. . . but once we got out on the water, it turned out to be really nice:
After 45 minutes, we reached the reef and docked here:
Here’s a closer look at it:
The people running the cruise had informed everyone that there might be jellyfish in the water, and then, of course, they said we could rent wetsuits which would prevent us from getting stung.
“Will a wetsuit prevent me from getting bitten by a shark?” I asked.
The answer was no, but I got one anyway. It was only $7, and I didn’t want to take a chance.
BRING IT ON, JELLYFISH!!!
Here I am in the water . . .
. . . and look! Here’s a photo of some fish that I took underwater:
The people running the cruise, OF COURSE, had disposable/waterproof cameras for sale, and like a sucker, I bought one.
Actually, I’m glad I did. My pictures weren’t terribly exciting, but it’s nice to have a visual record of what I saw. Here’s what some of the coral looked like . . .
. . . and here’s some more:
This might be weird, but I enjoyed looking at the coral more than the fish. And no, there weren’t any jellyfish. Of course.
Here’s where I ate lunch:
(There was a buffet on the lower deck, and I brought my food up top.)
In the previous photo, did you notice the two women wrapped in pink towels? That’s who I ate lunch with. I had met them earlier in the day, and we ended up talking quite a bit, mostly about baseball after they commented on my umpire cap and asked if I’d attended the Opening Series in Sydney. They were from Los Angeles and had been at the series too. One of them, a *huge* Dodgers fan, is trying to visit as many stadiums as possible, but get this — she only counts a stadium if she sees the Dodgers win there. (Good thing the Dodgers didn’t get swept in Sydney, huh?)
On the way back to Cairns in the late afternoon, I asked my new friends to take a photo of me on the top deck of the boat. Here’s how it turned out:
Did you notice the folks staring at me in the background? Well, apparently I inspired them to strike a similar pose of their own:
The ride back was beautiful. Here’s a look at Green Island way off in the distance . . .
. . . and here are some mountains:
After the boat docked in Cairns, I walked along this street to my hotel . . .
. . . and enjoyed a little computer time on my room’s balcony:
The highlight of my evening was going to a nearby casino:
I’m not a gambler. I’ve only been to a few casinos ever. In fact, I hate casinos, but there was nothing else to do, so here I was:
I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the casino, so here’s a quick recap of what happened: I stood around and watched people lose money at various games for two hours. Then I decided to play black jack, won my first hand, lost the next two, found myself $30 in the hole, and got the hell out.
This was the Phillies’ home opener, and I drove down from New York City for ONE reason: to snag a commemorative “Opening Day” baseball.
Before the stadium opened, I enjoyed a few moments of solitude — here in the parking lot, for example . . .
. . . and here outside the left field gate . . .
. . . but don’t be fooled. This game was sold out, and it got awfully crowded. This was the scene behind me just before I ran inside:
I headed for the left field seats, and within the first few minutes, I snagged a pair of Phillies home run balls — no idea who hit ‘em. The first was hit one section to my right. The second landed one section to my left. I out-scrambled several other fans and grabbed both baseballs off the ground.
During the next group of hitters, I jumped as high as I could to catch a John Mayberry homer on the fly. Then, moments later, I caught another homer on the fly (possibly off the bat of Carlos Ruiz) by carefully drifting down the steps and reaching a bit higher than everyone else. And then this happened:
1) A big guy standing five rows back scolded me for bumping into another fan.
2) I assured him that I hadn’t bumped anyone, but he insisted that he saw me do it.
3) The fan he accused me of bumping said I hadn’t bumped anyone.
4) The big guy apologized to me.
With two groups of Phillies batters remaining, I headed to right field and picked a spot in the emptiest row:
I ended up catching three home runs on the fly in that section. My left arm got bumped on the first one, I gave the second one to the nearest kid, and I caught the third one (hit by Cesar Hernandez) on my palm. It stung quite a bit, but I held onto it, so whatever. And by the way, the reason I caught it awkwardly is that it was coming in low toward some gloveless fans in front of me. I wasn’t sure if they’d duck or try to catch it (and possibly deflect it into my face), so I half-lunged for the ball and half-flinched from it.
I moved back to left field when the Brewers came out, and I caught two more home runs. The first was hit by Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) and had a magic-marker streak on the sweet spot:
I have no idea who hit the other one, but I can tell you this: it was the ninth BP homer I’d snagged, including seven that I caught on the fly. These were the only nine balls I got before the game started — no Easter eggs, no toss-ups, nothing with the glove trick, and none of them were commemorative.
Here’s a cool thing that the Phillies did before the game:
In case you can’t tell, those are Phillies players and coaches passing through the crowd and heading down the steps toward a long red carpet, which was lined with fans.
Nice job, Phillies!
THAT is how to kick off a season.
Check out my view for the player introductions:
Did you notice the three guys standing on the top edge of the upper deck? I would love to go up there sometime, in Philly or anywhere. I wonder how I’d go about making it happen. Hmm.
Anyway, when the game was about to begin, I headed to the 1st base side. I wanted to maximize my chances of snagging a gamer, so why not take a shot at getting a 3rd-out ball from the Phillies after the top of the 1st inning, right?
Well, with two outs, Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) hit a routine grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who fired it over to 1st baseman Ryan Howard. I was already crouching in the front row by the time Howard caught it, and it’s a good thing because he took one step into foul territory and lobbed the ball in my direction. Everyone around me reached for it, but I reached a little higher, and I caught it! As eager as I was to look at it and take a photo, I decided to wait until I made it back to the concourse, and when that moment arrived, my heart sank. This is what I saw:
What the hell?!
The ball *was* commemorative, but the logo was crap. How was that even possible? This was a gamer! Right? Howard could not have possibly switched balls and thrown me the infield warm-up ball because . . . like I mentioned above, he tossed me this one the moment he started walking off the field. I mean, he basically took his foot off the bag, turned toward the dugout, and let it fly.
