This is the first of (at least) three installments of my weekend experience that only words could buy.
It all started back on a July day when I was looking for flights for my annual fall trip to Florida with my friends. On the Southwest site, I noticed a little box on the front page yelling at me: “Play Ball with Nolan Ryan”. Instead of going to search for flights, I ended up clicking the box to view the contest page. After reading the contest description and all, I thought to myself “I want to do that!” and I immediately knew the direction I wanted my contest entry to take. (Contest entry: Write a 150 word or less essay on why you should be picked to play. Entries judged on creativity, humor, uniqueness, etc. Go play softball at Cooperstown against a team of Southwest employees with Nolan Ryan pitching for both teams.)
Despite knowing what I wanted to write about, it wasn’t coming easy at first. The first draft was a dud. It was unique for sure, but not incredibly creative or humorous at that. My second draft was getting there. After some tweaks I had a winning essay for sure. I knew I did. I mean, how could the mysterious “they” not like it? Before I submitted it for good on the website, I was reading it one more time when one word popped out which immediately brought to mind another stroke of genius, and then I was golden. I was winning this contest. I knew that besides coming up with all the requirements, I had to inject some of Southwest’s “corporate culture” into it, but at the same time it had to have a flow and make sense. One of my friends suggested changing “love” to “LUV” (stock ticker, advertising) and I thought “How could I miss that obvious one?” Haha. My stroke of genius mentioned above came from reading the word “reward” in my essay. Well their frequent flyer program is “Rapid Rewards” and I only made the connection after letting the essay sit for the weekend without reading it at all, so in went a reference to “RAPID-ly REWARD-ing” me. Finally, the flight attendants like to sing songs with new words, and since this was a (soft)ball game, new words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” were absolutely on tap. Perfection.
The other reason I knew this contest was meant for me was the fact that Cooperstown kept popping up into my life in July. A friend of mine got engaged early July and planned to have her wedding in Cooperstown next year. The current edition of Rachael Ray Magazine had Cooperstown as a featured destination. This contest was the third reference to it in one month!
The rules had said winners would find out if they’d won “on or about July 29”. When July 29 came and went I was not happy. What happened to my perfection? July 30…July 31…I wasn’t winning. I get home on August 5 and check my email and there is an email waiting for me with the subject line I had been waiting for. WINNER! I won! Well, I wasn’t an official winner yet, that didn’t come until I got my paperwork in, but Cooperstown, NY here I was coming!
SWA doesn’t fly direct to Albany from either Islip or LaGuardia so I actually had to leave New York to come back to New York! The popular question other winners asked me up there was if I drove. In theory flying (even with connecting to BWI) would take about the same time to drive. Notice I say “in theory”. There was a bunch of weather delays at BWI on Friday that if you would’ve started the clock from the time I left my house in the morning to the time I got to the hotel in Albany, I could’ve driven to Albany and back in the same amount of time. Oh well. Weather isn’t something anyone can control and the flight was free so no complaining. There were a lot of winners on the flight from BWI-ALB. I kept overhearing people’s conversations with “Nolan Ryan” creeping in a lot.
Eventually we are at the hotel, and we all got a (Southwest) backpack (the ergonomical kind) that was full of swag – a game jersey, a hat, credentials (we’re official!), two blow-up Southwest planes, and some pamphlets on Cooperstown. The only thing missing was peanuts (I kid!).
That night we had dinner at a local restaurant and we got to meet the people who had arrived (some were still in transit). The largest contingent was from Texas, which is a given since SWA headquarters are there and Nolan Ryan is a Texan and all. Otherwise there were a few people from California, and one from Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, & Virginia. I think that covers everyone.
Pretty soon it would be time for bed. We were leaving to Cooperstown for the game in the morning, and the weather forecast was not looking good…
Stay tuned for Part Two – The Game. To leave you wanting more until then, here is a photo of me & my team “The Flyers”. I’m standing at the right.