Monday, March 19, 2007

Jess's dad gets a taste of the Odyssey

(Special guest post by Jess's dad.)

The Sharks Hockey Odyssey is Jess's world. The rest of us just get to visit. Last week, I got to accompany Jess to Phoenix for my own personal Odyssey experience.

It was to be a quick trip: down to the desert on Thursday morning, then back to San Jose on Friday morning. I chose Phoenix for several reasons, including these:

- The new building in Glendale (Phoenix) sounds cool.
- Baseball Spring Training is going on.
- The SJC-PHX flight is pretty short.

We arrived at fancy-schmancy Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, where I noticed that all the public address announcements were made by a synthesized voice (yes, I'm that much of a geek). The standard Odyssey budget does not allow for renting a car, but I invoked special parental privilege, so we headed for the Avis counter and scored a ride. Our trip got off to a rousing start when, as I was driving out of the rental lot, the gate arm came down on the windshield. Surprise! Luckily, it bounced off harmlessly. But that sure woke us up.

Speaking of surprise, our first destination was a baseball game between our beloved San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals at the shockingly named Suprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona, a Phoenix-area city that's the spring training home of both the Royals and the Texas Rangers. We found Surprise Stadium to be a wonderful minor-league style ballpark, complete with outfield seating on a grass berm. Our seats, however, were in the shade, which made the 94 degree desert weather very pleasant, and we got to see the Giants A-squad whack 6 solo homers, including a Barry Bonds laser beam over the right field wall, and a nice start by Barry Zito. The fact that the Giants lost 7-6 didn't seem so bad here in spring training.

Following afternoon baseball, we were on a tight schedule to make it to our hotel in Glendale in time for the 7:00 faceoff at Glendale's unfortunately named Arena. After a quick dinner at Cottos, a fine local sandwich shop, we started walking the few blocks back to our hotel. As we walked we noticed some ominous signs: a fire chief's car speeding through an intersection, a helicopter hovering nearby, then three helicopters. We turned the corner and saw enormous plumes of smoke that seemed to be right over our hotel, along with a line of fire hoses blasting water into the smoke. As we got closer, we determined that the fire was actually down the road from our hotel, across an overpass. So we got ready for the game and left, just as the smoke was settling over the hotel and the fire seemed to be out.

After we parked, I donned my Bernier #26 Sharks jersey (which I borrow from Jess) and we walked to the arena plaza. This was the first time in my life I ever wore the visiting team's colors to a sporting event (something Jess has done more than 30 times this season), and I felt very strange, like everybody was looking at me. This feeling soon dissipated, in part because I met many other similarly attired Sharks fans.

I really enjoyed watching the pregame skate with dozens of other Sharks fans. The arena itself is spectacular. The seats rise steeply, the roof is high, and there's plenty of lower bowl seating. The place looks strong and solid. The colors include the omnipresent southwestern brown, set off by deep red seats. The visuals are clear and the sound is loud -- in fact, the horn is REALLY loud (as Jess warned me), and I think I'd tolerate the Coyotes' trademark howl a little more if it didn't sound kind of a like a rooster with a sore throat.

When you travel with Jess, you realize there are two kinds of people you run into: Jess's friends, and strangers that Jess will talk to. I marvel at Jess's outgoing nature, his ability to spark a conversation with anybody, and often make a new friend. I'm happy and proud that Jess has this wonderful skill.

The game itself was great fun. The Sharks scored early and dominated the first period, but only led 1-0 at the break. The second was more competitive, but the Sharks began to pull away in the third, eventually going up 3-0, then 4-1 before winning 5-1. Throughout the night, we were unmolested by Coyotes fans. I think that's because there weren't a whole lot of them, unfortunately, and those that were there are aware that the Coyotes are having a terrible season. I'm sure the Coyotes will rise again, but this is not their year.

One individual did fight the Sharks all night: Howler, the mascot. This creature spent the second intermission and the entire third period schlepping around an inflatable, jersey-wearing shark, which he repeatedly hit, kicked, strangled, hurled to the ground, and danced upon. This act got tired pretty quickly. The only time it was funny was when Howler decided to start messing with some Sharks fans, who managed to steal the shark briefly before Howler got it back. That little scene was actually more entertaining than the game, which was waning at the time.

After the game, we headed back to the hotel and debated getting a pizza or something, but decided to make do with hotel vending machine food, as Jess had an early morning the next day. (It turns out that my one regret is I didn't get to experience the Odyssey tradition of late-night, post-game pizza. But I'll deal with it.)

That early morning arrived with a 5:30 AM wake-up call so Jess could prepare for his weekly radio stint on KFOG. I had a rare front row seat to watch Jess make the radio magic, and he ordered me not to fall asleep, lest I snore all over his broadcast. Halfway through the call I was surprised when the KFOG crew, learning that I was present, asked to talk to me. I mumbled a few words incoherently before handing the phone back to Jess, who finished his bit. My "contribution" notwithstanding, it was really fun to be right there while he did his KFOG thing.

Soon enough, it was off to the airport for our return to San Jose. This wrapped up my quick visit to the Sharks Hockey Odyssey. I gained plenty of empathy for Jess on my short trip: I learned to appreciate the travel and other logistics he has to deal with, that writing a blog post for every game is no easy task, and that being awake, articulate, and entertaining on the radio is much harder than it seems.

I also learned that SJ Sharkie is a really good mascot.


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