Off To Pleasant Grove

Did you know that Pleasant Grove was originally called Battle Creek?

The sleepy little city in Utah County was called Battle Creek to commemorate a skirmish between a band of Utes and the Mormon pioneers. There isn’t a score card for the fight but presumably the pioneers won the day because winners rename historic places. They rechristened it to Pleasant Grove in 1850 because the pioneers wanted a more uplifting name. Looking to the thick patch of cottonwoods between Battle Creek and Grove Creek as inspiration, Pleasant Grove was born. I would have chosen the name Mountaindale because of the picturesque views and eventually naming the mascot at Mountaindale High School the Bridgers after Jim Bridger.

Think of it, in the state 4A girls volleyball tournament, Mountaindale Bridgers could win as state champions. It’s a pretty good name. Unfortunately, even the name Bridgers would only be the third best high school mascot in Utah. The first, of course, being the Jordan High Beetdiggers and coming in second, Mountaindale’s neighbor, American Fork Cavemen. I round the list off with the Spanish Fork Dons and Murray Spartans.

Alas, Battle Creek didn’t become Mountaindale but Pleasant Grove and I was sent down south on Tuesday to cover the aforementioned American Fork Cavemen versus the Pleasant Grove Vikings in girls basketball. It was the beginning of regional play and I was excited about getting to cover another game for the Salt Lake Tribune.

I have been working as a stringer for the Tribune for a little over a year. A stringer is a freelance writer that works under the direction of the mother paper. My beat is the City Zone which encompasses the school in Salt Lake but I serve at the pleasure of editor, Kevin Morriss, and I go where he sends me. As a whole, it has been an electrifying experience working for the paper of record for the state of Utah. I get to watch high school sports and write stories for the paper. There is nothing more gratifying than earning a byline and I am lucky to train under very talented and bright reporters.

While I got the job because I pour a mean Martini and muddle the bejesus out of an Old Fashion, I’d like to think my ability to carve a sentence helped too. Nonetheless, I am a part-time writer and full-time complainer that is pretty privileged to have the best second job in the state.

Tuesday’s assignment was sending me to Pleasant Grove to watch a Region 4 showdown between two teams with a rich rivalry. The Cavemen are led by Cassidy Fraughton. Fraughton is a 5-foot-9 guard who is a predatorial threat on the court. She is American Fork’s leading scorer but Coach Corey Clayton said that there are six girls on his squad that can take over at any moment. He was probably referring to Maile Richardson, Erin Bergeson, Bryanna Adams, Jaylee Shepherd or Megan Eliason. Fraughton is a terrific ballhandler and a very physical player. She is able to penetrate screens and power her way to the basket. More importantly, she is a pass first player that gets other shooters involved in the game.

Pleasant Grove dominant player is McKenna Miles. At 5-foot-7, she isn’t the tallest on the court but she plays a lot bigger than she looks. She is ridiculously fast and is deadly behind the arc. Miles has a weaker supporting cast but the Vikings play well as a team and have a never-say-die attitude that makes them a tough team to put away. Their 4-8 record is a poor reflection for a talented and tough team.

I was excited about covering a game after a week hiatus even if it meant driving to Utah County in the middle of rush hour traffic. I have learned from my year of covering games that you need to have a couple pieces of key information before heading out the door. For starters, you need to know exactly where you are going. Sounds simple enough but I can’t tell you how many times I have been lost on my way to Riverton High. For somebody who lives in Sugarhouse, I am quick to complain about having to drive any place further than Highland High to cover a game.

The second is to find a McDonalds as soon as the game is over and you have your interviews. McDonalds has the best free WiFi in the state and you can always file your story at a McDs. I might be a chubby bum, I don’t eat at McDonalds. It might be the last piece of self-respect that I still have. Maybe…

I have a satchel that I call my journalism bag. Just like Lincoln Hawk becoming the world’s toughest arm wrestler when he turns around his cap, I become a journalist when I sling this over my shoulder. Inside is my laptop, notes about the teams, pens and pencils and gum. I am surprised how bad my breath gets sitting in the bleachers of a gymnasium and I don’t want to offend anybody with halitosis. There is usually a bottle of water to give it some weight or gravitas.

I was off to Pleasant Grove at 5:15 to make the 7pm tipoff. I have been to the home of the Vikings twice before to cover soccer matches. Besides hating driving down the I-15 corridor during rush hour traffic with some of the dumbest drivers on this planet, the air-quality on Tuesday was garbage. I love living in Utah but we have got to do something about the uber-polluted air we live in once it becomes winter. I am embarrassed to admit that I get seasonal depression when the air becomes a pea soup thick hot mess of rancid pollutants and putrid smells. How can one of the most beautiful places in America look like downtown Los Angeles in the movie Bladerunner? More than anything, I turn into a 73 year old grandmother behind the wheel of my truck driving through this smoke screen.

I-15 was a parking lot with criminally insane maniacs driving at two speeds: crawling at a snail’s pace or drag racing alongside Tony Schumacher. I put a podcast on and tried to find a middle ground between these lunatics heading towards Provo. I was making atrocious time but I knew I wasn’t going to miss tipoff.

