I find myself sitting in Indianapolis International Airport waiting to get on a plane for the first time in seven years. To be honest, I'm not thrilled about the mode of travel, but the thought of what awaits me on the other side of the flights makes me get on the plane.
After thinking I'm going to die on a commuter jet, I use up all of my 40 minute layover in O'Hare simply walking to my gate. A flight that never seemed to end later, and I find myself in a city I call home, Bradenton, FL. Actually, it was strange to me that I spent time in all three cities I call home on one day.
Spend the day playing golf in the Florida heat and resting. Realize that my chance to finally meet family friend Larry Robinson in person has just passed as he left today for a hockey-related trip to L.A.
Head to Tropicana Field to watch my first of nine games during my stay in Tampa Bay. The Rays fall behind by five runs early and with Halladay on the mound, stand no real chance of getting back in the game. The one bright spot is a Gregg Zaun homer off the right field foul pole.
This was one of the nights I had circled as a game I was rather interested in, although the reason had nothing to do with the play on the field. The Rays have held a Summer concert series for the last two seasons and this evening will be another concert night. The band: The B-52s. My amount of excitement is only heightened by the fact that it's also Sci-Fi night at the Trop.
I've always loved ballpark/stadium promotions, but this one is by far my favorite of all time. As my father and I walked into the rotunda to enter Tropicana, we're greeted by about 10 Stormtroopers and various other characters from the Star Wars universe.
The whole night was centered around sci-fi and the B-52s. Every usher was in some form of sci-fi gear, and Fred Schneider (B-52s' frontman) was the PA announcer for the first inning. Additionally, Eddie McClintock (Warehouse 13) and Robin Dunne (Sanctuary) from SyFy threw out the first pitches.
The Rays won this game going away, 8-3 and ended all hope of a Toronto rally with a three run seventh.
Things I distinctly remember about this particular game:
1) If you're going to sing "O Canada", know the lyrics and don't put them out of order.
2) This was a tight game all the way until the bottom of the eighth when Gregg Zaun hit a grand slam to put the Rays up for good.
3) After two home runs in three days, Gregg Zaun became my father's favorite Ray. "He's gritty, I like that."
Off Day. Spent the middle of the day putting up hurricane shutters on the house with my father. The heat of the day really got to me and I quit with only a few windows left.
In a bit of a throwback to my youth, my father and I watch this game from the outfield seats. To this day, Tropicana Field is the only stadium I've ever been to where I actually enjoy watching a game from the outfield.
Pat "The Bum" Burrell and B.J. Upton both homer in the sixth. Despite a late rally by Baltimore with included a Matt Wieters homer, the Rays come away with another win, pushing their winning streak to three games.
Start off the day fishing at the Skyway Fishing Pier as it was something my father and I had always wanted to do, but had never gotten around to doing. Highlights of the excursion were me getting sunburnt, us witnessing a gigantic ray swim by with two remoras on its back, and my father getting his hand bit to hell by a Spanish Mackerel that he caught.
Another game spent in the outfield. Thing that sticks out to me the most is that Ben "Zorilla" Zorbrist hit a solo home run in the sixth on the day I decided to wear my Zorilla shirt to the Trop. Rays win by virtue of a strong start by Jeff Niemann which saw him carry a shutout through seven-and-one-third innings.
Although I've been to the Trop several times since they've installed the Ray Tank in center field, I had never gone to pet a ray before. On a day where the stadium is rather empty, my father and I decide we should go since neither of us have before. I went into it thinking it would be a waste of time, but the experience was actually pretty awesome. It was interesting to feel the texture of a ray's skin and cool to watch them up close.
As for the game itself, it appeared several times that the Rays would overcome the holes they had been digging for themselves all game, but each time a rally would start it would end with them still trailing by one run. In the end, that one run was difference as they fell to the O's 8-7.
On the ride home, as we do after every Rays game, we listened to Rich Herrera on the post game show. I've always thought highly of him, but on nights after a loss his baseball knowledge shines as he has to fight off all the negative calls from fans expecting a sweep.
A big series opens for the Rays as they took on the Texas Rangers. At the time the Rays were only two games behind Texas in the chase for the Wild Card with a chance to overtake them with a sweep of the series. Zorilla and Pena hit back to back two-out home runs in the fifth off of starting pitcher, Dustin Nippert.
Meanwhile Kazmir goes seven-and-one-third strong, surrendering only three runs. In the end, the back to back homers are the difference and the Rays beat the Rangers 5-3 on a night where Wildcard leaders, Boston, lose to the Yankees 20-11.
This game was hands down the most exciting to watch. Carlos Pena was the hero of this contest as he brought in four runs, including two home runs in a game that went into the 10th. A Marlon Byrd two-out ninth-inning homer sent the game into extras, and a Pena line drive up the middle in the 10th brought Longoria around to score on a play at the plate.
My final game in St. Pete on this road trip. Instead of batting practice, those arriving early were treated to a Buccaneers' wives v. Rays' wives softball game for charity. It was interesting at first, but began to become boring as the game went into extras, much to the dismay of those in charge of the event.
The Rays' wives came away with the win, and I would have much preferred to watch them play in place of their husbands on that day. An overall pitiful performance by the Rays allowed Texas to avoid the sweep and only lose a game to the Rays in the standings. Rangers 4, Tampa Bay 0.
In a change of plans, my father and I decided to road trip back up to Indianapolis instead of me flying back. That was something I was quite grateful for as I got to spend another day and a half with my father. Made great time and the drive reminded me why Georgia is such a boring state to drive through.
The original plans for this day were to head up to Milwaukee with some friends and catch a Brewers game; sadly, these plans fell through. The day was not all for naught, as I was able to catch my hometown Indianapolis Indians on a nice evening for baseball. It wasn't the Brewers game, which ended up going 13 innings that night, but it was still baseball.
I found myself driving out to St. Louis to visit family and see a Cardinals game. I know that St. Louis is a humid city, but I always forget how humid it truly is until I'm there. The humidity makes it hard to see a ball in the night's sky, and I had a long conversation with my sister about how all of that probably creates a pretty decent home field advantage for the Cards.
The game was interesting as the Cardinals scored all three of their runs in the first, while the Astros scraped across their two runs in the fourth. From then on it was a pitcher's duel.
One play that really stands out to me from that night is a failed tag up attempt by Albert Pujols, who thought the outfielders were going to let the ball drop after they had lost it in the haze above the stadium. When it was caught, Pujols basically half-ran to first before stopping completely midway there.
I figured this would be just a non-baseball related day with family, but my sister took me by a neighborhood called "Ebbets Field." The neighborhood had a ballpark style entrance, with all of the mailboxes and street signs painted Dodger Blue. Every street was named after a former Dodger great and it was cool to see, but I kept finding it odd that a neighborhood dedicated to the Dodgers would be built in the middle of Cardinals country.
I also found out that if you look in the right places, one can find an array of Cardinals shirts for $10 each.
Finally my day concluded with my brother-in-law's brother joining us for dinner. He's a baseball fanatic who is only nine stadiums away from visiting all of the MLB parks. We spent the evening discussing out favorite parks and different road trips we had been on.
Drove from St. Louis back to Indianapolis. I got home at 9 PM and immediately proceeded to pack for my final year of college. I knew going into this trip I really wouldn't get a lot of rest, but I can honestly say I'm quite tired. Yet, who needs sleep when you have your passions to entertain you?