Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Italy, Travels, and Game 162: Memories in the Making

I’ve had recent conversations with my family and acquaintances about “Game 162” the spectacularly historic Rays-Yankees game where the Rays’ come-from-behind win earned them a wildcard berth in the American League playoffs. My memories of The Game are intermingled with those of our trip to Italy which is where we were on that momentous evening.

My husband Jerry and I flew to Italy on September 21st for a month’s slow travel on the back roads of Italy. We had found happy homes for our season ticket seats for the games we knew we’d miss and crossed our fingers that we’d have post-season games to follow via twitter and MLB.com. However when we left the Rays only had a small glimmer of hope to make the playoffs which would require winning almost all of the remaining eight games and for the Boston Red Sox to lose most of theirs.

Unbelievably, each day as we drove through the Dolomites and the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, that glimmer of hope got a little brighter. On the morning of September 22nd we headed north up the western shore of Lake Garda up into the Dolomite region of Italy, We spent our 26th anniversary at Pa’ Khraizar a lovely chalet styled inn in remote Sauris, a village famed for it’s Prosciutto di Sauris a savory smoked ham aged for at least 10 months. We ate a lovely anniversary dinner of local specialities, in a cozy honey-colored, pine-paneled dining room. We woke on the 23rd to a misty, stillness only broken by the sounds of the town bells and roosters. And the news that the Rays had beaten the Yankees 15-8!

Lake Sauris at Dawn: View from our Room
The mist lifted and the sun came out as we drove through mountain tunnels and narrow canyons leading from the mountains into the valleys of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region of northeastern Italy. We lunched in Udine at Al Vecchio Stallo and then continued onto Cividale del Friuli where we stayed three delightful evenings at La Cjase dai Toscans a small B&B in the heart of the old city. We rambled about the cobblestone streets of Cividale and explored nearby towns and villages of the rich wine country. During which time, the Rays managed to win 2 of 3 games against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Cividale del Friuli on the Natisone River
From Cividale, we headed to Trieste to meet up with friends from St Pete, Florida for a couple of nights. We stayed in the lovely and historic Savoia Excelsior Palace Hotel where from our balcony we had an expansive view of the Adriatric Sea and the historic port of Trieste. We ate VERY well in Trieste, enjoyed drinks in an ooen air café on the historic Grand Canal, walked up the hill to view the Duomo and marveled at the views over the city to the sea. And while we were enjoying the treats of Trieste, the Rays won two more games against the Yankees.

The Grand Canal of Trieste
We woke up on a bright sunny fall day in Trieste on the 28th realizing that the glimmer of hope that the Rays could make the playoffs was almost as bright as the sun shining on the Adriatic Sea below our balcony. That night’s game could decide it all, although the Boston Red Sox were still in the hunt.

View of the Port of Trieste from our window at the Savoia Excelsior Hotel
That day we drove south from Trieste through the relatively developed Veneto region to the expansive Po River Valley for a 4 day stay at Le Occare an agriturismo (farm stay) in a rural area about 15 miles east of Ferrara. Once we passed the outskirts of Venice we quickly entered the flat lands of the delta where agriculture, lagoons, and wildlife reigns supreme.

Fishing Nets & Huts with Comacchio in Background (Po River Delta)
Le Occare is a 68-acre farm and B&B that has been in the same family for three generations. Once a hemp and tobacco farm it now boasts acres of nut trees which are tended as much for the truffles that grow beneath them as for the bounty of nuts from the trees. The owners also grow vegetables, herbs, and berries in a kitchen garden, have an apple orchard and fields of corn and soybean, and make their own honey from their own bees & hives. Le Occare provides large and charming rooms for guests, deliciously prepared meals (breakfast and dinner), comfortable common areas for relaxing, trails for strolling and birding, good advice on places to visit, and a warm welcome to all guests.

