I was lucky enough to spend this past weekend in glorious Winter Haven, Florida getting a first hand look at the Golden Horde that is the 2008 Cleveland Indians. It was, to say the least, a lot of fun. The weather was mostly good, with temperatures in the 70s; there was an unpleasant wind on Saturday but it was endured. I'll try to hit some highlights below:
I arrive at Orlando International Airport and meet my friend, another Indians fan. I observed that there is a hotel physically inside of the airport, right before security; Florida, so far, rules. The rental car is picked up, a Ford Focus, and it is awesome. All weekend we use less than a quarter of a tank of gas. The Focus is energy efficient, like Eric Wedge's emotions.
We drive directly to Chain Of Lakes ballpark and catch the Indians-Mets games. I convert directly into vacation mode, which means I look like I clean my body with newspaper and gutter water.
You got a daughter? No? What about some crystal meth?
Every pitcher that enters the game is horrendous, except for Masa and Tom Mastny. Travis kicks off his weekend of carnage with two doubles and my friend makes the first of dozens of comments regarding the size of Hafner's lower body.
Chain of Lakes Ballpark is an alright facility. If you sit in the right field bleachers, you're right on top of the Indians bullpen. You can walk down to the wall and hear the guys talk, all that, and there's even a little section that's devoted to letting fans stand there and try to get autographs.
Raffy R Warms
However, it's obvious that the town and the Tribe have split ways acrimoniously. There are elements of the actual park that aren't working that some claim the town simply doesn't want to pay to fix or operate. For instance, the scoreboard. It doesn't work in any significant way, the entire weekend. Additionally, there's this water tower with Wahoo's face on it but it clearly wasn't repainted this year. As a result, Wahoo's skin isn't red, it's gray, which seems nominally less offensive. So there's that.
I Wonder If the US Government Will Force This Water Tower To Move To Arizona?
Finally, locals readily volunteer opinions about the Indians simply bolting for more cash in the Southwest. Whenever they do this, I tell them that they'll have to rip my Winter Haven t-shirt off of me before I'll leave town. I want to retire a Winter Havenian, hell, I want to die one. They explain that there are plans to build a statue of me in front of town, and I'm pleased.
As I leave the park, I see John Kruk in the booth. He is eating Karl Ravech.
The night of Day 1, we go to the bar in our motel, the Clarion (formerly Holiday Inn) where we see: LUIS ISAAC! He is wearing a Kangol hat. I'm pretty timid about approaching celebrities but my friend gets a picture with him and asks him about communicating with Kobayashi. Isaac explains that it's hard and offers these bullet points:
-Luis knows 5 or so Japanese words, which include "head", "good", and "better than good." As Brick explains to me via text, Luis just needs to know the word "down" and he's all set to both instruct Masa and have a great night in Tokyo.
-Luis thinks the interpretor screws a lot of stuff up on account of what poor English Luis himself speaks. This doesn't seem like a good thing.
-Luis comes to this bar every night, despite the fact that it's inside the Clarion Motel and has no bathroom in it. You have to stumble into your room or the lobby of the motel.
I should also add that a number of Indians minor leaguers are staying in the Clarion. I see into the window of a conference room where there are about 50 of them watching a powerpoint presentation, in Spanish, about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs.
After we leave the Clarion bar, we go to a bar called "Billy Bones" which is going to become something of a home base for us because it is disgusting and awesome. It is located inside of the Howard Johnson. You have to go into the lobby to use the bathroom.
My friend is so hung over upon waking that she goes to CVS and buys, seriously, nine 1-liter bottles of water. She also buys a Propel, which she chugs in the parking lot. We drink maybe half the water over the rest of the course of the trip.
We go over and check out practice, which is notable only for my ability to identify minor leaguers. For the most part, everyone is standing around and looking bored. I see Dan Denham, some other players of that ilk. My friend gets a picture with Casey Blake, who is much, much taller than I thought.
Nobody Here Is In Scoring Position, Right? Ok, I'll Sign.
Before the game, there is a little autograph session with some of the real superstars of tomorrow. There is a line of perhaps 200 people waiting to get Jeremy Sowers and Jordan Brown to write their names on stuff. To each their own, I guess. I stand to the side of the line and look at the two. Sowers, who does indeed look cerebral, uses the signing pen deliberately and accurately but very slowly. Eventually, someone just takes the pen out of his hand and throws it over the fence. Then Fernando Cabrera comes in to sign and he signs a couple of autographs really impressively before someone finally just punches him the face.
Jordan Brown sort of has a gap in his teeth and is dangerously close to being red headed.
Some other friends come down from Tallahassee and meet us at the game. The Indians play well, particularly Ryan Garko. We sneak around the stadium and end up sitting right behind the Indians dugout. Nothing really cool happens, except the Kelly Shoppach takes rolling luggage with him when he leaves the dugout.
Yes, I Realize This Is A Rolling Bat Bag
My friend yells "GO COMMODORES" when Jensen Lewis comes in to pitch but Jensen is unfazed.
Raffy L, Ballin'
That night, we eat at Chili's because you get a coupon for free queso when you park at Chain of Lakes ballpark. The Chili's is stupendously terrible from the service to the food. To make up for it, we go and buy two Heineken pony kegs, and then go to Billy Bones whilst the kegs cool out in the mini fridge. We order every shot Billy Bones offers that involves "Monster" energy drink because we see a sign for it and get excited. The best one is called "The Bazooka Shot" and is Bacardi Limon and Monster, or something. The worst one is "The Meth Lab" and is sudafed and cleaning supplies, or something. Then we go back to the room, make up a drinking game involving Duke-UNC, watch Duke lose, and drink the pony kegs.
While wandering around the grounds of the Clarion I again see our minor leaguers watching a powerpoint but this one is supplemented by guest speaker Victor Martinez. He is talking to them about transitioning to America, it appears.
Eat breakfast in an IHOP which is located inside of a motel. Seriously.
Watch Nats warm up. Spot in uniforms:
Marte-Barfield back to back homeruns. Awesome.
When returning rental car, watch some couple make out in front of Payless.
Big Dog Gotta Eat
Overall, it was a really fun time but I see why the Indians are moving. Winter Haven is a classic Southern strip mall town; everything exists along one main highway and all of the food is bad chains in dated facilities. There appears to be very little notable about the place outside of the ballpark. It's the kind of town I get a kick out of but I can see why the Indians don't like spending a month there once a year. Plus, the 40-man apparently stays in Orlando because Winter Haven doesn't offer the food/housing options they need, so a move will add some convenience as well.
Anyways, this has obviously ran long. When I left, I flew directly to Philadelphia where I was injured for 3 years. I'm back in Chicago now. Go ahead, boo me if you want.
Not my shoes or pants. Gross.
Oh, and Brick? One line diary this, nounhole.