Tag Archive | "#GiveASpit"

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Give a spit and prep for Stanley Cup playoffs with Caps head coach Barry Trotz at Michael’s Cafe Timonium March 29

Posted on 17 March 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

All Washington Caps fans are welcome to join us on Thursday, March 29th at Michael’s Café in Timonium as we welcome former Baltimore Skipjacks head coach Barry Trotz back to Baltimore County. We’ll be chatting at length about the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Capitals quest to win the goblet as we swab for There Goes My Hero and the bone marrow registry.

Along with our WNST.net Caps historian and blogger Ed Frankovic, I will be bringing out the tough questions for Coach Trotz and doing some hockey history with one of my favorite people.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and every year the stories of the old days in Baltimore grow taller.

And, yes, pictures like this exist.

I would encourage anyone who has followed our #JennStrong leukemia journey over the past four years to come out and take a few minutes to learn about how we’re trying to save more lives by getting more young people onto the DKMS bone marrow registry to assist blood cancer patients around the world.

As always we appreciate the sponsorship of Freedmont Mortgage, Cole Roofing, the Maryland Jockey Club and the many partners we’ve had over the years for There Goes My Hero. And we’re really looking forward to having some crab cakes and beer after the Orioles beat the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day. If you’re going to Camden Yards, drop by and see us afterward and meet Coach Trotz.

Rock your red and join us at Michael’s Café in Timonium and help us celebrate their 34th year serving those tasty crab cakes. Join us for a cup of that famous “split level” soup and a prime aged steak and a glass of wine on Thursday, March 29th.

And #GiveASpit and #PuckLeukemia.

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JennStrong2 update: Our 2016 New Year’s Resolution is to stay out of the hospital

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

“And we can break through

Though torn in two, We can be one…

I, I will begin again”

Paul Hewson

New Year’s Day

 

WHEN SHE CHECKED INTO THE HOTEL last Tuesday – and knowing she was going to spend a dreadful Christmas holiday in a hospital bed – I was more concerned than I’ve been at any point in this almost two-year old leukemia journey.

Jenn was frail, gaunt, blank-faced and hadn’t really eaten anything of substance in three weeks.

Many of you have asked, inquired politely or simply followed this second trip into the gruesome world of cancer for my beautiful wife, Jennifer Ford Aparicio. We are eternally grateful that you care. But sometimes it has been hard to express how we’re feeling, especially when I’ve bumped into folks in the real world who ask “How is she today?” or the more familiar John Harbaugh refrain: “How’s our girl doing?”

As I wrote when this second cancer journey began in late September, sometimes you really don’t want to know how she’s feeling.

We’re doing our best to learn about leukemia, bone marrow transplants and graft vs. host disease as we go, and give you the most accurate information as we know it so that our friends, family and loved ones understand the reality of her path. Writing about it here also gives us a chance to tell the story once – so that we don’t have to do it a thousand times as folks ask one by one. As you’ve read, it’s very complex and there’s no elevator ride timetable that can accurately portray what’s been happening to her during this battle.

She’s home now after nine more days at The Hotel, resting and recuperating. The war is not over – we know better than to be overconfident – but there’s a legitimate chance that we may have finally fought our final battle before returning her to safety and a cancer-free future in 2016.

After her leukemia returned on September 29th, we were told in early October that a series of things needed to happen:

She needed to get into the hospital for chemotherapy to clear out the cancer and then hope that her initial donor, a 21-year old man from Germany who saved her life on June 26, 2014, would agree to send more lymphocytes to save her life again. If not, she’d need to go back to the bone marrow registry for a new bone marrow transplant from another donor.

Just 22 months ago, there were only two perfect matches for Jenn on the international registry. Now, there are NINE. It makes us feel that our 30-30 #GiveASpit Tour this summer at Major League Baseball parks and many awareness and bone marrow donor drives are working all over the world.

