The breathtaking view at Davenport's John O'Donnell Stadium.
On Day 6 -- the last night of the tour -- we arrived in Davenport, Iowa, to see the Midwest League All-Star Game at the picturesque home of the Swing of the Quad Cities. They used to be called the River Bandits, but Swing ... apparently ... was deemed to be hipper in the hometown of late jazz cornet legend Bix Beiderbecke.
By Luke Winn
From the top: A pair of All-Star tickets; the deluxe scoreboard at the JOD; our custom scoresheet.
Finally. This was the location I had scouted on the Internet before the trip started; the stadium that made it necessary for us to trek from Gary across the drabness of northern Illinois and into Iowa. Our seats -- in Section 9, down the third-base line -- had been selected to give us a full-on, unobstructed access to one of the greatest vistas in all of baseball: Beyond the right field fence at John O'Donnell Stadium in Davenport, where there are no bleachers -- only the beauty of the Mississippi River rolling by, and the parabolic steel of the Centennial Bridge spanning the dark blue divide.
The scene is such that one is content to sit, with camera in one hand and large Coors Light in the other, and alternate between snapping pictures and sipping beer for innings on end. That was what we did early on, despite intermittent rain, while All-Star fans packed the JOD's covered pavilions to the gills. Once content with our photography -- after about 80 memory-card-maxing shots -- it was time to get down to the business at hand: settling the final score of our road-trip competition.
See, we'd been doing our share of wagering since Day 2. Nothing to keep us out of the Hall of Fame; just an elaborate game that determined who bought all the beer, who drove, who had to devise a way to ditch Garry (of Gary) so we could get on the road, etc. I figured it was appropriate to wait until we were at a park next to Mississippi riverboat casinos to tell you about it. And this being our final contest, the overall trip score -- which had me in the lead by one after leaving the Steel Yard -- was at stake.
In-seat gambling is not an original concept. I remember high-stakes sausage race bets in the stands at County Stadium when I was a kid; the costumed racers used to exit through the stadium aisles, and one failed bettor ran over to the Italian sausage and yelled, "You suck! Go back to Italy, mother------!" In college at Wrigley, I once watched nearly $100 change hands based on whether the baseball, after the third out of an inning, would be rolled on or off the mound. Our contest was a bit more complex: Each night before the first inning we wrote down our predictions for attendance, runs scored, total pitchers used and time of game (one point each for the closest guess), and then split up 14 "situations" via a draft, from infield hits to beanballs, to outfield assists (one point for each occurrence).
We had long since given up on keeping score of the actual game -- we knew there were future pros like Justin Upton and Jay Bruce on the field, but the rampant All-Star subbing (including 27 pitchers used) was far too much for a paper scorecard to handle. We did, however, closely monitor our makeshift game log. The fans around us, I think, found it strange that Dan was rooting for "three-hour game" and "diving catches" rather than, you know, an actual team. In the end, Dan nailed the total runs (eight: East 7, West 1) but I held him off with a flurry of doubles down the line (my No. 1 draft pick) and a bean ball. After five contests, the final was Luke 26, Dan 24.
Once Beloit's Caleb Moore had whiffed on a pitch from Southwest Michigan's Greg Dupas, marking the final out of the tour, we said goodbye to the view, and spilled out into the lonely streets of downtown Davenport looking for a bar ... where I would not be picking up the tab.
Road Trip All-Star No. 6: Nick Boyd, The Anthem Kid
The evening's singing star.
For sports fans, sportswriters and athletes, hearing the Star Spangled Banner is such a routine experience that the identity of the singer is often forgotten by the end of the first inning. Not the case in Davenport. Nick Boyd, a 10-year-old in an Albert Pujols jersey, strode out onto the JOD field and belted out a version that actually made a few All-Stars break their stoic poses and turn around with looks that said, Who is this kid? We tracked Nick down to put him on the Road Trip All-Star squad; he's a budding musician from across the river (Rock Island, Ill.) who has been taking signing lessons since he was four, and piano lessons since he was five. "I just like going places and singing for people," Nick said -- and then admitted, cautiously, that despite his getup (in honor of the Swing's affiliation to the Cardinals) he was really a Cubs fan. "What we'd like," said his father, "is to have him do an anthem at Wrigley."