Saturday, March 17, 2012

Port St. Lucie

On Fleeing

Liberty Airport
Newark Liberty Bald Eagle Apple Pie God Bless America Airport
Friday, March 16, 2012
West Palm Beach, Florida

Outside of the Game:
Work. Work never changes. Over the holiday season, I was on a suicide project launch that was stealing the very soul from my person, but it thankfully got put on hold due to a corporate fulfillment dispute for several months, improving my quality of life tremendously. Out of sight and out of mind, I truly believed that by completely ignoring the situation, I could make it go away and never, ever come back.

As luck would have it, the project would come back with both barrels the day before I was to go down to Florida to see my family, and, not coincidentally, a Spring Training game. So there was clearly nothing left to do but turn off my cell phone and get on the plane.

Having absolutely nothing to look forward to for MLB this year, it is not with some great eagerness that I headed off, but rather the need to scratch an itch that had been festering for the six months since I last saw a game in person. In 2010, by going to a game on my birthday in December and seeing a Spring Training game in March, my breaks between games were only three months apart, so I was feeling this offseason fairly acutely.

Having abandoned all work responsibilities, the only thing between myself and watching a professional baseball team play against the Mets was the flight. There were some dark omens hanging about the endeavor. Continental and United had recently completed their merger, most likely over the strenuous objections of their respective IT departments, as the weeks after the official completion of the merger have been absolute computer hell for their systems. And while it might be convenient to blame the neck beards for this one, you just know that someone in a suit ignored a folder full of strongly worded emails and said, "Launch it."

Other fallout of the Continental/United merger were less apparent until I got to the airport. Previously, one of the perks of being in the frequent flier clubs was the ability to board ahead of the cattle. They had recently changed the system so that it was solid "numbered group only" boarding, with the fact that the first four or so groups were priority members hidden from the hoi polloi. There were a lot of outraged frequent flier members trying to board first, and the ground crew wasn't doing a great job of explaining the situation. The plane eventually boarded slightly late, as the connecting flight was delayed, and, charming as always, the airline personnel berated us to board the plane more quickly to make up for their problems, holding further delays to ourselves as the punishment. Something about that logic never quite works for me.

Sadly, there were some more charming moments on the plane. The well-preserved and overly entitled bint behind me decided that she wanted to play some in-flight game for the entirety of the flight. (This brings up a rather severe design flaw in the devices in the back of the seats, as if someone aggressively uses them, they are essentially just poking the person in front of them repeatedly in the back of the head. You'd think someone would have questioned that design at some point.) After waiting an unsuccessful hour for her to lose interest, I took a peek over the top of the chair to ask her if she could perhaps be less aggressive with my seat back, to which I was told, "I'm playing a game," with the parenthetical "too damn bad" very clearly audible at the end. As this has happened a number of times now, I'm always fascinated by inconsiderate people sitting behind me possessing such a lack of situational understanding about who can make whom more miserable. After ten minutes more of poking, I did a nice, long, slow recline. I swear to god, she actually harrumphed. To which I replied, "I'm reclining." And then in stony silence she stopped poking my seat, and I then raised my seat, and a pleasantly passive-aggressive detente was reached for the rest of the flight.

We actually ended up landing a little early after all that, and I was roughly ejected into the infinite brightness of a Florida afternoon. My father picked me up, and whisked me away to the relative unbrightness of their winter apartment. I got settled in and took a nap, and the remainder of the afternoon was spent getting ready for another family pizza party at the condo that evening.

It was an acceptable enough evening to see the family again, and one of my cousin's sons came over with some of his baseball team after their Friday night game to help finish off the insane amount of pizza we had purchased. They also helped keep me up-to-date on the latest baseball slang ("on the bump" means "pitching," for example), which is important for someone of my advanced age and sensibilities.

The Accommodations:
I was again staying with my parents in their elder community along the Intracostal waterway in Boynton Beach. This year, their unit was on the second floor of a building set back from the waterway itself, but it was much more nicely furnished, and more specifically to my needs, it had a nice pull-out couch that only left me partially crippled the next day.

On Unavoidable Disappointments

Digital Domain Park
Digital Domain Park, 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Digital Domain Park
Atlanta Braves vs. New York Metropolitans (Split Squad)
Grapefruit League
Port St. Lucie, FL
1:10 PM

Outside the Game:
It was a quick sleep from the end of the previous night's festivities and the start of the next's. My father and I got up, had some oatmeal, and went to meet with my cousin's kid to head off to the game.