If there’s any “message” or “gift” or “thing you can do for us” this is it: get on the bone marrow registry now!

Sure, there were setbacks in October and November. And there was plenty of illness in December. Her appendicitis has somehow calmed down. Her blood sugars, volatile for a period of time, have normalized. Her appetite, all but gone for long stretches, is now slowly returning even if her stomach has shrunk. On Tuesday night at the hospital she said, “I’m feeling kinda hungry but I’m really full.”

Yes, many things we’ve seen and heard haven’t made sense on the long, strange trip.

We don’t ask “why?”

You can’t judge it when you’re living it.

On November 19th, her German donor/angel sent another bag of blood that set off the graft vs. host disease that the doctors were looking to ignite a cure for her cancer. Earlier this week, via a painful liver biopsy, her doctors confirmed that her extreme illness over the past month was indeed GVHD. Her donor cells attacked her body – as intended – and hopefully, attacked the leukemia that was looking to kill her.

She’s on a massive amount of steroids that will probably create their own sets of issues and side effects.

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She came home on December 30th, just in time to see the ball drop and if this goes well there’s a real chance that we might never see another overnight on the 5th floor of the Weinberg Center at Johns Hopkins.

I’m obsessed with keeping her alive.

I’m focused solely on her surviving this nightmare.

Every single day, every single decision over the past 100 days has been about keeping her …

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#JennStrong2 Thanksgiving update: Now awaiting our holiday miracle…

Posted on 27 November 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“You must be able to respond to your circumstances

as they exist – not as you would like them to be.”   

– Brian Billick

WNST.net partner & Super Bowl XXXV

Head Coach Baltimore Ravens

 

 

THE BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT NURSE said the blood – or more accurately the “lymphocytes” – would arrive at 2 p.m. At exactly 2:07 on Thursday, Nov. 19th, she walked in the room with another plastic bag filled with the red river of life. This was a much smaller bag than anything I’d ever seen attached to my wife’s tree of connected devices, medicines and fluids.

“We’re only giving her the stuff she needs,” the nurse said as she prepared to attach it to Jenn. So, this bag of T cells from a 22-year old man in Germany designed to stimulate a graft vs. host disease in her body to kill her leukemia this winter, took quite a circuitous route to her room on the fifth floor at Johns Hopkins last week.

The collection was done in Cologne. It was transferred to Frankfurt via train, then flown to J.F.K. Airport in New York, and then flown from Newark to BWI. It came with a delivery man named Udo in a taxi from outer Glen Burnie to Johns Hopkins. He spent the next three days hanging out at a hotel near Ferndale. Not incidentally – because this bag of lymphocytes is time sensitive – there was a complete backup plan with a different flight through Detroit (if necessary).

I’m not making this up.

Once it was connected to Jenn, gravity took over and the bag of lymphocytes flowed into her veins. The official prediction from the nurse was “less than an hour” but it only took 25 minutes once she began the drip at 2:22 p.m.

At 2:47 p.m. on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, we believe my wife’s life could be saved for the second time by this magnanimous – and for now, anonymous – angel across the Atlantic Ocean. On June 26, 2014, this German man sent a gigantic bag of bone marrow to save her life the first time. He wrote her this letter signed, “your genetic twin.”

They have genetically identical blood, which is why this will work. It’s why we’ve traveled the world and swabbed folks for the bone marrow registry since the beginning of her cancer. This is how lives are saved – matching folks with the same DNA. Coincidentally, both Jenn and her donor have “B Positive” blood.

And the week before Thanksgiving in America, he gave us something to be very “thankful” for and one day next summer we positively hope to meet him somewhere cool and thank him in person for saving her life – twice!

Of course, we wonder what we’ll say to him. And I wonder what they say to him when they ask him to do this? And, no doubt, they must say it in German, right?

It’s all so big, so incredible – like something in a movie that doesn’t even make sense.

