Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Trip So Far...

I just got my internet connection all figured out so here is what you've missed so far: (Sorry for the lack of pictures, once I get into a more permanent situation ill post those)

November 8th 2011
Packing:  I spent most of the day packing, unpacking, repacking and then wondering if I didn’t pack enough  or I packed too much.   I hate packing,  Almost as much as I hate folding laundry.  I don’t have a problem doing the laundry, I have a problem folding the laundry, don’t ask....  The night before I made a 4 page list (post-it notes) of things I needed to bring including clothes, baseball stuff, electronics and other stuff.  Clothes wise I didn’t quite know what to bring since Melbourne seems to have really odd weather patterns.  Similarly to Denver, they can get all 4 seasons in a week.  I ended up packing a little of everything, collared shirts, tshirts, jeans, shorts, running shoes, flip flops and a bathing suit, because I do plan on showing those Aussies what a real athlete looks like at the beach!  After I settled on what clothes to bring I went about gathering all my “I” electronics.  Thanks to my neighbor Matt Schultz I brought and Ipad 2, I packed both my Ipods (workout and casual), My Iphone which I bought specifically to unlock and use down under (long story but I also have a blackberry, Thanks Alex).  I also packed my macbook and all the accessory cables I could find.  I have a virtual rats nest of chargers, data cables and things I brought because they looked like they might work.  Needless to say I am completely teched out and should have no issues communicating with the internet world.  Hence why you are reading this now =)  Finally and most importantly I packed my Xbox, because what would a professional athlete be without his video games.  Hopefully it works down there, Im pretty sure I did the research and all I really need is a step down box to lower the voltage from 220 to 110.  I made sure to go out and get Modern Warfare 3, Batman Arkham City, Dead Island and Gears of War 3…that should keep me busy for awhile.  Other than clothes and electronics I figured Im going to need to get outside once in awhile so I also brought along my golf clubs to test out, what I hear, are some of the most beautiful golf courses in the world.  A full day of packing to say the least, but at last it was done and I could sit down and relax for a minute.  Then it was off to the airport…
Airport:  My beautiful wife and children took me to the airport this evening.  Brady fell asleep in the car as usual and didn’t get to “see” me say goodbye to him.  Hudson was wide eyed and bushy tailed and was able to give me a smile and a coo before I left.  Pam did her usual girl thing and began to well up and I had to say goodbye but it was quick so she didn’t have time to go into full on water works.  American airlines might be the worst airline in the world.  Kind of ironic they are named “American” because everything they do seems to be done to cut corners.  As Ron White would say, I got put on a pack of gum to fly from Denver to LA.  It was one of those Canadian Regional Jets (American airlines?) so it was small.  In typical fashion I got the seat way in the back next to the other biggest dude on the plane.  Luckily for both of use the flight wasn’t full and I switched to the row behind and had it all to myself.  Instead of sitting next to the biggest dude, I sat next to the jet engines which output a lot of heat and most of that heat seemed to penetrate the wall I was sitting next to so needless to say it was a bit toasty.  I think is started to pre-tan.  Upon arrival in Los Angeles, our gate was occupied so we had to sit on the runway for 15 minutes while our gate cleared out.  Since the plane was so small almost everyone had to check their carryon luggage because it was too big for the overhead bin and when I exited the plane finally, half the passengers were waiting on the tarmac for their bags to off load.  I don’t know if you have been to LAX on American on a pack of gum, but you arrive at what can only be described as temporary bungalows, similar to the ones you see at most schools and construction sites.  You exit the plane on the homemade rickety steel ramps, walk down to the tarmac, pick up your bag then walk into the bungalow.  From there you have to take a shuttle to main terminal, from which you can make your connections.  Needless to say Im not a fan of American and I only flew them because I have a boat load of frequent flyer miles saved up from my credit card spending habits (Thanks Citi Bank).  Once I got settled in the terminal I went to try out the wifi on the phone I am taking down with me.  However, LAX still exists in the early 90s because they don’t offer free wifi unless you are a TMobile subscriber.  What crap!  I can goto the Dayz Inn or Starbucks and get free wifi.  The Denver airport offers free wifi to all visitors, yet LAX feels the need for me to buy a day pass?  Hell no!  I may sound snooty or stuck up but hey we live in  the technology age where data gets passed around like a joint at a bob marley concert.  Everywhere, especially massive public hubs like airports should offer free wifi to its patrons.  Yet another reason I love Denver!
