Wednesday, February 23, 2005

All Star Tuesday Night

It all started later afternoon when ESPN was showing the live press conference of Barry Bonds talking about the steroid controversy. Bonds was defiant, funny, angry, and darned right Barry. The conference was held at Scottsdale Stadium, the site of the Giants’ Spring Training games, literally a few blocks from the site of the pre-Spring Training camp where I took the pictures of a few days ago.

So, I told my wife (who likes Bonds as much as I do) that Barry was definitely going to be at the Cedric the Entertainer show that night. Right, the same one we would be attending. She seemed puzzled yet hopeful.

The ride to the show was grueling, Despite new freeways, Phoenix-Scottsdale is growing at a too-rapid pace. The difference between traffic here and say Seattle or The Bay Area, is that there are many ways to get from here to there. Get off the freeway and head down this road and then cut over to that road and then…. No lakes, rivers, Bays or streams to get in the way of circumventing the city.

We arrive at the Tempe Improv in time for the dinner, which was better than you might expect at a comedy club. The tables are very close, and seated next to us were three men and the wife of one of the men. I recognized one right away—former Texas Rangers and Diamondbacks pitcher Rick Helling. His wife sat to his left. To his right was an athletic looking guy with a beard. After a few minuets of intense eavesdropping, I realized it was Todd Walker, the Cubs second baseman. I wrote all this info on a napkin and casually slipped it to my wife. I gave her the nod prior to that, confirming her suspicions that yes, they were baseball players. Mind you, given so many pro athletes live in Socttsdale, my wife thinks everyone here is an athlete, but this time, she was on the money.

We ate, played cards and listened with great delight to Walker and Helling talk about baseball. Not sure how they know each other, but then again, who cares. They both played for the Twins, but not at the same time.

A table right by the stage remained empty, so my wife speculated that a celeb would be popping in to sit there at the last minute. A short while later, that table was taken, and it didn’t appear to be a celeb.

About 10 minutes to showtime, it happened—in walks Barry Bonds. Bonds was trailed by all six foot eleven inches of NBA Hall of Famer Bob Lanier. Lanier is a former Suns coach and I think he still works for the team. Bonds and his group (his wife later joined them) sat at a table adjacent to ours. He clearly was the center of attention, but no one really hassled him. Let me tell you, he is a big man. And, if that’s not enough, Lanier (reputed to be a gentle giant) still looks like he could play center at 265 pounds.

The warm-up guy was quite funny and directed some jokes to Barry. He said that Bonds might hit tons of homers in real life, but in his Playstation ® game, he sucks.

And then came Cedric. He was funny, clever, jovial and everything you could might. He too joked with Bonds, but in a more direct manner, commenting on the steroid allegation. Cedric was disarming, saying that everyone who performs great in their field would not be accused of steroids, like the cast of Friends and Simon from “American Idol.” Bonds laughed.

Cedric was on for close to an hour and had the crowd in stitches. I could only imagine seeing The Original Kings (Cedric, Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac and DL Hughly) in their prime. Wow. He and Bonds shook hands as Cedric made his way off stage.

The crowd dispersed and camera phones were snapping pictures of Bonds as he gracefully left with a big smile on his face. I only wish I could have told him how much his playing meant to me in 2000 when he kept me going while my wife battled cancer. I did shake Rick Helling’s hand and told him to have a great season…and stay healthy. I later learned that he’s in the Spring Training camp of the Brewers (they train in nearby Maryvale).

The NBA had its All Star weekend last Saturday and Sunday. We had an All Star Tuesday night.