The first time left us speechless. This second time – amidst a country here that’s seemingly lost its …

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A #JennStrong2 update: a second chance at life next Thursday

Posted on 22 October 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.”

Mike Ditka

 

 

FOR A WHILE, IT SEEMED like the sickness would never end.

The first nausea came in a brief wave last Tuesday right after her second day of the second round of chemotherapy. She was on her way to the bathroom and got one whiff of my dinner and the vomiting began and it didn’t stop for seven days. Last Thursday morning, she sent me a text that read: “I’m struggling.”

I arrived 30 minutes later and when I left after midnight on Friday, she was still living with a bucket at her feet and more waves of stomach-churning illness channeling through her into the fourth straight night.

On Saturday, with her sister by her side, she didn’t know what day it was and was quite combative and insistent about many rambling thoughts. Jenn was convinced that I wasn’t even with her on Thursday or Friday. After the Ravens loss on Sunday night, I slept on the cot in her room because she was so disoriented that I didn’t want her waking up alone in a panic without being able to calm her.

She wasn’t on her mobile phone or iPad for eight days because she really couldn’t type. She was far too loopy and weak to even paw at the keys as her frustration mounted. All throughout the weekend nights, she said dozens of nonsensical phrases, rambling words and was wildly talking in her sleep and twitching a bit with her hands – almost trying to motion by pointing like she does when she talks.

At one point on Sunday morning, she sat up in bed and looked at me, insisting with full clarity that I send her sister a text reply to tell her that she “got the message.”

Meanwhile, her sister was sitting two feet away from us, and staring at her. She was asleep again moments later. It was like something out of “The Shining” – a giant fever dream.

Her sister Jessica was planning to come to Baltimore to spell me, so I could go to San Francisco for the Ravens game. I never really came close to leaving her. She was just so, so sick.

(And that was before she watched the Ravens play in Santa Clara.)

By Sunday afternoon, the lesions caused by the chemo had settled into her esophagus and throughout her GI tract, and the pain was so severe that on Monday night the bags of morphine started coming. On Tuesday morning, they began feeding her through a tube because she needs the liquid nutrition to keep her strength for the rest of this literally bloody battle. Plus, with the sores on her tongue, in her mouth and down her throat, there is no way she can swallow anything beyond a little water. They have a dentist-style suction tube next to her bed to extract the mucus from her throat.

On Tuesday night, she started to rebound with some energy. I’m pretty sure the pain meds act as a stimulant. Her hair stylist came to shave her head bald once again because her beautiful, curly hair was ripping out of her scalp in clumps over the weekend.

When your hair is like cotton candy, you know it's cancer

We have some great news on Jennifer Ford Aparicio and a big leukemia update coming later today. Meanwhile, when your hair is like cotton candy, you know it must be cancer… #JennStrong #BmorePositive #GiveASpit

Posted by Nestor J. Aparicio on Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Wednesday morning, she announced that she wanted a Boston cream donut. Of course, there’s no way she could eat it. But, she did make me bring her some shepherd’s pie later that night and she made it through a few mouthfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy.

She said the mashed potatoes were “like glue in her throat.” Today she is moving on to Ensure milkshakes. This is why…

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There is no romance in leukemia treatment.

Week 2 at “The Hotel” has been a living hell for my wife.

It has been a display of courage and bravery that leaves me speechless. It takes my breath away.

Welcome to #JennStrong2.

Yes, cancer still sucks. Anyone who’s been subjected to it as a patient or a care provider understands where Jenn is in the process of her long journey to recovery and health. It’s been incredibly hard to watch and …

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Surreal journey of cancer has returned with new prognosis for #JennStrong2

Posted on 13 October 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”

– Jim Valvano

 

 

WE CALL IT THE HOTEL, but make no mistake it’s very much a hospital.

Cold. Sterile. Corporate. Every day it’s where Obamacare and big business and big pharma and the best and worst of our society meet under the banner of “healthcare.” It is its own education in the ways of the world and life in America in 2015.

