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Padres coach returns safely to dry land
When you work in baseball, as Jim Malone does, the schedule tells you when it's OK to take a vacation.
The U.S. Coast Guard dropped food supplies to the ship to help the hungry passengers.T. Wilson Photography
Malone, the head strength and conditioning coach for the San Diego Padres, wanted to be at sea for this year's after-the-season trip. He'd never been on a cruise before. So, he booked one for the earliest sensible time — the week immediately after the World Series.
Turns out, the Padres finished one game out of a playoff spot. Malone could have taken his cruise in October.
That would have been a good idea.
Yes, Malone was on that boat — the Carnival Splendor, stranded at sea for three days after losing power due to an engine room fire.
The ship returned to San Diego on Thursday. No injuries were reported among the nearly 4,500 people on board. An evacuation wasn't required. Yet, some passengers offered strong condemnations of the conditions on board, including the lack of hot food and clean toilets.
But Malone, 42, wasn't complaining. Rather than compare the boondoggle to five-star accommodations in the major leagues, he quickly came to see the odyssey for what it was.
An ordeal to be endured and later retold.
“Our experience wasn't the worst: We made it home safely,” he said over the phone Thursday afternoon. “We still had fun, because of the people I was with. We had a blast.
The USS Ronald Reagan helped support the ship during its time adrift at sea.T. Wilson Photography
“I grew up in the Northeast, and it was like being stuck in the dorm after a snowstorm. As long as you had some beverages and something to snack on, you're good to go for a few days. We were on the 10th deck out of 12 or 13, so we all had outdoor cabins. We had daylight and fresh air. That made it more palatable than if we were inside.”
Malone was on board with his girlfriend, Tracey Wilson. Padres home clubhouse assistant Spencer Dallin was also part of their traveling party.
The Mexican Riviera cruise was supposed to last seven days, including stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. However, those plans were scuttled soon after the fire, which occurred around 6 a.m. PT on Monday.
One day later, Malone watched as Seahawk helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan dropped 60,000 pounds of supplies (including bottled water and food) onto the ship decks. “It was something to see,” he said. “Even though we weren't in a hostile situation, it made me think about the might of the U.S. Navy.”
Malone wasn't able to recharge his cellphone after the ship lost most of its power, and it's not as if the Pacific Ocean has transmitting towers, anyway. But there was a moment — with the USS Reagan nearby — when he was able to pick up a signal. Immediately, his phone displayed two text messages from Padres pitcher Chris Young, asking if everything was all right.
“The guys were all concerned and looking out for us,” Malone said. “Now I'm letting them know we're safe. I just don't know what I'm going to do for the last three days of my vacation.”
(Fred Uhlman, the team's assistant general manager, had one idea. “I guess you can come into work tomorrow,” he quipped to Malone.)
Tugboats arrived after two days to drag the Splendor back to shore.T. Wilson Photography
Carnival's reimbursing passengers for the cost of this cruise — transportation included — and giving each person a voucher for a future cruise of the same cost.
Malone believes some complaints of deplorable conditions on board were “sensationalized.”
“People were on the decks, reading books,” he said. “Crew members were doing a great job of keeping people entertained. A little gym was open. People were running on the deck tracks. The casino wasn't open — no shows, no microphones — but there were musicians playing in the main lobby. There was a piano bar on the fifth deck. There was plenty of stuff for people to do, mostly socializing and making friends.”
So … you actually enjoyed yourself?
“I'd have to say yeah,” he continued. “The group of people we were with, we made it fun. We had a good time. We made the best of the situation.
“Could it have been better? Sure, that's what you hoped for. But it also could have been much, much worse. … To put it in perspective, this is Veterans Day. This is the day to think about the military and all the sacrifices they make for us so we can do something like take a cruise.
“We got home, safe and sound, in a few days. We didn't sink.”
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