Is OU closer to being Clemson or Texas Tech?

Ever since Lincoln Riley took the reins from Bob Stoops in Norman, I’ve shuttled between these two opinions. It’s been evident since Day 1 that Riley is an offensive genius. The only question is whether or not he can get the other side of the ball to a championship level.

When everything is clicking, the Sooners look like Clemson. When the defense falls apart, OU looks like Texas Tech. Oftentimes — like Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Kansas State, you get to see Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the same game.

Even with two turnovers in the first half, OU looked great. The defense forced four straight punts to start the game and Spencer Rattler showed why he was the top-ranked QB in the country coming out of high school. His arm strength is already markedly higher than Mayfield, Murray or Hurts, and those guys finished first, first and second respectively in the last three Heisman tallies. Occasionally Rattler will leave a ball high, but otherwise he’s very accurate, and we can assume that he’ll only get better under Riley. He has decent foot speed (nowhere near Murray or Hurts but more than Baker) and hopefully will develop better awareness of when to tuck it and run. I like that he keeps his eyes downfield but he did miss a couple opportunities to convert third downs with his feet late in the game.

Anyway, we know the Sooners will put up points every Saturday. What we don’t know is how many they’ll allow. Skylar Thompson looks like the guy who played quarterback at my high school. OU made him look like Jalen Hurts, throwing a couple touchdown passes to wide open receivers and powering his way into the end zone a few times with his legs.

The defensive lapses hurt OU on the offensive side of the ball as well. Smelling an upset, the K-State defense started zeroing in on Rattler, who was constantly on the run. Riley basically abandoned the running game because he knew the O-line was tiring and couldn’t overpower the Wildcats up front for 80 yards. The Wildcats started playing loose and the Sooners started playing tight. A blocked punt here, another pick there…the Sooners have gotten lucky and survived second halves like this several times over the past couple seasons, but not this time.

When the Sooners play like they did in the second half, they look a lot to me like Texas Tech with better athletes and cooler uniforms.

Come this offseason, OU may be looking like Texas Tech in more ways than that. Anyone else see what Kliff Kingsbury is doing in Arizona and think it’s only a matter of time before an NFL team drops a helicopter load of money onto Riley?

Like I said, it’s been obvious from the moment he stepped foot in Norman that Riley is an offensive genius. Kingsbury has done some cool stuff, but he’s not in Riley’s league as a play designer and establishing an offense that can be lethal on the ground or in the air.

I thought it was absurd that an NFL team would hire a college coach who won about half his games, but it makes more sense now. There are tons of lifelong NFL coaches who can coordinate a defense, and you’ll theoretically have as much defensive talent as any other squad. So an offensive guru like Kingsbury or Sean McVay can really give you a competitive advantage in a league where the margins are razor thin.

I know Riley loves being at OU. He’s very well compensated and seems to thrive on the recruiting grind that makes many college coaches want to move on to the NFL. But this might be the time for the NFL to steal him, with the NCAA showing its ineptitude on crafting a uniform schedule across major conferences and instituting draconian suspensions for pot smoking even when it’s legal in almost every state now. Riley riffed on that latter topic at his press conference this week.

I hope he stays in Norman, but if he takes a few more jobs he might be like my favorite NBA player, LeBron James. Yes, I know that was a crappy segue but I’m leaving it in. James just made the NBA Finals for the 10th time in his career. That’s a lot.

Debating whether LeBron is better than Jordan is silly, because they play different positions, different styles, and played in different eras. So I always say LeBron is my favorite player, just because I enjoy his well-rounded game. If you preferred Jordan, that’s completely fine. Just don’t let that take away from your enjoyment of what James is doing right now. This isn’t the 1950s, when the whole NBA consisted of about 8 teams and the Celtics had 60% of the talent in the entire league. Making 10 Finals in those days is still impressive — it’s not like those players could control what the rest of the league was doing — but this is a whole new ballgame. LeBron is definitely past his peak, but he’ll be a favorite in the Finals this year and there’s no reason to think he doesn’t have a run or three left in him after this. What a beast.

With this weird 2020 sports calendar, we have football, basketball and baseball all going strong at the same time. The MLB playoffs start this week, and I have to say I’m less interested than ever. It feels like the season just started. They let more than half the teams in the league in the playoffs. And no fans takes away a lot of the fun.

Tonight the Cubs clinched the NL Central, which is bizarre considering they’ve played 59 games, barely won half of them, and score about 1.3 runs per game. That last stat is an exaggeration but most of the lineup is hitting around .200. It’s hard to get into a team when it rarely scores outside of a home run and those aren’t exactly flowing bountifully. I’ll definitely watch the Cubs playoff games but I doubt I tune in for Indians/Twins or whatever the other first-round series are.

I was vehemently against the runner-on-second thing to start extra-innings games, but I actually like it. Still not a fan of the 7-inning doubleheaders although I understand why they did that for this year. Hopefully it goes away along with the Royal Rumble playoff structure but I fear those are here to stay. The almighty dollar demands it.

Major League Baseball will take the cash grab of extra playoff games. Will Lincoln Riley take the NFL’s money next fall?

From two Bud Lights to near death to Paw Patrol cake

I’m a rule follower. Always have been. (Mom, this is when you should stop reading).

That’s why my first drink of alcohol came on November 12, 2000, the day I turned 21. I went to O’Connell’s (back when it was still on Lindsey St.) and had a Bud Light with a couple of my journalism colleagues. Thought it tasted terrible, then ordered another one. Still tasted terrible.

No shots, no beer bongs or shotgunning. Just two shitty BLs followed by the usual games of dominoes at the apartment.

Over the next several months I would occasionally have a beer or two, but never mixed drinks, liquor or shots. Maybe it happened and I just don’t remember it, but I don’t think I ever got drunk until the day I puked in my own car and almost died 600 miles from home.

I covered the OU football team for the school newspaper, and in 2001 they played an early-season game against the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I had to go to cover the game, but several friends wanted to check out the AFA and the beautiful scenery around Colorado Springs so we made a trip of it. I know Keith, Josh and Ryan were there, and we took my old Honda and split one room. My memory is that we had another carful of friends who drove separately and stayed in the same motel but I don’t remember who was in that group or exactly how many we had. Probably our photographer Paul and maybe George or the douchey yearbook guy they stuck with us a lot. Maybe one of these guys can add some details in the comments.

Anyway, we got to Colorado Springs on Aug. 31 and found a bar the night before the game. The fact that we were completely outnumbered and stood zero chance in a fight didn’t stop us from talking some good-natured smack to the cadets. It was a lot of fun hanging out with them and at the end of the night we made a friendly wager on the next day’s game. We wagered a shot of alcohol on whoever covered the point spread. They had the exact same number of people in their group as we did ours. My (probably faulty) memory is that each group had eight people in it and that OU was favored by about 28 points. We agreed to come back to the same bar the next night after the game and settle up.

Whatever the point spread was, OU covered it. The final score was 44-3. Immediately after the game, everyone else in our group went to eat dinner while I did interviews in the locker room and wrote my story. I sent that Pulitzer-worthy piece in via dial-up internet (no joke!) and my boys picked me up at the stadium when they finished eating.

We headed over to the bar, although I was convinced there was no way these Air Force dudes were going to show up. Why go out after your team got throttled just to buy shots for obnoxious Oklahoma punks? But not only were these gentlemen there, they paid off the bet in a much more generous way than I would have ever guessed.

Since our groups had the same number, I assumed that we were betting one shot per person. Had OU lost, I would have bought one guy in the other group a shot. I can assure you I didn’t have enough money in my wallet to buy all eight guys a shot, yet that’s what they decided to do for us.

By now, I’m sure you know where this story is headed. Guy who doesn’t drink that much and didn’t eat dinner gets presented eight shots in a 30-minute span from Air Force cadets who were cool and being super generous. These weren’t the first shots I’d ever taken in my life, but I do remember thinking it couldn’t be that big a deal because shots are so small. I also remember Keith asking me how many of those shots I’d taken and seeing his eyes widen when I answered, “all of them.” He knew I was in trouble.

I still contend that the eight shots of Jagermeister put together didn’t do as much damage as the single shot I took with Josh shortly thereafter. We happened to be walking past the main bar when the bartender climbed on top of the bar and yelled, “Free tequila while it lasts!” He had a fountain spray like they use to add Coke or water but it was full of the lowest-quality tequila the world has ever seen. He was just spraying a shot of it into the mouths of whoever was in front of him, which unfortunately included me and Josh. I remember turning to Josh immediately afterward. We both had looks of utter disgust on our faces and we knew our stomachs would not soon recover from this blow. I’ll never forget him saying, “Dude, we’re fucked.”

