Monthly Archives: April 2018
Bye Baton Rouge…but I’ll be back soon
My stay in Baton Rouge is down to its final two hours, maybe less. My dad and I will depart the Courtyard on Acadian a little before 8:00 and make one last stop in the city to buy crawfish at Tony’s Seafood on Plank Road.
We should be out of Louisiana no later than 1:30. Tonight’s stop is McAlester, Oklahoma. By Tuesday evening, I’ll be back in Russell.
The last few times I have been in Kansas City, I couldn’t get out fast enough. I knew it was time to head west and didn’t waste any time doing so.
This time, I wish I could stay another week. Maybe another month. I got to see so many people I had not in nearly 13 years, but there are still many I didn’t see and I still want to. Some are no longer living in Baton Rouge (Herb Vincent), and some were too busy to make it out to Alex Box.
I last was in Baton Rouge in 2010, but I saw hardly anyone I knew. This time was much different. It reminded me of the different lives I led before and after Katrina. Not that the life in Kansas is terrible, but I lived longer in Louisiana and knew people for a lot longer. Other than Peggy, there aren’t any in Kansas I knew nearly as long as I knew in Louisiana.
There was a slight misadventure last night. We wanted to eat at Ivar’s, the sports bar where I hung out many a day and night when I went to LSU and lived in Baton Rouge afterwards. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get service and left after a few minutes. We weren’t upset, just a little disappointed.
However, 18 more chargrilled oysters at Acme Oyster House more than made up for it. WAY MORE. I ate 30 chargrilled oysters in the space of 32 hours Saturday and Sunday. I could eat 30 DOZEN if I had the time. They are that good.
LSU won all three games from Tennessee. The first two were not close, 9-3 and 14-5. Yesterday, however, was a different story.
The Volutneers led 4-0 and 7-3, the latter lead holding up until the bottom of the ninth.
However, the Bayou Bengals came all the way back, scoring six times in their last at-bat, the last three coming on a home run by Daniel Cabrera, giving LSU its first three-game series sweep of 2018 and keeping it alive in the SEC title race.
If LSU manages to become a regional host, this game may be the one which put the Tigers over the top. The next two weekends find LSU at South Carolina and Ole Miss before it plays Arkansas May 4-6.
All good things have to end. It’s over this time. However, next time will come far sooner than 2031. Or 2026. Or 2020.
Play (soggy) ball!
I was reminded most of today why Louisiana is near the national leaders in rainfall year in and year out.
I woke up at 7:30 with Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” blaring from my iPhone. Surprisingly, the thunder and lightning did not.
It was absolutely pouring. The sky was quite dark. There were severe weather alerts issued seemingly every two minutes, including a couple of tornado warnings for East Baton Rouge Parish. Thankfully, those warnings were not for where we were staying. However, it was nasty.
The rain seemed to end by 12:30, when my dad and I went to eat at Acme Oyster House. Oyster Rockefeller soup, charbroiled oysters, bread pudding. I can die happy now.
We went to the Mall of Louisiana to kill time, and by time we left the area, it started to rain hard again. It really rained hard when we were on Siegen Lane, and my dad thought there was no way there would be a baseball game tonight. I had some doubt, but from experience, I knew LSU would do everything it could to play the game. It was still raining hard at 5:00 when we went to eat at Outback, which is in the same parking lot as the Courtyard.
Lo and behold, the rain stopped by time we left the restaurant at 5:50. There is a lot of standing water on the streets, but the railroad trestle on Acadian between Interstate 10 and Perkins Road was passable.
Teams have taken infield–batting practice was conducted in the cages in order to allow more time for field prep–and the game will start at 8:00 as originally rescheduled. The good news about playing tonight is the game tomorrow starts at 4:00, so there will be plenty of time to sleep in and eat lunch.
One down, two to go
LSU defeated Tennessee 9-3. The Tigers hit four home runs, two by Jake Slaughter, in the first three innings to go up 8-0, then coasted the rest of the way.
The last LSU run helped me.
My dad got tired during the seventh inning and asked me to bring him back to the hotel. I agreed and we left in the bottom of the 7th. Fortunately I was able to map out a route which avoided traffic and we got back in good time. I then drove back to the stadium for the rest of the game.
