So my baseball trip ended with a glorious bang, but to understand the complete (mini) epic nature of it it's worth going back to the beginning.
My father's sister and parents moved to SD when I was very young, which meant we visited here a few times when I was growing up. I quickly came to love SD and it's sports teams, but baseball was especially hard to follow when I got back to Australia as we had almost no coverage of it. I knew Gwynn was god and enjoyed seeing him bat well over .400 when I was here once, but that was as far as it went.
I've travelled here two times before as an adult, but only saw the Padres play once when one of my cousins took me in 1998 but didn't know any of the players on either team except for Gwynn, who was now a much bigger god! More recently however, I've been able to follow the Friars on the net, and via the glorious GLB, have started to learn something of the game. So when I had the chance to come over to the US for a sports history conference I was desperate to catch some Padres games in person.
When I left Melbourne for the US last Friday, the thing at close to the top of the list was the two Padres v Mets games that I hoped to fit into my schedule. My trip didn't begin well however (read the rest after the jump).
Friday was my birthday, and due to a quirk in the dateline which means that travelers from Australia to the US arrive before they leave, I was in for a 40 hour or so celebration. But not only did the Padres manage to lose both the games they played on my birthday (from my perspective the Thursday St Louis game took place when it was already Friday Australian time), but my plane was super delayed as we spent three hours on the tarmac at Melbourne airport waiting among other things, for the airline staff to find the checked baggage of someone who'd been taken off the plane after boarding because of an issue with their papers.
When I finally arrived in LA I'd missed my American Airways connection Orlando, and was put on later Continental flights to Houston and then Orlando. I arrived at the conference venue well after midnight and found the Padres had lost to the Nationals, so it was not an auspicious beginning and not a contender for best birthday ever!
Things started to get better however. We won the next three games (including the wonderful Mets mashing), and my conference went pretty well. So I turned up at Orlando airport on Tuesday relatively gruntled and excited about that night's game. But soon after the plan arrived that was supposed to be taking me to LA, American Airlines informed us that something was wrong with it, and they would need to get in another plane. Soon after the groaning had ended, AA informed us that we were facing a 2.5 hour delay. I was already facing a tight connection with the train to SD, and now after some barely considered reflection realised that I wouldn't even be able to make the next train (which left an hour later), and would struggle to see any of that night's game at all. Given that this was one of only two games that I'd be able see while over here, I was feeling almost as unhappy as a recently notorious first base umpire.
So I did the only thing I could. I begged the AA staff-member to be put on a connecting flight to SD - I couldn't the $500+ this would cost, so I was simply at her mercy. She didn't think it was possible, but one of her colleagues took pity on the miserable being in front of them and phoned her supervisor who gave the green light, as long as the seats were available. Suddenly it seemed like the sun might shine again! After a fair bit more tension and frustration with difficult computer programs, I had a pseudo-ticket on the 5:15pm flight from LA to San Diego.
But the drama wasn't over. The first problem was that this was now a very tight connection, and it wasn't clear that any of the following flights to SD had spare seats. So I sweated away on the flight to LA along with other hapless souls who looked likely to just miss their connection to places like Maui. And LA airport was a bit of a nightmare. We arrived around 5pm, only to find another plane still at our gate, and so had to grind our teeth while another gate was organised. Then the other non-connecting passengers didn't let us off first (despite an official request) and after a mad-rush we got to the terminal in time to see the 5:15pm flight leave.
Now I had to see if I could get put on the 5:55pm flight. I was already nervous and on edge, and then the airline attendant started asking how I came to be routed to SD when it wasn't on my original ticket and no extra ticket had been purchased. I tried to explain it away (possibly not the smartest move, but I wasn't thinking that well), and she passed it to her colleague who was able to find me a priority seat. I was just starting to relax, when some official-looking men entered and asked to speak to me about my ticket.
Now the anxiety really started setting in. I explained that the Orlando staff-member had been given permission to re-route me, but they explained that there was no formal evidence of this, and the psedo-ticket I'd been given wasn't enough because there was no money attached to it, so they couldn't use it to put me on the next flight. We were at a stand-off. My nerves were shot, and it looked like I'd be struggling to get to SD before midnight. But then one of the men was going through my itinerary and asked me about the American Airline flights that I hadn't taken on my way to Orlando. He asked me if I was going to seek a refund for them, which I hadn't even realised was possible. And then he said that if I agreed to forfeit them, he could exchange them for a ticket to SD!
After some further awful minutes when he kept attempting and failing to get the computer to do this, and the 5:55pm was receiving it's final boarding call, I was finally able to run onto the plane and sit down. My heart was still in my mouth, and even after the plane door was closed I kept on expecting to see some people open it up and drag me away into some anti-baseball hell. But the door stayed closed and within thirty minutes I was in San Diego and on my way to the game. In the end, I only missed the first three batters, and then I was sitting down at glorious Petco, enjoying the sights and sounds of the game.
Wonko was already there, beer in hand, May beard flourishing nicely. I'd organised to meet up with him because I wanted to sit next to someone who could help me understand what was going on, and I reckon I've learnt more about baseball (and possibly also football) from Wonko than anyone else. I had a great time. The view was great, it was so nice to be finally at a game, and it was grand chatting to Wonko about the game. The main downside was the dodgy call at first which led to the Muijica long-ball. And then the failure of Jairston and Denorfia to drive in the tying and or walk-off runs. I was starving by the end of the game, and some nice 21yo lasses were generous enough to a fine bar in the gas-lamp district, and then I took a cab to my Aunt's house. All in all it was an excellent experience, despite the loss, and the next day topped it off to perfection.
maestro was good enough to come pick me up for the Wed game. We parked in the old town, took a trolley and popped by Darren Smith and Randy Jones, and then ambled onto the game along one of those beautiful avenues with the Jacaranda trees in full bloom. Petco was very different but still wonderful in the daytime. We were earlier enough to go down to field level and got Chase to sign our new Padres caps, though he politely refused to sign as the Saviour on maestro's one. I had one some t-shirts and a scarf celebrating the greatest beard in Aussie Rules football, which got some fun attention (I'll post pics in the comments.) And I enjoyed the Gwynn statue.
Then onto the amazingly frustrating game, which I'm sure is still fresh in most of your minds. I was starting to wonder if I'd brought bad luck when Anthony Gwynn somehow managed to single and then successfully steal second in the bottom of the 9th. Then Scrappy somehow did his thing and all the doubts started to flow away. Even when he was out coming home on AGon's double, I had faith in the bullpen - though I did almost break my finger whacking it against the seat in front of me. The roller-coaster continued in the 11th with Gwynn's double, Garland's fail bunt, Hairston's single and Scrappy taking another one for the team. And then when Agon walked off with the grand slam, we were dancing around and at more risk of a broken leg than the players on the field. The best meal in the US followed, and I reckon I'm a strong contender for best baseball trip evar!!!!