I hurried to the 3rd base side and tried to get a 3rd-out ball from the Brewers. I settled into a spot behind the outfield end of the dugout, so basically I needed each inning *not* to end with a strikeout. If Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy ended up with the ball, there was no chance I’d get it.
That said, wanna guess how the first inning ended? Yup, with a strikeout. But there was no need to worry yet. The day was still young.
The 2nd inning ended when Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) made a diving catch in right field, and wouldn’t you know it, he ended up keeping the ball.
The 3rd inning was a different story. Once again, Braun (BOOOOO!!!) caught the final out, but this time it was a routine play, and when he jogged all the way back to the dugout, he tossed me the ball! And the logo was in great shape:
On the way back to my seat, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid — and then there was NO action for the next three innings.
The bottom of the 7th ended with a line-out to Brewers 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez. On his way in, he tossed me the ball, and the logo was perfect.
Then I moved to the home-plate end of the dugout, and in the middle of the 8th inning, I got a commemorative “Opening Day” infield warm-up ball from coach Garth Iorg.
The Brewers won the game, 10-4, thanks to Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) who hit three home runs and had seven RBIs. After the final out, I got another commemorative ball from coach Mike Guerrero — my 14th and final ball of the day.
Here are the 12 that I kept:
Given how badly I was treated on 8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park, it felt great to have a fun day there and get things back on track.
• 14 baseballs at this game
• 35 baseballs in 4 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.
• 970 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 63 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 7,211 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 14 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.22 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $17.08 raised at this game
• $38,706.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
At around 6am, I checked out of my hotel in Sydney and headed to the airport for a two-hour flight to Cairns. Here’s what the terminal looked like:
Yes, I flew on Qantas, which was pretty nice. Look what was in the pouch of my seat:
Every passenger got one of those to play with during the flight, but I passed the time by working on my blog — what else?
For some reason, the woman sitting next to me was using her iPad to watch a movie . . . with the volume playing aloud! At first I thought she was just checking the volume level to make sure it was working, but nope, she sat back and let it play. After a couple minutes, I asked her politely if she could use earphones.
“Oh, I don’t have the right earphones for it,” she said unapologetically — and then she kept playing it. Thankfully a flight attendant passed by soon after and offered her THE RIGHT earphones. Unbelievable.
Now, I don’t make a habit of pulling out my camera in bathrooms, but there was a funny sign in the Cairns airport that I *had* to photograph:
My first thought was, “Who the hell would possibly use a toilet that way?”
My next thought was, “This is a popular tourist destination, so anything’s possible.”
Anyway, the most stressful part of my entire vacation was about to begin. Based on the itinerary that I’d booked, I was supposed to have two hours from the time the plane landed until I was going to be picked up at my hotel for a rain forest tour. Of course, that’s not how things went. My flight was delayed by about 75 minutes, which meant I only had 45 minutes to get off the plane, get my luggage, find my pre-paid shuttle bus to my hotel, check in, change my clothes, gather up my stuff for the afternoon, and hurry back down to the lobby. Somehow I barely made it, and at the end of the travel frenzy, I found myself in the back of a Land Rover with a tour guide and four other passengers:
The guide was very Australian, and he was cool from the moment he said hello. Unlike the crowded tour of the Blue Mountains that I’d done the day before, this one was personal and cozy. I got to know my fellow tourists during the half-hour drive and had a feeling that the entire afternoon was going to be great.
Here’s what I saw when we got out of the vehicle at our first stop:
It was perfect. There weren’t any other people. There weren’t any gift shops. It was just us surrounded by nature. Look at this beauty:
That’s me at the bottom of a huge waterfall — and the best was yet to come.
Our next stop was a place called Wrights Lookout. As we made the short walk from the vehicle, I noticed one of my fellow tourists photographing something on the ground:
Naturally I went over to see what the fuss was about, and when I was sure that nothing was going to jump or slither out of the bushes and bite me, I took a closer look.
Get ready for it . . .
Be prepared to smile . . .
I don’t know what the hell that is, but it’s my new favorite plant.
Here I am at Wrights Lookout:
After that, we got back in the Land Rover, drove to the next spot, and headed into the forest. Here’s our tour guide, Jason, telling us about the plants along the way:
Here’s what greeted us at the end of the walkway:
I was LOVING this tour, in large part because of Jason who knew everything about nature. On our way to the next stop, he pulled off on the side of the road to talk about this:
That’s a termite mound! Holy crap! I was glad to see it from the safe confines of my ride, but wouldn’t have wanted to get any closer.
The drive, by the way, was gorgeous. Check it out:
Over the course of the afternoon, Jason drove us through seven streams, occasionally stopping to give us a chance to get out. Here I am walking barefoot through one of them:
A minute or two later when I was back in the car, it felt like something was ticking my left foot, so I took a quick glance at it and noticed a small, black speck. I figured it was a piece of a leaf or some other random particle from the stream, and I flicked it off. No big deal, right? Well, a minute after that, my foot was itching so I took another look at it and was surprised to see that I was bleeding:
I thought I must’ve scraped it on something underwater, but no, when I mentioned it to Jason and then described everything in detail, he told me I’d been bitten by a leech.
I fruck out for a moment, convinced that I now had some type of rare blood disease, but Jason assured me that it was no big deal.
“I had three of them on me earlier this morning,” he said. “They just like to drink your blood. No worries, mate!”
(I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea, and yes, Australian people really do use the word “mate” in regular conversation. It always made me smile.)
Here’s something else that made me uneasy:
That’s a spider cocoon, which, according to Jason, was capable of producing 10,000 spiders. When he said that, I was standing about three feet away from it, and before I had a chance to light it on fire, he was like, “Look how sturdy it is!” and he grabbed a pen and tapped it.
What is the purpose of doing that?
Of all the stuff I saw over the course of the afternoon, this was my favorite:
It looks fake, right? A prop from “The Princess Bride,” perhaps?
