Monday, September 17, 2007

A quick overview...

You know you're back in school when you start talking and writing about things as if you were giving a presentation or writing an essay.

I keep meaning to post about various things, and figure I had better get it done before time zips by (too late, that's already happening) and I forget about them completely, or they are too far in the past for me to post about them on a relatively up-to-date blog (hahaha, as if!).
Attention: This blog entry is baseball-heavy!!

My trip to the Twin Cities to visit Koko at Macalester
An experience with baseball in the Midwest

My summer vacation ended on a high note, as I was able to fly back to the Netherlands through Minnesota and stay with my friend Koko for three days in the Twin Cities.

I think perhaps the best possible way to convey this experience to my faithful readers is to publish clips from my journal about the experience. So, enjoy...

Monday, August 20th, 2007
9:02 a.m (I think), Central Time (I think...)
Koko's House! (Duplex, I mean)
St. Paul, Minnesota (!!!)

I haven't been to a new city like this in AGES.

Well, wait, I guess Brugge and Rotterdam were new, and Middelburg was new when I got there last year, but I had been to the Netherlands before, and it wasn't that different.
Okay, so I've been to Minneapolis/St. Paul before, too...
Let me rephrase that: This is the first time I've been to a "new" city in the U.S. since I don't know when. I never go on exciting new local trips, just Seattle and California (Seattle's practically an old friend now).
Koko met me at the airport last night - such a treat! People only ever meet me at the airport in Portland. We took a cab back to her place at about 11, talking and laughing and having fun. I called Mom to let her know I made it, and Koko and I stayed up past 2, talking and gossipping.
And I woke up at nine! I might as well get up and get ready now, because then... EXPLORING!
Tuesday, August 21st, 2007
around noon, Minnesota time
Koko's working, so I have the day to myself to explore. Kind of scary. The funny thing is, it's easier for me to be thrown in a foreign city, with it's compact, centralized city center, unknown (or only slightly familiar) language, and easy-to-locate maps, easy to understand subways, buses, public transportation.
I haven't been to an unfamiliar American city since I don't know when. Isn't that strange? Paris? No problem for me. I don't know it like a local, but then again, I don't carry a map around with me, either.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, though? Not so much. It's not one but TWO interconnected cities, huge and sprawling, with (according to Koko) a relatively useless lightrail, and clusters of interesting shops and restaurants spread hours away from each other.
Right now, however, I'm at a great little cafe, Kopplins. Mom & Dad found it on a google "espresso map" - one of only two entries in the Twin Cities. Crazy.
But it's so nice! There are cups hanging from the wall, with a description of the drink that comes in them: "ESPRESSO RISTRETTO: A double shot pulled ristretto-style to extract all of the sweetness of the bean." Or what I got: "CAFE LATTE: More milky than a cappucino, with about one part espresso to five parts steamed milk"(they only sold 16 oz.) - very good, definitely equal to the better Portland lattes. Unfortunately, I ordered before I saw the "CAFE MOCHA: Our dark (about 70%) house-blended hot chocolate with a double espresso. Available traditional or sweetened."
I shouldn't have gotten orange juice with my latte, because I'm afraid I'll have to try the mocha as well. Gosh, I could sit here all day (as long as my pen doesn't run out of ink...).
My plan for the day, I guess, will have to be adjusted. I just want to sit here and write. It probably took me about an hour to get here... Whoa. According to my (shiny, spanking new) pedometer, it was a two-mile walk! Crazy!
Oh yes, I could sit here all day.
You see, my original plan was to walk down here for breakfast - a nice, Portland-style coffee, maybe a muffin - then continue further, back up to Grand and over to Victoria to look at a few stores I found in my handy-dandy "" book. Afterwards, I would walk back to Koko's house by 3 so I could catch a glimpse of her when she comes home after her shift at the Japanese restaurant, before rushing back out to her job as publications assistant at the Macalester church for a couple more hours. That way, I could take a nap, relax, maybe post something to my blog or re-organize my suitcase.
But it's 12:30 right now, so... I dunno. We'll see...
Oh, look at that! "ESPRESSO MACCHIATO: Our espresso 'marked' with a small amount of creamy steamed milk. Available American (4 oz.) or traditional Italian (2 oz.) style."
That is the best solution to the macchiato problem! Starbucks makes a latte macchatio, which is like a latte but with less espresso (I think, I've never had it). Most places I've worked or bought at, however, serve an espresso macchiato, and people always come and order an espresso macchiato, expecting a LATTE macchiato, and instead ending up with an ESPRESSO macchiato, then raise hell, thinking we didn't take the right order.
But anyway. What happened yesterday...
...I need a mocha first. :D
