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Fish fans hit the road

Groupies follow club on trip to Texas, midwest

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Wayne Basso (left) and wife Darleen McDougall take in a game at Haymarket Park.

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Wayne Basso (left) and wife Darleen McDougall take in a game at Haymarket Park.

LINCOLN, Neb. -- In a sea of growling Lincoln Saltdogs logos at Haymarket Park, the school of Fish jumped right out.

Yep, there were Goldeyes logos in the Nebraska crowd on Friday night, worn proudly on the chests and heads of a passel of Winnipeg fans who have been schlepping down the interstates, following the Fish on their historic 7-0 season start.

The peripatetic 'Peggers couldn't have guessed the games would be this good -- but with the lingering memory of last season's championship, they drove out on a hopeful note.

"They won it all last year, and it was too quick," said Wayne Basso, 57, whose recent retirement from the Winnipeg Police Service opened time for the trip. "So we said, we want to see the other parks... and we knew they were starting in Texas, so let's go where it's warm."

So it came to be that, on May 11, Basso and wife Darleen McDougall packed up their 2002 Chrysler Sebring (Goldeyes license plates attached, natch) and followed the Fish to an exhibition game in Fargo.

Then the couple drove south and kept on driving, hitting up every game since: Kansas City, Wichita, Grand Prairie, Amarillo and finally to Lincoln, where they took in the second of the Goldeyes' four-game stand on Friday.

They're die-hard fans, clearly -- Goldeyes mascot Goldie even visited McDougall's 2012 retirement party -- and maybe, given the Goldeyes' wonderful win streak, they're good-luck charms too.

"It would be nice to think that," McDougall said, as she adjusted her signed Luis Alen jersey. "But I think that it's their skill."

Basso and McDougall have even chipped in for the Goldeyes' travel costs, after a fashion. In Amarillo, park tradition has it that fans stuff dollar bills in the batter's helmet after a home run. So when the Goldeyes' Leonard Davis knocked one out of the park during the Goldeyes three-game series against the Sox, the versatile outfielder whipped off his own lid.

"I was messing around, looking at the team like, 'Should I go and give 'em my helmet?' " Davis said. "Then the people from Winnipeg came down and put money inside my helmet, which was great. I love fans like that."

That home run remained the highlight of the trip for Basso and McDougall, who were joined by a smattering of other traveling Winnipeggers on Friday night. Well that, and the time Alen came up to rub Basso's Jon Weber jersey, riffing off Alen's tradition of rubbing the former Goldeyes outfielder's head before games. And the ushers in Amarillo who printed out a list of places to visit. And the parks, the people and the plays.

"It's been such a wonderful experience," McDougall said. "The people in each city have been so kind to us."

Oh, and about the parks: Basso and McDougall are on a park review, of sorts, seeing how Shaw Park shapes up against the competition. The verdict, so far, has been good: Haymarket Park was the prettiest of the bunch so far, the couple agreed, but the home field is still tops -- thanks to its most colourful host. "I think we have the best mascot still," Basso said. "Goldie is great."

After the four-game stand in Lincoln wraps up this afternoon, Basso and McDougall plan to get a head start back to Manitoba. After all, they need to be in their Shaw Park seats on Monday night, when the Fish have their home opener against the Laredo Lemurs.

As the first home date draws near, the players are getting pumped, too. Only five players of the 23 currently on the roster are returnees from last year, and Fehlandt Lentini had been a Goldeye before that. The rest, though, are looking forward to learning first-hand how Winnipeg fans turn out -- and Davis got an idea during the Goldeyes' three pre-season games at Shaw Park.

"Even when you're in affiliated ball, you don't see that many fans at an exhibition game, let alone a real game," he said.

"It was great. You can tell how the fans are going to be for the season. I love it."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 C6

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