I thought I might not make it back for the end, but LSU added a run in the bottom of the eighth which gave me some time to make it past Highland Road. By time I pulled into the parking lot, the top of the ninth had just started.
The Volunteers scored twice and loaded the bases again against two LSU relievers before the game ended. In all, 15-20 extra minutes were tacked on to the ending.
Bill is now on the field coordinating interviews with players and coach Paul Mainieri. After that’s done, he’ll interview Mainieri for the radio in the Champions Club on the ground level of the stadium.
Even though I ate a lot of brisket at TJ Ribs, I gave the jambalaya at the stadium a try. Good for stadium fare, but my mother makes it better.
It’s been a great day. But I am tired. I’ve been up for over 18 hours now. Fortunately tomorrow’s game is not until 2000 (8 p.m.), so I can sleep in.
I’ve got to hit the Walmart on College Drive to stock up on drinks and snacks. I don’t think I’m hitting Whataburger tonight. It’s too far to drive. Ivar’s is probably too busy.
I did get a little typing done between dinner and the game. Looks like it will all flow smoothly and allow the return to Russell to be easy.
I’m going to blog about my nice dinner at TJ Ribs in my next post. Whether it’s late tonight or tomorrow morning remains to be seen. If I don’t post again, have a great night and a better tomorrow. If I do post, I hope you’re still up to read (actually, I don’t. Sleep is exponentially more important than my blog.).
Too bad I didn’t see this nine years ago
I’m inside the press box at the new Alex Box Stadium. I had seen it plenty on television, but looking at it up close, it is impressive to say the least.
The press box is actually a press box, something it wasn’t at the original Alex Box. At the old park, the press box was open air and was two cramped rows, save for a little more room for LSU’s radio broadcasters.
Bill has his own booth, but he told me there are always a lot of people in the booth, which makes is as hectic as the old place. The official scorer–who happens to be my old pal Bryan Lazare–has a public address system to announce scoring decisions and pertinent statistics. In the old Box, the scorer had to use hand signals to convey decisions.
For the fans, the two biggest things are (a) an open concourse which allows fans to go to the concession stands and use the restrooms without missing much action, and (b) no obstructing poles in the grandstand, which was not uncommon in baseball parks built before World War II. Fenway Park and Wrigley Field still have them. Comiskey Park in Chicago and Tiger Stadium in Detroit were notorious for them.
Driving through campus to the stadium was sort of an out-of-body experience. I remembered the route from the Courtyard to Alex Box well enough, but many of the buildings I saw along West Lakeshore and South Stadium Drives were not there when I took my final class in the summer of 1999.
I’m glad LSU was able to build so much when there was good funding to education during the administrations of Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco. Bobby Jindal cut education funding drastically, and although John Bel Edwards constantly states he wants to increase education funding exponentially, it’s hard to do with Louisiana’s budget in such dire straits. Just like Kansas, except K-12 education funding is the big problem in the Sunflower State, not that for higher education.
LSU and Tennessee are ready to begin. First “Baseball at the Box” since June 6, 2005.
Even if the Tigers don’t score a run this weekend–heaven forbid, but I don’t think that happens–the trip to Baton Rouge is already a smashing success. I’ll blog about it when I get back to the hotel.
Many, many, many (…) days of waiting over!
Two thousand eight hundred forty nine days since I last departed Baton Rouge, I have returned.
It became official just before noon when my dad and I crossed the US 190 bridge over the Mississippi River. The bridge is now painted silver like the Interstate 10 bridge. Previously, it was orange, which matched the bauxite dust from the nearby Kaiser Aluminium plant, long since closed. When it opened in 1940, the bridge was blue, but when the dust kept coating the bridge, it turned orange, so the state decided enough was enough and stopped painting it blue.
The trip from Texarkana included a bit of hilarity in Shreveport. We stopped for gas along the last exit out of Shreveport heading south on Interstate 49. There are two stations on the road, a Chevron on the right (eastbound) and a Shell on the left (westbound). The Shell was selling gasoline for less than the Chevron. There were no cars at the Chevron, yet at the Shell, every pump was in use and there were line waiting to get their gas.
