NOTE: I had the opportunity to travel with Capital's volleyball team to the NCAA tournament at Washington University in St. Louis, working for the athletic department and announcing our matches. Obviously, I couldn't turn this trip down, and couldn't pass up the chance to write about it. Here's the story:
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
7:40 a.m. (Eastern time): With my bags all loaded up, I left my dorm room and made my way across campus to the Cap Center, where the bus departed from. I’ve got so much stuff weighing me down – book bag, duffel bag, radio equipment bag, laptop - I feel like I’m going to war, not a volleyball tournament. The Mound Street construction doesn’t help, either; my legs started to drag hauling all that stuff around the “detour”, and I’m feeling pretty grateful that I remembered to grab that Gatorade out of the fridge. And yes, feel free to berate me for whining about having to carry 60 pounds of crap about 2,000 feet – I’m the one getting an all-expense paid trip to St. Louis.
8:00 a.m.: “Have you ever been on a bus with so many girls before?” asked Pam Briggs, the head coach. “Can’t say that I have,” I replied. “Oh, it’s an experience,” Briggs answered, as one of the players brings up a stack of DVD’s to watch on the drive. Top two on the list: ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Elf’. Yikes.
10:15 a.m.: Rest stop somewhere in the midst of the great state of Indiana. I’m trying to figure out the difference between western Ohio and Indiana and came to the realization that it’s all just one strip of land. This epiphany, coupled with the USA Today I just picked up with all the election hoopla, makes me temporarily question why it’s even necessary to have state boundaries in the first place. You have three or four major cities in each state, and that’s really it. I mean, what’s the difference between Urbana, Ohio and New Lisbon, Indiana? Maybe a few cows, a streetlight here or there? Sadly, this is what happens to my mind after having to watch Lindsay Lohan try to act for two hours. The only cure: opening up the Sports section. Ahhh…
12:00 p.m. (Indiana time – idiots have to be different out here): We stop in lovely Terre Haute for lunch at the Golden Corral, which is like a Hometown Buffet for you Cleveland readers (I didn’t know what it was, either – my initial guesses were a Longhorn or Texas Roadhouse-type place, based off the name). Anyway, I immediately text my friend Rosen, telling him I’m looking out for Larry Bird; if you don’t understand that joke, just stop reading this right now and go back to your Cosmo or Newsweek.
As we sit down to eat, I’m reminded of past experiences eating on the road with teams, such as the buffet in Marietta with the Solon baseball team (“Coach Cisar better not step on that stress machine, it’ll make his head explode!”) to the Spaghetti Warehouse and McDonald’s in Toledo with the Solon boy’s basketball team (“Coach…can we go to McDonald’s instead?”).
Of course, sitting at a table with three volleyball players (Kara Guster, Heidi Rose and Heather Kwiatkowski) is a little different than being in a room full of baseball and basketball players. “Don’t pretend like you’re not listening,” Heidi says as the conversation turns to the number of shoes brought on the trip. OK, I won’t, but don’t expect any contributions to the topic, either.
1:05 p.m.: After a delightful meal, we’re back on the bus, where Coach Briggs loads up some game tape of Coe (Iowa) College, Capital’s opponent tomorrow night. “We have to attack and stay aggressive,” Briggs says. Coe appears to be pretty similar to Capital, but our coaches and players alike seem very confident.
I’ve noticed the bus is real quiet. Riding with my high school basketball team senior year, they would rap loudly and dance as if performing on stage, not in the back of a coach bus. I guess I’ve seen both extremes. I also couldn’t help but think that the movies we watched heading to Toledo were ‘Remember the Titans’ and either ‘Hoosiers’ or ‘Rudy’ – a little more apt choice before a sporting event then, say, ‘Mean Girls’ or ‘Elf’. But that’s just me.
1:40 p.m. – ‘Annapolis’ is the next DVD choice. Well, we’re getting there, but I’m still not holding my breath for ‘Field of Dreams’.
1:40 p.m. (Central) – Gotta love the time change. This movie isn’t half bad, actually – it’s like ‘Rocky’ meets ‘A Few Good Men’. All we’re missing is the soundtrack by Survivor and guest appearances from Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson.
3:10 p.m. – Welcome from the “Lou”! (Is it ok if I call it that? Nelly won’t be mad?) We drove in past the Arch, the Mighty Mississippi, and New Busch Stadium. Wait, is that a guy being handcuffed on the side of the highway by two cops? And another guy lying facedown on the ground? Some real life drama in the Lou! I can’t wait to spend some time in the most violent city in the country. Seriously.
