RedSox500.JPG

For
the Friday and Sunday games I had seats with Kelly, Beth, Cyn and Steve. Apart
from Steve they are raucous, passionate, funny and delightful company. Steve
said little but always had a daft grin on his face. He knows when he’s well
off.

BethCynKellyCrysBrookeSteve.jpg

Sunday’s
game included a standing O for Manny and #501 and was followed, for me by the
Mount Vernon staff picnic,
held in the grounds of Washington’s home overlooking the
Potomac. I got to see
Kiana, her Mom Stacey, and my sister Anne and to savour the fabulous view and
an idyllic summer’s evening. Oh, and I persuaded the DJ to play Dirty Water.

MtVernon.JPG

So
much for Balto (its abbreviated that way on road signs and on the Light Rail system
maps) and on for a flying visit to Bahston. I had figured that, after coming
12000 miles, I couldn’t not go to Fenway.

MeFenway.jpg

The
highlight here, apart from returning for the first time in three years, was the
truly awesome standing O Manny got on his first at-bat. If the Sox FO don’t
exercise their options next year and in 2010, they should be taken out and
shot.

 

Paloozing
on this occasion took the form of a one-on-one session in the Cask & Flagon
with Josh Blue who can drink free Guinness like a native. (I kid, JB, if you’re
reading this). For some reason, probably not unrelated to the Sam Adams consumed, I have no photographic record.

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No, no, Jon Lester

There have been 256 no hitters in MLB, 249 if you count only those thrown by a single pitcher. Red Sox pitchers have pitched a disproportionate 18 of them and the last two were by Clay Buchholz and, today, Jon Lester.

All the superstitions were in evidence: don’t mention the no-hitter, don’t talk to the pitcher in the dugout and so on. At the end, Lester was hugged by what must have been the entire Sox field staff including Francona who lost it and disappeared in tears. Almost incidentally, the Sox beat the Royals 7-0 and are alone in first a game up on the remarkable Rays with the NY AL team 6.5 games back and four games under .500.

And, after going three for three in Boston, Ted and Tex missed all the fun while flying back home. I was at work today, caught an inning or two at lunchtime then ran the whole game on mlb.tv.

It’s on Sportscenter right now and it’s still amazing.

Two Years On

This little outpost of Red Sox fandom celebrates its second birthday
today, although it started life as RSN UK. Back then, I was five months
into unemployment and a search for a job which eventually turned up a
few months later and it changed its name and your correspondent moved
halfway around the world.

Right now, the Sox are 24 and 19 and
in second place behind the team formerly known as the Devil Rays (of
all people) and the NY AL team are two games under .500 and propping up
the division, 4.5 games back. In 2006 at this point, the Sox were 23
and 14 but leading the division by a game from the Y*****s and we all
know how that turned out.

I’ll take what we have with this
team and believe they’re good enough to repeat, both in the Division
and in the playoffs. The Rays are playing waaay above themselves as are
the Orioles. The MFYs on the other hand are in some disarray with young
master Steinbrenner carrying on the family tradition of interference
and lunacy.

Meanwhile, Elmerpalooza is underway in Boston with Ted’s first ever visit to Fenway Park due on Friday, accompanied by quantities of SG commenters and sundry stuffed animals. I suspect it could get a little dusty around 5 pm EDT.

My
own pilgrimage this year is scheduled for the end of the month for the
4-game series in Baltimore and a quick side trip to Fenway for a game.
Scouserpalooza? Possibly, with a chance to meet Cyn, the inspiration for this little blog, and a reunion with Kelly and Beth from last year’s San Diego trip.

Can’t. Wait.

At The Going Down Of The Sun

… and in the morning, we shall remember them.

napier war mem.jpg

Today was ANZAC Day in New Zealand and Australia, a public holiday
commemorating, particularly, the military disaster that was Gallipoli, as well
as their war dead in lots of other actions.

I had booked a couple of nights in a random hotel in Napier,
with the only condition that it should have a sea view. It (the Te Pania Scenic
Circle
) turns out to be across the road from an NZ war memorial, the scene at
dawn today of a service of remembrance, one of hundreds across the country and
in Aus.

I was up before dawn to catch the sunrise – Napier is the
easternmost city and therefore the first to see the new day – and to catch
Justin Masterton’s MLB debut, a convincing performance screwed royally by the
walking wounded who are the Sox bullpen at the moment. Little Manny in particular apparently
looked like death warmed up (by the seventh I’d given up on a flaky mlb.tv and
was listening to Joe C and Dave O’Brien on WRKO radio) and Justin’s 2-run lead
was pissed away.

Napier was flattened by an earthquake and subsequent fires in 1931 and rebuilt mostly in Art Deco style which led to buildings like these:

ArtDec4.jpg
ArtDecoTheatre.jpg

which has absolutely nothing to do with anything but they’re pretty!

Tomorrow’s game in St Pete is a more civilised early
lunchtime start for me and I’ve decided to find an Internet cafe to watch the
game, in an effort to resurrect my ALDS and ALCS mojo.

Oh, and 15-9, leading the division, Papi getting his groove
back, Manny about to reach 500, the kids looking awesome. What’s not to love
about the 2008 Red Sox?

And So It Begins, Again

After a truncated Spring Training, the Sox traipsed all the way from Florida to Tokyo to play a couple of exhibition games and two real games in the Tokyo Dome.

tokyodomegames.JPG
(Image nicked from here)

This place looked like a bigger version of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, including the ludicrous light-coloured roof lining, but with upwards of 50000 noisy Japanese fans.

