In the spring of 2007, both of us were on sabbatical from our respective jobs and we had moved up to the cottage in the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan to spend our time researching and writing. But sabbatical isn’t all about work; it’s a time to rest and rejuvenate, relax and think deep thoughts. And our deepest thoughts, of course, often concern baseball. So while on sabbatical we made two minor road trips: one to the upper Midwest during June/July and the other to the deep South, during a record cold spring.
The trip began ominously enough with us outrunning a snow storm that eventually dumped 14 inches of the white stuff on the cottage and its environs. We had heard the predictions for the storm and we decided that we would leave earlier than planned, outrunning the storm by two hours. But the cold didn’t stop with the North. We stopped in our hometown of Cincinnati to visit with family and found it almost as cold and snowy as Michigan. Then, as we wound our way down south, the temperatures did not moderate. In Birmingham, AL, we sat through one of the coldest games we’d ever experienced—and we live in Rochester, NY! The temperature read 32o. Of course, that’s really not too very bad for us; but the locals were freezing. One very nice couple, Diane and Randy Johnson, who sat behind us had driven down from Albertville (some 80 miles northwest) to see the game and were troopers about the record cold spring, although Diane had several layers of clothing on and FOUR blankets. They explained that they were there because Randy is a sportswriter and Diane likes baseball, although the weather was testing her loyalty. She asked us how we could tolerate the cold with only our two layers of clothing and one thin blanket each. We smiled and told her that up North in our neck of the woods, the Rochester Red Wings were trying to use a Zamboni to clear the outfield. (The baseball season ended up starting two weeks late because of the snow and cold.) So we were happy to be in the balmy South.
Slowly, the temperatures did begin to moderate, and while it was still a little cooler than normal for the South, the beautiful bright days and the warming made the trip lovely. The scenery of lush green trees and grass was a treat for us, coming from the color-starved wintry North, and we marveled at how summer-like it looked already.
By the time we reached New Orleans—about ten days into the trip—the extreme cold had cleared out of the South and we were back into shorts, at least during the daylight hours. NOLA (New Orleans, LA, for those of you who don’t know the shorthand) was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina that had hit there some year and a half before. We came to New Orleans to attend a College English Association national conference at which we were presenting a paper on the use of travel narratives in college writing classes (of course, we used memoirs from our baseball trips).
On our way back north, we traveled through Arkansas, then headed east, back across Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and north once more through Kentucky, Ohio (stopping again for family) and finally back to the cottage. Over the course of this three week trip, we saw Civil War sites, museums, cemeteries, Episcopal churches, state parks, preserved mansions (including our first plantation), the world’s smallest library (run on the honor system), homes of famous writers, hurricane damage, innumerable roadside historical markers, fabulous (and not so fabulous) restaurants and seven new ball parks. Dan even got a haircut at the Chattanooga Lookouts stadium! And we never guessed that we’d fall in love with the state of Mississippi, despite the fact that it was cold and gray for much of the time we were there. This was (and still is) the longest trip we’ve taken during our years of baseball travel, even with its inauspicious frigid first half. Baseball trips can truly be educational experiences, given the time and a little bit of planning. See the country, meet the people and watch baseball–what can be better in America?