Surprise, Arizona. A city with a name befitting of Paradise.
Like Boring, Oregon. Lovely, Kentucky. And Hell, Michigan.
Surprise… As in Surprise! We came here for spring break instead of Mexico?!?
My friend McWhite and I had this brilliant idea for an adventure. We would drive non-stop from Seattle to Las Vegas, spend three days there with little sleep, and then head east to Arizona for spring training, the blazing sun, and the Monastery Too.
We spent most of our time watching the Mariners and the Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex, eating “grill your own dinner” at the tavern on the other side of the parking lot, washing back pitchers of beer in between day-night double-headers.
After several days in Peoria we headed south to Scottsdale Stadium, where Barry Bonds showed off an arm he didn’t have in 1992, when the dawdling Sid Bream slid safe and sent the Braves to the Series.
We went even further south, to Tuscon Electric where the Cubs faithful still gave Sammy Sosa their resounding support. A year later, the elite slugger would be traded to Baltimore for Jerry Hairston and Mike Fontenot.
Then we went to Surprise.
As in Surprise! I drove one thousand five hundred and two miles for this?!?
It was late in the evening by the time we showed up. We drove past the stadium, just to check it out, and had dinner at a restaurant, not thinking we would have any problems finding a hotel room. The first place we went was booked full. The second place had one room available, the executive suite at a cool $429 per night.
The third and final hotel in Surprise was, like the first, completely full.
As in Surprise! There’s only three hotels in this entire geriatric retirement village?!?
We were dejected and resigned to staying another night in Peoria or Glendale or Goodyear, even though we’d have to wake up early to make it to the game between the Royals and Rangers in Surprise.
Until we heard a voice behind us as we left the hotel lobby, asking us if we were still looking for a room. The speaker was tall and black, slender, but definitively muscled. He wore Kansas City Royals shorts, shirt, and backwards hat. With a little hesitation, we said we were.
“Hold on a second,” he said, as he walked over to his truck in the parking lot, an suv with large chrome wheels and tinted windows. He grabbed his cell phone and told his friends he’d be a minute.
“I’ve got a room here and an apartment in Tempe,” he said. “Just give me a second to call my roommate, you guys can have the room.” He made a call on his cell while we stood around and waited, unsure of what to do or think.
“Don’t go to the hotel tonight,” he said into his phone. “No, just go to the apartment, I’m going to let some people use the hotel room.” A long pause. “Just some friends of mine, don’t worry about it.”
He hung up the phone and dug a key-card out of his wallet. “Here’s the key. Room 317. It’s all yours.”
We stood there, key-card in hand, thanking him profusely, as he got into his truck and drove away, leaving us to wonder if we had gotten ourselves into some kind of scam. Would the roommate bust into the room, demanding to know who we were? Or would the room be full of drugs, or weapons, or some other form of contraband? Why would some guy we don’t know and have never actually met give us his hotel room, with nothing to gain from it? We played out every scenario in our heads and decided two things. One, that we were probably being overly paranoid, and there was really nothing to worry about. And two, that if Tony Pena banged on our door the next morning, we would do our best to be Kansas City Royals for the day.
We went back into the hotel, ducking the eyes of the watchful front desk clerk. Kansas City Royals meandered around the halls and the elevators, no different than us, really, although probably twice our size and five years younger. A game of cards was in progress in the lobby sitting room.
As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about inside the hotel room. There were no drugs, or guns. The room was perfectly clean. No luggage, clothing, bathroom accessories. Empty. Freshly cleaned and untouched.
The next morning we went to the stadium and watched the game, like we’d planned. The game went as most spring training games do: dozens of unheard of names taking at-bats or pitching to a few hitters, the occasional big name getting in some work in the early innings. We saw Garth Brooks take an at-bat and hit an infield fly. The crowd was more excited for the country star than the rest of the game. McWhite and I tried to figure out who gave us the hotel room, to no avail. In reality it was probably just some minor-leaguer with major league dreams and a one-time shot at stardom, who’s since moved on to one of the mundane careers the rest of us slave away at, leaving little opportunity for him to immediately become our favorite baseball player.