The last time I was in Nationals Park, the crowd was silent. All that could be heard was the distant celebration of the Los Angeles Dodgers who had just eliminated the Nationals from the National League playoffs.
The sad feeling that comes with the last loss of the season soon gives way to the reality that the next baseball game will come, at the earliest, in April. In between there is cold and dark.
I have had enough of cold and dark.
So I rode my bike to the baseball game. The goofy new bike valet didn’t bother me. The fact that the gates were closed didn’t bother me. They opened soon enough. I sat here:
The sun came out. Abe won the presidents’ race. A home run landed four seats away from me. Jose Lobaton played. He’s our back up catcher who spends most of his time on the bench looking through goggles made from solo cups. Lobe scored a run. Lobeee!
I got to see Michelle. It required supplemental oxygen to get to her seat. You can see her in this picture.
Okay, I lied.
She brought her parents. And her boyfriend. He’s a Sherpa. I am not making this up. I forgot his name. It might be Tenzing. I could be wrong. Forgetting names is my superpower. Michelle writes an awesome blog. You should read it. Michelle is a banquet in a lumberjack shirt. Sadly, Michelle is not a relief pitcher. We could have used one today. The Nats lost 4-2.
But that’s not important. I saw a baseball game for the first time in six months. I drank a beer. Okay, three, but who’s counting? I sat in the sun and got sunburned. I saw Michelle. She’s worth the climb. I rode my bike.
Today I was saddened to read Elizabeth’s blog post about the possibility of giving up bike commuting. Elizabeth lives and works in the busy Ballston to Rosslyn corridor of Arlington, Virginia. Many years ago Arlington planned this area out to be a place where you could do just fine without a car. As it turns out, Elizabeth could easily get to work by subway, bus, or bike. She’s been riding her bike on unprotected bike lanes and has had more than her share of close encounters with big metal things.
What’s doubly depressing about this is that Elizabeth mentioned my recent intimate get together with a red light running SUV as a factor in her thinking. When I wrote that post it never occurred to me that it would put people off bike commuting. I should have put my event in context. I have had dozens of close encounters with motor vehicles over the years. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but in over 100,000 miles of riding, I’ve never been hit. I have hit two cars. One right hooked me and I hit him in the back right fender. If I had been competent I would have missed him entirely. Another was parked and jumped out in front of me. (It was windy. I had my head down. It was really embarrassing.) I was doored a block from Elizabeth’s office a few months ago. I was going very slowly. The door hit my very full rear left pannier. No harm, no foul. I gave the exiting passenger a dirty look.
Stuff happens. I could be in the hospital or a funeral parlor right now. But I’m not. I rode to work today – right past where I was hit. I did come close to a collision today though. A goose was hanging out in the center of the trail. An oncoming commuter scared it into my path. She laughed and so did I. I’m riding to work tomorrow.
If experienced commuters like Elizabeth quit, we are doing something seriously wrong as a community.
Snakes in the Trees
In completely unrelated news, I learned today that rat snakes grow up to six feet long and climb trees. They are known to inhabit Dyke Marsh where I take my sunrise photos for this blog. I can handle big black SUVs but I think if I had to deal with a six-foot black snake in a tree, I’d soil myself. This picture was taken today, by the way.
The Bliss Comes Back
And now some good news. Blissful Britt came back to her blog today. I thought she was going to be gone for months. She lasted three weeks. Stamina is overrated.
And So Does Baseball
And speaking of bliss, baseball is back in DC. The Washington Nationals won their home opener, 4 -2. I couldn’t go, but Klarence did. She willed them to victory on my behalf. They’ve won the first game. The hope is they win the last one. Sometime in early November. Fingers crossed.
As is so often the case, my top ten list goes to 11. Hey, it’s my blog and I make the rules.
