(Based on true events. The names have not been changed in respect to the survivors).
Baseball is my favorite sport both as a spectator and a chronicler. I also have a long embraced theory: “Spring training is the greatest invention in the history of North American sports writing.’’
Baseball has the additional advantage of being the only team sport that my wife Katy will tolerate.
This was among three factors that led to purchasing a condo in Fort Myers in 2014. Those reasons were:
One, we had gone through dreadful Minnesota winters in 2012-13 and 2013-14; two, retirement loomed; and three, once that occurred, I wanted to be located to still enjoy a large dose of spring training.
It would have been wonderful to purchase something in Southwest Florida with a view of vast salt water, but financial reality prevented that. Now, if Katy and I had acted when we first came here in 1983 and looked at a condo on the water, things would be different, and missed opportunities are part of life.
We bought a small place in a development located a couple of miles from the Twins’ complex. The Red Sox spring training home is couple of miles in the opposite direction on Daniels Parkway, a bonus for someone envisioning old-man years spent going to a ballgame every day in March.
It became obvious fairly soon that the condo was going to be a place to visit and not to live. Minnesota’s been home for me forever, and Katy since she was 14, and it’s going to stay that way, I’m guessing.
With that in mind, I asked my guy King (of car sales) Leon to watch out for a sweet, cheap convertible to put in the garage in Fort Myers. King Leon found it a few months ago – a 2005 Toyota Camry with 78,000 miles, and that had been amazingly well-maintained by the woman who had bought it new.
“I’m going to drive the convertible down there on a weekend this fall,’’ I told the wife.
“I’m going to make the trip with you,’’ she said.
“That is not a good idea,’’ I said. “We can’t drive two miles to Costco without disagreeing on something.’’
Katy persisted, while adding: “And we’re not going to be in a big hurry.’’
Right there was going to be the first major dispute. I had made the drive solo last February, in a Buick Lacrosse I was leasing – arranged by King Leon, of course.
I made it to Paducah, Ky., home of former Twins catching legend Phil Roof, the first night, and to Live Oak, Fla., home of former Twins fireballer Ray Corbin, the second night, before completing the 1,700-plus miles and arriving at condo around noon on the third day.
“We’re not going to do that this time,’’ Katy announced. “For one thing, I want to spend part of a day and a night in Nashville.’’
Me: “But if we spend the second night in Nashville, it will take four days to get to The Fort, and ...
Her: “That’s fine.’’
Katy 1, Patrick 0.
The date of the departure was firmed up: Christmas cheer with family members would be addressed on the Eve and we would leave Christmas morning. We could watch Mass from the Vatican to fulfill my requirement as a devoted “Cheaster” (Christmas and Easter) in following the covenants of the Holy Roman Church.
“We’ll leave real early on Christmas,’’ I said, while leaving unspoken the notion of making it to Nashville on night one.
“We’ll sleep until a normal hour and then get ready,’’ she said.
Katy 2, Patrick 0.
The grandkids, Abby and Luke, were facing their usual hectic (but rewarding) Christmas Eve. The first stop to collect bounty was at our place at noon, before we would all visit more family for a few hours.
We were having lunch at the kitchen table and Katy expressed apprehension over tensions that might appear while traveling those 1,700 miles together to Fort Myers.
“He’s so impatient,’’ she said, referring to me, who was sitting next to her.
“After 30 years, you should be used to it by now,’’ I said.
Without pause, granddaughter Abby said: “After 30 years, maybe Grandpa should change.’’
Six years old ... already busting chops.
FIRST DAY: We stayed in Urbana, Ill., home of the Fighting Illini and once the college stomping grounds of legendary Twins baseball writer LaVelle E. Neal III.
Report from the battle field: There were no major disputes.
SECOND DAY: We drove through torrential rain in downstate Illinois for 90 minutes or so, and it was a tossup between my fine driving and King Leon’s fine machine as to which entity handled it more smoothly.
We made it to Nashville at mid-afternoon, stayed a couple of blocks off Broadway, and took in the sounds at Tootsie’s, a honky tonk recommended by the Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins, a Tennessean to the core as well as very experienced in chronicling the Gophers in Mason-era Music City Bowls.
The only down note came when I tipped the band upstairs to sing John Conlee’s “Backside of 30,’’ and the crowd hooted, because they wanted more of today’s crapola that passes for country. The band wanted the money, though, but only knew Conlee’s “Rose Colored Glasses,’’ and the guitarist sang rather than the lead guy.
Report from the battle field: There were no major disputes.
THIRD DAY: My unspoken hope was to try to hump it the 800-plus remaining miles to Fort Myers. That dream was destroyed when we ran into standstill traffic on I-75 outside of Atlanta ... 40 miles outside of Atlanta.
Suggestion: Check on major construction projects when driving a long distance, even on Christmas weekend.
I got off I-75 at the first opportunity, asked a motorcyclist on a Sunday drive how to get to the other side of Atlanta, and he gave me some back roads. All in all, the backup cost an hour. And then another backup on I-75 south of Atlanta caused more elaborate back-roading.
We were way behind now, and spent the night in Valdosta, Ga., home of the late, great former Twins scout, Ellis Clary.
Report from the battle field: There were no major disputes. (Note: I give myself full credit for merely mumbling my cuss words while facing traffic misery rather than sceaming them).
FOURTH DAY: There was much construction on I-75 north of Tampa and then once past there, a couple of white people ran into each other and caused a 40-minute backup.
Anyone who commutes from Fort Myers to cover spring training knows that gigantic backups on I-75 can loom around every corner or beyond every rise. The combination of 85-year-olds driving 45 and 20-year-olds driving 85 just doesn’t work.
Finally, there was Daniels Parkway, and Palomino Lane, the turn off to the development, was only a right, a light, and another right away.
As we took the right onto Palomino Lane, I looked at the trip calculation on the odometer and said, “Honey bunny, 1,723 miles and no major arguments. We made it. And this car ... it ran great.’’
Katy nodded and gave me a pat on the shoulder, which I took as approval for my sentiments.
The top was down, the sky was sunny and bright, and there were 1.5 miles of Palomino Lane to cover before turning left toward the development entrance.
Yes, life was perfect, and then I was screaming a four-letter word, and saying, “I think he got me.’’
I hadn’t been in Fort Myers since spring. I had forgotten all those warnings of experienced residents: “Watch it on Palomino Lane. It seems like a road to go 50 but the limit is 35, and there’s usually a cop sitting there.’’
Actually, a Lee County Sheriff deputy. I had my head on the steering wheel when he arrived at the car, and I was muttering:
“I drove 1,723 miles weaving and bobbing and getting out of the way of drivers who didn’t think dang near 80 was fast enough, and I get a ticket on Mile 1724.’’
He was a nice guy. He wrote me up for driving at excessive speed, which apparently in Florida isn’t as bad as speeding.
So, these were the two things that I learned in driving for four days and 1,700-plus miles with Mrs. Reusse:
One, never be overconfident; and two, watch your butt on Palomino Lane.