For those of us that don’t live in a town with a major league team, it’s difficult to decide when, exactly, baseball’s opening day transpires. Is it the home opener for the major league team that we follow? Or, since I’m not in that city anyway, when they start playing, even if they’re away? Or the home opener of our hapless local minor league team? This year, I went to see an exhibition game that the Stars – our local AA team – played against a local college, two days before the minor league season officially started. With a low of around 36 degrees, and a total of 40 people in the stands, it didn’t feel much like opening day, but at least it was live baseball. (With the low attendance that we get, here, even the real opening day doesn’t feel much like opening day, either.)
This year, the opening day to which I’m paying the most attention is when the local amateur league kicks off, and that’s because I’m playing in it. This is the second year that I’ve played, but I didn’t write much about this last summer, as I was hoping to compile the series of experiences into a memoir-style book which would hit the NY Times Best-Seller list, send me on book signing tours, give me job opportunities to write nostalgic baseball columns for major news publications, and be featured, every once in awhile, on Baseball Tonight, where I would get to engage in witty banter with John Kruk and Tim Kurkjian.
That didn’t really pan out.1 As a matter of fact, it didn’t progress much past the stage of taking notes after every game – just scribbling down the funny stuff that happens in a baseball dugout, or the unintentional slapstick that results from a bunch of amateurs on the field. A year later, enough time has elapsed that the notes don’t make a lot of sense anymore. More than anything, they resemble those notes that you write to yourself when you wake up in the middle of the night, and you want to remember something, and the next morning you’re faced with some indecipherable thing that makes no sense at all.
Regardless of the missed literary opportunities, it’s the start of a new season.
The team that I play for has traditionally been the doormats of the league, but last year – the first year that I played – was (coincidentally) our best year so far: we did not lose any games via the mercy rule (this was a first), and we actually won a couple games by actually scoring more runs than the other team, and not because the other team didn’t have enough players and had to forfeit. (Before last year, I’m pretty sure that this is the only way we won games. And to be fair, we still one some of our games via that method, which I’ve got to admit can be pretty effective.)
So there is reason to be optimistic, even though our record, last year, resembled what the Marlins’ record is now, more or less. 2 But as most baseball fans know, despite what the standings say, all losses are not created equal. There are losses where both teams are fairly evenly matched, and things could have conceivably played out in a different way. There are losses in which a superior team just happens to be outplayed because baseball is a funny game, and sometimes the bounces don’t go your way. And then there are the games where one team pretty obviously doesn’t belong on the field with the other team, and while there is no mystery as to what the outcome of the game will be, there’s still some mystery to be pondered, namely, why this team bothered to show up in the first place.3
Most of our losses, last year, felt much closer to the “Well, the bounces didn’t go our way” sort of losing than the “Oh, man, I feel sorry for anyone who showed up to watch this travesty” sort of losses, although, to be fair, there were still a couple of those, too. From what I’ve seen from our team so far this year, we may actually be slightly better: we’ve added a catcher that has actually caught before, and seems to know what he’s doing, and our best pitchers and hitters are back. One of the better players on the team that moved out of town – and missed last year – has moved back. Additionally, and this year I managed to talk a friend of mine into playing, and I strongly suspect that he’s probably going to be one of the better players on the team. 4
On a team like this, there are basically two different types of players: there are those that are here because they love baseball, even if they’re terrible at it, and this is about the only socially acceptable excuse that a grown man has for wearing a baseball uniform if it’s not Halloween. 5 These people tend to hustle, and the effort is always impressive, even if the results are not. Also, if you believe what I tell my wife, it provides motivation to get in shape and to help the player in question lose weight. I am this type of player.
Then there’s the other type of player that was the star of their high school team, and maybe even played in college, and they are already in shape. They seem less excited by wearing the uniform than I am, though I choose to believe that they’re just playing it cool, and some of them lollygag their way across the diamond and still put up better stats than the rest of the team. 6 Some of them hustle. When they do, we actually can look like a baseball team, and not a bunch of guys that happened to have found uniforms at a thrift store.
Anyway if we actually win a few games, I’ve got some high hopes that we’ll collectively show a bit more hustle, though I suspect everyone will be shocked if we actually have a winning record. But we’ll see.