Yooper for a Week
After 11 years I finally did another solo bike tour. I drove 13+ hours to Ludington Michigan. After a ferry ride across Lake Michigan, I rode The Mule fully loaded with gear into the north woods of Wisconsin. On July 4, I had breakfast in Freedom. After a few days I turned east and crossed the UP, the upper peninsula of Michigan. After the UP, I visited car-free Mackinac Island on a quiet Sunday morning. Other than a two-hour scary thunderstorm and three hilly days of headwinds near the end of the tour, the weather could not have been better. And I managed three ferry rides without getting sick. I rode 832 miles in 11 days. It was a wonderful combination of hard work and rolling meditation. I proved to myself that even at 60 years old I still got it. Okay, maybe not all of it but enough of it to get the job done. I can’t wait to do another.
An Eventful Spring
Prior to my tour I warmed up my legs by riding some bike events. I kicked the year off with the Vasa Ride, co-sponsored by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and the Swedish embassy. It was a bit of a disappointment because this is normally a social ride but I rode it alone and didn’t do much socializing at the embassy reception afterwards. Next came the Five Boro ride in New York City. The Five Boro Ride has always been on my to do list but conflicted with work, parenting responsibilities, and personal lethargy. I convinced Paul to join me (with Amy along for moral support). Paul and I rode the 40+ mile ride in a cold rain at the start of May. It wasn’t all that much fun, but touring Manhattan the day before in splendid weather with the wonderful guidance of my BU friend Susan made up for riding the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in a driving rain.
At the end of May, I rode the new DC Bike Ride. Not to be outdone by NYC, we had cold rain for that one too.
In May, I woke up in the middle of the night with severe chest pains. After a few hours of increasing pain, Mrs. RC called for an ambulance. The ride to the hospital ½ mile away took 20 minutes but I was well taken care of. What I feared was a heart attack turned out to be a respiratory infection. Fortunately, a nebulizer treatment in the ER and antibiotics fixed me up over the next week. An earworm of the Neil Finn song Anytime played for days. “I could go at anytime. There’s nothing safe about this life.” Words to live by.
At the end of the week, I dragged myself out of bed and rode my bike on Bike to Work Day. I was still under the weather but I now know I can ride to work with one lung tied behind my back.
Pulling Beers Like a Boss
I have been lax in volunteering at local bike events, basically forever. This year, with my respiratory problems more or less behind me, I volunteered at the Tour de Fat in DC. This is a fundraiser for bike advocacy groups (WABA being one of many) and I was determined to help out. It rained. It was cold-ish. I pulled beers nonstop for two hours. Instead of hanging around for the rest of the day, I went home and went to bed. (Every party has a pooper that’s why we invited you.) Next year I hope to be around to volunteer again. And to socialize afterward.
Call Me Lars
Our daughter finished up her year abroad with a semester in Sweden. A few days after Tour de Fat, Mrs. Rootchopper and I flew over and toured parts of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. It was an exhausting two weeks and fun to re-visit Copenhagen after over 15 years. Although I was in bicycle heaven for most of the trip, I didn’t ride at all. If you ask me what my favorite place was my answer would be “Yes.”
Ain’t Baseball Great
I went to 19 Nats games this year. The last time I went to this many games was when I lived in Boston. I rode my bike to about 15 games. How convenient of them to locate the ballpark 16 miles from home. As a bonus, it was great seeing so many friends at the bike valet before and after the games. The rest of the games involved driving the kids, including my niece Irene for one game. One exhausting game lasted 16 innings and the good guys won on a walk-off home run. I even managed to see two playoff games. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the Nats lost their last game of the season, I can’t wait until April!
Fall Bike Frenzy
In the fall I did the Indian Head, Backroads, and Seagull Centuries (100 miles each), the 44-mile Great Pumpkin Ride (with Paul, Amy, and Jody), the 53-mile Cider Ride and, for the eighth time, the 62-mile 50 States Ride. I was already on fumes near the end of this madness, when an old friend asked me to ride with her to Harpers Ferry and back over two days. Given the fact that I had a colonoscopy (with the associated fasting and anesthesia) two days before we would have left, I declined. One ambulance ride a year is plenty.
Deets Provides a Surly Surge
A year ago I bought a new bike, a Surly Cross Check. Mostly, it hung on a hook in my shed, used only for the occasional weekend ride. This summer I started commuting on it. What a great commuter bike it is. I also did all my fall events on it. I named it Deets after the scout in the miniseries Lonesome Dove. Deets was said to be “cheerful in all weathers, never shirked a task, splendid behavior.” My Deets served me well until his back tire exploded on the way to work. Aye god, Woodrow.
