Proprietor Note: To avoid confusion on this very special Great Baseball Road Trip week, the use of the royal “we” will temporarily be suspended in favor of the more controversial “I” to describe “me” or “myself.” Those who find this unusually jarring can probably paste the body of the text into a different program and execute a search/replace.
The only thing better than inventing a ridiculous game is having someone else invent it, then provide you with all the rules and equipment and playing surface. Did I mention there is beer? That is how RandBall came to meet RootBall (my spelling, not the inventor’s). But first let’s go back to the beginning, which is either early Tuesday or more than 20 years ago, depending on how you look at it.
Day Two of the 2011 Great Baseball Road Trip – co-conspirators are Rocket and P-Money, friends of mine since junior high – began at a casino hotel. The three of us, being a little like Fergie, decided we needed to go to the gym and work on our fitness. But about 10 minutes after all three of us had hopped on separate treadmills at the hotel facility, the power went out on the machines and did not return. P-Money’s theory, which is probably a good one, is that this being North Carolina they had assumed three people would never be on the treadmills at the same time and that we knocked out some sort of fuse. So instead of running (we did go later in a new city), the three of us hit an $8 buffet with – to us – impeccable timing. The breakfast buffet was about to be cleared, but we convinced them to wait for us to load up three plates. By the time that was obliterated, the lunch was out. Our grizzled waitress remarked that it was the first time she had “ever seen people eat both breakfast and lunch at the same time.” Sadly, we could not tell her this was the first time this particular crew had pulled off a double-meal.
With that backdrop, we started ambling toward Asheville, which was about 70 miles away and our final destination for the day. Naturally, we stopped at a waterfall, a scenic overlook and at an 18-hole mini-golf course along the way. Somewhere in there, we also realized that the game in Asheville was now a doubleheader starting at 5 p.m. (because of a Monday rainout) instead of a 7 p.m. start. Some might say the only thing better than one low-Class A baseball game is two low-Class A baseball games. And those people are right. Asheville has a very nice small ballpark. The dimensions are hitter-friendly (297 down the right field line, but with a towering wall to at least turn modest fly balls into doubles instead of home runs). The foot-long hot dog is like eating three hot dogs. There are local craft beers available. The seats directly behind home plate, first row (which we sat in) are $10. What more could you ask for from a minor league park? Asheville (Rockies affiliate) split the double-header with Greensboro (Marlins affiliate, which we will see again later in our week-long journey). One of Asheville’s best players is Kyle Parker, a first-round pick in 2010 and a two-sport athlete at Clemson, where he was the starting QB on the football team as well as a baseball standout. Watch for this kid in a few years. He can hit.
But the centerpiece of an exhausting, long, fun day was somehow RootBall. I had discovered this game when Rocket urged all of us to do research about the various cities we were slated to visit. There is a bar on the outskirts of Asheville called Root Bar No. 1, and as the story goes they invented a game there called RootBall. Rocket, P-Money and I are suckers for ridiculous games. As such, it was decided months ago that when we were in Asheville, we would trek to this small bar and play their made-up game. That resolve was tested when the baseball didn’t end until almost 11, but these are the types of crossroads that make or break the GBRT. We all mustered up the energy and strength to make the trip. I don’t think it’s too much to call us heroes.
RootBall is played with two horseshoe-esque stakes on ends of a sandy pit. You first toss an oblong full ring toward the stake, scoring various points depending on whether you strike the stake, lean up against it or merely strike it. After that, you toss a ball toward either the stake or the ring or both, depending on your strategy. That scores more points, depending on whether the ball hits one of those two (or both), or comes to rest inside the ring.
Fortunately, Root Bar No. 1 wasn’t exactly hopping on Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. We pretty much took over the entire sand court and took to modifying RootBall to meet our skills and needs. The biggest thing is we played to 21 instead of the recommended 12, and we stipulated that you had to score 21 exactly or else fall back to 13 points. This was a tip of the cap to the epic games of 21, basketball-style, that the three of us used to play into the wee hours of summer nights. In those games, a tipped-in shot would put you back to zero. We didn’t play that rule with RootBall because that would have just been weird.
In any event, we played several games of RootBall. The last game ended when I fired what was determined to be a seven-point shot in our modified scoring system, giving me 21 points exactly. The moral of this story is that when you have the chance to deprive yourself of sleep in favor of playing an invented game at a bar in North Carolina, you have to take the opportunity. And this advice obviously applies to more than just RootBall.