All to save six cents per gallon.
You read it right: SIX CENTS. One nickel and one penny.
In other words, many were there to save no more than $1.08, which would be 18 gallons of gas times six cents. One guy had a full-sized pickup truck and a generator to fuel. Even if he needed 50 gallons, he would still save a measly three bucks.
My dad decided to wait in line, since we had already pulled in to the Shell and didn’t want to cross the highway to go to Chevron.
We passed by the state capitol when we got to town, but traffic was nuts, so we decided to come back and try to get a picture Sunday. When we returned to Interstate 110 to get to I-10, traffic came to a crawl. Baton Rouge and traffic go together just like peanut butter and jelly.
In an hour, my dad and I will be going to eat at one of Baton Rouge’s most popular restaurants, TJ Ribs. We’ll be meeting someone from my past…
We have time. The game isn’t until 7:00. Tonight will be fine, but tomorrow is supposed to be very stormy as I mentioned earlier.
I will admit I’m nervous. I have not seen this person in a very long time. I have wanted to see them for a very long time.
Ten hours to Texarkana in the books
Ten hours after leaving 1224 North Brooks Street, Russell, Kansas, my dad and I arrived in Texarkana. The hotel is on the Texas side of the state line right on Interstate 30.
There were a couple of rough moments today.
The first was in Wichita where a car was stopped on the left shoulder of Interstate 135, but was sticking out into the road. Luckily we saw the vehicle to avoid trouble. I hope the person in the car was not seriously hurt or worse. That looked like big-time trouble. And if there was an accident, I can only imagine how bad traffic would have been snarled on I-135.
The second came right before getting to the hotel. If you have ever driven in Texas, at least in metropolitan areas, you are aware there are frontage roads where hotels, restaurants and stores are located. In many instances, there is no direct access from an exit to your destination; you’ll have to probably use a frontage road for at least a mile, probably more.
In this case, we had to use the frontage road on Interstate 30 east for two miles to reach the hotel. The problem was, the turn was almost immediately after crossing a double white line, and that is very dangerous.
The danger almost came to pass, as a car came over the double white line and nearly sideswiped us. My dad made a quick maneuver to turn right into the hotel. The stuff in the back seat shifted, but we were okay. Just a little stunned.
That was enough excitement for one day. Other than that, it was a very good trip, with two stops at Love’s Travel Centers, which are as ubiquitous in Oklahoma and north Texas as strip clubs on Bourbon Street. Dinner tonight at On The Border was outstanding. I’m stuffed.
Tomorrow should be fabulous. We’ll be in Louisiana about an hour after leaving the hotel, and by 1:30, we should be in Baton Rouge. I cannot wait to see Bill, Michael Bonnette, Chris Blair and anyone else who shows up. And maybe someone I haven’t seen for a very, very, very long time. Someone I miss more than just about anyone on earth.
From what I have seen, it is going to be very cold back in Russell tomorrow. So cold that Hill City postponed its big track meet scheduled for tomorrow. Since Hill City put installed a world-class track at its stadium before the 2017 season, its meet has become one of the best for small schools anywhere in Kansas. It’s a shame it has to be pushed back to April 23, but Mother Nature is still undefeated.
Four enchiladas and some fajita meat and veggies (my dad couldn’t quite finish it) has done a number; thankfully, I didn’t eat breakfast and I restrained myself from eating too much at Chick-Fil-A for lunch, so it could be much worse. I will sleep well tonight. If I can sleep. The anticipation might keep me buzzed.
Have a good night. And a better tomorrow.
Not in Kansas anymore
It’s been five hours since we left Russell. Stopping for lunch in Midwest City, just east of downtown Oklahoma City. Beat the lunchtime rush at Chick-Fil-A across from Tinker Air Force Base.
This is the first time I’ve been in the Oklahoma City area since driving to Russell following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The biggest difference between now and then with OKC is the city has the Thunder, which came from Seattle in 2008.
The trip to Texarkana is about halfway through. Weather has been nice, and save for a few very slow or very fast drivers, the traffic has been fine.
Now it’s Interstate 40 to Henryetta, then comes the turn south again towards Texas. Hopefully we’ll be in Texarkana by 5:30.
