DAY 31: WEDNESDAY JUNE 29 2016
We packed up early and headed out of the Wheat Ridge, CO RV Park, grabbed breakfast and drove 11 miles to Coors Field. Friends from scouting were in town so we hooked up. Paul and his son Eric (bear scout buddy) joined us for the game. Thus far, we've met up with my aunt and cousin near San Diego, Kristin's relatives in Los Angeles and now Florida friends in Denver.
“Coors Field”, home of the Colorado Rockies, is huge, modern, drew a good crowd and offered us great views of the field from the second row balcony overlooking the mound on the first base side. It was sunny and hot and we enjoyed dollar dogs, pizza and later, cotton candy for the kids.
Paul never met Johnny. His son joined the scouts this year but he was interested in hearing about our trip, the quest to visit the ballparks to scatter his ashes and of how Johnny was an avid fan and student of the game.
Tommy and I unfurled a simple napkin with a sprinkling of Johnny and poof, we honored him again in section 325. The game continued, we watched, the boys played around and we slowly made our way out of the park toward the exit. It was a long goodbye, farewell, be safe, see you back in Florida kind of an end to the meet up. It was nice to see friends for a change. Tommy makes friends easily wherever he goes. Seeing a familiar face however was especially nice.
The ride out of Denver during rush hour was hot and slow. This lasted an hour but as we continued east, metropolis disappeared just as the darkening horizon loomed ahead. I was surprised just how quickly and severe that the city ended and pancake flat farmland began. We pressed on for 80 miles and pulled off of the I-70 in Limon, CO dry and ready to rest up. Tomorrow calls for a trip through Kansas, a first for both of us.
DAY 32: THURSDAY JUNE 30 2016
Happy birthday Kristin Sloan. Also, Happy Birthday Erica Flagg.
Tommy and I are seeing brand new places but also recognize that we are missing key moments. We'll all survive.
We left east Colorado at 8AM after a big breakfast. During the middle of the night we apparently donated some fuel and the red gas can bungee-corded to bus roof to a needy soul. No worries. I am grateful that I have what I have. Things could easily be worse for anyone. We filled the tank and applied a coating of Rainx to the windshield as the forecast called for showers.
On the road again, we traveled along the high plains which are situated at 5400 feet above sea level and gradually drop down as one heads east. No ill effects on us or the bus but it was a bit chilly at 8AM so I turned on the heater, which is to say I rolled up the windows - by hand.
Hello Kansas! The fields consisted of either rolled hay or were lush and green dotted with barns and windmills. Tommy finished his book so we will have to stop and get the next one.
And then it happened.
Sweet Pea decided to pull over and rest. It was as if we ran out if gas, but I can assure you that hasn't happened since the first week I owned my first car and it just stopped one day. A call to my father using a payphone and costing a dime quickly ended after I described the symptoms and he asked have you put any gas in your car yet? No, today was different. The afternoon was downright hot! I had the air conditioning on full - both widows were all the way down; so I figured the bus was just hot and needed a cool down. We did not rest long at the last fuel stop 30 minutes ago. It was at mile marker 147 on the I-70 at 2:35 in the afternoon. As luck would have it, we glided just beyond an overpass. I stopped in the sunshine so the bus would be highly visible, checked the oil traced the plug wires, looked at the coil / wires, tried it. Nothing. So we let it sit for 40 minutes to cool. We sat in the shade behind the protection of the hefty guardrail. Had it been raining without a bridge around we would have have been wet. Never sit in a car on the side of the road.
She cranked right up. Eureka. I was right, she needed a rest. Wrong. She bogged right down again and shut off. Must be a fuel issue.
A State Trooper pulled up behind us to check out the situation and I said we are good, that I have AAA and will tinker for a bit. He left. I explained to Tommy that we are safe, that problems arise and we think through solutions, come up with options and do it. Another 20 minutes passed, the engine was cool. It started again. It stopped again. I called AAA and my friend Mike Bradley to describe the symptoms. He said it sounds like the fuel pump, offered a tip on how to test viability and said any shop can easily replace it with an generic unit. Thanks Mike. That sounded spot on, simple and cheap. If you have a V-Dub, he is your go to guy having just opened up a new shop.