Teehee, I feel like a combination of pig and coffee freak... and I love it!
Yesterday morning, Koko and I got up and showered, etc. I woke up around 9, this after staying up till 2:30 or so the night before. Jet Lag/Bakery time at work!
We went out for coffee first, at a place near Koko's house. I had.. was it Turkish coffee? It was like a latte with condensed milk instead of regular. No foam or design or anything, so nothing like the mocha I just got. This barista is good... it's a combination tree/rosette and heart, like I never learned to do. Yum.
Oh that is so good. What is better than unsweetened chocolate mixed with unsweetened espresso? The only thing I can think of is when it's spicy, too. ;)
I wonder if people here would think me weird for taking a picture of this... I don't think I care...
After coffee, we met with Koko's friend Jalene for lunch.
Man this mocha is driving me to distraction. I can't take a sip without losing my train of thought and thinking about this delicious blend of bittersweet combined with milk for this... this.. this Perfect Thing!
Gosh, I can't even remember yesterday anymore. I guess after lunch, we went back to Koko's place, then to Uptown Minneapolis, which ad a cluster of destinations I wanted to check out.
Seriously. This mocha is good to distraction. It's probably the best mocha I've ever head. Forget that remark about spicy mochas, that's a totally different thing. This is just delicious. It's like eating a fancy dark chocolate bar... only not. Mmmmmmmm...
Uptown was not what I expected. Doesn't "Uptown" sound sort of... fancy? Ritzy?
Well, it wasn't. Some of the shops were, but there were lots of homeless people at every corner. On the bus on the way back, there were at least two passengers that were severely under the influence of something - one so much so that he more or less passed out on the bus, and although several passengers, as well as the driver, tried to wake him up at his stop, he hardly lifted his head.
But while we were Uptown, we did some exploring.
Our first stop was a used bookstore, full of books in good condition for a very reasonable price, that come with a history of previous readers. What, I ask, is better than a great deal on a used book that somebody else has read and loved (or hated)? (Besides this mocha, of course. It's still too much for me.) I found a book I had been fruitlessly searching for in Portland.
It was awesome. Almost as awesome as this mocha, which has reached the stage where it is a murky brown puddle at the bottom of my cup with no foam left on top, luke-warm milk with the thick chocolate and grainy espresso grounds that have sunk to the bottom of the cup over the last 45 minutes or so (because it is now 1:20. Yikes).
We looked at more shops, and my lucky streak continued with the discovery of an Urban Outfitters T-shirt I had been fruitlessly searching for in Portland. This shirt, which is a brick red color and says something along the lines of "Ho lasciato il mio cuore in VENEZIA", with the words dripping down into a bowl of spaghetti, had been a steep 25 bucks when I first saw it in Portland, and had disappeared from the store completely when I next returned. But there it was, in the Urban Outfitters of Uptown Minneapolis, on sale for only 14.98, take an additional 50% off!
I think it must have been my reward for so many hours of flight delay in Denver on Sunday.
Unfortunately, the shoe store only carried Minnetonka Moccassins up to size 10, but you can only be so lucky, right?
After Uptown, we went back to Koko's for a break, then we went to Izzy's Ice Cream for a very healthy dinner (I had a sundae with Dark Chocolate Zin ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and pecans). Then back to Koko's again to talk, surf the web a little, and watch the documentary "Word Play", which is about Will Shortz, the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and the National Crossword Championships, held annually. Also about the celebrities who enjoy doing the crossword (including MLB pitcher Mike Mussina puzzling it out in the dugout).
And I believe I will have to purchase a book of NYT crosswords and get hooked. (It would also be very beneficial to my embarrassing vocabulary deficiency.)
And the cherry that's on top of the nuts, whipped cream, hot fudge, and delicious ice cream that IS this three-day trip in Minneapolis/St. Paul? The Minnesota Twins are hosting the Seattle Mariners tomorrow at 12:10, while Koko is working. So I can go to the game without missing out on time with Koko or dragging her to an (unfortunately) indoor sporting event, which I know she doesn't want to attend, AND I can root against the Mariners, when they will for ONCE be the visiting team, with no obnoxious Seattle fans cheering whenever the screen tells them to or booing when the opponent's fans get too loud for Seattle's comfort. We'll see how Minnesota fans are cheering, though; I hope they're a bit more diehard than Seattle. Seattle has become second only to the Yankees in the book of Grace's Least Favorite Fans in Baseball.
But my hand, elbow, and shoulder are all aching from writing this novella-length entry; my latte, OJ, and mocha are all gone, and it's time for me to be moving along with my itinerary for today.
22 August
12:17 pm