Tomorrow is the day I’ve waited for. Hopefully no Friday the 13th curse.
Ready to roll…and a flashback to Music City
It’s here. In less than two hours, my dad and I will be on the road. Today’s destination: Texarkana. And no, we won’t have any beer, despite what Jerry Reed sang in “East Bound and Down”, the theme from Smokey and the Bandit.
I last went to Louisiana in 2010. Like that trip, I am not returning to New Orleans. Baton Rouge is the end of the line for us. There’s baseball and hopefully good food, but I have work to do during the down time. There is a lot of sitting and waiting during weekend baseball series, as I rediscovered last year in Lexington and two years ago in Columbia (Missouri, not South Carolina).
The trip actually got off to a bad start yesterday.
When my parents went to New Orleans last October, my mother’s Toyota was involved in an accident in the French Quarter. They had to drive back to Russell in a rental car while her car was being repaired. My mother offered us use of her Toyota for the trip, but my dad said no.
Instead, he decided to rent a car in Hays. I offered to drive to Wichita, leaving my car at the airport. But he declined. So we went to Hays yesterday to get the car.
If anything seems too good to be true, it is. And so it was with the car.
It was a 2018 Impala, a much more sophisticated version of my car.
Problem was, the air conditioner did not work. No refrigerant.
I was very angry. STEAMING. And for what? I made a fool of myself. Again. Another story for Crista and I to discuss in 16 days when I see her again.
My fear was there would not be a car for us in Hays, and we’d have to drive the sweatbox to Wichita to trade it out. Fortunately, another car, a Hyundai Sonata, arrived back in Hays at 5:15, so all is on track again.
The weather today will be just fine, albeit a bit hot for mid-April. Tomorrow is going to go downhill as the day goes on, but we should be able to drive from Texarkana to Baton Rouge without any problems.
Then comes Saturday. Rain chances 100 percent, as in it is going to rain; the only question is how much. Some models are predicting up to four inches. The good news is no severe weather is predicted in Oklahoma or Kansas on the trip, which is always a huge concern in spring.
Still nothing on a change to the weekend schedule. My thinking is they’ll try to wait out the rain Saturday and still attempt to play at the scheduled starting time of 6:30, rolling the dice and accepting the reality of two seven-inning games Sunday if the rain doesn’t abate. Tennessee should be in Baton Rouge by 5:00, so the wheels will start spinning then.
Tuesday and Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of one of my stranger experiences in college baseball.
LSU played Vanderbilt Easter weekend 1998 in Nashville. My dad and I drove up for the Friday and Saturday games, but missed the Sunday game to get back to Baton Rouge so I didn’t miss class Monday.
My dad and I left Thursday and stopped for the night in Tuscaloosa. Thank God we left Thursday, because the previous day, killer tornadoes struck Alabama, including an F5 which destroyed homes in suburbs of Birmingham. The motel where we stayed along Interstate 20/59 was destroyed by the April 2011 tornado which came perilously close to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Vanderbilt’s campus is not too far from downtown Nashville, in an area famously known as the West End. There are many upscale hotels, restaurants and shops along West End Boulevard, which runs from Interstate 440, the loop around Nashville, to downtown and the Cumberland River.
Vanderbilt’s campus is wedged in along the west end of West End, the quintessential urban university, which is totally opposite of the large state institutions which populate the rest of the Southeastern Conference.
Land at Vanderbilt is at a premium, and the athletic plant is no exception. The baseball field is wedged into a small space abutting the Commodores’ football stadium and Memorial Gymnasium, the basketball arena where the benches are along the end lines and the stands rise like balconies in a theater rather than encircle the court.
Vanderbilt has made it work despite the limitations. Hawkins Field is a wonderful facility, featuring a large press box and luxury boxes, chairback seats, and just about every amenity you would need for a school Vandy’s size.
The third base line at Hawkins Field shares a boundary with the east side of the football stadium. There is a 35-foot high “Black Monster” in left field to make sure most home run balls do not damage windows at Memorial Gymnasium.
It has certainly helped the Commodores go from SEC doormat to an established college baseball superpower, one which won the 2014 national championship. Of course, Tim Corbin, who has coached there since 2003, has been another big reason for Vandy’s success.
