Monday, April 18, 2011

Feedback: Game 5 in Dunedin

Since I knew that I would be spending several consecutive days singing for teams on the Gulf Coast, I had anchored in a hotel near Sarasota to allow for easy commutes to Fort Myers, Bradenton, and Tampa.  However, rather than remaining in the area for the next game in nearby Dunedin, I returned to DeLand after the Tampa game so that I could pick up Don Musser to join me for the Blue Jays’ game the following night.  I know that doesn’t make geographical sense since it required more than 300 extra-miles of driving. But it scores in baseball and personal terms because it shares a day-long road trip and a game with a close friend. 
Don and I left DeLand at noon, heading across state on blue highways toward Dunedin. We anticipated an intermediate stop in the community of Wesley Chapel where Don wanted to pick up some unique hibiscus hybrids that he had ordered a few days earlier. 

Don with one of the hibiscus blooms that he often takes to his mother in a nursing home.

Driving along Route 44 as we approached Cassia, we crossed the headwaters of Black Water Creek.  Several years ago on a cold, rainy, windy January morning, Bill Flowers, the senior naturalist of the St. John’s River and its tributaries, had taken Don and me fishing in the Creek near its mouth miles south at the Wekiva River. 

Black Water Creek along Route 44 near Cassia, Florida.

When Don and I crossed the bridge over the Creek, we recalled how the boat ride with Bill that day had made the experience so memorable.  For one thing, as Bill paddled us up the nearly impassible Black Water, we often had to crouch into the bottom of the boat to avoid low-hanging branches while we alternately had to rise and shove the hull away from submerged stumps.  We didn’t mind ducking since the hull of the small boat momentarily provided a baffle to the wind.  Even more distinct than our dodging obstacles in the swollen water was the incredible cold that we experienced as Bill had motored down the river to get to Black Water.  I am not sure that I have ever been colder, even in the sub-zero temperatures intensified by gusting winds off Lake Michigan as I walked home from classes when I had been a student at The University of Chicago.  Despite the horrible conditions that January day on the water, we managed to lure several keepers into the boat, thanks, I am sure, to Bill enticing the bass with promises of warmth.  We were too cold to bait our hooks, making wiry Bill unglove to hook the shiners.  And truth be told, we were too cold even to care to take photographs of our remarkable catch. 

When I walked onto the field at the Dunedin ballpark a couple of minutes before singing the anthem, two fans in the front row behind the backstop greeted me.  John Price and his brother-in-law Rick Miller had been at the Tampa game the previous night, and they expressed appreciation for my rendition as well as encouragement for the tour.  Hearing them, Don immediately cackled and said that I had a groupie following!  But John’s wife Gail protested, joking that they really weren’t stalking me.  The Prices are from Chattanooga and hoped that I would be singing there for the Lookouts while I’m touring through the area.  Regrettably, the Lookouts were among the twenty minor league teams that never responded to any of my queries.
At Dunedin, the sound system suffers from about a half-second delay.  Thankfully, Morgan Bell, the Dunedin Blue Jays Coordinator for Community Relations, had alerted me to the need for ear plugs.  Indeed they were helpful, although during the anthem as I heard the muffled feedback, I recalled the advice: “Whatever you do, don’t listen.  Keep going!”  Try as I might, however, I couldn't suppress the sound of the feedback.  When I finished and moved toward the stands, one of the visiting Tigers' roving instructors standing near me commented, “How did you do that?”  Then he saw me remove the ear plugs, and said, “Now I see!”
Dunedin won its first game of the season that night, beating the Lakeland Flying Tigers 6-5, and Morgan gave me partial credit for inspiring the team.  If only that were true!
Dunedin's "Wall of Fame" of its former players who made it to "The Show."
Having enjoyed the memories of fishing together, the promise of bountiful hibuscus blooms, and good old fun at the ballpark, Don and I spent much of the 150 mile ride back to DeLand in silence, the kind of silence that only two old friends can enjoy: “The less said, the more,” in the words of Duffy House, the retired sportswriter-detective in Crabbe Evers’ Bleeding Dodger Blue.

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