February 2013

7/17/00 and 7/18/00 at Qualcomm Stadium

Over the past six weeks, I’ve blogged about games that I attended long ago at Shea Stadium, Tiger Stadium, the Kingdome, County Stadium, and Candlestick Park. Now I’m taking you back to Qualcomm (formerly known as “Jack Murphy”) Stadium in San Diego. I was there for two games in 2000, and I’ve decided to combine them into one entry . . .

The first game started with a dreadfully long walk from my hotel to the stadium. I would’ve taken a cab (or booked a different hotel) had I not been misled about the distance, but whatever. I got some free exercise and ended up taking a nice photograph of Qualcomm from afar:

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Here’s what the stadium looked like up close:

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I wandered all around and took more photos like this . . .

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. . . and this:

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Eventually I found myself at the Press Gate and struck up a conversation with a friendly security guard named Bruce. He asked where I was from and what brought me to San Diego, so I told him the whole story: I’d been flown out to Los Angeles several days earlier to appear on a game show called “To Tell The Truth“; rather than heading straight back to New York, I’d made the trip here to see a couple games at Qualcomm. He later introduced me to some season ticket holders who were hanging out with him, and we all chatted for a while. Here’s a photo of them:

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One of the ladies asked me if I had a ticket for the game, and when I told her “not yet,” she handed one to me! Obviously I was thrilled to save some money — I’d only won $1,000 on the show and was gonna have to pay taxes on it — but I wasn’t sure if it was worth the hassle. You see, I felt obligated to sit with her, and yeah, she was perfectly nice, but ucchh . . . I ended up spending the first few innings with her when I *really* wanted to be exploring the stadium. By the time I was finally on my own, I didn’t feel like taking photos, and for some reason, I neglected to take any during batting practice. Therefore I can only describe the rest of my day, starting with a list of the BP balls that I snagged:

1) thrown by Padres infielder Kevin Nicholson
2) thrown by Padres first baseman Joe Vitiello
3) thrown by Angels pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa
4) home run hit by the Angels; grabbed in the seats
5) thrown by Angels pitcher Seth Etherton
6) thrown by Angels pitcher Mike Fyhrie

How’s THAT for a bunch of names you haven’t heard for a while (if ever)? Those six baseballs, by the way, increased my lifetime total to 1,639 — not bad for a college kid.

The best thing about the game was that Angels starter Brian Cooper got the win. I know what you’re thinking: Who the hell is Brian Cooper? Right? Well, in my world, Brian Cooper was a big deal because he’d pitched for the Boise Hawks in 1995, and I’d gotten to know him a little bit. That was the season I worked for the Hawks, so I rooted HARD for all the guys from that team who reached the majors. Jarrod Washburn was the biggest name who passed through Boise that summer. The only other guys who reached The Show were Trent Durrington and Justin Baughman. I was hoping to see Darin Erstad in Boise — he was the first overall pick of the 1995 draft — but after he tore up rookie ball for four whole games, he jumped directly to Lake Elsinore in the California League. Anyway, I digress. The worst thing about the game was getting into a huge confrontation with an usher in the 9th inning. I was trying to get down to the Angels’ dugout, and she was power-tripping beyond belief, and let’s just say it got ugly. I’m glad to say that she didn’t prevent me from getting this:

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Angels coach Joe Maddon gave me that lineup card. (I barely knew his name at the time.) “It’s the best one in the majors,” he told me, and he was right. It really is a thing of beauty.

That brings us to Day 2 at Qualcomm Stadium. It was an afternoon game, and unfortunately there was no BP, but hey, at least things were relaxed enough for me to take a bunch of photos. Here’s one of rookie Derrick Turnbow throwing a bullpen session:

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Turnbow didn’t give me that ball, but I did get one soon after from Angels pitching coach Bud Black.

A little while later, on the other side of the stadium, I caught up with Brian Cooper:

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I got to talk to him for a bit, and it really made my day.

My 2nd ball of the afternoon was thrown all the way up into the empty Club Level by Padres pitcher Brian Meadows — for no good reason, it should be noted. I was standing near him and asked him for it, and he could’ve easily flipped it to me, but no, he had to be a jackass and launch it 200 feet away. It took a long time for me to get there, at which point an usher handed it to me. Still counts. My rule is that I’ll accept baseballs from stadium employees, but not fans.

Then I got a bunch of autographs, starting with this guy:

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In case you can’t tell, that’s Trevor Hoffman wearing medical scrubs. I’d collected lots of ticket stubs after the previous game, so I got him to sign one . . .

