Jeff Hausinger wore a dark blue Rays cap, Todd O'Donnell wore a light blue Rays visor, and Hausinger steered his silver Infiniti SUV out of his South Tampa neighborhood and onto Gandy Boulevard on Monday afternoon just after 4.
ST. PETERSBURG, said the sign, 14 MILES. The speedometer went from 60 … to 70 … to 80.
Big night for Tampa Bay sports. The Rays had a game against the Texas Rangers in the baseball playoffs in St. Petersburg at 5. The Bucs had a game against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football in Tampa at 8:30.
Hausinger, a financial adviser for Raymond James, had tickets to the Rays game. Saturday morning, he called his buddy, O'Donnell, an engineer: "You want to go?"
But O'Donnell had his company's box at the Bucs game. "I don't know," he said. "Sounds like a lot."
Who knows how many other people wrestled with the question: How much sports can you cram into a work night? Can you brave the traffic, afford the parking — and the babysitter — and convince your wife?
O'Donnell thought about it all weekend. Sunday night Hausinger texted: You in?
O'Donnell realized he might never get this chance again. "Sure," he decided. "Let's do this."
A half hour before the first pitch, in the back of the SUV on a hanger was Hausinger's Bucs polo and cap. In the pocket of the passenger seat were O'Donnell's Bucs tickets.
Hausinger merged onto Interstate 275 and headed toward the Goodyear blimp hovering over Tropicana Field. He exited for GAME PARKING and pulled into a spot in Lot 2. Hausinger, O'Donnell, another friend and Hausinger's wife headed inside through Gate 5 and down to their seats in Section 126, some 30 rows up from the Rays' bullpen.
They cheered for the cowbell-loud player introductions, stayed standing for the saxophoned national anthem and then sat to watch the Rays' David Price pitch to the Rangers' first batter.
• • •
By the bottom of the first inning, Hausinger was hungry. He missed Desmond Jennings' first strike while he was getting chicken fingers, but was back in time for the second. "He shouldn't have swung at that," O'Donnell said. Hausinger took a swig of Diet Coke and shook his head.
O'Donnell checked his e-mail on his phone. Hausinger finished his french fries. "It's going pretty fast so far," he said in the third inning. "At this rate, we might just make kickoff."
At 6:05 p.m., the score still 0-0 as Jennings stepped to the plate, Hausinger pulled out his Blackberry to take a picture. "Zoom in," his wife said. Hausinger laughed. "It zooms?" He clicked just as Jennings hit a home run. "DJ hits a Bomb," Hausinger posted on Facebook. "Going to the Bucs game next."
Top of the seventh and the score was 2-1 for Texas when the Rays pulled Price and put in J.P. Howell. Hausinger groaned. O'Donnell buried his face in his hands. "I can't watch this."
Back in Tampa, his wife was coaching their 10-year-old daughter's cheerleading squad. "Score?" she texted at 7:47 p.m. Just then, Johnny Damon did. "4 to 2," O'Donnell wrote back. "Bottom of 7th."
"What time will you leave for Bucs?" asked his wife.
"Don't know," wrote O'Donnell. "This game is still way too close."
"Glad U are there!" she typed. "Late night for you tonight."
Just then, his friends in Tampa texted they were heading to the Bucs game. O'Donnell turned his visor backward, into a rally cap. For most of the top of the 8th inning, he held his breath.
"I think we're going to be late," Hausinger said at 8:02.
"We just gotta strong-arm some people to get out of here," said O'Donnell. "No way we're leaving now."
Other fans walked out at the end of the eighth when the Rangers were still up by one. At 8:55, O'Donnell's friend texted that the Colts had scored a field goal.
With a man on first and Kelly Shoppach at the plate, they planned their exit.
"Okay, as soon as that ball leaves his bat, we're outta here," Hausinger said. By the time the Rangers turned the double play and the rest of the crowd realized the game was over, the two were sprinting out the stadium.
At 9:02, they dove into Hausinger's SUV — the first car out of Lot 2.
• • •
"Damn," said Hausinger as the SUV reached 65 on the ramp to I-275.
"Doesn't that stink," O'Donnell said.
They spoke J.P. Howell's name once in bitter disparagement and then turned on the radio for the Bucs game.
At 9:22 on Dale Mabry Highway, they could see the lights of Raymond James. Pulled off onto Tampa Bay Boulevard, it took less than two minutes for Jeff to strip off his Rays polo and replace it with a Bucs version. Todd pulled on his No. 40 jersey.
Hausinger kissed his wife and the men sprinted toward the stadium. The second quarter had just started.
Lane DeGregory can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8825. Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8751. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkruse.