Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Amazing Race 2 - Tennessee Edition

Well, this week officially ended up being the final week of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University sports season as the baseball team was eliminated in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round in Cleveland, Tenn. However, I was able to make the most of the team's postseason run and eight-hour roadtrip one way with my traveling buddy, Joe Rinehart, who called all the action with me on the radio.

First, I must say that this year's MVNU baseball team was special. No, it wasn't the most talented team to ever take the field in the program's illustrious history. However, it may have been the team that was the closest on and off the field. I have the opportunity each year to travel with the team on its spring trip to Florida, and 12 days on the road really let you get to know them. Then, the past two weeks I've been with them on the road at the American Mideast Conference Tournament and now in Tennessee. They are a group of guys that were very welcoming to me and to all their teammates. That's probably what helped them come together for a special ending to a season that was an up-and-down adventure all year. Congratulations, Cougars!

OK, and now back to our roadtrip. Some of you who have followed me on Facebook for awhile now remember that Ryan Halley and I did what we called Amazing Race - Branson edition when we drove to the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship in March of 2009. We let my Facebook friends give us places to stop along the way on our 12-hour trip and it really made it a lot of fun. So, I decided to revive that idea for this week's trip to Tennessee and Joe was a willing participant.

The trip started off with an uneventful drive to Cincinnati where we made our first stop at the home of MVNU alums Paul and Joy Helton. Joy had gratiously made us fresh cookies and left them on the porch for us along with cold milk since they had to leave to go to the Reds' game before we arrived. It was a welcome snack after nearly three hours on the road.

We headed out from there into Kentucky and after a dinner break ran into a bunch of rain which made the drive pretty miserable. We weren't able to stop to see many sights although we did get a picture of a giant dragon at a fireworks store. We rolled into our hotel at about 1:00 a.m. - just barely getting off the highway because it was blocked off past our exit for a bomb scare.

While in Cleveland, Tenn., we were treated to great southern hospitality by the Lee University staff led by George Starr, the sports information director. Joe and I had fun calling three games on the radio as the team went 1-2 and interactions with fans and parents on the school's Facebook fan page was a lot of fun. We set an all-time high for visits and interactions during those three games. It was also fun to spend some time with my good friend, Eric Smith, the Taylor (Ind.) SID, although I'm afraid he might not speak to me for awhile after MVNU thumped the Trojans 21-9.

Through the power of Twitter and the close-knit group that is the SID family, we met up with Owen Seaton from UT-Chattanooga one of the nights for dinner. I've known Owen for awhile now, and this guy was generous enough to treat us to a great dinner over which we all shared a bunch of funny broadcast stories in addition to listening to Joe and Owen talk shop about the future of the MVNU video department possibilities. It was a fun evening.

Well, after the Cougars were eliminated on Wednesday, we headed out on Thursday morning for home. As we neared Knoxville, we decided to see a few of the sights that people had asked us to stop at. We saw the Sunsphere and the world's largest Rubik's Cube, which had both first appeared in 1982 for the World's Fair in Knoxville which Joe had ironically attended. We were so close to the University of Tennessee that I decided to ask my online friends if anyone had connections to get us into Neyland Stadium. Within a few minutes, Jay Stancil called me and had set up a visit thanks to Drew Rutherford and Tom Satkowiak. We got a tour of the field, the media room, and the spacious UT locker room. It was very cool.

After a quick stop at the UT bookstore to see the sea of orange apparrel, we head back on I-75 north. Pretty soon, we came to Corbin, Ky. - the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. We met Jay there and took some photos and then headed to Sonic for lunch. It was great to visit with Jay, who is this year's Ike Pearson Award recipient as the NAIA Outstanding Sports Information Director of the Year.

After lunch, we continue home with only a stop in Lexington, Ky. to see Rupp Arena and an impromptu filming of Cops. We also listened to the Reds' meltdown versus the Braves when they gave up seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to blow a 9-3 lead. However, we quickly recovered as Joe went into character as either 'Danny Carpenter' or 'Vernon Knox' to make me laugh. Some of this was caught on webcam, but some of the funniest stuff wasn't filmed because I was laughing so hard that I couldn't hit the button to start it.

Well, needless to say, we enjoyed our trip and made some memories. We're thankful for those of you who contributed suggestions or met us along the way and to the rest of you who tolerated our silliness. It was a fun time and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next Amazing Race will take us. Who wants to go along for the ride?

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