Tag Archive | "registry"

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Playing Willy Wonka in America for a week for the German man who saved my wife’s life with bone marrow

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Now that it’s taken me a few days to recover from my mystery surprise vacation, it’s time to come clean on how all of the elements of the #NielsInTheUSA tour came together during his epic, whirlwind week of travel across the continent in search of Dirk Nowitzki.

The more we posted pictures from various places and with many friends, celebrities and people involved in Jenn’s fight for her life in battling leukemia, the more questions folks had about the journey.

All of it was a secret for him. It was designed that way because he told us he loves surprises. It was also his dream trip to America – the first time he’d traveled outside of Europe.

It all began with his initial letter, which we received on August 7, 2014 – just 42 days after he anonymously donated his bone marrow to Jenn from Germany that saved her life on June 26, 2014. Read the letter here: http://wnst.net/wnst/jennstrong-receives-the-greatest-life-and-love-letter-ever-written-from-germany/

WARNING: If you do not click on the above link and read the letter, you’ll miss the whole point of everything you’re about to read and you’ll never understand what you witnessed in pictures earlier in November. Please read it before you proceed…

(Yes, really!)

You’ll be glad you did…

***

German law states that donors must wait two years before they can be introduced to a survivor. We knew in August 2014 that Jenn would have to survive and thrive for the next 22 months in order to meet him.

As many of you know, Jenn’s leukemia returned last September and she needed her still-anonymous initial donor to once again give his lymphocytes to save her life on Nov. 19, 2015. This was our best shot to cure her cancer through an awful process known as “graft vs. host disease,” which she has spent much of this calendar year experiencing most of the gruesome aftershocks of her survival last winter.

On the afternoon of June 30th, we received an email from our John Hopkins transplant coordinator with the name of the angel who saved her life.

For two years we only knew that he was male, from Germany and 21 at the time of his donation of bone marrow to save a stranger’s life in America. All he knew was that it was a 41-year old woman in America he was trying to save with his blood.

His name was Niels Domogalla, now 23, and he lives in Witten, Germany. Despite having his email address, Jenn and I dove onto the internet and she found him on Facebook within 30 seconds.

She friended him. I friended him. We both began to write short letters of introduction but before we could finish them he had already friended us both back and had commented on our walls.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon in America. It was 10:30 in the evening in Germany.

And, so, a unique friendship was berthed.

And what, exactly, do you say to a person who saved your life?

 

***

 

It didn’t take us long to realize that this was a special and unique young man in Germany. First, he really was concerned about the quality and the grammar of his English. He speaks parts of four languages and his English is about 96% perfect, which is better than …

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Deutschland files: Miracles, matches and our mission to save more lives on our #JennStrongGermanyHero tour

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

This blog was written because so many of you wanted to read more or know more about our #JennStrongGermanyHero journey to Deutschland – a memorable trip to meet the young man who saved my wife’s life twice on the bone marrow registry.

We must admit, it was as “unique” of a meeting as we could’ve ever imagined.

His name is Niels Domogalla and, as we’ve now learned, he’s quite a young man. We are welcoming him to Baltimore on Nov. 12th for his 24th birthday to honor him and throw a party to celebrate his gift of life to Jenn. We spent three days with him and his family in several towns in Germany last week and we were thrilled to have beer, chat and laugh with a real “hero” in every sense of the word.

The video of Jenn meeting Niels somehow got viral over the weekend and more than 200,000 people have seen it since last Friday morning when I posted it from the DKMS headquarters in Cologne.

I can’t watch it and not cry but I still watched it every night in Europe and saw all of your comments. I sat in that hospital for 153 nights and watched her battle death with every ounce of energy so that she could “thank” him. When she was diagnosed the second time last September, she thought she had let him down.

We had communicated with him via Facebook messenger literally a few thousand times since June 30th when we found him. So, part of the “awkward” simply didn’t exist. That said, both were insistent over the eight weeks we conversed with him that they would avoid Skype or a phone chat. Clearly, he’s seen all of the videos and pictures and stories of our journey. He’s seen all of our work swabbing, the MLB 30-30 Tour and all of the anguish of her fight for her life. Over the eight weeks, he was very inquisitive about our story and much of it is public record – so we haven’t had to tell him most of the gruesome parts. He can see it.

About 72 hours before we got on the plane for Deutschland I realized that the German national soccer team was hosting Finland in a town to the west, near the Dutch border in Moechengladbach. The game was a friendly and tickets were readily available for $45. But it turned out to be the final match for German legend Bastille Schweinsteiger and it was only an hour drive.

(I’m not a speed junky but there is something very appealing about driving 95 miles per hour and I busted me some 165 kpm on the autobahn rolling toward Dusseldorf on Wednesday night at sunset.)