Well, it was real – a “tree system” that’s 800 years old! The original tree was long dead, but vines crawled up it and supported other plants, and new trees grew out of it, and as you can see above, it’s now massive.
Here’s another interesting plant:
Our final/main stop was at a place called Lake Morris. Here’s a group photo (that I took with my tripod and 10-second timer):
I gave contact cards to all the other people and told them to get in touch if they wanted that photo. As it turned out, I never heard from any of them, but hey, it was fun while we were together.
On our way back down the mountain, we stopped here for a peek at Cairns from above:
Jason dropped us all off at our respective hotels.
Then, after changing my clothes yet again, I headed back out to make the most of the final hour of daylight. I walked along the waterfront . . .
. . . and passed lots of stores and restaurants:
I also walked past a huge public swimming pool . . .
. . . and then went looking for a place to eat:
Eventually I picked a Thai restaurant and ordered “takeaway,” as Australians call it. Here’s what I got:
Chicken satay and coconut rice. Yessir! Eating alone while browsing Reddit on my laptop is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures in my life.
This was my final day in Sydney, and it began with a sad goodbye. At around 7am, I headed up to the Burtons’ hotel room to say farewell. Here they all are:
They were soon going to be checking out and driving back to their home in Newcastle.
Meanwhile, I had to rush to this bus terminal . . .
. . . to catch my ride for an all-day tour to the Blue Mountains.
The journey started by crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge . . .
. . . and continued for 45 minutes on various highways. I happened to be sitting in the front passenger seat, and on the way, I noticed this:
In case you can’t tell, that’s the tour guide/driver READING HIS NOTES WHILE DRIVING.
Our first stop was in a town called Leura. It was rainy and dreary and quaint, and I didn’t do much. I wandered into a few stores, collected some business cards, got some food, and eventually made my way back to the bus.
The next stop was better . . . in theory. We went to a place called Scenic World, but the weather kinda wrecked it. Here’s what it looked like as I headed toward a cable car . . .
. . . and this was the view from the cable car itself:
I could tell that it was supposed to be spectacular, so it was annoying not to be able to experience it at its best.
Next up, I waited on this line . . .
. . . for a ride on one of the world’s steepest railways. Once again, it had great potential, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. This was the lame view:
After that, I took a stroll on a walkway in the forest.
What was the weather doing?
But there were still some glimpses of the natural beauty:
Then I rode another cable car back up the mountain . . .
. . . and had a pretty good lunch in the food court:
That’s fish and chips, but more importantly, take a look at the ketchup:
Ha ha ha.
After Scenic World, I got back on the bus and headed with my tour group to the most scenic lookout spot of all. The next photo, taken in a nearby gift shop, shows what the Blue Mountains are *supposed* to look like:
As you can imagine, I wasn’t too happy when I made it to that exact spot, only to see the valley smothered with fog.
Here’s how I was feeling at that point:
By the time I left, the view had improved a bit . . .
. . . but the whole tour was feeling like a big waste of time.
Here’s where we went next:
Great . . . another effin’ zoo. Just what I needed.
It was raining so hard that even the kangaroos were taking shelter wherever they could find it:
I did enjoy watching some teeny penguins scurry around:
I also enjoyed getting to hold an owl . . .
. . . and bonding with a koala . . .
. . . so the zoo actually turned out to be pretty good.
Back on the bus, I got a quick glimpse of Sydney Olympic Park . . .
. . . on the way to this wharf:
Twenty minutes later, I was on a boat . . .
. . . heading to downtown Sydney.
The boat passed some gorgeous waterfront homes:
I wonder how much those places are worth — several million dollars apiece?
This was the view from the back of the boat:
Eventually we approached the Sydney Harbour Bridge and opera house:
Check out this humongous cruise ship that was docked nearby:
When I got off the boat, my plan was simple: walk and walk and then walk some more. My shoes were soggy, but at least it wasn’t raining, and since this was going to be my last night in Sydney, I wanted to see as much of it as possible. And yes, I know I didn’t really “experience” it any more than tourists who experience New York City by wandering around Times Square for an hour, but whatever. I did what I could.
I had heard that George Street was THE street, so here’s where I started:
I decided to walk toward Sydney University, which was several miles away, because it was near my hotel. I figured I’d walk for a while and then jump in a cab to make it the rest of way.
I saw some pretty architecture, like the Queen Victoria Building:
I also saw (and loved seeing) some mundane stuff, like this subway station:
I liked NOT knowing anyone or anything — being halfway across the world and on my own to do whatever the hell I wanted.
Here’s something I didn’t want:
A little while later, I passed some sort of weapon store:
I guess those were antiques — but good luck getting one on an airplane.
Here’s the coolest thing I saw all day:
That apartment building has the world’s tallest vertical garden, and as for that crazy-looking illuminated square sticking out to the side . . . that’s some sort of art/light installation, which just so happens to create shade during the day.
(But Australia still has bad pizza!)
I kept walking . . .
. . . and eventually found myself here:
I had no idea how far I’d walked, but it must’ve been quite far because I’d been on the move for hours. I finally made it back to my hotel, feeling somewhat disappointed and yet satisfied with how my day had turned out. I had awful luck with the weather, but still managed to have a pretty interesting time.
My day started with Game 2 of MLB’s Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’ve already written a long/separate blog entry about that, which you can read here.
After the game, I joined Ray and his family for a fancy buffet dinner in a revolving restaurant at the top of Sydney Tower. This is what it looked like from street level:
Here’s what the interior of the restaurant looked like . . .
. . . and this was the view:
Sydney Tower is 309 meters (1,014 feet) tall, so it figures that the view would be spectacular. And by the way, in the photo above, you can see the Sydney Cricket Ground. It’s the biggest, brightest spot far off in the distance.
The food was very good, but rather than showing you everything I ate, I’ll just share a few photos of the more unusual items.
Wanna guess what this was?
Here’s the answer:
Yum! Kangaroo rump! My favorite!
This was the second time I ate kangaroo on this trip (Remember the first?) and it was pretty good. Not great. You know . . . whatever.
