Texas Road Report - Part 2

This is part 2 of the Orioles Observer Road Trip Report to Arlington, Texas for the 2012 American League Wild Card Game. Friday, October 5, 2012 – 6:30 AM

“Are you guys going to the game?” The airport security worker took my ticket and driver’s license from my outstretched arm. He doesn’t make eye contact while asking the question, but must have caught a glimpse of my Orioles’ hat and t-shirt at some point.

“Yea, we are,” I answered excitedly.

From the time we decided to take this trip through the remainder of the following week, I always spoke about the trip with a sense of accomplishment, as if I expected a small round of applause or maybe a nice pat on the back for my show of dedication to Baltimore’s baseball team. This guy gave me neither.

“They better stay away from that Hamilton. He killed you guy’s the last time,” the security guard replies in reference to Josh Hamilton’s four home run game against the Orioles back in May – a game that took place so long ago it hardly seemed like it was part of the same season.

“Yea, well, chances are he won’t be able to do that again.” I said that playfully but truthfully – four home run games even for a talented hitter like Hamilton aren’t born completely out of skill. There is a lot of luck and timing involved. I wasn’t worried about Josh Hamilton homering the Rangers all the way to the ALDS.

“Oh, he most definitely can and just might. Good luck to you guys.”

I sniveled, muttered thanks, and grabbed my ticket and my license. I guess I shouldn’t have counted on any BWI employees to send positive vibes the Orioles’ way .

We reach our gate, grab breakfast at McDonald’s (Quizno’s was open as well but that just seemed odd to me), and take survey of the Oriole fan situation. We counted about 15–20 O’s fans. There was a group of eight or so guys that made up the majority. A kid – somewhere in the five to seven year range I’d say – was there with his father. Tim says the kid has no idea how lucky he is. He’s right. What a cool memory to skip school with your Dad in order to fly half way across the country to watch your local baseball team play its first playoff game in 15 years.

Friday, October 5, 2012 – 9:30 AM

The trip to Philly for our connecting flight was uneventful – which is always a good thing. The woman sitting next to me asked what team my clothes were for. My initial thought was “what are you stupid?” but my actual answer was a lot more diplomatic. She said “oh”, I think still not quite sure who the Orioles were, though she must have ascertained that they were a baseball team because she offered up that she is a Giant’s fan. “So when those two teams play, there must be a lot of Orange and Black in the stands, right?” she asks. I fake a laugh and turn around. I am flying 1,400 miles to see one baseball game – I don’t have the patience for casual baseball conversation.

Tim managed to get himself engaged in a conversation with a Phillies fan. That’s not the shocking part – the shocking part would be that the guy was actually nice and relatively sane about his team. A sane Phillies fan – who would have thought? The guy wished us good luck and expressed his desire to see the Yankees eliminated one way or another. That would not be the last time we heard that particular sentiment that day.

Tim and I took our seats on the plane bound for Dallas and as time went by, we began to notice something magical happening – nearly everyone was on board and there was still an empty seat next to us. I have been tricked by this before. I’ve had a seat open next to me for twenty minutes only from some straggler to make his or her way to the seat just before takeoff. When there are only a few people left standing, I shift over to the unoccupied seat on the isle. I don’t want any other passengers – perhaps one stuck in a middle seat – to think they can take the empty one next to me. Miraculously, nobody ever comes to fill the seat (there are quite a few empty seats on this particular flight) allowing Tim and I to fly to Dallas with much appreciated additional room between us.

Friday, October 5, 2012 – 12:45 PM (CT)

Tim and I grab a cab at Dallas-Fort Worth International. I tell the driver we want to go to the Buffalo Wild Wings in Arlington, leading to the following exchange:

Driver: Buffalo Wild Wings?

Me: Yes, Buffalo Wild Wings in Arlington. It is near the stadium.

Driver: The stadium?

Me: Yes – the stadium.

Driver: What’s the address?

Me: (sigh) Hold on, I’ll get it for you.

Isn’t that the entirety of a cab driver’s job responsibilities – to know where things are? I should have told him to stop the meter until I found the address. I saw on Orioles Hangout that there was a Buffalo Wild Wings about a mile and a half from the stadium. Apparently, there wasn’t anything much closer to the stadium than that. Tim and I figured we would grab lunch there and then walk to the park. Maybe there would even be some other Oriole fans there. After a few minutes of searching on my phone, I located the address.

Me: 3301 Collins Avenue is the address.

Driver: Collins?

Me: That’s right.

Driver: Oh – it is near the stadium.

No shit.