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The game was awesome. He loved it. And, if you read his letter, you know he loves the NBA and the NFL. We spent two hours on the square of Dom Cathedral in Cologne talking about 4-3 defenses and the use of nickel and dime packages. I used 11 beer coasters to show him various sub packages and offensive and defensive strategies used in the NFL. We also drank a lot of

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After 25 years of writing about “heroes” #JennStrong and I finally get to meet a real one on Wednesday in Germany

Posted on 28 August 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

I’ve been hearing about heroes in sports since approximately 1973. I’ve been writing and talking about sports since 1984 and every season a new “hero” comes along in every sport, in every city where championships are won and modern parades are held.

Today I will ask a pair of questions with some “deep thoughts” for the day:

What is a hero?

And what do you say to them when you finally meet one?

I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’m going to write (and say) about my wife meeting the man who has (twice) selflessly saved her life via the bone marrow registry.

We’ve also talked about it on the radio this week. The (then) 21-year old man in Germany who twice saved my wife’s life asked the (very Freudian) question two summers ago when he donated bone marrow to keep her alive.

If you haven’t read his letter to her from 24 months ago, please read it. I called it the greatest letter ever written and I’ll stand by that.

You’ve probably seen some aspect of the fight of Jennifer Ford Aparicio, whom I married 13 years ago on a beach in Jamaica.

You’re probably reading this because you’ve witnessed her courageous battle for her life.

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Maybe you’ve seen a bald picture of her smiling? Or perhaps a picture of our beloved cat, Kitty, licking her face when she weighed 90 pounds? Maybe you’re a childhood friend of ours through Dundalk or Manchester, New Hampshire, or perhaps we’ve collected you on our journey in life.

Through two battles with leukemia, Jennifer Ford Aparicio has spent 153 nights in a hospital bed, surrounded by a ghetto in East Baltimore, wondering if she was going to see the next sunrise.

Vomit. Blood. Tears. Pain. Agony. Fear. Horrific hospital food. Incredibly brilliant doctors. Nurses with empathy and compassion that goes beyond words. And modern medicine that has miraculously kept her alive through two heinous battles.

My wife has stared down death on the absolute end of the plank and persevered. She is lucky. She is strong. She is brave. She is incredible. She is grateful.

I am simply a witness writing about the greatest “comeback” I can possibly imagine.

#JennStrong has been back to work as a network engineer for almost 90 days and fighting with her insurance company (I routinely call them “heartless, profiteering, corporate pieces of shit” but you can call them Met Life) for six months. She has been dealing with all kinds of fallout ­ – physical, emotional, spiritual that I can’t even comprehend – from twice battling for her life over the past 30 months.

Here’s the current update:

Skin rashes. Tear ducts that no longer function and a scratched cornea. Bone fatigue. Weakness. Stiffness and pain in every joint. Lack of appetite. Lack of energy. Lack of life, even after surviving the battle for her life. She has napped every day since Sept. 30th of last year and still tries to find the energy she had before leukemia wiped out our normal quality of life and happiness in March 2014.

Meanwhile, her insurance has forced her back to working full time, even though her eyes haven’t fared as well as the rest of her body.

You notice how she looks.

She notices how she feels.

Some days are better than others. Folks say: “It’s good to see you.” She says: “It’s good to be seen.”

But this post-cancer recovery doesn’t ever seem to get any easier.

But, for one glorious weekend, this is a time of celebration and gratitude.

This story isn’t about her, but about him.

On Tuesday night, Jenn and I are flying to Frankfurt, Germany and on Wednesday afternoon, we’ll be two Americans eating Mongolian barbeque, watching soccer and drinking local bier with a 23-year old German man who selflessly, inexplicably and (then anonymously) saved my wife’s life on June 26, 2014 with a bag of bone marrow.

When her leukemia returned last September, he saved her life again on November 19, 2015 with another bag of blood – lymphocytes that were designed to bring on the graft vs. host disease that has made her so weak and frail in 2016.

Seriously…what do you say and how do you even comprehend such benevolence and generosity?

HE. SAVED. HER. LIFE.

T-W-I-C-E!

They are now genetic twins – DNA and science will tell you they are literally relatives from halfway around the world who’ve never met. If she left her blood at a crime scene, it would be identical to his blood. His engine makes her blood and keeps her alive.

Well, on Wednesday we’ll be having lunch and we’re going to try to figure out how to say “thank you” for her life and his generosity.

Just think about that for a moment? What would you say? How could you possibly say it?

A hug? Some tears of life? Some embrace of eternal gratitude? A beer? Some schnitzel and black forest cake?

My wife has been to hell and back.

Twice.

We found the man who saved her life on Facebook on the afternoon of June 30. He had no idea she was even alive. He has been extremely inquisitive. He speaks four languages, including English that’s better than most of my friends from Dundalk.

