Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man returns to Atlantic City – Part I

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Just days after experiencing the Bell Centre’s electricity for Jean Pascal-Lucian Bute, RingTV.com’s resident Travelin’ Man headed off to Atlantic City to work this past weekend’s card topped by Curtis Stevens’ 46-second destruction of Patrick Majewski and Thabiso Mchunu’s dissection of hard-charging Nigerian Oranrewaju Durodola. In the first of two installments of “The Travelin’ Man Chronicles,” historian/writer/punch-counter Lee Groves relives his various travel difficulties, past and present issues with unfamiliar devices and a surprising incident at ringside.

Thursday, Jan. 23: Less than four days after coming home from Montreal I returned to the open roads as well as the occasionally unfriendly skies, and for the fourth time since late-October Atlantic City was the final destination. This show is just one of three cards CompuBox crews will work on Friday (Fox Sports 1 and ESPN 2 being the others) and one of five the company will cover live this weekend (HBO and Showtime on Saturday).

If ever there was a stress test for CompuBox’s resources, this was it. “All hands on deck” has been a common phrase as of late and so far we’ve answered every bell.

As usual, the time between trips was saturated with boxing-related tasks – transferring telecasts from DVR to DVD, conducting historical and numerical pre-fight research, finishing and filing the Travelin’ Man stories, doing punch counts for the new Throwdown Fantasy.com game and so on. The never-ending activity makes me question whether there still are 24 hours in a day or if the Time Gods have shrunk them to 18 without telling anyone. No matter how much progress I make – and I do make progress every day – I still feel as if I’m swimming upstream by day’s end.

That said, I remain appreciative of the good fortune that has been granted to me because I still remember what it was like in 2010 when I didn’t travel at all and had a lot more time on my hands. It didn’t take long before I began pining for the opportunity to reacquire the furious pace that marked 2007 through 2009. When my wish was granted in 2011 I swore that I’d drink in every moment – good and bad.

My pre-trip preparations required me to hustle until nearly the moment I pulled out of the driveway at 1:15 p.m. The beginnings of a second “polar vortex” had already taken hold — two inches of snow, a 12-degree air temperature and a wind chill nearing zero – and the forecast called for even more extreme conditions for at least the next seven days. To prevent my car’s gas line from freezing at the airport’s parking lot I filled the tank at one of the few area gas stations that doesn’t require pre-paying, a nice convenience amidst the bone-chilling conditions. Even better was the fact that I found a fairly close parking space at Pittsburgh’s airport – directly under the 13B sign in the extended lot.

A temporary minus: While hauling out my luggage – which had become far more cumbersome because of having to pack two laptops and a few other necessary items — an awkward maneuver tweaked the muscles running down my right side. The subsequent spasms combined with the deep freeze made for a terribly uncomfortable walk but once I reached the terminal entrance I put down my bags and executed a few stretches. Within a couple of minutes I was as good as new – or at least as new as a 49-year-old can be. I wonder if IBF light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, who is just six weeks younger than I am, experiences similar knots and kinks?

The unpacking and repacking process in the security area went better this time – I had some trouble coordinating the two-laptop system when I first tried it last week — and as I settled into my seat at the gate I looked forward to once again receiving first-class service thanks to the upgrade I received. Once I found my aisle seat in row two I immediately noticed the immense leg room – leg room that even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would have appreciated.

The route to Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City was straightforward – Pittsburgh to Philly by air and, thanks to NBC, a driver waiting for me directly outside the terminal’s exit to take me the rest of the way. But theory and reality have a way of clashing, especially when air travel is thrown into the mix.

All seemed well during the boarding process and soon after we were told to turn off our electronic devices in preparation for takeoff. But then we sat. And sat. And sat. And sat some more. The pilot did say the plane needed to be de-iced but mentioned nothing about a wait that eventually grew to 45 minutes. Because I sensed the plane could depart at any moment, I dared not turn on my cell phone and tell the driver in Philly what was going on.  No one around me was using their phones either so I thought I was doing the right thing.

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who keep me waiting without at least trying to alert me as to why. And another one is circumstances that force me to become one of those people.

Once off the ground the flight was efficient and virtually turbulence-free. I texted my whereabouts to the driver moments after touch-down and called him once I exited the terminal, making sure to apologize for my inability to alert him. The driver, being the nice guy he is, shrugged off the circumstances and moved ahead to the next task – picking up another late-arriving NBC crew member. The show’s associate director experienced difficulties getting out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (another notorious trouble spot for flight delays) so the driver was able to complete what originally had been two jobs with one trip.

The relatively light traffic allowed us to navigate the Atlantic City Expressway with little delay and by 8:30 I was in my hotel room. The last time I stayed at Resorts I was forced to be without internet service for nearly three days because (1) the antiquated hotel lacked wireless service in individual rooms and (2) the Ethernet connection was so messed up that even the hotel chain’s national tech support team couldn’t solve it. To prevent a repeat occurrence CompuBox president Bob Canobbio asked punch-counting colleague Andy Kasprzak to loan me an internet hot spot unit, which had arrived in the mail a few weeks earlier.