Wow, the Twindome. MARINERS SUCK! Lose, lose, lose!

This is where David Ortiz used to play. You know, despite all that stuff people say about domed stadiums, this isn't so bad. The colors are pretty nice; I really like the blue seats against the green turf. The ceiling looks like a down comforter or something. Ichiro was just throwing fly balls with the left fielder (either Adam Jones or Jose Guillen), which I've never seen them do. Then I realized, it's because the ball must kind of blend in with the roof. It must be really weird to always see the ball against the sky, then come to an indoor stadium and have to judge a ball against a white ceiling.
And indeed, Ichiro, even the great Ichiro Suzuki, takes a few wrong steps on a routine fly ball. That's interesting.

Later - 3:10 pm
Koko's room
Wow, that was a fast game. It couldn't have been much more than two hours and 15 minutes. It wasn't a great game, either. The final score was 8-4 Twins. The Twins scored all their runs in the first two innings (7 in the first, 1 in the second) and the Mariners scored 2 runs in both the 7th and 8th innings. So there was a kind of exciting inning or two, then a bunch of boring innings where very little of interest happened and neither team advanced many runners, and then the last 3 innings were relatively exciting. Of course, by then, I found myself rooting for the Mariners a little bit, but I got over it. I just have to admit that I do like both Yuniesky Betancourt AND Adam Jones, their rookie outfielder.
However, several interesting things did happen, both on the field and off. Torii Hunter nearly collided with the left fielder, Jason Kubel, and when Torii made the catch, they hardly looked each other in the eye for an apology or anything. I've seen several near-collisions, and the players usually smile or say something or at least swat each other's behinds afterward. I wonder if there's any tension between Hunter and Kubel.
In the 7th inning, Ben Broussard hit a home run to left, which Kubel very nearly caught. In fact, he did catch it; he jumped and reached over the wall, and the ball hit the webbing of his glove, then slid out of it.
The Twins also have all sorts of players that I've never heard of, but that are apparently big hometown heroes, like a newbie named Tommy Watkins, and the leadoff batter, Alex Casilla. His at-bat song was "Gata Traicionera", which was nice as I'd never heard that song outside of the Dominican Republic or my iPod.

When Adam Jones replaced Ichiro in the 7th, he looked around at the fans and the dome in a kind of curious, surprised way. I bet he's never played there before this series, and it is a kind of funky place. But then he twisted to his left and flung his right arm around and under and released a small orange something, letting it fly into the stands. It looked like a mini bouncy ball, but he had thrown it pretty hard; I think a bouncy ball would have reached the stands with a light toss. Maybe it was a wrapper or similar trash, and he couldn't just leave it on the field...
But yeah, I gotta admit, I do rather like Adam Jones. He's always looking at the people in the stands, but he doesn't seem unfocused.
That's the great thing about watching baseball games in person: you get to see the players do all of these things, little everyday things, that just makes it all so much more interesting and entertaining, as well as making the players come off as much more real than they seem on TV.