The next thing I remember is being outside of the bar with Josh, trying to find an alley to throw up in. That didn’t pan out and the other guys thought we should head back to the hotel. Ryan was our DD and hadn’t drank anything so I sat in the passenger’s seat. As we’re driving on a winding highway back to the hotel, I can tell I’m not going to make it. I tell Ryan to pull off and he does. Josh and I get out. He threw up (maybe he threw up back in the alley, but he got it out of his system anyway). I decided to just lay down on the grass next to the highway. I knew I was going to throw up but it wasn’t coming out and the other guys were worried I’d get arrested for public intox so they loaded me back up into the car. Couldn’t have been more than a mile from there when I puked violently all over my own car.

We get back to the motel and I pressed the elevator button corresponding to whatever floor we were staying on. I remember one of the guys saying, “I can’t believe he pressed the right floor.” The next thing I remember is laying in the bathtub, shivering and dry heaving after throwing up everything in my body. I really thought there was a decent chance I’d die from alcohol poisoning. So far in my 40+ years of life, that’s the closest I’ve ever felt to dying.

Just as my stomach gave up everything it had, I must also give it up to my boys. They completely cleaned out my puke from my car that night. We had a 10-hour drive to make the next day and I don’t remember it smelling at all. I also have to give it up to 21-year-old me for being able to recover so quickly. I felt like crap when I woke up the next morning, but we ate a super-greasy breakfast in Colorado Springs and I slept for the first couple hours of the drive home. Then — voila! — the well-oiled machine that was my 21-year-old self felt more or less fine. I took the wheel and drove the last eight-ish hours home. Didn’t miss a class the next day. Age-40 Matty Frankles would be hooked up to an IV for three days after a night like that.

Actually, age-40 Matty Frankles put his stomach through a different kind of test today. Cheap pizza, ice cream, and a delicious homemade birthday cake to celebrate my youngest son Hawk turning 5. (I used to have a baby…my kids are growing up too fast!)

The weather was beautiful and Hawk loved riding his new bicycle around the block. This being 2020, my mom was only one invited to his birthday party.

In 16 years, perhaps Hawk will have two Bud Lights at O’Connell’s to celebrate his 21st birthday. Ten months later, assuming college football still exists and they allow fans in the stands, I hope he gets to go someplace like Colorado Springs, see the beauty of it and meet some new people. But do your tummy a favor, son, and stick to the Paw Patrol-themed birthday cake instead of nine shots of liquor.

The Plank in the Ocean

Note: One of my New Year’s goals was to post one poem and one fictional short story on here. It’s August and I haven’t done either, so here’s my attempt at the former. I don’t read poetry and I’ve never tried to write it, so I have no expectation that this will be good. Hell, it’s probably not technically even poetry. Tips and criticisms are gladly accepted.

Note, Part 2: This deals with mental health issues. The thoughts I express here are real but I have never actually considered harming myself. I promise.

Mornings are always good. There is life, my beautiful children running to give me hugs and playing together.

Routines — making breakfast for the kids, reading the newspaper, going to the gym — make me feel calm and productive. After that, I never know how the day is going to go. The kids might be crazy, or they might be great. Work might be great, or it might really suck. More to the point, I never know how I’ll react to any of those scenarios. The kids might be crazy, and I might be the calm, empathetic father I want to be. Or I might lose my temper. Work might suck and I might not let it bother me in the least. Or the tiniest annoying thing might stick in my head and not get out.

Nighttimes are almost always good, like 97.5% of the time. I can unwind, relax, go to bed.

That 2.5% though…it feels like floating on a plank in the middle of the ocean without land or boat in sight.

The water is the made of Nevers.

Never be good enough.

Never be the father I want to be.

Never be the father I had.

Never be the husband I want to be.

Never get to sleep.

Never escape this ocean.

The salt is the mistakes I’ve made.

Yelled at the kids.

Lied.

Drank too much.

Misplayed a hand and cost my family money.

Can’t even provide for them.

Chose myself over my family.

Missed out on time I’ll never get back.

The salt stings.

Cycling from one to the next, it never ends. I rub the salt out of my eyes only to have more instantaneously appear. I poke my head out of the water.

Breathe.

Deep breaths.

Count to ten.

I’m back underwater. Never, never, never, because X, because Y, because Z.

Your mistakes don’t define you.

You try the best you can.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Thing is, this isn’t manufactured salt. All the mistakes are real and regrettable. They aren’t one-time occurrences either. I’m 40 years old, and every year it seems to get worse, not better. How does this all end? I’m back underwater. Never, never, never, because X, because Y, because Z.

I should take an anxiety pill, but it’ll make me sleep for 12 hours. It’s already 2 a.m. The whole next day will be wasted. All because X, because Y, because Z. Never, never, never.

The plank is the morning.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

But how? Can’t breathe, much less sleep. Head is light, stomach turning. Seasick, I guess. No land, no boats in sight. Just nevers and becauses, water and salt.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

That’s all well and good, but it only takes one time of not making it to the morning. Dad was 56 before he didn’t make it to the morning…can I even make it that long?

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

A couple more cycles and then, finally, nothing. Sleep. A 50/50 chance the sleep gets me to the morning. A 50/50 chance I suddenly wake up two hours later unable to breathe, and the cycle starts over.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

HOLD ON TO THE PLANK.

Mornings are always good. There is life, my beautiful children running to give me hugs and playing together.

Routines — making breakfast for the kids, reading the newspaper, going to the gym — make me feel calm and productive. After that, I never know how the day is going to go.

Cigars

I’m not short on vices, and my favorite one by far is smoking cigars.

I never would have guessed I’d pick up that habit, but I’ve had it for a good seven years now and have no plans to quit.

I tried a cigarette once in college. Hated it and couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth all afternoon. That was the first and last thing I lit on fire in my mouth until I decided to try a cigar.

I don’t have any recollection of when exactly I smoked my first cigar or who I was with. I feel like Mike Carroll was involved but not entirely sure. Regardless, it certainly didn’t become a regular thing for quite a while. I was maybe smoking one cigar a month, and this was low-quality shit we’re talking about. I ordered a starter kit from an online site. It was a tin humidor, 30 sticks, and a lighter that broke the second time I used it for $30. Might as well have been smoking sticks from the backyard.

All of that changed one fateful day when a buddy of mine who was a serious cigar aficionado said he needed to offload some of his inventory. He was smoking about seven cigars a day and wanted to get that down to three or four, so he was getting rid of the cigars he kept in his office at work. I met him over there and he gave me about 120 sticks, a really nice humidor, and two travel humidors for $300. The humidors alone were probably worth almost that much, and these were some fine cigars. Now that I know more about cigars, I know that those cigars would have averaged more than $10 per stick retail. And he had obviously taken care of them so they were perfectly fine. If I were smarter, I probably would have just re-sold all of that stuff immediately and made a quick $1000 but I wanted my mouth to smell like ash for the next 40 years.

The funny part of the purchase was when my buddy pulled out the five-cigar travel humidor. He showed it to me and said, “Now, what if you go to Vegas for a weekend? Are you going to want to smoke five cigars?” I shook my head no, because at that time five cigars was enough to get me from Memorial Day to Halloween. “No,” he said. “You’re going to want a lot more than that, which is why I’m giving you this 18-cigar travel humidor as well.”

(Postscript: I still have the 18-stick humidor, but the only time it’s ever had cigars in it was when I went home from his office. That’s because all three humidors were filled to the max to hold my 120 cigars. I still use the five-cigar humidor every time I go out of town though.)

That initial jackpot stash eventually disappeared, but another buddy who belonged to the same cigar lounge started selling me his excess product every time I ran low, and he also gave me great deals on them. A couple of poker buddies who don’t smoke have also gifted me some really good cigars.

Naturally, once I started smoking these higher-end stogies I started liking the whole concept a lot more. Still, I was only smoking about once a week until maybe a year ago, when I started averaging two or three.

Then this dang coronavirus thing hit. Suddenly, I was out of work. Check. The weather was beautiful almost every night. Check. And I was teaching school for all four of my kids every day. Checkmate. I started smoking every day. Occasionally even throwing a second cigar into the mix.

Let this be a lesson to the kids out there. Don’t let a lack of income or increasing personal responsibility keep you from destroying your lungs, even if there’s a global pandemic going around that also destroys your lungs.

Honestly though, there’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting on the back porch at the end of the day and relaxing, looking up at the gorgeous sky and moon, and smoking a cigar while drinking either a good beer or a couple ounces of bourbon.

Usually I like to play bridge online while I smoke. I love the game and there are ample breaks to sneak a puff or look into the sky and just breathe. Last night I got the trifecta because I kicked butt at bridge, enjoyed the cigar and listened to the Cubs win a baseball game on the radio, all at the same time.

