Ike and I, or Mike and Ike, if you will, got what turned out to be a perfect view of Huntington Park during our brief interlude outside the right field wall on Wednesday night.
The Clippers hosted the Louisville Bats in the final series of the AAA season. Late in the first set, with an out and a sur, Clippers right fielder Daniel Johnson crushed a fastball to dead right field.
Mike and Ike stood at street level, which is well above lot level, on Nationwide Boulevard. We were stationed behind one of those screens that allow pedestrians to stop and watch the game from the sidewalk. We followed the big fly to its climax, which was probably directly overhead.
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The bullet was gone for a second because, well, we couldn’t see through the ceiling above us. And then we turned around and he reappeared, like a space capsule under a parachute. He landed in a boxwood hedge behind a bush on the other side of the boulevard.
My first thought was, “It’s a good thing no one got hit in the head.” My second thought was “Free Baseball”. Go and get it!'”
Ike probably had the same thought, and he probably gave it up just as quickly as I did. There were hundreds of people walking up and down the boulevard between us and the box hedge. It would take a combination of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to move from side to side with any rush.
On game nights, Nationwide Boulevard is a designated open refreshment area, or DORA, which is a euphemism for “go ahead and take it with you”. You can do this on game night – and that night, for the very first time, the Clippers, Crew and Blue Jackets hosted games, simultaneously, within their friendly boundaries in Arena District.
A few people who did DORA hardly knew that a baseball had hovered over their heads. I pointed my finger and said, “There he is, behind that bush.” The soccer and hockey fans said “hold my beer” and did some landscaping.
Didn’t see who got the free balloon, which landed about 450 feet from home plate. Maybe he was a Cruz Azul fan from Mexico. There were thousands of them walking the boulevard. Plus, it seemed like they brought hundreds of vendors with them to sell their team’s wares.
I was stopped by 10 of these salespeople. I said the same thing every time: “Tigers? It was a small blow – team star Lucas Zelarayan was playing for the Monterrey Tigers, another La Liga MX powerhouse.
“No Tigers,” one of the vendors spat at me. “Finito.”
Cruz Azul, who does not bear the name of the little blue train of Dora (or DORA) the explorer, is the reigning Mexican champion. That’s why they were in town on a Wednesday night. They were here to play for the Campeones Cup against the Crew, the reigning MLS Cup champions.
The Campeones Cup is an exhibition invented to provide content to ESPN and give money to MLS and Liga MX officials. They pray that no one breaks a knee. Either way, they cash the checks.
For hardcore, the game has meaning. Ike Westfall, 53, my mate behind one of the screens on the right, is hardcore. Wednesday night was made for Ike, who loves football in all its forms. He has season tickets to Crew and Ohio State games.
“Last weekend I had a conflict with the Buckeyes,” Westfall said. “I went to the crew.”
The crew had one game to win against Montreal and won 2-1. The Buckeyes played against Akron and barely covered a 49.5 point lead.
“People were a little appalled when I went to the crew game,” said Ike. “My ex-wife, for example, and her husband. We are all seated together. I love her husband. I exchanged my ticket for an archery hunt.
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Ike then headed to Betty’s, then to Lower.com Field and the Nordecke.
Greg Albertson and his wife Jymme, retired from Sunbury, took Ike’s place behind the screen on the right. I told them about the home run. I asked them the same question they were asked along the boulevard: what game are you going?
“We’re going to the Blue Jackets game,” said Greg. “We just walked down Nationwide Boulevard to see the new football stadium. It sounds very good. We have to get there.
Greg said he umpired football until his time in the 40’s got to the point where he decided to hang up his whistle. He and Jymme have held a season pass for the Blue Jackets since day one. They are also veteran Chill fans. They even went to checkers. And the owls!
Exhibition of blue vests
At the Nationwide Arena, they watched a display of Jackets that didn’t mean much to the casual observer, which is one of the reasons there were only 9,220 advertised in the building. Really, the crowd was half of that.
For hardcore ones like the Albertsons, however, seeing a line of two highly skilled veterans flanking a promising rookie – Patrik Laine-Cole Sillinger-Jake Voracek – was a necessary watch. So did the vaunted 6-foot-5 goaltender Daniil Tarasov, who stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced. He was wonderful.
The Jackets continued their adventures throughout the exhibition season with a 5-2 victory. The game was, on the whole, meaningless. The same was true for the Crew-Cruz Azul game – which was, as they say, a “friendly”.
The advertised crowd at Lower.com Field was 18,026 and the number represents the tickets sold. If they had given free tickets to the Cruz Azul vendors on the boulevard, this would have been reserved for standing places.
The atmosphere, as usual, was electric. The crew, big outsiders, executed a smart, conservative game plan and calmed the huge crowd of Blue Cross fans who crowded the south stands. Zelarayan was the man of the match.
A 2-0 crew victory meant the Nordecke sang “dos a cero” – a reference to the US national team’s many wins over Mexico – most of them at the old Crew Stadium. “Dos a cero” is legendary for American football fans and cursed for those south of the border. It added a dose of energy to a thrilling evening.
The perfect crescendo for the night came when MLS commissioner Don Garber, who failed three years ago in his plot to move the crew to Austin, was presented at the trophy presentation.
Garber was booed so warmly that he could barely be heard on the advanced sound system. Man, I love this city.
Wednesday was only the first taste of a tiercé boulevard. A little food.
“I tried to wear neutral colors,” said Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, which has its office on Nationwide Boulevard – which is now regaled with three of America’s finest sporting venues, the all in a quarter-mile row.
Logan said, “You know, this could be a regular event, with all three teams playing – and there could be times when you also have the Buckeyes in football and basketball, as well as sports at the Convention Center.
“Black and gold and red, white and blue – I think there is a way to be stylish in this combo. Scarlet & Gray accessories, of course.
Logan is a credit to our city and we can only wish him luck in wearing this outfit. Either way, his main point is well understood: In normal years, there are overlaps with the Triple-A, NHL, and MLS seasons. Some spring and summer nights are going to be crazy along the boulevard.
“Imagine if the Blue Jackets play a big role in the playoffs,” she said.
Let’s not insist. Still.
The crew hope that the Campeones Cup victory will inspire the race to the playoffs, XC