6/23/2016 Sighisoara, Romania (Day #2)

I called the airport first thing this morning to get an update on the luggage situation. The lady on the phone said she sent a message to the Amsterdam aiport and they are not responding. So she said she’d keep trying. There are only three or four flights out of Amsterdam to Romania a day. The problem is this: we were leaving for the country this morning so last night we were struggling to make a decision to either A). Wait one more day to see if the bag would arrive to Bucharest or 2). Leave for the country anyway. The other problem we were facing was Alex’s uncle, Uncle Traian had driven nearly 600km to Bucharest from a small town called Stei and was staying in a hotel the night before and we were scheduled to leave for Stei this morning. So waiting on the bag one more day would really set things back.

We decided to leave and forget about the bag.

Mr. Nic dropped Alex and I off at the hotel where Uncle Traian was staying, we got into his car and off we went towards Stei. Our first stop was Castle Peles in a tourist town called Sinaia. It was absolutely stunning and this was my very first castle I’ve ever visited. I was stationed in Germany for a number of years while in the Army but never made it out to any castles. So it was pretty exciting to see an official European castle.

Here’s a picture when we first walked up:

Castle first one

It cost 20 Lei (which translates to about $5 USD) to get in plus an additional 15 Lei for pictures. Alex had already seen this castle and had paid to take pictures about four years ago so she talked me out of paying to be able to pay for pictures. I could’ve easily snuck a few pictures here and there but I didn’t want to be that guy getting caught and ruining the chance of seeing the castle. It was a guided tour and took approximately 25 minutes to see the bottom and 1st floor of the castle. There were lots of interesting facts and tidbits of information by the tour guide but the sheer beauty is about all I wanted to see. I did sneak a castle selfie at the end…

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…but that picture doesn’t do the castle any justice. It was gorgeous inside and I almost regret not paying extra to take pictures. There was a giant mirror inside the castle that was transported by train and then by horse and buggy and it didn’t break. We also saw a painting that was painted by a man who only used his feet. We also saw a real-life bookshelf trap door in the library but it was out of service due to renovations.

Our route towards Stei was through the country. So this was a common occurrence and the Romanians joke and say, “Ambuteiaj” which means “traffic jam”:

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The country was beautiful. The small towns were so unique and rustic with old world charm. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. I sat in the front seat of the car next to Uncle Traian and at first when I arrived to Romania and met Alex’s friends and family, I thought the language barrier would be a huge problem. I spoke very little Romanian and most Romanians who knew very little English were embarrassed to speak because they were worried they’d get words wrong. It turns out that the language is pretty easy to understand and learn. So the language barrier was not an issue. Plus, Alex was fluent in both languages and could easily translate.

Growing up in America I was always taught that communism was a terrible, terrible thing. As I grew older I learned to formulate my own opinion, research and learn about things on my own. Naturally. Anyone with half of a brain should be doing so. I was interested in learning about the different political governments. America is heavily capitialisitic and other countries have more socialistic outlooks and being that Romania was under heavy communistic rule, I was eager to talk to people about it. But I was nervous about bringing up the topic because like I said, I learned that communism was all bad.

The road trip we were taking would take nearly two days because of all the stopping we would be doing. So I had a lot of time to talk to Alex’s uncle about communism since he lived through that era. He told me that even though they were under strict rules and laws, the government was always there to take care of everyone. Rarely did anyone suffer. In fact, no one suffered. If you were out loitering the government officials would stop you, ask you what you were doing and if you didn’t have a good reason they’d take you in and give you a job right there. Everyone had to work. Roads were maintained, everyone had jobs and nearly everything was paid for: healthcare, child care, vacations, retreats for wellness, and free apartments. The downside to communism (and there is always a downside to every government system) was there was absolutely no room for anyone to be creative or create their own idea. It just wasn’t allowed. The government provided everything for everyone.

Communism also made sure everyone was equal. No one became more independent than anyone else. The government audited people’s bank accounts to ensure no one was accepting money from outside the country if they had reasonable suspicion. The farmers who grew crops generally sold their produce to the government and received the same amount of money like everyone else did. Meat, bread, sugar, cheese, and oil (among other things) were rationed to make sure everyone got an equal share. So therefore it was very hard to come by. But people didn’t suffer. There wasn’t any homelessness and everyone had a piece of the pie. If you’re caught getting extra rationed produce because you were close friends to a farmer, you were sent to jail. Since Communism ended, some Romania’s say, “now we have everything we want but no money to buy it”.

Communism ended in December of 1989. The people wanted it gone because of the major influence from the United States of America during the Reagan era. Romania wanted to copy America but some have the opinion that now they’ve experienced how America is, communism may not have been all that bad. Alex’s uncle seemed like it wasn’t terrible because he didn’t have to worry too much about things. He told me that since communism ended, the Romanian politicians have become very corrupt. They line their pockets with dirty money, they make laws that favor their own interests and they’re lying, dirty, corrupt people. I told him America is much the same way and he said while laughing, “A trebuit sa invatam de la cineva”. Romanians have a great sense of humor.