Cigars are also a great way to have some much-needed bro time. It usually takes at least an hour to fully enjoy one, so you get past the “Hey, how ya been man?” stuff and into some deeper topics. I have a couple buddies who I get together with every once in a while, and it’s really good for the soul. My college roommate Keith, who now lives in France, came back stateside for a visit and we discovered that we’d both picked up cigars since our college days. We got together with a couple other college friends at a lounge and told the same old stories and played dominoes like we used to back in the day. It was one of the best nights of my life, and we’ve done the same thing a couple more times since when he’s come back for visits.

Made the mistake of leaving some of my cigars in my friend James’ car one time. He doesn’t even smoke but defiled all of them anyway.

There are some really nice places to smoke now, my two favorites (besides my back porch) being the Pub W in Norman and the BURN lounge up north by Top Golf. They don’t have the music on so loud that you can’t talk, and now that sports are kind of back they have those on the TVs. Smoking outside when it’s 100 degrees with humidity is too much even for me.

Generally, I prefer the more full-flavored, earthy cigars. Drew Estates is my favorite line, and the Liga Privadas are my favorite offering of theirs. In fact, I’m smoking a T52 right now. I recently got a box of My Father’s, and they are excellent as well. There are lots of great cigars out there and I like to keep a variety in stock. I can’t stand the sweetened cigars, and the super-mild ones with no flavor are a waste of time. But I’ll give pretty much anything else a whirl. I usually get bigger sticks, because if I smoke a short one I’ll end up wanting another one, which can sometimes be overkill.

Every once in awhile, the cigars will kinda mess up my brain chemicals. I know I’m already walking the line as far as that goes, but it’s rare enough that I haven’t quit yet. Still, it does stink on those rare occasions when I end up feeling weird or depressed emotionally after smoking.

Speaking of stink, some of these stronger sticks will really do some damage to my breath. I’ll brush my teeth, gargle mouthwash, and I still can’t get to first base with Missy because of the smell. I can’t blame her, I wouldn’t come near myself either if I had a choice. Cost of doing business.

I’m not the only one who has increased the cigar use during the pandemic. The last time I went into the cigar shop, the cashier said they’ve had record numbers since they’ve reopened.

I probably need to cut down on my cigar use. But I probably won’t, at least not anytime soon. Like somebody once said, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

What Are We Wrong About?

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love history.

I was a journalism major at OU, but I took so many history electives that when I met with my advisor before the start of my senior year, I asked her what I needed to do to get a minor in history.

“Hold on, let me look,” she said. After a minute of keyboard pounding, she looked up and said, “You’ve already met all the requirements. You just need to declare it.” I stood up, pointed my index finger into the sky and said, “I declare it!”

One of the things I enjoy about history is seeing the evolution of theology, products, architecture, etc. over time.

The past 150 years have brought about unprecedented growth in technology and medicine. Just think — in 1870 there was no such thing as a light bulb and “doctors” used leeches to let “poisonous” blood out of people who were sick with a wide array of ailments.

Even when humans get something right, we can go too far. The X-ray was invented in 1895, but within a decade or two it was being used on healthy people’s feet to determine their shoe size. Then those same people started getting cancer.

It’s easy to laugh at things like bloodletting and X-raying healthy feet, but we have to remember that those people were operating with the best knowledge they had at the time — just like we do today. In 100 or 200 years, what will people be laughing at us about?

The coronavirus situation this year is what got me thinking about this topic. For awhile, it seemed like the story changed every day. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, actually do wear a mask. We need ventilators, we’re out of ventilators, do ventilators really help?

Now that we’re several months into it, the story is only changing every week instead of every day. Still, it’s interesting to see people jumping on that day’s information like it’s the gospel truth — or ignoring it entirely if it doesn’t fit their political ideals — only to have a whole new set of data come out 24 hours later.

I don’t pretend to know the end result of this deal. I do believe we will come up with an effective vaccine and that this will be but a blip in the road of history. But I could be completely wrong.

In the year 2200, what will our descendants have to say about our generation?

People my age or thereabouts have lived through the beginnings of a technological revolution. I grew up with landlines, dial-up (read: slow-ass) internet, cassette tapes and a VCR. Things are only going to advance from here.

Here are my half-baked predictions.

  • Instead of complicated tax codes, credit card gouging and bank accounts, everyone will have one “bank account,” operating in a global currency like Bitcoin. Taxes, loans, deposits and purchases will all flow in and out of this account. You won’t use a card to access this but rather a chip planted under your skin. This will also contain your ID/passport so you won’t have to carry that around. Regardless, I think future generations will be appalled by how complicated our current system is.
  • I don’t have a good guess as to what it will look like but I’m already surprised we haven’t found a faster mode of daily transportation than cars. I picture a Jetsons-like situation with “highways” in the air, except the vehicles won’t look like traditional cars and different altitudes could exist for different speeds of travel and “exits.” Regardless, I think future generations will be appalled by how inefficient and harmful to the environment our cars were.
  • I think we will figure out a universal healthcare system that gives everyone a basic standard of care. There is enough money on the earth to take care of the essential needs of everyone without making rich people poor, and this will be a crowning achievement for the generation that installs it.
  • We will make a collective interpretation of when life begins and use it to draw a line on when women’s rights end and human rights begin. Everyone (except maybe a fringe element that doesn’t count) believes women have the right to control their own bodies. Everyone believes it’s not ok to take someone else’s life. We’ve been over-complicating this issue. At what point does human life begin? Whenever that is, another person doesn’t get to unilaterally decide to end that life. Seems logical to me that it begins with a heartbeat, since that’s how we define the end of life. But maybe people will decide it’s a different time. Regardless, I think future generations will look at this the way we look at slavery, wondering how society allowed this to exist and call it progress.
  • A sport that hasn’t been invented yet will surpass hockey and baseball in popularity. In 1920, boxing, baseball and horse racing were the most popular sports in America. Only one of those remain in the top three, and it’s hanging on by a thread. I’d bet on basketball remaining very popular, since it’s the easiest game for anyone to find a place to play. I wouldn’t be surprised if football’s health risks relegate it to niche status eventually, but now it’s so popular that it will take awhile to knock it off the pedestal. Baseball has been trending the wrong way for years and shows no signs of bouncing back to top-tier status. I don’t know what the new sport looks like or will be called, but if basketball and football can rise from nothing to the top in 180 years, so can another new sport. Heck, maybe it’ll be an old sport like lacrosse making a revival. It has good gambling/fantasy potential and it’s really fun and fast-paced to watch.
  • Religious beliefs of any kind will be mocked by mainstream society. I don’t really need to add any commentary here. This is the way things have been trending my whole life, so it isn’t exactly a bold prediction. But religion dates back as far as humanity itself, and while I don’t think it will ever disappear, it’s weird to see it being pushed to the margins like it has been.

What do you think the people of 2200 will think of us? What areas of society will be drastically different? Which of my predictions do you think are as foolish as bloodletting? Leave a comment so I can delete it and block you if I don’t like it. That’s the way we roll in 2020. (Just kidding I won’t do that. Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts!)

Matt and Chad’s definitive ranking of MLB parks we have seen

Basketball courts and football fields are all essentially the same, but baseball parks are unique. That uniqueness affects both the game on the field and the fan experience. A lazy fly ball to left is a routine out at most ballparks, but can easily clear the Green Monster for a home run at Fenway Park. Taking in a game at PNC Park is a fully immersive Pittsburgh experience, as the stadium’s designers did a wonderful job melding the Allegheny River, the downtown skyline and the Roberto Clemente bridge with the city’s classic yellow and black colors.

Chad and I have been on two extended baseball road trips (Kevin joined us for the first one in 2002). Since our second tour in 2015, we’ve tried to make an annual weekend out of hitting one baseball outpost and seeing what the city has to offer. This year, that’s not going to happen (“yer a bum, COVID-19!”), so we decided to take an inventory of all the stadiums we have visited and rank them.

We’re including stadiums that have since been retired or demolished, as well as stadiums where we only went for a tour or where our game was rained out. I’ve visited 20 stadiums in my life; Chad is at 24. We’ve both been to most of the stadiums on this list since we’ve attended many of these games together, but Chad had a few extra picks at the end since his list is a bit longer. I commandeered the first pick because I would have murdered him if he tried to take Wrigley Field away from me.

This blog is appearing identically on both our blogs and ironically on his. Luckylifestories.com (mine) is an apt title for a guy who gets to travel around the country to watch baseball and drink beer, while stayathomechad.com is writing about times when Chad did not stay at home.

1. Wrigley Field, Chicago (Matt)

Kevin, Matt, and Chad stand outside Murphy’s Bleachers before staking out a spot in Wrigley’s bleachers, 2002.
Andre Dawson jersey
Paying homage to the “Hawk” with a jersey purchase, 2015.

My high school graduation present was my first trip to Wrigley. We sat in the bleachers and I was scolded by security for leaning over the wall and snatching a piece of ivy. My college graduation present (to myself) was a baseball road trip with Chad and Kevin. I felt like crap the entire time which I later found out was due to having mono. Still, I managed to snag two batting practice home runs on the same day at Wrigley.

