Saturday, July 28, 2007

Life in A-ball, cuz

The headline was a popular expression, or so I'm told, of last year's Modesto Nuts manager Glenallen Hill. We had one of those days when G-Hill would have said that phrase a lot.

We bussed down to Bakersfield, which just edges Visalia for the most depressing place in minor league baseball. OK, most depressing in the Cal League.

For some reason, we had a different hotel. Never a good thing when you're switching hotels in the middle of the season. The address we were given was for a Ramada. We pulled up, and the lady at the front desk about had a heart attack when she saw 25 baseball players, plus coaches and staff, get off a bus. They had no record of us staying there.

Phone calls were made. Hotels are setup by the home team. The Bakersfield front office insisted we were at the right place. Turns out, there's another Ramada in town. Who'd have thought there was two Ramadas in Bakersfield?

But thank goodness there are. The first Ramada looked like a dump. Of course, I will admit, it was sad that we weren't staying at the same hotel as the pale-skinned woman sitting at the pool, weighing a good two and a half bills, legs spread wide, and smoking a cigarette. But a few others on the bus had already called "dibs" on her anyway.

I digress. Arrived at the other Ramada, and all is well in the world. Temporarily.

The phone lines at "historic" Sam Lynn Ballpark -- I prefer to say prehistoric -- are a joke. You can't stay connected for longer than 20-30 minutes. Not when I call to the radio station. Not when the radio station calls me. So once again, we had to use the cell phone comrex to establish a connection.

There's no internet. No wireless. No DSL. That means, even though we had an internet-only broadcast, we had to broadcast the game from a cell connetion. I had ringing in my ears all night. Tough game to broadcast. We scored eight runs in the second inning for a 9-0 lead. From that point on, I'm trying to fill seven innings of a game that is essentially over.

It's a good 20 degrees hotter in the press box than the ballpark, and the game time temperature was an even 100 degrees. When the night was eventually over, I'd see a sun rash all over my chest.

But the night wasn't over when the game ended. Our bus had a flat tire. No way he could drive it. It's hard to find somebody to fix a bus tire at 11 at night. Now, if this happened in Modesto, ever front office member would be giving rides for the players and staff back to the hotel. We'd volunteer to do it, and wouldn't think twice of it.

Instead, no such help from the Bakersfield front office. Only one guy was left in the front office, and at least he called a cab company for us. Most of the team waited on the bus watching a movie until the first cab arrived. Some players got rides from friends and family back to the hotel.

The things about cities like Bakersfield, there's not a lot of cabs. It was two drivers who ended up taking everybody back and forth who didn't get a ride elsewhere.

I let the players go first, and waited until the end. Ended up swapping stories with Chris Strickland, our trainer, and a few others about busses breaking down in the middle of nowhere. One thing about people in the minors like Chris, they have great stories. When I say great stories, that's another way of saying, "oh my goodness, that's horrendous. Tonight is bad, but that was ridiculous. I'm so glad that happened to you, and not me."

Finally got back to the hotel around 1 a.m., almost three hours after the game ended. I've had my share of ridiculous travel stories in seven years covering major league baseball. Last night wasn't the worst. It was probably in the top five, but only because of the dueling Ramada hotels from the afternoon.

Indeed, welcome to A-ball, cuz.

** UPDATE: Our bus driver Craig had the tire fixed the next day. He found a key inside the tire. Yes, one of the great citizens of Bakersfield keyed our bus. Nice. **

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