Here are two other things I ate:
As you can see on the little food signs that I’ve photoshopped in there, the orange stuff is crocodile, and the brown stuff is buffalo.
Here’s some proof that I actually ate these things – a bite of kangaroo on the left and a mouthful of crocodile on the right:
The crocodile tasted like tangy, spicy seafood, and it had the consistency of a sausage. Again, it wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad. It just . . . was.
Still, I needed to get rid of all that weird meat flavor, and obviously the best way to do it was with a bunch of desserts:
Yes, I ate all of those. And then I went back for more. (The key to a successful dessert run at a buffet is to grab a dinner-sized plate *before* you reach the dessert area, where there are usually smaller plates.)
Here’s another photo of the view, but since the restaurant was turning (very slowly), it was a different view from before:
Here’s a group photo that was taken during dessert . . .
. . . and here’s one final shot of me in the restaurant:
That’s it for Day 5 — baseball and a buffet with great friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.
This was the second and final game of MLB’s Opening Series, and as you can see below, I was joined by a few friends before the stadium opened:
That’s me in the white “opening series” t-shirt. The guy on my right (with his arms folded) is a fellow ballhawk from Seattle named Wayne Peck. The man on his right (in the D’backs shirt) is a native Australian named Ray Burton, and the other four folks are part of his family — his kids Alex, Emily, and Nick along with his wife, Donna.
Because we had a lot of time to kill and because there was a random Australian woman standing nearby who admittedly knew little about baseball, Wayne and I teamed up to teach her some of the basics. Here we are creating a batter/catcher situation:
By the time the gates were about to open, there was a massive crowd filling the street:
I was worried about getting shut out because (a) I was going to be trapped in the outfield all day, and (b) there was a chance that there wouldn’t be batting practice. The D’backs and Dodgers had finished the previous night’s game at 10:49pm, and this one was scheduled to begin shortly after one o’clock.
The good news is that there *was* batting practice. The bad news is that it only lasted 10 minutes. But that was enough for me to snag a few baseballs, all of which were home runs by right-handed batters on the Diamondbacks. For the first one, there was an all-out scramble between me and one other man, who, it turned out, was a volunteer and shouldn’t have been trying to snag baseballs in the first place. (I know he wasn’t allowed because he got scolded by a security guard.)
More bad news: I bashed my knee and was in pain for the rest of the day.
Worse news: the ball was not commemorative:
Two minutes later, another home run came flying in my direction. There was only one other fan near me in the Miller Party Deck area — a lanky teenager with a glove — and he beat me to the spot where it was going to land. I could’ve easily cut in front of him or jumped from behind and cherry-picked it, but I backed off and let him have it. Well, wouldn’t you know it? He misjudged it and back-peddled helplessly at the last second, and the ball deflected off the tip of his glove and rolled right to me. (Decisions . . . decisions.) I took a quick peek at the ball, saw the regular MLB logo, noticed him looking back longingly at me, and flipped it to him. Obviously I didn’t need to do that. He was roughly six feet tall and should’ve made the play, but hell, I was far from home and on vacation and feeling charitable.
My next ball was a loooong home run that I caught on the fly after drifting back about 20 feet. I was near the regular stands when I pulled it out of my glove, and when I noticed that it was another regular ball (as opposed to one of these), I tossed it to the nearest little kid.
Toward the end of BP, another homer came flying my way, and once again, the lanky teenager scrambled back to get in position. I hung back in case it ended up sailing over his head — and that’s exactly what happened. At the last moment, he lunged back and reached awkwardly and missed it by a foot. I had stayed completely out of his way; he had simply misjudged it. Of course he looked at me again, hoping that I’d give it to him.
“Sorry, I’m gonna keep this one,” I said. It wasn’t commemorative, but still, gimme a break.
After BP, I met up with Wayne and unfortunately bought THE worst pizza of my life:
I was starving, and I figured, “How bad can it be?” Granted, it was Domino’s (which, for anyone who know anything about anything, is about as lame as it gets), but it was at least supposed to be edible. Right? The cheese was bad (rubbery and too salty), and the crust was horrendous (stale and burnt). Those two pizzas plus a bottle of water cost more than $20. Can you believe that?
Anyway, Wayne and I had lots more time to spare so we wandered toward right field — an area we hadn’t explored the night before. On the way, I spotted the lanky teenager and his mother in the concourse, and when they saw me, I overheard her say, “Oh, that’s the guy who prevented you from getting that ball.”
“Hi there!” I said, walking right up to them. “Which ball are you talking about, exactly?”
“That one at the end where you reached right in front of him.”
“Ohhh!!” I said, “You mean the one where I was standing behind him that he misjudged and that sailed completely over his glove?”
She didn’t have a response for that.
On my way to the upper deck with Wayne, I took a photo of the area behind the batter’s eye:
I love seeing behind-the-scenes stuff like that — you know, the places that the TV cameras will never show.
Here’s what the field looked like from the upper deck:
That’s when I realized how lucky I was to have a ticket in the Miller Party Deck in left field instead of the ESPN Party Deck in right. Did you notice the tables and chairs in the red and blue areas? For some reason, there were far more of them in right.
Here’s a photo of the most annoying railing in the stadium:
It was blocking the cross-aisle in dead center field. Of course, at cricket matches, there IS no center field, so I can’t really blame the architects of the Sydney Cricket Ground for placing an obstacle there. I’m sure they had a good reason, but for me and Wayne, it was a pain in the ass. Rather than going all the way back downstairs and dealing with a zillion people clogging the escalators and concourses, we climbed over it. We got a few funny looks from fans, but thankfully there weren’t any guards nearby.
Here’s what the right field stands looked like:
From there I headed to the corner spot in foul territory. This was the view to my left . . .
. . . and to my right:
Wayne and I parted ways (for a little while) after that.