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. . . and then another:

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On the ticket pictured above, did you notice the image of PETCO Park? The Padres had just broken ground two months earlier, but the new stadium was still four years from opening — kinda cool to look back at it now. I didn’t think much of that ticket at the time, but now that I’ve visited PETCO and seen countless games there on TV, it’s like . . . whoa, that’s exactly what the stadium ended up looking like.

All my other autographs are gonna seem lame compared to Hoffman. Here’s Adam Eaton:

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Here’s Kevin Walker:

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Here’s Steve Montgomery:

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Here’s Kory DeHaan on the front of a ticket . . .

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. . . and Kevin Nicholson on the back:

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I also got some players and coaches to sign older tickets from other games, including Matt Clement, Al Levine, Mark Petkovsek, Mike Fyhrie, Mickey Hatcher, Bud Black, and Alfredo Griffin.

I got two more baseballs thrown to me before the game started. The first came from Padres catcher Ben Davis, and the second came from Angels reliever Mike Holtz.

I’m embarrassed to show you the shirt that I was wearing that day, but here goes:

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Ouch.

My dad had it made for me. I think (or at least hope) that that was the only time I ever wore it.

Here’s what the stands looked like on the first-base side:

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Here’s another shot of the seats and upper levels . . .

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. . . and here are the Angels during the national anthem:

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As you can see in the photo above, there was no dugout “roof.” The front-row seats were about 10 feet directly above the top step of the dugout. I’ll show you a few more stadium oddities in a bit.

Early in the game, I took a couple photos from a section behind home plate. Here’s one . . .

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. . . and here’s the other . . .

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. . . and here’s what they look like stuck together in Photoshop:

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Qualcomm Stadium was weird, but that can be said about any football stadium where baseball happens to be played. Did you notice the wide cross-aisle in the last few photos? Here’s what it looked like up close, along with a lovely railing that I constantly had to look through:

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The worst thing about that railing was that it prevented me from going down into the seats. The fact that it blocked my view didn’t really bother me. In fact, the crappy view was actually a good thing because no one wanted to sit in the row directly behind that aisle. As a result, I had LOTS of room to run for foul balls, and I ended up catching one on the fly in the bottom of the 4th inning. Ken Hill pitched it. Ruben Rivera hit it. And I was a happy young man. That was my fifth and final ball of the day — No. 1,644 lifetime.

Check out the view from the left field corner:

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Now THAT is weird. Because of how the stands jutted out and angled back, there was a small portion of the field that couldn’t be seen from home plate.

One thing I loved about the stadium was that the seats extended all the way around the outfield:

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This was different from the awful, horseshoe-shaped seating bowls back home; if I wanted to move from left to right field at Shea or Yankee Stadium, I had to walk (or run!) all the way through foul territory and around home plate and then back out toward the other foul pole. It was terrible. But here in San Diego? I felt so free.

This was my view late in the game:

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For the second day in a row, the Angels won by the score of 3-2 (only this time it took 11 innings), and I got the lineup card:

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I also got a bunch of ticket stubs on the way out:

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Finally, I’m pleased to share my original handwritten journal entries about Qualcomm Stadium. They’re kinda long, but I think you’ll find them entertaining. The first one starts with the trip itself from L.A. to San Diego . . .

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. . . and continues here with tales of women and regret:

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I’ve always been bad at (or shy about) starting conversations with random women in public, and even when conversations get going, I’m reluctant to say anything suggestive or make the first move. In this case, my excuse was that I was in a serious/monogamous relationship, and I simply wasn’t trying to make anything happen with anyone else. In general, though, my issue isn’t insecurity. I have no fear of getting rejected. I just assume that any woman who doesn’t want me is a lesbian and/or doesn’t like guys with shaved heads, so whatever . . . her loss. The issue is that I never want to seem creepy or make anyone feel uncomfortable, so I hold back and pretend to be polite. Also, given the unusual deal-breakers that I have for potential girlfriends combined with all the hard-to-find traits that I’m looking for, the odds that I’ll randomly meet someone compatible are so small that it’s not even worth trying.

Anyway, here’s the part of my entry when I first arrived at the stadium:

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Here I am getting off to a terrible start during BP:

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The entry continues here . . .

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. . . and here . . .

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And ends here. But then I started another entry with a few more funny details about my second game at Qualcomm:

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Here’s where it ends.