Regular readers of the Travelin’ Man Chronicles know that I have a bad history with electronic devices, especially those I encounter for the first time. One such incident was typical: A couple of years ago, while purchasing a candy bar and soda at one of the casino convenience stores, an otherwise reliable cash register winked out for no apparent reason. The employee said she had never seen anything like that before and all I could do was smile and shrug my shoulders. The register eventually came back on after it was rebooted but by then the imprint had been made. So I wasn’t surprised when the hot spot didn’t work immediately. I tried a few tricks only to come up empty.

One of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years is that if I can’t figure out an electronic issue on my own – a very common occurrence – I should immediately consult others with superior knowledge instead of futilely pressing onward. For that reason I texted Bob and Andy to see if there were any alternate solutions.

While I waited for answers I called colleague Aris Pina and arranged to meet him in the employee cafeteria to get a mid-evening snack. When I checked in I received a VIP pass that allowed free 24/7 access to the buffet-style menu. For the next couple of hours Aris and I caught up, swapped stories and ate at a leisurely pace. I eventually drank three glasses of Diet Coke, which was probably why I couldn’t get to sleep until nearly 3 a.m. In the interim, I received a text from Bob about the hot spot. His advice: Consult Andy. And because Andy had yet to return my message I tabled the issue for now.

Friday, Jan. 24: Once I fell asleep, I stayed asleep. I stirred awake at 8 a.m. and snoozed for 10 minutes more before finally hauling myself out of bed. Once I readied myself for the day I tried the hot spot again. No go.

Although individual rooms lacked wireless service, other parts of the hotel did. So, with one of my laptops in tow, I walked down to the lobby to inquire where I could access a signal and I was told the Margaritaville Café offered free service.

Of course, I couldn’t lock onto their signal no matter how many times and ways I tried. Once again my history with strange electronics reared its ugly head. But a kind patron allowed me to use his hot spot until I was able to ascertain whether I had immediate business to do. I didn’t, so I returned upstairs to tackle my own hot spot issue.

I called Andy, who then talked me through the process. My first attempt to connect was unsuccessful but after rebooting both the laptop and the hot spot I finally regained access to the World Wide Web.

Aris and I met for lunch at the employee cafeteria, after which I returned to my room to get some more work done and to get a quick pre-card rest. I almost let time get away from me, for when I opened my eyes it was less than five minutes before my intended departure time for the venue, the Resort’s Superstar Ballroom. I quickly packed my things, set up shop at ringside and walked to the production truck to pick up an updated bout sheet and secure wristband credentials for Aris and myself.

As was the case last month, CompuBox’s work station was situated directly next to the blue corner instead of our usual ring-center position behind the broadcast team. The arena’s tightly-packed ringside configuration was responsible for that and unlike last month we had no trouble with over-hustling corner men’s feet kicking my computer or upsetting water bottles that, luckily, still had their caps on. I did, however, experience something highly unusual during the first fight of the night between cruiserweights Sevdail Sherifi and Venroy July.

While watching round four of the scheduled six rounder, a liquid-like substance squirted out of the ring and landed squarely in my left eye. Had I been counting this fight I would have been able to continue but since I wasn’t I removed my glasses and rubbed my irritated orb with the heel of my left hand. Once I regained full vision I looked down at my specs and, to my surprise, I realized the liquid wasn’t water but blood. The crimson stained my glasses, streaked my left hand and left droplets on my ringside papers as well as on our clothing.

Since I was wearing black from neck to toe – a tip I picked up from Joe Carnicelli, CompuBox’s original Man in Black – the stains didn’t show but Aris, who sported a stylish gray sweater, wasn’t so fortunate.

“Ah, I really liked this sweater,” he said as he looked at the multiple red dots with crinkled revulsion. But when he saw the same thing on our bout sheet the historian in him kicked in.

“I’ve got to save this,” he said. “Can I have it?”

“Sure,” I said. “But only after the card is over; I’ll need it for the rest of the show.”

Meanwhile, my shirt tail wasn’t enough to remove the blood stains from my glasses so I exited the arena and went to the nearest restroom to rinse the lenses and wash my hands. With full sight now restored, I returned to my ringside position and prepared to work the rest of the card. My minor issues paled in comparison to those faced by Sherifi and July, who continued to persevere despite their injuries. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Fighters are special athletes.

This wasn’t the first time I had been “baptized” at ringside; I can count at least a half-dozen times when I felt that one-of-a-kind spray. But this was the first time that flying crimson had affected my ability to see.

For the record July rallied from an early deficit to capture the decision (58-56 twice, 59-55) and raised his record to 16-1-2 (6) while Sherifi’s mark dropped to 9-3-3 (8). The fight nicely set the table for the entertaining and eventful card which followed.

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Photo / Sylwek

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 10 writing awards, including seven in the last two years. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author at l.groves@frontier.com to arrange for autographed copies.

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