On The Road: Dancing in Louisville

The KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY - PRESTEN NORTON/VTF

It's been a few years since Selection Sunday was a stressful day. It's a lot more enjoyable spending the day wondering "where" as opposed to "if" we'll be going anywhere. Once BYU was called, I wasted no time packing my bags. Not only were we in, we were placed in the city I was hoping for, Louisville, KY! I got my bags packed Monday night so I could relax and enjoy the Iona game Tuesday. I figured if I couldn't tell you a school's mascot or location, there's no way I have anything to worry about...oops.

It's a good thing I was watching the game alone on Tuesday, any guests would have been hiding under my kitchen table by halftime (when I actually went and unpacked my bags).

I was screaming at officials, players, coaches, announcers...you name it, I yelled at it, a lot. Then suddenly with about four minutes to play, I went from yelling to cheering, and with 30 seconds to play, I was full on jumping up and down while screaming like a school kid as Brock Zylstra hit the And-1 lay-up to seal the win. Unfortunately I didn't get to celebrate all that long because it was almost 11:00 pm and I had to go re-pack my bags.

Flights into Louisville Wednesday were a joke, so we flew to Cincinnati, Ohio, and would make the 90 mile drive from there. We were starving when we landed, so we made a quick stop to eat at the only place we could find that was open at 11 -- White Castle. Let's put it this way: I've seen lots of "People of Wal-Mart" emails that had pics taken in Utah; why have I not seen "People of White Castle" chains started with pics taken in Ohio? Every stereotype I've heard about that place...all true.

The actual drive into Kentucky wouldn't have been bad had we not been given a car previously driven by a smoker. It was brutal. The second I'm done with this post, a certain rental car company will be receiving some not so graceful words from me. By far the most expensive car I've ever had to rent (thanks to NCAA price gouging) and all I got for my efforts was a carcinogenic Chevy Versa. Bleh.

LOUISVILLE SLUGGER FACTORY

I'm not one to sleep much on trips, so even though we didn't get to bed until after 2 am, we were out of the hotel and headed for town just after 8 am on Thursday. Our first stop was a bucket list destination of mine, the Louisville Slugger Factory. I played competitive baseball for almost 20 years, so going to the Slugger factory and museum has been on my list for a LONG time. Though it was a bit smaller than I'd imagined, it didn't disappoint.

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We spent two hours inside looking at different displays, artifacts and taking the actual factory tour. We saw the three ways bats are made: hand turned (by request for retired Hall-of-Famers); machine turned with a metal stencil (Amateurs and Minor Leaguers); computer turned with laser guides (Current MLB players). The hand turned bats take 30-45 minutes each, the "stenciled" bats take about 30 seconds and the MLB laser guided bats take about a minute. Once bats are sanded, they're branded with the Slugger logo.

Random factory facts: 1) All MLB pros have their signature on their bat. If they're not a Slugger contracted player, their sig is laser printed in ink. If they're contracted, then they have a metal template made and their sig is branded into the bat. 2) Only Ash bats are branded. Maple bats are labeled with stickers because the wood is too dense and brittle to brand. 3) Most wood shavings and saw dust is bagged up and sent down the road to Churchill Downs, where it is used for horse bedding in the stables.

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I ended my time at the factory up in the corporate offices where I placed orders for not one, but two customized pieces of lumber. One is natural colored with a BYU logo and a personalized NCAA Tournament inscription on the barrel. The other is a black bat with silver foil logos and my signature lasered into it. Probably the two coolest mementos ever purchased during a BYU road trip!


Related: Read more of Presten's Travels at the On The Road page

THE YUM! CENTER

From the Slugger Factory we walked the few blocks down to the KFC Yum! Center. Worst. Name. Ever.
The pavilion outside was crawling with Kentucky fans. I was blown away at the thousands of blue clad UK fans who were waiting to get inside. Kentucky fans know how to support their team. Mixed in among the blue, were fans from all other schools at the site, but UK fans had all other schools beat by a 20:1 margin.

People in Kentucky were also some of the most polite fans I've ever met. On the way in we were greeted by numerous UK, Western KY and Murray State fans who all expressed how happy they were that BYU fans had made the trip. I've never been to a sporting event where so many people offered to hold doors, ALWAYS said pardon or excuse me when they bumped into you, and made a genuine effort to greet you if you made eye contact. After literally hundreds of encounters, I'm definitely a fan of Kentucky residents.

The Yum! Center itself is easily the nicest college arena I've ever been in. Nothing even comes close. It seats 22,000 but is designed to feel like it held half that. It's a fairly large capacity considering there are two full levels of luxury suites. The main entry foyer had 150 foot ceilings and multiple escalators going up to the different concourse levels. It also featured the entrance into the U of L Hall of Honor, which housed conference and national titles, retired jerseys, plaques and the U of L Hall of Fame members. It was basically like Legends Hall at BYU, but placed inside the arena. The floor of the hall was made up of the old U of L basketball court, complete with logos. It was a nice touch.

