The best evidence yet that this is really going to happen

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to make it to The Rocketship for Opening Night in Japan/Opening Early Morning in America. I will instead be celebrating Opening Day next Monday, the way it’s supposed to be, here in my non-named apartment. Sometimes it’s advantageous to have a Tuesday-Saturday work schedule.

However, in celebration of the impending start of the season, I have a sudden flurry of news. First of all, they may have annoying pop-under ads on other web sites, but it turns out that Orbitz is very good at letting you know that Burbank-to-Chicago fares have suddenly plummeted to the extent that they’re cheaper than fares from LAX.

Plane ticket in hand (well, e-ticket confirmation printout in hand), I went ahead and booked the rental car for the trip, following a certain amount of sleuthing. The only rental car agencies serving O’Hare International Airport that had deals with fully unlimited mileage and unequivocally said it was okay to drive their cars into Canada were the big two, Avis and Hertz. And Hertz was cheaper, thanks largely to their AAA member discount.

Thinking of the portions of the trip where there will be hangers-on, I reserved a “full size” car, which to Hertz means “Ford Taurus or similar.” Consumer Reports says that the Taurus is “roomy and comfortable with a decent ride and a spacious rear seat and trunk,” and that “[t]he bland but well-assembled interior has a comfortable driving position for most.” (Actually, the last time I rented from Hertz, I got the “or similar”: a Toyota Corolla instead of a Ford Focus.)

It occurs to me that I’ve made one crucial assumption, and perhaps I should ask: hey, Levi, how do you feel about taking the ‘L’ to O’Hare after work on Thursday, August 19th, to meet me, so you can sign yourself up to be the Additional Authorized Operator on the rental car?

All of this is now reflected on the itinerary. Now I’m off to the ophthalmologist, because I want to make sure I will be able to see all of these baseball games perfectly.

Now, as you all know from hearing me rant about it, I think Major League Baseball has done a lot of stupid things lately.

In fact, more often than not, the phrase “Major League Baseball announces” is enough to get me worried.

But one thing they’ve done extremely well is use the Internet to bring their product to fans in ways that, just a few years ago, weren’t possible. They have game tickers, pitch-by-pitch updates, and a variety of video packages that is pretty impressive.

By far the best thing they do, though, is have the radio broadcasts of all games available on their web site. Having spent years tuning in KMOX after dark to (barely) hear the Cardinals, being able to listen to games clearly has been a sheer, unadulterated joy. We don’t have the Internet at home, but getting to hear day games while I’m at work, and getting to catch up on particularly exciting games from the night before has been wonderful. On top of that, when the Cardinals aren’t playing, I can listen to, say, Vin Scully.

And this year, for the first time in five years, they’re not raising their prices. Maybe they’re learning? Probably not. But right now, I don’t care. We’re hours away from the first game, and soon my workday will fly by at the pace of a ballgame.

Now, if they could just do something about that site design. I suppose it could be worse. It could flash and play Smashmouth or something.

Oh, and Jim, you’re invited to the house for a big breakfast and a viewing of tomorrow morning’s game featuring your favorite team and that team that couldn’t hit Josh Beckett. Game starts just after 4 AM Central Standard Time, and just after 5 AM Rocketship TiVo Time.

Not just "The Simpsons"

If it’s almost time for the baseball season, it’s obviously time for various networks to break out whatever Kevin Costner baseball movies they have in the videotape library. Over the weekend, Turner Classic Movies presented “Field of Dreams,” and Encore countered with “Bull Durham.”

I hadn’t seen “Field of Dreams” since it was in theaters 15 years ago, and I had completely forgotten about the “road trip to Boston to kidnap James Earl Jones” part of the plot. If nothing else, it made me want to play catch with my father. I mean the movie as a whole, not just the part about kidnapping James Earl Jones.

Now, “Bull Durham” reminds me of my summers from 1987 to 1990 in the Duke University Talent Identification Program’s Summer Residential Program, which I see they’re now calling The Academy for Summer Studies. I actually went to a Durham Bulls game as a “field trip” in 1989, but didn’t see the movie for a few years after that, because its R-rated content would have been too much for my tender young mind.

I will quibble with the depiction in “Bull Durham” of an out-of-town game being recreated using sound effects, in a movie supposedly taking place in the present day, although I guess they were trying to give it a timeless quality. But I’m reasonably certain that, by 1987, even small-town radio stations broadcasting Class A minor-league games had advanced as far as broadcasting out-of-town games via a telephone hookup. (Durham kind of seemed like a small town at the time, although I only saw limited portions of it. From what I can tell from afar, these days, it’s no longer like that. Even the Bulls are now in a newer, bigger stadium near the Interstate, and jumped to Class AAA.)

