Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 2 – Albuquerque: The rainbow connection

What a difference a day and cold front makes. Twenty-four hours before, I felt like I was in a steam bath (with clothes) in Oklahoma City, as it was over 100 degrees.
But in Isotope Park in south Albuquerque, on the campus of the University of New Mexico, it was a gorgeous 73 degrees, with a breeze and cool, intermittent summer rain – Mother’s Nature air conditioning.
Day 2 had been planned as a long drive and a reward to myself with a visit to this ballpark to see a team named (in 2003) for an episode of “The Simpsons.”
But when baseball slugger Manny Ramirez decided to begin his rehab assignment here (coming off his 50-game suspension for using a banned substance), it became … AN EVENT! And, as a retired journalist, how I LOVE events!
I have seen minor league contests all over the nation – from Durham, N.C. to Fishkill, N.Y. to Lansing, Mich. to Corpus Christi, Little Rock, Oklahoma City and San Antonio; each possessing its little bit of uniqueness about it. This stopover was quite special because of the background view – the towering Sandia Mountains past the right field area. To me, it provided an aura of peacefulness that was MORE than easy on the eyes.
Fans could enjoy excellent seats in the concrete and steel sections or lay on the cool grass in the right field section – complete with children’s rides and a carousel.
The game was nicely presented by the organization, with plenty of between inning frivolity, giveaways and spirit (as it should be on the Minor League level). The lower deck reserve seats cost just $11 – FAR, FAR, FAR lower than Class AA Frisco at $18, which should serve as a lesson in the tight economic market. You shouldn’t overcharge based on what you could in the past.
As for the game itself, Manny went 0-for-1 and a walk, which made the sellout crowd of over 13,000 (the local Isotopes only average 7,700) more than restless. Just how many of those spectators remained in the 15th inning, when the Sounds (a franchise once owned by country star Conway Twitty) “edged” the ‘Topes 8-3 was problematical. I wasn’t among them. After three hours and nine innings (including a nice two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth), I called it a night. In my old age, the concept of “it ain’t over until it’s over” gets lost when the body is screaming to sleep.
As said, the game had a little of everything, including a slightly intoxicated fan (a woman), who ran onto the field and just sprinted across the outfield from right field to left) because security and the Albuquerque police “collared” her. In truth, she just ran out of gas but that didn’t prevent six burly men from escorting her to the pokie with a painful WWE arm bar (not sure it was necessary; she seemed willing and too tired to resist).
Thankfully, she kept her clothes ON. However, if she was trying to find Manny, he had long since departed Isotope Park (nicknamed “The Lab”) – not wanting to get hurt in the slick, wet field conditions.
During the middle innings, the heavens opened up and rain cascaded off the mountains, sending the fans scurrying for cover – meaning most of them were standing right behind me in that most claustrophobic manner. It offered me a chance to make social behavioral comments to the guy next to me – a retired dairy deliveryman named … Charlie.
I couldn’t help but notice that the women with the largest chests also held the larger cups of beer – including the arrested female. My observations hold no scientific basis; it just seemed to be that way on this night.
While the crowd was a blessing for the Isotopes management, the onslaught overwhelmed the facilities in many ways. The concourse resembled a New York subway station at rush hour and the concessions were not prepared.
I stood in line and ordered a diet cola in a “souvenir” cup – I made my order in plain English – but the man serving me returned with a large all-white Styrofoam cup.
“That’s not a souvenir cup,” I noted.
“It is tonight,” he responded with a clear “deer in the headlights” look. He then fumbled around trying to execute a simple credit transaction (I refuse the cola).
“You haven’t done this before I take it,” I asked, with a sympathetic tone. People who are completely unfamiliar with retail tasks hurt the process more than help. The “warm body” theory often reveals the Peter Principle in full bloom – you rise to the level of your own incompetency.
“How could you?” he said, with an upward glance which said to me, “Get me the hell out of here.”
Charlie and I could not think of any current baseball player who could draw such a crowd to Albuquerque, a city steeped in deep Los Angeles Dodger tradition, going back decades to when the Dukes were the team (and San Antonio was the AA squad). Perhaps if Barry Bonds were to stage such an event, it would be comparable. It WAS that way in 2006 when Roger Clemens came to Corpus Christi for a rehab start and so many people flooded the ballpark, the fire marshals had to step in and limit the capacity.
Manny will play tonight and then go to Lake Elsinore to join the Inland Empire 66ers for a contest and a weekend series in San Bernardino – two eventual stops on MY minor league journey. My rehab is ongoing, however.
So Manny plays four innings, decides not to risk a slip and a hamstring pull (he is susceptible to that injury) and heads out in the fifth inning. But then, a funny thing happened…
It stopped raining.
The breeze settled into a gentle wisp.
The sun peeked through the low-hanging clouds and revealed a perfect blue sky through the holes.
And … a rainbow appeared over the right field stands.
It was something I had never seen before at a baseball game. And the beauty of the sport is this: you never know WHAT you will see at a game and it could be something you’ve never seen before … or since.
So it was a beautiful night after all.

The longest portion of the entire trip has been completed and I felt every one of the 500-plus miles.
One immediately knows when New Mexico begins as you see the mesas on the horizons after the only stretch of I-40 in Texas with expansive beauty – west of Amarillo and following the world’s largest feed lot and (consequently) biggest collection of … methane. In that June 100-degree heat, the smell alone can knock you dizzy while driving.
Today (actually it’s early in the A.M.), I will make one of those coin-flip decisions between taking the safe Eisenhower Interstate routes down to Phoenix/Scottsdale and go … wandering for something different. Route A is a “been there, seen that” situation but I AM quite tired …
Too bad I don’t have an online poll for the “readers” to decide. Perhaps a visit to one or two national park sites will be the answer.
Until then … with more rainbows to see … Shalom!

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