Prior to the construction of Hawkins Field, the Commodores’ diamond was, well, let’s just say, lacking.
What was known as McGugin Field, named because it was across the street from Vanderbilt’s McGugin Athletic Complex, was WAY below sub-standard for an SEC program. That’s being kind.
The listed capacity was 1,000. The Commodores hardly ever needed that many seats, save for SEC weekends which drew large crowds. Of course, LSU draws the largest crowds to SEC games, and as expected, purple and gold was all over the stands in Nashville that weekend.
Those stands were worse than what I have encountered in some high school football stadiums in rural Kansas. Think the visiting side of Russell High’s stadium. I can think of a few stadiums around here–Hill City, Norton, Phillipsburg–where the visiting stands are better than what Vandy had in those days. And there was no shade, which, sadly, is too common in the SEC.
(One place without a roof over its grandstand is Florida, which is ridiculous. The good news is the Gators will be moving into a new facility by 2021, one with a roof over the main seating area, which will mean the end of McKethan Stadium. I’m not shedding tears.)
There was no press box atop the “grandstand” at McGugin Field. Instead, the press sat in a trailer-like structure on top of the third base dugout. That actually was a step up from the past; Bill told me he and Jim Hawthorne broadcast from outdoors in both 1995 and ’96 and froze their butts off both times.
The problem was with the press “box” was there was no way to see down the third base line, since the trailer was very narrow and no way to see out the side towards the outfield. As bad as the open-air press box at the old Alex Box Stadium was, at least you could see the whole field.
Honestly, the SEC should have told Vandy it had to play conference games at Hesrchel Greer Stadium, which was then the home of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. The Big 12 forced West Virginia to play its conference games elsewhere prior to 2015 since the Mountaineers’ stadium in Morgantown was horrible. That forced West Virginia to play games in other locales in the state, mostly in Huntington or Charleston, but sometimes in Beckley or Wheeling.
If Vandy had trouble finding dates at Greer, it should have been forced to another suitable facility, even if it were in Memphis or Chattanooga, or (God forbid) Knoxville and the Volunteers’ Lindsey Nelson Stadium. But college baseball in the late ’90s only mattered in Baton Rouge and Starkville. Other places can say they cared, but the reality was LSU and Mississippi State truly cared, and the others were going through the motions.
However, the SEC commissioner in those days, Roy Kramer, had been athletic director at Vandy for 12 years prior to making the move to Birmingham. No way he was going to rule against his former employer in that one.
LSU won the two games my dad and I attended, and Vandy won the Easter game. I returned to Nashville five years later, and of course, we were very happy to see Hawkins Field.
Those who play for Corbin today, or visit Vandy in the SEC, should be thankful for Hawkins Field. Their forefathers had it much worse.
Okay less than an hour to departure. Need to get in the shower. Signing off for now.
In less than 48 hours, my dad and I will be in Texarkana, resting after one long day of travel. The next morning, it is on to Baton Rouge for the weekend baseball series between LSU and Tennessee.
These will be the first baseball games I have witnessed on the LSU campus since the 2005 regional at the old Alex Box Stadium. Rice won that regional, defeating the Bayou Bengals twice. However, the Owls fell short of Omaha, returning to Louisiana a few days later and losing twice to Tulane in the super regional.
I have not seen the second Alex Box Stadium, which opened in 2009. I passed by it a few times in 2010 when I was last in Louisiana, but I never got close to the stadium. Now, in its 10th season of service, I’ll finally get an up close look at the the House of Mainieri.
In the past few years, I’ve attended LSU baseball series, but always away from Baton Rouge. It was Missouri in 2013 and 2016, and last year, it was Kentucky, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This year, the only reasonably close drive for LSU’s five road series was Nashville, but there was too much going on that weekend (March 23-25) to go to Vanderbilt. Therefore, I suggested a trip to Baton Rouge, and my dad jumped on it.
Originally, we were going to go March 16-18 when LSU hosted Missouri, but events conspired to push it back.
The forecast is very dicey. It’s supposed to be warm and humid Friday–yuck–rain hard Saturday, then be very nice Sunday. It does not look like there will be a game Saturday. The question is whether the doubleheader will be Friday or Sunday.