We get to the hotel, the Sheraton, and unload. I have a room (1118) to myself, three floors above everyone else. Sweeet. I get into the elevator with some of the girls and ask Jordan Centers to hit floor number 11. She pushes it a few times but it doesn’t light up – we discover that I’m staying in the “SPG” or “Starwood Preferred Guest” area and have to swipe my room key to get up there. “Ooooh” choruses the girls. “I didn’t realize the athletic department held me in such high esteem,” I said.
3:36 p.m. – I unpack and turn on the TV. Guess what movie’s on? ‘Rudy’. I hate Notre Dame but it’s a great movie. I thought about skipping dinner to stay in and watch it, but my stomach told me otherwise.
As I’m about to leave, my friend John calls me about the Indians trade, acquiring second baseman Josh Barfield from the Padres for Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andrew Brown. I can’t believe I’m in St. Louis with a group of girls when this trade goes down – the Tribe picks up a player who can be the second baseman of the future (I’m trusting John’s gut here) and I’m so far away from it all? There are times when analyses need to be discussed, damn it, and I don’t think I’m going to get it done with the Capital volleyball team.
4:03 p.m. – We leave the hotel and walk a little ways to a restaurant/bar called CJ Muggs, a kind of place where the office buddies get together for a few drinks after work. The culture shock of sitting at a table with about 18 girls continues to set in – I try to focus some attention to the news about Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, mostly in vain.
5:08 p.m. – Back in the room. Holy crap, why is ‘Sportscenter’ on now? Oh yeah…
6:45 p.m. – The team has headed off to practice at the stadium, and I decide to wander around the area a little. I don’t really travel much – this is the furthest west I’ve gone – so I want to do some venturing. We’re in a pretty nice part of the city, a business district, a courthouse, lots of new-ish type stuff. Nice little town, this St. Louis…
6:46 p.m. – Oh my God, is that man being robbed? Just kidding, just kidding.
7:17 p.m. – I had stopped in a little convenience store called World News to get something to drink, buy a disposable camera and look for a few magazines. While I was in there, a woman asked the clerk if they had the latest Jewish Press. I listened to see if they did, because I would have bought about five on the spot to send to all my friends back home. Regrettably, the World News did not carry any.
7:30-11:30 p.m. - I spent the rest of the night watching ‘Coming to America’ (“You must be outta your god damn mind! Joe Louis the greatest boxer to ever live!”), doing some homework and exploring the hotel (sorry, Sam, didn’t pick up any chicks at the hotel bar.) Back in action tomorrow.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
9:10 a.m. – It took me about seven minutes to figure out how to turn off my alarm clock. But here’s some free pub for Sheraton Hotels: Most. Comfortable. Bed. Ever. I don’t ever want to leave St. Louis.
I shower and make my way downstairs for breakfast, where I eat with Roger Welsh, the athletic director, and his wife. We spent some time trying to figure out the rather pedestrian number of students who attend Capital sporting events, especially since they’re free to students. It’s definitely an issue, especially given the success our teams have enjoyed the past few years, and sadly there don’t seem to be any clear answers.
9:50 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – We visit the famous Arch. Wonderful tourist attraction, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s about 75 degrees and sunny. Is this really November 9? I’m glad I brought along some shorts.
Underneath the Arch is the Jefferson National Museum, and that’s where you buy tickets to get to the top of the Arch. The method of transportation to the top are these little Star Wars-esque space pods that fit five people, rather uncomfortably. It’s just a five minute trip up there, but I smacked my head on the ceiling no fewer than five times. I don’t see how anyone over 6’2” or 230 pounds could fit in there. Apparently the people of St. Louis are a bit smaller than average.
Once you get to the top, and ignore the migraine, the view is spectacular. Just stunning. I won’t even try to describe it here – wait for the pics from my disposable camera to tell the story.
1:00 p.m. – We get back to the hotel and walk over to a cozy little Italian place called Pasta Plus. This might be the only fast food Italian restaurant on the planet. It was pretty cheap, good quantity, good quality and my chicken fettuccini even came with two pieces of bread. Plus it smelled like an authentic Italian restaurant. The only downside was seeing some guy in a bright yellow shirt lick his plastic plate, like a dog, after he was done with his meal. I mean, he was really getting after it. I threw up a little in my mouth watching that display.
1:40 p.m. – Back to the Sheraton aka the Best Hotel On the Planet (you can send me a check whenever you want, Mr. Sheraton). The girls are still amazed about my “VIP” room on the 11th floor. Hey, I can’t help the celebrity treatment.