I once sat through two separate 3-hour rain delays and saw every pitch of a 14-inning game that started at 2 p.m. and ended at 1 a.m. There were so few people left in the stadium by the end of it that mom and I were able to sit on the third row behind the Cubs dugout.

I’ve been back twice since the giant video boards were added, and they don’t take away from the experience at all. You still have the neighborhood feel, the local bars, the old scoreboard, the ivy and the view of Lake Michigan.

I named my oldest kid after the street Wrigley is located on. Need I say more?

2. Camden Yards, Baltimore (Chad)

Chad’s first visit to Baltimore in 2000. Boog’s Bar-B-Q ranks among the best MLB stadium food.

Baltimore receives credit for sparking the ballpark building craze in the early 90s, with ample nods to history and vintage design. The brick B&O Warehouse in right field defines the park’s stunning aesthetics. The Orioles seem to have a supportive fan base, in good times and bad, with Cal Ripken Jr. serving as its god among men. A big plus is the Inner Harbor area. It is a picturesque setting just steps from the ball yard with colorful buildings, sailboats, and an abundance of top-notch seafood. Also in the neighborhood is Babe Ruth’s childhood home, with a decent little museum dedicated to the Bambino.

I’ve been to Camden Yards three times. The most memorable came in 2001 when I was a U.S. Senate intern. This was before the Washington Nationals existed, and I wanted to catch a ballgame while I was in the Beltway for the summer. So I rented a minivan and crammed in all of my office’s interns (definitely more people than a minivan should hold) for the 45-minute trip to Baltimore. I was 22 at the time, and probably shouldn’t have been able to rent a vehicle, but flashing a Senate badge goes a long way in D.C., or at least it did then.

To be honest, it’s probably a crime that we ranked this above Fenway, but we did this blog draft style and I wasn’t invited on Matt’s Boston trip (cough cough), so what can you do?

3. Fenway Park, Boston (Matt)

Much like Wrigley, Fenway sits smack in the middle of a neighborhood. There will never be parks like those anymore, and those two are so unique and cool that they really should be separated from every other park on this list.

In college, two of my journalism friends got summer internships at The Boston Globe, so I saved up a little money and flew up for a weekend. We got to the park early, walked around the neighborhood and all around the stadium before settling into our crappy seats in dead center field about 520 feet away from home plate. We took pictures standing next to the left field foul pole right next to the green monster (this was before there was seating atop the monster). It was a fun day, and I’d love to go back.

4. PNC Park, Pittsburgh (Chad)

If stadiums can no longer go into neighborhoods, the next best thing is downtown. I love a good urban view, and no one has come close to doing it as well as Pittsburgh. The Roberto Clemente Bridge is such a cool backdrop. Really, the whole city is cool. All of the major sports teams have the same colors, and it seems like the whole city is adorned in yellow and black. We spent a lot of time walking the Allegheny River between the ballpark and Rivers Casino. Between the two is Heinz Field, home of the Steelers. The fan base is second to none. I feel sorry for them because the Pirates have had bad luck in wild-card games and they missed their small window for a championship. But I’d go back to Pittsburgh in a heartbeat no matter how good or bad the Pirates were.

My only complaint was that the ballpark feels like it was built on a lot that was too small. The sacrifice came in the concourses, where it was wall-to-wall humanity the entire game. Expect to miss a full inning in order to tinkle or buy a Primanti Brothers sandwich.

5. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City (Matt)

In 2002, Kauffman served as the launching pad for an epic baseball road trip.

Many would say I’ve ranked this too high, but there’s a simplistic beauty to this stadium that I really enjoy. The fountains are a nice touch, and they’ve added a craft beer section with great stuff from Boulevard.

The first time I visited was on that college graduation road trip with Kevin and Chad. I remember “tailgating” with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the parking lot because we were too poor to afford anything better.

Chad’s bachelor party included a game at Kauffman, and that was a lot of fun too. With Chad living pretty close to Kansas City now, he gets to go to a fair number of Royals games. I stole this stadium in the draft but I’ll let him pick out a picture to go with it.

6. Coors Field, Denver (Chad)

Best seat in the house, 2018.

It took me multiple visits to find the best seat at Coors Field, but I finally settled on it a couple of years ago. It is the front row of the upper deck on the first base side. From there, you can see a wide panoramic view of the game as well as the majestic Rocky Mountain peaks just beyond the right field scoreboard. Oh, and lest I forget the sky. Most nights it fills up with a spectacular orange and purple splay at sunset.

The revitalized downtown neighborhood is fun, particularly if you are a craft beer fan. We have spent time before and after games at Wynkoop, Breckenridge, and Prost, among others.

In many ways, the structure itself is similar to its mid-90s contemporaries. It’s a very nice, clean ballparks with vintage vibes and great sight lines all around. But simply being in Colorado is enough to fill me with joy, so for the game day experience and natural views, Colorado has those rivals beat by a mile (high).

7. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati (Matt)

There are two reasons this one is so high up on my list. First is the Reds Hall of Fame. Chad and I spent a good hour or so in there before the game started, and I just love the history. A lot of Johnny Bench stuff, which we have to love as native Oklahomans.

I also liked how wide the concourses were. It bugs me when I want to get a beer or take a leak between innings only to get jammed up in a sea of people on the concourse. Great American is the first class section of ballpark concourses. There were also lots of good food and drink options, and a view of downtown Cincy similar to what you get at PNC in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is just a little prettier to look at in my opinion.

8. (Old) Yankee Stadium, New York (Chad)

The ecstasy of a pre-game stroll through Monument Park.

Let me preface by saying I have had the worst luck with baseball in The Bronx. When I went to the old stadium in 2000, we sat and watched rain fall for several hours until the game against the Red Sox was postponed. Strike one. In October 2011, I went to New York for business and I bought a ticket for the Yankees’ second-round playoff series in their new stadium. However, the Yankees lost to the Tigers in the first round, rendering my ticket useless. Strike two. The next time I went to NYC in 2016, the Yanks were out of town. Strike three.

But I saw enough of the the House that Ruth Built during that rainout in 2000 to declare its majesty. Walking through Monument Park was especially satisfying. The enormity of the stadium, and I assume its successor, is stunning. Hopefully I’ll get to see the new one on my next visit to the Big Apple.

The fan base is simply nuts. A beer vendor appeared out of nowhere and shouted “WHOOOOO’S DRINKING HERE?” and a fan responded “WE’RE ALLLLLLL DRINKING HERE!” and the rest of the section cheered – and drank – as the rain fell. That’s about the nicest story I can recount about Yankee fans. They are bold and brash and obnoxious, home or away (“27 RIIIIIIINGS!!!!!”). I used to be one of them, but at some point I couldn’t even tolerate myself anymore.

The agony of a multi-hour rain delay. (I don’t know what’s going on with my mouth in this pic. In the film camera days, there were no re-shoots.)

9. Target Field, Minneapolis (Matt)

I loved Minneapolis as a whole. Reminds me a lot of Oklahoma City. I was really surprised by the craft beer scene there, surpassed only by San Diego among cities I’ve been to. We got lucky on the weather when we were there too.

The stadium itself is modern and cool, in the mold of Pittsburgh/Cincinnati/St. Louis where you get a good feel and view of the whole downtown area.

Of the two games we attended there, my main memory has nothing to do with baseball. The guy sitting directly in front of us proposed to his girlfriend on the jumbotron, and she said yes. So Chad and I were on the video getting excited for this newly engaged couple. And we had already had a couple beers so we were maybe even a little more excited than we should have been.

10. Progressive Field, Cleveland (Chad)

We were happy members of #TRIBETOWN for one wild Friday night.

I think I am safe in speaking for Matt when I say Progressive Field was the best surprise of our 2015 tour. Before we went, I knew the Indians had seen a lot of success in the mid-90s and had an impressive streak of selling out the stadium. But that was a while ago. I hadn’t heard much about the Indians and their fans since. But when we visited, the stadium was packed and we had a blast.

Pre-game, Matt played poker downtown, and I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eventually we met up and had a couple beers at the Clevelander Bar. From there we hit the stadium. It struck me as a very vertical stadium, which may not make a ton of sense, but it felt like the decks were stacked directly on top of each other. Despite sitting in the outfield, I felt like we were on top of the action. The fans around us, rooting for both the Indians and the Twins, were a lot of fun. Not annoying at all, but providing great conversation and fun teasing. It didn’t hurt that the game was an action-packed affair that ended in a 10-9 Twins victory. After the game, the Indians put on the most intense fireworks show I’ve ever seen. Not the biggest or brightest, but definitely the loudest. Overall, we came away with a positive impression of a vibrant downtown and an excellent stadium.