The flatbed truck dropped us off 10 miles and way at Rein's Repair. The driver said there are hotels steps from the shop, recommended a family restaurant and mentioned the the town fair was opening tonight with live music. The shop opens at 7:30AM and the owner has a mechanic who has rebuilt several VW Beetles and agreed it sounded like a simple fuel issue.
We checked into a Motel 6 after first trying a couple of other slightly nicer places but it was fine. We ate at that restaurant and then hit the sack early.
The adventure continues and the setback is not a big deal. If anything, it teaches Tommy to think about solving problems. I completely get caught up with dumb inconsequential things like DVR snafus, but thanks to having a series of old cars that would break down when I was as kid, what some would gasp and say is a serious problem is not much of an issue at all. Besides, Hays, KS is a nice little town.
DAY 33: FRIDAY JULY 1 2016
Woke up and walked to the auto repair shop next door. The bus was a priority for the mechanic who recognized that we were out of towers just passing through on a long holiday weekend. He listened to my description of the problem and turned the key to start the diagnostic.
Basic rule of thumb, eliminate the obvious. He tested the electronic fuel pump with a simple voltmeter and there were no signs of life - hah! It was the pump after all. Then he traced the wire to the coil, the power source that feeds the pump the juice and he discovered that the wire connection was loose; just loose enough. He cleaned and crimped the connection and tested the pump and the voltmeter lit up like a Christmas tree, just like me. It was a simpler fix than expected, like when Prince Akeem Joffer, the prince of Zamunda, got his haircut in the movie "Coming to America": all of a few seconds.
The mechanic heard the brief overview of the trip for he saw the stickers and memorial like peace sign on the side window. He was only to happy to assist us with this repair and wished us well on the rest of the trip. I knew I liked this town. I will be investing in a voltmeter and a helping of humility soon. We loaded up our gear and headed out of town at 8:30 after breakfast and a shower.
The drive today was very pleasant. Lightly rolling hills like yesterday continued to stream on past us. We noted many "Wizard of Oz" and President Eisenhower references, as well as Kansas State University boastful billboards. We fueled up and I made reservations for a two night stay at "Worlds of Fun" Amusement Park and RV Camping which put us on property in Kansas City Missouri. The tickets to the park itself were donated by our cub scout friend when we met in Denver and I thought we should use them and stay put for a couple of days of summer fun.
The campsite is superb, low in cost and packed for the holiday weekend. We were lucky to get the two nights. People came out to see us, well actually to check out the bus and our setup.
We are headed over to watch fireworks with two families and will bring along our smores supply.
The trip is going just fine. We hit a little snag and pressed on happily. Tonight is a weekend kickoff to complimentary park admission tickets and fireworks, but having Tommy smiling all the way is what makes me say ooh and aahhhh.
DAY 34: SATURDAY JULY 2 2016
Rain fell all night and sleeping in was a good plan until Tommy woke up and said let's hit the amusement park. "C'MON DAD!" Was mentioned several times so as soon as the rain tapered off we gabbed our ponchos and hit the pavement for the 400 yard dash to the gates. Sporting swimsuits proved to be a wise choice.
The first ride was "The Mamba" the highest, fastest, coolest coaster in the park. The rain kept the crowds away to the point where there more employees than patrons. We walked right onto this thrill ride, as we did every other amusement "World's of Fun" offered up. As a rule, I skip wood framed coasters as they simply scramble my head so much it hurts, but Tommy was highly satisfied with Mambo and other high energy rides crying "again, again, again" with regularity. The only ride he begged out of was "Detonator" that zooms you up 200' and drops you down. One coaster "Patriot" would have required me putting a couple of lumps on his head as he came in at 52", just a bit shy of the new 54" standard so we just headed to Snoopy Land.