Full of sick people. Full of people fighting for their lives and the good people inside the walls in various shades of blue and green scrubs and white jackets who are trying to keep them alive.

Bad food. Bad cable TV. Awful towels. Great nurses. Amazing doctors. A friendly support staff. Parking with little cards that spit out of a machine and act as an ATM. It costs $6 a throw (even after you purchase the little green books…it was $5 last year, so it’s only a 20% bump) and I park twice a day. You do the math.

Even down to the gaudy, shimmery marble lobby, it’s a lot like five-star hotel – Jenn maintains that you do get 24-hour room service, a butler and several maids to wipe down your room twice a day. Anything you want and a button to push to get it. The bed even adjusts.

I call it the factory of extreme hope and sadness.

I see the best and worst things in the world here every day.

My wife will be living here again for the next month and beyond. We’ll be here virtually every day for the next six months even after she comes home.

Rest assured, she’ll be fighting for her life every day.

This leukemia thing is hard. It’s heavy lifting. The cancer diagnosis the first time was brutal. The long journey back to safety and health came to a tab of well over a million dollars the first time and lord only knows where the end of this nightmare lies.

But you can’t even begin to think about the drugs, the hospital stays, the bills, the expense, the insurance issues (and we luckily have excellent insurance because her job at Verizon and the people there have been amazing) or the risk. The sheer volume of people, hours and science involved in saving her life a second time boggles my mind as it did the first.

There are 137 different types of blood cancer in the world. And, as smart of a guy as I think I am sometimes, I’ll never understand much about this because it honestly makes me queasy as hell.

There’s lots of sitting around and waiting and time for thinking. Lots of tubes and bags connected to Jenn. Lots of very sick people with masks everywhere you go. Lots of really freaked out family members in the lobby, often sobbing and in a state of shock the way I was the first few days last year.

And then there are those victims’ extended friends and families on the outside wondering about prognosis and medicines and cancers and answers. All of them Googling buzzwords, worrying, talking on social media and inquiring as respectfully as possible.

The question you want to ask and the only real question is: “Will she be OK?”

We will always believe that she will survive. As Tug McGraw said, “Ya gotta believe…”

And every day – all day, really – caring folks are asking me the same question:

“How is she feeling?”

That answer is pretty simple: “Probably not well as you want her to be feeling.”

She has cancer. They’re dumping various poisons and toxins (aka chemotherapy) into her bloodstream. The nurses wear rubber suits as they administer it into her bloodstream. She’s always an hour away from feeling like garbage even when she’s feeling semi-OK.

Mouth sores, bleeding, breathing issues, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, headaches and extreme fever – there’s seemingly a pill or a bag full of medicine with fancy names for all of ‘em – and we’ll see it all just like the last time.

And those are just the physical pains. The emotional toll and time and the possibilities can all sap you of your desire to live and fight.

We won’t let that happen.

Promise!

Call us eternal optimists but we kinda refused to believe that this could happen the second time. But, our doctors did tell us last year that because she didn’t experience any graft vs. host disease (GVHD), she was statistically far more susceptible to a relapse.

So, do you want the awful rash and all of the risk and pain that comes with it or not?

Because she didn’t experience GVHD last summer, this relapse occurred and she’s got cancer in her body again. It was simply dormant over the last 15 months.

Last night, I met the couple in the next room. They look to be 40. They have three kids: 10, 8 and 6. They live in Virginia. She relapsed three days ago after five years of being clean. The husband is ashen. He’s an hour from his family, sleeping in a cot next to his wife after battling this thing when all three of their kids were toddlers. Now, they’re here again in an in a similar state of utter disbelief.

Behind every door, there’s a story here at “The Hotel.”

So many folks don’t understand what’s happening with Jenn and given the complexity, we certainly can relate. We’ve been battling this thing since March 20, 2014 and I’m still learning nuances every day.