The thing I learned about communism is that things worked. Things functioned. Roads were repaired in a timely manner. While we drove around Romania, there was a lot of road construction. The road workers were just standing around, sleeping in tractors and drinking in the shade. No work was being done. Under communism, the roads would be fixed in a month, Uncle Traian stated, “Now? It takes them 10 years.” He wasn’t even exaggerating. Alex had visited this same area in 2012 and the roads were still being worked on. If you could see the condition of some of these roads, you’d be appalled. Some are so bad you can barely drive on them from all the potholes and road work.

Serbia actually had a better communistic program that worked a lot better than Romania. The reason why communism didn’t work in Romania is because it was overly strict. They didn’t allow Romanians to take vacation outside of the country like Serbia did. People were happier in Serbia under communism. Romanians didn’t worry about tomorrow like they do today. Back then, their money was strong. The country was in surplus by 7 billion dollars. They could buy what they needed. Today, it’s a lot harder because the Lei isn’t as strong. Ultimately, communism fell because of a revolutionary spark that started in Timisoara, Romania in 1989. Few remember the original cause but hardships with food rationing combined with growing animosity towards the government led to a full scale revolution. The most violent of all communism revolutions across Europe.

What a history lesson.

We arrived at a small restaurant in the country and I almost ordered cow stomach soup. I just couldn’t build up the courage to eat it. A lot of people seem to like it but I was told that if I saw how it was prepared I’d never want to eat it. Ever.

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We finally arrived at our second castle. Bran Castle (where Dracula lived for many years) located in Sighisoara. Dracula was a real person back in the 1600’s but his real name was Vlad Tepes  (also known as Vlad the Impaler). He received this name from stabbing criminals in the chest with a stake and letting them die in the streets in front of the public. It was a great crime deterrent. Bram Stoker created Dracula based on some of Vlad the Impaler’s history and background and being that the castle was located in Transylvania it gave it a nice ring. Transylvania is a region in Romania.

Here’s a few more pictures of the castle:

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Sighisoara is a nice tourist town and we ended up staying in a hotel there. I learned something about hotels in Romania, too. On most of the hotel signs they use a star rating. Five stars are obvious the best. But three stars are more practical. We still got all the creature comforts that a five star hotel had but for a lower price. So it was worth it. We ate dinner at a local restaurant and the food was exceptional. Nothing compares to home cooking in Romania, though.

 

6/22/2016 Bucharest, Romania (Day #1)

I left Seattle, Washington at 1:46pm Tuesday afternoon. I arrived at the Bucharest airport in Romania at 3:30pm the same day. Funny how when flying half way across the world a person can land in another country almost the same time they left 8 hours ago. Unfortunately, just like the Cayman Island vacation, my luggage was delayed coming in. How these things happen, I have yet to figure out. It’s one bag and as long as it follows the bag in front off it, it shouldn’t have a problem getting to the next destination, right? One would think so. My worst fear was finding out that my bag was left in Seattle because when I checked in I had to go to a customer service desk because my passport wasn’t scanning. That’s sort of what happened last year when I went to the Cayman Islands. But I won’t continue to bore you with lost luggage stories.

I met my girlfriend, Alex and her Aunt at the front gate and this was my reaction:

(Picture to come later. Check back soon…)

As you can see, I wasn’t too happy. After flying nine hours from Seattle to Amsterdam and sitting on the tarmac in Amsterdam for an additional 40 minutes and then a three hour flight from there to Romania, then finding out my luggage was lost. Yeah.

We arrived at my girlfriend’s Aunt’s friends house, Mr. Nic to spend the night and an extra day or two before we headed out into the country. They live in this beautiful house that costed them roughly $20,000 U.S dollars. It was absolutely stunning. They have this huge vineyard out front with a few fruit trees and this mean Belgian Malinois dog locked in a kennel for protection. The dog, (named Max) was let out at night to guard the home. Romanians typically have dogs to help them with things around the house or farm like guarding property, herding animals, and there is a stray dog problem in the country but over the years it has been getting better. Romanians typically don’t feel too emotional about dogs because most have them as farm dogs and they aren’t as connected to them as Americans are to their dogs. Americans typically have them as pets and consider them part of the family. I’m not saying Romanians are mean to dogs or hate them, but it’s just a different relationship. So the stray dog population had grown out of control because there wasn’t much control over breeding. But like I said, they are taking action now and things are a lot better.

After getting home, we had a huge pan full of meat for dinner…

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…and let me tell you. This meat is 100% organic, straight from the farm to the butcher to the house to our stomachs. There is no heavy processing or added chemicals or fillers. Its pure meat and it was very tasty.

The next day we headed into the city of Bucharest. Romania used to be under heavy communistic rule and a lot of the landscape still shows the remanence of that era. It’s extremely interesting and depressing at the same time because Romania, after communism ended, a lot of things changed and not necessarily for the better, (but we will get into that later).