While they have study tables until we leave for tonight’s match, I’m free to surf the internet and watch TV. I discover we get ESPN Classic in the hotel. Have I mentioned how much I love this place? I watch Tennessee-Arkansas from 1997 (Payton Manning, Jamal Lewis, Peerless Price – what a team) and then ‘Stump the Schwab’. That’s entertainment enough for me, thanks.
3:30 p.m. – Game time. Well, not quite, but we head out to Washington University to watch the other teams and give the girls plenty of time to prepare. It’s only about a five-minute drive from the hotel, and the campus looks pretty nice.
I meet up with some the sports information staff from Wash U., who show me around and point me to where I’ll be doing the radio broadcast. They also mention that the school is hosting the NCAA regional volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer tournaments this week, as well as playing a home football game Saturday. I’m glad I’m not working in that athletic department.
We don’t play until 6 p.m., so the sit-and-wait game is on. I review my notes on Coe. I’ll spare all the tedium, but I think we have a good chance to beat them. This is their first time in the tourney, and we have a lot of experienced players.
5:50 – 8:50 p.m. – I’m all set up and on the air. Wow, what a thrilling match. Capital won it 3-2 (you can read my recap here: http://www.capital.edu/internet/default.aspx?pid=10037) and it was tight the whole way. Every time one team jumped out to a lead, the other would inevitably respond. You couldn’t ask for much more, except for the back pain I experienced being wedged between a table and the backrest of a bleacher for two and a half hours.
I talk to my boss Lenny for a few minutes and get a few text messages after the match. It’s too bad Mike, our other announcer, couldn’t make it down here. Of course, he is a Michigan fan, so I probably wouldn’t have been able to tolerate him for the week. I also call home and inform the parents I won’t be coming back to Solon this weekend (Capital football plays at Baldwin-Wallace Saturday). Bummer.
I walked out of the upper deck, where I announced from, and out into the hallway – smack dab into fencing practice. Yes, you heard me right – a bunch of students were fencing in the hallway. St. Louis is an interesting place.
9:45 p.m. – After watching a little of our future opponent, Washington University, beat up on Nebraska Wesleyan, the team leaves and picks up pizza from a place called Imo’s. We bring it back to the hotel and eat in the employee lunchroom downstairs. Let’s just say the pizza tasted like pizza would if it came from a place called Imo’s and leave it at that.
That’s all for tonight, day three and four updates coming tomorrow.
Friday, November 10, 2006
9:00 a.m. – Up for breakfast, an all-you-can-eat buffet. I’m not one much for a big breakfast and get some grief from the girls about my relatively small portions and the lack of syrup on my pancakes. Man, I thought I was sarcastic…girls can be ruthless sometimes.
9:50 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – We had originally intended to visit St. Louis’ Science Museum, but found out that entry cost $10 a person. So we make a trip to the hallmark of the city – the Anheuser-Busch Brewery! That’s right, they have a guided tour, a small museum, and a nice gift shop. People over the age of 21 even get two free samples of whatever A-B beer they want at the end of the tour. “Did I see your hand go up?” Coach Briggs said to me after the tour guide asked how many beer drinkers were in our group of about 40 people.
The tour itself was pretty extensive – the place is HUGE. We saw the stables where the Clydesdales reside and learned about the entire brewing process. It was pretty interesting to learn about the different things A-B did to stay in business during Prohibition, making a variety of products. Of course I used up my disposable camera at the Arch yesterday and didn’t have time to buy another. We walked around for about 45 minutes and took a shuttle bus back to the main building where the tour started, and where the free samples would be passed out. “Are you going to have any?” Jordan Centers asked me as we rode back. “I’m only 19,” I responded, once again catching every one off guard (FOR THE RECORD – I’m 19 years old and in my second year at Capital. And I’m not Jewish, either.) Then the elderly lady sitting to my right offered me her ID, which broke up the whole bus. I think she was serious, too.
12:45 p.m. – We’re back at the hotel and walk over to the St. Louis Bread Company (or Panera, whichever you prefer) for lunch. On the way over, a pigeon just sitting on the sidewalk freaks out half the team. Despite the shrieks, the pigeon still sits motionless. I hadn’t paid much attention to it walking past, simply noting its presence, but I guess St. Louis pigeons are a bit more innocuous than their brethren nationwide.
