CRAWFORD BLOG | Postcard from Puerto Rico: Day 1
SAN JUAN, P.R. (WDRB) — The crowd of fans following the University of Louisville basketball team in Puerto Rico this week probably numbers around 100. It’s not a large group. Most flew here on their own. Some came via charter.
Regardless, most of you U of L fans are back home. So I will try each day to send back a bit of an informal dispatch, about what it’s like to be here, what it’s like to cover the games, or just to be in Puerto Rico for this week’s events.
Tom Lane and I got to the Louisville airport at about 6 a.m. Monday morning and really traveled without a hitch. No delays (thanks Delta), though I did spend about 4 hours from Atlanta to San Juan with a bodybuilder’s elbow in my gut. Middle seat problem.
Sometimes, you need to be lucky. Getting up early was worth it. As I was picking up the rental car, at the next company over, I saw U of L equipment manager Vinny Tatum. We had arrived at about the same time as U of L’s charter.
So instead of going to our hotel, we just drove over (with several wrong turns by me) to the team hotel, the Ritz-Carlton San Juan.
It’s a nice place, as the name suggests. There’s a picture of the pool above.
We were there waiting when the team got off the bus, and were able to talk to coach Rick Pitino for a few minutes, and grab a player or two, along with assistant coaches Mike Balado and Kenny Johnson.
The team is loose and happy. No fewer than four players photo-bombed Rick Pitino’s interview with us as they headed toward the lobby.
After talking to a few more people and taking some pictures, Tom and I headed to our hotel (after a few wrong turns by me).
I can report that the Marriott Courtyard is like every other Marriott Courtyard I’ve stayed in, nicer than many, not as nice as a few. But the big thing you worry about on a trip like this — wifi — was solid. We needed to tape some “stand-up” reports for the news that night, so we decided to head back over to the team hotel to shoot them on the beach.
We saw a few U of L players out there when we went. “I could get used to this,” Damion Lee said.
Then we shot our stuff. By this time, it was about 7 o’clock. We headed back to our hotel (fewer wrong turns by me), but not before getting dinner. The drive-thru window at Wendy’s was all we had time for.
By 11 p.m., I was asleep. And that was the first whirlwind day in Puerto Rico.
People see the photos and beautiful scenery and always write, “tough job.”
I get it. But there’s not a lot of hanging-out time anymore. There was a time on a trip like this when all I had to worry about was what I was going to write in the column in the next day’s newspaper -- and where to have dinner that night. I had a lot of time to work on it and think about it.
And then the Internet came along. Now you get here, and you enjoy the scenery, but it’s pretty much all work. And that’s fine, because it’s better than not being here — and not working. And there are a great many journalists in that latter boat.
A bit about Puerto Rico.
In 2012, Puerto Rico formally asked the U.S. to consider it for statehood. It has been a U.S. territory since 1898. In 2012, 61 percent of its citizens voted that they preferred U.S. statehood to any other territorial option.
I can’t claim to really know where things stand at the moment politically.
But culturally, the American hand is felt all over San Juan, the nation’s capital, largest city and most important seaport.
Driving back toward the team hotel on Monday, it felt like a trip down Dixie Highway — except with fewer lanes. We passed Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ponderosa, McDonald’s Subway and two Walgreens. At one point driving around this morning, I felt compelled to ask, “Where is the Puerto Rican food?”
The official language is Spanish, but English is everywhere. The television has a half-dozen Spanish-speaking stations, but the rest are English.
This morning, Jody Demling and I went back to the Ritz-Carlton and talked to a few folks, then drove to the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, the site for tonight’s opening games.
A program note: You can stream all the games on the trip via internet at GoCards.com for $9.95.
The only HD highlights, however, will be available on WDRB News. Because of the timing of the games, 5:30 and 8, we’ll probably only have highlights of the early games by the 10 p.m. news, but we’ll have plenty the next morning, and whenever you want at WDRB.com.
I’ll file individual stories on each game, and we’ll have video of Pitino’s news conferences.
It’s a strange trip, because things are pretty seat-of-your-pants. I saw Paul Rogers at the team hotel this morning, and he was still trying to get names of the Puerto Rican junior players.
Jody and I also stopped in front of a building bearing the large sign “Cockfights” across the street from the Ritz-Carlton.
It’s shaping up to be a fun week (but let me be clear, not because of the cockfighting.) The team will get to do sightseeing around town on a couple of days, and the players are sprinting to the beach anytime they get a spare half hour or so. The team went through a brief walk-through at 9 this morning, and there was no access to them during the day today, but we'll have their thoughts after the games tonight.
And we should have plenty to report on. So stay tuned.
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