Unlike last year, I didn’t get much hiking done this year. I did the Billy Goat B and C trails on New Years Day which is becoming something of a tradition. Realizing that I-66 cuts right across the Appalachian Trail, I hiked it north (Manassas Gap) and south (Trumbo Hollow) of the highway. I also headed out to Shenandoah National Park to hike the Hogback Mountain trail. In late November I hiked the Potomac Highlands Trail from Turkey Run Park to the American Legion Bridge and back. A surprisingly nice hike so close to DC. Just before the year ended I did a meandering hike in Great Falls Park in Maryland.
We had our wood floors redone in the spring. We hired a couple of amazing movers to relocate all our belongings from the top two floors down to the family room and basement where we lived among the piles of stuff for two weeks. It was quite a project. The floors turned out great. I came to realize that most of the crap that I have accumulated over the course of 25+ years in a house, I can live without.
Coincident with my 61st birthday, my four bikes gave me a big present. I’ve been keeping track of the mileage on my bikes for 25 years and with an empty nest surge in recent years I finally made it to 100,000 miles. I also set my one-year personal mileage record of 8,167 miles.
That’s it for 2016. No mas. Thanks for reading. I am taking 2017 one day at a time. Love this life. It’s the only one you get.
When the sun and my work day cooperate, I stop and take in the sunset over the Potomac River. It rarely disappoints.
It took me 25 years but I managed to ride 100,000 miles since acquiring The Mule (bottom left) in 1991. In 2002 I bought Big Nellie, a Tour Easy recumbent (top left), and rode it exclusively for several years. In 2009 (or thereabouts) I bought my Bike Friday New World Tourist, a folding travel bike that I call Little Nellie (upper right). Last year I picked up Deets, a Surly Cross Check, that turns out to be a fantastic bike for commuting.
In October, amid a frenzy of bike event riding, I had a colonoscopy. It was my third. I am happy to report that there was no cancer detected. I’ll be back in 2019 for another. Drink up!
I went to Scandinavia with my wife and daughter. I didn’t ride a bike but I saw a few here and there. The cycling infrastructure is so much better than in the U.S. And the road users are all so well behaved. As my friend Finn Quinn once said: “The future is a foreign country.” We can only hope.
I volunteered at the Tour de Fat this year. I had fun despite not being completely recovered from my not so fun trip to the ER a week earlier. We were a well behaved bunch. The only beer we imbibed were the ones the organizers comped us for our efforts on their behalf.
You may never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You certainly won’t find it here because the building where this picture was taken is being renovated. Friday Coffee Club moved across town and, but for one appearance after Thanksgiving, I had to stop going. I miss these scoundrels.
Speaking of scoundrels, for the last several years Michelle has been running bike events at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). I am convinced that she is trying to kill me. It is widely rumored that she even controls the weather. I am so grateful for all the hard work Michelle (and the other folks at WABA and the volunteers) put in to make #bikedc better every year. (Michelle also has a serious interest in the Beats and Kerouac. Check out her blog.)
It was windy and coolish, but Amy was determined to do her first long event ride. This hill during the Great Pumpkin Ride near Warreton Virginia was mighty steep but Amy (with Jody behind her) managed it without apparent difficulty. The leaves on the road were produced by powerful winds that made the day quite a work out. The rest stop after this photo was at a Old Bust Head brewery.
This picture doesn’t do justice to how steep these dunes are. And this is only about 1/2 of the height. The remaining elevation is obscured by the angle of my shot. Later that day the road I was on went up the dunes just to the south of this one. It made for some tough climbing into a persistent headwind. It was perhaps the physically hardest day of my 11-day solo bike tour. As hard as it was on my body, the tour was a feast of rolling meditation for my mind and soul.
The people who live on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the UP, are called Yoopers. They eat white fish and pasties (a kind of meat pie) and have their own candy bar. They (mostly) also talk like all the hockey players from Ontario that I roomed with during my freshman year at college. Eh?
