Learn more about the background for our UBT tradition, which began in 2005 after Mitch Mansfield and I struck up a friendship while playing baseball with former big leaguers in 2004.
Wednesday, July 27
Mitch leaves his cottage along the Allegheny River at 8 AM, which is plenty of time for our 3:44 flight from HIA to St. Petersburg. Suddenly, plenty of time becomes almost won’t happen! Mitch is idled for more than an hour behind a serious traffic accident in the Lewistown Narrows. With Mitch still an hour out and sitting still, I decide to leave for HIA to check in and be ready. Mitch is finally up to speed while I’m arriving at the airport.
Over the years we’ve experienced minor setbacks from a classic NYC traffic jam to storms threatening game play. These inconveniences pale when compared to the UBT magic that always seems to find us. From rubbing up game baseballs with the umpires before a game in South Bend, IN, to being honored as VIPs in Madison, WI, UBT magic always surprises us. Both of us express that if UBT 2022 isn’t supposed to happen, then we would accept it. The odds could finally be turning the other way.
I check my bag and go through security. Every time I fly, my first priority when I get to my gate is to see whether a plane is on the other side of the glass. Today, the plane we’re supposed to take hasn’t yet arrived. Suddenly our boarding time shifts from 2:40 PM to 3:10 PM! Mitch texts that he’s two miles from the airport. UBT 2022 is off to a shaky start, but quickly hits its stride.
I wait for Mitch to come through security. Both of us immediately reflect back to UBT 2013, when I flew to O’Hare to meet Mitch and begin a 2,500 mile, eight day, nine game trip across the upper Midwest. Soon after we left the airport in Chicago, Mitch’s truck suffered a flat tire. We laughed it off, and soon were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing Company on the way to our first game in Madison.
Mitch asks me, “Do you know the girl at the Allegiant desk downstairs? When I checked my bag, she said, ‘Brian’s already upstairs waiting for you.’”
After we board, two passengers, one in front of me and one beside Mitch, pepper us with suggestions for pizza and craft beer during our trip. They almost battle to one-up each other – dueling Yelp-ers! Along with Mitch and I catching up on family and what we’ve been up to, this made our flight go quickly.
After retrieving our bags, we head for the rental car counter. Two customers are in front of us. The man heads for the lot. The woman in front of us has rolling luggage. The assistant finishes her paperwork and instructs her to “go out these doors, go right for 110 yards, and an attendant will greet you in the lot.” You’ll see why this is important in a moment.
When we reach the counter, the female assistant tries to persuade us to “Take the Camaro!” several times. We curiously ask if she receives a commission if we upgrade to the Camaro, but she shakes her head, “No” and smiles. Suddenly, the woman who received the explicit instructions returns in a huff, says she can’t walk that far with all this, and immediately cancels her car rental. My mind drifts to Steve Martin’s car rental scene in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” except instead of snow, this scene featured sweltering temperatures and humidity.
After securing our SUV (following the instructions to a tee) we take the advice of one of the Yelp-ers and head directly to The Nona Slice House in Safety Harbor. He had recommended Detroit Style, which I love.
Mitch and I order Death by Pepperoni and add mushrooms. We are not disappointed. We enjoy the guitarist while Mitch downs a couple of Big Storm TENFLARE Red Lagers and I nurse Marker 48’s Hazy River IPAs. We toast the gentleman who steered us to Nona.
Besides our lengthy conversations, there’s no baseball scheduled for this evening. We find our hotel and pretty much collapse following a long day of lots of moving parts. We have much to look forward to over the next few days.