Communism ended in December of 1989. If you’re a history buff, you’d know that communism was forced upon a lot of these smaller countries in Europe by Russia. Romania had originally backed Germany during World War one but switched sides to back Russia part way through. During the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (the German/Soviet non-aggression pact) kicked Romania leaders out of the meeting and thus forced communism on the country. Basically, Germany and the Soviet Union said, “these smaller countries can’t beat us in war so let’s just split them all up”. It was more than just Romania effected by this. There’s a lot to read on this and it’s pretty interesting.

Things like the trolley system and apartment buildings are still occupied by Romanian’s today. We used the trolley to go from the place we were staying to the modern era mall:

Trolley

You can see the old apartments in the background behind the trolley. They look horrible on the outside but they are very nice and clean on the inside. The trolley’s have no air-conditioning so during the summer time it’s extremely hot and muggy when it’s 90 degrees or more. And during the winter time, there is no heat. So it’s very, very cold. Romania may give the appearance that it’s a poor country but it’s actually a very healthy and beautiful country.

That evening we drove to Cismigiu Park where I proposed to my girlfriend of almost five years. It was the most stunning, most wonderful part of the trip so far:

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I wanted to make it a once-in-a-life-time thing. My girlfriend, Alex, (now fiancé) was born in Romania and her mother took her to this park many times when she was a child. They moved to the United States when she was five for a better life. So coming back with her to meet her family was very important for the both of us and asking her to marry me in her home country was equally important.

After our memorable moment in the park, we walked to the Monte Carlo restaurant. The dinner was a celebration of the marriage proposal by one of Alex’s family members;  Aunt Lilly. There was a lot to eat…

Fish pic

…and drink:

Lemonade

Plus a stunning view of the nearby lake…

Lake view

…and then, of course desert:

Doughnut

On our way home, we stopped at a statue in Bucharest. The statue was of Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) on the back of a horse…

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…and he was one of Romanian’s greatest heroes dating back to the 1500’s.

After visiting one of the most iconic statues in Bucharest, we bummed around the mall and bought a bunch of new clothing for me since the airline had left my bag in Amsterdam. The U.S dollar is very strong in Romania so a $100.00 goes a long way. We bought four shirts, one pair of shorts, one pair of shoes, four pair of socks, three underwear, one toothbrush, one toothpaste, one thing of deodorant, one pajamas set and shaving cream with a razor all for about $300 Lei. Which translates to about $75 dollars. Pretty amazing. So if you ever plan to travel to Romania, it’s fairly cheap with U.S dollars.

Here’s a picture of me riding back on the trolley:

 

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Noapte buna!

5/28/2016 Safeco Field

During batting practice, it was all Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. In fact, Nelson Cruz hit a ball completely OUT of Safeco Field. Click this link to watch the video highlights.

Lots of baseballs were tossed up into the stands and due to it being “Salute to Kids” night at the ballpark, the majority of them were tossed to kids and most were either dropped or bobbled around. The ones were dropped were easily glove-tricked out from behind the walls…

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….I easily secured two balls during batting practice:

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One kid used a blanket tied to his glove but he forgot the most important element of his glove-trick: the rubber band. I literally watched this kid for 10 minutes trying to dangle his glove over a baseball but it wouldn’t secure into his glove because there was nothing to hold onto the ball. Ultimately, a security guard went down behind the wall and picked up the baseball for him.

I sat with my Twins rooting girlfriend, Alex in the outfield hoping to snag a home run ball during the game:

She isn’t really a Twins fan. I bring both visiting and home team hats for autograph opportunities. Lately, I’ve been striking out when it comes to autographs. I usually get my ticket signed by someone before the game. And for the last three games I’ve attended I’ve been trying to get a picture with former Mariners Dave Valle but he hasn’t been showing up to the Root Sports broadcast booth for some reason. Today was no exception. Again, a no-show.

The game was pretty entertaining. The Twins beat the Mariners in the end by a score of 6-5 and we left towards the top of the ninth to beat traffic. Aoki smacked a home run in the first inning to give the Mariners the lead but the Twins managed to rally back and hold the lead.

Next month I fly out to Romania so I’ll be busy trying to keep up every day with daily blog entries on the trip.

Total Lifetime Games Attended: 121

Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 9

Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 343

Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1

Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0

 

 

5/14/2016 Safeco Field

For the better part of the afternoon, I watched the security guards fumble with the table at the gate…

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….priorities, I tell ya. Today turned out to be a gloomy, raining, wet day at the ballpark. I bought the cheapest tickets possible ($26.00) which put my seats up in the 300 level of the stadium. I wanted to spend the majority of my time in The ‘Pen. Today’s goals seemed simple enough: snag a bunch of baseballs, get a picture with Dave Valle, get Jose Mota’s autograph and snag a home run ball during the game.