11. Chase Field, Phoenix (Matt)

The season was still a week away, but the Chase Field pool appeared to be in mid-season form.

Last year, Chad and I went to Phoenix for a few days of spring training, which was a fun wrinkle. We took a stadium tour of the Diamondbacks home, something I’d never done before.

It was cool to see the inside of the stadium, such as the clubhouse and the dugout. In the entryway to the home dugout was a metal horizontal bar bolted to the ceiling. Our tour guide informed us that this was installed when Randy Johnson was pitching for the team, and he would hang from it to stretch his back between innings. I had always thought stadium tours were just a weak money grab, but tidbits like that changed my mind.

The poker players of Phoenix took some of my money on that trip, so maybe one of these days I’ll exact my revenge during a baseball season and actually watch a game at Chase Field.

12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles (Chad)

This one is hard for me to rank, because I went there when I was only 6, and my memories are definitely colored by 35 years of watching games on television. To put that in perspective, I went there three years BEFORE Kurt Gibson’s miraculous walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series. But still, it holds good memories for me, as I watched the Dodgers square off against the Cincinnati Reds team that featured Pete Rose as a player-manager. Plus I really like the vibrant colors of the southern California yard, the hills and palm trees in the distance, and the cool 60s angles on the signs and overhangs in the outfield.

(Quick aside from Matt: My first MLB game was at Dodger Stadium, and it was during that 1988 season. Fernando Valenzuela got shelled. We sat on the very top row. I don’t remember much else about it).

13. Comerica Park, Detroit (Matt)

Will the statue of racist prick Ty Cobb remain at Comerica Park?

I’ve only spent one day in Detroit in my whole life. We drove across to Canada during the day before a 7 p.m. Tigers/Red Sox game, spent 20 minutes there and then got detained at the border trying to cross back into the United States. That was a bit unsettling, but after a couple of hours at the border patrol we got out in time for the game.

The seats we actually purchased were the worst ones I’ve ever sat in. They were temporary bleachers tucked under the actual bleachers beyond the left field wall. We decided to forego those and just roam around the stadium the entire game.

Like Kauffman and its Boulevard section, Comerica has a great craft beer bar from Founders. Chad and I drank a lot of beer on that 2015 road trip but the best was the Red Rye IPA we got at that bar. I also remember spending an inning or two talking to and older local man who told us stories about the old Tiger Stadium. Having conversations with strangers who also love baseball is one of the best things about going to a ballgame.

14. Petco Park, San Diego (Chad)

Everything about San Diego is bright and beautiful, including your blog author.

This is another park that I have visited, but unfortunately I have not seen a game there. Our family was in San Diego a few years ago smack dab between the World Baseball Classic and MLB’s Opening Day. We didn’t a chance for any games, but we took a tour of Petco anyway. Like Camden Yards, this one features an historic building facade (Western Metal Supply Co.) as part of the stadium. We went in that building and it has a pretty sweet bar and some swanky pool tables, as well as the Padres’ store.

When we came outside, the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs were practicing for Opening Day, and it felt like they were falling right over our heads and landing on the field. I’d still prefer a baseball game, but that was a cool consolation prize and great memory. San Diego is a beautiful place and its ballpark fits right in.

15. Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago (Matt)

The stadium itself is absolutely nothing special at all.

Having said that, it was the only stadium on our 2015 tour that let us sit wherever we wanted. So we bought crappy seats and never even bothered to check them out. We sat in the lower section and watched Chris Sale pitch to Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Angels.

We also found out that GRF has some of the best ballpark food in the country, but unfortuntely we didn’t find this out until after our visit there. We ate at a sports bar across the street before the game and weren’t hungry once we got inside, but the smells were amazing. Won’t make the same mistake again if I ever go back.

16. The Ballpark in Arlington (Chad)

Matt and I went to Arlington for Opening Day in 2009. President Bush, less than three months after leaving the White House, threw out the first pitch.

I’ve seen quite a few games in Arlington, since most of my life I lived only 3 1/2 hours away in Oklahoma City. The park that opened in 1994 is truly beautiful, and for most of my life I would have ranked it in the top 10, but now it is retired and will probably continue to slide down the list into history.

The main reason for this stadium’s early demise is the brutal Texas summer heat. I can attest, it is miserable. I have lost many pounds sweating at Rangers games, even into the night. One year I took my parents to an opening weekend game, hoping that early April would be mild enough for us to enjoy a day game. It wasn’t. I’m looking forward to seeing the new roofed stadium, although I predict it may suffer some of the same problems of Minute Maid in Houston (see below).

One good memory is when Matt and I both took our families to a Cubs-Rangers game in 2007 and witnessed Sammy Sosa becoming the 5th player to hit 600 home runs. I still think it’s crazy he hit that milestone AGAINST the Cubs.

17. Marlins Park, Miami (Matt)

Sure, it’s wonky, and I was there when they still had the goofy home run art piece in center. But it did offer a wide concourse with solid beer options, interesting dimensions and a bobblehead museum that I spent at least an inning and a half at.

Overall, I’d say this stadium gets a bit of an unfair bad wrap. But maybe that’s what it deserves for charging the citizens of Miami a buttload of tax dollars to build it and then putting a Triple-A caliber team on the field.

18. (Current) Busch Stadium, St. Louis (Chad)

Sweating my face off in 2006.

The first time I went to Busch III during its inaugural season of 2006, it was over 100 degrees for a day game. Baptism by fire, I suppose. The downtown views of the Gateway Arch are solid. The stadium itself, I found a little generic and underwhelming. The food selection was also not great (Carls Jr burgers? Get out of here!)

We waited many years for the Ballpark Village next door, but again, I was a disappointed. While I’ve certainly had fun with friends there, the entire thing is apparently owned and/or operated by Anheuser-Busch, which means the beer sucks and the food is mediocre. The atmosphere seems so sterile and manufactured, rather than feeling gritty and natural (like Wrigleyville).

Cardinals fans are passionate, there’s no doubt, but their park is middle-of-the-pack at best.

19. Minute Maid Park, Houston (Matt)

Chad attended Opening Day in Houston in 2012.

I found this one to be highly disappointing. The coolest thing about it was the flag pole on a hill that was in play in centerfield, but they got rid of that for safety reasons.

The left field fence is way too close, yielding cheap homers. Texas beers generally suck and the team cheats. Yes, we’re to that point on the list.

(If Matt can do an aside, so can Chad: Here’s the deal about Minute Maid. If the weather is decent and the roof is open, it is a top-10 baseball cathedral. The train is especially cool. But if the roof is closed, and it almost always is, the stadium has all the ambiance of a 1990s shopping mall on a Tuesday morning.)

20. Citi Field, New York (Chad)

When I sent this fiery sunset pic to Matt, he responded, “This is why baseball is the best sport.”

Luckily my New York curse did not extend to Queens. We took in a ballgame in ’16 while we were in New York for Aften’s medical conference. The tennis U.S. Open was also going on, and I wish I could have gone to that, too. We entered Citi Field through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. You have to get past the fact that Jackie played for the Dodgers and not the Mets, and he played in Brooklyn and not Queens, but it’s still a neat tribute. The exterior facade of the park is also apparently a nod to Ebbets Field and the Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium is there for cool photo ops. The inside of the park is nice enough, although I didn’t get to explore much because I was wrangling a 7-month old. The biggest memory is a beautiful baseball sky sunset that was almost as good as Colorado.

Pro tips for visiting Citi Field: 1) If you are going to a night game in rush hour, take the express train and not the local that makes every stop in Queens like we stupidly did. 2) If you like real-deal Chinese food, go one subway stop further to Chinatown in Flushing for your pre-game eats. There is a hidden underground food court that has amazing dumplings and a ton of other good food. Then take the subway back one stop for the game. 3) Buy your return subway ticket BEFORE the game or make sure you have an all-day ticket. You do not want to be stuck in the line (there are literally only two machines for 40K fans) buying tickets after the game, or even in the 6th inning because you brought a baby and you have to get back to Manhattan so this kid can get some sleep already! (I never ever ever leave a game early, but there are some fights a man just cannot win.)

21. Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta (Matt)

I was incredibly lucky on the two games I attended here. The first, when the Braves were terrible, was a game in which Dale Murphy homered twice in the same inning, one of which was a grand slam.

The second involved a fire in one of the suites before the game started, leading to a long delay. This was 1993, and the Braves had just traded for star first baseman Fred McGriff. In his first game with the team, after waiting out the fire delay, McGriff hit a grand slam that sent the stadium into a frenzy. The Braves went on to run down the Giants by one game in one of the most epic divisional title races ever. But let’s be honest, the stadium itself sucked.