1:35 p.m. – Back in the hotel room and doing some research on Capital’s opponent, Washington (Mo.) University. The Bears, which are hosting this tournament, are No. 2 in the country with a 34-1 record. They’re 15-0 at home and their only loss came against No. 1 Juniata back on September 15. They had five players named to the All-Region team, including one who is 6’3”. And oh by the way, they have eight national championships to their name – they’re the Mount Union of volleyball. Grrrrrreat.
We’re not leaving until 5:00 and I have a lot of homework to do, so sadly that’s how I spend most of the afternoon. The weather, which had been so picturesque yesterday, turned windy, cold and rainy in a heartbeat. Ahh, the comforts and joys of Ohio, 450 miles away from home.
5:00 p.m. – Load up on the bus. “Stay loose and have fun,” Coach Briggs tells the team. I’m sitting in the front by the coaches and they feel pretty confident that they have a game plan to knock off the Bears.
On the drive over to the campus, we pass a large statue of a fat man riding a turtle. I’m not making this up. St. Louis is a strange place.
We get to the stadium and sit in the bleachers to watch the first match between Rhodes and Simpson Colleges. I pull out my notes and start reviewing, and the girls ask me how hard it is to announce a volleyball match. “It’s a lot easier when it doesn’t take three hours,” I say, referring to last night’s marathon.
Overheard in the bleachers: “She’s a tree!” The tree in reference was in fact Washington’s 6’3” player.
6:45 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. – I’m all set up and ready to get on the air. I will admit, I get some jitters before announcing, especially since I’m still learning the sport. I’m also decidedly biased because (obviously) I want Capital to win and it’s tough to keep the broadcast balanced – plus I knew that a lot of people listened to last night’s contest and said I did a good job, so I wanted to match that effort.
I sat a few feet away from the radio announcer for Washington University, who was broadcasting for an actual FM station locally, not just the live internet stream that we have. They take their volleyball pretty seriously here in the Show Me State, I guess. Anyway, after every single point that the Bears scored, this guy would pumping his fist, slapping the table, convulsing his entire body. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry watching his antics – I think he missed the first day of Broadcasting 101: “Thou shall not openly cheer in the press box.” I’m not exactly sure if he realized that his team was supposed to win; they’re only number two in the country.
The Crusaders played well, especially in the second two games, but just didn’t have enough firepower to counter the Bears. The players and coaches were pretty upbeat afterwards, and they certainly had no reason to hang their heads after their effort.
We waited around for a long while afterwards for one of the players (who will remain nameless here to protect her identity from the greater community) to get mandatory drug tested by the NCAA. The team was getting pretty restless (and hungry) so we boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel, leaving previously unnamed player at the stadium with her parents until she could, umm, finish.
I was looking forward to seeing some more fencing (see yesterday’s blog), but they must not practice Friday nights. Too bad – I was going to ask to get some tips while we were waiting to see if any of our players were doping up.
10:00 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. – I type up the recap for the website upstairs in my room, then change and head back downstairs, where the team was gathering for pizza. While we waited, a rousing game of Apples 2 Apples picked up, where I am proud to say that I won the first two rounds and finished with a total of three cards. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
Thankfully we ordered from Papa John’s, and not Imo’s, which was universally agreed to be terrible. No one had to pretend to like the pizza tonight.
We left at 8 a.m. Saturday to go back to Columbus. Some notes from the bus ride home:
* We pulled up to a rest stop somewhere between Illinois and Indiana around 10:30. We got into the bathrooms just moments before a busload of senior citizens could walk in. “The old people were complaining about all the teenage girls,” Laura, the trainer, told me as we walked back to the bus. “It would have taken us forever if we had to wait for them first.”
* Movie selections: ‘Anchorman’ (very, very good choice) and ‘Fever Pitch’ (very, very bad choice). How does Jimmy Fallon have a job? Why on earth were the girls on the bus laughing at this movie? They think this garbage is funny? Please. Atrocious film. I had secretly been hoping for a good sports movie and this is how I was rewarded. If I was a Red Sox fan, I would want to strangle both the Farrelly brothers and Jimmy Fallon.
So that was it. We got back to Columbus around 4:00, unloaded the bus and dispersed.
Now, if you’re looking for some great personal epiphany that I experienced after spending with four days with a college volleyball team, or just some truly bizarre or crazy exploits, I hate to disappoint, but they didn’t happen. Or I’m just not telling – after all, besides for assistant coach Greg Peters and Coach Briggs’ husband, I was the only male riding around with the team the whole time. I’ll let you decide.
This is Scott Miles signing off. Thanks for reading, Crusader volleyball fans – have a good night, everybody!