Not wanting to spend any extra time in the unforgiving Australian sun, I hung out here until the game was about to begin:
Then I put on a heavy dose of sun block and headed down to my favorite spot — perhaps THE best spot for catching a home run that I was ever going to have:
This was my view for the entire game . . .
. . . and as you can see, I had endless room to run on my left:
Did you notice the guy with the mohawk two photos ago? He was from Los Angeles, and I talked to him for a little while. He was nice enough to let me take a few photos of him. Here’s a closeup:
Here are two more of his baseball tattoos:
Halfway through the game, I noticed that some fans were playing catch nearby between innings:
I was shocked that the security guards didn’t stop them, but I was also excited because it meant I could get away with playing catch too. By that point, I had helped Wayne get down into the party deck area, so when these other guys wrapped it up, he and I took their spot. Check it out — here’s a short video of us throwing:
Meanwhile, Mohawk-Guy and some other fans built a pyramid of empty beer cups . . .
. . . which was promptly blown over by the wind.
As for the game, let’s just say it sucked. The Dodgers won, 7-5, but that’s not the story — not for me, at least. What I will always remember, unfortunately, are the two baseballs that I nearly caught. Here’s a screen shot of the first one, hit by Aaron Hill in the bottom of the 3rd inning:
Left fielder Mike Baxter ended up catching it on the edge of the warning track – a real shame because if it had carried 15 or 20 feet farther, it would’ve been the easiest catch of my life. That’s me in the whit shirt, tracking the flight of the ball and circling in behind it. As you can see, there was NO ONE else back there. It was all mine.
In the screen shot above, did you notice the two guards wearing red with their arms folded? They were totally lax about my playing catch with Wayne, but they weren’t too happy about the fact that I’d ducked under that barricade and run out into that blocked-off area for a ball that didn’t even clear the wall. They gave me a mini-speech about how it was off-limits and how I could really only get away with being out there if a ball landed there and blah blah. I’m not blaming them for anything — just sharing these details to set the stage for what happened with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.
Having just changed into my Dodgers gear (for the purpose of trying to get a ball from the bullpen after the game), I was stunned to see Mark Trumbo hit a towering fly deep down the left field line. He hit it on the fat part of the bat, but barely got under it, sending it way high up in the air. I thought it might end up traveling far enough to clear the outfield wall, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to run past the barricades for another false alarm. I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered because if it hadn’t cleared the wall, it probably would’ve been caught by the left fielder, and then the game would’ve been over anyway — or maybe it was going to drift foul and end up in the seats? Regardless, I had a whole bunch of thoughts and didn’t quite process them quickly enough, and even when I did, I didn’t sprint toward the foul pole. I ran, and then I jogged, and then I ran again, by which time it was too late. Look at this nonsense:
In the screen shot above, that’s me on the lower left, mumbling a string of obscenities and heading back to my spot. Trumbo’s ball DID clear the wall, but some guy had tumbled out of the front row of seats and snatched it just before I got there. It was awful.
In retrospect, I don’t feel THAT bad. Those barricades (which I had to duck under before I could even start running for the ball) were set up in straight-away left field, and Trumbo’s homer had landed near the foul pole. Take a look at this diagram from ESPN Home Run Tracker:
(Many thanks to my friend Greg Rybarczyk, the creator of Home Run Tracker, for allowing me to use that image.)
If you’re still convinced that I should’ve snagged the Trumbo homer, take a look at this photo from my Game 1 entry about the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’d been standing near the red-shirted guards, so you can see how far I had to run.
Or maybe I’m full of it. Maybe I’m only trying to trick myself into not being upset. Maybe I should’ve snagged the ball. But whatever. It’s done. I’m moving on with my life.
On my way out of the stadium, I was recognized by an Australian father and son who had brought their copy of my latest book, The Baseball. Here we are:
How awesome is that?!
In the photo above, Andy is holding the book (which I signed), and Isaac is holding a ball (which I signed). They were super-nice, so it was a bummer that I hadn’t met them earlier, but then again, it was lucky that we even crossed paths at all.
Here’s something else that happened on my way out:
In a last-minute attempt to collect a few ticket stubs, I had made a cheap sign — and it worked!
Now, before everyone starts asking me for free stuff (because that’s always what happens, and I don’t blame people for doing it, but it drives me crazy), here’s the deal . . .
I’m going to give away this pair of ticket stubs — one from each game of the Opening Series — as a charity prize at the end of the 2014 season. More specifically, I’m raising money again for a children’s baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball. Here’s more info about it, and here are the prizes I’ll be giving away to people who donate money this year.
But wait, there’s more! Did you notice the cups I was holding in the photo with the cheap sign? Here’s a three-part photo of one of the cups. I’m also going to give away both cups as one prize, and in case you’re wondering . . . yes, I found them on the way out, and yes, I’ve washed them out with soap. Deal with it.
As for Ray and his family, they endured a ticketing fiasco on their way into the stadium. They had expensive seats near the 3rd base dugout, which WOULD NOT SCAN at the center field gate! As a result, they had to battle the crowd and walk halfway around the stadium to the home plate gate — the only place where their tickets were valid. By the time they made it inside, they had missed batting practice, and they were then trapped near the dugout for the rest of the day. They did manage to get a couple of commemorative balls tossed up by the Dodgers, but still, what an ordeal.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more entries about the rest of my trip.
• 18 baseballs in two games this season = 9 balls per game.
• 968 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 7,194 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 10 donors for my fundraiser
• $0.72 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $2.88 raised at this game
• $38,676.96 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
This was a BIG day for me — my entire reason for traveling halfway across the world. Game 1 of Major League Baseball’s Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground was scheduled to begin at 7:15pm, but of course I wanted to get there much earlier. The stadium was going to open at 5pm, and I decided to arrive by 2:30. I figured I didn’t have enough time to do anything interesting beforehand, but my Australian friend Ray Burton wasn’t about to let me waste a perfectly good morning. He and his family planned a Sydney Harbour Cruise, and it started here in Darling Harbour.