22. Angels Stadium, Anaheim (Chad)

My parents took my sister and me to Angels Stadium on July 4, 1989. I was 10. It was a vacation that was filled with a lot of sickness, as my family members passed around a stomach bug. By the time the game rolled around, I was feeling fine, but I can’t say the same for my parents. Big credit to them for sticking it out because the payoff was truly epic. Tony Armas Sr. hit a 3-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th with two outs to beat the Rangers, 5-2. That led to by far the best fireworks display I had ever seen at that point in my life. I remember getting a little teary at the patriotic music. Big feelings for a 10-year-old.

I admit I don’t really remember much about the stadium. One detail I recall is that we were sitting down the left field line, and it felt like our seats were facing directly at the left fielder, making it uncomfortable to turn our heads to watch 98 percent of the action taking place on the infield. Angels Stadium has been renovated a few times since 1989, so hopefully they corrected that issue. Still, my overall impression of this stadium is that it is serviceable but not necessarily special, kind of like the Angels themselves outside of the GOAT Mike Trout.

23. Miller Park, Milwaukee (Matt)

We got Wood! And unfortunately, also mono.

I could be biased here, because the Brewers are division rivals with the Cubs and also because my only visit came on that 2002 trip when I had mono, but I was completely underwhelmed. The stadium had a fake-looking rusty-steel exterior, and that damn Bernie Brewer slide is annoying. The hot dog race is kind of cool, though.

24. (Old) Busch Stadium, St. Louis (Chad)

I went to a number of games at Busch II during my childhood. The time that comes to mind first was during a 1988 vacation that we made down the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Memphis.

In a game against the Giants, future Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game and the place came unglued. Ozzie only hit 28 dingers in 2,573 career games, so there was about a 1 percent chance that it would happen in any given game.

The little arches that encircled the top of the stadium were cool. But the shape of the stadium, plus artificial turf, plus Midwest humidity, made the place the worlds largest air fryer. I also remember being supremely annoyed when I was a child at the number of beer vendors that Busch II had in the stands. Like, way way too many beer vendors. It was distracting. I certainly didn’t shed any tears when St. Louis broke ground on a replacement in the aughts.

25. Arlington Stadium, Arlington (Matt)

My dad took me to one or two games there when I was little. I don’t remember much about it, except it reminds me of both the old All-Sports Stadium in Oklahoma City and the old Milwaukee park in which they filmed “Major League” (Yes, even though it was the Cleveland Indians they filmed the games in Milwaukee). There’s a reason those stadiums no longer stand.

26-29. The rest of my list (Chad)

A Father’s Day walk-off for Ryan Zimmerman, 2006. Note the soccer players at the top of the upper deck.

If you’ve made it this far, I applaud your resiliency and I’ll make quick work of the rest of my list, mostly because they either are retired or I don’t remember much about them.

  • Candlestick Park, San Francisco. Swirling, cold wind in the middle of summer, and Barry Bonds went 0/4 (cue Nelson from the Simpsons saying “haha!”) in a day game in 1993.
  • Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego. Mom got an up-close look at one of her favorite players, Ron Darling, during his incredibly short Expos stint (“he’s so darling!”).
  • Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, D.C. I went to a three-game Yankees-Nats series on Father’s Day weekend in 2006. On Sunday, Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off home run with his dad in the stands, which was awesome. The stadium was adorned with images of DC United soccer players, which was definitely not awesome.
  • Oakland Coliseum, Oakland. I can’t believe baseball is still being played in this sewage-spewing dump. The best memory I have from that 1993 trip is that a man hopped the centerfield wall wearing only a jersey, and ran and slid into second base before being arrested. “That’s gonna leave a mark!”

What’s next (Chad)

This year will be the first since 1995 that I will not attend a Major League Baseball game. Who knows what 2021 will hold for pandemics and sports. But eventually, we will get back to attending live games, and we certainly have a few stadiums on our wish list.

The first glaring omission on our list is that Oracle Park in San Francisco is not in our top-5, because unfortunately we have not been there yet. I have long wanted to go for multiple games, and spend at least one day in the bay with a kayak, radio, and a fishing net to catch home runs. It will be interesting to see how this much-heralded park could shake up our list.

In fact, it’s a dream of mine to do an entire West Coast run, because Matt and I both need to actually see a game at Petco, we need an adult re-do in LA, and Matt’s brother Andrew just moved to Seattle, which also has a nice modern yard.

As far as the rest of the country goes, of course we could always use a few days to visit both stadiums in NYC. I need my shot at Fenway. And we both need to see the Phillies’ and Nationals’ relatively new digs. Two other stops that we will likely make soon are the new parks in Atlanta and Texas. In fact, we were making plans to visit Texas before COVID-19 changed everything. Tampa and Toronto have never been big draws for us, but I would visit them if it meant clearing my list. If the pandemic goes on long enough, I may have enough credit card miles racked up to put on a mask and go everywhere in North America.

Hit us up in the comments to let us know your favorite MLB stadiums, your thoughts on our list, and where we should go next.

My Favorite Poker Story

Some of you know this story and the person involved but I’m changing his name anyway since I didn’t get his permission to share it. Warning: this story contains a couple naughty words.

When I first caught the poker bug, I couldn’t get enough of it. I was working full-time at the newspaper but still finding 30 or so hours a week for poker.

“Jason” was one of the most entertaining guys to play with during that time. He was funny, had money to burn, loved to gamble and would bluff his own mother if she were in a pot with him. When the poker boom hit, there were tons of micro-stakes games for broke people like me. I could enter a $5 tournament, then buy in for $15 or $20 in a dealer’s choice cash game. If I lost that, I was done. Jason usually didn’t even bother with the $5 tournament. He’d show up late, when the biggest chip stack in the cash game would be $50, and buy in for $500.

There was one other guy who played with us who also had a successful business and a similar mindset. Frequently, these two would get into a macho pissing contest. I’ve never seen ace high win so many pots. It was kind of amazing how these two could never make a pair no matter what was on the board. At the end of the night, one of them would be up $2000 and the other down $2000. Everyone else would be within $50 of even.

One night, I hosted the game at my one-bedroom apartment. Missy and I were dating at the time and she drove down from Norman to surprise me, arriving around midnight. By 1 a.m., everyone else had quit the game and left but these two were battling it out. We both dropped a few hints about being tired but they refused to quit. Missy was ready to kill the both of them by the time they finally left around 3 a.m.

After graduating from the $5 home games, I started playing small stakes at the casinos. At first, the closest poker room to Lawton was the Red River casino, which was a 40-minute drive. Then a room in Lawton opened up, but it was smaller and wasn’t open 24 hours a day. Sometimes, a few of us would carpool down to Red River if we wanted to play all night.

On more than one occasion, Jason talked me and Spike into going down to Red River. Once, he went out of his way to bust me with a crappy draw, then I had to sit down there and do nothing until they were ready to leave because I was out of money. Another time, Jason bluffed both of us on separate pots with absolutely nothing, then showed us and made fun of us. About 30 minutes later he bluffed another guy all in with seven high and no draw. The other guy had flopped a royal flush. So Jason lost the entire carpool’s money on one hand.

This brings me to my favorite poker hand of all time, which is a hand I wasn’t even involved in. We were in Lawton, and I was sitting next to Jason. This was just a $1-$2 game, but Jason was running hot and had about $1000 in front of him. There was a decent amount of action preflop, including a guy who was all-in for his last $15. So there was maybe a $60 main pot but a $200 side pot between the other three players who had more money to start with.

The flop comes out AJ2 with no flush draw. An older woman in a mink coat and big sunglasses bets $100. Jason calls. The third player folds. The turn is a 9 and now it’s back on Cruella DeVil. She bets $200 and Jason calls again. The river is a 6 and Cruella checks it to Jason. He goes all in for about $700. She thinks for a really long time. She’s talking to herself and to Jason. “You must have me beat…You’d better have me beat.” Jason isn’t saying a word. Finally she folds.

Jason reaches over and starts stacking up the side pot, which was about $800. He starts to just throw his cards back to the dealer but the dealer is attempting to give out the $60 main pot. The guy who was all in turns over KQ, so he didn’t even have a pair. Jason then shows his hand, which was 23. This is technically the worst starting hand in poker. On this board he had a pair of deuces, which was just enough to beat the all-in hand but obviously worse than whatever the lady had.

She loses it. “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?” she says loudly. Jason pauses stacking up the chips, looks her dead in the eye and says…

“Motherfucking check wasn’t going to win it.”

The whole table burst out laughing but this woman jumps up from the table and storms off, cursing Jason as she goes.

A minute later Jason nudges me. I lean over and he whispers, “I think I just fucked up pretty bad.” I ask why, since his bluff worked out perfectly and he even won the main pot. He points over to the lady, who is standing 10 feet away pointing at Jason and telling her husband what happened.

