How did I get roped into it? It's all my uncle's idea. He is graduating with his Master's degree this summer and also retiring from his career after over 30 years. He wants his family to all go on this cruise with him as a celebration of his achievements and a way to gather and have sort of a reunion on water. That's pretty cool, actually, but initially, my wife and I were going to politely back out because of the enormous cost of a cruise. Then my uncle dropped a couple of heavy guilt trips on me while agreeing to take on a large portion of the costs: First, he told me that he wanted me to take the cruise because it's the kind of fantastic life experience that my sick mother could never have done. She did not travel much before her death at age 32, that's true. He said his 2 adult sons and I aren't very worldly, and that he really wants us to do this for the experience of traveling outside the U.S. borders. I certainly can't argue that I'm not worldly--he informed me that I would need a passport to do this cruise, and I had no clue despite him telling me the cruise would leave America and go to the Bahamas. And second, he dropped a big one on me that I could have taken personally as an insult if I wanted to: He said that he knows that my wife and I basically stayed home as a honeymoon (we went to Graceland, less than 25 minutes from home, then we went to Tunica Roadhouse Casino in Mississippi for a few nights, less than 30 minutes from the house) because we didn't have money, and he wants us to take the cruise in order to enjoy a "real honeymoon" and get our marriage off right. Well, okay then. Since I'm not man enough to give my wife a real honeymoon...but I understood my uncle's intentions, so I calmed down and accepted his offer. This was about two months ago, before the engine fire shit. I'm hoping that my uncle will have great news in the near future about saving money towards the cost of the cruise since cruise prices are dropping everywhere due to the bad publicity from the "Crap Cruise," but since he's going through an agency, I don't think it's going to happen. I fear these prices we're paying are locked in. And the amount my wife and I are saving every month in order to pay my uncle our share when we see him is a hefty amount. Basically, if this old car gives us any more trouble before July, or any other emergency arises, we are in deeper shit than those people on that boat.
But we're staying positive and getting ready for what we hope will be a great, great time. We're ordering clothes, we went through the passport protocol and received them last week, and my wife is immersed in cruise blogs and YouTube videos chronicling the experiences of others. As with everything else she encounters, she's trying to be as prepared and studied as possible. We already booked the flight to Miami, where the cruise originates, and she already booked a hotel to stay in Miami for one night so that we're not trying to fly in the day of the cruise, which I totally would have attempted if I were alone and risked bad weather or some kind of flight delay making me miss the cruise. That's not something where you shrug and catch the next cruise departing. You miss embarkation, you're royally fucked. But the thought of paying $100 and up to stay in Miami just to make sure you can catch the boat would have made me wretch, so I just wouldn't have done it. But that's me.
In other news, I didn't make time to update my experiences being a scorekeeper for Memphis Redbirds minor league baseball games last year. That's misleading, actually. I didn't officially keep score for the Redbirds. I worked as an independent contractor keeping fielding and pitching stats for the renowned Baseball Info Solutions. They have a "private client" who wants that information from all AAA and AA-level minor league games. My experience was fabulous. It was such fun that I've had dreams about getting back out there to do games for this upcoming season. One dream that was very vivid was where I found out that a new team had sprung up overnight a relatively short distance from home, and I convinced my wife to come to a game with me playing that day at noon on no notice. I know exactly why I had that dream. It's because there is a second minor league team not that far from here, in Jackson, TN, about an hour's drive, but a couple of issues stop me from volunteering to score some games there: Being a black man in an unfamiliar part of Tennessee gives me goose bumps, and the car gives us such trouble that we're not confident in its ability to make it there and back, presenting a scene of a black man in an unfamiliar part of Tennessee at 11P on the side of a road with a smoking engine. No, not going anywhere near that one.
As for last season, like I said, I had a great time. Nothing I experienced would impress anyone--no meeting minor league players who go on to get called to the majors and become big stars, no huge celeb sightings in the stands (unless you think TNT basketball reporter Craig Sager is a big star). Just 17 baseball games where I didn't pay for the ticket and sat directly behind home plate and watched baseball, and got paid for the information that I collected. That's all, and that's awesome. Some things that were memorable to me:
- I had some teenagers come to me after a game ended and look at me and then at my blue folder and then at me and excitedly ask, "So, what team do you scout for?" Those of you who know how large my ego can get can imagine how proud I was at that moment, that someone actually thought I was a major league scout.
- It took a while, but I started finding spots to park for free, which were blocks from the beautiful stadium but it was worth the walk because of the exercise and because saving $10 in parking should never be sneezed at.
- While making one of those walks back to the car after a game, I came across a black barber shop where three or four old men were still sitting there in the dark watching TV at 10 o'clock at night, laughing and enjoying each other's company, and that struck me as poignant. There are endless jokes about the stereotypical black barbershop with old men firing inappropriate commentary and bullshitting all over the place, and we're the first to make those jokes, but we really do find a certain kind of male bonding and community in those places. And the state of the black man in this country made me take even more pride than usual in finding a group of guys not drinking, not shooting, not setting the worst kind of examples of how to behave, but simply living and enjoying each other.
- I attended so many games that one day I found myself playing the role of Deacon Frye on the TV show Amen, going through the people I normally go through and being recognized on my daily way. I approached the same young attendant at the ticket booth, and instead of waiting for me to pull out my business card that indicated I was with BIS and needed one of their paid tickets from Will Call, he smiled and said "I gotcha!" and grabbed the ticket for me without me having to say a word. Then I had the ticket scanned at the gate by the same tattooed woman who was there several times previously. I nodded at the funny beer vendor who has his unique cadence in his call that makes him sort of a local known figure: "Cold beer here, I got 'em ice cold! They need to be sold! Too cold to hold! Cold beer, it's hot out here!" The best part is, he'll keep the line "It's hot out here!" as part of his schtick even when it's 60 degrees. Then I approach the aisle where the BIS seats are always located, and the elderly white usher was so familiar with me, he shook my hand and said "How's it going today?" I took my seat and smiled at the concept that I now knew what it felt like to be a VIP. It was pretty fucking cool.