Now armed with the address, the driver puts his years of cab driving experience to work and maps out the most circuitous path possible to get us to where we are going. I followed along on my phone’s GPS to confirm that we took a route that was far from the straightest path possible. No harm, I guess. We get to the restaurant and sadly there are no Oriole fans there but there is a great, “Buffalo Wild Wings does not allow guns to be carried on the premise” - an only in Texas moment. We order some wings as appetizers and I order a beer, figuring one of us should have a drink since we plan on camping out here for a couple of hours. The waitress cards me. “You are a long way from home.” I think about telling her why we are here, but decide against it. I feel pretty confident that our reason for taking the trip is noble, but I fear less baseball-inclined folk might not see it the same way.

We put down about 36 wings and three orders of fries between us. The waitress suckers me into a second, twenty-ounce beer and it is not even 3:00 yet. I figured I’d just lay off then until the game started. The BWW has televisions turned to ESPN and MLB Network. We watch some of the coverage. Tim and I both conclude that none of the media outlets get it. ESPN does a lengthy tale-of-the-tape type segment on Joe Saunders and Yu Darvish. The idea is that those two starting pitchers are going head to head. In reality, O’s fans know that Saunders is gone on the first sign of trouble and that if the Orioles are going to win this game, the bullpen is going to play a significant role. It is not Saunders vs. Darvish – framing it that way is missing the point.

We kill time anyway possible. We joke about how TV’s Jon Taffer might try to fix the Arlington BWW. We shake our heads at the ESPN coverage of that night’s game. We incessantly check and recheck twitter, waiting for the Orioles to finally announce their 25-man wild card roster.

One of the most endearing aspects of this 2012 squad is their outright refusal to be conventional, which all starts at the top with Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter. The Rangers announced their roster before our plane landed in Dallas. Here we were now less than five hours before game time and Buck hadn’t peeped a word about the Orioles’ roster, even though it was due to the league office by 10:00 AM.

I love it – anything to gain an advantage and frustrate the national media.

I change into my O’s jersey in the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror.

Let’s do this.

Friday, October 5, 2012 – 2:45 PM (CT)

Or……….let’s kill another four and a half hours until game time.

We wander out onto the mean streets of Arlington, Texas. I spent much of the trip thinking that Arlington was the home of Hank Hill and family, but the Hills were actually from Arlen, Texas and Arlen isn’t even a real town. Although the stadium is only a little over a mile from the Buffalo Wild Wings and there were a plethora of other dining establishments, the O’s fans from Texas who posted online had acted like it was much further away. We quickly saw why they gave that impression – the distance wasn’t great, but there was an alarming lack of sidewalks and the most direct route from BBW to Rangers’ Stadium took you through a large, empty parking lot outside of Cowboy’s stadium. After getting off track briefly, Tim and I got ourselves heading in the right direction even if that meant walking in the street to get there.

Cowboy Stadium – I should add – is a monstrosity. The thing is just so big, but also so plain looking, from the outside. It definitely feels like Texas. Your reaction to seeing the stadium is, “Well, that’s big.” I don’t think any other phrase could better sum up Texas than that, so I guess it works. Also very Texas is the giant Wal-Mart that is literally right next to Cowboy’s stadium. A family can catch a football game and load up on discounted, bulk groceries without even moving the car – can’t beat that.

We arrive at Rangers’ ballpark more than an hour before gates open at 4:30 and more than four hours before the game begins. We sit and kill some time before I become impatient. I count as one of my greatest skills my innate ability to kill time. I could kill an eight hour day by just looking at a blank wall and be no worse for wear. If you don’t believe me, I’ll gladly show you. However, my time-killing abilities also include the ability to find the best possible way to kill time. Sitting outside an empty stadium didn’t feel like the best way to go about this.

A few Orioles’ fans had passed us earlier – two yelled at us from across the street as we approached the stadium and another loudly beeped his car horn as he drove by – and I remembered that some people were going to meet at the Hilton bar which was just down the street. I began whining at Tim to go there, but he held his ground. Tim likes to stay put. He had also convinced himself that the Hilton was further away than it looked and that the two-block walk wasn’t worth it. I managed to win this particular battle of wills as I was able to get Tim to finally relent and agree to make the walk down.

I indulged Tim’s complaint – he wasn’t going to let me get my way without a little after-the-fact complaining – that it was warmer inside the Hilton then it was outside, as we sat in the hotel lobby for a few minutes while I charged my phone. The hotel was – you guessed it – very, very big. We made our way to the bar and as advertised, it was packed with Orioles’ fans. “Packed” might be too strong of a word – there were probably a half-dozen or so O’s fans. Considering there were maybe a dozen people in the brt, that ratio is good enough to consider the place swarming with Orioles’ fans. We both ordered a beer and a water and watched the Atlanta-St. Louis game on the television.