“Her husband is a surgeon. He’s one of my biggest clients.” He then told me how much money he makes every month from this couple. Needless to say it was a lot more than the pot he just dragged. I asked if he knew who the lady was before he bluffed her. He said yes.

I couldn’t control my laughter. This was quintessential Jason, bluffing a top customer and talking trash to her, probably costing himself five or six figures worth of future income to win $860. I can’t think about this story much less tell it without cracking up, even 15 years later.

I don’t think I’ve seen Jason since I moved to Oklahoma City. Every once in awhile I’ll ask Spike about him and he seems to be the same guy with the same personality. His business survived the probable loss of this one customer.

When it was me getting bluffed and busted by Jason five minutes after riding in a car with him for 40 minutes, I wasn’t a happy camper. Now, it’s pretty funny. And this other story is even funnier, since I got all of the entertainment without losing any of the money.

Worst Dates

Last week Missy and I went on a date, part of which involved walking around the campus at OU. As we passed by buildings, we remembered classes we once took in them. As we walked through a garden in between buildings, we remembered walking through that very garden on one of our first dates and sitting on a bench talking.

As we walked on the North Oval, we passed by a college-age couple who appeared to be on a date. They had blankets out with some wine and cheese between them. But they were sitting six feet apart and both wore masks. What a weird sight.

I can’t imagine dating in the year 2020. My dating career lasted from roughly 1996 to 2005, and at best I was a league-average player. But I do have some entertaining stories to show for it.

The foundation for my dating woes was laid in elementary school. In third grade I developed a crush on a girl. One day, one of her friends walked up to me, told me the girl liked me and asked if I liked her back. This was the moment I’d been waiting nine years for! I got so nervous that my response was, “No way, she’s gross.” So that didn’t quite pan out.

In sixth grade I got another crush, and this time I locked up my first ever girlfriend. On the last day of school, I asked her to be my girlfriend and she said yes. Then she gave me her number. Then school let out for the summer. Despite my procurement of said phone number and the fact that we only lived three blocks away from each other, I never called or saw her. I thought about her a couple times. Told some people I had a girlfriend. But a month or so later I decided I needed to spread my wings and fly. No more locking this stallion up in the barn. I called her up — literally the only time I ever called her — and said we should just be friends. What a whirlwind romance.

I didn’t have a real girlfriend or go on a real date or have a real kiss until I was a sophomore. Back then the prom was only for juniors and seniors. Anyone else could go but they had to be with a junior or a senior. When I was a sophomore, my girlfriend was a senior. I assumed that she would want to go to her senior prom, and I did NOT want to attend the prom. None of my friends were going. I didn’t particularly care for her friends. I’ve always hated dressing up and formal events of any kind. So I did the responsible, mature thing and broke up with her without giving a reason or even discussing prom. Then, when she agreed to go to prom with another dude (just a friend), I tried to woo her back as my girlfriend. That worked out about as well as you might imagine.

The next year I started a three-and-a-half year relationship. (Even though many of you will know some of the people I’m talking about in this blog, I don’t want to include names since I didn’t ask their permission and they might not want anyone to know they were ever associated with me.) I went to prom with her twice, which actually turned out to be kind of fun.

She was a year older than I was and went to college in Texas during my senior year of high school. One weekend I went to visit her, and we were doing a little smoohcie-smoochie at the end of our date. I noticed that there seemed to be a little extra slobber than normal. (Can’t say that 18-year-old Matty Frankles was the best or neatest kisser in the world, so on its own this didn’t seem worrysome.) But quickly it became apparent that this was not in fact slobber. My nose was bleeding all over both of us. And not just a little blood. It was messy.

[Gross sidebar, skip to next paragraph if not interested: I actually had a nose issue that required surgery within a couple weeks of this incident. Sometimes my nose would just start pouring blood and wouldn’t stop, particularly if the temperature changed suddenly. Happened a couple of times when I would walk out of school and it was particularly hot or cold outside. And a couple of times in class when the heat or AC would kick on. Quite embarrassing, but this was the only time it happened while I was making out. I got a deviated septum from a basketball injury, and no skin was growing over the wound, which was way in the back in my nose. So if anything dislodged the scab it would just pour blood. They cauterized it during the surgery and I haven’t had a problem with it since.]

The bloody nose did not end our relationship, but eventually it fizzled out and I was back in the game. And since my nose was no longer at risk to randomly spew blood onto women, I was an especially eligible bachelor. I found a very nice girl at OU and we dated for a good six months. Things were going smoothly until one night when she took me home to meet her parents. There was nothing at all wrong with her parents. They were just as nice as she was and we got along great. The problem came when we all sat down at the kitchen table to play a game of rummy. She attempted to play a straight, but laid down a 5, 7, 8. I politely pointed out that she did not have a straight. She apologized and proceeded to lay down a 4, 5, 7. It was at that moment I knew we could never be together.

In hindsight, I realize that she was a perfectly intelligent person and that I was a complete douchebag. But we can’t change the past, so I hope she’s living her best life and knows how to read her cards now.

Next batter up was another chick I went to OU with. At the time, my net worth was in the low triple digits, and my first-date budget was about $10. I got off especially cheap on this date, as I talked her into just getting a slushy at Classic 50s. Saved about $8 on that deal. We took the slushies back to her apartment and watched TV while we ate them. She talked a lot about her ex-boyfriend, and it was apparent there were a lot of unresolved feelings there. Not long after we got back to her place, her phone rang. It was her ex-boyfriend, calling to say he’d been stalking us. He accurately told us what car I drove and what we were both wearing. And he was in the parking lot of her apartment as he called. That was my cue to get the hell out of there. Those two actually ended up getting married.

I started dating Missy the last semester before I graduated from OU. After I graduated and moved to Lawton, we had an on-and-off thing for a few years because I didn’t like doing the long-distance deal. She still had a couple years of college left, so even though we remained close and talked the whole time, we weren’t officially together for most of it.

I never had another girlfriend but I did go on some dates. I got set up on a blind date which was comically disastrous. Before our appetizers even arrived, we were making small talk and she asked what my favorite TV show was. I said “Seinfeld” and she responded by saying that was completely inappropriate and un-Christian. I almost asked for the check right then. She also notified me that our children would be home schooled. If that was a deal-breaker then she needed to know so we wouldn’t waste any more of our time. I told her the deal was broken long before then. I kind of wanted to get water thrown in my face but settled for never seeing her again the rest of my life.

One night I drove up to Oklahoma City for a birthday party at Groovy’s for my college roommate Keith. I met a girl there and we exchanged phone numbers before I drove back to Lawton. I still didn’t own a cell phone at this time so this was my home number. When I got back to Lawton, I had 20 messages from this chick. Maybe she thought I had given her a cell number and could have talked on the drive home but that wasn’t the case. At first the messages were friendly but increasingly got more psycho, like “I guess you never were interested in me. Fine, don’t call me back then. I don’t know why you gave me your number in the first place.” I definitely would have called this girl at some point if she hadn’t outed herself as a complete psycho before I even got home. For about a week I enjoyed listening to one or two crazy voicemails from her per day before she finally gave up.

By this time my net worth had increased dramatically from my college days. I went from being worth hundreds of dollars to maybe $1000. I was making a cool 25 grand per year working for the newspaper (pre-tax), so my first-date budget doubled all the way to $20. Suddenly, Chili’s was in play.

Once, I agreed to meet a girl during my one-hour dinner break at work. We had mutual friends and had done a little flirting at previous group hangouts but I didn’t necessarily consider it a date. More like a pre-date date since I only had an hour anyway. We went to an Italian place, she ordered a $20 glass of wine and alligator-armed the check. I had planned to pay originally but thought it would surely be a split when she ordered the wine without consultation. There went my Blockbuster Video budget for the month! Our odds of eternal love vanished along with all of the $48 in my wallet.

I went on two or three dates with one chick, then decided there wasn’t anything there. I wasn’t sure if we had been out enough to qualify for an official breakup or if I could just ghost her and still be within the rules of social norms. I was on the phone with a longtime female friend and told her the situation. I don’t remember whose idea it was but I ended up giving my friend this girl’s phone number, and she called saying she was my girlfriend and she’d better stay away from her man. The chick cussed me out to my friend, said she didn’t know anything about it and I was able to ghost in peace. Mature beyond my years.

Perhaps my most entertaining relationship was one that I was never in. I got off from work at midnight and frequently talked to Missy on the phone after work. So when my home phone rang at about 12:30 a.m. one night I assumed it was her. It was not. It was a dude with a heavy bit of hillbilly in his voice.

[Language warning on this story]

“Is this Matt Franklin? The one that writes the sports stories for the newspaper?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“I got your number from the phone book.”

“Ok…”

“Are you fucking my wife?”

“I’m just going to say no, but you’re going to have to be more specific. I have no idea who you are, who your wife is, or what you’re talking about.”

“Her name is (redacted/I don’t remember anyway).”

