Keeping Score: Baseball, apple pie and… Subaru?

  • The Good Earth Peanut Co. lies a mile east of I-95 off Exit 4 in Virginia near the North Carolina border. For The Recorder/Chip ainsworth

Friday, May 12, 2017

Good morning!

Two weeks ago at Palm Beach International Airport, Liz Spaulding handed me the keys to her 2008 Subaru, gave me some cash and told me to drive safely.

“I’ll be in Vero Beach by the time you’re in Boston,” I joked. My itinerary included an overnight stay in Georgia and two nights in Richmond where my son Mat and I would tour the Civil War battlefields near Petersburg — or just have dinner and watch the hockey playoffs.

Liz has an Outback with 90,000 miles on the odometer and the company put out an exceptional car that year. It handles well and cruises along at 75. Sadly, she’s an NPR listener with no need for satellite radio. There’d be no Howard Stern, Boston Red Sox or even a Del-Vikings blast from the past for my listening pleasure.

The car has a CD player and I opted to listen to Tom Wolfe’s “Back to Blood” book about the crazed Miami lifestyle.

Near Jacksonville I stopped for gas at a fruit and souvenir stand where bushels of oranges and grapefruit were stacked under a canopy near the fuel pumps. Hungry travelers were lured inside by free samples of homemade sauces and relishes, tropical jelly, orange slices and sugared pecans.

The walls were lined with T-shirts and bags of seashells, and sacks of unshelled pecans were set against tables filled with fireworks.

The three guys who tended the store all had tattoos and close-cropped crewcuts. They wore T-shirts and jeans and took turns stacking fruit and stocking shelves. On cigarette breaks, they’d stand outside and stare across the road, causing me to occasionally glance back at the car while I shopped for snacks.

“We got a special on the pecan pralines, four bags for $30,” drawled the clerk. “They’re all made by a grandmother who lives right up the road.”

“Right,” I uttered. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a shady seller inside a southern fruit stand claim the baked goods were made by a little old lady who lived up the road. I left with a quarter-bushel of oranges and grapefruit and four bags of grandma’s pecans, plus two postcards that showed a buzzard standing atop a belly-up dead alligator. “Tastes Just Like Chicken,” it said.

I’d checked into a motel three miles over the state line in Georgia when Mat called to cancel our get-together. Bad weather was keeping him in Oklahoma, and I canceled my reservation in Virginia and set course for Northfield the next morning.

The GPS predicted the 1,080-mile drive would get me home at 2 a.m. Except for gas and bathroom breaks, the only detour I made was to stop at the Good Earth Peanut Co. The rustic store is a mile east of the interstate near the railroad tracks that takes passengers from New York to Miami.

Virginia peanuts are freshly roasted, big and crunchy and the shelves were lined with cans of butter-toasted, honey roasted and cajun-style goobers. Customers perused aisles of smoke house almonds, peanut brittle and salted pecans.

Five-pound bags of unshelled peanuts lay on the creaky wood floor near the cash register where a cheery woman thanked me for stopping. I put one can of Chesapeake Bay peanuts in the front seat and everything else out of reach, opened a 16-ounce bottle of cold Coca-Cola and munched my way toward Richmond.

The three-lane stretch of I-95 from Richmond to Washington was a 110-mile slog of stop-and-go traffic. “It’s Sunday,” I thought, “where’s everybody going?” A $1.4-billion project called the Atlantic Gateway Program will extend the express lanes south of D.C., but for now— to paraphrase Bob Dylan— I was stuck outside of Richmond with those homesick blues again.

Despite the heavy traffic the GPS still predicted I’d be home by 2 a.m. The Red Sox were playing the Cubs at 8 p.m. and listening to baseball can turn the monotony of looking at mile markers into a game of going ten miles every half inning. Without satellite radio I needed to find a 50,000-watt station like WJR in Detroit or KMOX in St. Louis with signals that travel hundreds of miles after dark.

South of Baltimore I tried WTIC in Hartford, but the signal was weak and faded. I frantically spun to 1050AM in New York and heard the unmistakable background murmur of a baseball crowd. “Liberando para Boston, Xander Bogaerts…

Alas, I don’t know Spanish, but I kept trying until I found ESPN’s Sunday night broadcast on 1530 AM — “WCKY Home of the Cincinnati Bengals.”

