From the Bird’s Nest: Road Trip–Kent State
Because of the Labor Day holiday, we only had three days to get ready for this one, and as a result, it was a really busy week. And, again, Steve and I were ready to get on the road. At the airport for 11:15. We got a chance to visit with some folks and eventually, Olde Tyme arrived. Had just enough time to gobble it down before loading on the plane for the two hour flight to Akron.
We’ve been flying Allegiant Air on our road trips for a few years now and they’re pretty efficient. The flight was uneventful. Steve, who had been up late Thursday night and up early Friday morning, slept most of the way. I was reading a book on Roger Maris as we approach the 50th anniversary of his 61st home run. Eventually, I nodded off as well.
When we deplaned, I saw Coach Mark Hudspeth near one of the buses. I told him, as we both knew, one of the best feelings in the world was getting on a plane after a victory and I was looking forward to that feeling Saturday night. He agreed. Earlier, to be frank, I didn’t think this would be a game the Cajuns could win. But as the game drew closer, I really felt if the Cajuns could win some battles they could win this one.
Director of Football Operations Troy Wingerter was there to meet us and he gave Steve and I our room keys since we weren’t going to the hotel.
We were going to PNC Park to see the Pirates and Marlins.
Sports Information Director Daryl Cetnar, Tim Buckley of The Advertiser, Steve and I all piled into the waiting rental car and headed to Pittsburgh, about a two hour drive from the airport. Daryl has a GPS, but he pushed a wrong button when he set the destination and the voice on the GPS was in a foreign language. I took the GPS and fixed it since none of us knew Afrikaans, and Charlize Theron wasn’t with us. The weather was cloudy and there was a 40% chance of rain, but I looked at the radar on my phone and it was pretty evident Pittsburgh was going to be spared.
When we got to Downtown Pittsburgh it was 6:30, about a half hour before the first pitch. We parked in the parking garage and walked across Roberto Clemente Bridge to the ball park. Cajuns’ assistant baseball coach Anthony Babineaux had arranged tickets for us (nothing like free tickets to a game) and Daryl went to will-call to pick them up. We went into the stadium and discovered the tickets were about 20 rows up on field level, even with third base right above the Pirates dugout. Bab is the man.
Many have suggested that of all the new ballparks built in the last 20 years or so, PNC Park in Pittsburgh is the best place to see a game. I can’t argue with that statement. These guys did it right. The Allegheny River is right over the fence. You can see the Pittsburgh skyline and the Clemente bridge. Very picturesque. And, they didn’t cut corners when they built the park. Seats are angled properly and without a lot of foul territory, you’re close to the action. The concourse has plenty of places to get food and you’ve got sightlines onto the field even from the concourses.
And, they have Yuengleng. It was one of the things Daryl and I were really looking forward to. You can get it in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Brewed in Pottsville, PA, it’s our favorite beer. I got one even before settling into my seat.
As far as the game was concerned, it wasn’t much. Florida led 11-1 after 2 1/2 innings. They scored nine times in the third, including a three-run shot that should have been an out. The Pirates outfielder got to the wall, reached up and deflected the ball into the stands. We all agreed that would be a top play in SportsCenter’s “Not top ten.”
Since the game was out of hand early, it was time for some food. Jeremi Rabalais, one of our listeners (who always sends a link to everything we talk about on the radio) had been to PNC park and told us we HAD to have a sandwich at the Primanti Brothers concession. Featured on the TV show “Man vs. Food”, they’re known for their sandwiches with meat, cole slaw and fries all on one sandwich (www.primantibrothers.com). Jeremi didn’t steer us wrong. We all gorged (and washed it down with a Yuengleng). I went back to my seat while the others went up to the upper deck to check out the view.
The Pirates haven’t been good for about twenty years but they challenged in the NL Central until the end of July. Since then, they’ve not been good at all. But the fans that were there (and it was a pretty decent crowd) were boistrous even with the lopsided score. After the guys came back we shared a bag of peanuts (I had another Yuengleng) and we left after the eighth inning. The drive back wasn’t as long, as we were staying in Cuyahoga Falls, about 20 minutes closer than the airport. When we got to the Sheraton Suites, Steve and I went to check in and discovered because of a lack of double occupancy rooms, we had separate rooms on this trip. Steve looked at me and said “well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow at 4,” and we headed to our rooms. Every room was a suite in this hotel. Pretty impressive place. By the time I turned in, it was about one a.m.
The next morning, I got up around 8:15 and went down for breakfast. Then back to the room to do a little work and check out “Gameday” on ESPN. I got a call from Scott Farmer inviting me to go and visit. His suite was almost across the hall from me. His suite, however, was two stories with a great view of Cuyahoga Falls. My suite was one story and had a great view of a bush. That’s why he’s the AD and I’m the play by play guy. Several others came by and we all had a good visit. But I felt a nap coming on and went back to my suite around 1:00. I slept for about an hour, then showered and dressed for the game.
Dix Stadium is on the Kent State campus. As I expected, it’s an old stadium. It seats a little over 20,000, with a single deck on the west side, seating in the south end zone and a smaller section of bleachers on the east side where the KSU students sit. We were escorted to the press box by Archie, a gentleman who has worked events all over Ohio for many years. In fact, he’s worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers for eighteen seasons. Archie escorted us to our booth and said he’d be our guy for whatever we needed.
No sooner did we get equipment set up, the rain came. It was falling at an angle where our booth was taking on a little water. We got our equipment out of the way and when the rain stopped, we got everything wiped off. After that it was the normal “get ready for the broadcast” stuff. We went on the air at 6:30. In addition to the stat monitor, we had a tv monitor as well, although we weren’t very high up and had a good view of the field.
As you know, the rain came down in earnest and the field was a mess in the second quarter. I have to give the KSU band credit. They went out an performed in the driving rain in front of very few people. Fortunately for us, this rainstorm didn’t send water into our booth and we got through it with no problems.
During the lightning delay there wasn’t much to do. I went downstairs and met up with Jenny Lakin and her husband Tim. Jenny is the daughter of my good friend, the late Charlie Daigle. Jenny actually interned with us at KPEL while she was in college. She and Tim live in Columbus. I had not seen her since Charlie’s funeral and it’s always good to meet up with old friends. She told me she and Tim would try to make it up for the basketball game in November. I hope that happens.
Finally, after an hour and twenty minutes, we got underway again and watching the Cajuns play defense was a thing of beauty. These guys got after it on every play and I know defensive coordinator Greg Stewart had to be awfully proud of the way his unit played. Archie came and got Steve with about six minutes left to go downstairs for postgame. When it was all over we packed up and waited for Daryl and Tim Buckley to finish their work before heading back to Akron for the flight home.
As I got on the plane I congratulated Coach Hud on his first win and reminded him about our conversation the day before. He agreed it would be a great ride home.
By the time we got everyone settled and were ready for takeoff it was 1:30 eastern time.
I got to bed at 3:45 central.
Needless to say, I took a long nap Sunday afternoon.