LAS VEGAS, NV -- The chair could not have been more uncomfortable. They must make them this way so people won't fall asleep and miss their boarding call. Maybe they just like to see you in pain when you're leaving their town. After all, those last few bucks aren't going to do you much good in your pocket so why not get up and try some of those "loose" airport slots? No thanks and not me. I was happy to be leaving with a deflated yet still pleasant lump of greenbacks in my wallet. So there I was –sitting, slouching and writhing at Gate D6 in the McCarran Airport trying to make up for the countless hours of sleep I had lost in this city for the last 48 hours. Then I remembered Jason Schmidt, Barry Bonds and the first two games of the three game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks. All that and everything else that goes with a standard guys trip to Las Vegas came back to me like a sparkle in a showgirl's sequin.
And I smiled.
Vegas, baby. Forty-eight hours in Vegas with my best friends and a 5 game lead going into the All Star Break. I momentarily shook off my hangover and knew that this was, indeed, a good day for so many, many reasons. And I harkened back to when it all began…
Friday started off with three cocktails on the 8:00 am flight to Vegas. It's Vegas! You don't have a Shirley Temple on your way to Vegas. Sadly, I had one of those anonymous career guys wearing bad resort-style clothing and a Ron Jeremy moustache sitting next to me. His poison of choice was pineapple juice. I asked him, "So, going to Vegas for business or fun?" His answer was incomprehensible. I wish I were kidding. To this day, I don't know if he was working over the weekend or what. He proceeded to give me a 4 minute soliloquy on his company doing a management "re-org", an IT seminar and – here's the fun part – getting in nine holes "if there's time."
Vegas is open 24 hours and he wonders if there's time. My trip was off to a bad start.
After my second cocktail I volunteered the fact that I was going to reunite with my old college buddies, bet on some Giants games and document my trip for this very article. The very word, "Giants", must have sounded Swahili to him because he softly nodded twice and then closed his eyes for a nap. Real warm guy! So much for passing the time with Mr. Laughs.
Once in Vegas, I joined my old college roommates - Ken, Greg, Ray, John and Ben - around the bar that circles the centermost point in the Hard Rock casino where we sat, drank and did some catching up. These guys are coming from the East Bay, SF, LA and Arizona and some of us only see each other on these twice-yearly trips to Vegas. Naturally, we talked about everything important which primarily consisted of movie quotes from "Old School", "Full Metal Jacket", and "GoodFellas" and discussing the advantages of betting the under in the Cubs-Braves game that was only 15 minutes away from the first pitch. As it turns it, there weren't any advantages to taking the under in the game as the final score tallied Braves 9, Cubs 5. We needed less than 9 runs combined to win and the Braves scored that many themselves. Nice. Not only did we lose the under bet miserably, the Braves second baseman, Marcus Giles, and Cubby starting pitcher, Mark Prior, nearly killed each other in a hellacious collision between first and second base. For that, we all thanked my friend, Ken, for yet another link in his chain of terrible bets he's recommended over the years.
The Pool And The Bet
But I didn't come to bet on the Atlanta-Chicago game. It was time to get some work done. It was time to put some cash on Jason Schmidt and the Giants. Since they were heavily favored I decided to also take the Yankees to beat the Jays by 2 runs. All told, the bet was $70 to win $120. Not a king's ransom by any stretch, but it was enough to keep it interesting and pay for our dinner later that night if I were to win. To spice things up, my friends decided to bet the proverbial farm on the Giants. If Schmidt and the Giants gagged, the blame was going squarely on my shoulders. In short, if the Giants lost I might as well die. I'm talking real pressure here.
Once the bet was placed (and not burning a hole in my pocket to be played on the craps table), we decided to refresh ourselves in the beautiful and outrageously fun Hard Rock pool. A fool would have complained about the 115-degree heat outside but not me. It's a dry heat! No problem! I was in Vegas with money on my team and with five of my pals. Nothing could be more perfect as far as I was concerned.
If you've never been to the pool at the Hard Rock, then you've never experienced just how tiny bathing suits can get while still being able to be technically called "bathing suits." We're talking strings and floss. Nothing more. I mean, wow. And don't these girls know it, too. They scamper, bounce, frolic and pose. Some even rent the floatable foam mattresses and lay in the pool thong side up. I said, thong side up. All this and a Giants game at 7:00 PM. I needed someone to pinch me.