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The Wrigley Riddle

Do you remember when I sprained the crap out of my ankle and had to use crutches for a few weeks? Do you remember the game I attended during that time on 6/20/11 at Fenway Park? Do you remember that I met a children’s book author that day named David Kelly? Here’s a photo of us holding each other’s books. Does that look familiar? Well, anyway, David and I have kept in touch, and he recently mailed me two signed copies of his newest book. It’s called The Wrigley Riddle, and I simply *must* share a few photos of it. Here’s a look at the cover . . .

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. . . and here’s how David inscribed one of the copies:

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What kind of help, you ask? Check out the table of contents:

the_wrigley_riddle3_contents

Did you notice the name of Chapter 2? It’s called “Ballhawks!” and I helped David by making a few suggestions and teeny edits. Not only did he thank me by sending me a couple copies, but he did something even better. Did you notice the dedication on the upper left corner of the previous photo? Here’s a closer look:

the_wrigley_riddle4_dedication

This book went to press late last season. That’s why my ball total in the dedication (6,413) isn’t quite up to date (6,459), but that doesn’t bother me. I kinda like it, actually, because it captures the moment.

Now, I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who might end up reading this book, so let me just say that there’s a ballhawk in the story who becomes an important character, and his name is *very* similar to mine. Fun stuff.

Here’s how David signed the other copy of the book:

the_wrigley_riddle5_charity_prize

Remember all the prizes I gave last year to people who donated money to my fundraiser? Well, I’ve decided to give away some new prizes at the end of the 2013 season, and the book pictured above will be one of them. (I’m not parting with my personally-inscribed copy.) Let me know if you have anything that you’d like to contribute as a prize — it can be a book or a Bobblehead or a special baseball or an autograph or anything baseball-related — and if you’d like to make an actual pledge to the charity, you can find more info about it here on my website.

On a final note, The Wrigley Riddle (which was published by Random House) is available for $4.99. Among other places, you can buy it here on Amazon, and if you want more info on the “Ballpark Mysteries” series (of which this is Book No. 6), you can visit BallparkMysteries.com or visit the Facebook page or visit David’s personal website.

Pitch In For Baseball helping Hurricane Sandy victims

There aren’t many things that’ll get me out of bed early on a rainy Saturday morning, but yesterday was an exception. I drove out to East Rockaway, New York — a 25-mile trip that took an hour and a half with traffic — and made it just in time to witness something beautiful: a huge delivery of baseball equipment from Pitch In For Baseball to the local Little League that was devastated last year by Hurricane Sandy.

The delivery took place at a recreation center, and when I arrived, David Rhode (pictured below in the red jacket) happened to be standing outside:

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He’s the director of the charity, and we’ve been working together since 2009. That’s when I first started raising money for him. Normally he ships equipment to communities all over the world, so this was a rare opportunity for me to witness the charity doing its thing.

Tom Schoenfelder, the Operations Manager for Pitch In For Baseball, was already inside the rec center:

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He and I had met before, so after a brief hello, I started taking lots of photos. Here’s a shot of the mayor of East Rockaway — Francis T. Lenahan Jr. — being interviewed by the local news:

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In the photo above, did you notice all those water bottles on the table on the left? Well, look how they were arranged:

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The “ER” is for East Rockaway.

Cute.

There was also a table with coffee and donuts, but thankfully, before I had a chance to stuff myself, one of the Little League officials made an announcement, and everyone gathered closer:

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He basically said a few thank you’s and then encouraged everyone to head outside. Two minutes later, this was the scene:

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That truck belongs to the national Little League organization; Pitch In For Baseball is borrowing it this month and using it to make more than a dozen deliveries to various communities.

As you can see, David and Tom climbed into the back of the truck and handed out LOTS of stuff to the kids and coaches. In the following photo, Tom is giving an equipment bag, and David is giving bases:

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Here they are handing out helmets . . .

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. . . which the kids brought inside and placed here:

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Eventually I gave Tom a quick breather by taking over for him in the truck. Here’s a photo that shows me handing a box of stuff to the coaches . . .

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. . . and here’s another photo that shows me looking for something else to grab:

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It felt good to witness all of this, and it felt even better to actually get to help. Everyone was SO appreciative and friendly (including the mayor).

This was my view from the truck:

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Once all the equipment had been unloaded and brought inside, one of the photographers organized several group shots. First it was David and Tom and the kids:

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Then the mayor and a few other officials joined in.
Then the Little League directors got in the shot:

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You’d never know it by looking at these photos — hell, I couldn’t even tell when I was there — but that rec center had been flooded with six feet of water and sewage, and as a result, all of the Little League’s baseball equipment had been destroyed. With Opening Day just around the corner, this delivery from Pitch In For Baseball came at the perfect time.