I was hanging out on my deck one sunny day when I went to open my deck umbrella and found this critter. Cute.
The left field grandstand was my perch for about 10 games at Nats Park this year. I became personal friends with Jason Werth. (That’s him in left field.) Okay, that’a s lie.Somewhere up there under the third light stanchion is Klarence keeping score. Hurry spring!
That’s Paul on the left on FDR Drive on the east side of Manhattan. It is cold. It is raining. Paul is not smiling. He had so much fun. We stopped in Astoria, Queens, to stand around and freeze our asses off. Who knew that the Brooklyn Queens Expressway would be even more fun. I have now ridden my bike across the Verrazano Narrows and the Golden Gate. Woot!
The Appalachian Trail is nice enough to come down to I-66 which made for a couple of convenient solo day hikes.
I found a duckling on the Mount Vernon Trail on the way to work one morning. Mr friend Linel stopped to help and we tried to figure out what do with it. Then Veronica showed up. She took the duckling to her office then to an animal rescue place. This is a decidedly better outcome that the two animal skeletons I saw last year. Just sayin’. Thanks, Veronica.
This is me getting a nebulizer treatment in the ER. A few hours earlier I couldn’t move without experiencing a knife-like pain in my upper right chest. (I blame yoga.) The doctors were pretty confident that it wasn’t a heart attack. I had a resting pulse of 46 and my blood pressure was normal. They did some tests and took some x-rays. Then they put this on me. I was recovered enough to do Bike to Work Day, volunteer at Tour de Fat, ride DC Bike Ride, and fly to Stockholm over the next nine days. Do not try this at home. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
When I went to sleep Wednesday night, my intention was to spend Thursday at work then ride home and watch the Nationals play the Dodgers in the deciding game of their baseball playoff series. Having watched scores of games both at the ballpark and on television (not to mention listening to a few on the radio), I was totally psyched that this would be a ballgame for the ages.
So, during the morning, I bought a ticket. I headed to the ballpark on Deets and prepared for a long night. The game started just after 8 pm, an hour after the normal starting time, to accommodate a national television broadcast. This meant that the game would probably not be over in time for fans to take the subway home. The subway system steadfastly refused to extend its hours. So fans had to improvise. The hashtag #natsride and account @natsride sprung up over the last few days to facilitate carpooling. Many others chose to bike to the game, like me.
Prior to the game I ate dinner after which I ran into Kevin from the bike tour. Later in the evening, he offered to get me some World Series tickets which was incredibly thoughtful. We were sitting in opposite sides of the ballpark so we parted ways. Soon after reaching my seat in the left field grandstand, Klarence and Lauren walked down the aisle to my left. They had come to try and get a ball during batting practice. Klarence and I had a long talk, probably our last one for quite a while as our social paths rarely cross anymore. Hugs happened. Then they went off to keep score in their perch in the seats high above the Nats on deck circle.
Normally, when I go to a baseball game alone, my introversion melts away and I strike up a mini-friendship with the folks sitting nearby. It’s a very conversational vibe. Last night was different. Fans were on their feet for most of the game, cheering and waving red towels. The atmosphere was more like a football or hockey game.
The Nationals’ ace was on the mound. The Dodgers eventually got to him and some relievers for four runs. The crowd stilled. Then the Nats scored a run. Woot! Then a Nats pinch hitter hit a two run homer. Pandemonium!
Since this a win or else situation, the managers used every trick in the book and played nearly everyone they had. At 11:30 the scoreboard announced that the last train was leaving the nearby subway station in a few minutes. The crowd booed! Loudly! (Good luck getting support for fare increases, Metro.) The game dragged on. Finally, in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Nationals sent up the best hitter in baseball to face the best left handed pitcher in a generation. Our man popped up. Down to their last pinch hitter, the Nationals sent a rookie to the plate. It would have been so cool if he got a hit. Alas, he struck out lamely and the Dodgers won. After over 4 1/2 hours, the longest 9-inning post season game in baseball history.
What a strange feeling it is to go from sensing a euphoric victory to suffering a buzz killing defeat. The crowd went silent. In the distance, you could hear the Dodgers celebrating on the infield. Fans, wiped out from emotion and the late hour, began their long slog home at 12:30 in the morning.