How wrong could I have been?

Working the GPS on my phone, I knew that I had to get off on Main Street in Pleasant Grove and head east. Having been to the school twice, I have a good idea where it should be but I have never gone under the cover of darkness and an inversion that makes Al Gore cry. Between hard breaking twice, almost getting rear-ended by a diesel truck and hitting a patch of black ice that kicked the back of my truck out, my nerves were shot and I just wanted to get to the game. Getting off on Main, I headed east and was looking for the crossroads to the school.

But I was lost. Damn lost. The kind of lost that is analogous for my career. Because I couldn’t see the mountains (remember Mountaindale? It’s a Hell of a name for the area.) I was driving in circles passing the same crappy strip mall shops and becoming increasingly frustrated in getting lost. I was driving angry which is how accidents happen and I knew that I needed to stop and ask for directions at the next business that I could find. You probably think I am joking when I say this but the next business that I found was a state liquor store in Pleasant Grove. I pulled in and went inside.

Considering that I didn’t have any hooch at the house for later, I decided to pick up two of the big boys of Squatter’s Big Cottonwood Ale and a fifth of Buillet’s Rye. Not thinking about what I was about to say, I ask the cashier as he is checking me out if he knew where Pleasant Grove High School was. He looked at my purchase and wanted to know why. I said I am a reporter and I need to find the school.

“You ain’t taking this with you,” he asked motioning to my booze.

“Of course not. I’ll leave it in the truck but I really need to find the school,” I told him.

Shrugging his shoulders, he told me he was from American Fork and didn’t know. To add insult to injury, he looks me square in the eye and said, “Good luck. You’ll need it.”

You’ll need it. What the Hell did that mean? Also, it wasn’t like I was asking for the crossroads to CIA Headquarters in Langley, I was asking about a school within a mile of the liquor store. I jumped in my truck and gave my GPS a final look. I was able to make an adjustment and eventually find my way to the school ten minutes before tipoff.

Thank God there was beer and whiskey waiting for me back in the truck. The only question was going to be whether I opened it before I started heading back to Salt Lake City.

The game was a bit of a rollercoaster with American Fork taking control and doing everything within their power to give it away to the streaking Pleasant Grove Vikings. Miles played out of her mind trying to force the game into overtime in the fourth putting up a huge 3-pointer that brought the score within two with seconds on the clock. The Cavemen were able to hold off Miles and the rest of the Vikings in an exciting and incredibly poorly officiated game. I hate it when referees impact the game more than keeping control on the court. Instead of letting the girls play, they called a myriad of ticky-tack fouls that prohibited the game from finding the appropriate rhythm that the game deserved.

I am not allowed to cheer or have a favorite when covering a game. What I want is the best game possible with the best players competing at their highest level. I can be impressed with play and the character athletes showcase on the playing field. At times it is difficult considering that I awesome plays can generate nothing more than a celebratory humph under my breath and piss-poor move garners a ooh. It is probably the hardest part of the job for a guy who loves to cheer, clap and make some noise at sporting events.

The final score was American Fork topping Pleasant Grove, 50-48. The Cavemen did everything they could to let the Vikings back into this match but American Fork came away with the win. I focused my story that day on Erin Bergeson’s performance and how she was the spark for them in the second half.

It wasn’t my best story.

I missed the heart of the match and focused more on leadership and the inability of Pleasant Grove to capitalize on their streaking momentum. I was rushed and didn’t have the quotes that I needed to make the story work. I was sickened by the smell of McDonalds. Customers stared at me as if I was some snob and wondered loudly what I was doing not eating but hacking away at my laptop. Bartending has taught me to be very selective with my hearing and compose myself quickly. This story lacked the fire that the game merited and I felt crestfallen as I filed.

Shit. I wrote a bad story.

The drive back to SLC was painless. The roads were relatively clear and the truck hummed along with the beer sunked into the bed of the truck’s snow bank. I revisited the adventure of getting to the game and covering the match over and over in my head. What did I need to do differently? How can I be more effective? What is expected from somebody with the responsibilities of covering high school sports? I think the answer is the same to every other challenge imposed upon myself and others—work harder.

I drank the beer that night in my tiny office at our home. I replayed my day and realized the solution to everything is not beating myself up but moving forward. Like a shark, I need to constantly be moving. My stringer job is fantastic because I have opportunities to witness amazing stories and write about them. Providing I still care and work hard, I know I will eventually get to that place where I can honestly cover an event where the reader can share the experience that I witnesses. It takes time and after a year, I am only starting to understand what is expected from me.

Pleasant Grove is a fine name for a small suburban community in Utah County. It is filled with good people and Pleasant Grove has the best prep band I have ever heard. I was joking that I should pay for the Vikings to follow me everywhere with their incredible soundtrack. Maybe what I should be doing is try to do a better job following them around.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. We’ll be talking about this podcast shortly. Next time he’ll bring a better map.

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