Here are some kids checking out their new helmets:

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It all looked good to me:

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The rain was picking up, but that didn’t stop these kids from posing for a photo with David and Tom:

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Here I am with them:

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Here’s a look at all the equipment that was delivered:

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Here are some kids holding a Pitch In For Baseball banner . . .

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. . . and checking out the catcher’s mitts:

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Wilson Sporting Goods donated a whole box of brand new mitts:

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They’re gonna need to be broken in, but hey, that’s a good problem for these kids to have.

Here’s a box of catcher’s gear — chest protectors and shin guards (or “leggings” as one of the non-baseball-savvy mothers humorously called them):

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Here are some bats and equipment bags . . .

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. . . and here are dozens of brand new baseballs:

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Before heading out, I made sure to get a photo with this guy named Doug Drotman:

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Not only is he doing PR for Pitch In For Baseball, but he’s a fellow Guilford College graduate. Most people that I meet haven’t even heard of Guilford, so meeting someone who actually went there (who was involved with sports) was cool.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it. Just wanted to share this with everyone and let it be known that I’ll be raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball. If you’d like to donate to my fundraiser, visit this page on my website and scroll down to where it says “Click here to pledge” in big letters. It’ll probably take less than 30 seconds from there. Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s a recent article on MLB.com about Roy Smalley working with Pitch In For Baseball to help Hurricane Sandy victims.

Vintage Airplane Magazine

I’m sure that the title (and first image) of this blog entry seems totally random, but bear with me for a moment . . .

Do you remember my helicopter stunt from last summer? Well, check out the latest article that mentions it, written for the December 2012 issue of Vintage Airplane. Here’s the cover:

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Here’s the first page of the article . . .

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. . . and here’s the second (with the part about me):

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How cool is that?!

Many thanks to my friend Mike Davison, not just for helping me set up the whole stunt last summer, but for spotting this article and mailing it to me.

6/11/93 at Candlestick Park

You said you wanted me to blog about my one game at Candlestick Park, so here it is. The date was June 11, 1993. I was 15 years old. I was with my dad. And unfortunately this is going to be a VERY short entry because I only have two photos. Here I am standing outside the gates . . .

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. . . and here I am during batting practice:

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(In the photo above, I’m standing on the left, looking at the camera.)

I only snagged one ball that day, and I remember it well. It was a foul grounder during BP that took me by surprise and skipped right up to me out of nowhere . . . off the bullpen mound, I think. I don’t know why I was wasting my time in foul territory — perhaps because there was a separate entrance for the bleachers and I couldn’t get over there?

This was only the 6th major league stadium that I’d ever been to. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. All I can tell you is that the Giants beat the Cubs that day, 7-2, and when Barry Bonds homered off Dan Plesac, I was sitting somewhere between home plate and the 3rd-base dugout.

Finally, in case you missed it, I recently posted other/longer entries about old games in defunct stadiums: Shea, Tiger, County, and the Kingdome. More soon . . .

HAWAII — Day 10

This was the final day of our trip. (Frowny face.) Despite the fact that we had to be at the airport by 1pm, we managed to cram in one final activity and have a few laughs in the process.

Here’s a photo of me carrying my bags up the steps from the condo to our rented jeep:

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Thrilling stuff, I know.

On our way to the airport, we stopped at a small outdoor market:

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While Martha and my mom shopped for clothes and jewelry, I checked out the food and ended up buying these:

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Did you notice the ingredients on the package on the right? Neither did I at the time. Li hing mui is a popular, plum-based flavoring in Hawaiian cuisine. Martha Googled it several hours later and regrettably informed me that it contains aspartame — a controversial artificial sweetener. Some people (like my mom, who knows a LOT about nutrition) are convinced that it causes cancer; others (like my friend Hayley, who’s studying organic chemistry) insist it’s harmless and point to the scientific studies that’ve proven it. Any aspartame experts out there? Should I eat the damn nuts or tie the package to a cinder block and dump it in the Hudson River? (I’m back home in New York now, so dumping it in the Pacific Ocean is no longer an option.)

To prove how nutritionally-savvy my mom is, here’s a photo of her eating a banana while standing in line at the Kona airport:

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Eventually I found an outlet near our gate and used my laptop . . .

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. . . before boarding this plane . . .

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. . . for a quick flight to . . .

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. . . Honolulu.

Then, after a brief layover, we had a nine-hour flight to New York City. (The flight from New York to Honolulu was two hours longer — something about the tailwind.) (I’ll show you some tailwind!)

Remember the “gourmet” donkey balls from my Day 8 entry? Well, it was finally time to indulge.

