I’LL GO TO GREAT LENGTHS TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT

LAKELAND, Fla. — Hold it. I can explain.

Some of you may have noticed me missing from this space for the last few weeks. Some of you may have been led to believe I was vacationing in South Pacific sunshine while you suffered at home in the snow and cold. Ha! You fell for that? What will they think up next?

The truth is much more complex. The truth is I was . . . on a mission. Yes. In the interest of new and more interesting sports stories I was attempting to set the record for longest single journey to an exhibition baseball game.

And I succeeded. Fifteen-thousand, four hundred and eighteen miles. Thank you very much.

Here is how I did it. It began when I went to Australia for the America’s Cup races. Now, I should say right here I do not know a great deal about yacht racing. Actually, my boss made me go. I told him I would rather stay in Detroit and cover college hockey. But he insisted.

“How long does an America’s Cup last?” I asked, my voice choked with gloom.

“About two weeks,” my boss said.

“Then I can come home?”

“Yes, then you can come home.”

Well, as you now know, the America’s Cup final was over in five days. The problem was, it took me that long to get over the jet lag. When I awoke, nobody was racing.

“I must be early,” I said.

And I sat down in a beach chair to wait.

Six days later, I figured something was up. The dreaded 47 passes

Finally I lifted my sunglasses and saw them loading the boats onto the freighters.

“Are they ready to start?” I asked.

“They’re going home,” someone said.

Uh-oh. Bad news. And it was now early February. Spring training was due to start in a few weeks. I barely had enough time to fly home, rest up, and fly down to Lakeland.

And then, I had an idea.

“Why stop?” I said. “I will fly directly from Perth, Australia, to Lakeland, Fla. Surely I will be the only person to ever have done that. My boss will be proud of my conscientious attitude, and forget the whole America’s Cup business.”

It seemed like a good idea. And I sat back down in the beach chair to think it over.

Six days later, I figured I might as well go.

Well. When I got on that plane I was filled with baseball excitement. I was so excited, when the flight attendant came by with the beverage cart, I yelled, “Yo, bud! How about a hot dog and a beer!”

She gave me a beer.

It tasted great, and I had another, and by the time we were over the outback I felt like a bleacher fan. And whenever the beverage cart came down the aisle, I yelled for a hot dog and got a beer.

The problem was — as you may remember from an earlier column — the beverage cart on the flights from Perth to America comes down the aisle approximately 47 times.

After a while, I was no longer yelling. I just nodded and raised my hand.

And after a while I sort of just smiled.

And after a while I merely curled my lip.

“On holidays?” the flight attendant asked, opening another.

“Glurplip,” I said.

The rest of my record-setting journey is a bit of a blur. But somewhere I was moved to the very back of the plane. It was not when I leaped over my seat

and yelled “STEE-RIKE!” into the face of a middle-aged woman. Nor was it when

I ran down the aisle and slid safely into the food tray.

It may have been when I pulled back the cockpit curtain and screamed at the pilot, “YOOOUUU’RE OUTTA THERE!”

But I’m not sure. The Tahiti Tigers? Hmmm

Anyhow, at some point they moved me, and having lost my bearings, I fell asleep and the next thing I knew the plane was landing and I got off.

“Funny,” I said to the agent. “This doesn’t look like Lakeland.”

“It’s not,” she said.

“Well, where are we?”

“Tahiti.”

At which point I fainted dead away. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to get me to a beach chair, where I was able to think clearly.

Six days later, I figured I might as well get back on the plane.

And eventually, we reached Lakeland. Which is how I came to set the spring training distance record, 15,418 miles. And now I am here, on the job as usual, in plenty of time for the first game of the exhibition season.

So I hope you will discount those rumors about vacation, a word I loathe. Really. That burns me up. In fact I almost flew back to Detroit to scold the person who started that story, but I decided to wait down here in Florida instead.

In this beach chair. For at least six days.

Until I calm down.

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