I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about the escapades of the SotTJ over the past few months. In a season of frustration and disappointment it has provided pretty much as many highs as the team have.
When I put my name down to join the Sisterhood I never quite imaged how excited I would be when I saw the message saying the jersey was en route to London, 5,500miles and eight time-zones from San Diego.
However when I got home from work on Thursday afternoon, May 31, to find a card from the postman saying I had a package waiting for me at my local Post Office, I couldn't wait to get my adventure started...
Join me and the SotTJ after the jump for the latest installment in the Greatest Story Ever Told TM.
We don't 'do' baseball in England. It's a shame, really, we're a very sporty nation. Football is of course the biggest of all here, but rugby and cricket complete our big-three and baseball is somewhere just behind cheese-rolling in our list of sporting popularity.
However there is an established league in the country, and, as I wanted to do something very special to mark the arrival of the jersey to the UK, I arranged to go to a training session with the Kent Mariners on Thursday night.
Despite having discovered the sport more than 12 years ago now (for more, check my fan post from April), I have never swung a bat, never put on a glove, I've never held a baseball.
So all that was about to change.
Despite sharing the name of our hated natural rivals, the Mariners team turned out to be nice guys. I was loaned a glove and told to get in line for some fly-ball drills.
After watching a couple of regulars plucking balls out of the sky and then firing throws back towards the relay man, suddenly it was my turn at the head of the line.
I felt like all eyes were on me (even though probably none were) and my mouth went dry as I heard the bat crack and I saw the tiny white sphere looping into the sky in my vague direction.
Now I know HOW it should be done, I mean, I've seen Kyle Blanks play, right, but doing it is a different matter entirely. I got the sense that the ball was going to drop infront of me and so I set off, lumbering forward at full speed until I realised that I had overrun it and I had to stop dead.
There was just about enough time to raise my glove to the heavens, more in self-defence than anything, as the ball spun towards my face, but it luckily slapped into my palm and I could breathe again. Fortunately I also managed to hit the cut-off man with my throw, so I could disappear to the back of the line with mild satisfaction.
It got better from there, within 20 minutes I was holding up my run and then dashing forward at the last minute so I could catch the ball on the burst and then launch the throw with some momentum behind me. Textbook might not be the term, but it was at least some kind of instructional manual. :)
I only ended up on my bum once, when a low roller caused me to drop into a commando roll, and though I didn't catch it in my glove, at least I stopped it.
After some more drills we played a three-inning game, I made one catch in LF from a UK under-23 international's line-drive, and took three pop flies playing SS. I was absolutely loving it. :)
I got an at-bat too, I grabbed a helmet and borrowed a ‘shatterproof' bat and up I went to face the club's ace Dicky Gofton.
So, the first live pitch I ever saw... well, I say saw, I didn't really. I kinda got the sense that it was quite a long way from my belt, and so I left it. Ball one. Well that's good. At least I'm not going to strike out on three straight pitches. I can let one rip for pitch two. I've been waiting 12 years to hack at one, I can wait no longer, my time has come...
I struck out on swinging after four pitches. That was some seriously nasty stuff. Pretty sure one of them hit 75mph.
The sole spectator at practice, the wife of the coach, joked that I was channeling the Padres because I was wearing a Padres shirt. I ignored the slight, I was too pleased to be in the presence of someone in Britain who knew enough to mock me. It was pretty much the first time. :)
However my glove work impressed the coaches enough for them to invite me back for the next session next week. Then, I'm sure prompted by the magic jersey already sitting patiently less than a mile from my house, waiting to be collected, the following morning I had a very complimentary email from the club's GM inviting me to join their roster. An offer which is just too good to turn down.
So as of now, I am playing AA ball in the UK. I'll let you know how I get on. :)
Even though I had yet to set eyes on the SotTJ, I knew it had already affected my life positively and on Friday morning it was in my hands by 11am.
I rushed home to see if it would fit me, a fear which had robbed me of sleep for the past two months. I am 6'4" and 260lb-ish and I was seriously concerned that I wouldn't get it on.