First, though, Martha posed with the soon-to-be unsealed package . . .

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. . . and then we each took a bite:

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DONKEY BALLS!!!

They were quite good, but not amazing. At $1.75 per ball, I was anticipating something life-changing — something with different layers of chocolate . . . different textures . . . maybe some toffee and powdered sugar like these magical nuts that I’d encountered earlier in the trip. But no. Each donkey ball merely consisted of ordinary chocolate surrounding an ordinary macadamia nut. Have a look for yourself:

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How sad.

To be clear, I love chocolate and macadamia nuts so much that any combination of the two will surely be delicious. What I’m saying is . . . these donkey balls were on the lower end of the “delicious” category. You dig?

That’s pretty much where the story ends. The flight still had a long way to go . . .

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. . . and I’m sorry to admit that Martha beat me at Scrabble. (Hey, even Babe Ruth was known to strike out on occasion.)

I’m not sure where my next big trip will be. I’ve heard that Major League Baseball is thinking about playing a few regular-season games in Australia in 2014. If that happens, I’m going — no doubt about it — and if it doesn’t, then I might need to go to India. Chicken tikka masala, baby! Here I come! (There’s no aspartame in that, right?)

HAWAII — Day 9

We had a HUGE day planned and had to wake up early to cram everything in:

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We started by making the hourlong drive to the mountainous town of Waimea:

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Our first destination was this place — the Hawaiian Style Cafe:

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My half-sister Martha (pictured above in the black t-shirt) had heard about its legendary breakfast. Here’s an order of “coconut pudding pancakes,” photographed with my hand on the side to show you how big they were:

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We also got the “banana macadamia pancakes” plus an order of scrambled eggs with sausage, biscuits, and gravy.

On our way out, Martha and my mom posed in the main dining area:

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Here’s a closer look at two of the people in the photo above:

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How cute.

As we walked toward our jeep, I photographed this charming field next to the restaurant . . .

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. . . and then got a shot of my mom climbing into the back seat:

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Martha did most of the driving. My mom and I took turns sitting in the back. I offered to be back there all the time, but she insisted (in part because she wanted to flaunt her agility).

Our next stop was a scenic area overlooking Waipio Valley, and I should mention that the drive itself just to get there was beautiful. Here’s what the road looked like at one point . . .

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. . . and this was our view to the side several minutes later:

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In case you can’t tell, that’s not fog in the photo above. It’s a cloud.

Here’s a photo of me on the walkway to the scenic lookout . . .

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. . . and here’s a better view of the valley:

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Wow. (Right?)

On the way to our next destination, we stopped at a gift shoppe . . .

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. . . where Martha finally found a damn tiki mask. Her relentless quest to buy the perfect one had dominated the trip, but that’s okay because she made up for it by taking us to the Tex Drive In. Here’s a painfully awkward photo of us standing outside the place . . .

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. . . and here’s what we ended up getting:

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They’re called malasadas (you can see that word on the storefront two photos above), and yes, they were amazing. The three flavors we got were cherry, Bavarian cream, and chocolate.

Our next destination was Honoli’i Beach Park, but (a) we couldn’t find it and (b) we didn’t know how to roll down the windows of our jeep. The result was this funny photo of Martha asking someone for directions:

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It turned out that we were less than a mile away, so we got there pretty quickly. Here’s what it looked like from the road above the beach:

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See those waves out in the distance? They appear to be tiny . . . yes? Well, here’s a closer look:

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Surfers!!

I was feelin’ it, but this was the best I could do:

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That said, I did better than this guy . . .

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. . . though I’ll give him credit for actually being *in* the water.

We then drove to a small, nearby city called Hilo . . .

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. . . and walked around for a while. Here what the streets and stores looked like:

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We ended up at a farmers’ market, which was shaded by a spectacular tree:

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Here’s the most unusual thing I ate all day:

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That popsicle might not look like much, but consider the flavor: avocado/lime.

Despite the fact that Martha had purchased every possible trinket in all of Hawaii, she still felt the need to wander and look for more:

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Here’s the best thing I saw at the market, and it wasn’t even for sale:

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At around 3pm, we made our way to the Hilo airport . . .

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. . . for a helicopter tour over an active volcano!

Here’s a photo of my mom getting weighed:

535_blue_hawaiian_helicopters_naomi_getting_weighed

The quickest way for me to be disowned would be to reveal her weight. I don’t want that to happen, so all I’ll say is that we all had to get weighed. The helicopter was so small — six passengers and a pilot — that we were assigned seats so that it would be properly balanced. Or maybe that’s just a bunch of B.S. that we were told so we wouldn’t end up fighting over who got to sit in front and/or next to the windows.