For most adults, I think, the year – in the sense of “when we think about new beginnings” meaning of the word year – falls on what is actually the the beginning of the calendar. It’s as good a time as any, but it’s not always that way: when I was a student, it always seemed to me that the beginning of the year – regardless of what the calendar said – was in the fall, not on January 1. The fall was the chance for a new school year, which translated into a new backpack, new pencils, and a new lunchbox, at least when I was young. Later it was the beginning of a new year, even if there weren’t new school supplies.
For baseball, though, opening day is the beginning of the year: everyone has the same batting average, the same won-lost record, and despite what we’ve seen out of Spring Training, no one really knows what teams are going to be good. It’s not a bad feeling, but it only lasts until the first game starts, and then we’re off to the new adventure, whatever it is.
Happy Opening Day, guys. We’re off.
- At one point, come to think of it, I had similar dreams about garnering similar acclaim by playing baseball instead of writing about it, and that didn’t really pan out, either. [↩]
- For those not keeping up with the standings, this is not good. [↩]
- I feel like this every time I see the Houston Astros. Last night, they managed to the Pirates on a walk-off error. The Pirates seemed to be surprised, but the Astros seemed to take it in stride, because: Astros. [↩]
- He’s quite good, and I’m not just saying that because he occasionally reads this blog. But if he is – Hi, Eric! [↩]
- Seriously, wearing a baseball uniform is awesome, and what’s probably obvious is that there are not a lot of socially acceptable places to wear one, if you are not on a baseball diamond surrounded by other people wearing the same uniform. We had one of our pitchers show up to a practice in a full uniform, just because he was excited to wear it, and no one really seemed surprised by this. Tommy Lasorda, when he was the manager of the Dodgers, was once quoted as saying “I like it when we play doubleheaders, because that way I get to wear my uniform longer.” Keep in mind, this is when Lasorda was managing: by this point, he had already had more opportunities to wear baseball uniforms than most of us will ever see. [↩]
- We have one guy on our team – and I am not making this up – who has gotten picked off twice in the pre-season scrimmages. Both times are because he decided to run – well, sort of run – to the next base before the play had technically started. He was out by about 45 feet both time, which – considering the distance between the bases is 90 feet – is actually sort of impressive, in a “please don’t do that in a game, ever” sort of way. [↩]
A friend of mine – let’s call him Dylan, because that’s his name – recently emailed me to say that one of his coworkers was going to visit Portland, OR. Dylan knew I had been there before, mainly because I wouldn’t shut up about it after I got back, and consequently he emailed me to ask for advice. This is – with some edits, and fixing the typos – the reply that he got. If you’ve been to Portland, or if you live there, I’d love to hear your recommendations, too.
So you’re going to Portland! Okay! That’s fantastic. Portland is probably the coolest city that I have ever been to, and probably the only place in the continental US to which I would be willing to move voluntarily and with enthusiasm. In fact, if I felt as if I could talk my wife into agreeing that it would be a good thing for us to move there, I’d probably move there as soon as the house sells, and quite possibly before then. My wife, quite sensibly, does not wish to relocate to a place where neither of us has a job and where we know absolutely nobody. Also she does not wish to be rained upon 11 months out of the year, which is certainly understandable.
However: keep in mind that I have only been to Portland twice, really, and both times were for work, so I didn’t get as much of a chance to play tourist as I would have liked. You should probably seek out the advice of people that already live there, or whoever is making tourism videos like this one. With that disclaimer in place, though, let’s continue.
What you’re going to do when you go to Portland, first of all, is you’re going to plan to stay at McMenamin’s Kennedy School.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too: “Ah-hah,” you’re saying to yourself. “While that may be a good idea, I am a savvy business traveler and I am building hotel points at (insert name of generic hotel chain of my choosing), and I wish to continue building points at said hotel chain.” I understand. In fact, I thought that, too, and so the first time I went to Portland, I stayed at a Residence Inn. And this was the wrong decision. Put the hotel points down and trust me on this one. Seriously, this is worth it: this is a very cool place, and it’s just about the Portlandiest place you can stay when you are in Portland, and of course you want the full Portland experience.
The building that houses McMenamin’s used to be an elementary school (called, unsurprisingly, the “Kennedy School”), until the McMenamins bought it, whereupon they converted it into a place that has . . .