The bike valet was stuffed with bikes. Some were locked to the top of a ten foot high chain link fence that contains the bike racks. Many were simply leaning against other bikes. I was lucky to get out in a reasonable amount of time. After greeting Kevin again, I thought of waiting to say goodbye to my other friends at the game but it was already close to 1 am so I rode off into the dark.
Most of the crowd stayed until the final out. The traffic outside the ballpark was insane. Traffic signals were ignored. Traffic control officers seemed to be completely overwhelmed. Riding a bike under these conditions is like being a running back going off tackle. You just look for the gaps and ride to daylight. Or in this case, headlight.
The ride home along the Mount Vernon Trail featured a steady tailwind. I was groggy but I have ridden this trail so many times that I was nearly confirming that I can ride home in my sleep. Another cyclist followed me all the way to Old Town, about nine miles from the ballpark.
Then I was on my own. The only sign of life I saw was two lights next to the trail. A fox? Raccoon? Opossum?
I pulled into my yard at 2:30.
What better way to soothe the disappointment of a season ending loss than to ride 16 miles under the stars in a crisp autumn breeze.
I rode to the Nationals game after work Friday night. It was suffocatingly hot. The Nats lost to the lowly Braves. I went alone. I had a great time.
An usher ejected a fan for heckling the Braves left fielder. The fan got his money’s worth. He certainly gave me a few laughs. Well played, dude.
An Atlanta player hit a home run that landed about four seats away from me in the row behind mine. It bounced off a fan and the rebound went to a guy in my row about six seats away.
A mom brought three kids to the game. They were sitting in the row in front of me. She went to the concession stand. When she came back and found out that a home run landed two seats behind her she couldn’t believe her bad luck. The kids thought it was pretty funny though.
I had the seat at the end of the row. Home run guy and his buddies wore me out with their pee runs. Never buy seat 1 or seat 20.
Another home run landed in the seats a section to my left. The fan caught it on the fly. Barehanded.
I almost caught a t-shirt during the t-shirt toss promotion but another fan got two hands on it just as it was about to hit my hand. She paid for the shirt: her chest hit the railing in the middle of the aisle. Ow.
The ride home was aided by post-game fireworks. Less car traffic means better biking. Boom!
The ride through Old Town Alexandria at 11:30 pm was scary. The sidewalks were full of loud, drunken idiots. I assumed that drivers were similarly inebriated. I was extremely careful and am thankful that I made it through in one piece. Of course, the Alexandria police (who spend their time ticketing early morning bike commuters) were nowhere to be found.
I have decided to call the Cross Check Deets. After Joshua Deets, the scout for the Lonesome Dove cattle drive. He is described by Capt Augustus McCrae as “Cheerful in all weathers. Never shirked a task. Splendid behavior.” I hope my Deets is as noble.
After a year of light riding, I will be using Deets for commuting starting tomorrow. The rack has bigger tubes than the racks on my other three bikes so I had to adjust the hardware on my panniers. I test rode the bike with panniers for the first time. My heels had plenty of clearance so tomorrow’s commute should be sweet.
This morning I went for a short ride down to Woodlawn by way of Mount Vernon on Deets. Every time I stopped the oppressive heat and humidity sucked the sweat out of every pore in my skin. It was gross. There will be better days for weekend excursions. Maybe a hike next weekend. It’s been too long.
After riding to the Nationals game on Saturday in the rain, I couldn’t pass up riding to the Sunday game when the forecast called for perfect baseball weather. So I hopped on the Cross Check at around 11 and headed to DC.
The ride in was just a little on the chilly side but the skies were blue and the trees had leaves. Spring rocks.
