You’re probably noticing a disproportionate percentage of my state memories are baseball-related. That’s because so many of my vacations are baseball-related.
On the big baseball trip Swankette and I took with my geographer buddies in 2006, I was actually invited to a ballpark by a member of the front office of a team. I got an email from a nice guy named Dan saying he’d landed on my website looking for ideas for promotions and noticed I hadn’t been in Tennessee yet. He invited me. We already had a plan to head out that way, so we agreed to include Knoxville and the Tennessee Smokies on our trip, and he upsold me to a VIP package. It originally included a hat and one of us throwing out the first pitch; as there were four of us travelling, I got him to throw in an autographed baseball and an opportunity to announce a batter over the PA system. With my experience as a HS football PA man, it shouldn’t surprise you I jumped at the opportunity to do the latter.
The day was fantastic. My friend's first pitch was true, Swankette still displays the autographed baseball, and the other friend looked great in the hat. Dan sat with us for a few innings on a gorgeous warm night in the Smoky Mountains, and he and Swankette chit-chatted about life working for a minor league club (since she had done so in the past). They really put on a nice show…lots of activity, but NONE of it interfering with the baseball. I loved it.
Then, Dan escorted me up to the press box. I felt bad taking a batter from their PA man, since he was fantastic…a deep, gorgeous basso profundo with just enough of a drawl to let you know where you were. The press box featured mostly good-ol-boys; the scoreboard operator wore a glove. I was chatting with them and preparing for my moment when…WHAP!...Mark Reynolds of the Smokies (who has since been promoted to the Arizona Diamondbacks) absolutely slaughtered the baseball. It banked off the scoreboard in left center. PA guy got out a chart with distances and guestimated that the ball went 441 feet, and announced it as such. He held up a stuffed bear with a heartbeat to the microphone…that heartbeat sound reverberated throughout the ballpark.
Then…my turn. They introduced me as “VIP TeacherRefPoet.”
I tried to channel my PA hero, Bob Sheppard of the Yankees. Go slowly. Savor every syllable.
“Now batting…the first baseman…number thirty-one…Agustin…Murillo.”
Almost unbelievably fun.
He popped out to the catcher.
I am so glad Dan emailed (he’s now a Facebook friend) and so incredibly glad I let him talk me into the VIP package. It was more than worth every penny to intensify the memories of what was, on its own, already a gorgeous ballpark.