Then they dragged back to LA to play three exhibition games against the Dodgers, including one in the aging Coliseum, a venue totally unsuited to baseball.

los angeles coliseum.jpg(Image from Diamond Mine Baseball)

This game produced serious revenue for charity and a record crowd for an event involving Major League teams, but it should never have been played in that place.

What next? Off to Oakland for two more real games in the drafty, concrete monstrosity that is the other coliseum.

umax coliseum.jpg
(Image from Diamond Mine Baseball)

This hybrid is being vacated by the A’s for a proper ballpark at the south end of the bay in Fremont sometime in 2010/2011, and not before time.

Finally, over last weekend, three in the SkyDome in Toronto, on the motheaten  carpet-over-concrete surface that MLB should have banned years ago.

skydome.jpg(Image from justzoomin.com)

A good number of the errors and runs in the 3-game sweep by the Jays could be attributed to the ragged rug, the bright, distracting field-level scoreboard and the peculiar backgrounds in this cavernous building.

Leaving aside the effects of all the travel and living out of suitcases for three weeks, the Sox had to cope with the disorientation of the mishmash of crap stadiums with awful sightlines, unpredictable bounces and weird dimensions.

The net result of all this? One game under 500 as they finally start the season properly in Fenway on Tuesday.

World Series have been won on much worse starts than that.

 

Easter Sunday 2008

So there I was, curled up in the back of a rental Nissan Pulsar (trust me, you can’t stretch out in the back of a Pulsar), trying to get some sleep, when I discovered Cyn was live-blogging the Sox-Giants game. Exhibition/MLB promo game not withstanding, I couldn’t resist and followed the quirky narrative  until my iPAQ’s and my batteries nearly gave out.

How, you may ask, had a man of my advanced years come to be sleeping in a rental car in a seaport car park in New Plymouth on Easter Sunday night? Thereby, as they say, hangs a tale.

It sort of started three or so years ago when Ben (my younger son) dragged me in front of his stereo and virtually instructed me to listen to In Between Dreams, Jack Johnson’s first (?) album. I was suitably impressed, became a fan and have bought all his output since, including the not-so-wonderful Curious George soundtrack.

Anyway, when tickets went on sale for his three-show NZ tour, I opted for the New Plymouth date, on the grounds that it was reasonably accessible compared to Christchurch or Napier and it was on a Sunday. I barely noticed it was Easter Sunday – mistake, as we shall see.

Baulking at the idea of a 10 hour roundtrip drive, I booked a flight with Air NZ and a local rental car to get to the venue from New Plymouth airport. I planned to get into town four hours ahead of the concert to find a motel for the night (there are literally thousands of motels in NZ). Mistakes numbers two and three as it turned out.

The flight from Wellington was cancelled and I was offered a ‘reroute’ up to Auckland and back down to NP, with, by the way, a four hour layover in Auckland. So I would get into NP as the venue gates opened, with no time to look for a room.

The TSB Brooklands Arena is truly magical: a covered stage built on an island at one end of a small lake with the viewing area a grassy slope just across a small stretch of water. I found a good spot and sat down to wait as the large (by NZ standards) crowd gathered and the sun set.

Brooklands_arena2

The gig began around 7:30 with a too-long warm up set from a guy called Matt Costas and Jack Johnson appeared around 8:45.

Jackjohnson1

I watched for around an hour and decided to leave. Not having somewhere to stay was getting me twitchy and sitting on the ground was doing nothing for my back spasms.

As it turned out, I didn’t miss too much more music. Around 10 p.m. some of the crowd decided they’d rather be nearer the stage and piled into the lake where dancing and cavorting ensued. The set was stopped while the water was cleared, Jack played a couple more songs and finished with hundreds of kids in the water again.

I. meanwhile, was engaged in a short and fruitless search for a room. A nice lady in the Plymouth Hotel gently reminded me it was the Easter weekend (a four-day holiday in NZ) and "there’s the Jack Johnson concert at Brooklands".

Every hotel, motel and B&B for miles around had been booked for weeks. I stood no chance. Everyone and his brother was in town on holiday and all his brother’s mates and their girlfriends were here for the Jack Johnson gig.

So it was, dear reader, that I ended up parked at the water’s edge in the port area of New Plymouth, gazing at a sky filled with more stars than I’ve seen in ages, with a full moon lighting the waves, curled up in the back of the Nissan, following the first live blog of the season.

Bliss.

Off And Running

After two meaningless and mildly embarrassing workouts against the kids of Boston College and Northeastern University, ST games got underway today, or yesterday depending where the dateline is, with a big boys’ game against the Twins

Matsuzaka pitched two innings for two hits and no runs, with the defence turning two double plays behind him. The offence later came through with back to back homers from Youk and Tek. In the end, 8-3 was good day’s work although by the end, most of the guys on the field were unknowns, probably to each other as well as to most of the fans.

Meanwhile, Coco Crisp was hitting and running the bases like a man possessed, or more likely, a man putting together a highlight reel. I’m getting ambiguous about centre field. After September and the postseason, I wanted Ellsbury to start this year because I thought Crisp’s offence wasn’t outweighed by his D. Now, somehow, I think there might be room for both.

Img_1051

Joshua Patrick had the day off today, so I thought I’d post his street sign. I’ve driven past this sign at RNZPC every day for more than a year but I only got around to taking this picture last week. No. 19 pitches at 1 p.m. Sunday I think, which is 5 a.m. Monday for me. I suspect he’ll be starting  without me.