I grabbed a legal pad and scrawled down the names of the players and kept score for the first seven innings — through Maryland and over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and up the New Jersey Turnpike— listening to announcer Jon Sciambi and his sidekick Chris Singleton. Drivers probably wondered why I kept turning on the dome light, which was to scribble that Hanley Ramirez had homered, Kris Bryant had grounded out, 6-3, and so on.  

They speculated why pitcher Noah Syndergaard had left the mound in the second inning of that afternoon’s 23-5 blowout loss to the Nationals. Earlier in the week, Syndergaard had declined to have an MRI done on his ailing pitching arm, saying he was okay. “You’ve gotta think maybe it’s claustrophobia,” said Singleton. “He’s a big guy and to get stuck in that little tube headfirst…”

“Take a Xanax,” Sciambi scoffed.

Singleton played six years in the big leagues and one of his 44 career home runs was off Pedro Martinez. “The first time I played at Fenway Park, I stepped onto the outfield and asked, ‘Where’s the cows?”

Sciambi mentioned that Jackie Bradley Jr. had switched uniform numbers from No. 25 and was wearing No. 19 after Koji Uehara left for the Cubs (where he still wears No. 19).

“Four reasons,” said Singleton. “He wore No. 19 at South Carolina, he was born on April 19, his mother was in labor for 19 hours, and Jackie Robinson was born in 1919.”

In Newark I stopped keeping score and focused on the traffic. Cars were whizzing past me on both sides, tractor trailer rigs jerked between lanes without signaling and vehicles zoomed up from behind me and skirted off the exits for points west and south of the city.

No cop in his right mind would risk pulling anyone over for speeding. It would be harrowing, a good training exercise for Army Rangers and Navy SEALs.

I was halfway across the George Washington Bridge when the GPS flashed “Faster Route Available” and kept me on I-95 into Connecticut. The game ended in Fairfield County when Cubs outfielder Jon Jay grounded out to Red Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel and the Red Sox won, 6-2.

The game had kept me company for 215 miles of rugged, tiresome travel. I got home at 1:52 a.m., eight minutes ahead of schedule and straight to bed.

The New York media hammers a player like Matt Harvey, who was suspended for insubordination by the Mets last weekend. Despite his mediocre 31-30 career record, Harvey made the cover of SI and was monikered the Dark Knight, plaudits that merely fattened the calf for slaughter.

The media began its sleuthing after the Mets wouldn’t disclose why Harvey had been suspended. It didn’t take long for The Post and Daily News to report that Harvey had spent the previous night celebrating Cinco de Mayo until 4 a.m. at 1Oak on West 17th Street. Harvey’s posse ordered Armand de Brignac “Ace of Spades” Champagne, Don Julio 1942 tequila and Belvedere vodka — top shelf booze that would cost about $500 at a liquor store but obviously much more inside a trendy NYC nightclub. Harvey went golfing the next morning and afterward he texted the Mets he’d be missing the game “with a migraine.”

Manager Terry Collins was reportedly “infuriated.”

Geez, no wonder. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s another who’s reportedly having trouble relating to the plug-in, tune-out Millennial generation.  

SQUIBBERS: Chairman Eck on O’s reliever Richard Bleier’s rocky relief effort versus the Red Sox: “He’s featuring salad is what he’s featuring. I hate to say that word, it’s so demeaning.” … Recorder handicapper John Dobrydnio and I are starting a “GoFundMe” page to buy a new dartboard for next week’s Preakness Stakes. … Kudos to Jay Butynski for being the only one of us to look at Always Dreaming’s three straight wins and pick him to win the Kentucky Derby. … Fans at Wrigley Field sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” twice on Sunday — once in the seventh inning and again in the 14th inning of the six-hour marathon. … The American League is 326 games over .500 against the National League in interleague play since 2004. One league has the DH and the other doesn’t, so shouldn’t it be outlawed regardless of the playing venue? … At this writing, Nationals’ teammates Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper had a combined 93 RBIs, and that portends a hitter vs. pitcher duel between Washington and Cleveland in the Fall Classic. … Tomorrow is Wally’s birthday at Fenway Park. In our childhood days, my friends and I would’ve thrown cherry bombs at Wally. … If Toronto manager John Gibbons is fired, the AL would lose its UNTUCKit look. … Former Colts GM Bill Polian, on choosing wisely at the NFL draft: “It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Johnny’s and Joe’s.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.