I'd even gone to the lengths of consulting with a local balloon store to see if they sold helium balloons strong enough in pressure to support the weight of a pretty heavy jersey.
I had visions of me walking along with the Staton jersey floating next to me, draped over a Spongebob balloon with me holding its hand to stop it floating away.
But lo and behold, more magic, it fit me pretty good. This was a good sign. Combined with the email offer to join the baseball club, Friday was a good day. I had a good feeling about the series opener with the Diamondbacks so I placed a bet on the unfancied Padres to win, and win by two clear runs or more, at that.
I have to admit I struggle with 3.05am game times (7.05PDT). It really messes up my days. And I knew I had a big day coming up on the Saturday, taking the SotTJ to London. So I set my alarm for 7am and then watched the game online while wearing the jersey. Man I enjoyed those last couple of innings. 7-1 win, streak ended and won me some cash too. I love this jersey.
So I enlisted the help of my good friend Ray to join me in London, a short train ride away, on Saturday morning. Ray went to a baseball game once - he was at a wedding in California and was taken to see the Padres beat the Dodgers in LA. He pretends to like the Dodgers just to wind me up. I don't think he really cares either way.
But still, he met me at the station and we cracked open an 11am beer to start the day best possible way while I tried to explain what the hell I was up to, with him coming back to the question 'Why?' time and again.
First stop was Stratford. There's some big sporting event going on in London this summer and I thought it would be pretty cool that if you watch the Olympic 100m Final in August you'll know the SotTJ has been there.
Sadly, due to the fact that the place isn't finished yet (!) and the fact that the only vantage point is from a viewing platform across the street, this is the best picture I could get.
Rest assured however, that the jersey was well and truly soaked in Olympian spirit while we were there.
The Olympic Stadium is in East London and I figured as we don't have any baseball stadia in this country, SixPakinBelgium would appreciate it if the SotTJ took in the stadium of his favourite English Premier League football team while it was here. So a couple of trains, a mile walk and lot of strange looks from local people later, here we were.
Enough sports for now though, you can't come to London without seeing the sights, and so the Spirit of Staton and I headed for the tube to hit the tourist trail.
Tower of London - check.
London Eye, done.
Big Ben, yes.
Houses of Parliament, in the bag.
Westminster Abbey, uh-huh.
Horseguard's Parade. Oh yes.
Not sure if you know, but we had kinda a big party this weekend. Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. So even though I pretended the crowds and bunting and flags were for the jersey, they probably weren't.
It was on the Mall, this famous straight leading up to Buckingham Palace where the London Marathon finish line is, that the defining moment of the trip occurred. And I blew it. I let you all down.
I'd been on the lookout for US sports gear all day, and whenever I heard a US accent I sidled over like an attention-seeking whore in the hope that someone would say: "Padres, wow, what are YOU doing here!?"
However that didn't happen. What did happen was that a guy in a Padres warm-up jacket walked the other way up the Mall towards me.
Now I've never experienced physical shock before. I don't tend to jump into freezing artic water or attempt life-endangering acrobatics, however when I saw this guy, I just froze.
Time stood still. He was about 10 yards away but he was looking in the opposite direction. I had a window of about three seconds to act. But my British inhibitions swamped me. I needed about four more beers inside me to have had the courage to go up to a complete stranger on the street at midday to strike up conversation about his clothing.
I desperately wanted, no needed, him to see me and make the first move. To say: "Wow, cool jersey, I read about it online, can I have a picture with you!"
But alas, he was checking out some yummy mummy with Union Jack face paint and we glided past like ships in the night.
I know now. I should have turned tail and run after him. Calling out: "Hey, Padres fan, you, Mr San Diego..." you Americans are generally super friendly. He'd have been fine with it. Maybe even thought it was cool. It would have been the perfect entry into this diary. But I messed up. I am sorry.
