Monday, November 12, 2007

The Naples Trip - Part One

Long before blogs and other such stuff, I wrote a travel journal. This is the kind of thing you would have read if I had published them.

After several months of buildup, the time had finally arrived for the trip to Naples, Florida. My plane tickets had been booked since the latter part of the summer, while the hotel and rental car came much later. This being a business trip, I was at the mercy of whatever my job would allow. Thankfully the efforts of colleagues Lindsey Romeo and Cindy Torre set me up with a trip to remember. Now it was time to put it all together and make it happen.

With a 7:55 flight out of JFK and a bag of radio equipment, I knew I needed to get to the airport early. That and I wanted to ensure that I had a parking spot in the long term lot. So I was off at 4:10 on Thursday morning, November 8th. Barely over an hour (and 63 miles) later, I was at my appointed destination, where I parked right next to one of my two travel companions for this trip, Jason Intrieri. Nick Angotto would get to Florida on the flight after us.

In total, the JFK experience was fairly easy. It's well known that I'm paranoid and a bit of a worrier, so it comes as no surprise to me that Jet Blue wouldn't initially let me print out my boarding pass at the kiosk. To them, I was an "oops"; a person who had something wrong with their reservation. Since I'm always a guilty-looking character, it seemed logical that the reason Jet Blue wanted to check me in personally was because my name was similar to one on the No Fly list. Yet the ticket agent (or whatever title is appropriate) was satisfied that I was indeed an innocent man (Billy Joel, 1983).

Security wasn't too bad as well, other than the need to hand check the bag with the radio equipment. Jason and I had plenty of time to sit near our gate and chat while sipping coffee in the temporary terminal that one must be shuttled to while the new permanent terminal is being built.

Oh, and the AirTrain that took us from long term parking to Terminal 6 was pretty cool as well. So yeah, the JFK experience gets a thumbs up.

There's no doubt that JetBlue earned some grief for their travel delays a while back, but they were excellent in my opinion on both flights during this trip. The flight down was painless, if bumpy. Jason helped grab the bags, and we found his (which traveled down on the flight before ours - one that we had an option to fly on), then moved onto the rental car. Thanks to Thrifty being out of cars in the class that we rented from, we got bumped up to a white PT Cruiser. Shortly after 11:00, for the first time since March of 2006, I stepped on the sun-drenched soil of Florida, where the temperature sat right around 75 degrees.

I should tell you that while we waited for the bags, I found a news machine with the Naples Daily News. On the cover was a story about "The Game", a day before it was to be played. I purchased a copy and was shocked to discover that not only was the game mentioned, but there - on the front page - was a mention of WGCH, and each of our names. Us - front page news!

In less than an hour, we were in Naples, where it was now lunchtime. The last time I was in Florida, I had planned to enjoy a breakfast at Waffle House, one of the bastions of the American Highway, which of course has NO locations in the northeast. Yet the last time I was in the Sunshine State, I had one of the nastier viruses of my life (another story for another time, and believe me - you DON'T want details). This time I would have my Waffle House. In fact, Jason and I decided to have breakfast for lunch, and it was worth...every...bite.

We were scheduled to get to Naples High School around 3:00 to meet with head coach Bill Kramer, but we also needed some time to setup and test the travel-weary equipment, so we headed towards our first view of Staver Field. Our initial reaction was one of surprise. Staver is not a palace. It is a fine high school football field, but it does not stack up to some of these places that are being built in the football hotbeds. The grass (yes, grass!) was cushy but not a solid dark green. The metal stands are plentiful and there are two press boxes and concessions stands - the result of refurbishing. I think in some ways we expected maybe more, but I can't complain.

By this time, I had heard from Nick, who had hoped I would move our meeting time with Coach Kramer so that he could join us. Sorry to say, I'm glad I didn't, for Nick would be catching up with family and we wouldn't see him until after 3:00 on Friday afternoon - some 26 hours later.

At Naples, athletic director Ernie Modugno and the staff couldn't have been more welcoming or accommodating. We were given our choice of press boxes (we opted for the home side) and left to set up and even leave the equipment, as it would be locked up. In fact we wouldn't even have access to it until Friday afternoon. So I set everything up as if we could just walk back in to the booth the next night and flip the power switch on. My only disappointment was that the phone line didn't work, so we would be stuck using a cell phone - hardly the best quality for (arguably) the biggest sports broadcast in the history of WGCH.

The WGCH Booth.
Our view of the field.

With the equipment now set, all we needed to do was meet with Coach Kramer. Our 3:00 meeting time had come and gone, and now we waited to see him take the field with his team. Never one to intrude, I laid low, not wanting to interfere with the players and the Naples practice. There was already enough rhetoric with the video controversy between Greenwich and Naples that I wanted no part of an angry coach. Many people assume that WGCH and their broadcasters are a part of Greenwich High School. As you probably know, that is not the case.

We were able to chat with Coach Kramer for about five minutes, in which he didn't hesitate to say that he got "taken" by the cagey coach, Rich Albonizio. It would have been a fun interview to run except that in the grand tradition of WGCH, the microphone cable failed and caused the quality of the audio to be unusable.

Gamesmanship would begin by now, as some Greenwich fans had gathered (four, to be honest) at Staver Field, but after some fast hellos, Jason and I were gone. I could tell Coach Kramer didn't appreciate any visitors and expected practice to be closed. Again, I wanted no part of that. Besides, I wanted to get my room and change into some shorts. We visited with the people of the high school one more time before leaving, and departed with T-shirts dedicated to the big game.

The action shifted to the Courtyard by Marriott, where I finally got comfortable. In fact, I hit the pool - all alone! To those in Florida, the temperatures were chilly. Indeed most people were wearing pants and at night, I even saw some folks in sweaters. Not us - shorts, polos and T-shirts were the order of the trip.

Following a fifteen-minute special with Tim Parry on a special edition of Live from the FC, Jason and I met up for dinner. We hunted for the right place, giving us a tour of Naples before driving back past our hotel and settling on Carraba's - another chain that doesn't have a location near us (unless you count Long Island - typical). We found ourselves on the wrong end of a 30-minute wait until we discovered that if we were willing to sit outside, we could eat there. Roughly 12 hours earlier, Jason and I were in New York, where it was in the 30's. At dinner that night, it was in the high 60's or low 70's. To us, it was great.

Dinner would continue to prove to us what a big deal this game was. Upon finding out why we were in town, our waitress informed us that she would be at the game, and was a season ticket holder (who knew?).

Finally, with a full belly (30-plus pounds lighter than it had been, mind you), and fully exhausted, I settled down into room 416 and fell sound asleep. 6:50 on Friday morning would come quickly, and my next order of business - an interview with Tony Savino.


Sean G. Kilkelly said...

WOW! A side window in a press box? Geniuses do walk among us! That looks like a great place to a call a game from! Cleveland, er, I mean Naples rocks!

N4XWE said...

As a twenty year resident of Naples that recently relocated to Payson, Arizona, I can't express enough gratitude for the effort you made in broadcasting the game. What impressed me the most is that even though you were obviously Greenwich partisans, you did not do a "homer" cast. This was without a doubt the best high school sporting event coverage I have ever heard or seen. Thanks!!!

Rob Adams said...

Thanks so much for the compliment. We strive to make our broadcasts listener-friendly without being homers, and we recognized that the audience for the Greenwich-Naples game would be more "worldwide" than usual. It is very important to me to call every game as evenly as possible. As the only online broadcasters for that game, we knew more people from both sides would be listening, and we were thrilled to be a part of it.