In the photo above, do you see all those flags along the water’s edge? The blue ones featured Dodgers players, and the red ones featured Diamondbacks — and check this out:
No, I’m not talking about the Sydney Convention Centre being demolished in the background. I’m talking about those gigantic baseballs floating in the water! I wasn’t the only one psyched about these games; the whole city seemed to be embracing it.
Here are the Burtons:
In the photo above, Ray is wearing the yellow shirt, and his wife, Donna, is rockin’ the stripes. The other three folks are their children — Nick on the left, Emily in the middle, and Alex on the right.
The cruise tickets weren’t cheap:
They cost $55 apiece, but it was worth it. Look how beautiful it was once we got out on the water:
I’m not a fan of opera, nor am I an architecture aficionado, but c’mon, that’s a pretty cool building.
Our boat was one of those “hop on/hop off” things, so we rode it a nearby harbour called Circular Quay. That’s the closest stop to the opera house. Here’s what it looked like as we walked toward it:
Here’s what I saw as we got closer:
Take another look at the bridge:
Did you notice those little specks on the very top?
Those were people . . .
. . . who had paid hundreds of dollars apiece for an official bridge climb. I would’ve loved to do that, but (a) the timing didn’t work out, and (b) hundreds of dollars? Really?! I went skydiving for hundreds of dollars. I bought an Arkanoid machine for hundreds of dollars. The bridge climb looked cool, but not THAT cool.
Here I am “imitating the opera house” with the Burtons:
(That stupid photo was my idea.)
Everywhere we went, I saw people decked out in Dodgers and Diamondbacks gear. Here’s some photographic evidence from the boat:
Look at this sign on the boat:
I have mixed emotions about what the drinking age should be, but it was interesting to be in a place where it was different from home.
Our boat made several other stops (including Taronga Zoo), but we didn’t get off. Instead we rode it back to Darling Harbor . . .
. . . and got ready for the game. Look what Ray wore:
HEATH BELL, BABY!!
On our way out of the hotel, I noticed this in the lobby:
Sydney was going baseball-crazy.
That’s the end of my Day 4 blog entry. Click here for a separate entry (with 87 photos) about my experience at the game.
Generally speaking, the first thing I want to see when I wake up is NOT the fourth deadliest snake in the world, but hey, that’s what I get for visiting Australia. Thankfully the snake wasn’t slithering in my bed. It was a pet, stored safely in a glass case, so when my friend Ray Burton offered to show it to me, I figured, “Why the hell not?”
Here he is trying to get the snake’s attention . . .
. . . and here’s the snake itself:
That’s a death adder, and I’d like everyone to know that Ray took that photo with my camera. The lid was off the case, and he reached his hand right in there and . . . just no.
Ray told me he’s been bitten twice by death adders and that he survived because it happened long ago when he was much younger and healthier. The last time it happened was 1989, causing him to “vomit uncontrollably within ten minutes and lapse in and out of consciousness within fifteen.”
After two full days in his home (and just as I was getting ready to leave for good with them), Ray gave me a quick tour of the upstairs area. Here he is with his son Alex on the balcony:
Here’s Alex’s room – note the Phillies comforter:
Here are some trophies . . . with a few snake skins sitting around, just because:
As I’ve mentioned in a couple of recent entries, I met Ray and his family when they hired me in 2012 for two Watch With Zack games at Citizens Bank Park. It was part of a huge baseball trip that they went on, and they enjoyed it so much that they put a book together to commemorate the experience:
Here’s a two-page spread about our first game . . .
. . . and here’s a closer look at what they wrote about the second.
At 1pm, we loaded several days’ worth of stuff into Nick’s car . . .
. . . and headed off to Sydney, which was going to take an hour and a half without traffic. I really really *REALLY* needed the roads to be clear because I was due at the Sydney Cricket Ground at 3:30pm — not for a game, but for a photo shoot with the Sydney Morning Herald.
More on that in a bit, but first, take a look at the meat pie that I ate on the way:
In addition to the beef, this one had cheese, potato, onions, tomatoes, and bacon – and yeah, it was amazing. We all had meat pies. Here’s a photo of Nick eating and driving:
We made it to the stadium by 3pm, struggled to find a place to park, and started walking toward the media gate with just a few minutes to spare:
Finally we made it:
In the photo above, the woman on the right (with the short blonde hair) is named Alexandra Back. She was going to be writing the story about me for the newspaper, and because of a logistical mishap in securing a photographer, she was going to be taking the pictures too.
After waiting for a couple of minutes, we were greeted by a woman named Courtney from Moore Sports. At the time, I hadn’t even heard of that company, but evidently they’re the ones who helped make the whole MLB-in-Australia thing happen.
Courtney led me and Alexandra inside the stadium:
All four Burtons got to join me, and we headed into the seats:
Check out the sign at the bottom of the steps:
Alexandra and I discussed the best places to take photos and decided to start in the second deck. Courtney led the way back up the steps and into a funky old grandstand:
I lagged behind so I could grab a few photos. Here’s what was on my right just after I stepped inside:
This was the staircase to the second deck:
It was wild! Carpet-lined hallways and wooden banisters in a stadium?! Once again, I didn’t know it at the time, but we were in a section called the Members Pavilion, which is the oldest and most exclusive area of the Sydney Cricket Ground. Figuring I’d be back there for the next two days to wander and explore, I snapped these few photos as an afterthought. As it turned out, though, I was never able to get back into this area, so it’s a good thing I used my camera here when I had the chance.
This was my view from the second deck:
While Alexandra and I talked a bit more, Ray took some photos with his own camera. Here’s the Opening Series logo on the jumbotron:
Here are the Diamondbacks pitchers coming out:
(It killed me that Heath Bell wasn’t there. How perfect would that have been?)
Here’s the grounds crew setting up the batting cage:
Here’s the Australian team starting to get loose:
They were going to be playing an exhibition game against the D’backs.