By now, he’s keenly aware of all aspects of her fight.

We don’t need to ask “why?”

We know why. He told us before we even knew him.

He saved her life because he could…

“I did this donation also out of deepest conviction. I didn’t do it because it’s highly regarded in society. No, I did this for you because I believe it is our assignment to help people when they need help the most.”

At the time, he was one of TWO people on earth who had the DNA match necessary to keep her breathing.

Now, we’re going to Germany to try to figure out the rest of the story. And how “angels” still exist.

I’ve been writing about “heroes” via sports for the last 32 years. I’ve been taking phone calls and chatting about sports “heroes” for 25 years.

Ray Lewis was a “hero” once. So was Joe Flacco. And Cal Ripken. And Brooks Robinson. And Johnny Unitas before that.

And blah, blah, blah…

The charity organization we’ve partnered with is called, There Goes My Hero – just like the Foo Fighters song. With your help, we’ve raised a bunch of money and awareness about leukemia and bone marrow transplants and the registry and asking you to take a lottery ticket on being a “hero.”

I think it’s appropriate David Bowie was inspired and wrote the song “Heroes” in Berlin, Germany.

We can be heroes just for one day…

On Wednesday when you’re having breakfast in Baltimore, I’ll get to finally meet a real hero in Bochum, Germany.

We’ll let you know how it goes…

If you want to meet him, we’ll be throwing a birthday party for him on Nov. 12th here in Baltimore. Hold the date. Come and meet a hero!

 

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A #JennStrong2 update: Cancer complicates things…

Posted on 08 November 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“All of my life I’ve been a type 1 diabetic. I’ve always taken life day by day.”

– Bret Michaels

 

ON THE 34TH DAY OF HER SECOND battle with cancer, Jenn slept and vomited and slept some more and vomited some more. Needless to say, it’s been a rough fifth week here at The Hotel for my beautiful wife in this #Jennstrong2 journey to a new, cancer-free life.

When she was first diagnosed with leukemia in March 2014, our initial fear was that somehow her Type 1 Diabetes would factor into her prognosis and her ability to survive all that was about to happen to her 112-pound body during the first intense cancer treatment and chemotherapy. Until this week, it was always an issue ­– and a well-maintained one – but never a major factor outside of basic monitoring.

I have written extensively about her journey over the past five weeks. Because of the complex nature of her leukemia treatment and the daily roller coaster of things that could – and have – gone awry, I’ve been updating her situation weekly via my blog here. Trust me, you wouldn’t want a daily or hourly report from here. It’s simply too volatile at times. It’s cancer. Stuff happens, the doctors manage it and you hold on tight and wait for improvement.

You can read backwards here to be fully in the loop about her path to recovery.

I also wrote extensively about the first 18 months of her miracle first cure during my 30-30 #GiveASpit tour this summer when we traveled to create awareness for leukemia and the bone marrow registry that saved her life. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Today, however, she is slowly coming out of four days of hell because of some scary things that happened to her blood chemistry during the middle of the week. On Thursday evening, Jenn had a brief and early-detected episode with a complication of her diabetes. It was the first time anything significantly bad has occurred because of a medical condition she has managed since 1991.

I needed to Google it on Friday afternoon to understand it because I’d never heard about it before, despite almost 13 years of living with a diabetic.

It’s called Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and, according to Diabetes.org, “this is a serious condition that can lead to diabetic coma (passing out for a long time) or even death.”

When your cells don’t get the glucose they need for energy, your body begins to burn fat for energy, which produces ketones. Ketones are chemicals that the body creates when it breaks down fat to use for energy. The body does this when it doesn’t have enough insulin to use glucose, the body’s normal source of energy. When ketones build up in the blood, they make it more acidic. This is a warning sign that your diabetes is out of control or that you are getting sick.

Because they’re literally checking her blood composition and counts several times a day, this was caught very early and was nipped in the bud. But it was still a massive blow to her progress this week.

On Thursday, it began with diarrhea and then full nausea and vomiting in the overnight and much of the day Friday, which led her to sleeping and waking only to vomit more, literally around the clock, for 72 hours. Of course, she was wired to heart monitors and the largest number of bags of fluids, medicines, insulin, antibiotics and drips that I’ve ever seen attached to her tree to neutralize the effects of DKA.

They’re also keeping an eye on her appendicitis, which has appeared to calm for now after a week of antibiotics.

She is now pretty washed out, frail and fatigued. And it was the second time during this second journey that she experienced several days of “delirious” …

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#JennStrong 2 update: Every day is a bloody Halloween at The Leukemia Hotel

Posted on 30 October 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory.”

-Vince Lombardi

 

IT WAS ONLY TWO DROPS of blood.