Being that it was Kyle Seager bobblehead night, I figured it would be a sold out game. It came close. 42,687 showed up and I’m assuming 3-5 thousand probably left after they got their bobbles because while I walked around the stadium, it didn’t feel like a capacity crowd. During batting practice, it wasn’t that bad. I snagged my bobblehead and glove tricked my first ball out of the bullpen. My second ball came by just leaning over the railing and picking it out of the bullpen after it was hit into there and rolled around for a little bit. I made my way across the seating bowl securing my third ball that I picked out of a cup holder (put there by an usher) and my fourth and fifth balls came bouncing into the stands; one on the third base side and one on the first base side.

After BP I set up near the Root Sports broadcast table and I waited and I waited and I waited some more for Dave Valle to show up. I checked his Twitter and found out that a new ice cream machine was placed up in the broadcast booth and I suspected that’s where Valle was at. Getting ice cream:

By then it was too late to run down to the Angels dugout to get Jose Mota’s autograph. My night was slowly falling apart. If you’ve never been to Safeco Field and have never experienced The ‘Pen (on College night or any other night for that matter) you aren’t missing much. It usually gets overly crowded full of drunk people and the music is so loud you can barely hear the person next to you. So after about the 2nd inning, I made my way up to my seat to watch the game from there…

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…of course when I bought my ticket, I forgot to buy the one without the “obstructed view” warning.

I watched the game from my seat for a few innings and then I wandered the stadium. I actually got up close and personal with the new timer that was installed last year in all of the stadiums…

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…and the premise behind this new addition is to attempt to speed the game up. Ever since Manfred took over from Selig as baseballs Commissioner, he’s been doing everything in his power to speed the game up. He’s told the players that they have to keep one foot in the batters box at all times and if they don’t they could receive a fine. Then they installed the timer which gives pitchers two minutes between innings to get ready. Now I’ve been hearing that intentional walks will be changing. The batter simply takes his base. Along with that, the umpires are enforcing shorter mound visits.

I understand that games can be long and lack action and excitement. The game I attended yesterday lasted over three hours.  And I didn’t stay for the whole game, either. I don’t agree with changing these little things about the game. I don’t agree with the Manfred era of baseball. I don’t agree with the netting in front of the dugouts and down the first and third base lines in an attempt to “keep fans safe”. These rules where the catcher can’t block the plate and late slides into second base have become illegal take away so much from the game. I think there needs to be some level of fan accountability where the fans who attend games should have some reasonable expectation of a game that might last longer than anticipated. I also think that fans need to be more alert and provide safety measures for themselves instead of relying on Major League Baseball to keep 35,000 people safe. If you can’t stay alert during play or can’t stay off your cellphone for two minutes during a game, maybe the outfield seating is best for you.

Going into the ninth inning, the Mariners were holding on to the lead 7-6. Steve Cishek came in to close out the game and left a pitch over the plate for Albert Pujols. He hammered a 3-run home run and the Angels went on to win the game 9-7. Final.

Cishek later posted this one Twitter…

 

 

…he receieved plenty of support, there were still many nay-sayers. The Mariners have never really had a successful closer since I’ve been a fan. And I’ve been a fan since 1989.

Total Lifetime Games Attended: 121

Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 9

Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 343

Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1

Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0

5/13/2016 Safeco Field

Willie Bloomquist is one of my favorite players and when he announced his retirement it made me sort of sad. I was never able to get any memorabilia signed by him or meet him at any of the games while he was active on the field. But I’m happy he’s retired and doing the things he wants to do. He recently accepted a job with the front office with the Diamondbacks so there’s still a chance I can catch him at the ballpark to get something signed.

I recently connected with him on Twitter and asked him how retirement was going…

…seems like everything is going well at the moment.

The Angels were in town this weekend and I always try to make it out to the stadium to see them. Mainly I like heckling Albert Pujols because he seems to make it a point to ignore the fans. So whenever he takes his at-bats, I like to obnoxiously yell “Puuuujjjjoooolllls!”. On a positive note, I like to wave and cheer on Mike Trout because he always responds to his fans, and I like seeing that from him.

My girlfriend, Alexandra  accompanied me for the game and we stopped at the Pyramid Ale House prior to game time. I ordered the beer battered fish, which by the way, was awesome but the service wasn’t so great…

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…we’ve been here before and our last visit the service was sub-par as well. We both decided this would be our last visit here.

When I entered the stadium, I spotted my first baseball of the day on the ground near the Root Sports set up. Once the rest of the stadium opened up, I managed to find three more baseballs in the right and center field bleachers and one was hit my way and I was able to snag it on the carom.

Alexandra and I headed down to the Angels dugout and once at our seats, we found this stuck to the front of my seat:

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Here’s a closer look at what it says:

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This was the view from our seats during the game:

By the bottom of the fourth, the game was tied 1-1 until Nelson Cruz hit a high drive out of the park in the bottom half of the fifth. Then in the bottom of the eighth, Angels pitcher, Joe Smith walked Norichika Aoki and then literally tried to pick him off at first base several times. The crowd became extremely restless and then on about the sixth or seventh attempt, Mike Scioscia challenged the play:

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It was the first time I’d ever witnessed a live challenge and so it was interesting to watch the umpires put on the headsets and watch the video over and over again. The call stood; Aoki was safe at first. It was still pretty cool to see.