“I don’t think I’ve ever met her.”

“She’s got huge tits, big J-Lo type-ass. Dark hair. Are you fucking her?”

“I’m pretty sure I have never met her before and we certainly have never slept together. I promise man, I’m not sleeping with your wife.”

“Oh, I don’t care if you are. I’m kicking her ass out of the house and wanted to know if you wanted to come get her stuff and move it in with you.”

“I wasn’t lying, sir. I don’t know her.”

“Well, that figures. She’s a fucking liar. We got in a fight and she pointed at your picture in the newspaper and said she was sleeping with you. I looked you up in the phone book to see if you wanted to live with her sorry ass because I’m done with her.”

“Sorry man, can’t help you out.”

“Alrighty then buddy, you have a good evening.”

Click. Never heard from him again.

After searching everything Lawton had to offer for three years, my only option was a huge-tittied, big J-Lo-type ass married woman I’d never met. Meanwhile, I knew an awesome girl in Norman who was a semester away from graduating. I could tell she was getting tired of my non-committing butt and I didn’t blame her. So I proposed and we got married two weeks after she graduated. This August will mark our 14th anniversary.

Missy — thanks for being the perfect person for me. Thanks for putting up with my nerdiness, my insecurities and my bullshit. We make a pretty good team. I love you.

Fishing Sucks; Family Fun; Should I Be Buried or Cremated?

Fun fact: 75% of the letters needed to describe how fish taste are already included in the word “fish.”

The worst part of going fishing is actually catching a fish. It’s just a pain in the ass. I don’t want to eat the fish. I don’t even want to hurt the fish. I certainly have no interest in touching the fish or otherwise rescuing him from his dumb decision to try to eat my hook in the first place.

I enjoy the aspect of fishing that involves sitting outside and drinking beer. I do that several nights a week, but instead of fishing, I smoke a cigar. Much simpler process. Less travel, less hassle, less cursing.

Having said that, our family had a great time fishing this weekend. Personally, I didn’t touch a pole. Or even drink a beer. But I was the official photographer and playground chaperone while our kids had a blast catching fish with their awesome momma.

We went to Enid this weekend for multiple reasons. One was fishing, which we did twice. We found a couple of ponds next to public playgrounds, and the kids loved catching fish with Missy and her brother Aaron. I snapped the photos and walked the kids over to the adjacent playground when they needed a break from fishing. I’m glad they have a mother and uncle who can do those kinds of things with them. I can see Maddux being an avid fisherman when he grows up; it suits his personality.

We also went to the Great Salt Plains to dig for crystals. This was the second time we’ve done that and it’s something the kids really enjoy. It was hella windy while we were out there, which took away from it somewhat, but the kids still had a great time and found a lot of crystals.

Missy made this out of the crystals we dug up on our first visit to the Great Salt Plains. I’m sure she’ll do something similar with our newest batch.

The other reason we went to Enid this weekend is because it was Memorial Day weekend, and that is where half of my grandparents are buried.

My grandpa was my hero growing up. Even when I was still in high school, I remember thinking that he must be one of the 10 or 15 smartest people in the world. He could solve hard math problems (he was an engineer) and finish the crossword puzzle every day. He drank his whiskey straight and he was good at golf. How could someone be any more awesome?

He was also a colonel in the Army during World War II, serving in France and Germany. In high school he came and spoke to our class about his war experience, and it was the only time in my life I’ve felt like the coolest person in the room.

My grandma, who we called Nanny, died of breast cancer when I was only 6, but I can still remember her yummy meatloaf and her devotion to Wheel of Fortune. She watched it every day.

On Sunday we visited their graves in Enid. We also visited my mom’s childhood home, which still looks great. The three youngest kids were surprised to see the name “Musser” on the grave. They knew “Musser” as my middle name and Maddux’s middle name. Of course we’ve told them where that name came from but I suppose it hadn’t been real until they saw it for themselves.

The house my mom grew up in.

It was really neat to see American flags all over the cemetery, marking the graves of people like my grandpa who bravely served our country. Sometime this week we are planning to drive to Jones, where my dad’s parents are buried.

We are also planning a day trip to Sulphur, where my dad’s ashes were scattered. I’ll bring my guitar and we’ll have a moment of silence and sing a couple of songs. Of course, that’s not the same as having a grave to visit, and Missy and I spent some time discussing the unpleasant subject of what we wanted done with our remains after we pass.

It’s something nobody really wants to think about, but of course it is an important topic that should be addressed before it’s too late.

The benefits of cremation: much cheaper, ashes can be divided among multiple family members and/or scattered in a sentimental location (like Sulphur, where my parents loved to visit).

Benefits of burial: Lasting marker for future generations to remember you by, with simple details like birth/death year or marriage/children info. It kind of sucks that my dad also served in the Army but there isn’t a grave to put an American flag on for Memorial Day.

I was always inclined to go the cremation route, mainly to ease the financial burden on my family and because I never really cared what happened to my body after I’m no longer in it. Plus, how far back do people really go in remembering their ancestors? I can easily go back one more generation, as some of my great-grandparents are buried in the same cemetery as my grandparents. But I have never visited a grave of anyone from the generation before that. A grave next to my grandparents’ was for a woman who died in 1971. It had no flowers on it, which seems kind of sad. But of course eventually that is the fate that awaits us all, grave or no. Within a couple of generations we will be forgotten by this world.

Missy has always leaned the other way, toward burial. I don’t feel strongly enough about it to override her wishes. I’d rather be buried next to her than be cremated and scattered somewhere else without her. But she hasn’t fully made up her mind on the whole thing either.

I’ve always thought that having an expensive casket seemed stupid, and I’ve read about a much cheaper, more eco-friendly chamber/cocoon that sounds like a better option. No reason to spend thousands of dollars on fancy wood that nobody will ever see once it’s in the ground.

So I dunno. I know it’s a weird thing to write about but it might also be helpful to get my thoughts on paper and get input from friends and family members. My opinions on fishing are set in stone, but I’m flexible when it comes to where my earthly remains will reside for all of eternity.

Distance Learning 2020

We had a name for this already. It’s called home schooling. What’s with the “distance learning” thing? Isn’t everyone doing this at home?

Whatever you want to call it, we’ve been doing it just like everybody else during Coronavirus 2020.

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to doing this. I’ve already completed fifth grade. And first grade. And kindergarten. And I’m used to working with/entertaining Hawk throughout the day, but now I was going to have to keep him from going crazy while making sure the other three got their work done.

It’s gone much better than I ever thought it would. The workload has been very manageable, and it’s nice to be able to do the work at any time of the day that we want. We’ve let the kids stay up later than usual and started the class day a bit later as well.

Missy is more of a night owl than I am, so I’ve been letting her sleep in while I get up and work with the kids in the mornings. Then she more or less takes over in the afternoons. There’s a good combination of technology-based learning and printed paperwork. Sometimes I’ll have all the kids do their paperwork at the same time while I rove around and check/help as needed. Sometimes I’ll put two kids on tablets to do the computer stuff while I work with the other one-on-one. They have separate math and reading programs on the computer, so it doesn’t get too repetitive.

The art, music, STEAM, library and PE teachers have also provided curriculum. We’ve mixed in some of that but are largely doing those things on our own. Missy’s garden is bigger and better than ever, and the kids have helped her get that going. She’s also a great cook so the kids have helped with that. I try to get all of the boring rote work out of the way in the mornings so Missy can lead the fun stuff like that in the evenings. Addie enjoys leading some art and science projects with the younger kids, so we’ve let her do that and (most of the time) the results have been great. I’m really proud of Addie being a great leader of the other kids during this time.

Of course, the weather has been fantastic overall. That’s made a huge difference. We’re taking Bailey on a walk every day, and the kids are getting plenty of playtime outside. All of the playground equipment and back yard toys Missy finds for super cheap are paying off big-time. I already blogged about our camping trip, which is something we’ll always remember. I’ve been running about four miles per day, which has helped with my mental state. I’d rather be playing basketball but since that’s not an option, running in this weather is a good substitute.

This is the last week of school. Schools are planning to return to normal next fall, but nobody really knows how this COVID-19 deal will work out. Things seem to change every day.

If it ends up being “distance learning” again, I’m OK with that. I’ve really enjoyed bonding with the kids. Also, home-schooling as a future option doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as it did a few months ago.

Before I leave you with some cute pics of my wife and kiddos, I have to brag on the kids for their performance on Mother’s Day. They really went all out, planning for two weeks in advance and working on it every day. They each did four or five pieces of art, adding up to about 20 items for Missy to see on Sunday. They also decorated the house and gathered lots of “presents” from around the house to wrap up and give to her. We ate Missy’s favorite pizza, Hideaway. She deserves a better husband but she sure hit a home run with our four lovely kids.

Mother’s Day pizza feast