On the fourth day of her stay at The Hotel, on this second leukemia journey of pain and reward, my wife Jenn was seated as her nurse unhooked her first bag of B Positive blood. Somehow, a pair of lonely droplets sat under her tree on the floor – beaded up, shining ruby red, like eyes staring at me.

Jenn said to me, “Hey, can you grab a napkin and clean that up?”

And as I looked down and saw it, I just couldn’t do it.

My stomach turned, my eyes glazed over and I needed a moment to close my eyes and collect myself. Nurses and doctors and medics and diabetics – a club my wife has been a member of since 1991 – all see and deal with the scarlet fluid of life all day, every day.

I must admit it was the first time that I saw Jenn administer a shot into her abdomen in February 2003 that I really fell in love with her because of the empathy I felt and the toughness she exuded in dealing with pain and self-inflicted needles and blood and courage. Honestly, I’d never met a girl with that kind of innate grit.

This weekend she’s dealing with the effects of an appendicitis that was diagnosed late Wednesday night after an evening of stomach pain. We learned earlier in the week that her donor’s schedule was delayed with the blood she’ll need to survive this leukemia diagnosis and her bone marrow transplant from June 2014.

So instead of Thursday Night Football with the Patriots and a potentially life-saving lymphocyte infusion from her 22-year old German donor, she instead waits for a variety of antibiotics to settle down her appendix, which they do not want to remove because she currently has no immune system to fight bacteria or to heal wounds.

Surgery is the last thing in the world she needs right now. The doctors believe that it will be avoided and she’s trending in a positive direction.

Cancer isn’t fair and it does kinda what it wants. Or, more fairly, it’s the chemotherapy and poisons, which are designed to kill the cancer, that create other sticky situations throughout various organs in the body.

The medical team expects signs of neutrophils sometime over the next two weeks. This would indicate her white blood cells are coming and her body is bouncing back. The appendix situation remains “moment to moment” and she’s constantly being monitored to make sure this doesn’t get more complicated. Heart monitors, blood pressure checks, lots of labs and scans are all involved at all hours of the day.

Sleep doesn’t come easy at The Hotel.

Meanwhile, during the Halloween weekend of revelry and costumes and candy, we’ve only got blood – and not the fake kind – here at The Hotel. And like vampires they’re taking plenty of blood out of her.

Earlier in the week, she started feeling better from a burned-out gastrointestinal tract from the chemo. After eight days with mucositis and incredible pain, she was finally getting back to eating oatmeal and soft foods like mashed potatoes and soups. Now, she’s being fed once again by a nutrition solution every night because they can’t afford to find out what real food might do to her stomach if her appendix gets uppity. She’s slowly getting back to clear fluids and being able to drink water again.

We’ve had throat sores and nose bleeds, fevers and incredible bruising (she has very few platelets) – plus tears and fears and plenty of pain and discomfort this week.

And plenty of B Positive blood being drawn, given and used.

A bloody Halloween, indeed…

I see lots of macho muscles from idiot sports fans on the internet and every day out in the real world someone is playing the role of “tough guy” – but ask yourself how you’d feel about pricking your fingers a dozen times a day and giving yourself shots twice day, EVERY day just to survive the day and live through the night?

As a diabetic, Jenn has been doing that every single day of her life since 1991.

We didn’t need Halloween or cancer for every day to be a bloody day at my condo. Alcohol swabs, needles, pins, gauze and droplets of blood on clothes are a …

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My wife’s leukemia has returned, our #JennStrong2 cancer battle has begun

Posted on 02 October 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Apparently, one miracle wasn’t enough for the most beautiful girl in the world. Now, my amazing wife Jennifer will try to repeat with back-to-back miracle seasons and beating cancer again with a second bone marrow transplant.

“I don’t know how to tell you this but your leukemia has returned,” is what her doctor told her while she was standing at a lunch buffet in a supermarket in Hunt Valley at 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon.

I was in the middle of a WNST radio conversation with baseball writer Bob Nightengale when she sent me a frantic text.

Clearly, we were both floored – completely shocked and devastated by the news.

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That is not what we were expecting to hear on Tuesday when Jenn went to Johns Hopkins for what we thought was some routine blood work in the morning.

Yes, she had been battling some low energy over the past few weeks. She didn’t feel quite herself in Denver two weeks ago when we traveled to Mile High to see the Ravens and Broncos. She came home with a cold, some sniffles and a sore throat. She got an antibiotic and was feeling better every day – almost normal and 100% earlier this week.

Life had been so normal for us for so long ­– her initial bone marrow transplant was June 26, 2014 – that we never feared or envisioned this relapse and second battle, which we expect to be just as demanding and gruesome as the first battle.

Now that we have discovered that her leukemia has returned, we realize there have been some clues.

