Saturday, May 14, 2011

What happens in Vegas: Game 19 in Las Vegas

Heading toward Las Vegas, Arby bucked all morning against gusting winds that caused even Joshua trees to bend away from their force.   Beyond Barstow, scenery shifted while the winds persisted.  Adjacent to the freeway nearing the turn-off to Death Valley, a series of roadside signs displayed the Ten Commandments.  Their sequence made me think that there might be a twist at the end, an eleventh sign reminiscent of old Burma Shave conclusions.  So I anticipated seeing a final post, warning: “I know what happens in Vegas—God.”  Alas, these Commandment promoters showed no such sense of biting humor about divine judgment. 
By noon Arby was ready for a lunch break at the Mad Greek Restaurant in Baker where the World’s Biggest Thermometer registered a reasonable temperature in the high seventies.  We happily settled for wrestling with the wind rather than suffering through sweltering desert heat. 
After savoring hummus and gyros atop a Greek salad, Bonnie and I re-boarded Arby for the arduous climb toward Halloran Summit.  Flexing his Toad-toughened muscles and exercising tortoise patience while watching 18-wheelers speed like hares past us, Arby admirably made it up the 14-mile slope without a break.
Fittingly, Las Vegas was the destination for game number 19, which might have been a reasonable bet at one of the Blackjack tables nearby.   Rather than tempt Arby with a casino’s lure, we opted to park at the home of  two Whittier alumni and to enjoy their hospitality.  Seven or eight years ago, I had officiated at the wedding of Megan and Ben Hubble.  Now parents of two lovely daughters Adelaide and Allison, they hosted us for the evening and joined us for the game. 

Bonnie, Joe, Ben, Allison, and Adelaide (thanks to Megan's photography)
In my course on “Cinema and Religion” during the mid-90s, Ben had effectively engaged the convoluted and provocative films of Ingmar Bergman.  And while they had been on campus, Ben and Megan had participated in several of Whittier's Faculty Masters’ programs that Bonnie and I sponsored, especially readings by authors like Amy Tan, presentations by activists and dignitaries such as James Farmer, and lectures by scholars including Stephen Jay Gould.   It was great to re-establish contact with the Hubbles and to catch up on their current interests and their work.
My instructions about logistics for the ballgame started with directions for me park in Lot C.  Yet when I approached Cashman Field and turned into the series of parking lots, I was initially directed to exit, make several turns through a maze of streets, and enter a lot that was within sight only an outfield away.  I must have looked like some of my students facing pop quizzes because a chain of cordial parking lot attendants moved cones and barriers to let me enter the wrong way once they learned that I was to sing the anthem. 
After I found a space for Toad in Lot C, the parking security staffer who had moved the last barrier asked, “How long is the anthem?”  Less than a minute and twenty seconds, I replied.  How long for you? He prodded.   Looking puzzled, I didn’t respond.  Then he fessed up:  Some staffers had a nightly pool on how long the anthem would take.  “A minute fifteen or seventeen would be a good bet,” I suggested, depending on whether there’s feedback. 
He’d have to wait through a long series of pre-game presentations to find out.  There were 8 first pitches plus testimonies from four Nevada organ donors and recipients.  Two T-Ball teams accompanied the 51s starting players onto the field.  A color guard from Nellis Air Force Base presented the flags. 
And several troops of Girl Scouts gathered on the third-base line to lead the fans in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  Several moments of silence followed while the game-day staffers shuffled one of the two microphones from the Scouts to me.
Finally, I got to sing with an introduction simply that the anthem would be sung by Joe Price.  Since Megan videoed my rendition from her seat behind home plate, it was easy to time it accurately:  1:15!  When we were leaving the ballpark, Bonnie paused at one of the commercial promotions that featured "free play" slot machines.  Given Major League Baseball’s irregular history about dealing with players’ and coaches’ involvement with gambling (such as Pete Rose’s excommunication for betting on baseball and Willie Mays’ temporary barring from the game while he was a greeter for an Atlantic City casino), it was a bit surprising to see the two slot machines on the concourse even though they were rigged to make everyone a winner.
As we moved toward the car in Lot C, I looked for the attendant, figuring he had won with my insider info and hoping that he’d share his luck with this version of power ball.  Ah yes.  It was Vegas, the place where even the anthem is subject to wager, as was the game itself, which the 51s lost to Sacramento 5-4.

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