If the doubleheader were Sunday, both games would be seven innings. The first game would probably start at noon, or 1 p.m. at the latest. One game must start at 4 p.m. since the SEC Network is televising the game. Here’s something weird: if there were a doubleheader Sunday, and the first game lasted past 3:15, it would be suspended and completed later that night, following the televised game.
The only way there can be a doubleheader Friday is if the SEC office grants a waiver, and both LSU and Tennessee agree to it. Last year, Kentucky asked for that waiver when LSU came to Lexington, and it was granted, and then Paul Mainieri gave his consent to Nick Miginone. It meant nearly eight hours of baseball and ten hours at the ballpark. If there is a doubleheader Friday, both games would be nine innings.
I didn’t think I would need long pants or long sleeves on this trip, but I’m bringing jeans and sweatshirts to be safe. The parka is staying back in Russell; last year, I wore it in Lexington.
I have slept 48 of the last 49 nights in my own bed in Russell. The exception was last Monday when I vacated to allow the work to be done in my bathroom. Next Thursday, it will be two months since I last left Kansas City. With Dawn now in Florida, with Lisa and Liz long gone from Buffalo Wild Wings, and maybe those pauses between Kansas City will become longer and longer.
All I know is it has been way too long since I’ve seen Baton Rouge. And way, way, way too long since I’ve seen certain people in that city. Hopefully the drought ends before I depart next Monday morning.
Why did I watch?
When I last posted Sunday, I stated I would not watch the NCAA men’s basketball championship game between Michigan and Villanova, fearing the Wildcats would toy with the Wolverines.
However, I did, simply because I was in a Wichita hotel room with limited television options and no way to plug my iPad into the TV. I was in Wichita to pick up an online order and shop at Target, something I cannot do in Russell or Hays. Also, there was work going on in the bathroom downstairs, so I wanted to give the workers free rein without distraction.
Michigan started well, but by the middle of the first half, it was obvious the national championship would reside on the Main Line of Philadelphia for the second time in three seasons.
Final: Villanova 79, Michigan 62.
Jay Wright has probably cemented his place in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., if he had not already. Wright is one of just 15 coaches to win multiple championships since the first NCAA men’s tournament in 1939.
The Big Ten has not produced a men’s basketball national champion since Michigan State in 2000. The Pac-12’s drought is longer, going back to Arizona in 1997. As bad as that is, both of the “Rose Bowl” conferences have had precious little success in women’s basketball as well–the Big Ten won its only title in 1999 with Purdue, and the Pac-12 last won with Stanford way back in 1992.
I’m done with basketball for the rest of 2018. I don’t care about the NBA–unless the Bucks would make a deep playoff run, which isn’t happening–and I don’t watch early season college basketball. Too many mismatches.
Major League baseball is suffering from a rash of postponements, which happens when there is bad weather in the northern latitudes. The Royals saw last Sunday’s home game vs. the White Sox snowed out, and it was too cold for them to play Wednesday in Detroit, so there will be two doubleheaders later this month. Next up is a trip to Cleveland, which isn’t exactly a tropical paradise.
MLB needs to stop with this idea that every team should have a home opener within the first two weeks of the season. If it’s too cold in Boston, New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis and Chicago, then they have to play on the road in April. The schedule will even out in July and August. Besides, who really wants to play in Atlanta in August? Even St. Louis is miserably unbearable. The Florida teams and Houston don’t count because they have retractable-roof stadiums. Milwaukee was smart enough to put a retractable roof on Miller Park, so why didn’t other teams in the Great Lakes region? Wrigley Field is one thing, but there was no reason the White Sox shouldn’t have done it. Or the Tigers. Or Twins, which played indoors for 28 seasons.
The NHL playoffs start next week. I am absolutely loathing Tampa Bay, Nashville and Vegas all having good chances to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. I will never, ever agree with the idea of hockey in southern locales. I’m glad New Orleans had a team when I was living there, because it would have been awfully tempting to go. It’s up to the Bruins and Maple Leafs to carry the flag for the Original Six, because the Rangers, Red Wings, Canadiens and Blackhawks are long gone.
Seven days until I depart for the native land.