Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Florida recap.

This is the tenth consecutive year I've gone to Florida to take in some Spring Training baseball games. Mostly I go solo, but this year my brother, C, managed to get the week off work, so he came with me (he came with me a few years ago, too).

I've always flown down, because time has been tight; about every other year I've gone to our union's annual meeting which takes up the first weekend of March Break, through Monday afternoon. But I wasn't going to go to the meeting this year, and I'd always wanted to drive isntead of fly, so I asked C if he was up for it, and he was.

We stayed at our parents' place on Saturday night, which effectively gave us a headstart on the Sunday morning (doubly important on the day the clocks went ahead an hour). Made it to Knoxville, Tennessee on the first day, then rolled into central Florida around dinnertime the next evening. A generally uneventful drive; managed to get through Atlanta just before noon on Monday, which meant the traffic wasn't bad at all.

Three full days, three games (two at home in Lakeland, one just down the road in Kissimmee), three Tiger wins, and pretty tenacious heat every day. On the upside, it was mostly sunny; on the downside, 32C is pretty oppressive when you've spent a winter in Canada.

On the way back we needed to hit the road pretty early in the day so that we'd miss Friday afternoon Atlanta rush hour... which we largely did, save for a bit of I-75 on the north side of the city, but honestly, it wasn't any worse than, say, Mississauga on the 401. We did hit ridiculous traffic in Chattanooga, after running into a road closure in the south of Georgia (and a subsequent detour) but made it back to Knoxville and had dinner. The next morning we needed to take a detour around a rockslide which had the northbound lanes of the highway closed, and we drove some little twisty roads before coming back to the interstate.

Some observations:

Country music these days is just really, really awful. It all sounds pretty much the same: you've got a guy singing in a southern twang, a pasteurized band behind him essentially playing rock, lyrics about drinking and partying and pickup trucks and women, and even (incredibly) electronic beats which veer into hip-hop territory. And it's unavoidable down there.

There are places in the south where camouflage clothing isn't worn ironically, nor to actually camouflage oneself in a forest. It's just worn to lunch.

Quite a few people really, really hate Hillary Clinton. I was talking with a waitress in a barbecue restaurant who'd never heard of Bernie Sanders but would "give him a look," and would only refer to Clinton as "that woman who I won't name." Similarly, a guy at a game who identified as a Republican couldn't get over the whole Whitewater thing -- "all the witnesses either died or disappeared!" -- but at the same time felt generally uneasy about Trump.

I was called "sweetie," "slick" and "hun" by waitresses.

Yuengling is a decent cheap beer. I wish we had it here.

A woman at one of the games in Lakeland got hit in the nose by a foul ball. But it wasn't a screaming liner into the stands; it was a high pop-fly behind the plate. Why you wouldn't be trying to get out of the way -- especially since you have several seconds to do so -- is beyond me. I watched the ball come up and over the screen, and it landed in the section to our right and made quite the thump; I didn't know at the time that was the sound of the ball hitting a woman's face. Eventually the paramedics took her away; noses bleed a lot. The moral of the story: HOLY SHIT, PAY ATTENTION.

On the way back we stopped just south of the Georgia border to buy pecans. The guy standing by the front who was helping to run the place -- his role in the management of the establishment wasn't clearly defined, and neither was the number of teeth in his mouth -- was talking to C and I about music (I forget how it came up), and the guy said that a buddy of his has a sweet recording studio in his basement, and the drummer from Creed was once there, recording stuff! As we got in the car, C asked me, "Should we have told him that Creed sucks?" But hey, the way I figure it, that probably makes for a pretty good story for that guy, so let's let him keep it.

Before the St. Patrick's Day game in Lakeland, we bought peanuts from a vendor outside the stadium, assured we could take them in with us (which we did). She said the proceeds from the sales "were going to charity," and I asked what charities. She said there were two: one to help out disadvantaged kids, and the other "provides options for pregnant women." That second one... yiiiikes. I really wanted to ask her what "options" she was talking about, and given that this was in a church parking lot, I'm pretty damn sure those options didn't include abortions (Florida is rife with billboards with babies on them that say, "18 Days from Conception to Heartbeat!"). But hey, I wasn't about to get into a huge, deep discussion on the heaviest of topics; besides, there was baseball to go see.

After buying the peanuts, C and I went to watch the Tigers take batting practice on a back field. It's actually way better to go out there, if you're looking for souvenirs; instead of fighting 50 people for balls, there were 5 of us, chatting casually the whole time. C had one skip past him, and the guy who got it said he has three grandkids and already had three balls, so he gave it to C (whose daughter asked us to get one for her).

As we walked out there past the chain-link outfield fence, C sneezed and Tigers prospect Kyle Ryan, who was in the outfield shagging fly balls, said with a southern accent, "Bless you." C sneezed again; another "Bless you." How polite! I told him, "Hey, you looked good in Tuesday's game," which elicited a, "Well, thankya" in response. Nice kid. Looked him up, and he's from Auburndale, Florida, right close to Lakeland. Local kid does well.

While standing out beyond right-center and chatting with the fellow souvenir-hunters, one of them saw Tiger prospect Michael Fulmer grab a fly ball. He said, "Hey Michael, we're the guys your dad knows from the hotel!" Fullmer replied, "Oh, really? He's told me a lot about you." Laughter ensued, and the guy asked, "Is that so? What did he say?" Fulmer shot back, "Ah, y'know, I really shouldn't tell ya."

The Tigers are wearing these ridiculous navy jerseys this spring. They've never had a special Spring Training jersey before, but I imagine MLB put the squeeze on 'em to wear these so they could bump up their licenced-gear sales. I always enjoyed the fact that they wore their regular-season uniforms in ST; it seems way classier to me. Also, there were two straight games in which two teams in navy jerseys played each other; the only way to tell them apart were the colours of their caps and pants. Awful.

We sat in the shade for all three games. At the first game I thought, "Well, we're in the shade, hats make my head hot, so I'll just take mine off." I hadn't put sunscreen on my forehead... which got burnt. In the shade. From reflected light. Holy shit, I'm pale.

I'm pretty excited to not have to drive 12-ish hours today, that's for sure.