Sigh. In other baseball news, the Red Sox picked the player they want in exchange for Wily Mo: Chris Carter.
Okay, based on names alone, who would you pick: Wily Modesto Pena, or Chris Carter? I'm sad Wily Mo's gone, he was definitely the closes thing I had to a favorite.
In conclusion (there I go again, with the academic speak!) my trip to Minnesota was a highly successful introduction to the Midwest. I hope one day to return and experience firsthand Minnesota's independent league and the new ballpark, which will soon replace the Twindome.
At home with my family and the Portland Beavers (July - August 2007)
As you may know, I spent my summer working six days a week at a bakery and doing... uh... nothing, I guess. With the exception of becoming a great supporter of Portland's Minor League Baseball team, the Portland Beavers of the AAA level. I gotta say, the first time I saw the name "Yordany Ramirez" on the screen at PGE Park, I knew that a) Yordany HAD to be from the Dominican Republic, and b) that the Beavers were finally diversified. Besides Yordany, other international representatives included were two [French-speaking] Canadian players. (I had a real good time cheering for one batter in English, the second in Spanish, and the third in French, all in one inning.) It was also nice to see former/current Major Leaguers Shea Hillenbrand and Hiram Bocachica back in action, after having seen them play against each other in Seattle on numerous occasions (Shea for the Sox, and Bocachica, Franny's nickname-sake, on the Mariners).
Even though the Beavers had one of the worst records in the Pacific Coast League, it somehow happened that only one or two of the 6 or so games I attended were at all uninteresting. Others involved record setting grand slams, incredible defensive plays, and a particularly interesting game that involved the reversal of a called third strike to end an inning, leading to the ejection of not one, not two, but three Beavers players and coaches, including the manager. This in turn led to a shortage in coaches, so although I did not get to see Yordany Ramirez play ball that day, I did get to see him coach first base - something he had obviously never done before!
June 22 - 27 2007: Family trip to Seattle to see the RED SOX!
Ages and ages ago, at the beginning of the summer, my family took five days off of work and other obligations to go on our more or less annual baseball vacation: Seattle Mariners hosting our beloved Boston Red Sox. However, we also spent a couple of days in Seattle BEFORE the Red Sox arrived, allowing us to explore some parts of Seattle we can't get to on the days we spend 5, 6, or more hours at the ballpark.

On this particular trip, we spent some time in the parts of Seattle that I no longer remember the names of. I do remember that we went to Belmont, saw the giant Lenin statue as well as the troll under the bridge; went to Gasworks Park with old friends of my mom, had coffee at the Caffe Umbria that replaced one of our favorite Torrefazione Italias, tried several bakeries and cafes, and of course, returned to the famous (and delicious) Top Pot Donuts.

Baseball-wise, the Mariners swept the Sox, making it 8 (or 9?) consecutive games the Red Sox had lost at Safeco Field. How's that for a nasty streak? (Luckily they redeemed themselves in August with an incredible 4-3 win.) During Batting Practice, Manny did his best to avoid the fans (left). On the other hand, I made good use of my Dominican language skills by introducing myself to a man on the field who was talking to many of my favorite baseball players: Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Wily Mo Pena, and Julio Lugo. He turned out to be a childhood friend of Julio Lugo's from Puerto Rico, traveling around with a friend of Wily Mo's from the DR, catching all the games, all over the country. He was really nice, met up with us on the mezzanine and told all sorts of fascinating stories about the behind-the-scenes Red Sox. Franny got to ask about when the Red Sox players ate lunch during day games, and he explained that Modest Manny is misrepresented in the media.

So the losing was ALMOST made up for. But not quite.
Still, better to see a losing Red Sox team than to see no Red Sox at all... ;) (And we had really good seats!! [below])
But I may never forgive the Sox for getting rid of Wily Mo Pena, who was fast becoming my favorite Red Sox player. Okay, that's not true, I'm already over it, but why do they always get rid of a player right when I'm settling on him as my favorite? Now I'll have to go with Yordany Ramirez of the Portland Beavers, though I know that he's too talented to be stuck in AAA for long.Good-bye, Wily Mo! It was nice to have seats so close to you this summer (with a sign reading "FANATICA DE WILY MO") and to drop Dominican cookies and a note for you and Papi in your dugout in 2006.