"Our lives have taken an odd turn"

Things seen in “Dancin’ Homer,” one of my favorite “Simpsons” episodes, that we will probably experience on this trip:

  • The Capital City Goofball, or at least his real-life equivalent, the Phillie Phanatic
  • A domed stadium so quiet, you can hear every individual smart-ass remark (in Montreal; of course, many of the remarks will be in French)

Things from that episode which I hope to experience on this trip:

  • An advertisement for a savings and loan proclaiming it “Safe from 1890-1986; 1988-“
  • A grounds crew/bullpen cart shaped like a baseball
  • A live organist playing “Baby Elephant Walk” with a reggae beat
  • The intersection of 4th Street and D

Things I hope we don’t experience:

  • A 26-minute-long version of the national anthem
  • Seats in the upper upper upper mezzanine

Finally, almost two months after the promotion started, the Pepsi iTunes caps have shown up in Los Angeles, so I no longer have to risk a Big Gulp spilling in my car in order to try to win free music.

Even though I didn’t try to cheat by tipping the bottle to look under the cap (because I don’t want to get banned from 7-Eleven), I won a free song on my first try today. With it, in honor of this trip and my unintentional namesake, I purchased Joe Cocker’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Catfish”…

Even Billy Martin grins
When the Fish is in the game
Every season, 20 wins
Gonna make the hall of fame

Yes, there is going to be a “baseball songs” playlist available on my iPod on the trip. Right now it’s almost entirely filled with the tracks on both of the Rhino Records “Baseball’s Greatest Hits” compilations. I also already have “What Bothers the Spaceman?” by Mono Puff, as well as a certain song that’s playing during a current “Sportscenter” promo, which is no doubt one of Dan Rivkin’s favorites. If anyone has other baseball song suggestions, pass them along. Extra points for naming songs available in the iTunes Music Store.

I was reminded today of one of my very favorite baseball nicknames: Cincinnati Reds first baseman Sean Casey is known as “The Mayor.” Apparently the nickname was bestowed on the reportedly down-to-earth, treat friendly, prostate outgoing Casey in the minor leagues because he seemed to know everyone in town.

Oh, and he did a good thing last year. Afterwards, do you think he drove off in one of these?

Cardinals lefty reliever Steve Kline–he of the nastiest cap in the majors–missed a few games early in spring training with gout.

I didn’t think people got gout anymore. Sure, the wealthy used to, because they ate terribly and way too much. Ben Franklin, you may remember, had a little talk with his gout. But nowadays?

And even more impressive: Steve Kline says he gets a case of the gout every spring. What do you think that man eats?

I suppose it’s not the weirdest ailment to sideline a ballplayer. Remember when the versatile, arachnaphobic Glenallen Hill was injured waking up from a nightmare about spiders?

Oh, and if you’ve been wondering how much better advertisements for some products would be if Steve Kline were pitching them, the Internet, as always, is here to remind you that someone’s already thought of everything.

It’s a very baseball Christmas

Somehow people got the idea that I might want some baseball-related books for Christmas. Levi gave me The Hardball Times Baseball Annual, which certainly contains more “adjusted win shares” data than any other baseball book I’ve owned. My mother gave me For the Love of Baseball: An A-to-Z Primer for Baseball Fans of All Ages, the only downside being that they used Babe Ruth to illustrate “B” instead of “R.” And my father gave me a book consisting mainly of old photographs called Baseball in Tampa Bay, which has mercifully few pictures of the Devil Rays.

Original comments…

Levi: Jim–

I figured you probably wouldn’t be all that into the charts and graphs part of the book (Although check out the one that shows the Cardinals leading the pack in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed!), but I thought you’d enjoy:

1) The piece on looking back at 2004 from 2054

2) The piece where the guy speculates how baseball would be different if Eric Young had only gotten four more hits in 1991.

3) The fact that these guys put together a web site, were successful with it, and decided to turn it into a self-published book.

thatbob: I personally think it’s appropriate to illustrate “B” with The Babe, since it’s not his real first name. But it might be inappropraite to illustrate “B” with Babes Adams, Twombly, Borton, Danzig, or Dotel, because they’re not really important enough.

When I got the bleacher tickets for the Red Sox, I also registered for the opportunity to buy tickets atop the Green Monster. However, I got an e-mail tonight telling me that I was not among the chosen few. Maybe it’s a good thing, because I got an up-close look at the seats on one of the Pat Sajak shows, and they look potentially vertigo-inducing, being so high up and pretty much directly above that steep drop-off.