Armed with the experience from last year, we were better prepared to find the stadium. My father's new in-car GPS was able to plot a more correct path, and when we were actively looking for the turn we missed last year, we discovered something a little more allegorical than it should have been. Once you get off the highway, there is a quick left turn you have to make to get to the stadium, as opposed to keep driving out into an endless swamp. There is clear signage on the exit from the highway and before the turn, but at the turn and once you pass the turn, there is no indication of where to go. With our eyes peeled this year, we found the sign for the left turn we had to make. It was not a traffic sign, but clearly appeared to be part of a strip mall sign on the other side of the road. In addition, the entry on the sign to direct you to the stadium was in slightly different colors than the rest of the sign, making that line particularly hard to read. So not only did they not take the progression of directions to their natural and logical conclusion, they went further by falling down on the most critical of these updates in a completely inexplicable and short-sighted way. Those of you looking to make direct connections with this situation to the overall performance of the current Mets' ownership will not be stopped by this author.

Despite these failings, we got to the game and parked. Arriving before the bulk of the crowd, we got a fortuitous parking spot right by the exit to the highway, which made exiting just as easy. Our drive home after the game was uneventful.

That evening, I sat by the Intracoastal, finishing off my score card and starting this write-up while my parents went to church, and afterwards, we went for a quite acceptable dinner. I spent the rest of the post-dinner evening again by the Intracoastal doing more work while a humdinger of a retirement community St. Patrick's Day party went on in the community center behind me.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Digital Domain Park
Home plate to center field, Digital Domain Park

Digital Domain Park found itself largely unchanged from last year, although some renovations had happened since my last visit. The entire right field line had been renovated so that the Berm picnic area out in left center was no longer accessible only from a separate entrance around back, but was now connected to the main park. The walkway out to the berm was now called the Arrigo Party Porch (mirroring the Tiki Bar out in left), letting anyone with a ticket wander out there. The area out behind the Berm concessions stands was particularly interesting, as just beyond the edge of the parking lot behind right field, there is the beginnings of a swamp with a prominent "Beware of Alligators" sign posted for effect. Note to visitors: do not park in the right field lots at Digital Domain Park.

The rest of the park remained largely the same. There was a sizable crowd that day, including a regrettable contingent of Braves fans, of which we have already spoke. The crowd was mostly passive through the brisk game, but they did come alive during the controversial events to be described in a bit.

They were running the same charity give-aways as last year, and an additional auction of autographed memorabilia from around the majors. Unlike last year, I didn't win, but considering I won the Reyes jersey last year and the subsequent events, it is probably for the best I didn't win a John Hancocked David Wright shirt.

At the Game with Oogie:
Spring Scoring

As with last year, I was going to the game with my family. In order to get a non-netted view of the game, we swung around to the first base side, still huddled under the shading overhang. We were in two rows again, with my group arriving first, and my other cousin-in-law and his kids showing up right before the game, having attended one of their own number's ballgames earlier in the day.

Sadly, we were not alone. You know, I don't know what it is about Braves fans. Sure, they are marked for a special punishment by whatever powers run the universe, but do they have to be so obvious about deserving it most of the time? There was a well-behaved group in the row ahead of us who were tolerable enough, but around the sixth inning, some of their friends showed up from wherever they were sitting, and deposited themselves in our row next to me in some vacated seats. They announced their presence with a cringe-worthy racist joke, and then settled in.

Now, under nearly any other circumstances, I am happy to answer any questions on scorekeeping that come up. You'd be surprised how many people at games will ask me about scoring or the game, and I'm willing to talk for as long as they are about the process, and usually longer.

Except when I'm busy. Such as when they are making 20,000 position changes in the later innings of a spring training game that are being desultorily announced by the staff. The person right next to me cheerily started asking me questions right in the middle of the first of those announcements, and I had to ask her to wait a second. I have witnesses to the effect that I was polite about the process, and I told her that I'd be happy to answer some questions, but there are a lot of updates happening right now that need my full attention, and could she wait a minute?

This didn't seem to deter her, as she just kept on talking over the PA system as I was desperately trying to keep up with the swaps. When I finally got caught up, I asked her what she wanted to know, but she ignored me. Until, of course, the moment the next big switch happened, when she was all of a sudden keenly interested in the scorecard again, and I had to ask her, perhaps more curtly this time, to please wait a minute as I tried to keep up with these updates. And once I got caught up again, she ignored me again. A less charitable person would think she was doing it on purpose.

The Game:
First pitch, Braves vs. Metropolitans
First pitch, Braves vs. Metropolitans

For the most part, the game was a curious pitching duel, as the starters got extended out at this late point in spring training, while marginal position players continued to get thrown into the meat grinder to see if some unexpected prime rib made itself known. For the first five or so innings, there were a few regular base runners, who mostly got erased in a myriad of double plays, and the prospect of an hour and a half game loomed realistically, with only the impediment of needing one team to score.

Cruising to this point, Mets starter Jon Neise got into some inexplicable trouble in the fifth, plunking the pitcher to put two men on with two outs, but he worked his way out of it. His temporary reprieve ended in the sixth, when he loaded up the bases and got pulled, but the next reliever saved the situation by inducing two ground balls to get out of the inning.

