Baseball, gambling and the road trip of a lifetime

Paul Kix

We headed south to go north. We needed beer to get us to the Twin Cities. And a buzz to last us through the game.

Four friends (Nick, Nathan, Troy and myself) and one friend-of-a-friend (Troy brought along Josh). Two days. One road trip.

Nick pulled out of Story City with Bud Lights at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, and pointed the white, full-length Chevy Tiera north on I-35.

We waited for Minneapolis to appear.

I thought about what lay ahead:

Two games with the first-place Twins and the first place Mariners.

One night of gambling at Mystic Lake.

The lady at the ticket booth said upper deck, center field, general admission seats cost five bucks.

At first glance, the Metrodome doesn’t explode on your retinas the way Wrigley or Coors Field does.

Probably because natural foliage is lost here.

And, I think, a bit of baseball’s timelessness as well.

As Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly put it: a “designated hitter [can] get an Astro-Turf double that the outfielder loses in the roof.”

I’m here to see Ichiro Suzuki, the lead-off hitting All-Star for the Mariners.

Twins fans around me talk about Ichiro’s hitting slump (over the last month, he’s batted .257). They all hope it continues.

The game begins. Ichiro kicks his leg back. Dirt sprays out of the batter’s box.

Behind me, a young man screams “Ichiro! Ichiro!” as if those were his last words.

I turn around. This white guy, about 20 rows up, is painted white from head to toe.

Across his srawny, caved-in chest, is a large red dot, also painted on.

He wears only a red Speedo and a Japanese flag across his back that serves as a cape.

On his head, a gray swim cap. Over his eyes, goggles.

He pounds two empty two-liter plastic bottles together, and continues his chant.

“Ichiro! Ichiro!” Now he’s striding up and down his aisle, pointing one bottle towards the field, and possibly swearing in Japanese.

Ichiro is retired (I don’t know how. I’m watching this guy). All Twins fans around me cheer wildly.

The Japanese flag sits down, rests his goggles on his swim cap and waits for Ichiro to bat again.

He does this three more times when Ichiro steps in. The last of which, Metrodome’s security stands by taking notice.

They force him to wear shorts and a Twins jersey. Twins fans cheer again.

Top of the ninth, Ichiro gets another chance. I turn around. In fact, everybody does.

The Japanese flag stands. Thrusts his head back when he yanks the jersey off. (The motion: one of freedom from oppression.) And begins banging and striding.

Banging and striding. Pointing and swearing.

He’s escorted from the game. Josh says it’s because he didn’t fill the Speedo.

Mariners win 4-0. Ichiro goes 0-5.

Mystic Lake is one half hour and many backroads south of the Twin Cities.

You see the lights before you see the casino.

Blue beams shoot skyward, cross each other two-thirds of the way up, and scatter themselves at the tips.

Taken as a whole, it is one giant teepee in the sky.

Cars. I’ve never seen so many in a parking lot. Nick quiets the engine three lots over and we take a bus that was waiting nearby.

The driver gives me a blanch look.

Like escorting people from a parking lot to a casino is as normal as driving people from Minneapolis to St. Paul.

Lights. I’ve never seen so many. Iridescent hues climbing over each other to signs that say “Big Winner,” or “High Stakes,” or “Jackpot.”

Every sign hanging from a wall is either gold or outlined in it.

Noises. I’ve never heard so many.

The constant cha-ching, cha-ching of a cash register. The bloopie-dee-bloop and bloppie-dee-blop and rattle-rattle-rattle — where every note ends in a higher register than the last — everywhere.

My senses drive into high-overload.

It’s nearing midnight and we decide to take our dinner at a cafe within the casino.

I have the hot beef. It’s good, but leaves me hungry.

Troy sucks in his fettuccine and the sauce slaps all over his face. His napkin misses the stuff by his side burns.

We decide to meet at the cafe at 2 a.m.

I play blackjack. Get up $80. Decide against cashing out. I lose it all.

At 2 a.m. I go to the bathroom. I find everybody waiting for me at the cafe.

Eating this late, I feel like Jake Barnes in “The Sun Also Rises,” dining at some joint on the left bank on Paris, while Brett exclaims something like “You simply must join me in Spain.”

I’m doubtful that the four gathered around me read anything more than sports magazines, so I keep my Hemingway reference to myself.

This time, I have the fettuccine, and am very careful with the sauce.

I sit between two gorgeous blondes at a blackjack table while my stomach takes on everything dealt to it over the past two hours.

I try to be smooth, but instead cough up their cigarette smoke. I leave the table. But not before parting with another $20.

Eventually, I walk over to “The Highstakes” blackjack room.

People stack $50 chips eight or nine high, throw the top two on the table, lose, and throw the next two down.

They’re expressionless the whole time.

I wonder if they’re all cousins of the bus driver.

At 5 a.m. we leave. Most slots have quit singing, replaced by easy-listening music wafting down from the speakers in the ceiling.

We drive past fog billowing up from a lake, through the Minneapolis dawn and St. Paul sunrise.

We park in the back lot of a Cottage Grove church, southeast of St. Paul.

We don’t need forgiveness. Just Saturday’s tickets.

We try to sleep in the van. “I’m sweating, and Troy’s snoring,” Nathan says.

Troy’s aunt brings free tickets four hours later.

We sit in left. About 15 rows up. We wait for batting practice.

We’re all wearing gloves, but no baseball comes near us.

The game starts at 12:30 p.m.

With no painted kid to keep me interested, the field snaps out of focus often.

Ichiro hits an RBI-scoring double in the fourth. It’s his only hit.

The Mariners win 6-3.

I sprawl across the back seat and sleep the whole way home.

I pick up some garbage before leaving the van. It smells.

I do too.

I lost $60, slept three hours, and saw Ichiro get one freakin’ hit.

Best road trip ever.

Paul Kix is a junior in journalism and mass communications from Hubbard.