As I approached Jones Point Park, I noticed a cyclists standing next to a loaded bike. Seriously loaded. It was a cargo bike with six panniers, a handlebar bag, and a solar panel on the rear rack. The cyclist was looking at a map and seemed confused. I stopped and helped him by leading him through the streets of Old Town Alexandria. When we got to the Washington Sailing Marina between Old Town and National Airport we stopped to talk. Charles started this ride in the Pacific Northwest. He rode down the west coast, hung a louie at San Diego and another at Saint Augustine. His tour had taken him over 5,000 miles so far. He spent last year riding coast to coast across the northern part of the US. He was planning on taking a break in DC. To buy a boat. And store it at the marina. Or some such thing. I couldn’t follow the logistics, probably because I couldn’t understand how he could afford to spend his life on a bike. And buy a boat.
I left Charles to his nautical aspirations and rode into DC. I absolutely love riding to the ballpark because I get to ride by the parking lots that get progressively more expensive as I get nearer to the park. The bike valet – really just a secure bike parking facility under the watchful eyes of two attendants – is inside the ballpark itself. It is free (except for the tip which you give to the attendants at check out).
I took my seat out in the stands beyond left field with the warm sun shining down on me. I had forgotten to bring sunscreen but I figured I would be okay for a couple of hours. I ate a sandwich that I brought instead of the expensive junk food at the park. Then I settled in for a nice game against a weak opponent, the Minnesota Twins.
As usually happens the people that I sat among became friends for the day. There was a mom and her ten-ish year old daughter in front of me. Daughter had a small baseball glove. (“You’re going to save me if a baseball comes our way, right?”) There were two dudes to my right manspreading and drinking beers. (I moved over a seat and got into the slouchy vibe.
The guy to my right scoffed at the Nats leadoff hitter, Matt den Dekker. “He can field but the Mets got rid of him because he can’t hit.” I retorted “He’s got some power for a little guy.” And so den Dekker homered to make me look like a baseball genius. Later, he made several brilliant catches in the outfield so my bro was also vindicated.
Our section had plenty of Minnesota fans. So there was good natured teasing going on throughout the game. Our fearless pitcher Stephen Strasburg pitched for seven innings after over 100 pitches he becomes mortal, but the bullpen was tired so the manager left him in. In a flash he gave up a three-run home run which landed about ten seats to my right. Down 4-1 it looked like the game was lost. People started to leave.
It was 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. More people started to leave.
Our manager, Dusty Baker, had decided to rest the 2015 MVP, a fellow by the name of Bryce Harper, for the day. Baker actually told Harper before the game that he would only use him in a situation that would make him look like a hero. So Harper comes up to pinch hit and powers the second pitch he sees into the stand beyond center field. Tie game! The crowd goes nuts!
And so we went into extra innings. After four innings the Nationals have a comical race among six “presidents” who are men with giant heads. They run around the wa.rning track to a finish line tape near the Nats dugout. It is utterly stupid and funny as hell. Our game was running so long that they ran a second presidents race.
We were getting slap happy in the stands. The game dragged on. 10, 11, 12 innings.
The Nationals ran out of position players. They used a pitcher to pinch hit. He got a single. No lie.
Fans starting joking about being held hostage. All I could think of were the lyrics to “Band on the Run”:
If we ever get out of here
Thought of giving it all away
To registered charity
All I need is a pint a day
If we ever get out of here
If we ever get out of here
I moved down to the front row overlooking the left fielders. I yelled down to Werth, “Hey, Jason. Want some coffee?”
In the middle of the 14th inning we had a second seventh inning stretch. I kid you not.
The Twins left fielder, Eddie Rosario, had littered the grass with pieces of yellow paper. The Nats left fielder, Jason Werth, picked them up and
methodically arranged them in a neat row. A guy sitting behind me joked that Werth was trying to get enough paper to spell out SOS on the grass. Another guy said, “Hey, we are literally trash talking.”
The Twins went ahead by a run in the top of the 15th. All hope was lost. Rosario made a mess of Werth’s paper pile. The fans in left field started yelling “Pick it up Eddie.” Rosario laughed. I yelled at him: “It’s karma, Eddie. You’ll pay for this.”
The Nationals got a man on first base. The Twins ignored him and he advanced to second. The next batter up was Oliver Perez, a pitcher who hadn’t batted since 2010. The Twins unbelievably brought in another reliever to face him.
