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Thunder, but no rain

Thunder, but no rain
By Reed Saunders

I feel I owe it to you all to apologize.

I’ve given you the wrong impression. Forgive me.

Through the better part of ten weeks, 14 exhibition games, 12 clinics, nine Major League Baseball appearances and one All-Star Fan Fest, you’ve probably gotten the idea this little tour of ours makes for a glamorous life.

Chauffeurs, catered meals, chartered planes, massages on demand, hotel suites with complimentary mini-bars. We are, after all, a team of professionals. Why shouldn’t our expedition to spread the gospel of Fastpitch be a fantastic voyage?

Let me let you in on a little truth: it isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not exactly singing on street corners at night or selling off our extra whiffle balls for spare change. But it’s important to recognize there has been more than our fair share of hiccups and speed bumps along this fastpitch highway.

For all the positive feedback and response we’ve generated on our various stops, it’s a miracle the dark clouds of bad luck haven’t burst more often.

(I’m feeling an extended cloud metaphor coming…oh yeah… here we go…)

Around the late afternoons in Cincinnati, storm clouds would invade over the hotel both nights I was sitting in my room (they don’t let us out much). Blue skies turned asphalt and thunder rang across the sky, an imminent sign of rain… or so I thought.

No matter how loud or persistent the thunder rattled, nary a drop of water fell to meet the ground where I stood (an unfortunate Aquafina incident aside).

Such has been the case on the road with the NPF All-Stars. The smooth sailing, Love Boat of Diamond Awareness tour has turned out a lollapalooza of rental car fiascos, airline check-in mishaps and road map melees. Yet while the storm clouds and other signs for disaster have been all around, we’ve managed somehow to always get things done.

During our first stop in Sacramento, the disorganization began.

Being 22 with a $500 credit limit and trying to rent a car is a lot like trying to keep up with the Tour de France leaders on your Huffy – just ain’t gonna happen. After two hours of pleading with rental car desk folks from all corners of the globe and credit card people on all sorts of different phones, my fellow intern Aaron and I were able leave the airport.

Five days later, with sponsors and league big shots alike in the crowd for our first exhibition game, the Public Address system, which had been promised to be up and ready one hour before game time, finally became operational 15 minutes before the first pitch.

Our “press box” might as well have been a tanning bed -- a picnic table roasting in the afternoon sun with no shade for our equipment or ourselves.

I scribbled out a nearly unreadable script for our announcer, my fellow intern Aaron pitched a makeshift towel canapé around his head and his laptop, and the game went on as scheduled. No one not wearing an NPF shirt was the wiser.

Our poor directions and timing to a Sacramento River Cats AAA minor league baseball game led to a, well, interesting caravan to the stadium. Long story short, we stopped (repeat: STOPPED) on a highway off-ramp, made roughly 87 U-Turns, pleaded with parking attendants and eventually did a type of Chinese fire-drill driver tradeoff in an illegal parking area in front of the stadium. Our ladies made it on the field in time to throw out the first pitch while this intern was stuck digging into someone’s per diem cash to pay for parking one mile away. All that was missing was Aunt Edna strapped to the roof of one of our mini-vans.

In Minnesota, driving woes continued as a hunt for an ASA tournament 15 minutes from our hotel became an hour-long, Chutes and Ladders-esque voyage to the Wendy’s drive-thru for “we give up” Frosties before, by some lucky chance, we found the park on the way home. Clark W. Griswold, where have you gone?

Though the titles on our business cards say things like “public relations,” “media relations,” and “tour administrator,” our interns’ duties have gone literally above and beyond. Above the tallest fence to hang a banner, beyond the previously believed capabilities of athletic tape to bandage torn luggage.

And while our entire team and staff are well educated, we have all earned extra degrees in the college of bag packing.

In Phoenix, already running slightly late to board our plane, the baggage check-in became a kind of game show, with nearly every one of our ladies hustling to stuff garments and gloves from one bag into another in order to come in under 50-pound baggage weight limits. I was sweating, but the practice was old habit for our group, all of whom made the plane with literally minutes to spare.

Most recently, on the 4-hour bus trip from Cincinnati to Akron, Ohio, our large charter bus was smoking down the highway… literally. We pulled off in Columbus for lunch just in time to feel our bus grind to a halt on the off-ramp with smoke pouring from the underside (Nothing like the smell of a burning clutch to whet the appetite).

A few phone calls and roughly half an hour later, another bus was waiting for us just as the Steak 'n Shake was settling in our bellies.

The point of all this: while we’re certainly having fun and serving a very worthy cause, the life on the road is far from glamorous. More station wagon than sports car, more “Turn the Page,” than “Dancin’ cross the U.S.A.”

Were it not for a few lucky sunrays through the cloudbursts of bad fortune, our whole road trip might have taken a decidedly different tone.

Fleetwood Mac sang, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining.” Guess Stevie, Mick and the gang never toured with a pro softball team. We’ve managed to duck it every time.

Reed Saunders is a 2003 graduate of Colorado State University. He’ll be working public relations on the 2003 NPF All-Star tour this summer. Follow along with his travels with his weekly column on