The game had lasted well beyond three hours so we left after Robinson Cano belted a double into the gap. The Mariners had the lead at this point by one run. Steve Chisek would be in to close the game out and by the time I got home and checked the score, I learned he blew the save. The one thing I was happy about was the fact that Robinson Cano had extended my Beat The Streak game streak to 16 with his double to the gap. The Mariners losing in the 9th? Not so happy about that but it’s baseball.

Total Lifetime Games Attended: 120

Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 4

Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 339

Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1

Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0

 

 

 

 

Seattle Mariners Fanfest 2016

The main goal was to attend this fan fest and get Jay Buhner’s autograph on a baseball bat. I had purchased a nice wooden bat from a sports retailer the night before, packed up the camera and headed into Seattle.

The last time I attended a fan fest was a few years ago and I really had a good experience. I wasn’t trying to mirror this experience to last times but I was imagining some quality time with Buhner. After all, it’s fan fest!

When I got to Safeco, the lines were already wrapped around the stadium:

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The rules for autographs were pretty simple: the first 200 people in line that claimed vouchers upon entry would get that players autograph of their choice and so on and so forth until there were no more vouchers for that player. The players were staggered at various times so all you had to do was enter the ballpark, walk to the banner with the players name on it that you wanted, grab the voucher from the staff member and beat feet up to wherever the autograph session was taking place. Make senses? Okay, good.

Jay Buhner was signing autographs right at 10:30am so as soon as I got inside, I grabbed the voucher with his name on it and I just followed the signs that led me up to this hallway:

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There were all kinds of cool things to look at waiting in line but all I really wanted to do was meet Jay Buhner.

I have been a Mariners fan since 1989 when my Mom took me to my very first Mariners game in the Kingdome. We sat up in the 300 level near the 3rd base side and the Mariners played the Baltimore Orioles. That was the first game I witnessed Cal Ripken Jr. play and all of my Mariner favorites. Since then, I’ve attended handfuls of games growing up with my Dad and we always sat where we could see Ken Griffey Jr.

Over the last few years, I’ve met a lot of players and I wanted to start meeting my childhood favorites like Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson. I met Edgar Martinez a few seasons ago by being in the right place at the right time.

Anyway. When Buhner finally arrived I had a question in mind that I wanted to ask him. And when I got up to the table to have my memorabilia signed, the staff member who was with Buhner was handing him so much stuff so fast for him to sign, I think Buhner was a little flustered. He even made a comment to the guy, something along the lines of “you’re handing me stuff and I don’t even have time to sign it!” Something like that.

When I handed my bat to the staff member, I stood in front of Buhner…

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… and asked him, “Jay, when do you think Ichiro will hit his 3,000th hit?” He immediately replied with. “How many hits does he got?” I think at the time Ichiro had 2,919 or something like that. I was soon cut-off by more fans walking in front of me to get their picture taken with Buhner and the staff member kept piling on the memorabilia for him to sign. So I just picked up my bat and sort of walked away. I turned back once or twice more to watch but I was soon greeted with, “Have a nice day!” from another staff member which sort of meant, “please exit this way”.

Wow. I stood outside of the doors and just watched Buhner scurrying to sign balls and bobble heads and cards and all sorts of stuff. He had his head down and was just signing away.

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Occasionally he would look up and laugh or whatever and shake a hand or two, but it was all business getting everything signed in front of him. I felt bad for him and I felt bad for the fans. Buhner had 200 autographs to sign in an hour and a half and I guess the point of the whole thing was to just get something signed and move on. But I wanted to at least talk to him for a minute or two like I got to talk to Edgar Martinez. I got to tell Edgar how I went to games as a little kid, and cheered for him and chanted, “Ed-GAR! Ed-GAR!” with my Dad and we drove home that night smiling after a M’s win. I shook hands with Martinez and took a picture and all was right in the world.

All wasn’t right in the world on this day. Buhner was a mad man signing autographs. I don’t blame him, though. It’s all about making the fans happy, I suppose. And if it’s just spending two quick seconds getting something signed from a baseball player and not having much interaction, then I guess that’s what makes people happy.

I feel fortunate as a baseball fan, though. I have a decent sized collection of signed baseball memorabilia from some of the greatest baseball players who’ve ever played the game. I’ve met and took pictures with many of my favorite players, I’ve traveled to 14 different MLB stadiums, I’ve seen MLB games in both Japan and Australia, I’ve caught a foul ball and I’ve shook hands with Nelson Cruz in Macy’s in down town Seattle. So over the years it’s been fun.

