Rolling Through the Lexus Courtside Club
This is going to be solid, to quite solid.
"Prepare for the NBA thrill ride of a lifetime: take your seat in the Lexus Courtside Club. Each night, come face-to-face with the NBA's greatest. Top if off with first-class amenities that only an elite few will ever experience."
Thanks to the generosity of some fellow Wolves staffers, this is what I've been green-lighted to time-stamp-diary my way through tonight. I invited Pat Neshek, the Twins’ relief pitcher with that slick sidearm delivery, his brother Paul, and my buddy Johnny Erickson to accompany me for the LCC as the Wolves took on the Orlando Magic on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
The Lexus Courtside Club commences with valet parking outside of NBA City (avoiding the whole downtown parking fiasco); allows access to a locker room for LCC members only; includes a top-shelf buffet dinner; contains complimentary beer/wine/soda pregame and at halftime; boasts some ridiculously close courtside seats; and even has a premium gift each season for members.
Basically, it’s awesome. So it’s going to be me, Johnny, the Nesheks, and you. I apologized to the guys and to the people sitting behind us (which I later learned to be the One Tree Hill cast – who knew?) for having my laptop out constantly, but I’m here for you. The show started at 6:00 p.m.
The Neshek brothers pull up on 1st Avenue (not driving a Lexus, sorry…let them get through the LCC and then we’ll see) so I can hand them a valet voucher. All you have to do is get off the 94 Exit at 6th Street, and go straight to NBA City. Several valet guys are there waiting (Lexus Courtside Club gear in tow), and get you out of your car and into the restaurant quick, fast and in a hurry.
While walking into the restaurant, I learn that the brothers went to Park Center High School. Pat, 26, graduated in 1999, while the 24-year old Paul finished up in 2001. As we were going through introductions, Wolves Sr. fan relations executive Tony Wolverton (who runs the Lexus show, along with account executive Katie Troutman) welcomed and escorted us into the Lexus Room, where you can request your very own private locker to store your belongings, making you feel kind of important.
Tony takes us to the upper level of NBA City in the back of the restaurant, which features some extremely comfortable (and big) leather chairs, and lots of nice wood everywhere. Seriously, the wood is impressive enough to mention as a separate note. Alas, we stop by the private bar for drinks. Pat went for a bottled water (you have to respect the athletes who are always “in training”), I selected a Cherry Pepsi (extra grenadine, please) and Paul held it down with a Grey Goose and cranberry, his drink of choice. Oops. Sorry, Paul, but while beer and wine are free, you have to pay for the specialty drinks. We’ll get ‘em next time.
There are Wolves employees everywhere in here, seemingly for the sole purpose of making sure all of the patrons are having the best possible experience. You have to appreciate the hands-on touch there, because in addition to our waitress, we had three different Minnesota staffers making sure we had what we needed in the first 10 minutes. The easy-going Neshek’s seemed impressed, exchanging a "this is pretty sweet" type look featuring an extended head nod.
The NBA City buffet line just signaled for a right hander out of the bullpen to sample its offerings, and Neshek was more than happy to take the ball. I’m here catching up on some typing while the brothers grab a plate or two.
I’m impressed with the sheer amount of food Pat was able to stack onto his plate. Wow, you can tell this isn’t his first time through a high-quality buffet line (I’m sure the Twins have a delectable buffet after games, but I forgot to ask Pat about it). They were running out of shrimp, but undeterred, Pat took most of it.
“Pat said, ‘I’m going to take all of the shrimp,’” Paul told us. “The server said she was going to take it anyways to fill it up.”
Pat, still happy to have some NBA City branded water, with its own logo and everything, described his approach to his food selection as if he were deciding what pitch to throw Frank Thomas (by the way, it’s a good thing Big Frank isn’t here – I’m planning on eating later).
“I tried to fill the whole plate up so I wouldn’t have to go back up before I’d done some work,” said the Twins’ hurler. “Along with the shrimp, I nabbed some Cajun Stuffed Chicken – which is really good by the way – some salad, and a bunch of kabobs. I was very satisfied with the trip.”
I ask Pat to tell us how he taught Santana his change up.
“More like how he taught me, Mike.”
OK, I was hoping the former Butler University ace would go along with my joke and make something up, but he doesn’t even want to be facetious with how nasty Santana is.
“He’s just a filthy pitcher,” Pat continued. “Johan has three different change ups that are all different speeds, and you basically subtract four miles an hour on each one. Add that to his heater and slider, and it's game over.”
I ask Neshek if he ever takes BP off the man from Venezuela?