It took her doctor 45 minutes to explain our current situation earlier this week and I’m going to try to explain as well as I can here:

Her leukemia, an extremely rare form known as acute bilineal leukemia (ABL), is back. It is the same cancer she had 18 months ago. Because the chemotherapy got her to remission (which means “no current signs of cancer”) last April, they’re using the same protocol and believe that it will work to get her clean again.

Our first goal is to get her to remission.

Instead of being prepped for a second bone marrow transplant, her doctors are using a different method to cure her this time. We are going back to her original donor in Germany – the same guy who wrote THIS LETTER in the hours after her saved her life last June. We will not ask him for bone marrow this time but instead for blood, a much simpler request and procedure.

The real need is for lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that she needs to enact this graft vs. host disease (GVHD) that would cure her.

Essentially, they need to get her very sick in order to get her better.

We are playing with fire here. You need GVHD in order to fully overcome the leukemia and have your body adjust to a new immune system. But GVHD can also be life threatening.

When it comes, she will experience a total body rash that will apparently burn like the gates of hell.

“It will be a complete rash from head to toe,” her doctor told us. “It’s not subtle.”

We felt blessed that she didn’t experience this awfulness the first time but it inevitably means that she’s back here with leukemia again and the goal of the doctors is to get her

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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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There is no finer venue in the world to watch baseball than Dodger Stadium...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Los Angeles – Let me start by saying that I’ve always loved Dodger Stadium. I walked into Chavez Ravine for the first time in 1985 with my Pop on a trip to Southern California. I sat in the bleachers with legendary Spanish language version of Los Dodgers besibol blasting from a boombox with the dulcet tones of Jaime Jarren. Thirty years later, when you walk into that same space, you still get the tingles of a fantastic place to watch a baseball game under a painted sky. Timeless. Classic. Elegant. And now, ageless, again all dressed up and pimped out in Chavez Ravine. All that’s missing is the voice of Vin Scully kissing your eardrums. Pick a seat in this shrine. Any seat. Just make sure you get some decent weather and a nice SoCal sunset. Sure, Magic Johnson and his minions have spent a bunch of money trying to buy a World Series title sometime soon. The commitment to the team matches the commitment to keep a perfect baseball day in tact. So spend a day at Dodger Stadium and then measure the rest of the MLB experiences.

And ask virtually any player in baseball where their favorite stadium is and this place is on everyone’s Top 3.

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And Toto, the fountains are blue, the midwest is lovely and it's baseball in a perfect environment...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 2 Kansas City Royals

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Kansas City – I defy you to go to Kansas City and not fall in love with the Midwest and baseball on a summer night. History. Tradition. Pride. Fountains spewing. Great food stands. A big parking lot full of energy. This is certainly a far different experience than anything you would’ve seen in those 29 years when the Royals were, well, not so Royal in the American League standings. Winning changes everything. And there goes your proof in Kansas City. It’s the best pure stadium every designed for watching a baseball game. All of the seats point to second base. Now, all of the All Star Game fans vote blue. It’s standing room only most nights. The atmosphere has finally caught up the natural beauty and charm of Kaufman Stadium. This is a fantastic place to watch a baseball game. Go see for yourself.

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Did I mention that this place is in San Diego and has fish tacos, too?

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 3 San Diego Padres

Posted on 13 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

San Diego – There aren’t a whole lot of bad days in the world’s air-conditioned city but the ballpark fits the scene of the neighborhood and the vibe of the community. This place is a very underrated stadium and I had to really give it a second look after seeing a game there a decade ago. It’s quite nice, cozy, active. The food is great. The seating bowl is excellent and very unique. Many ballparks are built into urban settings and flood the streets with activity after games. That’s what they’re designed to do. None does it better or more naturally than Petco Park. It’s just a beautiful building a great spot to drink beer, eat a few tacos and watch baseball.

Matter of fact, I’m going back next summer. I’m finally getting my wife to an All Star Game. We’ll be there in July 2016!

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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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