The only thing that came close to souring the moment was the L.A. guy and his companion heckling my Giants visor while I sipped a piña colada and soaked in the oppressive but glorious sun. "Ha, ha, ewww, look at that hat." I looked up and asked if they were Dodger fans and was ready to remind them as to what Schmidt, Grissom and Barry did to them just a few weeks ago before they tumbled into third place. They didn't answer me. Then one of the idiots asked me, "Yeah, I bet you miss Dusty, huh?" and he giggled as if he just beat me in a game of Yatzee or something. I stood up and prepared to declare war on Southern California before they just kept giggling to themselves and left quickly. I cut them a break. These L.A. chumps with their Ashton Kutcher hair-do's and manicured eyebrows are a dime a dozen. Having the Dodgers in third place was the least of their concerns.
And so it went for those few hours before the action started at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona.
Our dinner reservations were for eight o'clock in the hotel's fabulous restaurant, A.J.'s Steakhouse, so I was only able to receive a scoring update from Ben's cell phone (which became a bone of contention later in the evening). While we were getting seated, Jason Schmidt was proving his All Star status and Marquis Grissom punished a Miguel Batista pitch 422-feet into the left centerfield stands. This is how every meal should begin. Little did I know that Barry would launch an ICBM later in the game that would make my medium rare New York steak accompanied by a Clos Du Val cabernet sauvignon reserve and 2 Ketel One-and-Sodas even more sumptuous and spirited. And there was our waiter, Sean, feeding me updates. "Sir, the Giants lead 5-2," "Sir, Jason Schmidt now has 6 K's," and "Sir, Bob Brenly was just ejected," and on and on. All of them were pure delights for me as a fan and as bettor. The personal updates I found to be far more satisfying than Ben's cell phone, especially at the table. And Ray let him know it, too. Ray's originally from Philly and he can cut to the chase rather quickly. "Maybe the phone at the table flies in L.A., but not here. Not tonight. I swear that you're gonna use that thing for a crack pipe next." With many laughs, the phone was momentarily put away. And the laughs just got heartier with the cocktails and the realization that the Giants were going to fund dinner and the night's gambling at the tables. At that moment, my friends (who each follow the Yanks, Diamondbacks, A's, Angels and Phillies) were on the Orange and Black bandwagon and I was the captain. It's good to be the king!
While the black jack and craps tables weren't kind, there were plenty of chuckles to be had. We got to enjoy listening to a dealer recite every great line from "Old School" and my friends asked me to do my impression of Brad Pitt when he realizes just what's in the box at the end of "Seven". Why is the saddest, most brutal scene of such a chilling film fodder for humor when it comes to my friends? I don't know, but if you ever meet me and see my impression of yelling, "Awww, what's in the bohhhxxxx!!" you'll see.
And so it went. Day 1 in Las Vegas was in the books.
A Motley Crew at the Pool
I awakened at the surprising hour of 8:00 AM Saturday morning barely feeling the effects of the previous day and evening. Actually, I felt like a champ. The key to feeling great the day after your first night in Vegas is to drink water and shower before going to bed the previous evening. Trust me and thank me later.
After wolfing down a ham and cheese omelet faster than a T-Rex downing a B-class movie actor, it was time to put my faith and few bucks behind the would-be-savior of the Giants' starting rotation, Jerome Williams. Adding some drama to the game was the return of Diamondback ace, Curt Schilling, from the disabled list. It was Schilling, of course, who was going to rescue the Diamondbacks. After listening to my friend and Arizona resident, John, telling me to take Arizona and "Schill out," I defied him by putting down my dough on Jerome Williams to continue his improbable dominance and shut down the snakes.
With my bet safely made, it was time to get poolside. Greg, Ray and Ben joined me on my jaunt to the pool. We must have looked like real gems with our bed-heads, stubble, puffy eyes and slow gaits but we looked no worse than half of the other people who were already outside. In the expansive pool at the Hard Rock, there are features such as a fairly lengthy waterslide, beaches, private cabañas, swim-up black jack, blaring rock and metal music, underwater speakers playing the music, and a winding, grotto-style bar with every libation imaginable. They also have tv's at the bar featuring games of interest. It just so happened that the Giants-Diamondbacks contest was Fox's game-of-the-week. I was interested. Packed with Vin Diesel types, Playboy centerfold types and even the guy who plays John Connor in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines", there I sat with Ben to watch the battle of the NL West unfold. And it was there where we watched Ray Durham rudely greet Schilling with a rocket into the right field bleachers on an 0-1 pitch. It was there where we experienced the power of Bonds when he nearly hit one to Mexico to the strains of Metallica's "Sad But True" blasting over the speakers. It was there where we all witnessed Jerome Williams continue to mature and excel in his brief Major League career. It was there where I started counting my money by the 6th inning.