- A bar
- A microbrewery
- A hotel, in which you will be staying
- Another bar
- A cigar bar
- A movie theater (in the gym. One screen.There are couches and tables, and if you stay at the hotel you get a pass to as many movies as you desire to watch)
- A restaurant
- A community meeting space which, when I was there, was hosting someone’s kickoff party for their House of Representatives Campaign, or something
- Another bar in there, somewhere, probably, just in case you are tired of the other bars
- And, if that wasn’t enough, the there is also large saltwater hot tub, which they refer to as a “soaking pool,” and which will be referenced later in the story.
The only danger, if you stay here, is that you might not be able to motivate yourself to see any more of Portland. I mean, there’s a microbrewery within 40 yards of your room, and the bar has an awesome happy hour if you’re looking for an early dinner and then another one that doesn’t end until 1 AM when the kitchen closes. And there are no TVs in the hotel rooms, because if you stay here, you are probably awesome and know what you are supposed to do, which is to get out to the bar and have some microbrew beer with other interesting people, as opposed to sitting in your room feeling sorry for yourself and watching TV with an economy-size tub of hummus in your lap.
The hotel rooms are actually the old classrooms, and the chalkboards are still up there, so you can kind of see how it was laid out when it was a classroom. When I checked in, there was an elaborate piece of chalk artwork that took up about 2/3 of the board, and was apparently drawn by whoever the housekeeper was. Basically, it was a large and colorful “Welcome to Portland” sort of message. Or maybe welcome to the hotel. I was never sure, but it was pretty neat. Additionally, there’s also all sort of neat artwork all over the rest of the hotel, quite a bit of which is historical Portland sort of stuff. It’s worth walking around just to look around in there.
You will probably want to go sit in the tub, especially if you are there during the 11 1/2 months of the year in which it rains the whole time. Sitting in hot water up to your neck while getting cold rain on your head is a pretty neat experience. When I was there, I sat in the hot tub for awhile and then an extremely attractive young woman showed up, and because it was steamy and my glasses were foggy, I assumed she was wearing a 1-piece swimsuit. No. It took me awhile to figure out that she was wearing a black bikini, but she was so heavily tattooed, it appeared that she was wearing far more than she actually was. 1
If, after all that, you find yourself in the unlikely position of still needing things to do while at the hotel, there is also live music and jam sessions there on a pretty regular basis. But really, we don’t want to spend the entire trip hanging out at the hotel. But at least now we know where you are going to stay.
The other thing that you are going to do when you’re in Portland is go to Powell’s Bookstore:
This is a bookstore downtown that takes up a city block, more or less, and sells both used and new books, and it is awesome, if you are into that sort of thing. The last time I was out there, I think I spent about 6 hours in this bookstore over the course of several days, and ended up buying so many books that I had to ship myself two boxes of books home via the U.S. Postal Service. Of course, you do not need to descend into such depths of irresponsibility, but I’d encourage you to at least try. At least go browse around and look for any out-of-print books that you’ve been trying to find for awhile, if you keep such a list. (Because I keep a running list like this, I assume that everyone does, but I’m constantly reminded that I am, when starting from my own personal experience, not a good judge of what is normal.) Anyway: if you like bookstores, you should go here. Plan to spend some time, at the very least.
Also: if you are of the churchgoing persuasion, and you’ve read anything by Don Miller (Blue Like Jazz is his big one), I’d encourage you to visit Imagio Dei: it’s a really neat church, and the pastor there – Rick McKinley – is a great speaker. It’s worth stopping in for a service if you’re there on the weekend. 2 Their website is right over here.
Caution: don’t go if you are allergic to hipsters. This is Portland, after all, and if you go there, you will find Jesus-y hipsters all over the place.
The one thing that I have not talked about yet is brewpubs, and the reason for this is fairly straightforward: it is nearly impossible to swing a dead cat around anywhere within the Portland city limits without hitting a good brewpub or beer bar, both of which are worth tracking down. The brewpubs have originality going for them, I suppose, but quite a few of the beer bars are going to have stuff that is difficult to track down – obscure Belgian stuff, or a selection of beer from all over the Pacific NW. If I were you, I’d look at this map over here and figure out where you would like to go based on the reviews and locations. A few recommendations, based on personal experience, reputations, and hearsay:
- 4th Street Brewing, out in Gresham: this was pretty good. I remember the food better than the beer – I got some sort of awesome baked macaroni and cheese with sausage in it, and it was fantastic. You probably don’t want to head out that far west if you’re already downtown.