There was a safety briefing for several helicopters’ worth of passengers . . .

538_safety_briefing

. . . during which I photographed the folks sitting in the back row:

539_closeup_of_people_in_the_back

I love people.

We weren’t allowed to bring any bags on board the flight, and we were told to remove all hats and large earrings. After leaving our stuff at the check-in counter, we each received a small, yellow, flotation device. Here I am with mine:

541_zack_flotation_device

Finally, after standing around for a while, we headed out to the tarmac . . .

546_zack_and_others_entering_tarmac

. . . and walked toward the helicopter:

548_walking_to_the_helicopter

I had been assigned the middle seat in front, right next to the pilot, so I got in first. The passenger who ended up sitting next to me (on the right side in the front row) had crutches and needed assistance getting on board, so Martha and my mom had to wait on the tarmac. Here’s a photo of them that I took from inside the helicopter:

549_martha_naomi_from_helicopter

Here’s Martha in the back seat . . .

552_martha_happy

. . . and here’s my mom getting her first look at the interior:

554_naomi_boarding_the_helicopter

Is that a great facial expression or what? I know that she’d been in a helicopter at least once before because we flew in one over the Grand Canyon in (I think) 1993. That was the only other time I’d ever been in a helicopter, although for what it’s worth, I did catch a softball and three baseballs last summer that were dropped from one.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we were airborne. This was the view as we flew over some farmland:

557_flying_over_farmland

The biggest thing that made me nervous (beyond the whole “active volcano” factor) was that there was only ONE pilot. What if he had a heart attack or got hiccups? I don’t really worry about death, but I’m not exactly looking forward to it either, so during the first few minutes of the flight, I paid close attention to the control panel . . .

559_control_panel

. . . and to what he was doing with the joystick. That way, I figured I could take over in the event of an emergency — you know, at least keep the helicopter in the air long enough to get instructions from the ground. Does that make me paranoid or smart? Or both?

In the following photo, do you see the trail of smoke in the distance:

561_flying_over_rain_forest_with_smoking_lava_in_the_distance

It’s right where the land meets the water. More on that in a bit. For now, I’ll just mention that we were flying over a rain forest.

Now, about that volcano, here’s what the lava did to the forest . . .

562_rain_forest_destoyed_by_lava

. . . and here’s the volcano itself:

563_approaching_active_volcano

WHOA!!!

That volcano has been active since 1983, mostly in the form of a few trickles here and there, but according to the pilot, it once spewed lava 1,200 feet into the air — without warning. I asked him if that made him nervous, to which he replied, “Nope, I’ve been doing this for twelve years.”

Here’s a peek directly into the crater of the volcano:

567_flying_over_active_volcano

That entire side of the island is covered with lava:

572_nothing_but_lava

You need to know that the top of the helicopter’s “dashboard” (for lack of a better term) was level, meaning, like, flat . . . like, when the helicopter was sitting on the tarmac, the dashboard was parallel to the ground. Got that? I’m mentioning this now because . . . well, just look how much we were tilting to the side:

575_helicopter_tilt

In the photo above, do you see the small patches of trees? Somehow, when the lava was flowing down the mountain, it missed those areas, including this one, which still has a road cutting through:

577_portion_of_road_through_trees

At this point, there’s not much lava flowing above ground. Instead it travels through underground ducts and spills out into the ocean. Check it out:

579_ocean_lava

The pilot flew us close enough (and my dinky camera’s zoom was strong enough) that I could actually see the red-hot lava pouring out:

581_ocean_lava_pouring_out

After several minutes, we flew away from that area . . .

587_looking_back_at_ocean_lava

. . . and toward this portion of the coastline, where people have built houses on the lava:

584_houses_built_on_lava

Why the hell would anyone choose to live there, you ask? Because the Hawaiian government offers 99-year leases on that land for $1 per year. (Still overpriced, in my opinion.)

Not surprisingly, Martha and my mom were enjoying themselves:

588_martha_naomi_back_seat

Here’s a photo that Martha took, which shows part of my head on the right:

589_zack_and_clouds

Can you spot the waterfalls in the following photo?

593_waterfall

Those falls are in Hilo, which, by the way, has more rainy days per year (275 on average) than any city in the northern hemisphere. It’s also the only city that (a) sits on an active volcano AND (b) has earthquakes AND (c) has endured two major tsunamis. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll continue inhaling two buses a day in New York City.

I got a nice look at some cruise ships . . .