She had a massive cramp in her foot last Friday night at the Maritime Magic event at Living Classrooms Foundation. She started noticing a few small bruises on her body over the weekend. She’s been a Type 1 diabetic since 1991 and noticed some weird ranges in her blood sugar over the past week.

And on the final day of Blood Cancer Awareness Month, we became again aware of the silent ticking time bomb of leukemia. The cancerous cells exploded in her body again on Tuesday and, once again, will put our lives on hold for the next year.

Jenn had given blood 13 days earlier, when she first started feeling sick, and her blood was cancer free. Now, she has blasts in her blood and her platelets and key numbers are beginning to dive as the cancer begins to ravage her immune system.

She will move back into the hospital on Sunday night and her chemotherapy regiment will begin on Monday morning. We expect a lengthy hospital stay and a long battle. She spent 56 days in the hospital on the first journey – including 42 days on the first stay in March and April of last year. We were in the hospital literally every day for 180 days.

Honestly, this time, we’re just hoping to have her home by the end of the World Series or sometime around Halloween. And we’ve put our full faith in the doctors at Johns Hopkins who miraculously saved her life the first time.

My son has been on his honeymoon this week at Disney World, the Ravens played in Pittsburgh on Thursday night and we were headed for a five-day beach getaway and now, nothing else seems to matter anymore.

I wrote a massive blog about my search for happiness last month.

But, as Don Henley, sang: “In a New York minute, everything can change.”

Indeed, the wolf is always at the door.

Life is very fragile and our time on earth is very limited.

We’ve had 72 hours to digest this diagnosis and the second battle begins now.

It’s #JennStrong2.

And once again, my wife told me on Tuesday night: “I’m not going to f**king die. I will fight!”

So, off to the 5th floor we go for an extended stay and a full focus on her getting to remission and whatever it takes after that.

Her doctors are working on various protocols and developing an evolving strategy to save her life.

We know this journey well. We’ve become close friends with survivors. We’ve also lost some friends along the way. We’ve already run into folks at the hospital who were battling with her in 2014 and are still fighting for their lives every day.

And we’ve also seen many miracles.

Last Saturday night, we went to have our annual pre-game beverage with Marvin Lewis here in Baltimore before the Ravens game. We ran into this young lady with some Cincinnati roots, who is a five-year bone marrow transplant survivor.

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Inspiration is all around.

Survivors abound. That’s what There Goes My Hero is all about!

But this #JennStrong2 fight will not be any

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Part 2: Life On The Road, 30 Days of #GiveASpit and baseball (The journey)

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

“It ain’t never been done ‘cause we ain’t ever done it.

You’ve got to stop thinking so negative, son!”

Bo “Bandit” Darville

(as performed by Burt Reynolds)

Smokey & The Bandit

 

 

ONCE THE TRIP WAS FINALIZED and it was decided that I’d be flying more than originally planned, the only real concerns we had about the voyage were the not-so-remote chances of some catastrophic weather or travel issues that could derail the goal: getting to 30 MLB games in 30 days without interruption or too much drama.

We also couldn’t afford to get sick or injured. Carrying bags around the continent would suck with a bad back or a bum foot. As we learned in 2014, your health is everything!

Would all the planes arrive on time? Would weather cooperate? Clearly, a few poorly timed storms and the trip would be a mess. You can only truly plan so much and then fate determines the outcome.

And if you’ve listened to my radio show at any point over the past quarter of a century, you know that I despise rain delays. Nothing good happens when it rains in baseball.

I’ve dedicated some time on the radio over the past few months discussing the trip and some of the comedy, drama and sights I saw on my unique journey. Most of my guests along the route joined me afterward to talk about it on the radio.

I’ve also joked that no one prepared me for 30 straight days of airplanes, airports, hotels, stadiums, restaurants and their various brands of cheap toilet paper.

There were many statistics and “over and under” side bets I was making with my wife on the 30-30 trip regarding beer consumed, hot dogs inhaled, hangovers, bad hotel pillows, crappy showers, lost/forgotten items, etc. And as much as we prepared to travel light and packed as little as we’d need, we never thought we’d really succeed in our goal of never having to check a bag for 30 days. But, miraculously, I literally lived out of one suitcase, one backpack and carted a giant cotton swab “prop” in a long tube through every TSA checkpoint in the United States. (By the way, TSA Pre is a wonderful thing!)

Toward the end of the 30-day journey, most mornings I was torn by an extreme coffee situation. I’m a coffee nerd but it became a daily decision about whether to caffeinate before a flight at 5 a.m. (and not sleep) or afterward, in the next airport or city after a plane nap.