“No way. I don’t really get in the batter’s box against him,” said Neshek. “I used to be a good hitter, but it’s been a lot of years.”
Paul, who works on the Metrodome grounds crew staff, has never been too pumped to face Santana either. By the way, a friend of Johnny's and mine happened to know that Neshek’s brother worked on the grounds crew. Talk about a dedicated Twins fan...
We continued to chat, going through the DH argument for the AL and NL, and Thursday night’s Rutgers-Louisville college football thriller. Did anyone see how fast the student body got off the field after jumping the “rush the field” gun? Former Florida Gators dancer Erin Andrews was sideline reporting; she also did the Twins-As playoff series this past baseball season.
“I’m just a relief pitcher,” said Pat. “She didn’t want to talk about me.”
“She’s tall,” added Paul.
Paul tells us that he generally spots up by the visiting bullpen during Twins games. “One annoying thing that other team’s pitchers do is flick pumpkin seeds,” said Paul, the middle of three Neshek brothers. “They’ll just pick a spot on the field and try to hit it with pumpkin seeds.”
“Our bullpen coach, Stelly, frowns upon flicking seeds,” said Pat. “I did it in the minors, but I don’t want to make more work for my little brother.”
Pat goes up for another plate. The over/under on scrimp captured is 6 (I’m going over).
Johnny arrives 20 minutes late, due to his grandfather’s 80th birthday party, which is definitely a good enough reason to be tardy. Now you should understand that Johnny and I first attended a hoops game together 20 years ago (we were five, playing kindergarten ball), and have been friends since. Alas, I introduce Johnny to the Nesheks, and our first “six degrees of separation” moment happens immediately. Paul is a student at UW Plattville, where Johnny’s girlfriend’s brother is a pole vaulter. Solid connection there, huh?
Johnny is very impressed with the surroundings, and asks me why we don’t do this every time (maybe in a few years, we decide). We then reflect on the Sam Cassell days. The Neshek’s, Johnny and I are all big Sam fans, and gratuitous E.T. references come out of our four mouths simultaneously.
Johnny and I ask Pat if it hurts his hand when it scrapes the ground due to his release point. A good sport, he laughs, and explains why he throws from his far-dropped-down angle.
“Up until seventh grade I was sidearm,” Pat said. “I got away from it in high school, but got hit by a pitch throwing over the top. I guess it was one of those blessings in disguise. Now I hear a lot about how I hide the ball pretty well.”
Time for us Orono High grads to show Park Center that we can handle a buffet line as well. We have no chance of eating as much as the Nesheks did, but the food looks way too good to leave alone. I had five pieces of bread (I’m a big bread guy, and it was exceptional), a bunch of chicken, some kabobs, and some salad. Fierce. I was too busy munching to pay attention to what Johnny was eating.
While we ate, Paul entertained us with a story about the day the Twins clinched the division over the Tigers in miraculous fashion. You all remember it. In order for the Twins to avoid flying to Yankee Stadium that night, they had to not only beat an angry Chicago White Sox team, but the putrid Kansas City Royals needed to complete a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers. Detroit jumped out to a huge lead…and we’ll let Paul take it from here.
“I had a flight to New York already with Pat’s fiancé, Steph,” said Paul. “We were on the plane at MSP while the game was still going, and we touched down in Chicago for a layover. We checked the score of the Tigers game, and the Royals were coming back really strong, so we didn’t know if we should get on the plane. When they pulled ahead, we decided not to, so we had to get a rental car and drive back from Chicago.”
“Honestly, I just didn’t think the Royals were going to sweep the Tigers, and we still had to beat the Sox, so I told my brother I’d buy the tickets if it happened,” said Pat. “Well, there went my paycheck for the game.”
While we ate and chatted, more Wolves staffers came by to say hi and make sure we were doing well. Seriously, this is first-class service. All three guys seem pleasantly and genuinely surprised about how they do things in the Lexus Courtside Club.
It’s getting close to game time, so we’re about ready to head into the fray. But we have time for another Paul story. He was talking about getting some media attention at the end of the season, as ESPN the Magazine did an article on the Dome grounds crew, and Fox Sports North showed up out of nowhere to do a piece.
“The FSN people followed me around for a whole day with a camera," he said. "I came down 10 minutes late or whatever, a guy with a camera told me that he was going to follow me around. I’m like, how long are you going to follow me around? He said eight hours, so I asked, ‘What do you want me to do? You don’t want to see this.’ But how they put the end product together was sweet.”