All was lost. Until Perez dropped a bunt that the catcher fielded. Perez was out by a mile, except that the catcher threw the ball about six feet over the first baseman’s head. Tie game.
Karma, Eddie. Karma.
We moved to the 16th. Werth came out and repaired his pile of paper. The Twins didn’t score. The Nationals came to bat and their right fielder, Chris Heisey, launched a home run over the Twins bullpen. The place went completely nuts. Delirium.
Dusty Baker later called it a twilight zone game.
By this point, nearly six hours after the game started a chill was in the air. I was an odd combination of warm and cold. Six hours of sun on had given me a sunburn on the right side of my body. I wore a jacket to keep the left side of my body warm.
The by now thin crowd left with ear to ear grins. At the bike valet I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since December. We celebrated our mini reunion and the exhausting victory with a huge hug.
And then I was off. As I crossed the Potomac into Virginia I stopped to admire an amazing sunset skyscape. Even with swarms of gnats (how appropriate) along the way, the ride home in the cool spring evening was perfect.
“We’re definitely going to the Nationals game on Saturday and maybe on Sunday. Are you going? We could meet for a drink afterward.”
My friend sent me this invitation on Friday evening. I had already been thinking of going to a game this weekend and I have seen my friend only once since August. (How the hell did that happen? Life.)
So, thinking that “definitely going” and “we could meet…afterward” meant that they had already bought tickets, I bought a ticket of my own. Shortly after making my purchase my friend, who is on a tight budget, sent me a message:
“The upper gallery seats are sold out. We’ll have to stand in line for the $5 game day tickets tomorrow morning.”
What the hell happened to “definitely going?”
Given that the weather forecast called for morning rain followed by near perfect weather for the early afternoon game, it seemed that there was a good chance that my friend would not get tickets in the morning. I decided to go with the flow and went to bed.
In the morning, the predicted rain was falling. My friend messaged me:
“We don’t feel like standing in the rain to get tickets so we aren’t going to the game.”
Definitely going, going, gone.
I was disappointed and more than a little upset. I felt like a dog who has been teased with food only to have it taken away. Rather than do my usual thing of sending back an angry repsonse, I turned off my phone, put on my rain gear, and hopped on my Cross Check for the 15 1/2 mile ride to the ballpark.
Did I mention rain gear? Yes, the forecast I saw last night said the rain would be over by 10 am. It was clear from a glance at the radar in the morning that the rain would be with us through noon at least.
The ride to DC along the Mount Vernon Trail was cold, wet, and solitary. Perfect for reflection and dissipating my harsh feelings toward how things had transpired.(No matter how hard I tried to deny it, I find it hard to dispel the notion that, for some reason, my social life has gone to hell since last summer. Life.)
When I arrived at the ball park it was still drizzling out. I parked my bike and headed into the park. By pure dumb luck my seats were covered by the third tier of the stadium. As the rain fitfully ended, the wind picked up. Straight into my face. I ate some food and drank some water and hoped for kindness from the weather gods. They were apparently busy with something else. I really needed some hot coffee but settle on a craft lager from the stand next to my seat. It tasted bitter and a bit nasty but it took my mind off my clammy discomfort.
Going to a baseball game alone is a roll of the social dice. You could sit next to nice people or drunken jackasses. (My father took us to a game at the old Yankee Stadium back in the post-Mantle era. The place was a wreck. To our right a spectator walked down the aisle, took a big swig of his beer and spit it in the face of a man seated on the aisle. A nasty, comically drunken brawl broke out. We thought it was far more entertaining than the game. My dad was not of the same opinion.)
To my right was a father and son. Dad was a total baseball nerd who yelled things at the players despite the futility of sitting so far from the field. His son, who was at least 21 judging by the beer he had, was ignorant of the rules or the strategy of the game. To my left a family sat. They were rather on the larger side of human. They appeared to have purchase one of every item in the food court. The teenage girl to my immediate left sat shivering in gym shorts. Her parents later bought her an official Washington Nationals unislipper (you put both feet in it to stay warm). What will they think of next. In front of me were three season ticket holders who seemed like quite pleasant adults. It was an interesting slice of humanity and I considered myself lucky to be seated where I was.