And there were several days at the end where I was extremely loopy and working on three or four hours of sleep and moving from hotel bed to shower to car to highway to parking garage to shuttle to TSA to gate to plane to seats to sleep…

Some days – like in Dallas, San Diego and Denver – I was running on fumes and took a few hours to sleep. In others, like Los Angeles and Milwaukee, we were full of energy and put almost 20,000 steps on my wife’s Fit Bit.

You can see my 30 ballpark rankings here at WNST.net but to be honest there are no truly awful experiences in Major League Baseball in regard to stadiums. And the beauty is all in the eye of the beholder. As I wrote in my preview blog for the rankings, many of these stadiums – or is it stadia? – provide a pretty similar experience. Whether it’s hot dog races, presidents or sausages, it’s all kinda the same thing. They all do “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in the 7th inning. They all bluster “God Bless America” every night. They all have “walk up” music for individual players.

Most have the most annoying item in modern sports – the P.A. or music or scoreboard imploring the crowd to “make some noise” with various cues and sounds. Nothing more cheeseball than that.

Every team has a team of people trying to make the “game day experience” something memorable. Every team wants to do something special when you come to the ballpark to lure you back and attract you as a lifer baseball fan.

Or at least they should.

But that part is a mixed bag – market to market, team to team, brand to brand.

Some teams always win. Some teams almost never win.

Some have vibrant fan bases. Many are a distant second citizen to the NFL.

Some teams treated me well. Some treated me like garbage.

Certain ballparks have a “wow” factor and some don’t. Some have good teams right now and some are in the midst of having awful seasons this summer so the experience wasn’t as rich. Seeing Toronto or the New York Mets in September would be far different than having seeing them in June. And seeing Houston and Kansas City this June was far different than anything they’ve seen in those ballparks in many Junes.

I had some “wow” moments and memories of my own on this tour and that’s what the rest of this essay is about: the stuff that’s worth telling you about.

Let’s start with the MVP of the 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit tour: artist Mike Ricigliano. The skinny dude with the funny hats has been drawing cartoons of me (and virtually everyone else in the sports world) in Baltimore for 30 years. I met him at The News American in 1984 on the weekend my son was born. He’s one of the enduring friends in my life and we’ve had a lot of laughs over the years. His son was originally responsible for dubbing me “Nasty Nestor.”

Here’e the story of the giant cotton swab – the enduring item from the 30-30 #GiveASpit tour.

On April 8th, I attended a Washington Capitals game with an NHL fan from Edmonton, Alberta named Rob Suggitt – a kindred spirit in hockey fandom.

While Caps Senior Manager of Community Relations Peter Robinson was giving Suggitt an incredible tour of the Verizon Center on the 27th night of his 30 rinks in 30 days mission for Make A Wish, I was telling them about my similarly arranged baseball tour.  Robinson said: “You should get a giant cotton swab and take it everywhere you go! That would help you get people on the registry.”

You know what?

He was right.

By request, Ricig made the fabulous cotton swab that started in the hands of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson from Rush along with Randy Johnson the night before the tour started.

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It was an instant hit at the United Center in Chicago that night.

Every stadium we swabbed in – except Minnesota – we had Ricig’s giant cotton swab leading the way to get folks to our booth to learn about the bone marrow registry and get on the list for There Goes My Hero and Delete Blood Cancer.

Some of the looks we got from fans were priceless. Dude in pink shirt waving giant cotton swab in stadium bowl! But it was a lightning rod to get folks to our table for education, swabbing and success.

It also caused some attention we didn’t want. We were pulled up by Comerica Park security in Detroit and forced to take it to the car. They thought it was a weapon. I told them it was a weapon to save lives.

The gate agent at the St. Louis airport forced us to check it on a one-hour flight to Milwaukee but “The Swab” made it successfully onto 21 other flights in 30 days on the road. I guess if you get on airplanes every morning with a third carry on that’s a giant Q Tip, eventually you’ll encounter the wicked witch of Southwest.

People have repeatedly asked me what the highlights of the tour were over the 32 days on the road. It’s impossible to recount everything we saw and every person who was kind to us but I hope this essay captures the essence of

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Part 1: Life On The Road, 30 Days of #GiveASpit and baseball

Posted on 07 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Part 1: Prelude and Back Story

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.”

James A. Michener

 

SO, I NEVER DESIGNED THE 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit Tour to be written about. It just kind of happened that way because, at heart, I’m a writer. And suddenly, I feel like I have a lot I want to say and as much as I talk on the radio at WNST.net & AM 1570 around the clock about all sorts of things, this story of my baseball bucket list trip was meant to be told in writing.

Ever since my wife Jennifer was diagnosed with leukemia in March 2014, I really haven’t written much publicly for lots of reasons. I wrote a massive blog about my ongoing pursuit of happiness back on August 24th, but over the past year I’ve been observing, measuring and planning this summer baseball adventure. There’ve been no blogs, no books but plenty of “statuses” in social media on my Facebook and Twitter. Mainly, it’s been a lack of time but certainly not a lack of inspiration. Some of my deepest thoughts through her miraculous journey have been written down but much of it has been best kept to myself for the time being.