Pat, after taking a last swipe at the buffet line, tells us that Paul was on that Minnesota team that played in the Little League World Series in 1994. Full respect. Responding to some of my random musings about the LLWS, Paul explained that: “What’s funny is that the Japanese team got all of the girls, and they were all about it. They were only 12, but…”
We voted unanimously that the Lexus pregame routine is the only way Jay Z would roll if he came to a game, and proceeded out of NBA City’s back doors directly into the tunnel out of which the Wolves come. We were escorted to our seats in row B directly behind the basket circa the opposing team’s bench, and plopped down on some extremely comfortable Lexus branded chairs.
Settled into our seats, Johnny and I look at each other in mutual acknowledgement that this is so much cooler than any basketball-watching experience we’ve had since dominating our kindergarten league. We’re sitting so close, I can actually get a whiff of Dwight Howard’s body odor. He just tried an off-the-glass thunder jam (he missed) as we watch the Magic in pregame layup drills.
I asked Neshek which Magic player to whom he’d most like to pitch.
“Dwight Howard, I guess,” said Pat. “He wouldn’t be able to hit my slider because he’s so tall.”
Scores of kids in military garb (it’s Operation Military Heroes month for the Wolves, so we’ll see a good deal of things like this as we try to show thanks and respect to our troops). These kids were from the Neshek’s district, and they were happy about it.
“I feel pretty good about how my district represented us with the singing of our national anthem. Johnny guessed that there were 150 kids singing (it was more like 50).”
Johnny wondered out loud why a guy in the front row was repping a Miami heat jersey, sandals, and an ankle brace. Crunch, meanwhile, stretched his hamstrings right in front of us. KG then looked over here just before tip off, and I think we made eye contact. Maybe not (his buddies sit courtside a few seats over to our right). Tip off, and we’re on.
The LCC put us so close that after the ref called Mark Blount for a moving pick, I asked him what the call was, and he actually heard me (no answer). Paul wonders where J.J. Redick is, and I point him out at the end of Orlando's bench. He's inactive, and wearing a suit. He's taller than Paul recalled from college (a good 6-4).
“These referees are serious,” said Neshek after a random whistle that none of us could identify.
“I think Trenton Hassell actually has one of those Icy Hot patches that Shaq pushes," said Johnny. "I didn’t know anyone wore those?” Honestly, we are so close that Johnny could actually decipher that the knee-brace thing wasn’t just a normal knee-brace thing.
We collectively decided that it actually feels like we’re getting dunked on. When I say ‘collectively decided,’ it represents us nodding our heads at each other. Anyway, Howard just pulled a 360-spin move and finished with a two-handed jam. The basket almost fell on Neshek’s right arm. “It could happen,” said Pat. I wonder what Ron Gardenhire would do to me if Neshek got hurt in a freak accident like that?
Meanwhile, the nice lady in front of me spotted me typing feverishly (while my eyes were on the court and as I was babbling something to Johnny about what we were going to do after the game) and told me it was impressive I was doing work during the game. You call this “work?”
The Human Victory Cigar (Darko Milicic) checks into the game. Johnny and I asked Neshek what the best baseball nickname was last season, and he said it was probably “Cy-tana” for Johan. Paul mentioned Mauer’s nickname, “The Golden Boy,” and we all laughed. We’re expecting Mauer and his inseparable (according to Pat) buddy Justin Morneau to come to a game with us in January, when they get back in town.
Another Howard putback slam. “I felt that in my loins,” said Johnny.
One of the Magic players (I think it was Trevor Ariza, but I was text messaging my boss about coming to take a picture so I didn’t see) just crashed into the front row directly ahead of us.
“That was completely unnecessary,” said Paul. It was nice to see Paul’s protective nature of his brother’s right arm, as he leaned noticeably in front of him to deflect a possible blow.
Pat distracts us from worrying about the Wolves getting off to a very slow start by telling us that the baseball minimum salary is $380,000, raised from $327,000 last year. This is good to know. I ask Pat to teach Johnny how to drop his arm angle, envisioning myself as Johnny’s “E” from Entourage if he makes a team. I also point out a SPAM advertisement to the fellas, and Paul mentions that Hawaii sells more SPAM than any other state. That’s good to know.
I ask Pat and Paul to identify the ugliest member of the Magic is, and they give me a quick “Hedo Turkoglu, for sure.” Pat and I are talking about how the Wolves are having a lot of trouble handling the Magic on the interior, both offensively and defensively.