Except for the wind. The Nationals sprung out to a 2-0 lead. Their pitcher, Tanner Roark, was having a stellar day. He struck out 15 Twins in 7 innings without giving up a run. The Twins looked absolutely hapless at the plate. The Nats threatened but never crossed the plate again. They didn’t need to. They won 2-0. I even got to boo Jonathan Papelbon, our social-pond-scum closer.
The winds died down after a few innings but the sun and the warmth didn’t materialize until the game was nearly over. I walked out of the ballpark and the sun hit me. It was ten degrees warmer in the sunlight. Dang.
I hopped on my bike and celebrated with a tail-wind assisted ride home. The only downside to the ride was the traffic mind field of Old Town Alexandria. Cars and bike and pedestrians (but, to be honest, mostly cars) were moving about at random. I actually feared for my safety and was glad to be through the half-mile stretch unscathed.
When I got home I reflected on the game, the social mess that precipitated it, and the bike ride. I was glad I didn’t respond to my friend’s message. I would have Papelboned our friendship for sure.
With sunny skies forecasted for Sunday, I decided to buy a ticket to today’s game. I’ll be sitting near left field. In the sun. Maybe I’ll even drink a lemonade.
Spring is a time of optimism. Stuff is growing and blooming. The sun is high in the sky. My skin is tanned. (Okay, we’ll leave out the part about the nagging, pollen-induced cough.) With warm air coming in, I often get a tailwind for the ride to work.
I am such a sucker for a tailwind. I’ve been riding a bike for over 50 years and I still let a tailwind convince me that I am in great biking shape. What an idjit!
Opening day is a tailwind. The home team looks utterly invincible. Look at all that talent. NOBODY can beat my team.
Then they start playing and you realize that the other team can hit and pitch and field too. Soon reality creeps in. There are all sorts of unpleasant things that can happen. You are reading the words of a man whose 12th birthday coincided with the beaning of Tony Conigliaro. Ugh. It’s hard to stay in the moment when you have that hideous picture of 22 year old Tony C.’s face with a massive bruise in the form of a baseball over his left eye.
But all is well. The Nats won. It took 10 innings but they got it done.
Opening day isn’t really about baseball. It is about optimism. It’s just going to be a great summer. I KNOW it. As I watched today’s Nats game I was giddy with the feeling that every day will be warm. There will be hikes and bike rides and summer days in the ballpark and vacations with friends and family. Life is a tailwind, baby.
The forecast for tomorrow morning calls for temperatures near freezing and a strong headwind.
“Ten million years from now, when then sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen iceball hurtling through space, nobody’s going to care whether or not I got this guy out.”
How chill is that?
These words were spoke by Tug McGraw, the best reliever in baseball for many years. He, not entirely surprisingly, threw a mean screwball. Oddly enough nobody seems to throw screwballs in baseball anymore.
I learned how to throw a screwball. You turn your hand in the opposite direction of a curveball. Which is to say, your arm goes left and your hand twists right.
My father was a big time baseball fan. Every summer his idea of a vacation was to put his seven kids in a station wagon and drive us to a major league baseball game. I saw Mickey Mantle in his decrepit last playing days in the old Yankee Stadium. I saw the Mets, well before the miracle of ’69, from the scary steep upper deck of Shea Stadium. (Truth be told, the jets flying in and out of LaGuardia were more interesting than the game.) And I saw the Montreal Expos play the San Francisco Giants in Jarry Park in Montreal. Willie Mays took the day off. Ken Henderson of the Giants hit a home run that bounced into the pool beyond the right field fence.
My father told me the Tug McGraw quote long before McGraw said it. In my father’s version, the pitcher is in a bind. He is down to his last pitch. It is either do or die. He turns to his bench and says, “Either I do, or I don’t.” And throws the pitch.
All you can do is the best that you can. And, in the final analysis we are all bozos on this bus headed further into the universe. So give it a rest. Move on. Let it go. Because, as Tripper Harrison said in Meatballs, it just doesn’t matter.
Starting Monday, there are no more ties. Play ball.
[This blog post was inspired by Norman Wilson McCloud, the designated driver in section 418.]