Tommy speaks so well, having such a command of language and is well generally 'with it', that I often times forget he is still only 8 years old. The kiddie rides still hold a little interest for him and I know that before long, he will be all grown up, so please, have at it. I enjoyed watching him gleefully enjoying the old standard circular rides of our youth and thought of how lucky I am that he is here, young, full of life with years to go. I thought of Johnny too because they did this together but Tommy is all alone now. His laughter and smiles made me realize again that life is so precious and to enjoy what we have because be it a ride at a park or more, it will pass by. I wish he could stay young forever, but I look forward to seeing him grow up too.
The weather was raw, spitting droplets all day but it never grew intense or lightened up. Low clouds created a misty effect around the tops of coasters and towers alike. We escaped into the covered kid play zone launching nerf style balls from air powered cannons at one another for an hour. Lunch was a nice respite too, as was the steam powered train ride around the park.
My cell phone battery quit long before we did. I chose to skip the final five coaster rides the boy wonder did solo, arms raised of course. This I regret not having a photograph to keep, but the memories will be etched there, just like those I have of Johnny doing the same thing.
We ended the night doing laundry, eating a late dinner and watching a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" movie on the computer. Tomorrow calls for the same rainy weather and we are leaving by 11am but it is Sunday and pancakes always make him smile. After that, we'll I haven't gotten that far as yet but it will work itself out as we head to St. Louis.
DAY 35: SUNDAY JULY 3 2016
The morning came too quickly today. A brisk cool night with heavy rainfall can easily set one up for a deep sleep and that was the case here. WHAT? It's 10am? We have an hour to clear out? Thankfully the camp was dry albeit the cloud cover was thick, perhaps keeping the sun from waking us up earlier.
The boy and I sprang into action, putting the beds away, stowing water lines and electrics, dropping the roof, packing up and otherwise getting our stuff together. The next game is tomorrow in St. Louis and we have about 250 miles to cover so a good start would mean an earlier finish this afternoon. Well, not every day is perfect.
We pulled out of KCMO at 11:15 and headed east on the I-70 under gloomy but dry conditions. No time for my Sunday pancakes today. We stopped for breakfast and lost an hour for the privilege, but our goal was to simply go east and get as close to the Mississippi River as possible anyway. There was a gas station break and a windshield Rain-X treatment which wicked away the light rain but soon thereafter, for the first time, I actually turned on the wipers.
The highway was littered with billboards, exit ramps, McDonald's and gas stations every few miles. Sure there were a few cornfields and gentleman farms, but long gone were the agricultural feeding grounds that support a nation. This realization was somewhat of a letdown. Yes, I will be happy to get home, but the country seen so far has shown itself as beautiful, majestic and rugged. We have all for the sake of convenience and progress changed the landscape. It is the Interstate after all and if time would have allowed, I would have taken the road the less traveled, and a difference it would surely have made. But I have a schedule to keep!
I checked my handy campsite finder app, and the weather, which magically led me into the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn. A room for $30 more tonight would be a nice treat and since we have another 40 miles to go in the morning for the 1PM game, this choice just made sense.
Overall, we hit the mark today. It would have been nice to get into the city, take a riverside stroll and check out the arch. The rainy weather has spoken though and we are content for the night. Tomorrow will arrive on time I suspect: and so will we.
DAY 36: MONDAY JULY 4 2016
Happy Independence Day! I have always loved this holiday for the historical significance, for the fireworks displays and seeing the Boston Pops on the Esplanade, and that it falls at the height of summer! Perhaps this is why I love living in Florida today, where summer lasts 10 months a year.
Tommy and I arrived at “Busch Stadium” home of the St. Louis Cardinals at 10:15 A.M., parked beside the ballpark, got tickets and marveled at the bustling crowd already here 3 hours before first pitch. The Gateway Arch was looming in the backdrop. I thought of Johnny and how he would have loved seeing this slice of America. He knew the Arch was in St. Louis and that it was as wide as it is tall- 630'. I don't know if he knew that it stands to symbolize America's westward expansion, sitting on the left bank of the Mississippi River, but if he did, it wouldn't have surprised me at all.
