Thursday, April 5, 2012

No. 791 – A Train of Angels

Performer: Joe Satriani
Songwriter: Joe Satriani
Original Release: Crystal Planet
Year: 1998
Definitive Version: None

I jumped on the Satchmo bandwagon in 1988 and jumped off in 1995. After making his rep as a guitar technician of almost bizarre proportions, he decided for whatever reason that he wanted to be Eric Clapton—not something to which you would want to aspire in 1995. In fact, Satriani even hired Clapton’s regular backing band and cut an album of bluesy pop-rock. It made one play on my CD player, never to be heard again.

So it was with some trepidation that I bought his next album in March 1998. But the signs were promising: It had the good Satrianiesque name: Crystal Planet. And the cover shot, of course, is him holding his funky axe with his head shaved, like he’s ready to mow everyone down with arpegios. Contrast that with the shot from 1995 where he had a dopey hat and guitar upside down in contemplative pose. No, Crystal Planet had the look of a return to his outer-space guitar roots.

And it was. I remember playing it on a Thursday in the Editorial Department at the Dispatch and liking it right away. And then this song came on, which could have been on Surfing with the Alien—high praise, in my opinion.

It was at about this time when I would cross another big item off my baseball to-do list: attend spring training. I suppose there were four things at the top: The Hall of Fame, the World Series, the All-Star Game and spring training. I had done the Hall twice and just knocked off the All-Star Game the previous summer.

Debbie had family in Fort Myers—a half-brother that she hadn’t seen in a while—and that made a spring training trip all but inevitable at some point. That some point was in 1998.

Fort Myers was a great base for a spring training excursion. You had (at the time) the Twins and Red Sox in town, and the Rangers were about a half-hour north in Port Charlotte. I planned out everything carefully: We’d do the Twins the first day, the Rangers the next and finish up with the Red Sox the day after that.

Oh yeah, and we’d fit in some visiting time with the family at some point. And, OK, we can go to the beach one day, too, I guess—if we have to … as long as it doesn’t interfere with any games. See? I can be amenable.

One thing I learned about spring training is that it’s mostly what everyone says it is: a chance to see the big leaguers up closer than at the regular ball park. But what I learned most, however, is that if you really want to see the players up close, you should go before the games get started in March. After exhibition games get going, it’s not a whole lot different from going to see any game—the big difference being the parks are much smaller and players come and go more willy-nilly.

At the first game—the Twins at Fort Myers vs. the Orioles—we were pretty removed from the action. The practice fields were closed, and the only player I saw the whole time was Paul Molitor taking some cuts in a batting cage. I was as close to him as I would be if I were watching him at the local batting cage, but he was working and left through another doorway away from the crowds. I’d have had more interaction with him at a card show.

The last game—the Red Sox against a team I’ve now forgotten—was a little better. I got Tim Wakefield’s autograph after the game, and it was about as uncomfortable thing as I’ve done at a baseball field. I was in a small group of autograph-seekers—some but not all kids—and he went out of his way to sign for everybody else first. He wasn’t rude or anything like that, but it was obvious he was making me wait. Finally, when there was literally no one else around, he signed for the creepy adult male holding the Red Sox pennant. At least I got to shake his hand.

But the best story took place in Port Charlotte at the Rangers game. It pretty much rescued the entire trip for me, and we’ll save that one for another time.

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