- Don’t go to a Rock Bottom, at least not while you’re in Portland: it’s a chain, although it’s not obvious that it is one if you’re just driving past, and although the food is good, the beer is kind of meh. Plus, you can go to one in the Denver Airport . . . or a lot of other places. It’s not really Portland enough for this, and I’d advise you to save a visit to a Rock Bottom until you’re looking for a place to eat in say, Pittsburgh. If you travel at all, you’ll run into one of these again, if you haven’t already. This would, come to think of it, be worth going to in just about any place that is not Portland.
- Probably the most famous Portland brewpubs – at least in terms of the brews that we get out here – are Full Sail, Deschutes, and Bridgeport. They’re all on the map, they’re all downtown, and they all have brewpubs associated with them.
- Oh, and don’t forget Rogue, which is probably even more famous. They’ve got an actual brewery somewhere, so none of the Rogue locations are really brewpubs in the technical sense of the word, but any of them are still worth a visit. (I have been to one in San Francisco, of all places.)
Anyway, Rogue has a brewhouse in downtown Portland, and there’s also one in the PDX airport, at which I spent a lot of time due to a delayed flight. Something cool about Rogue that we don’t really see this far east: they are a microdistillery, too, not just a microbrewery, and I’ve always wanted to get a bottle of their Spruce Gin or Dead Guy Whiskey. 3 They don’t sell it out here – only in the Pacific NW – and by the time I found out about it, I was at the PDX airport, and I could not bring any home, as they unsurprisingly do not sell bottles of liquor in the airport. However, discovering that they made gin and whiskey at all led to an interesting situation wherein I got to see the priest that was sitting next to me at the bar – and who was, by my estimate, more intoxicated than I was – try to circumvent the law by bribing the bartender into letting us buy a bottle in the airport. He was not successful. 4
There is, now that I think about it, a small branch of Powell’s in the PDX airport, too. So pray for a delayed flight: between a good bookstore and a brewpub, you’ll have a good time going or coming.
Have fun! And let me know how it goes.
- As far as I’m concerned, I’m still unsure if this was sexy or off-putting, and I’ve been pondering it, off and on, for roughly 3 years. [↩]
- You will not meet Don Miller. Don’t ask people standing around if they know where Don Miller is, they’re tired of getting this question. Also, you probably do not need to ask me how I know this. [↩]
- Hint, hint. [↩]
- In his defense, he was from New Orleans, where members of the clergy violating liquor laws probably don’t cause the raised eyebrows that they would in any other place in the South. Presumably. [↩]
A couple weeks ago, a friend emailed me to ask if I would help judge the regional Science Olympiad at UAH. At the time that I got the email, I had no idea what the Science Olympiad even was, but I had nothing going on on that particular Saturday, and was talked into it by the promise of free food and a free t-shirt. When I expressed some concern as to my qualifications, I was told not to worry, and that probably if I was capable of putting on the t-shirt, I was probably qualified: all that I would be doing in my official capacity as a judge would be helping to judge Rube Goldberg machines built by middle school students.1 I suppose that building these sort of contraptions, according to the way of thinking by the people that set this thing up, is supposed to help one’s knowledge of physics, problem solving, and who knows what else. I fully anticipate that the kids that excel at this will be in majoring in engineering before too long.
C.S. Lewis once pointed out that the primary value in reading old books is that they do a better job of helping readers see whatever the subject matter is from a different point of view. If we only read books that are written within the framework of assumptions that are held by the society in which we live, there are going to be certain assumptions that we have that will not ever be challenged, because they are commonly accepted by everyone involved in any debate or discussion.
Despite working in the technology field, when it comes to technology in my own life, I am not what you would refer to as an early adopter. I would hazard a guess that I’m probably in the “late majority” part of the bell curve, but I may only be saying that to avoid categorizing myself - according to this chart, anyway - as a laggard. I was one the last people I knew that got a cell phone, and I only got one when the place I worked gave me one and told me to carry it around. (I eventually got a smartphone, well after most of my friends, as a result of the same process.) I went without having cable – or even a television in the house – for years, and for substantial amounts of time I haven’t had a land line phone or internet access, either.