On the ground in Tampa..

April 18, 2007 | Nestor Aparicio

Well, this is my first “in-flight” blog.

If you don’t know it by now, I’m really enjoying this kinda
work. It’s been a really cool, fun week to write about sports whenever I want!
I should’ve done this a LONG time ago.

Right now, I’m somewhere over Virginia and headed to Tampa
to cover tonight’s Orioles-Devil Rays game. It’s been a few years since I’ve
been a “ballpark” reporter, but I usually only staffed these events
under the toughest conditions — All Star Games and World Series. So, usually
when I’ve done this routine, it’s been with literally HUNDREDS of media members
scouring dugouts, clubhouses and walkways (usually in the freezing cold in
October) for stories, old friends, sound bites and anything else they could get
for their respective newspapers and radio or TV stations.

Those were some of my favorites memories of doing radio,
those “big game” experiences. I have a zillion pictures, a zillion
stories — all which will be told in a book someday.

But, it didn’t take long for my journey through BWI today
see several tragedies that are much larger in scope than the Orioles acting
like jackasses toward me or some of media brethren. First, every TV is tuned to
the tragedy in Blacksburg.

I have had many friends who have touched, or been touched by
Blacksburg over the years.

I dated a girl from Blacksburg in the 1980′s (you guessed
it, I met her in Sect. 38 at an Orioles-Royals game. One of my high school
friends, Frank Vanik, attended Virginia Tech and has Hokies stuff all over his
joint. One of my buddies has a lot of ties to Virginia Tech as well.

It’s just a horrible story all the way around. And it’s one
that has many of us waking up today questioning a lot of things about this
crazy world.

But the second strange thing happened as I dawdled through
BWI and picked up a sports section from today’s Washington Times. Just
as the plane was about to take off, I saw on Page 7 that Gaetan Duchesne died
yesterday in Quebec City.

(All non-hockey fans can tune out now…for a few
paragraphs anyway!)

Gator was a middling left wing for the mid-1980′s Caps and
was my favorite player of that generation. He had a funny name, really only
played on the checking line, though he did score some big goals as well, and
was guy I sorta “adopted” as a fan.

So, here I am on an airplane — of all things
“reclaiming my media status” by flying to 80-degree Tampa to watch at
least one bad baseball team inside a tent with 3,500 of my closest friends –
and my favorite hockey player of adolescence died yesterday at the age of 44!

It’s spooky to me, because I remember everything about him
– like it was yesterday that I was standing in the Capital Centre home locker
room in 1986, seeing Duchesne in his ever-present light-blue workout shit,
sweating on the bike in the middle of the room, doing press conferences in his
VERY broken English, his scarred-face smiling with various missing teeth and
his sly grin.

He was the FIRST player I wanted to “meet” when I
first got a press pass and got assigned to cover a Philadelphia Flyers game on
a Sunday night in October of 1985.

We weren’t pals or anything — he quickly just became
another guy in the room once I started working games regularly — but he was an
all-around decent “Joe,” one of those guys that when you met him you
actually felt good about cheering for him.

And I did!

Until, the Caps dealt him away to his native Quebec for Dale
Hunter, which was really the beginning of the end of my Caps’ fandom. I HATED
Dale Hunter — thought he was a cheap, dirty player (I mean, he WAS a cheap and
dirty player!) and I hated rooting for guys like that.

I always rooted for the “good guys” in wrestling.
I always liked the underdogs in every movie, every sporting event and every
band.

Maybe it’s something about growing up in Dundalk, and STILL,
after 23 years in the media and 15 years of doing radio, that I still get
dismissed by arrogant billionaires as a “very unimportant person.”

I’m the underdog for life, I suppose, and I STILL pull for
every underdog I ever meet.

So, it was hard for me to pull for Dale Hunter, in the same
way that it was hard for me to pull for Rafael Palmeiro or Scott Erickson or
Sidney Ponson, once I’d met them.

Perhaps that’s the sad part of my reality that no listener
or reader will ever understand. That until you’ve spent every day of your life
from the time you’re 15 until you become a middle-aged adult seeing and hearing
and knowing what all of these “star athletes” think and feel and say,
you just have no idea.

I’ve seen athletes do some of the kindest things I’ve ever
seen anyone do. And I know for many, they’re doing even MORE that no one will
ever see.

But I’ve also heard many baseball players refer to fans as
flies, or as a nuisance that is to be avoided. I’ve seen players say many
stupid things that go unreported, in that John Rocker sorta way.

For some — especially in baseball (not so much in the
current NFL or the old NHL that I remember) — the word “media” is a
five-letter word synonymous with “asshole who is to be treated like the
enemy at all times.”

I’ve seen it year after year for 23 years, athletes who are
unappreciative of their status, their good fortune and their immense wealth!

It’s really sad because the entire reason I ever wanted to
get into this work and do this job (and I’ve honestly exceeded my wildest
expectations or dreams just by owning this station and website) was to be
around sports, around athletes that made the crowd roar, ask good questions,
get good answers, learn more about the game and the business and be more than
some “legitimate journalist” who was just doing a job, punching a
clock, killing off time waiting to die.

NOTHING was more compelling, interesting or exciting than
being around baseball and hockey teams and reporting on what was going on –
before, during and after games. It was all I ever dreamed of being — that John
Steadman meets Oscar Madison meets Howard Cosell kinda guy at a local sporting
event in Baltimore.

