End of the road, not end of the line
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

The rental car's front seat was cluttered with newspapers, the backseat littered with fast food wrappers and diet Pepsi cans, the ice cooler turned over and spilling water and we were somewhere outside of Springfield when Scooter turned to me and said, "You know what this trip of ours really needs?''

Against my better judgment, I took the bait.

No, I replied, what does it really need?

"Out takes.''

Well, funny you should mention it ... Before I catch my flight home, here are some moments from the past three weeks that I just couldn't fit into my daily diary. Call it, Cap'n Jimmy's Wild Ride, the Final Chapter. Or better yet, call it:

What I Did on My Summer Vacation
I drove from one end of Interstate 90 to the other, searching for all the sports that lay between Seattle's Safeco Field and Boston's Fenway Park. I heard NFL players crash into each other at training camp in Eastern Washington. Learned to cast a fly rod in a Montana River. Partied with leather-chapped bikers at the world's largest motorcycle rally. Listened to the commissioner drone on about baseball's problems. Solved all those problems with a townball team under the stars of a summer Minnesota night. Sipped beer at Wrigley Field. Posed in front of Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame. Rode the world's fastest roller coasters at Cedar Point. Threw out the first pitch and gobbled chicken wings in Buffalo. Bet $5 on Shortstop Sal at Saratoga. Toured five Halls of Fame. Kept score inside Fenway's Green Monster.

Through it all, I drank enough diet pop that if you hooked me up to a catheter, I could be my own personal Pepsi distributorship.

Minnesota townball
Everyone should smell the hamburgers frying at the baseball field in Stark, Minn.
It was a long, exhausting trip of too many late-nights spent writing and too many mornings answering painful wakeup calls. Oh, there were a few moments of extreme frustration (searching more than an hour for my hotel in South Bend quickly comes to mind) but my only real regrets during the trip were not being able to stay longer in each city.

Every day I would roll into town, meet some extraordinary people and enjoy myself so much that I ended each day by thinking that the next day could not possibly top it, no matter what happened.

And then the next day would.

It's impossible to pick one favorite moment from so many but let's just say that I wouldn't mind spending another night smelling the hamburgers frying at the baseball field in Stark, Minn., chatting with the bikers inside Buffalo Camp at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, hanging up the runs inside the Fenway scoreboard, or just sitting on the bench at Cooperstown, gazing at the peaceful waters of Lake Otsego and wishing I never had to leave.

But perhaps the absolute highlight to the trip is this. I drove 3,500 miles from Seattle to Boston and never got pulled over for speeding.

***** ***** *****

Pokey Reese
We'd bat Pokey Reese between Cookie and Wiki.
How do you pass the time driving across the country after you finish the unabridged audio tape of "The Grapes of Wrath" and the complete Bruce Springsteen collection? If you're Scooter, you compile All-Star teams of players whose names end in the "eeee" sound. His list (including a little position license with some infielders): first baseman Mickey Vernon, DH Mackey Sasser, outfielder Mookie Wilson, second baseman Gookie Dawkins, outfielder Cookie Lavagetto, third baseman Pokey Reese, pitcher Smokey Joe Wood, shortstop Dickie Thon, catcher Wiki Gonzalez and outfielder Rickey Henderson.

This is a verbal thing, so to fully appreciate this team, you'll have to read off the lineup aloud and fast: Mickey, Mackey, Mookie, Gookie, Cookie, Pokey, Smokey, Dickie, Wiki, Rickey. When Scooter laid that on me, I almost drove off the road.

We followed that up with the all-"son" team. Howard Johnson, Larry Jansen, Ron Hansen, Jackie Jensen, Kris Benson, Stan Bahnson and Bill Swanson

Again, read it aloud: Johnson, Jansen, Hansen, Jensen, Bensen, Bahnson, Swanson.

I'm not sure whether these teams are truly funny or whether we just were on the road too long.

***** ***** *****

Much of the trip was under the cloud of the possible baseball strike. I talked for more than an hour with Bud Selig in his office on the 30th floor of Milwaukee's tallest building and I still don't see any reason for a strike. Bud has a spectacular view of Lake Michigan from his office but it's a pity he can't see much beyond that.

The players aren't much better. After watching Wednesday's game from Fenway's Green Monster, I asked Alex Rodriguez whether the players, instead of helping preserve an enriching system for future players, would only endanger it with a strike at this time. He expressed appropriate concern for the fans, then deferred my question to the players' association.

Alex Rodriguez
Don't ask Alex Rodriguez to hum a few bars of "Solidarity Forever."
His response to my next question was more revealing. When I asked him if he would be willing to walk a picket line, he dismissed me with a wave of the hand and a sigh of disgust, clearly regarding the question as stupid, insulting and beneath his dignity.

