Acting like garbage
The above photo was taken at Buffalo Wild Wings in Salina last night.
The purpose of the sign is to remind both customers and employees the latest possible birth date to be legally served alcohol.
It reminded me of one of my most embarrassing days, an embarrassment I created for myself and have nobody to blame but myself.
On April 26, 1998, I was in Gainesville for the final game of LSU’s baseball series with Florida. The Bayou Bengals and Gators were the top two teams in the Southeastern Conference, both ranked in the top 10 by all the major polls of college baseball at that time: Collegiate Baseball newspaper, Baseball America magazine, and USA Today, which was the coaches’ poll, the same way it was in football and basketball.
LSU won the first game of the series 13-5, but Florida came back to win game two 4-3. The winner of the “rubber” game would have the inside track to the SEC championship, although both would more than likely host an NCAA regional tournament in late May, barring a total collapse.
I was already a bundle of nerves. We were flying from Gainesville to Atlanta to New Orleans after the game, then taking a bus back to Baton Rouge, meaning we would not be home before 2200, and then the players, managers and myself would be in class the next morning.
The flight from Baton Rouge to Atlanta was my first time in an airplane since 1981. It was a harrowing ride for me. The Delta 727 hit turbluence and I was scared the plane was going to crash. Jeremy Witten, an outfielder for the Bayou Bengals, sat next to me and was doing his best to keep me calm, but to no avail. When the plane landed at Hartsfield-Jackson International, the players and some other passengers cheered. I’m sure those not on the team were glad I would never be in the same plan as them again.
I wanted to beg someone–Bill Franques, Jim Hawthorne, Jim Schwanke, Dan Canevari–to rent a car and drive from Atlanta to Gainesville, five hours on Interstate 75. Then again, I didn’t want to torture them. So I kept my mouth shut and trudged through the terminal to the gate.
The leg from Atlanta to Gainesville was uneventful, even though it was on ATR-72, a turboprop which became infamous when one crashed into a field in northwest Indiana on Halloween 1994 after wings developed on the ice. That crash killed 68 and forced American carriers to remove all of their ATR-72s from anywhere above the 35 degrees north latitude.
Gainesville is not one of my favorite SEC locales. I had nightmares about Gainesville from the infamously horrendous 1985 Disney World trip with my family, since our station wagon blew out a tire there and we were forced to wait three hours for a new one.
McKethan Stadium, Florida’s baseball facility, is near the bottom of my list. The grandstand is completely open, and there are huge picture windows in the press box which open and let in the heat. There is no air conditioning.
Fortunately, the first two games of the series were played at night, but the Sunday game was at 1300 EDT, and it was BROILING. And I had to wear pants, since there would be no time for me to change after the game.
But what was to come was the worst. And I will never live it down.
Late in the game when LSU left runners on base, I kicked a huge garbage can. Bill Franques and Jim Hawthorne were busy in the radio booth and they didn’t see it, but Florida’s publicity man, Steve Shaff, and a few of the Florida writers did.
I should have crawled into a hole. Had I been old enough to rent a car, I would have and driven back to Baton Rouge by myself.
I confessed my transgression. If Bill or someone else wanted to leave me in Gainesville, I would not have contested. I deserved to be deserted. But I got on the plane, and made it back to Baton Rouge without further incident.
That was one of about 384 incidents during my years with LSU baseball I regret. I want to go to the SEC tournament in Birmingham and apologize to all of those I wronged through the years. I am well aware many have moved on, I want to be able to at least look some people in the eye and say I’m sorry.
I returned to Gainesville and McKethan Stadium four years later. I was surprised I was not banned. This time, Bill and I made like Smokey and the Bandit and drove as fast as we could, taking liberties with the speed limit all the way. Bill’s second son, Benjamin, was born only three weeks prior to our departure date (not to mention their first son, William, had not yet turned two), and he did not want to leave Yvette any more than he had to.
The previous week, Bill was delayed at Hartsfield–Jackson trying to get to Knoxville, and it looked like he would miss the first game of the LSU-Tennessee series. However, the game was rained out, so he had a cushion.
Bill and I left Baton Rouge at 0600 CDT the morning of the first game. We were in Gainesville by 1600 EDT, three hours before first pitch. We made the reverse trip from Gainesville to Baton Rouge with similar alacrity, leaving the stadium at 1630 EDT and arriving at my apartment at 0005 CDT. LSU won two of three in that series, so the drive back was much more enjoyable.
I will never see McKethan Stadium again. It will be demolished after the 2020 season, and the Gators will open a palatial new facility in 2021, one where all the grandstand seats are covered. Hopefully LSU lucks out with the schedule rotation and does not have to go to Gainesville next year.
My last flight was April 4, 1999, when the LSU baseball team flew home from Knoxville. There was a slight bit of turbulence on the flight from Atlanta to New Orleans, but nothing like what we hit two weeks prior when flying in a puddle jumper from Memphis to the new Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Cave Springs, somewhere between Bentonville and Fayetteville.
Given security and the lack of leg room, I do NOT want to fly if I can help it. I prefer driving and getting to take as much as can fit in my car. Also, I’d have to drive to either Wichita or Kansas City (UGH!) unless I wanted to fly in a small plane from Hays to Denver to connect. Why bother?