594_cruise_ships

. . . as we came in for a landing:

595_returning_to_airport

Thank you, Mister Pilot, for not making me die!

596_the_pilot

Here I am dehelicoptering:

597_zack_getting_out_of_the_helicopter

On the way to our next destination, we stopped at a drive-thru for ice cream:

600_stopping_for_ice_cream

That destination was Rainbow Falls:

601_rainbow_falls_lookout

We got a nice look at the 80-foot waterfall . . .

602_the_waterfall

. . . and then climbed these stairs . . .

605_stairs_heading_up

. . . into the forest. Here I am in front of a big-ass tree:

608_zack_huge_tree_in_forest

By the time we drove back to Waimea, it was dark. Here’s where we had dinner:

610_pau_pizza_place_in_waimea

Here we are inside the restaurant:

611_zack_martha_naomi_dinner

The meal was perfectly nice . . . if you’ve never tasted New York City pizza.

Ahh, New York. My true love. I’m home now as I sit here typing this. Day 9 was the final full day of our trip and by far the most memorable. Stay tuned for a brief Day 10 entry, and then I’ll get back to some baseball stuff.

HAWAII — Day 8

Have you ever seen those funny photos of horrible parking jobs? You know what I’m talking about, right? They’re often captioned, “If you park like this . . . “

Well, when Martha (my half-sister) parked our rented jeep in the lot outside our condo at the end of Day 7, she had to park it kinda crooked in order to fit evenly between two other poorly-aligned cars. The next morning, the other cars were gone, thus making it look as if Martha were the lone perpetrator. I made sure to call her out on it, and when she defended herself (and my mom started laughing), I took the following photo:

426_martha_douchebag_parking2

Good times.

Our only plan for the day was to hang out at Hapuna Beach, and we had an hourlong drive to get there. This was my view during the commute:

431_driving_to_hapuna_beach

The one stressful moment of the day took place when we saw the following sign near the beach:

433_warning_sign_near_hapuna_beach

Yikes!

As it turned out, we didn’t encounter any suspicious objects, but still, it was a bit unsettling to even have to think about that.

The beach itself was gorgeous . . .

435_view_from_the_end_of_hapuna_beach

. . . and I enjoyed seeing people of all shapes . . .

440_couple_walking_on_the_beach

. . . and sizes:

446_hotties_at_the_beach

I also enjoyed boogie boarding for the first time in many years. Martha rented a board for ten bucks, and we all took turns using it. Here I am riding in on a small (but strong) wave:

449_zack_boogie_boarding

My mom had never done it before, so I gave her a hand . . .

451_zack_helping_naomi_boogie_board

. . . and loved seeing her have so much fun:

453_zack_helping_naomi_boogie_board

Then Martha gave it a shot:

457_martha_boogie_boarding

In the evening, we wandered around Kona and did a little browsing/shopping here:

463_shopping_in_kona

We grabbed dinner at a Thai restaurant with a 2nd-floor balcony overlooking the street:

471_thai_dinner_in_kona

On the way home, we stopped at a convenience store so Martha could get some Advil. “Bring me back something sweet!” I yelled at her from the back of the jeep.

Two minutes later, she returned and handed me a brown paper bag. “I hope you like donkey balls,” she said.

She wasn’t kidding. Look what she got me:

472_donkey_balls_front

Here’s a photo of the back of the package:

473_donkey_balls_back

“Donkey balls” has become our new joke/saying. It’s amazing how many different ways we can work it into a conversation. Sometimes we’ll just sing the words over and over with operatic inflection and improvised melodies. What’s my age again?

This was the scene before bed:

474_pre_bed_internet

Martha was looking at snorkeling photos on her iPhone, and my mom was tending to some serious business on America Online.

(I still have an AOL account, but I only check it twice a year. Some of my “friends” still mistakenly email me there despite the fact that I’ve been telling them not to since 2006. I don’t get it. Do they not understand how an address book works? Is it really that hard to permanently delete a portion of someone’s contact info? You know what? From now on, I’m going to un-friend people in real life if they email me on AOL. It’s just not worth wasting energy on folks that’re *that* stupid.) (Okay, I’m done ranting, and I feel a lot better.)

HAWAII — Day 7

We went to the beach at Kua Bay in Kekaha Kai State Park . . .

400_walking_toward_the_beach

. . . and it didn’t take long for me to get some funny photos of my mom. Before I show you, you need to know that she’s extremely sensitive to cold water. Water that you’d shrug off as being a bit too cool would truly be painful for her. With that in mind, check out these zoomed-in facial expressions:

403_naomi_reacting_to_cold_water

The one on the left shows her when the water touched her toes for the first time. She wasn’t trying to be goofy. This was not posed. She didn’t even know that I had the camera pointing at her. She was 50 feet away and looking off to the side at my half-sister Martha.