By this point we had been up and moving for 12+ hours and there was some fatigue settling in. We sat in silence most of the time, watching the game on TV and listening to the people around us. Those around us included a couple that dragged an innocent Oriole fan into a lengthy conversation. The couple was older and claimed that they had been in Arizona since the late 1970’s, yet you never would have known from their THICK New York accents. The poor guy who had been roped into the conversation was roped into going to the restaurant in the stadium with them. Better him then us, I suppose.

We paid our tab and headed back to the stadium. I walk right in after the stadium personnel takes a courtesy glance at my backpack. Tim is subjected to a virtual strip search and finally makes it into the stadium a couple of minutes after me. I buy a program as a memento before we find our seats, which are 20 rows behind the Orioles’ dugout on the 3rd base side. The Rangers are taking batting practice and there is a healthy contingent of Orioles’ fans gathered around their dugout. On Tim’s lead, we sit in our exact seats 3 hours before game time even though we could have sat anywhere to watch BP. That’s just Tim – get where you are going, then plant there.

The Rangers put on a decidedly rudimentary display in batting practice. Few balls are hit with much authority and even fewer land in the stadium seats. The Rangers’ were in the midst of a fairly epic collapse that saw them blow a 5 game lead in nine days to the A’s. Players joked around the cages, but it all looked very forced. Like a “look how relaxed we are” type of deal rather than actual relaxation. Batting practice is in no way an indicator of actual game performance, but the Rangers surely didn’t look like a team prepared to battle for their playoff lives.

As Ranger’s BP winds down, Koji Uehara makes his way in from the outfield where he was shagging balls. The stadium is empty enough that we can hear Koji’s enthusiastic “JJ!” as he passes Hardy (who is warming up on the sideline). JJ gave Koji a thumbs up and the former Oriole reliever chatted up some other Orioles, the highlight of which is a perfectly choreographed hand slapping exchange between Koji and Bob Andino. We miss Koji and would welcome him back into the Baltimore fold in a heartbeat.

For whatever its worth – and I don’t believe it is worth much – the Orioles’ put on a show in batting practice. Chris Davis in particular was hitting bombs, but Andino, Reynolds, Thome, and others all had some really good swings. At some point during batting practice, I text a guy from Orioles Hangout – Chris – who I had told I would bring some shirts down for. He said he lived in Houston and it is hard to get the newer gear down there. Wanting to help out and also spread some good karma our way, I told him I’d grab him some shirts at the team store. I intended to do that, but got out of work later than I thought the day before so he was going to have to settle for a couple of unworn giveaway t-shirts from this season. I can’t wear them anyway – the “one size fits all” t-shirts are always way too big on me.

Chris calls when he gets to the stadium and Tim spots them behind home plate. I didn’t see them when Tim pointed them out, but I acted like I did anyway. I head in the general direction but there are two pairs of Orioles’ fans behind home plate. I approached the one pair but then remembered that Chris said he would be with his father – these two guys looked the same age. I slyly change course and head over the right Oriole fans. Tim, apparently, was watching all of this in horror from his seat, convinced I was going to go up to the wrong guys then just come back to my seat without finding them. He doesn’t give me a lot of credit. Chris and his Dad are thankful for the t-shirts and offer to pay me for them, but I accept a beer as payment instead. The shirts were free, no need for me to get reimbursed. I talked with them for a little while before they take off to go visit Fred Manfra – a childhood friend of Chris’ dad – in the press box.

Back at our seats, they turn the Braves-Cardinals game on the big screen. We all watch in abject horror as the umpires blow the infield fly call causing to a lengthy delay in the game. In the aftermath, a lot of baseball people defended the call as the right one. The logic is that the rule was enforced in-line with what is written in the rulebook. The problem was that the spirit of the rule was completely missed. The infield fly rule exists entirely so that an infielder cannot purposely drop a fly ball and turn a double play. In this particular play, the ball was not purposely dropped, neither the outfielder or the infielder had a chance at turning a double play, and the ball was hit further into the outfield than any infield fly rule call all season. On top of that, the umpires waited to signal for the infield fly rule until the ball was about to hit the ground, which makes no sense at all. Freddie Garcia and Braves’ fans were right to be mad, even if pelting the field with garbage was the wrong way to go about it.