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The arena itself was 100% chair seats and all were padded. There are four huge LED screens on the center court scoreboard, but then there are also large LED's up in the rafters in every corner. Two of the four corner screens were used for team stats, and the other two corners had a screen for player stats.

GAMES

Before BYU played, we watched the Colorado St./Murray State game. I was surprised at how many CSU fans made the trip. I guess when you only dance once every 10 years, people make quite an effort to support. Hopefully Coach Miles can keep the ball rolling. He's one of the few coaches in the MWC I've always liked. Actually, he's probably the only one. We were hoping that since we made a half-hearted effort to cheer for CSU that they'd return the favor during our game. No dice. Half of them left, and the other half couldn't care less what was going on.

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The BYU game was quite spirited for most of it, at least in the stands. We were sitting directly behind President Samuelson, Tom Holmoe and Brian Santiago. I always have been a fan of all three, but I am even more so now. Though all were respectful at all times, let's just say each one is definitely still a fan/athlete at heart. It doesn't matter who you are or what your job is, a bad call is a bad call. As BYU supporters and fans, our job is to voice our concerns for the well being of our team in those situations. I can confirm that BYU Admin, multiple coaches' families, and I, definitely fulfilled our callings as loyal fans during the game. Better yet, because we were only separated from the floor by three rows of media, our less-than-pleased voices were definitely heard, too. It's a shame that the NCAA allowed WCC-caliber refs to call a tournament game.

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The other notable event at the game was apparently the NCAA used the Louisville site to test out their new hockey/basketball hybrid floor: One floor that can be used both as hardwood or an ice rink. I'm sure the makers of the infamous Zappos logo (from the WCC tournament) were laughing all day at the 20+ slips that took place. Every timeout, 8-10 ball boys were spread over the floor wiping it down, and on occasion, a couple would actually run out onto the vacant end of the floor while the ball was in play at the opposite end. I don't know what caused it all, but when the floor becomes a safety hazard, something needs to be done.

CHURCHILL DOWNS

Friday morning our first stop was at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. I was surprised to find the track is actually located right across the street from U of L's football stadium -- it's basically on campus! The track has a great interactive museum with tons of displays, artifacts and videos. It also has a 360-degree movie theater that takes you through Derby Day from sunrise to a photo finish. It's one of the best museums I've ever been to. While there, we also took a walking tour through the track and grandstand.

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There is a LOT of cool history and tradition I never knew about The Derby. Since I got chills multiple times while listening to our tour guide tell stories about The Derby, attending it live has now been added to my Bucket List. A few random Derby facts: 1) A general admission ticket is only $40-$50. 2) All wagers are placed in cash. On Derby day, over $100 MILLION in cash exchanges hands at the track. 3) Most horses have a heart that weighs 7-9 pounds; Secretariat's heart weighed 22! 4) The statue of Barbaro at Churchill Downs is the first bronze horse statue in the world that is designed with all legs off the ground. Barbaro's ashes are also buried under the statue.

LYNN'S PARADISE CAFE

Our last stop before returning to Cincy was at Lynn's Paradise Café. I only mention this because the café has been featured four times on Food Network, plus the Today Show, Oprah and Man vs. Food. It lived up to every ounce of hype it's received! I had the Bourbon Ball Crunch French Toast, which beat Bobby Flay on a Throwdown -- six pieces of cinnamon French toast, covered with a Bourbon cream sauce, drizzled with chocolate, topped with strawberries and whipped cream (my weekly trip to Kneader's will never be the same).

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My mom went with the famous "Hot Brown" which was featured by Food Network's Alton Brown on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" -- an open faced turkey sandwich, topped with bacon and cheddar, then drowned with béarnaise sauce, topped again with bacon and cheddar, then baked. After lunch I determined that both plates have earned a place on my Top 10 meals I've ever eaten list. I've never been to a restaurant that can claim two spots on the coveted list. Impressive.

Thus ended our shorter than hoped trip to Louisville. I left with bags packed (twice) for a four day trip, but unfortunately Marquette had other plans for us. I don't know how far they'll go, but I'll be rooting for Jae Crowder and company to make a run.

OFF-SEASON BEGINS

It didn't hit me until our final descent back into SLC that I didn't have another game coming up to look forward to, talk about a downer! It was a rather sad realization as I took the shuttle out to my car that my bags would be going into storage for a few months. Our maiden voyage in the WCC has been a fun one. I've enjoyed all of the new cities and venues visited over the last few months. I'm hoping BYU moves on to bigger and better pastures soon, but if we don't, I'm perfectly content to stay Independent and in the WCC awhile. This past few months has been a great adventure and I'm sad it's come to an end for now. I'm already counting the days till opening kick in September when a new chapter of On the Road begins!

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