The Braves were making similarly stymieing the Mets with only one hit through five. But in the sixth, the Mets would finally break through with back-to-back singles, further advanced by a ground-out to the right side. Daniel Murphy, in a St. Patrick's Day miracle, singled in both runs, putting the Mets ahead, 2-0.

The seventh went quietly on both sides, but the Braves started to put something together in the eighth. The new Mets reliever got a quick pop-out to start the inning, gave up back-to-back hits, and then got another weak pop-out. In what can only be Spring Training logic, he got pulled with two outs, and his "relief" then promptly gave up a single and a double to give up the lead, 3-2. Dear Skip: the non-roster invitee can't work out of a jam with men on base. Can we never do that again, now?

But the Mets came back in the bottom of the eighth, with a single and a walk. Then pinch-hitter Lucas Duda came to the plate, and with two strikes, stroked a clean double down the left-field line, scoring two runs and putting the Mets up 4-3. Except, he didn't. The double, which was clearly fair by at least two feet, was called foul by the umpire, also clearly in the thrall of Spring Training. This was an amazingly awful call and Duda just got jobbed. Unsurprisingly, on the do-over, Duda struck out, and the next two batters went in order. It is Spring Training, however, so you can only get so upset (no one even bothered to leave the dugout to argue), although there was a Mets fan in our section who was having an aggressive aneurysm at the umpire for the rest of the game.

After a leadoff bunt single in the ninth, the Braves went out on a 4-6-3 double play and a ground-out to the pitcher, and the listless Mets also went in order, making the 3-2 score final, allowing me to watch the Mets lose to the Braves for the first of many times this season.

The Scorecard:
Braves vs. Metropolitans, 03-17-12. Braves win, 3-2.Braves vs. Metropolitans, 03-17-12. Braves win, 3-2.
Braves vs. Metropolitans, 03/17/12. Braves "win," 3-2.

The $6 magazine program was largely the same as last year, with ambiguously labeled "A," "B," "R," and "H" columns in the summation. I chose to use them as "At bats," "runs Batted in," "Runs," and "Hits." Beside an ambiguous circle around Murphy's strike out to indicate his getting the short end of the stick, and the surfeit of double-plays, there was nothing scoring-wise of note. Nothing, of course, except for the frantic updating of the lineups after the fifth inning, not much aided by lazy game announcers who did not give complete, timely, or accurate updates on the game, either in announcements or on the scoreboard, which some might rightly argue is their actual job.

The Accommodations:
I was once again staying at my parents' snowbird condo. There were various discussions about what constitutes a proper room temperature, with the side of reason and logic dictating that 80 degrees was too warm to sleep in, and the other side arguing that they were cold. The argument was decided when they went to sleep and left the thermostat in the living room with me.

On the Utter Beauty of Incompetence

West Palm Beach Airport
Fluffy clouds
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Hoboken, NJ

Outside of the Game:
The day started off pleasantly enough. My parents and I went out for breakfast at some fancy champagne brunch place where I filled up on anything and everything not inclusive of seafood. And it is a good thing I did.

After some ironic concern about getting to the airport on time for my flight, I got my boarding pass, went through security, and found that my flight was already delayed a half hour. Our connecting flight in was delayed coming down from Newark, and a half hour delay that long before boarding is almost never a good sign. Nevertheless, for a while it actually appeared that it would just be a half-hour delay, and we got boarded up roughly on time to take off a half hour late.

When I got to my seat, the entertainment system wasn't working, which should have tipped off strike two in my mind. My entire row wasn't working, the only row on the plan so afflicted. I didn't think too much of it at the time, but I clearly should have.

Because they managed to screw up the stand-by seating, causing delay two, and strike three, I guess. The cross-analogies are getting away from me. After a disgruntled passenger who was told there was a seat for him was dragged from the plane, we got as far as the runway before delay three happened. Some routine signal was not firing correctly, so we had to go back to the gate for maintenance, where, coincidentally, I was told that they would reboot the entertainment system for us.

"Fifteen minutes" for the crack maintenance crew to fix the faulty sensor took two more hours, and, not surprisingly, they never rebooted the entertainment system. Oh, did I mention the screaming babies? Because there were screaming babies all over the place, who can't be blamed for the situation, to be sure, but I sure can blame those lying son-of-a-bitch flight attendants who made me stare at a blank screen in silence for three hours while they cried around me.

A scant three hours after we were supposed to depart, we were in the air. And the flight felt much longer going up than it did coming down. But it eventually did end, to the surprise of everyone on the plane.

Blearily, I placed the call for my pickup home, which thankfully arrived quickly and without incident, taking me regretfully back to my apartment.

The Accommodations:
Eventually, Hoboken.

2012 Stand-Alone Trip