Thus ends my first baseball season on the road, at least as far as the Reds are concerned. I actually spent part of last season on the road as well, but I'm not going to count that one.
Trucking can be a baseball fan's best friend at times, and his worst enemy. You go into this lifestyle, and it is more of a lifestyle than a job, and you have visions somewhat akin of a young navy recruit. "See the world!", the recruit is told, but what he is not told is that you will only see every port in the world, sometimes with no time to see what is beyond that port. "Hit the open road. See the country!", is the siren song, and away you go. You start out with a lot of excitement. There are all sorts of unexplored parts of this vast country that are calling you, places you have read about and never visited. You have visions of seeing the natural wonders, visiting the historic places, and most importantly, seeing ballparks.
You figure out rather quickly that the population centers where most of the freight goes are also in close proximity to professional sports teams. You start mapping things out in your mind. "If I get a load to D.C., maybe the Orioles and the Nats will both be at home, or there's Philly just up the road." You notice the close proximity of New York and Boston and the thought of visiting those storied parks lifts your heart just a bit. The west coast beckons, lots of teams out there. So you drive through the winter and you can hardly wait for April.
April arrives and with it, Opening Day tickets. The only problem is you're stuck in Wichita on the weekend before the game. What are your priorities? Opening Day is only once a year, so you say, "The heck with the price of diesel, and you spend Saturday driving from Wichita to Cincinnati with the hope of a new season fueling your spirit in much the same way the diesel is fueling the engine, the only difference being that the vehicle's fuel will have to be replenished around St. Louis while the other fuel is constantly replenished by XM 175. You pass through Olathe and a bell goes off in your head. "A zoner lives here." You make a mental note to tell Johnny that you passed through, but for some reason you don't bother. You stop in St. Louis and while you're waiting on the fuel pump to finish, you glance at the computer and notice a load picking up in Wichita, a darn good paying load going to Chicago. So now you realize that Opening Day just cost you $50 for the ticket, about $120 in fuel to get home, and the $1500 you could have gotten for that load. You make another mental note not to tell your wife about that load. She's not a baseball fan. She would never understand. The importance of that mental note perhaps overrides the previous one to tell Johnny that you passed by.
You get back to Cincinnati and your wife is happy that you're home, especially since you've been out for a couple weeks. She expresses pleasure at your presence and then asked why you just got up and drove home from Kansas. You reply before thinking, "Monday is Opening Day." You immediately realize that you could have probably given a better response. The slight is forgiven and you are given a proper welcome home.
Monday you are up before the sun, with a feeling that you used to feel on Christmas morning. You drive to Kentucky, park the van in two parking spots, and walk downtown for the parade. It gets a little wet, but you don't care. The excitement grows as the parade starts and a part of your brain wonders why you get this excited every year when the team always lets you down by August. But you don't care. August is a long way off. You're still in first place in April. You watch a good part of the parade, see Chip in all his 19th century glory, and then head to the park for batting practice. Your heart skips a beat when you enter the park and see the perfection of grass and white lines. It just doesn't get any better than this. And it really doesn't get any better that day.
Tuesday and you're back on the road. Opening Day is behind you and a new season is ahead. Marty is still pleasant to listen to, most of the time, and you have a lot of time to listen. You also realize that all those ballparks are out there beckoning you to come and partake of the summer sacrament of baseball. You realize that at times it almost takes on religious proportions and you make another mental note not to share that little revelation with your pastor. Look, there's a load to Cleveland. Off you go, but you're in and out of Cleveland so fast you don't have time to even think about baseball. You're off to Minnesota, but you won't have enough time to stop and see the Twins. From there you see North Dakota, back to Minnesota, across Wisconsin, through Chicago and you get a glimpse of a White Sox game in progress as you pass by. And that's the story for the whole month of April. You listen to a lot of baseball, and you pass through a lot of MLB cities only to not have enough time to attend a game or the team is out of town.
You're going through Texas. The Reds come on somewhere around Texarkana and you you're coming around Dallas when the game ends. You tune in a west coast game and that doesn't even get you to San Antonio. The problem is you're heading to Laredo and there's no baseball on at 2:00 am. In and out of Laredo and up to Kansas City. Hey, the Royals are in town. Forget about it. You're only in K.C. for about six hours and now you're headed for L.A. That's a long haul from K.C. You're passing through Albuquerque when Janish has his first career hit to win the game.
You're heading into L.A. pretty late the next evening, you deliver and find a place to get some sleep. Before you go to sleep you're thinking that you're going to take a day off and try to catch a game. Surely between the Dodgers, Angels, and Padres one of those teams will be at home. Sure enough, the Dodgers have a day game and it looks like a good pitching matchup. Penny vs. Maine. Penny gets rocked and the Mets win 12-1. You think to yourself. Man, the Dodgers look awful. They're going nowhere this year. A few months later you learn how accurate your impression was. The next day you head to San Diego and grab a load to Las Vegas. The Padres and Angels were away, but it was nice to see Dodger Stadium.
You go a couple weeks never seeing a ballpark at the right time of day and then you find yourself back in Texas. The Rangers are in town and you have free time. And it's fireworks night. There are indeed fireworks. It's about 945 degrees outside at game time and the locals don't even notice. Josh Hamilton hits a homer, you gets lots of photos to post on RZ, and the fireworks are pretty darn good. Good evening.
Next comes a load to Connecticut, but there's not enough time to catch a Yankees game. You end up with a short load to Boston and you pay through the nose for tickets to a Sox game at Fenway. Then it's up to Maine and then from there to Minnesota. Then you're sitting in Minneapolis and you realize that the Reds are playing the Yanks that weekend. Some zoners are talking about making the trip and you're jealous. A few minutes later there is a load going to...New York City! You've never been so darn excited to be going there before.
New York is...well...New York. You manage to get some fairly decent seats for a couple of the games in the Bronx and you are surprised by how friendly the Yankee fans are that you sit with, even though you're wearing Reds stuff. The same thing happens Sunday and when they give Griff an ovation after his homer you grudgingly admit that some Yankee fans might be ok.
July is a slow month...always is...and you spend some time at home and manage to catch a game at GABP, and the Reds lose. August finds you in Houston, the Mets are in town, and you get a ticket for a game against the Mets. Oswalt vs. Santana. Good matchup and a great game, even if it does seem weird to watch baseball under a roof. With the outside temperature at 105, you're grateful for the roof.
The rest of the season finds you just missing lots of parks. You come through Denver and there's not enough time for the Rockies game that is starting in an hour. You get home a couple times and the Reds are out of town. You pass through Detroit three times and the Tigers are out of town. The Reds are so out of it you find yourself scanning around on XM listening to different games. You never know what you might hear, like the night you catch the last couple innings of a no hitter.
So the season ends and once again, the Reds are done until next year and the Cubs are choking in the playoffs. Some things never change. Except that some things do change. This was your first season on the road, the first season since you can remember where you didn't attend at least ten games, and the only season in your life where you saw the Reds on the road as many times as you did at home. You never saw them win a home game all year long. You had a fun summer for a baseball fan. You got to see some different parks and you listened to a lot of games over some long stretches of road. But in the end you take stock of what you gained and what you lost. Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone. The road still beckons, but now the most beckoning stretch of road leads home. This country has a lot to see and much to offer, but there's nothing like rounding third and heading toward that place where a welcoming pair of arms await and your recliner has been getting lonely without you. With or without the road, whether at home or miles away, the worst time in the life of a baseball fan is rapidly approaching...the offseason.