The Wolves are trailing 29-20 after one, as they simply couldn’t account for the beastly Dwight Howard. Paul, Pat and Johnny are a bit worried about what we’re going to do with Howard as the game progresses. Pat mentions that he likes how Mike James has taken it to the hole a few times, and found a way to get his runners over Howard.
Enjoying ourselves so much and thinking we should mention our sponsor again, we talk about what kind of Lexus we’d like to own. Johnny opts for the two-door hard top convertible (retractable roof), which sounds good to me, so I go with him (black for him, dark blue for me). That’d be an SC Luxury Coupe (07), if you’re keeping track. Paul’s going to take an old-school four-door like you see in mafia movies (black, tinted windows). Ditto for Pat.
We make our way back to NBA City for halftime with the Wolves trailing by 18 points. Normally, I’d be quite upset about the way the game has gone, but I’m still giddy about my pregame experience and courtside seats. Our halftime discussion (over light beer for J and Paul, waters for Pat and me) revolves around making fun of other car manufacturers.
Tony W. just brought us some Lexus branded halftime stats, where you get the box store in addition to the location of two Lexus dealerships (Wayzata and Maplewood). I drive by the Wayzata dealership every day, and generally visualize which car would be most fun to drive (always a stick-shift). I digress. The glossy stats are particularly poignant for me, being used to the mass-produced not-high-quality paper stats from the PR printer. I think my articles would be better if I got the Lexus stats after every quarter.
Pat is telling Johnny and me that he’s signed up to do a bunch of kids’ clinics later this year.
“I hope it’s not teaching kids how to throw, because I could ruin someone’s budding career with the way that I do it,” said Pat.
We grudgingly leave NBA City, but then remember that our seats are really, really, ridiculously close to the floor. As we’re walking back when the second half starts, the Wolves go on a nice little run to cut the lead to 68-56. Neshek gets some love from a fan, who basically just shouted out his last name. “NESHEK!!” Pat is going non-descript with a cap and leather jacket, so props to that fan.
Every time Minnesota cuts into Orlando’s lead, Jameer Nelson finds a way to get a bucket, either by himself or by dishing off. Frustrating. In other news, we just saw someone in a full turtleneck, and Pat told his brother he’d beat him up if he wore one.
Johnny is impressed with Randy Foye's explosiveness in person. I'm fortunate to get to watch him in practice, but you really do have to see him in person to catch how his muscle fibers work like he's out of a comic book or something. In other basketball news, KG is scoring at will at this point. He went up for a monster jam earlier (check out the photo), but actually missed when Turkoglu tugged on his arm.
We appear on the Jumbotron not because of Pat, but because the cast of “One Tree Hill” is sitting directly behind us. Apparently this is kind of a big deal, but I’ve never seen the show. Johnny’s girlfriend, however, makes him DVR it for her. I think he’s text messaging her right now. Pat said his mom watches the show.
Our friends from One Tree Hill are now heading out onto the court to throw t-shirts to fans. They would have had Pat do it, but they didn’t want anybody to get hurt. They’re actually playing the anthem from Top Gun right now while Crunch fires t-shirts from a military Hummer.
“Wow, those thing are coming out real, real hard,” said Pat. “They are literally coming out at 150 miles per hour, I think.”
"I'm really impressed with how hard Garnett goes all the time," comments Pat. "He has no off switch."
Our song list for when the opponents have the ball: Take On Me; Barbie Girl; Jitterbug; The Chicken Noodle Soup song (from Paul); Hard to Say I’m Sorry (or anything by Chicago or Journey); Africa by Toto. Actually, no, Africa is too inspirational. But any Kenny G or Michael Bolton song would work.
The Wolves have cut the deficit to nine, and just forced a turnover with 2:48 to go in the game. KG has been a man possessed this half, while Foye has been impressive for the second straight game. I’d like to comment more on the game, but you can check the game story for that…we’re almost done here. Johnny is openly crying that he’ll have to go back to section 138 next time I let him borrow my season tickets.
All right, the game is over. Another tough loss for Minnesota, but I think this is how P. Diddy must feel when he goes places. V.I.P. all the way, with phenomenal service to boot. Pat, Paul and Johnny are all making sure I type a thank you from them to the Wolves and Lexus before signing off. Alas, I walked the guys back to the Lexus Room, where all you have to do is give them your ticket, and they have your car in only a minute or two. I have to run to coach Casey’s postgame press conference, so we say our goodbyes after a tremendous evening.
To: The Timberwolves Lexus Courtside Club
From: Mike, Pat, Paul, and Johnny
A serious, forceful thank you from all of us. Can we please come back soon?