I walked away from Safeco today feeling happy that I got Buhner’s autograph on a baseball bat that’ll forever be in my collection but at the same time, I felt a little frustrated. I sort of put myself in Buhner’s shoes for a moment, too. He gives a lot of his own time to the fans. He raised the 12th man flag at the Seahawks game and he seems to be pretty involved in the community around the area, plus he goes to these fan fests just about every year. My only wish is during these autograph sessions, the process could just go a little slower.

 

GeoCaching 2015

I picked up a new hobby. It’s called “Geocaching”. Some of you may heard of it and some of you probably won’t know at all what I’m talking about. I’ll tell you all about it in a minute.

This year, I really didn’t do a whole lot of baseball related stuff. I went to a couple of  Mariners games and my girlfriend and I traveled to the Cayman Islands for a week. I also flew to Chicago and met Jake Arrieta during the Catch in the Confines event. You can read all about that here.

As the result of not going to many games obviously my “ballhawking” stats have slowed down quite a bit. I’ve snagged 334 baseballs in 119 games (which averages about 2.81 a game) at 15 different stadiums. I have focused more on getting pictures with different players and getting good autographs from my favorite players. I’ve gotten two bats signed; one by Eric Davis and one by Miguel Olivo, I caught Dustin Ackley’s batting glove a few years ago and I have signed baseballs from Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Jake Arrieta, Brandon League and a few others.

In 2016, I would like to snag my 400th baseball but that might be a stretch. I have tentative plans to see the Pirates play at Hiram Bithorn stadium in Puerto Rico in May, as well as taking a trip to Europe and Hawaii later in the year. And I would like to travel to Los Angeles to see the Dodgers and possibly get to Arizona next year.

So back to this geocaching thing. While sitting in the lobby of a shop waiting for my motorcycle to get some work done, I overheard a couple people talking about geocaching. They were saying how they’re from England and came to Washington State to geocache. Since I’m a big fan of traveling, I thought I could get into this when I’m bored when visiting other countries. So I Googled it and found it to be truly interesting. There are 2.7 million caches hidden around the world and since February of this year, I’ve found 193 of them. So far I’m on an active streak of finding at least one cache per day for nine days straight right now. My numbers seem minimal and that’s fine. I just started caching this year.

There’s a lot of different caches and I tend to like the traditional caches and the Earth Caches the best. Earth caches are defined as finding a historical land mark or a type of geological find and taking your picture with it and logging some questions to the person who placed the cache there. I’ve found a handful of these and have learned a lot about glacial erratic rocks. Since I’m living in the Pacific Northwest, there are a lot of these. Traditional caches are just a container (big or small) hidden somewhere in the landscape both urban or rural. Urban caching, as I like to call it, makes me feel like a weirdo stalking around and acting suspicious. Rural caching is much better because I usually take my dog with me and we are hiking back trails and digging around in the bush. So it looks pretty normal.

I do miss the baseball stadiums, though. In 2013 I traveled a lot and saw a lot of different cities and stadiums. It was a lot of fun and I think this is a much needed break from the daily grind of going to as many games as possible and trying to catch as many baseballs as I can. I’ll probably never snag 1,000 baseballs within my lifetime and, really, I don’t intend to. I probably won’t even catch 500. My goal is to get to all the stadiums and catch at least one ball. Sadly, Turner Field is going to get demolished at the end of 2016 and I may not make it there.

So to conclude 2015, I had a great year. 2016 will probably be better and I hope to blog a lot more.

I hope everyone is having a great holiday!

 

 

 

 

 

6/28/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #6)

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I took this picture as we headed to the hotel lobby to get our cab and head to the airport. This is 4:30am and the sun was just starting to come up. It was absolutely gorgeous.

I don’t normally blog about a “travel day” because typically nothing very eventful happens while sitting in the airport for hours on end waiting on flights. Since we had such a miserable flight coming to the Grand Cayman Islands, I thought I’d share some more nightmare-ish flight adventures.

As you know, (if you’ve been reading since day one) Alaskan Airline left our luggage in Seattle on our way over to Grand Cayman. Oops. No big deal, right? Except for the fact that we needed clothing because after traveling for a day and a half we weren’t exactly feeling very fresh anymore. So on our first day on the island, we went out and spent $300 dollars on some swim stuff so we could at least enjoy the pool while we waited on our luggage. Our flight itinerary was basically this: Seattle to St. Louis, St. Louis to Miami and Miami to Grand Cayman. Every flight after arriving to St. Louis was delayed for one reason or another. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except that one delayed flight screws up the entire order of things.

American Airlines was our main flight provider, and although they were extremely helpful in helping us get our luggage, they really didn’t offer us much more than an apology over Twitter. And that seems to be the norm on their Twitter account. Endless apologies for things that have happened to other travelers.

