Life in the Minors
A feast fit for a hungry pitching coach
Each season, the same question arises in the clubhouse. "What is the best part of living in Hawaii?"
Well, to try to answer that with a single answer would be impossible. The people, the culture, the weather, the sights, and just the fact it is home, all make Hawaii a special place for anyone who's been born and raised there like I have. Simply put, there is no other place in the world I'd rather live.
But when I overheard one of our players from down South ask our backup catcher and Pearl City High School alum Gavin Concepcion that same question a few days ago, it was easy to tell that Gavin was a born-and-bred local boy.
His reply was, "the food."
Sure enough, as Gavin ran down a list of his favorite local grinds, my mouth began to water. Soon I was daydreaming about some of my favorite foods from home.
Ahi limu poke, Hanalei poi, Sanoya chicken katsu curry, hamburger steak from Dot's Restaurant in Wahiawa, Mom's pot roast, Zippy's Chicken and Chili plate, ramen, kalua pig, and Mama Harrington's Chili.
Whoa, that's good stuff -- the best.
With the seeds of home-cooking planted, our off-day this past Monday came just in time. With 96 games in 103 days during the hectic Frontier League season, off-days are a welcome break from the usual routine for me. On a typical day, I wake up mid-morning and have my daily bowl of cereal and then do my morning e-mail checking and Web surfing. Then it's a quick shower, a short drive to the stadium where I post the pitchers' conditioning and throwing for the day on our white board at the front of our clubhouse.
Then Gavin and I make the 15-minute drive to the team's gym in neighboring Orland Park. We usually spend an hour there and then hit the Panera Bread restaurant across the street.
Anyone who knows me, especially my former minor league teammate, roommate and good friend Bryce Uegawachi, knows I love me some Panera -- especially the pick two combo with the Sierra Turkey sandwich and either the cream of chicken and wild rice soup or baked potato soup. In fact, that's pretty much what I will be having today.
After my lunch pickup, we head over to our stadium back in Crestwood to get ready for the workday. On most days, I have just enough time to enjoy a quick lunch in my office before I begin logging the data from our four charts into our binders, reading velocity charts on our pitchers, and do my personal evaluation of our pitchers from the previous night's game.
If it's the first day of a series, I update our scouting reports on our opponents so I have it ready and available during the game. Then it's a bullpen session or two to watch, batting practice, more paperwork and then its game time.
Needless to say our off-days provide a good break, and give us a chance to really do what we want. Earlier this week, Gavin and I made time to check out a sushi restaurant in Orland Park, which wasn't bad at all.
However, the prices made it a bit of a luxury meal.
Unfortunately, there are no Kozo Sushi's or Sushi Man stops up here for economy sushi eating.
At dinner, we started talking about the great eating back home, as we often tend to do. We discussed plans to make the drive to Arlington Heights, where Bryce and I went often to pick up local food when we were with the Kenosha Mammoths in 2003. Gavin had experience foraging for local foods during his three years playing baseball at Lewis-Clark State in Idaho.
The next day was the off-day, and the initial plan was just to stay around here, hang out at the mall and then go over to the gym to work out and call it a day.
A funny thing happened on the way to the gym. Out of the corner of my left eye, I glimpsed a sign that read "Southwest Asian Market," prompting me to quickly jam on the brakes, wait for a couple of cars to pass, and then cut across a few lanes of traffic to pull into the parking lot.
Granted, the month and a half we've been here isn't exactly an eternity, but a man can only take so many sandwiches and trips to Boston Market. We needed food.
Real food with a couple scoops of rice.
We quickly parked and hustled our way into the store, where we picked up frozen manapuas, some Sapporo Ichiban saimin, and edamame, just enough to get us by.
I stalked the aisles for the microwave rice packets I had eaten that summer in Enosha. I know it sounds pretty disgusting, but it is actually pretty dang good. Our right fielder that summer, Tomihiko Horiguchi, had his parents send it to him by the case from Japan. He let Bryce and I try it out, and we were hooked.
But there was none of that to be seen. It turns out that Southeast Asian pretty much means Filipino, so there was a lot of good stuff to pick from, but no rice, at least of that kind. They had bags of raw rice, but the rice cookers were pretty expensive, so I had to pass.
Thinking our shopping spree was over, we headed to the gym. To our surprise, there was a diamond in the rough we never noticed. Right next door to the gym -- and I mean like 20 feet from it -- was a Korean market/restaurant. So there we were again, filling up our hand baskets with anything we could find that reminded us of home.
And there it was, right by the cooler unit, dozens and dozens of microwave rice packets. So I grabbed about 12 or so, and I just kept going, arare, a box of roasted green tea, furikake, boxes of instant Japanese style curry. To boot, the market even had a little kitchen stand in the back, so we ordered our dinners.
We had to order ahead of time, since the Mom had to come out and actually prepare the food from scratch.
But it was fine, we just asked them to have it ready in an hour when we were done working out.
So after our gym session, we had our bulgogi and pork cutlet plates to look forward to, and it was good. It reminded me of the homemade Korean food my buddy Rick Kuwahara's mom always made for us. Perhaps the food tasted so good because of our short food Odyssey that day, or because it had been a while since I had a meal that reminded me of home, or maybe it was because after the first two weeks of the season, the Windy City Thunderbolts were in first place.
I think it was probably a combination of all three.
Either way, at least for a day, as I sat in front of the TV in my apartment watching SportsCenter, eating my Korean plate lunch and drinking one of the cans of green tea my girlfriend sent me in one of her many care packages, it felt like home.