When the old stadium was leveled, they used a large chunk of real estate to create the best game day fan zone in the land complete with a massive sports bar complex, concert pavilion and team store. Known as "Ball Park Village", this area draws fans to the game early said Earl, an ambassador we spoke to on the street. The pregame atmosphere here today was like that of a carnival; rich with smiling faces, energy and lots of loyal Cardinal's fans donning scarlet red. I imagine that Fenway Park in Boston could someday have such an amazing newly constructed ballpark combining old world charm, maintaining classic field dimensions but with all of the latest and greatest amenities.
We had an early breakfast before arriving but this venue was so inviting that we shared a small pizza and then simply crossed the street to enter the left field gate. It was "hat day" and Tommy scored an instant souvenir.
We did our typical walking tour of the park and what struck me was that for the most part, the field was not visible from the vending / concession areas like most modern facilities. The outfield underbelly was as gloomy as the gray skies overhead. When we stepped up to the next level at home plate the park opened up slightly more. The upper level however was wide open offering stellar ballpark views and a full cityscape. A light rain fell and for the first time a game we attended was impacted with a 75 minute delay.
The game was exciting once it began at 2:30, complete with bang-bang double plays, stolen bases, home runs and strikeouts. Tommy would say the best part was when the MVP vendor reached section 345, Row 5 seat 20 and he got his fix of cotton candy.
Today marks the likely final game of this trip as the Braves and Rays are on the road when we cruise through those cities. Tommy stood tall during the 7th inning stretch today. He sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" and he sprinkled his brothers ashes with me. I looked at the Gateway Arch and smiled knowing that Johnny was a wonderful boy as I kissed Tommy's head appreciating his remarkable personality. A slight sprinkle would hit us occasionally and as the game ended and we headed out of St. Louis heading South towards Memphis, I know that another visit here will be made. Tommy at my side.
43 DAYS - 7,855 MILES
DAY 37: TUESDAY JULY 5 2016
Today was purely a driving experience, getting as far Southeast as comfortable. On average, 325 miles is about right, that's 2 tanks of fuel and six actual driving hours. Add in the breaks and it makes for a full day.
We left Cape Girardeau, MO at 9:30AM and headed South on I-55 for 2-1/2 hours before reaching Arkansas and stopping for fuel and provisions. We ate lunch here too so as to make one longer stop rather than two or three; which truly impacts the flow of any day, a pet peeve. The plan was to enjoy some legendary BBQ in Memphis but being flexible and adjusting the agenda is needed from time to time. I have had a fair share of pulled pork and brisket anyway. We cruised into Memphis, TN just over the Mississippi River around 2PM. Tommy needed more Harry Potter books so a Google search of 'bookstores near me' was done and a slight 9 mile detour was taken. FUN FACT 7: Real bookstores do not exist in apartment buildings and Google has a warped sense of humor at times. I will call ahead next time.
The trip started out very humid and warm today but once we were moving, old school AC cooled us off. The temps remained pleasant throughout the day so we kept on driving. Later, my trusty knee brace used to help stave off pain from the immobilized position on the clutch side, began to wane.
Back on the Interstate, we pressed on through a brief section of Tennessee. It seemed like each state near the river wants a piece of that waterway.
Hello Mississippi! Having a KOA and camping app to find campgrounds, read reviews and generally 'make it so' has been worthwhile. Tupelo, MS was only one hour away and I noted a Barnes and Noble Bookstore nearby from our destination. Two new Harry Potter books were acquired and we are now settled in for the night. It was a long day, but we are content, dry and looking forward to setting our sights on Atlanta tomorrow.
DAY 38: WEDNESDAY JULY 6 2016
Willie Nelson sang it, we live it, "On the Road Again" from Tupelo, Mississippi to Tallahassee, FL! Covering 425 miles over 11 hours with a few long breaks, we cruised on both Interstate Highways and State Roads. GPS wanted us to go through Atlanta and that was the plan originally but we headed south earlier and are now in the Sunshine State without any major cities to pass through at peak times. Tommy let out a cheer as we crossed the border. I suspect he has forgotten just how large this state really is. The plan is to finish the trip strong using our passes at Disney while staying at Fort Wilderness Campground - the nicest one in the USA and still amazingly low in cost.
The weather forecast called for rain all day which focused our attention towards reaching the Florida panhandle tonight. Mississippi was beautiful with rolling hills and green fields and forests alike. Florida has offered the same topography in this northern region.