The photo up above on the right shows my mom saying something along the lines of, “I don’t think I can deal with this.”

In all fairness, the water *was* kinda cold, but that didn’t stop her. Here she is backing into/bracing against a wave:

405_naomi_bracing_against_a_wave

Heh.

After we’d been at the beach for a while, I took a short walk and climbed onto some lava-rocks. Facing the ocean, this was the view to my left . . .

406_beach_from_rocks

. . . and this was the view to my right:

407_beach_from_rocks

I walked to the next patch of lava and found something cute. Using white coral rubble, someone had spelled the word “aloha” inside a heart. I neatened it up a bit and then posed with it:

409_zack_aloha

Yes, that’s a goofy hat, but it works. The goal is to prevent my head from getting fried, not to seduce mermaids.

Here’s a photo of Martha that I took just before we left:

412_martha_beach

In the late afternoon, she went off on her own snorkeling trip, leaving me and my mom to putz around near the condo. I decided to swim, and my mom decided to . . . observe.

We had to walk down this hill to get to the water:

415_heading_to_the_nearby_beach

On the way, my mom asked me to take her picture near these flowers:

416_naomi_flowers

Then I had her take mine:

417_zack_flowers

THAT is how to seduce a mermaid. (Except not.)

My mom took a photo of me going in the water . . .

419_zack_going_in_the_water

. . . and when I came out, I took this photo of the sunset:

421_sunset_on_the_big_island

No fancy meals to report from Day 7. I ate several peanut butter and pineapple/mango jam sandwiches . . . and a bunch of toffee/chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

On a final note, I’m loving the fact that a blizzard is about to hit the northeast.

HAWAII — Day 6

In the early morning, my mom entertained herself by reading . . .

334_naomi_reading

. . . while Martha looked at whales:

335_martha_whale_watching

By 10am we packed up all our stuff and began heading to our next destination. Here’s a photo of Martha lifting her 46-pound suitcase into the trunk of the car . . .

337_martha_lifting_her_heavy_bag_into_the_car

. . . and here’s a photo of my mom scolding me for not helping:

338_naomi_scolding_me_for_not_helping

(I guess she hadn’t noticed that I’d just carried Martha’s bag up a flight of stairs from the condo. Ahh, the joys of traveling with family, but seriously, we all get along great.)

On the way to the airport, we passed a bunch of whale watchers . . .

342_whale_watchers

. . . who were undoubtedly delighted, as was I, to see this:

343_whale_seen_from_car

This was the view as our flight took off from lush Maui . . .

349_flying_away_from_maui

. . . and this was the view as we were landing on the lava-covered “Big Island”:

350_flying_into_the_big_island

Did you know that the largest of the Hawaiian islands is actually called Hawaii? To avoid confusion, it has been nicknamed “Big Island.” This is where we’ll be staying for the next few days.

As we waited for a shuttle to the car rental place, I noticed a man wearing a Royals shirt behind me . . .

354_royals_fan_waiting_for_the_shuttle

. . . and a guy wearing a Giants cap in front:

355_giants_fan_waiting_for_the_shuttle

Baseball essence in Hawaii — I love it!

Here’s the vehicle that we rented . . .

357_jeep_rental

. . . and here’s an unusual sign that I saw on the side of the road:

359_banana_virus_quarantine_area

Banana virus quarantine area?!
What the hell is THAT all about?

We stopped in a supermarket, where Martha and I photographed poi . . .

365_poi_for_sale

. . . and eventually made it to the condo:

366_condo_parking_lot

Here’s what the kitchen and main area looks like . . .

368_condo_kitchen

. . . and here’s the room that Martha and I are sharing:

370_condo_kids_room

At around 5pm, we took an hourlong drive into the surprisingly vast mountains . . .

376_driving_to_merrimans_restaurant_in_waimea

. . . and ended up at a restaurant called Merriman’s in a town called Waimea:

379_merrimans

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see Martha waving in the doorway.

The three of us started with salads and shared this egg/lamb appetizer:

382_egg_and_lamb_appetizer

For my main course, I had seared ahi:

383_ahi_main_course

Mmmmmmmm-MMM!!!

I’ll spare you photos of dessert. All I’ll say is that my eating is out of control, and I’m probably gaining at least half a pound per day on this trip.

More soon . . .

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