I expected a response like this but it irritated me anyway. Why is it so ludicrous to suggest players walk a picket line? Everyone else does when they strike. But the players regard it as utterly beneath them, as if normal guidelines shouldn't apply to them. It just goes to show you how removed they are from the real world and how badly they misunderstand the potential fallout from a strike.

If the players strike, I may wind up following the East Tomahawk amateur baseball league in Stark.

***** ***** *****

A couple of completely random thoughts:

Yo, Boston. You're one of our country's great cities but don't be afraid to hang up some street signs every now and then. ...

If you're ever in the Buffalo area, be sure to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake on the Ontario side of the Falls. It's where they filmed "The Ref" with Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary and the vastly underrated Judy Davis, and it is an absolutely lovely town of historic buildings and streets lined with upscale shops. It nearly received a different fate a couple hundred years ago, though, when the British grand poobah in charge of the outpost suggested changing the name to Newark. Yes, Newark. What, had Scranton and Cleveland already been taken? ...

Memo to the New York Department of Transportation. You might want to double check the painting job with the white stripes on I-90 near Canastota. If you've driven that stretch, you know what I mean. If you haven't, you'll just have to use your imagination. ...

Sometimes sports can teach you more U.S. history than a college textbook. Consider the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. Among the inductees is Sam Langford, whose induction plaque notes that he was known as "The Boston Tar Baby" and that he fought more than 250 bouts but was forever denied a shot at the title because of his race. Pretty much tells you all you need to know about turn-of-the-century race relations. ...

***** ***** *****

I received more than a thousand emails during the trip and was able to read only a small number. A few took issue with something I wrote and a couple corrected errors but most expressed tremendous envy that I not only got to make the drive but that I got paid to do it. And then they told me about their love of the places I visited.

Here's a typical letter:

"Last year, in February, I was in Boston for the weekend. I got there a day early just to walk around and enjoy downtown for a while. I walked past the FAO Schwartz, the Nike store, the Virgin Megastore, Bobby Flay's restaurant, and Boston University to find myself staring at the wholly unimposing, yet totally awe-inspiring Fenway Park. I walked around it, dragging my fingers against the red bricks, just to say that I touched Fenway. As I got to the back, I noticed that one of the gates was open. wide open and no one in sight. I wanted so badly to walk in and try everything just to get onto the field, but decided it would probably not be a good idea to be arrested 500-plus miles from home. Every time I think back to that weekend, I know that it would have been worth it. That is my biggest regret in life.

"And I hate the Red Sox."

Another commented on Fenway scoreboard operator Rich Maloney's quote that he just knows the Red Sox will win the World Series the year he finally leaves the Green Monster. "Why is Rich waiting any longer? Tell the guy to retire!"

Several readers let me know that the Knute Rockne sign for which Scooter and I searched so long, does indeed exist at Cedar Point amusement park. Unfortunately, it's hanging in the changing room at the adjoining Soak City water park, which requires a $23 entrance fee. So to see it we would have paid $8 for parking, $42 for Cedar Point and $23 for the water park. Apparently, the water isn't the only reason they call it Soak City.

Others pointed out all the Halls of Fame we missed, including soccer, hockey, horse racing, dancing and the CFL. Sorry, people. There was only so much time. Same thing for all those readers who suggested stops in their favorite cities. Maybe next time.

In fact, I'm already thinking about my summer tour for 2003. There are several intriguing possibilities, including I-10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville and I-95 from Maine to Florida but the leader in the clubhouse is the old Route 66, the highway John Steinbeck called the Mother Road.

Scooter is up for the trip but he says it can't match I-90. I disagree. Wherever there's a road in this country, it leads to sports. And wherever there are sports, no matter what the level or pay scale, there are great stories.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: I drove more than 3,500 miles from Seattle and Boston on I-90 and learned that our nation's interstate highway system doesn't connect us nearly as much as our love of sports does.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com.





ROAD TRIP!

ALSO SEE:


Jim Caple Archive

Caple: Monster finish

Caple: Hall pass

Caple: Roamin' into a Saratoga party

Caple: Wingin' it in Buffalo

Ten Burning Questions with the Famous Chicken

Caple: Football history passes away

Caple: Echoes from the golden past

Caple: A Wrigley virgin's first time

Caple: Face-to-face but hardly eye-to-eye

Ten Burning Questions with Bud Selig

Caple: A pure diamond

Caple: Getting an eyeful in biker heaven

Off Base: Myron Seidl for commissioner

Caple: Trying to go the extra mile

Caple: County fair ropes up fellow road warriors

Caple: A pit stop for Camp Seahawk

Caple: Get your motor runnin'





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