Monday, March 28, 2011

Razing Arizona -- my week in the desert

Back from a week in Arizona for spring training where I made my broadcasting debut for the Mariners. Came fully prepared. Scouting reports, team media guides, citizenship papers in case I got too tan. If you can get past Arizona’s blatant racial profiling and shooting rampages, it really is lovely in the spring.

Phoenix airport car renters beware: Allow yourself and entire extra day. The rental car agencies used to be located right next to the terminal. Now they’ve moved to the only-slightly-less-convenient Arizona-New Mexico border.

Prior to my stay the skies had been clear and temperatures up into the 80s. I arrived just in time for ferocious winds, a huge rainstorm, and temps in the 50s. My baseball prep on Monday consisted of seeing LIMITLESS.

Stayed in Peoria, near the Mariners’ complex. When the M’s first opened their state-of-the-art facility in the early ‘90s there was nothing out there but tumbleweeds. Now there’s Hooters, homes, and Home Depots as far as the eye can see. The Seattle Mariners are the pied pipers of commercial development.

Did my first game at the new complex shared by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies in Scottsdale. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. It’s on an Indian reservation adjacent to a large casino. So fans can see current major league players and Pete Rose.

The Diamondbacks should play regular season games there in April. It’s far nicer than that airplane hanger they play in normally. Sure, it only seats 11,000 but how many people do they get for the Pittsburgh Pirates anyway?

The second you cross into Scottsdale from anywhere in Phoenix it becomes green. Not hard to figure out where the money is. And water.

This is all you need to know about Arizona: From the Arizona Republic on Friday -- Measures to allow firearms in public buildings as well as on public roads and sidewalks around college campuses advanced to the Legislature Thursday. This, I’m sure, is to accommodate big game hunters because you never know when you might encounter a deer in a post office or student union.

Everything in this town is a franchise. I wouldn’t be surprised if Phoenix is really just a branch of Albuquerque set in the desert.

But that’s not to say tradition isn’t important. Had breakfast one morning at the Corner Bakery. It proudly proclaims: Established 2009.

Last weekend was the annual Phoenix BBQ Festival. Why not hold it in August? You wouldn’t even have to light up the grills.

Lady Gaga was in town. Or was that Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians’ mascot?

Billboards all over town offered cremations for $586.25. What’s the twenty-five cents for? Matches?

And a 99 Cent store in Peoria was going out of business. Prices slashed! With the pennies you save you can now afford that cremation!

Saturday was the best and worst day for me. First off, my rental car wouldn’t unlock. I had a Mariners game to announce so needed to get to the Brewers’ park in Maryvale, which, like everything else in Phoenix, is 13.2 miles away. My friend Howard, who was in town on vacation, offered to give me a lift. But he was delayed due to some police activity that diverted him five miles in the wrong direction. I got to the park only to learn that my rental car wouldn’t start because I was trying to open the wrong car. Yes, I’m an idiot.

But it was also the best day because Bob Uecker was in the park. Bob Uecker has many titles. “The Voice of the Brewers”, “Mr. Baseball”, “Former star of MR. BELVEDERE and MAJOR LEAGUE”, “National Treasure”. For all the brilliant comedy writers I’ve known through the years, Bob is funnier than 99% of them. Last year Bob underwent three major surgeries. Some of the complications, he admitted, were because he performed them himself. So it was a joy to see him back, spry and as hilarious as ever.

Like anyone who goes to Arizona, I went to a Phoenix Coyotes NHL hockey game. They play in the ridiculously named arena. Nice venue but of course, freezing due to the ice rink. Apparently the team is not doing well and there is fear it may relocate. I know how to keep them in the desert forever. Hold their home games in the summer.

The Delta terminal at SkyHarbor airport was surprisingly empty for the last Sunday night of spring training. Guns are not allowed of course, and it was really a shame because a herd of antelope was roaming the newsstand.

The Delta plane was a CRJ700. Imagine being in an MRI tube for an hour.

Thanks to everyone for a great week. All Mariners travelogues this year are dedicated to the memory of Dave Niehaus – the Elizabeth Taylor of broadcasters.

Note:  My book of previous travelogues, WHERE THE HELL AM I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED is available for Kindle users, Nook-nicks, other ebook formats, and in glorious paperbackt.  Yes, I know it's shameless but it's not like they're letting me on THE TODAY SHOW to plug the damn thing. 

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