I made a lot of changes at WNST in August 2014 and I’ve been doing lots of radio over the past year.

I think I’m doing the best work of my career but that’s for you to judge if you listen to WNST.net or AM 1570 at any point around the clock. I talk to the smartest people on the planet about sports. We have conversations. There’s no hysteria. There’s no ridiculous accusations or a focus on rumormongering, outrageous statements or drumming up phone calls. We don’t do outrage for outrage’s sake. Never have.

And over the past year, I’ve been mapping the rest of my personal journey, my personal brand and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

Let me start with this: I’m very lucky and very grateful for all of the awesomeness, opportunity and love I’ve received over the years from listeners, the community, athletes and coaches, and friends and sponsors who have kept WNST going since 1998.

On the eve of my 25th year – 2016 will be our silver anniversary on the radio – this life spent in the bizarre circus of Baltimore sports media has come full circle. I’ve salvaged and improved my business and personal brand after years of neglect from within. I’m treasuring my life and that of my wife and family. I’m really enjoying doing radio every day and I have no plans to leave the airwaves, hire more hosts or sell or leave WNST.

Although I haven’t written a lot over the past year – and that’s about to change – it’s been a great time and this blog will catch you up on that.

And sometimes, it’s really much more convenient to write about life in 140 characters or less on Twitter. Or, perhaps, at least 140 characters at a time. But my story has evolved and I have a lot on my mind and the 30-30 #GiveASpit baseball tour this summer has made me want to share more about my journey.

Many people asked me about my epic baseball tour and encouraged me to write about it.

I’m glad you’re here and hope you enjoy my storytelling and observations.

And even if no one reads this, it’s a bit cathartic to share my thoughts especially when I go around Baltimore and hear so much gossip, rumorama and thoughts attributed to me that really have nothing to do with me.

Such is life as a public figure. Sad, but true…

It was also quite the reality check for me when I saw such a diminished audience for “Purple Reign 2: Faith, Family & Football – A Baltimore Love Story” back in 2012. It was disheartening to hear people everywhere tell me that they really don’t read books

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What's the worst MLB stadium? Nestor says No. 30 was easy: just go to Orange County and see what the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have under a broken halo...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 30 Anaheim

Posted on 10 August 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Well, someone has to be “last.” Simply put: this place is a dump. I visited “The Big A” in 1991 when it was still a two-sport relic and they’ve had me believing from afar for nearly two decades that they actually fixed the place up. I dunno. Maybe I just harbored higher expectations. I watched it again last weekend when the Orioles visited on television and nothing cosmetically on the broadcast prepares you for how ordinary the whole experience is once you arrive in Orange County. The concessions are so far inferior to every other ballpark as to be laughable. The alcoves in the stadium are dark, dreary and awful. It’s not really structurally much different than I remember it from 24 years ago – and even then it was an awkwardly shaped, multi-use facility at a freeway exit near what used to be orange groves that are now strip malls or outposts of Disneyland. Now, to point out some positives: even the worst place (and last place) in MLB to see a baseball game had some bright spots. I did see a visor for $6.88 and I have great remorse that I didn’t purchase it to match my Dodgers “LA” visors. I also bought a draft beer in the 3rd inning at a discount stand for $4.50. And it was a real beer ­– like 16 ounces and tasty! But, overall, the place is an eyesore, really, if you judge it against the other 29 parks. I’ve been to many minor league parks with more to recommend them, including Aberdeen. The Angels should be embarrassed, especially considering how great the fanbase has been and how cute those monkeys are all over the place. I walked around all 30 MLB ballparks in 30 days. This place is the worst. And, for me, it’s not really close. Well, except for perhaps No. 29…

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On Sept. 8-9-10, I will be releasing an extensive essay documenting my 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit journey of 2015. You can read it and all of my work here: http://wnst.net/author/nestoraparicio/

 

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Nestor traveled to 30 MLB ballparks in 30 days this summer and is putting them in order. We'll be counting them down from worst to first through Sept. 8 when he'll release a three-part essay on his MLB #GiveASpit leukemia and bone marrow awareness journey.

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Ranking 30 MLB stadiums from worst to first isn’t easy

Posted on 10 August 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Today, with my 30th ranked stadium in Major League Baseball, I’ll be unveiling – and highlighting – a different ballpark and experience from my 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit tour. We’ll be ranking them from worst to first every day over the month.

Much like criteria for various sports Halls of Fame, postseason awards and/or any other smarmy institutional rankings or polls or opinions, this one rests solely on me. I figured if I could rank my Top 50 Bruce Springsteen songs, or U2 numbers or Rush classics, then I could work out the most requested piece of advice or expertise from spending a month of my life on the road chasing baseball.

