It's a long-standing custom of mine.
Whenever I end up in an unfamiliar town, I make a point of watching a local sports event or two.
Call it gaining a different perspective - or seeing how our local teams would stack up. Or maybe, just plain being a sports nut.
I once watched a high school basketball game in Hilbert, Wis. A football game in Karlsruhe, Germany between two American high school teams. A soccer match (a niece was playing) in San Jose, Calif.
There was also a high school football tilt in Sierra Vista, Ariz. And a very interesting Over 35 Softball contest in the town of Crocker, Mo. More on that later.
Just last week, I was visiting in a western suburb of Chicago and had the opportunity to take in a football game between two large high schools, Plainfield North and Oswego.
There was more than a passing interest in the latter game because Oswego's starting quarterback, Steven Frank, is the grandson of Houghton resident Jim Junttonen.
Frank is a 6-foot-4, 207-pound sophomore who last season became the first freshman gridder ever to score a touchdown for the Oswego varsity.
He's already being scouted by several Big 10 schools (Iowa was in town the week before). He possesses a strong, accurate arm and uncommon poise for a 10th grader.
In this particular contest he was a little bit off his game, according to his father. But by the end of the contest, he had accounted for more than 200 yards through the air and three touchdowns in a 35-6 Oswego win. One of those scores was an impressive 35-yard bullet between a trio of Plainfield North defenders.
If I had to compare the level of play between Oswego and some our better teams in the Upper Peninsula, I would say they compare favorably with Kingsford and Menominee. And the latter team is a good bet to win a state title this year.
The atmosphere at this particular game was electric. That comes when you have a big crowd in a stadium that would put many small college facilities to shame.
There were the 90-man rosters, 125-member marching bands and squadrons of cheerleaders as well. It was wholly different than anything you'll see in the U.P.
As far as the sports side trip to Missouri, it was more amusing than anything else.
After one of the players in the game was injured, I was asked if I would fill in.
Happy to oblige, I grabbed a spare glove from the trunk of my car and trotted on to the field.
In my first time at bat, I was amazed (make that shocked) when the opposing pitcher instructed his team to shift to the right side of the field.
"Dead-pull hitter," he hollered out.
Anyone who ever played against me locally knows that I was a pull hitter who stubbornly refused to hit to the opposite field. How could a team a time zone or two away know anything about that? It's a question I'll ponder to my dying day ...