I’ve told this story several times at least once in every iteration of my baseball writing career, and it’s 10 year anniversary was about two weeks ago. Without much else to talk about, I thought now would be a perfect time to retell it.
When I can, I like to go to the Twins game on my birthday. This year, it didn’t happen, obviously, while last year we had a couple of 10 month old babies and the game was in Philadelphia… it just wasn’t feasible. Before that, I had a pretty good run going. Back in 2010, the Twins were playing the Angels, and I met my friend Steve and his wife Elizabeth in Southern California.
It was a great weekend. We did all of the tourist things to do in southern California, like trips to Disney and Universal Studios, and a spin through Hollywood. It was great, we were in our 20s with no kids. We got fast passes for the rides near the gates and then went to the back of the park and worked our way to the front. We got to see everything we wanted to. I don’t like roller coasters, but dammit, I went on some, because we could. It was a well executed trip.
We were at Universal Studios, taking the tram tour of the entire grounds and near the end, there is an earthquake simulation. The tram shakes, cars fly towards you, and everyone has a good time. With this in mind, all three of us were surprised to see text messages asking if we had “felt the earthquake”. We got to one of the local food service places that had a TV, talking about a massive earthquake on the Mexican border. Oh, that! No, we didn’t feel that, because we were…. in an earthquake.
To be fair, we didn’t have much of a cue from the other guests at the park either. Maybe it wasn’t felt at Universal? We soon learned that wasn’t the case as we were waiting for another one of the attractions, Elizabeth noticed and pointed out the swaying decorations in the room we were in. I didn’t feel that aftershock, but Steve and Elizabeth did. I would later feel a strong aftershock in Hollywood, approaching the Britney Spears wax figure at Madame Taussaud’s.
We did later get a reaction from the local populace. We went to an outdoor mall and grabbed a drink, and there were a few drops of rain, which sent Californians screaming for shelter. That night, overnight, Steve and Elizabeth were kept awake, as our towering hotel swayed with aftershocks. I slept just fine, fortunately, because I had an extra day in Anaheim before my flight home.
Steve and Elizabeth had to head back home that morning, as it was Monday and they had to work. I was sticking around, because it was my birthday, and it was opening day, and I was going to the game that night. That little bit of rain was gone, and it looked like a great night for baseball.
Now, the hotel was visible from the stadium parking lot. I noted that it was a tower, but it was close enough to see as I was walking to the gate. I knew it was close, so I misjudged the time it would take to get to the stadium, and as I walked in, the National Anthem was being played. I saw the military flyover though.
After passing over the stadium, a big C-130 lumbered over the parking lot. For reference, this is a C-130:
After this absolute unit of an airplane took it’s time heading away from the stadium, it slowly made its way in the direction of the hotel I was staying at. It had to bank so hard that its wings were perpindicular to the ground as it passed the building, because this boat was so big that even though it was flying at approximately 15 miles an hour, it couldn’t lift or turn any faster than that.
The game didn’t go the Twins’ way. I swapped texts with a friend who was an Angels fan. He was excited that Hideki Matsui homered in his first game with the Angels, while I was thrilled by the start to the season that Delmon Young had. The Angels featured three relievers that would eventually one day end up in Twins uniforms – Kevin Jepsen, Fernando Rodney and Brian Fuentes.
I sat next to an Angels fan who was a lovely woman, and was very interested in the fact that I was from Minnesota. She was surprised to hear that we had many of the same things they did in California, like Ikea or roads. She also preferred me to the Dodgers fans who were there the previous game for a preseason exhibition, as those Dodgers fans were crass and rude. She expressed her admiration that I had traveled all the way from Minnesota, as she had never left Orange County.
She was probably about 40, grew up in Anaheim and had never even been to Los Angeles. It’s 10 years on and I still can’t get over it.
I got back to the hotel, satisfied after a fun game (even though they lost) and a great vacation. I stopped at the hotel bar/restaurant to have a birthday drink. They had carrot cake on the menu as well, and I ordered it because it was my birthday. The seating area was more well populated than I would typically expect from a Monday night at almost 11. There was a woman sitting to my left, and another straight ahead, and a few members of a family on a couch with a few tables to my right.
A guy joined the table to the left with his back to me, and the same with the table across from me, while more members of the family showed up, wearing Twins gear. I tipped my Twins hat to the Twins family, and the father of the family nodded back at me. That was the explanation for the late night crowd. Angels Stadium wasn’t exactly downtown, and this was as good a spot as any to have a drink after the game. I was, after all.
And then Ron Gardenhire walked in, carrying a paper bag. He nodded in greeting to the room and looked at me and I waved, because I’m an idiot. He started talking to the father of the Twins family, who he was nearest to. The Twins dad asked Gardy what took him so long. “I walked back,” he said.
Why? “Because I wanted to smoke,” he explained, then started complaining about the post game interview. He had been asked about his bullpen usage, particularly Jesse Crain, who went an inning and 2/3s.
“But you feel good, right Jesse?” he asked of the man at the table directly ahead of me. I don’t know how wide my eyes got when I realized exactly what was going on. Jesse Crain was sitting at the table across from me. Twins dad was actually Scott Ullger, the third base coach. The guy with his back to me on my let was Jason Kubel. I looked behind me, where Justin Morneau and Brendan Harris were talking to fans. I was at the Twins team hotel and somehow was accidentally in the midst of all of them.
Gardy and Ullger continued their conversation, until Gardenhire said one of the most iconic, memorable things I’ve ever heard in my life.
He lifted his brown paper bag and announced to the bar “Ok, I’m going to go get shit-faced.”
Gardenhire missed the next game with “flu-like symptoms”.