Five new caps. For the collection, y'know.
Five more pounds, judging by the belt notches.
A well-marinated liver. Well, we started with that, so in that regard nothing changed.
The 2018 baseball trip is in the books, earlier than usual but lacking not in fond memories, hearty laughs and stories that'll last a lifetime. For the initiated, my son and I started doing annual father/son excursions around the time he turned 12. That's, um, 15 years go by my counting. We've missed only one, by my count, when he was in Europe during high school. In recent years, my son-in-law Brian joined us on the early leg, and the women in the family hopped into the fray for the second half, usually when we hit a bigger city. We started in Biloxi last week to catch some of the Shuckers--the Brewers AA affiliate--before advancing to New Orleans.
Where to begin? I'll let the photos above do the talking.
The Shuckers' ballpark sits in the shadow of a huge casino, one of many along the Biloxi shore. They embrace their Milwaukee ties--signs around the stadium and merch in its shops hail the affiliation with the Crew as does the menu which featured a foot-long brat that, in this reporter's opinion, exceeds what's sold at Miller Park in terms of quality and preparation.
We caught two Shuckers games before hitting the road for Louisiana, building in a stop at Kiln, Mississippi for a beer or two at the Broke Spoke (of Favre family fame) where I traded business cards with the bartender/only-other-guy-in-the-place. "WTMJ," he said as he gave mine a once-over. "I remember WTMJ. They were down here the Super Bowl year. Some guy named Jonathan Green?" The memories flowed about good times now more than two decades old. He told of his days at the satellite Spoke in Muskego and of recent Wisconsin visits where he and buds fund their journeys by selling shrimp in Door County. Nearly every tale ended with a hearty laugh.
We'd planned the trip early, thinking we'd beat the Gulf Coast heat by going in mid May. A solid move any other year, according to locals who assured us the 90+ temps and feels-like temps near 100 we baked in are far from common this time of year. The heat and humidity never let up, and a Friday afternoon rush hour deluge turned New Orleans streets to rivers until the municipal overlords turned on the pumps designed to keep just that sort of thing from happening.
I hadn't been to the Crescent City since B-C: before children, some three decades ago. I'd forgotten what an amazing place it is. Old and dingy in some parts, to be sure, and the French Quarter has an aura (and aroma) all its own. We did all the touristy stuff--hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's, a stop at Preservation Hall, a late night visit to Cafe DuMonde. We had a three martini lunch at Commander's Palace, breakfast at Brennan's and lunch at Elizabeth's (where locals told us to go). Then there's the new stuff: New Orleans is home to an epic World War II museum, the city having been home to the factory that built the D-Day landing craft. What started small is now made up of several buildings set upon a downtown campus that we barely were able to scratch the surface of. Another visit to finish the job has to go on the schedule soon. Also new to us: the wonders of Frenchman Street, near the Quarter but not nearly as touristy, a stretch that includes scads of live-music bars and eateries. It's NOLA's answer to KK through Bay View. We leave Water Street in Milwaukee to the kids. New Orleans locals leave the Quarter to the tourists and have at it on Frenchman.
A myth got busted on a hot, muggy afternoon tour of Lafayette Cemetery Number 1 in the shadow of Commander's. NOLA's dearly departed don't get interred above ground because of the allegedly low water table and the fact most of the city is below sea level. Our guide says its a European tradition brought to the delta to simply save space. A body gets a year and a day to thoroughly decompose in the hot, humid climate. What's left is tamped town (metal replacement parts get recycled) and the spot left open for the next one at the Pearly Gates. The vault serves as both monument and permanent family tree--who needs to mail a tube of spit to a lab to see where you came from? Makes almost too much sense.
We Uber'd almost everywhere, and did a lot of listening. One of our drivers--an older guy originally from Detroit who played hoop for the University of New Orleans against UW Parkside back in the day--summed up his love for his adopted hometown by saying, simply, that most folks in New Orleans would rather help you than hurt you. So it would be during all of our stay.
Oh, and there was more baseball.
The Brewers' former Triple A affiliate, the New Orleans Zephyrs, got rebranded as the Baby Cakes a few years back to commemorate the little plastic infants baked into Creole king cakes: when sliced up, the diner who gets the baby supposedly is endowed with great luck. Trust us, it's a thing--the cake, that is, not the Cakes. No one likes the new name, and more than a few think the fix was in when the new owners ordered a fan ballot to decide upon a new one. "Baby Cakes" won, although no one we talked to admitted voting for it. A local bar owner who claims team management as his clientele told us he grew skeptical of the balloting when stores started filling with Cakes merch within days of vote's end. He says he confronted them about it when they next came to his joint and that they admitted THEY had chosen the monikers\, that the ballot was a ruse.
The games play on, in front of smallish weekday crowds. There are local wares to dine upon including a roast beef po' boy that is among the best of the ballpark eats I've ever jammed down my neck. And, there's the beer, sold in 24 ounce cans. All you need is a brown paper bag to wrap around it.
On the field, we got to see former Brewer Yovani Gallardo start for the visiting Round Rock Express, his hopes of a big league return not yet over even as he's now past 30. And in relief that every same night was two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecom who's also crafting an MLB return although he took the loss in relief. That's a lot of big name firepower for a ten-dollar ticket just a few rows from the action.
The trip is done. There are new pins to put into the man cave map, the one that chronicles each and every stop made over the years. A tradition changed as time went by, one that began with a father and son riding side-by-each through parts that were often unknown, dad clutching a handful of printed maps hoping the hotel he'd booked wasn't in too sketchy of a neighborhood (most times, he did good but the son is quick to remind of those times when he wasn't). The son is now grown, and bonding now happens at the nearest sports bar instead of with a frolic in the hotel pool. What was a two-person trip is now much larger--all for the good.
What's the same? The talk at trip's end about next year's destination. The older the father gets, the more he realizes there are no guarantees. That's why he takes the next 12 months to savor the one just completed, and those before it. It's the reason he knows, all so well, that the anticipation is so much more a part of the next journey. It's why he's so glad when the next one arrives, and so quietly thankful he got a chance to do it all, one more time.