- The one time I convinced my wife to come out to a game with me, the second BIS scorer (there are two assigned to every game) had a friend with him, and they were going crazy over how many minor leaguers they were getting to sign shit for them. So if my wife thought that we scorers were anything but fat sports nerds reveling in the whole experience, she amended that thought on that day. I may get her back out there this season, though, because the Redbirds are introducing Two-fer Twosday, where hot dogs and sodas are 2 bucks each. Hard to turn that down, even though I find myself addicted to the BBQ-smothered nachos at the ballpark, which run $9 but are so worth it.
- The game where Craig Sager was in attendance because TNT was in town to broadcast the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA playoffs? I didn't recognize him but my scoring partner did, hardly anyone approached him, he sat right in front of us a section to the right with a guy and a couple of hotties twenty years his junior, they all drank beers for about three innings, and then they left. I may have gotten the nerve to say something if I wasn't busy scoring the game.
- There was a small controversy on Education Day, which is a daytime game where evidently area schools purchase or are given a bunch of tickets so they can drag their snot-nosed classes out there. Some black female teacher just knew we were sitting in seats her class was supposed to have, even though we were shoving our tickets in her face in order to show her that we were in our correct seats. It turned out that she did have that whole row, with the exception of those two BIS seats. So we had to sit squished in with loud urban kids who were hardly paying attention to the game, hiding under the chairs and playing tag and being general pains in the arse. They didn't stay the whole game, but even so, I avoided scheduling Education Day on this year's calendar. Not doing that again unless I'm really, really desperate to do as many games as I can.
- A sense of independence grew throughout the year as I drove myself to and from these games after my wife came home from work and dropped the car off to me. I took down dinner for myself after the games, usually at the Wendy's or Arby's on the way home, instead of always eating at the ballpark and burning through a big piece of the $25 I was being paid for the game. The last two games, I even found a quicker highway to take to the park, making me feel even more independent. That's a big part of what I miss about doing the games, that feeling of taking charge of something, something that I'm doing all by myself, something I don't have to rely on others to take me there or help me get it done. I do the games with minimal help from my scoring partner, I put the data into the system the next day and send it off to BIS, and if there's an error in the official scoring found on milb.com, then I e-mail BIS and let them know. I'm a big boy now!
- I enjoyed seeing players who were highly touted, players who used to play in the majors, players who I never heard of...I just loved watching guys playing pro baseball and showing what they got. I can't remember all of the names I've seen who will be heard from in the major leagues in the years to come, but there are two who jump out in my mind: Sluggers Wil Myers, who was in the Kansas City organization when I saw him last year, and Anthony Rizzo, the Chicago Cubs 1B. Those guys weren't just strong, they had approaches at the plate that made you believe they knew how to get a hit under any circumstance against any pitcher, and I really look forward to what they're going to accomplish in the majors. The Redbirds have a handful of guys who are highly rated prospects, and I will look forward to seeing them this year before they get called up to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. I'm nowhere near a major league scout, as those teenagers believed, but I can't wait to get out there and get better at it. And I appreciated seeing Cards starting pitcher Jaime Garcia come through for a rehab start as he recovered from injury, because he showed me why he's a major leaguer. His curveball was magnificent. All the other pitchers I saw all year were garbage compared to him. And he's not all that in the majors, so it just makes you appreciate how great they are in the big leagues.
- And finally, I appreciated the other scorers. They were absolutely from Central Casting, and I really appreciated that. They were all white, mostly doughy, mostly in need of tanning, mostly four-eyed, mostly annoying voices, two of them were a father-son duo that have been doing this for over a decade, one is an official scorer for the Redbirds and Grizzlies and a local college in addition to the BIS duties, so he's the uber-sports nerd among us. And I needed them to be as nerdy and dopey as I imagined, because I'm nerdy and dopey and have very low self-esteem, so I needed these guys to be like me in order to show that I wasn't being a complete geek choosing to do these games out of love for the game. They were just like me. They got me. I got them. I found a sort of family that I've been looking for, in a sense. Not too close, mind you; I haven't had any contact with any of them since the season ended. But a bunch of like-minded guys who all laughed and understood when I approached each of them in the middle of the season and asked which of them had the misfortune of scoring the game that had a final score of something like 22-16. And when I finally found the poor saps who did score that game, all they could do was smirk and say, "What can I say, it was torture." But with that smirk that said, it was baseball, so of course it was orgasmic, but we have to pretend it was torture so that we don't seem quite as geeky as we know we are.
On my agenda are three different trips out of Memphis. The wife and I are spending this coming weekend in Tunica, and I already have my money for poker tournaments set aside. "Jacob" and "Alice" are also spending the weekend in Tunica, as they do a little vacation with their daughter, who celebrates her 1st birthday this Friday. I'm thrilled to see them all for the first time since they visited last year shortly after their daughter's birth. The cruise takes place at the end of July. At the beginning of April, I return to Chicago for the first time as a married man. I was able to get a couple of days off so that I can join Jacob for the draft in the big-money fantasy baseball league we're in. I'll be crashing at my uncle's house. I'm also taking in the 2nd White Sox game of the season, so hopefully I won't need my winter coat to do so, although "PPD-Snow" has happened in the Chi in recent years. It will be a solo trip, so for the first time since marriage, the wife and I will be dwelling separately, and as much as we love each other and are happy in wedded bliss, I think we're both looking forward to certain aspects of our four days apart. But I will greatly anticipate my return home. I already miss her.