Late last Wednesday, the dream trip following my retirement announcement came to an end. I had traveled over 2,500 miles with my 12-year old son, Sam and my 14-year old grandson, Jacob. We had traveled through four states, seen small towns, cities, mountains, deserts, and greening fields of wheat. Most importantly, we had seen four major league spring training games and explored every corner of Phoenix, AZ and its suburbs.
After I returned home from the marathon trip, I was talking to my former boss at Northwest Missouri State University, Sherri Reeves. We were talking about our kids’ obsession with sports. Sherri told the story about when her son was young and would go to the neighbors after school. The neighbor had a preschool and tested Sherri’s young boy on his basic knowledge.
The neighbor asked Sherri’s son, “What are the four seasons?” Without hesitation he said, “Football season, basketball season, and baseball season. I know there’s one more, but I can’t think of it.”
That’s a perfect answer from the son of someone who has dedicated her life to Northwest sports as Sherri Reeves. Sam had a similar preschool moment. At four years of age, Deb Clark, the Horace Mann preschool teacher, gave Sam a basic test of his knowledge.
Later, Deb was showing Michele and I the results. It was all pretty typical except she had a real concern because Sam did not know his last name. That seemed strange to me since I had discussed his name several times and he always seemed to be aware he was stuck with the last name of Steinmeyer. I asked Deb what he had used for his last name.
Deb told his mother and me, “He said his name was Sam Pooholtz or something like that.” I knew immediately what Sam was pulling on the poor preschool instructor. Sam was ditching his God-given last name for the name of his favorite baseball player, Albert Pujols. The blame went to Dawson Vorderbruege. Dawson, a junior high-age kid and the son of the men’s basketball assistant coach Darren, had baby-sat Sam that previous summer. He told Sam if he like Albert so much, he should change his name to Pujols. That’s exactly what he did. Dawson almost got Sam kicked out of preschool for lack of intelligence.
With those obsessions in mind, let me tell you how the “dream” trip played out. Sam, Jacob, and I jumped in our trust-worthy car I had purchased six months ago from Tri-State Motors very early on a Friday. It’s a good thing the interior was very room and comfortable, because the three of us were going to spend a lot of time in that vehicle.
Our trip began at 7 am with a quick stop at Maryville’s McDonalds for breakfast items. The next stop was just short of Emporia, KS for gas and the second stop was in Liberal, KS for another fill-up of gas. You know what I learned about Kansas? There are at least three places that claim to be the home site of Dorothy, Toto, and the black and white farming community that was the starting point in their trip to Oz.
Who knew that Dorothy and her dog took up residence with Uncle Henry and Auntie Em in Wamego, KS; or was it Sedan, KS; maybe it was Liberal, KS. By taking Highway 54 through Kansas, I could have stopped by at least two of those sites. However, a drink of gas at Liberal was as close as we came to the Yellow Brick Road.
That first day, we trudged through Missouri, Kansas, and New Mexico for 16 hours. Finally, I gave up driving at Gallop, NM. I might have made it farther, but a brief blizzard between Albuquerque, NM and Gallop made up my mind. By 9 am, we were back on the road and headed for the heat of the Arizona desert.
By 12:15, we pulled into our hotel in Gilbert, AZ. We didn’t let the grass grow under our feet. Heck the grass doesn’t grow very fast in the desert anyway. By 1:05, we were sitting in the left field grass, which was growing very fast, watching the Seattle Mariners battle the Oakland A’s. I had on my “Gomes”, Tampa Bay Rays T-shirt. That’s important because Jonny Gomes now plays for the Oakland A’s. In his honor, I bought an A’s T-shirt.
My budget for the boys was one T-shirt and one hat. Sam jumped on the Texas Ranger’s bandwagon and immediately bought a Yu Darvish T-shirt. Darvish is the latest Japanese superstar to play in the United States. If Darvish doesn’t sound very Japanese, it’s because his father was Persian and his mother Japanese. I’ll bet you didn’t know that?
I don’t remember what else the boys purchased. I think Jacob got an A’s hat, but I’m not sure. Sam bought Matt Johnson, his baseball instructor in Maryville, a spring training T-shirt. I do know they didn’t like the grass much, so I bought them real seats for the rest of the games. They must have been born with silver spoons in their mouths. Whose fault is that; their mothers?
We saw the Rangers and Royals, the A’s and Albert Pujols’ new team, the Angels, and finished it off with a Royals and Padres game. We watched the Rangers practice twice and the Royals once. We talked to a couple of Smithville natives who are coaches with the Rangers. That was pretty cool. Jacob retrieved a few batting practice home runs and Sam begged his way to a few autographs, including Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur of the Royals.
After the Royals-Padres game, we regrettably headed for home. The life of baseball, pizza and swimming pools was going to be replaced with homework and house rules. We did battle make-up homework as we worked our way through Colorado on the way home. By the time we hit Hays, KS, the homework was mercifully completed. I don’t know the quality of the work, but the quantity was excellent.
I struggled to Albuquerque by midnight Tuesday and had them home before midnight Wednesday. It was five great days on the roads with the only two humans (Sam and Jacob) that understood why I would call 44 hours of driving a dream trip.
I’m not saying the togetherness of the six foot by 10 foot car interior didn’t bond our little band of baseball fans. I think Sam, Jacob and I was all sick of each other and we couldn’t wait to do it again. However, I think Southwest Airlines might get a call the next time.