Welcome to Auckland:  Let me start by saying I love Qantas.  When I got to LAX I tried to upgrade to business class for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately it was only cash transactions at the gate for matters like that so I was SOL but the two gate agents, Ken and Carl (Who was sporting a wicked mullet) hooked me up with a primo exit row window seat.  Once I boarded the plane, they paraded me past the business class seats I tried to purchase and then back to the cattle pen they call economy.  I found my seat to be extremely roomy yet comfy enough to where I didn’t feel cramped.  My seat had a folding arm attached which housed the in flight TV entertainment unit.  My seatmate was a gentlemen from New York by way of Alabama who happened to the a former head baseball coach at Auburn University.  He made the first several hours of the flight “fly” by.  We of course talked baseball and careers and injuries and world series…the usual.  Qantas then served us dinner, with my choices being Mahi Mahi and Chicken.  I opted for the fish because I wasn’t really in the mood for chicken.  Needless to the say the first was cooked to death and lacked much flavor.  I wasn’t extremely hungry I picked around the fish a bit and ate the accompanying veggies and desert.  After dinner I thought I would check out in the flight entertainment system.  To my surprise everything was free of charge (take note American).  I opted to Captain America as I had wanted to see this movie in theaters and because Im the proud father of a 2 year old, I was unable to.  I ended up passing out about 15 minutes into the movie which was fine by me because I was exhausted from the days travel and packing adventures.   When I finally awoke it was 745am Denver time and we were somewhere over the Pacific.  I cleared my head, stretched out, used the spacious lavatory and when I returned to my seat ordered a coffee from the flight crew.  I opened my window and to my surprise saw a bright full shining moon staring back at me.  It was 745 my time but definitely not wherever we were.  The coffee was refreshing and I resumed the movie where it left off.  At the conclusion of the movie, which was very entertaining, the rest of the cabin had begun to stir with activity.  Cabin light were being switched on and the line at the bathroom was several people deep.  Breakfast service then began and I ordered the asparagus omelet, which again was flavorless but satisfying.  During breakfast I started my second movie of the morning; The Hangover Part II.  Apart from being ridiculous and absurd it was very funny but felt like it was just a rehash of the first movie just set in Asia.  I was entertained and that’s all I ask today of movies.  By the time the movie had finished we didn’t have much time left in our flight.  I buttoned up all my belongings in my bag, filled out my immigration card (which I later found out I didn’t need to) and talked to the friendly flight attendant sitting in front of me who happened to be from New Zealand.    Overall I would have to say that was a pretty easy 12 hour flight all things considered.  The food was decent the service was excellent and the seat was about as comfortable as an airplane seat can be.  Once I deplaned I found the nearest coffee shop, bought some fancy coffee (Plain White) and sat down and relaxed in the beautiful international terminal and enjoyed the views of the ocean just out of the reach of the airport.

Melbourne:  I arrived in Melbourne after a fairly long flight in from New Zealand.  For some reason I thought it was only a 2 hour flight but it ended up being more like 3.5 hour flight.  I did manage to knock out another movie I hadn’t seen in “Bridesmaids”.  I started Pirates of the Caribbean 4 but fell asleep after about 30 minutes, not due to the movie but more due to my confused internal clock.    Once I deplaned I went though customs with nary a hiccup and grabbed my bags from the carousel.  I was happy to see all 3 of my bags arrived safe and sound and unscathed (edit: Just noticed that TSA either cut off or took the “TSA Approved” lock that was on my clothes bag). 
             Once outside of customs I was greeted by a team official.  She drove me to my hotel where I was staying.  Along the way to the hotel I played 21 questions and tried to find out as much as possible about where I was staying, about cell phone plans, the field and anything else that came to mind that I was curious about.    She said that I was staying at the “Union Hotel” which was about a 10 minute walk from the ballpark.  She mentioned it was an older place but I took it in stride because Ive stayed at older places before and be quite happy.  When we finally arrived at the Union Hotel we unloaded my bags and walked inside.  I was immediately greeted by charts representing horse race betting, a bar, several TVs and the customary older gentlemen sitting in the corner chewing the fat.  I was beginning to get concerned that this place was going to suck and suck badly.  Soon after arriving a gentlemen came in and showed us up stairs to where I was staying.  He used the key to unlock the door to room 16.  Upon entering several thoughts ran through my head, the first of which was “Oh Hell No!”.  The room itself was about 12 foot by 8 foot.  There was a queen sized bed with never looking sheets and two pillows.   In the corner was a table with a flat screen tube tv (not a an LCD or Plasma flat screen).  Right then I knew my hopes of playing video games went down here were shot.  To my right was an armoire covered in a thick layer of dust, a crumpled pack of old cigarettes on top and no coat hangers inside.  I did have a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower which wasn’t the case for the other American staying at the same place.  He instead had a community bathroom just down the hall with toilets and showers.  I looked at the man who was showing us the room and asked politely if there was wifi or internet in the room and he politely said no, in fact the people who were staying at this “hotel” probably had no idea what the internet was or even how to use it.  You see the clientele of this place is generally older (read 60’s +) gentlemen who have basic needs, kind of like an old folks home.  I made it sound like it was ok, but deep down inside I knew it wasn’t.  With a wife and 2 kids back in the States I needed internet to be able to Skype and exchange emails with them.  I was very disappointed in the team for providing such awful accommodations. 