Even when it was just me and 1,200 people at a Skipjacks
game in 1989, there was still nowhere on earth that I’d rather be than at
“a game.”

There’s STILL nothing better than when I act like a
“real” fan — jumping up and down in my living room pulling for the
Predators and wearing my dorky mustard jersey, or high-fiving my wife and
friends anytime the Ravens get a first down.

The Orioles don’t do that for me anymore. I’ve gotten FAR
too close to the flame to have any emotion beyond anger, resentment and
betrayal.

They’ve been trying to put my out of business for nearly a
decade, and I really resent that, as I’m sure you can imagine.

I AM the fans. I AM A FAN!

I AM just the guy who buys tickets who also carries a press
pass and a little bit of knowledge about how business and the business and the
social responsibility of sports, and franchises and how they impact our lives
and why we, as taxpayers, publicly fund the owners’ wealth with stadiums,
arenas and tax breaks.

And I’ve seen the way baseball — that’s EVERYONE in
baseball — have conducted themselves during my 15 years of chasing baseball
players, coaches, managers, owners and front office personnel around this
continent.

And I’m absolutely OUTRAGED, to tell you the truth.

From the steroid scandal that has been almost completely
brushed under the rug (and just where IS Congress on this story?), to Barry
Bonds being a “hero” to some people, to the way the current Orioles
ownership group has treated our community and the people who built this
franchise.

And, then, I open the microphone (or my computer these days)
and tell THE TRUTH!

This is an ownership that has summarily urinated on (in no
particularly order):

Its legendary players – Brooks, Frank, Eddie, the
entire 1966 team, etc

Its legendary broadcaster – Jon Miller

Many sponsors – watching these games the past week
you wonder if ANYONE actually wants to buy an ad on MASN (If I see that woman
taunt Adam Loewen one more time or that dork harass Nick Markakis again, I’m
gonna vomit!)

The fans  –
those thousands and thousands of empty seats every night are REAL people, they
seem to forget

City of Baltimore – see their road jerseys tonight

The media – the press box is a ghost town because
they have again indicated that they don’t really WANT media coverage or to make
their organization accessible to answer REAL questions from anyone other than
“paid” flagship partners

Its partners in MLB – the Washington Nationals deal
only really did two things in retrospect: it made the 12,000 people in
Washington who like baseball happy with a crappy team, and it made all of Peter
Angelos’ murder of the Orioles franchise and traditions a “found”
financial boon to him with the creation of MASN, which is basically
“extorting” almost $3 a month on my cable bill from me into
perpetuity. In retrospect, and considering the way the new Nats owners are
going to get boned into perpetuity by the weak financial part of their deal,
the other MLB owners might’ve been better served moving the Expos to San Juan!

(By the way, does ANYONE honestly believe there would’ve
been more people at Camden Yards last week if the Nats didn’t exist?

Didn’t think so…especially considering the Washington
Times’ report this morning that there were 1,000 people in their seats for
the first pitch of last night’s game at RFK vs. the Braves)

We’re still hearing stories that fans are being discouraged
from moving into the lower bowl of the stadium after the 5th inning on
38-degree nights at Camden Yards

We’re still seeing that they are announcing crowds of five
digits when there are clearly about 5,000 people in the ballpark.

So far, to my eyes, there have been almost 50,000 NO SHOWS
IN THE FIRST WEEK OF THE SEASON ALONE!!!!

That just doesn’t add up!

So, as my plane starts to descend here onto Tampa, I want to
think happy thoughts.

And remember how cool it used to be to have a press pass for
a hockey game at the Capital Centre, or the first time I EVER got a press pass
for a road game with the Orioles — it was Toronto, summer of 1992, after an
8-hour drive through Pennsylvania and Western New York, to see one of those
classic Blue Jays-Orioles weekend duels right after my Pop died.

This job used to be SO MUCH FUN!

But, alas, Tampa will remind me of that.

No matter WHAT the Orioles do to try to torment me, lie to
me, lie ABOUT me or my company or my employees — no one can ever wipe that
smile off my face I’m gonna get in about 15 minutes when the plane races toward
the tarmac at Tampa International Airport and off to my right will sit Raymond
James Stadium (I sat on the right side of the plane specifically to see the
stadium! I know, I’m a dork!).

I’ll think of the magic and the fireworks and the confetti
of Jan. 28, 2001 — all of the things that it feels tha the Orioles are
incapable of providing for me or our city because of their general,
mean-spiritedness and incompetence.

Tampa has always been a fun place for me.

Later in the day, I’ll blog about my St. Petersburg spring
training memories (I have a BUNCH) since I covered the team in March during
1993 and ’94, before the strike moved the team down to Sarasota and then over
to their current disgrace and dump in Fort Lauderdale.

Tonight will be my third appearance at the St. Petersburg
Dome (I honestly don’t know what it’s called anymore — last I heard it was
Tropicana Field).

I attended NCAA March Madness games there in 1994 and 1998
(I’ll write about that later too!)

So, tonight I’ll do what I’ve always done — go to ballgames
and tell my audience what they would see if they were me.

The difference now, of course, is that an OLD guy like me
for the VERY FIRST TIME can report in real time, with real words in a blog,
with calls into the station from the field and even provide some pictures from
my trip in real time as well.

This is gonna be a fun night.

I’m wondering, most of all, how I’m gonna get treated.

I’ll blog about that in a little while as well.

 

 

 

 

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