Jerry walking at sunset at edge of Le Occare orchards
Le Occare is a two story ancestral stone farmhouse which is covered by vines and surrounded by pomegranate bushes, pine and nut trees. It is home to a lovely bunch of truffle hunting hounds who are more than happy to go for a walk with you or sit by your side as you enjoy a quiet afternoon in the garden. The home is charming with stone floors, thick walls, heavy doors, warm colored walls, floor to ceiling book shelves topped with a collection of old stoneware pots, and a huge welcoming kitchen where all the magic happens. One of the reasons we chose Le Occare was for the food and Cristina did not disappoint. We stayed 4 nights and ate every breakfast and dinner there.

Le Occare with a wonderful truffle hunter standing guard
We arrived at Le Occare late in the afternoon on the 28th. After a short walk with the dogs and a nap we settled down to a spectacular dinner served on old family china and linens. A big dinner and a bit of wine after a long days drive did not bode well for the idea of staying up to follow the game in the middle of the night. But I was determined to follow t at least the first few innings. So I read until 1am when the game started. I hadn’t figured out the WiFi yet, so I used my Blackberry and followed my St Pete twitter “list” which as expected was lively and informative. However, after several innings of “watching” David Price struggle and no score for the Rays, the need for sleep got the better of me and I decided to just catch the recap in the morning…with coffee.

Past Le Occare dogs kept me company in my rocker
Just before 4 a.m. I woke up for a wander to the WC. I thought, “I should check the final score” (figuring the game would be over and the Rays would be headed home for the winter). As I got out of bed, I saw much to my surprise that the game was still going with a score of 7-3, but groggily I figured the season was about to be over. Then just a few minutes later on my way back to bed, my twitter stream literally exploded as Evan Longoria hit the 3 run homerun and the score was now 7-6. So there I stood in the middle of a darkened room in my cotton nightgown and with bare feet on a cold stone floor saying to myself “well, I can’t go back to sleep now”.

So I sat down on the edge of the rocker in the corner of the room, shivering just a bit, to see what would happen next I held my breath Out 1, Out 2….I’m beginning to think I’ll get back in bed where it’s warm for the last out. Then I see that Dan Johnson is up to bat and there I hear the collective groan of resignation across the twitterverse. Echoing that sign, I headed back to the warmth of the blankets. And WHAM BAM….my twitter stream exploded for the second time of the night as Dan Johnson hits the homer that ties the game. TIES the game! Hubby woke up on that one, because, no, I just couldn’t keep silent.

Jerry rolls over to look at me with that resigned look only 26 years of marriage could produce as he sees me sitting up in bed staring intently at the screen on my blackberry. “What’s up?” he asks. “We’re tied 7 -7 in the 9th”, I say. “Wow, what time is it?” he mumbles as rolls back over.

My blackberry screen can produce an amazing amount of glow light, so I retreated back to the corner of the room in the rocker, this time with socks on and a blanket wrapped around me. I now knew I’d be up until the game was done and that might not be anytime soon.

Play by play, tweet by tweet, we (my twitter friends and I) crawled through the 10th inning then 11th inning. There was a lot of “breath holding” and rocking on my part….lots of rocking. 12th inning and Evan was up again. Finding it hard to believe lightning was going to strike twice in one game, I kept rocking figuring we were going to see the 13th inning.

Then a there was a mini eruption on twitter as the rain-delayed Boston Red Sox game resulted in a loss for the Red Sox and we all realized that even if the Rays lost we’d get one more chance in a tie-breaker game against the BoSox. The just a 3 minutes later and for the THIRD The Rays had won on a homerun by Evan Longoria. Once again a squeal escaped my lips and Jerry once again rolled over “what happened?” We won, We won, We won!

As I climbed back into bed, I realized that the sky was starting to lighten over the fields of the Po River Valley. Birds were rustling in the bushes outside my windows and I could hear the stirring of the truffle dogs. The Rays had won in a spectacular fashion showing the grit and discipline many of us admire them for. And there would be more games to follow on Twitter from the back roads of Italy. It was now time for sleep…and later a celebratory coffee, maybe two.

(portions of this story will soon appear in an e-book written by Paul Kocak (@kocakwords) about Game 162.  I'll keep you all posted when his book is available)

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