Soooooo fast-forward to our travel day back to Seattle. Our flight from Grand Cayman to Miami was seamless. When we got to Miami, our flight was supposed to leave at 2pm. That didn’t happen. About five minutes before boarding at our gate, they changed our gate number and we had to go to our new gate which was literally on the other side of the airport. When we got there, the American Airlines guy kept saying something about interference on the field or something, we couldn’t understand what he was saying. We didn’t board our flight until around 3pm. Then we sat on the tarmac for ten minutes before finally leaving for Dallas/Fort Worth. We knew when we got to Dallas/Fort Worth airport, we’d have about ten minutes to get to our gate. Luckily, we didn’t have far to go when we arrived. Unfortunately, our seats were literally at the back of the plane.

We arrived closer to 5pm local time and I thought to myself that were still in good shape to get to our gate. I also thought that American Airlines would communicate to any connecting flights that there was a half hour delay and to hold any planes for arriving passengers. Apparently, they don’t do that anymore. We hustled to our gate with moments to spare. 5:05 PM to be exact. The plane was departing at 5:15pm. I figured since every other flight we’ve been on from American Airlines has been late, I assumed this one would be too. I expected to encounter a long line of people or a nice lady with a smile on her face welcoming us onto our flight. We received the exact opposite. It’s like a storm cloud followed us over to our gate and we got some unhappy, rude woman standing there. I said, “hold on, hold on! We are on this flight!” I attempted to hand my boarding pass to the woman and she instantly stated “No, you were on this flight” like it was our fault that we were late. “Excuse me? What do you mean “we were“?! I replied. “I already gave your seat away…”

Oh, hell no. You did what, American Airlines? You gave my seat away?! Is that what I heard correctly?! Every flight on this trip has been late by 30 minutes or more and I’m late by TWO minutes and you give my seat away?! I was floored. No apology. No sympathy, nothing. One of the rudest person I’ve ever dealt with in my life was standing in front of me and I had to do everything in my power not to literally verbally destroy this woman in the middle of the airport. I was blown away at how cold and uncaring this person could actually be. Flying domestically has become such a travesty. There isn’t any customer service anymore. The airlines (and not just American Air) nickel and dime everyone. They don’t even hand out small bags of peanuts  and most airlines won’t let you have a full can of soda. It’s shocking that stuff is even free anymore.

After getting a new flight (now departing at 6:50pm) we trekked across the airport again only to get to our new gate to get the news that our gate had been moved again. Good grief. Of course, I took my complaints and frustrations out on Twitter and started tweeting about how miserable this experience was with American Airlines. What do you know, they responded, and apologized:

The American Airlines Devil Woman at the desk who kept me on my flight that I paid for, you know, the one that gave my seat away? She wouldn’t even look at me let alone give a sympathetic apology. I had to go fishing for an apology on Twitter. That’s pretty pathetic.

I get that airlines like to run flights at near-full or full capacity to turn more of a profit. Unfortunately, they are sacrificing good customer service. The American Airlines Devil Woman made it seem like it was all our fault for being late. Like, we were nursing a hangover or out boozing it up at a local bar in the airport. No, lady. We weren’t. It was the airline that you work for that made us late. We were early for all of our flights like they say to be. Two hours before your flight you need to be at the airport and blah blah blah. Why, so I can sit at the gate and be redirected two or three times to another gate only to have our flight delayed by some mechanical error or some other issue and have to sit on the tarmac for an hour like my flight back to Seattle from Chicago earlier this month?

Our flight was supposed to depart at 6:50 PM and when we finally got to our gate the flight information read that it was delayed to 7:05 PM. Prefect. Why wouldn’t our flight be delayed. This was American Airlines after all. I wouldn’t expect anything less. We started boarding at 7:05 PM and when our group was called to board the reader board stated that all the overhead bins were now full and people were told they had to start checking their luggage. Great. American Airlines ought to put “it’s a surprise” under the departure time instead of an actual time. It was now 7:39 PM when I actually sat down in my seat on the plane. At approximately 8:01 PM, the flight took off from the runway and we were Seattle bound. Un-freaking-believable.

We arrived at Sea-tac around 10:30 PM and while we were walking passed the baggage claim area, we overheard a conversation between a customer and an American Airline staff member. Something along the lines of “it’s showing your luggage was left in Dallas and was never put on the plane”. Well, that’s no surprise.

I don’t want anything from American Airlines. I surely don’t want a travel voucher or a free flight. What I want is my time back. I want my three hours back. I should have been home at 7 PM instead of 11PM. That’s what I want. I want my time back but American Airlines cant give me back my time. Even if they offered a free flight, I would decline. I wouldn’t give it to a friend or a family member either because I wouldn’t want to put anyone I know through the kind of hell they put me and my girlfriend through. I wouldn’t wish this kind of torture on my worst enemy. The best thing American Airlines can do at this point is to tell Devil Woman to get rid of her Resting Bitch Face and start treating customers like they have some kind of value to the company. To tell someone who’s been traveling all day “you were on this flight” and “I already gave your seat away” because they were two minutes late was a pretty good slap in the face. It was rude and I should have cussed her out. But I didn’t. I’m above all of that kind of nonsense because it doesn’t solve anything.