Soon, the state will lay flat and more familiar places will appear. For now, we have a few more days to spend together, to reflect on the trip, go through the states, the games, the 7th inning stretches and to remember Johnny.
DAY 39: THURSDAY JULY 7 2016
Timing is everything for the most part. I aim to be early, accept when I'm late but arrive precisely when intended. Today was no different.
We left Tallahassee after breakfast at 8AM and enjoyed the cool morning air. There's something to driving with the windows down, but something more with the streaming scents of pine trees wafting about and the nip of morning dew streaking across the windshield as the first mile whizzes by. Then, a trash truck blows past and changes the perspective. There was zero traffic around the State Capital which was fine by me. We made a quick stop an hour later at Suwannee Music Park to replace a peeling window sticker, one of the first trips Kristin Sloan and I made in Sweet Pea. Tommy had a vibrant energy today simply because we were headed to Orlando, a magical city that feels like Christmas.
The miles ticked off on the odometer more easily as we made our way south. Exit 259 is one we know well and the goal was to arrive with fresh provisions and a clean bus because washing a car while camping is not permitted.
We pulled into Fort Wilderness at 3:22PM, dirty and haphazardly packed, sweaty but smiling. We will be here for three nights which unlike many other places traveled to, or rather through, gives us the chance to do the full camping set-up and chillax for a while.
Tommy was ecstatic that our campsite was beside a family with kids and after the full unload, laundry sorting, trash run, cooler cleaning and awning deployment, he made friends. Chores come first with camping folks, just like life, and yes, we do a lot of laundry!
Tonight we are heading over to the Whoop-Dee-Do Movie House for the outdoor screening of Tarzan. Sadly it is not the Bo Derek version, but Kristin is coming here tomorrow for the weekend!!!!!
We are nearing the end of this trip after visiting 10 ballparks to sprinkle Johnny's ashes, and we'd like to do at least one more (Tampa) later this summer before planning the next big journey. Thus far, 14 of 30 ballparks now host this beloved boy, thanks to you; family, friends and strangers alike.
DAY 40: FRIDAY JULY 8 2016
Orlando Florida is hotter than hell in the summer. Tommy and I went to Hollywood Studios at 8AM and had to wait for the gates to open and let us in. But the sweat was already pouring. That's fine! No problem. We entered this very familiar park and headed towards the Rockin' Roller Coaster - which offers the best take-off in the hall of fame of coasters. Then it just does its thing. We watched a "Beauty and the Beast" production. ...'never again' said the boy wonder. Star Tours, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, lunch and then some AC time with indoor stuff such as Great Movie Ride, Toy Story and Disney History rounded out the afternoon. Some staple attractions are now deleted, making way for our future enjoyment. We encountered a Star Wars Character driven experience which like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" was a crummy commercial, but to Tommy, it was magical.
This park for anyone who has enjoyed it would best be served in 2017 after the new enhancements are done.
We got back to camp in time to shower and prepare for Kristin Sloan's arrival. She looked amazing.
Tomorrow we set sight sets on Typhoon Lagoon!!!!
DAY 41: SATURDAY JULY 9 2016
Blizzard Beach is one of two Water Parks at Disney World and we arrived on time, just before opening at 10AM.
The theme here is a ski resort, complete with a chairlift to usher guests from the centralized entry to the peak. Ski chalet stylized buildings are covered with snowy rooftops and all of the signage references a wintry motif, such as "have an ice day". We eventually did all of the water slides offered but the first per Tommy's insistence was "Summit Plummet", which at one point was the highest, fastest and likely the one that inflicts the most bruised butts on earth. It was so hot here today so splashing away the afternoon was a great choice. The lazy river was a group favorite too.
The boy enjoyed a boxed lunch that was brought in with us but Kristin and I tried the Cheese Steak sandwiches. Not bad. We were spent by 5pm and returned to Basecamp in loop 800.