                 I dropped my bags off in the room and drove with the team representative to the ballpark to check out where I was going to be playing.  We pulled in the Melbourne Show Grounds and parked in left field.  I met several of the people working behind the scenes to make the ballpark look good for opening day , including the ground crew, scoreboard operator and General manager.  They all seemed excited that I was  there.   After checking out the field which looked pretty good , we went to go check out the clubhouse.  Their idea of the clubhouse was a couple of lockers thrown in a corner of a storage area usually reserved for the horses that occupy the show grounds when baseball is not in season.  It wouldn’t be so bad if I were commuting from home where I could keep most of my wares and just take to the ballpark what I need.  However that isn’t the situation, I’m staying at the Union Hotel and I get to the ballpark on foot or by tram.  The hits keep coming however.  We asked a front office member where the showers were and not surprisingly he didn’t know or seemed to think there were not showers available.  Once again if I was commuting from home this wouldn’t be that big of a deal but for those of us without that luxury its going to suck.  I later found a shower in the portable bathroom that was hitched just outside the clubhouse.  Its just big enough for one person however where it is placed it looks like Ill either have to walk outside in a towel to get to it or it might be accessible to the general public.  Overall the facilities are not that bad, I suppose they could be worse.  The field is in good shape, the locker rooms are passable and the showers are going to be a problem all season.
            I played some catch with fellow American import Nick Ungs.  He is a 32 year old pitcher from eastern Iowa who decided to play some winter ball instead of hanging them up. He has been here a few days longer than I have so he has a good lay of the land, so Ive been bouncing questions off of him.  After our catch we walked back to the hotel which wasn’t that bad of walk.  Along the way we exchanged stories of how we got to where we are today both professionally and personally.  Upon our arrival the hotel I told him I was getting a bit hungry so we decided to grab a drink and a bite to eat at the “The Union” restaurant which was conveniently located next to the Union Hotel.  The first thing I noticed when I looked at the menu was the price of things.  Australia is expensive and since the American Dollar is such crap right now it makes the sting of the Aussie prices that much more.  We started with two pints of Carlton Draft, a light hoppy beer that’s native to Australia.  Nick picked up the first round which came to 24 dollars!  Are you kidding me!  24 dollars for two pints of beer?  That’s absurd!  After the sticker shock wore off we ordered our meals.  I had the chicken burger with chips (read: fries) which came to 17 dollars.  Again sticker shock.   While we waited for our food to arrive we both took in some cricket that was playing on a nearby TV.  I try and understand the rules but I usually just start inventing them to make the game make sense to me.  I kind of understand how the game is played but I also know there are variations to the game and some other nuances that I just don’t notice.  However, Im sure by the time Im done playing down here Ill become a cricket, rugby, Aussie rules football expert.  Our first pints had run dry so I told Nick I would pick up the second round since he got the first.  I walked over to the bar, ordered to two drinks and prepared for the 24 dollar hit I was about to take.  The kind lady behind the bar told me it came to 16 dollars.  I was surprised, was it happy hour now?  16 dollars is still expensive but a lot more tolerable than 24.  I walked back to the table feeling a small sense of victory and told Nick it only came up to 16 dollars.  He thought the same as me, was it happy hour?  Our food arrived shortly after I sat down and to my amaze looked really good. Looks carried over into taste and we were both satisfied with what we had ordered.  Midway through our meal we grabbed a waitress and asked her about the beer price discrepancy.  She said that I had paid the correct price for the beer and Nick had been mischarged.  She then offered us both a pint on the house, which was nice since we both didn’t really feel like paying that much for two more beers.
       After dinner I was tired.  The days travel has taken its toll me and I was ready to wind down for the night.  I headed back to my room and after a quick shower and scrub of the teeth, I fell asleep for the night.

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