Sorry, American Airlines, but I’m not sorry. You have offensive and ill-mannered employees. And it’s not just with Devil Woman. I’ve noticed a handful of other employees having attitudes as well. Maybe this company needs to invest in better customer service programs. The customer service industry can be a real pain and it’s not easy but that doesn’t mean your employees need to take it out on their passengers.

It’s no wonder that American Airlines had to file for bankruptcy back in 2011.

6/27/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #5)

Our last full day before we had to head back to the United States. Boo! Leaving this tropical paradise would be so hard but at the same time, it would be bittersweet. After seeing what Georgetown had to offer us yesterday, my girlfriend and I ventured off to see Seven Mile Beach.

Seven Mile Beach is the number one place on the Grand Cayman Island. The water is crystal clear, the sand is so fine and it literally feels like walking on cotton balls. It was the place to be. After arriving to the beach, we instantly regretted not coming out here sooner. But our whole premise behind the trip was to not be rushed and try to cram a bunch of stuff into our day and be exhausted at the end of our vacation. I felt a little rushed when I went to Australia last year and I certainly wanted to just enjoy my stay on the island and not be all wore out when it was time to go home.

The beach was absolutely stunning…

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…and what vacation wouldn’t be complete without a beach selfie:

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The sun felt so good on us. The sand was so pure and soft between our toes and the water was warm and it cooled us down from the hot summer sun. It was everything we wanted it to be and purely amazing to be here. For the next few hours, we sat underneath a grape tree and talked about life. We stared out into the vast Caribbean sea taking in all her beauty. It was so breath-taking. To think we would be leaving soon to go home kind of made me sad but it would be great to get home and share our memories with friends and family.

We splashed around in the sea for a while longer and then decided to head back to the hotel. Our flight was leaving early the next morning and we needed to pack and get good rest. Plus, our hotel was prime real-estate for a beautiful sunset.

Here’s a few more pictures of us having fun in the Caribbean sea:

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If you ever get the chance to visit the Grand Cayman Islands, I highly recommend the Holiday Inn and Resorts. It’s a little out of the way of everything but the hotel offers a courtesy shuttle that runs every hour on the hour from 9am to 5pm and will literally take you to all the places you’ll want to go. If you want to venture out further, you’ll have to take a cab but they are reasonably priced and the cabs are not metered . So you’ll pay a flat rate which is awesome. I’ve been ripped off by so many cab drivers in my travels thus far and quite frankly, it’s really nice to see some kind of control so people can’t get taken advantage of in foreign lands.

From day one the staff has been extremely helpful and polite. Everyone from the house keeping staff to the cab drivers are extremely friendly. People go out of their way to help others here and the Holiday Inn staff made us feel extremely special. The food was amazing wherever we went. It was a little pricey so make sure you bring plenty of money when you visit but it was so worth it. They do have some fast food places like KFC, Wendy’s and Subway, but we weren’t interested in those places so we never stopped in to see if the food quality was any different from the United States.

Aside from Alaskan Airlines leaving our luggage behind in Seattle, (which we got two days later) I would certainly come back. I’d recommend visiting all three islands, though. There’s Grand Cayman (where we stayed) and then just East of this island there is Little Cayman and then Cayman Brac. Eventually, I plan to see all three islands in another visit. Also, there’s Rum Point where you can see sting rays swimming around and a turtle farm about ten miles North of our hotel. We didn’t get to all of those things mainly because we were on “island time” and we just let our day unfold as it did. We were in no rush to do anything except what we wanted. Isn’t that the point of a vacation?

Tomorrow we’d be flying out and that made us sad. But we finished strong and ordered a huge pizza from the Blue Iguana and ate some ice cream afterwards.

6/26/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #4)

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Now THAT is a yogurt parfait! Holy smokes! Another great meal at the Blue Iguana just like yesterday, the day before and our first day on the island.

Today we’d experience Georgetown. That was the plan. Georgetown was one of those places where it’s extremely tourist-y and just about every shop sells the same little knick-knacks and trinkets. Alexandra ended up buying a shirt for her Dad and a few little hand-made turtle figurines for her cousins. I bought a much needed coffee mug that had the map of the Cayman Islands on it and a small little turtle figurine for my Mother. My Dad is rather hard to shop for so I’m keeping my eye out for something special for him.

Who knew there’d be a Hard Rock Café around here…

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…and here’s another street view picture of Georgetown just to give you an idea of what it was like:

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Do you notice the direction of travel that the cars are going? It’s looks backwards, right? Well, that’s because here on the Cayman Islands they drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel in most cars is on the opposite side of the car. Pretty crazy, right? It took a couple of cab rides to get used to it, to be honest.

We did a few more hours of shopping before we finally headed back to our hotel room…

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…and on our way back, we found this awesome home-made sign that had directional arrows pointing to different destinations around the world:

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After exploring Georgetown for most of the day, it was time to head back and get poolside to enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation…

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