Along my journey this summer, everyone seemed to ask the same question:

“Which stadium did you like the best?”

And, honestly, when you’re in a different ballpark every night for 30 days, it’s pretty natural to start comparing and contrasting every facet of every place you visit.

My ranking are based on an all-encompassing vibe and mojo. These are my personal rankings. They’re not “traditional” in any way. I put a lot of thought into them and invested the time and money to visit them all and experience baseball in totality in 2015.

I didn’t take as gospel what some broadcaster or “journalist,” who enters through the press gate and rolls up to the feeding room, said about these venues. Instead, I walked through every park – some of them twice – just to see every nook and cranny.

It’s also obvious that every stadium is better with more people in it and fans filling it. Some parks are struggling to get folks to come to the games and many with good reasons across MLB.

Baseball ain’t really so cheap and “family friendly” anymore. Sure, you can score a $5 get-in these days in Denver or Phoenix but there’s a reason these owners are making hundreds of millions of dollars while putting a sometimes “cheap as possible” brand of baseball on the field.

Your TV money (and every neighbor you have) is what’s driving the business of baseball. The stadiums are simply a stage that allows the money to flow.

Some teams – like the Yankees, Tigers and Orioles – have built stadia over the past two decades that are chic, sexy and printing money but they haven’t really captured the spirit and charm of their previous homes. It’s almost been a backward ride for the mojo of the franchise in some ways. For other dumps and cookie cutters like The Vet and Busch Stadium and Three Rivers (which was one of the worst places to watch a game from any sight line), well it was hard to not improve with a new facility.

And the venerable places – and the top two on my list – are old-school stadiums that have renovations that have made them shine even more.

Look, many of these ballparks are lovely. Every community – save for Oakland, Tampa and maybe Toronto, can look their fans in the eyes and say “we have a world class facility that warrants you dropping a bunch of money to see a game in our stadium.”

One criteria I’d use is this: if I were a fan of this team, how compelled would I be to buy a 13-game plan, venture to the stadium and want to spend money at baseball games. I’ve been going to baseball games since 1972. Before Peter Angelos took my press pass in 2006, I did 40 to 60 games a year. Now, it’s more of a “special occasion” for me to go to a baseball game. Especially given the amount of money it costs to spend a summer night at a game if you pay retail and eat inside the park.

The bottom line is this: where is my money good?

In the end, which of these places would make me want to fly back – right now – and do it all over again and watch a ballgame.

There’s a lot of ethereal, intangible qualities in a stadium experience.

In some places – like Seattle, San Francisco, Minnesota – I was held at the top of sections and could only take my seat at the of an at bat. It was forced courtesy. I thought it was superbadass and long overdue at baseball games. I like the hockey rules. You are allowed to move around when the ball isn’t in play. Seems so sensible as to be standard operating procedure. But we’ve all had some idiot walk in front of us just as a 3-1 pitch is being delivered with two on in the mid innings.

In others, you could just feel the charm of the staff. Seattle, Minnesota and Philadelphia most notably – every vendor, ticket taker, staffer – was completely helpful and cool.

“They’re all meant to be different” as stadium architect and expect Janet Marie Smith said to me. “It’s why we love pilgrimages. Every one of the Major League Baseball ballparks is unique.”

In many cases, when I wasn’t swabbing or hanging with a celebrity pal or tweeting up pictures from the ballparks, I was interacting with folks on the concourse. Some nights I was treated like a media member. Some nights the team gave us nice tickets. Some nights we arrived super early to swab people. Some nights – like Washington, Miami, The Bronx in New York, Colorado and both sides of Chicago, which, clearly is not my kinda town – I scalped tickets on the street or Stubhub because the team treated me like a disease or a nuisance. The Cubs-White Sox game at Wrigley was a really pricey ticket and I bought standing room seats for $51 each and we squatted for five innings behind a pole at first base and had a fine time because we weren’t getting pelted by rain like everyone who paid $200 did all afternoon.

This isn’t about taking categories and ranking these 30 nights of my life. I didn’t consider the weird rules for each park or even a ton of the history or periphery outside of the main thesis: “If I were sending you someplace to watch a baseball game next summer, where would I send you first…then second…then third.”

So, here’s my list, starting with No. 30 and counting backward. We’ll release one stadium a day for the next month and there’ll be some notes I’ve assembled about why they’re ranked thusly.

I will be writing at length about all aspects of my 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit tour the week of Sept. 8 when we release our No. 1 stadium in Major League Baseball.

My Kerouac tour is complete. I have plenty of stories to tell.

I hope you enjoy the journey…

 

Cheers,

Nestor

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