And it was just outside of the bar where I saw Tommy Lee. With elation over the Giants' victory (not to mention winning my bet), I made my way over to the man who banged the skins on "Shout at the Devil" and, um, Pamela Anderson. (Admit it! I saw the video and so did YOU!) But sure enough, there was the Dalai Lama of the drummer world: the tattoos, the grace… striking. I caught his eye and he caught mine. His hand was ready to extend when these two thong-clad tarts ran in front of me and begged him to take a picture with them. I was ticked but I knew that it was not to be. I raised both hands and said, "Tommy, I can't compete with that." The smile on his face said it all. That lucky dog! While I was denied meeting a rock god, I at least knew that Jerome Williams had enough love in his heart to turn a few of my hard earned dollars into $70. I was going to need it because the night soon beckoned. But it's always going to chafe me to never have asked Tommy about his opinion of Barry Bonds. I wanted to hear about Pam, but I would have settled for Barry.
A Night At Cheetahs
I didn't want to go to a strip bar, but I figured I owed it to my readers. I'm a team player.
The evening got off to a fitting start when my friends and I were relaxing in the room watching some sports and ESPN on the tv while we got ready for dinner. Our room overlooked the pool and since it was a lovely evening, we opened the French doors to enjoy an unobstructed view of the pool and, as it turned out, other things. Suddenly, you could hear bellowing catcalls from below and you saw packs of guys looking up at specific areas of the hotel. It turns out that women in their rooms were approaching the balconies of their rooms and flashing the pool-goers below much to everyone's delight. At that moment, I knew just what happens with girls gone wild.
After dinner and cleaning up a bit, it was time to do the mandatory run to a Vegas strip club. I hate this part of the trip as much as Bill Gates hates counting his money. So away we went to Cheetahs cabaret, which just so happens to be the place made famous by Paul Verhoeven's cinematic masterpiece, "Showgirls". This place is the Rosebud of truly cruddy and campy movies. Once in the door, we took our spot in the far corner of the establishment. TRL hits and hip-hop jams blare over the quasi-impressive sound system, and women wearing outfits not found in charm school are the standard fare for a place like Cheetahs. You know… real classy. With a hefty amount of beers served in icy buckets, laughter and harmless titillation, I began to go to work. I have to say that it was my job as a writer that ruined the evening. I soon learned that the last people in the world with whom I want to discuss sports and my beloved Giants are strippers. One girl turned baseball talk into her love for boxing. As a result, her fascination with carrying on a conversation about Lennox Lewis caused her lap dances to suffer considerably much to the chagrin of my friend, Greg, for whom she was dancing. (Sorry Greg. I owe you $20 for taking one for the team.) A while later, "Gina" asked me what I was doing in town and I told her. She said she loved baseball and, encouraged by this, I asked her who her favorite team was. "Ummm," she said in between smacking her bubble gum, "I think the Dodgers and Yankees." The Dodgers? The Yankees? My heart sank. Actually my heart didn't sink that much since I didn't find her particularly attractive, nor did my friends who let me hear about it later. The mere mentioning of the Dodgers, though, was a breach of etiquette on her part. I told her I was a Giants fan. I can handle the Yanks but not the freakin' Dodgers! She asked me if I'd like another dance and I declined. Besides, my friends were already walking out to the taxi stand and it was time to go. That was until Laurie arrived. She introduced herself by saying, "Hi, I'm Laurie but my stage name is ‘Elijah'." I asked her if she was Jewish but she didn't hear me. To Laurie/Elijah's credit, she did a good job but after two nights and too many drinks, I finally realized that it was my bedtime and I bid her adieu. My night with Gina, Laurie/Elijah and the others whose names I couldn't hear over the music was over.
And so my time in Vegas had come to an end.
And there I was in that god-awful chair attached to fifteen other lousy chairs in the airport. Unbeknownst to me, the Giants lost that third and final game of the series but I paid it no mind. I was tired and ready for my own house and my own bed. I fired down a Burger King value meal (for a value-filled $8) and let my stomach beg me to never do that again. But in between 3-minute catnaps, I pondered how my friendships and the Giants had me sitting in an airport so far away from home. And like Tommy Lee with his two hottest fans, I smiled. It's amazing how those you love – whether they be friends or a baseball team – can drop you smack dab in the middle of adventures, hilarity and the southern Nevada desert. And I have to admit that winning the Giants bets – while satisfying – still doesn't compare to the joy and heartbreak they've given me over the years. Money just doesn't compare when it comes to friends and a baseball team. So to my friends and the Giants, I say thanks for a fantastic weekend.
But if either of you could do something about those airport chairs, that'd be great.
Keith Larson writes for SFDugout.com because he's lived and died with the Giants since 1972. He welcomes all words of praise and insult at firstname.lastname@example.org, but mentioning anything having to do with Game 6 is to be done with extreme caution.
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