The skies opened up and as we were already Waterpark wet, we walked around the campground in the rain for a bit. Showers were had and a dinner prepared and enjoyed (ribeye and Caesar Salad) and as the sun fell, our eyes began to as well. Nothing saps you like a low pressure rain storm after a long day of running around in the sun with scorching hot feet. Tomorrow we will see Typhoon Lagoon which opens earlier...
DAY 42: SUNDAY JULY 10 2016
Headed out of camp at 8:30 to get to Typhoon Lagoon, the other Waterpark here at Disney World. Kristin Sloan is a veteran traveler and also likes to arrive in time for the daily opening to beat the lines. We first rode Crushin' Gusher, several times. It offers drops, rises and water-jet propelled inclines. We all agreed that these three slides were the best offered here.
Other more typical slides were enjoyed and then we hit the wave pool. This wave pool basically throws an 8 foot tsunami spanning the entire width of the massive lagoon, some 200' and dramatically washes everything and everyone towards the faux shoreline. The first wave literally ripped my sunglasses off, along with the bikini top to a girl whose name rhymes with Twistin’ Foam. We spent an hour here enjoying the waves.
The Lazy River carried us around the park several times and a key highlight was the seawater snorkel with baby sharks and rays. Tommy objected, relented and ultimately boasted of how he swam with JAWS' great, great grandson.
After two days of walking barefoot on hot concrete we decided to head back to Fort Wilderness. The rainfall did not dampen our enjoyment but as we made our way towards the exit, the lightning did spark the crowds to do the same.
Long hot showers did us all some good and we drove to Disney Springs for dinner. This outdoor mall of restaurants, shopping and thousands of guests is not exactly pleasant for a quiet night out but the Italian food we enjoyed certainly hit the mark.
We returned to the campground and walked over to the outdoor screening of "Peter Pan". Within 15 minutes we headed back to the site to sleep. The activity of today combined with the sun, the low pressure rain, that large meal and now a sleepy movie just lulled us all towards the comfort of memory foam mattresses.
Tomorrow is a travel day and a good night's sleep is needed.
DAY 43: MONDAY JULY 11 2016
Slept in a bit this morning before packing up the gear, checking the oil and cranking up the bus to head home. Kristin Sloan left before me and Tommy to points south. We drove off precisely at 11AM for the 220 mile final stretch. This campground has always brought joy for me, Tommy and Johnny, and we will return again and again.
The ride home was typical; long, slow and hot, but the skies were bright and the roadways were clear. I noticed many smiling faces of passersby and this always lightens the mood. I thought of my son Johnny quite a bit this afternoon and how he would have loved doing this trip with us. He will always be a part of me, perhaps the best part of me and for that I am grateful.
Tommy and I unloaded the bus and like most trips, we over packed. Next season, when we knock off another chunk of ballparks during the summer break we'll know better... only 2 of everything ..swim trunks, shorts, shirts and underwear. Well, maybe more than two.
The trip officially began along the surf of the Atlantic Ocean in Fort Lauderdale on Monday May 30th at 8AM and that is where it ends, 43 days later, Monday July 11th at 6PM.
This journey covered 7,855 miles through 15 states, 10 ballparks, one simple breakdown and leaves us with a thousand stories. It would not be possible without the help of so many of you, be it inspirational, financial or otherwise. I am so grateful for the donations of time and money in making this trip to scatter Johnny’s ashes at the ballparks possible. We set out to accomplish a lofty goal this summer and I am happy to report that we did it. We all did it together.
11TH BALLPARK: JULY 30 2016 (15 OF 30 OVERALL)
Tommy and I went to the Tampa / St. Pete area in Florida this past weekend to complete the 2016 baseball journey. This was the 11th ballpark visited this season and 15th of 30th overall. Johnny would have loved seeing these ballparks. Tommy I suspect is glad it is half over.
We left on Thursday afternoon, headed west across Alligator Alley and settled into the Lazy Days RV Resort to the east of the city around 9PM. This marked the fourth visit for us here. The campground is part of the largest RV dealership in the USA and was designed to let newbie owners the chance to try camping out which means it is well manicured, has a great pool, restaurant, strong WIFI and skilled staff ensuring a pleasant stay. They offer complimentary breakfast too provided you stroll through the showroom and gauntlet of salespeople. It's sort of like finishing a ride at Disney and exiting through the gift shop, except the staff here drool just a little bit more. We skipped this routine, again.