It wasn’t long before the photo shoot got underway:
In case you’re wondering about those six baseballs, I’d brought them from New York as a gift for Ray. It hadn’t occurred to me that they might serve as a prop for the photo shoot, but when the day arrived, it was like, “Duh! I’ll bring the balls just in case!”
Here’s a photo I took before we headed downstairs:
Down on the field level, I clowned around for Alexandra and her camera:
Here’s a photo she took moments later:
Ultimately this was the basic angle/pose that made it into the newspaper:
Here’s the article, in case you’re interested.
Before heading out, Alexandra and I posed for a photo together and got photobombed by Mike Fetters:
Courtney offered to hook me up with tickets (five in total for me and the Burtons) for the evening’s game, but I declined. I was thrilled to have gotten a peek inside the stadium, but I didn’t care AT ALL about watching a contest that meant nothing in the standings, especially when there were so many other things in Sydney I wanted to do . . . such as visiting Bondi Beach.
That’s where we headed next . . .
. . . and even though I wasn’t properly dressed for it, I was glad to be there:
I had heard about a scenic walk from Bondi to a nearby beach called Tamarama, so that’s what we did. Look how beautiful it was:
Once again, the Burtons were *so* patient and generous with their time. I’m not sure if they’d gone on this walk before, and if they hadn’t, who knows if they even really wanted to do it. But they did. And it was great to have them with me. Here they are — Nick in the teal shirt followed by his sister Emily, father Ray, and younger brother Alex:
I forgot to mention that Emily, currently studying at Sydney University, met up with us after the photo shoot. She traded places with her mother, Donna, and joined us for our trip to the beach.
Here’s a look at Tamarama Beach at dusk:
By the time we walked back to Bondi Beach, it was dark:
Our next stop was Chinatown, and all five Burtons were with me. Here’s a photo that Donna took of me with the others:
The streets were packed . . .
. . . and there were all kinds of unusual things to eat:
I passed on the jerky and got some dumplings instead:
I also got a delicious slab of pork . . .
. . . followed by a pancake-sandwich thingy filled with custard:
Extra thanks to Nick who wanted to go sit down at a restaurant and have a proper meal, but kindly indulged my desire to wander aimlessly and eat a little bit of everything. Thanks to the whole family. It’s amazing how much stuff we packed into one day, and I could not have done it (nor would I have had nearly as much fun) without them.
My second day in Australia started with my friend Ray showing me how “real men” eat toast with vegemite:
He gave me a bite.
It was horrendous.
Friendly advice (if you’re not from Australia): don’t eat vegemite.
In the late morning, Ray took me to his local bank so I could get some Australian money. Look how pretty it is:
Did you notice that the bills (or “notes” as the locals call them) are different sizes?
Australian money, by the way, can not be torn. I’m not saying it’s illegal to tear it, but rather that it’s physically impossible. (This is not an April Fool’s prank to get you to ruin your money. I’m serious. Try it sometime — just a little piece on the corner if you don’t believe me.) Also, if the bills get wet, they don’t get soggy. They’re made with some type of plastic that’s water resistant.
For lunch, Ray drove us to a little food store/bakery, where I had a meat pie . . .
. . .followed by a neenish tart:
Both of these items are popular in Australia, and let me tell you . . . they were SO GOOD.
Our next stop was a place called Oakvale Farm and Fauna World:
We saw all kinds of cute, scary, and exotic creatures . . .
. . . but the highlight was probably getting up close and personal with this kangaroo:
Or should I say *two* kangaroos? In case you missed it, that’s a mama kangaroo with a joey in her pouch! I wasn’t planning to go anywhere near them because I’ve learned not to mess with baby animals when the parents are nearby, but Ray assured me it was okay. (He’s a veterinary surgeon, so he KNOWS animals.) And then he proved it by petting the heads of both kangaroos.
Another highlight was getting to pet a koala:
In fact, I got to pet several. It was a weekday afternoon, so the farm wasn’t crowded, and I had more koala time than I needed.
I also got to feed some wallabies:
On the way back to Ray’s place, we stopped at the scenic lookout . . .
. . . and ended up having a lazy evening at home. No complaints. It was exactly what I needed, as I still hadn’t fully adjusted to the time suddenly being 15 hours later than it was back at home in New York City.
The whole family and I ordered Malaysian food and watched the Dodgers’ exhibition game against the Australian team. Here we are lounging in the living room (with Yasiel Puig at the plate):
It was nice to get a look at the Sydney Cricket Ground on TV. I figured out a few things and got a much better idea of what to expect at MLB’s Opening Series, which was now just two days away.
After dinner, Ray asked me if I wanted to see some possums.
Umm, yeah, why not . . . right? But I wondered if there were any zoos open at that hour. Silly me. Ray told me there were possums all over the place right outside his house, so he grabbed some food . . .
. . . and led me to the back yard. He then flung the food onto the lawn five meters away. Within a minute or two, THIS happened:
For a city boy like me from halfway across the world, it was amazing to see all this stuff firsthand. I’m sure it was old news for Ray, so I owe him a big thanks for being my personal tour guide and patiently showing everything to me.
The first trip of my life to Australia began with a pair of 13-hour flights – New York City to Dubai to Sydney. Check out my boarding passes:
Flying through the Middle East wasn’t the quickest route to Australia, but for some reason, when I’d booked the trip six months earlier, it was the cheapest . . . and hey, Emirates! Right? I’d heard it was one of the nicest airlines — and it proved to be true. Not only was every employee polite and helpful, but the plane itself was gorgeous. Here’s the staircase to the First Class area:
More on that in a bit, but first, here’s one of three meals that was served:
According to the menu (yes, an actual menu with various options), it was “Arabic lamb stew.” And it was delicious.
Speaking of Arabic, look at these little items that came with it:
Did you notice the white cable dangling to the left of my meal (two photos up)? That was my laptop’s power cord. Every seat on the flight had its own outlet, so I was plugged in and fully charged for the entire journey. I labeled photos and videos for about five hours and played Nintendo (with a USB controller) for the remaining seven — several games of Tetris followed by every level of both Super Mario Bros. 1 & 2.