So, if you are the Padres fan who was walking up the Mall from the direction of Buckingham Palace at around 2pm GMT on Saturday, June 2, wearing a blue warm-up jacket then you were SO close to the SotTJ, I hope checking out that MILF's ass was worth it!
So anyway, this Jubilee malarkey meant that a lot of stuff was closed off, so the closest we could get to Buck House was this:
So I went to drown my sorrows in the Golden Lion Pub with a refreshing pint of ale.
Piccadilly Circus was next (nope, no animals to be seen, sorry)...
before an unorthodox call to the bullpen...
While in London I sought the help of a higher power to try to solve the mystery of the Padres injury problems this season... so I headed to 221b Baker Street, home of the legend of fiction, Jonathon... I mean Sherlock Holmes...
Now as you know, baseball is very niche over here, we love our cricket. So where better to go than the Home of Cricket, Lords, which celebrates its 200th birthday in 2014.
We arrived on the fourth and final day (!) of the game between Middlesex and Sussex in the County Championship. I tried to blag my way inside the stadium to get a picture, but even though it was the tea interval (I know, I know.... for the uninitiated they play from 11am to 6pm each day with breaks for ‘Lunch' and ‘Tea') they wouldn't let me in without charging me full-price for admission, and I was damned if I was doing that without seeing a ball being bowled.
Then I made a quick stop nearby to re-enact an iconic album cover on the road on which it was shot, just for you music lovers out there, though the effect was spoiled slightly as my photographer was too timid to step into the road to capture it from the proper angle! :(
Back onto the tube we went, and time for some more sports venues. As some of you know, I am an avid Tottenham supporter, so it was a real treat for me to be able to combine my two sporting loves at one time.
Now I know JustGWYNNbaby wouldn't forgive me if I took the jersey to Spurs but not A*senal. So I did (though note the hand gesture!). We took a bus (sat on the top deck!) from White Hart Lane toward the Emirates. The two teams are deadly rivals and are among the closest two grounds in the country at just 3.5miles apart.
It happened that we went on a busy night. Coldplay were playing at the Emirates Stadium, so I got some even weirder looks from the concert-goers as I posed outside.
We were against the clock. I had arranged to meet SixPak outside Wembley Stadium at 7pm, just after the end of the England v Belgium football game which he had traveled over to attend.
We were miles away and the trains were on a go-slow and to make matters worse we knew if we were even slightly late there would be 90,000 people rushing down Wembley Way to the tube station, and just us two guys trying to go the opposite way to the stadium. So we ended up power-walking the last mile before the crowds grew.
Despite the fact that thousands of people were milling about outside the stadium, SixPak was drawn to the jersey like a moth to a flame.
We conducted a formal EuroPads handover (That's SixPak on the right, just fyi!) and posed for pictures despite being heckled by a crowd of (friendly) drunken Belgian football fans.
The first official meeting of the EuroPads was a brief but memorable affair, and we pledged to repeat it in more style (with some beers and hopefully Padres games!) in the summer!
And so I left SixPak to begin his long journey home to mainland Europe, while I trudged off into the drizzly London evening, feeling cold and far less special.
There certainly is some magic to the jersey. I had planned on taking it to Platform 9 3/4s at Kings Cross Station as another special treat, however the vagaries of the Bakerloo line put paid to that plan as it made us late for our appointment with SixPak.
But there is at least one parallel I can draw with Harry Potter... for the whole 32 hours in which I was the guardian of the jersey, I felt like I was under the influence of the Felix Felicis potion, otherwise known as liquid luck.
I got to play the game we all love, and was decent enough that I got invited to join the club... I won money by backing the Padres to WIN and they WON BIG, in the only game in which I'll ever get to wear the shirt. :)
Life just plain felt better with the jersey on. It was fast-paced and exciting and I felt like pretty much anything could happen.
I hope everyone who gets to wear it this year feels the same way.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Jersey
The Sisterhood is Born
The First Steps
Spring Training Bound
With the Pad Squad
Welcome to Mexico
Braving the Beat Down
On to San Francisco
Going the Distance
All the way to Belgium