The weekend was jammed with activities. Friday was spent at Busch Gardens. Saturday we did a TV interview with FOX 13 Tampa about the trip and then later went to the Rays game vs. the Yankees and Sunday had us leaving early for home.
The amusement park here is a fun one day place to visit. Last year when attending a car show nearby, Tommy and I visited Busch Gardens and by spending an additional $10, turned a one day ticket into a season pass. We enjoyed the new Cobra's Curse rotating coaster, the animals, the steam train and then endured three separate lightning warnings which shut every ride down for safety. Leaving earlier than planned gave us the time to shop for new Crocs for the boy wonder. His pair of beloved blue Lego Crocs were actually Johnny's. They had a matching set that they had traipsed around in but this pair was worn out. I will save these shoes however for they took us all on such wonderful adventures, giving us such precious memories. We arrived back at camp to enjoy the pool. Tommy got a kick out of a poolside pizza parlor delivery from a local place and a couple of kids looked over at us enjoying the gooey slices of heaven with jaws agape. Disapproving moms made the meal all the better. It was nice to simply enjoy a pool night.
A Tampa TV producer had contacted me a couple of weeks ago asking if we could share the story when we come to Tampa so we made some arrangements and went live on the air Saturday morning. The set was like any other you'd expect; circular sofa, bright lights, a couple of cameras and a professional staff. The segment went out with a 7 second delay to protect the innocent from any slips, but Tommy and I managed to convey the basic parameters of sprinkling ashes at the ballparks to honor Johnny without using any of George Carlin's seven things you cannot say on TV. No tears were shed during this piece like the last one. It was fun.
We spent the afternoon cruising around St. Pete Beach with a long stopover at Fort DeSoto State Park. My friend Terry Kirkman said camping here is excellent so we checked it out for a future trip. He was right too; great shady spots all along the water. The actual fort was neat and I am sure Johnny would have loved the giant cannons. He was into this sort of thing.
The ballgame was at six and the gates opened at 4. We stood in line along with a bunch of Yankee fans eager to get into the air conditioned complex. We entered "Tropicana Field" home of the Tampa Rays and took our normal walking tour and then I realized that I left the little packet of ashes in the bus. Customer Service was very accommodating and upon returning to the dome, the skies opened up like a water-park attraction. Tommy was spared this but I got it pretty good. I was smiling ear to ear thinking that in the grand scheme of things this season, this was no big deal at all.
We spent time at the Stingray Tank, feeding and touching actual rays swimming around. We encountered a vendor who said that she saw us on TV and wished us well, saying 'enjoy the game'. We sat in our complimentary seats and watched a fast paced game, eating peanuts and yes, cotton candy. The Rays beat the empire 6-3 and we did our 7th inning ritual or scattering Johnny's ashes while singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". It was not a sad time. It was happy. Some ballparks give me chills, leave me sobbing or even unable to sing, but Tropicana Field was easy. I think Tommy enjoyed this game more than many others and for that I am very happy. Perhaps this is why.
We left a large crowd behind who were staying for a country music concert after the last out, but we did so on a high note. The ride back to camp was a breeze and we prepared for bed with stories of my youth. Tommy loves to hear about my exploits 'when I was a kid in the olden days' and I love telling him. I think he will be an excellent storyteller one day for he loves a good book, a long tale and even a good joke.
We rose early and headed out around 8AM arriving back at 12:45. It was a quiet and overcast ride home until we crossed back into civilization. The sun was out now and I dropped him off at his moms. I handed him his soda souvenir cup, his 9th, and said that we are finished for this season. We hit all the parks we intended on visiting and that next season will bring us either along the eastern shore up to Boston or through the mid-west to the great lakes but either way, we are going at it again. He said 'awesome' and disappeared into his bedroom. I drove home alone and knew that he will remember these travels in the years to come. Mission accomplished. Thanks to many people who have helped all along the way.
Copyright Dave MacDougall. All rights reserved.