One nice thing about the flight was the free/unlimited fruit, candy, juice, and water. This was the setup in one of the galleys:
This was another highlight:
In case you can’t tell, that’s me in both of those Polaroid photos. Evidently that’s a thing on Emirates. They get the cute flight attendants to pose with you and take your picture.
Because I was so excited by the food and photos (and because I was being my polite, chatty self), I got a personal tour of First Class after we landed in Dubai. Here are the fancy seats up there, which can fully recline . . .
. . . and here’s the bathroom:
Did you notice the shower at the end? Hot damn.
The Dubai airport resembled a high-end mall:
Here’s something that caught my eye as I wandered toward the gate for my next flight:
I caught a brief glimpse of the Burj Khalifa in the distance, but unfortunately couldn’t get a decent photo because of the gigantic window coverings. Bleh. It’s probably a ploy to get dumb tourists like me to actually *visit* the city in order to get a proper look at the mammoth structure.
By the time I boarded my second flight . . .
. . . it felt like 3am for me. I don’t even know what time it was in Dubai, but I did know this: when the plane was scheduled to land in Sydney, it was going to be 7am. In other words, if I didn’t sleep A LOT on this flight, I was gonna be screwed.
I played more video games for about three hours, then slept for about three hours, and then got awakened when the old French people next to me had to get up to use the bathroom. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, but thankfully, after their 20-minute out-of-seat excursion, I settled back in and passed out for four more hours.
Here’s what the flight tracker was telling me when I woke up for the second time:
Breakfast was served a little while later:
I felt pretty good when the plane touched down in Sydney, though I suspected my energy wouldn’t last.
Look what I saw in the baggage claim area:
Did you notice the advertisement on that vertical video screen? That’s THE reason why I made this trip: Major League Baseball’s Opening Series between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Two years ago, I traveled to Japan for MLB’s Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome, and now here I was in Australia for a similar experience.
Look who I saw after passing through customs:
Here’s a closeup:
The man holding the “Z” sign is my friend Ray Burton. He and I first met in 2012 when his entire family traveled to America and hired me to join them for two Watch With Zack games in Philadelphia. Remember? Here’s a photo of us which was taken outside Citizens Bank Park. This was my blog entry about the first game we attended together, and this was my entry about the second. We all had such a good time that we kept in close touch, and when MLB announced the Opening Series in Australia, Ray invited me to stay with his family in Newcastle, which is about 100 miles north of Sydney.
Here’s Nick, the older of his two sons, who joined him in waking up at 4:30am in order to meet me at the airport:
Nick drove us out of Sydney . . .
. . . toward Newcastle . . .
. . . and we arrived at their home in the late morning:
One reason I love the Burtons is that they embrace my passion for food. On the way to Newcastle, Ray had asked me what I wanted for dinner — and what I wanted to eat in general.
The following photo shows one of the things I mentioned:
The wonderful woman pictured above is Ray’s wife, Donna. She had to go food shopping anyway, so she picked this up for all of us and planned to make spaghetti with kangaroo meatballs.
Meanwhile, Ray and I headed out for the afternoon with Alex, the younger of his two sons. Here’s the vehicle we rode in:
Prior to this, I’d never been in a Hummer; I’d only made disparaging remarks about them (and their owners) from afar, but I have to say . . . it was quite a nice ride.
Check out Ray’s floor mats:
His friends think he has those because of the similarity to his name, but in fact the Rays are his favorite team.
After just a few minutes of driving, we stopped at a scenic lookout at the end of a street called Banksia Avenue:
From there we went to see some animals at a place called Blackbutt Reserve. Here’s a photo of Alex and Ray entering the first enclosure:
After spotting several creatures from a distance, we got close to a pretty little bird called a rainbow lorikeet. Here I am with it . . .
. . . and here it is on Alex’s shoulder:
The bird was adorable. It started licking Alex’s neck, and it seemed so cute and harmless that I reached out toward it gently with my right hand. Wanna guess what happened next? The little bastard chomped down on my index finger, right in the crease below my middle knuckle, and made me bleed!
(Welcome to Australia.)
Given the fact that rainbow lorikeets are not predatory or aggressive, Ray and Alex thought it was hilarious. In all fairness, if I’d seen it happen to someone else, I would’ve been laughing too.
My pain lessened somewhat when I got a good look at a koala:
Here are a few more animals we encountered (from a safe distance):
In the four-part photo above, you’re looking at:
Then I finally got to see some kangaroos for the first time in my life:
Unfortunately they weren’t jumping all over the place, but it was still cool.
Here’s an emu:
On the way back to the Burtons’ home, Ray and Alex and I stopped a nearby park to play catch. Here they are waiting patiently while I pulled out my camera for the zillionth time:
Before dinner, Ray gave me a tour of his Man Cave:
In the photo above, did you notice the display cases of baseballs on the right side? Here’s a closer look:
Not only were there a bunch of commemorative balls that we’d snagged together in Philadelphia, but one of the cases had a ball that I had signed for them:
The Burtons have four cats. Here’s Alex with three of them:
Here’s a group photo from dinner:
The only person missing was their daughter, Emily, who is studying at Sydney University. We were planning to travel to Sydney in two days, so I was looking forward to seeing her.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for:
Spaghetti and kangaroo meatballs!
Donna’s cooking was fantastic, but kangaroo meat itself isn’t all that great. It’s kind of gamey and chewy, and I’ve since learned that Australians don’t really eat it. It’s mainly served as a touristy thing . . . so in that sense, I did my job.
On a final note, I plan to blog about every day of my trip. Some of the entries will contain baseball stuff (especially Day 3), but others won’t. If my trip bores you, then don’t read about it. For me, personally, blogging about it is a nice way to document everything and (since I’m not on Facebook) share it with my family and non-baseball-loving friends.