One Pack. No Turning Back.

Number of miles driven today: 51

Total miles driven on road trip: 5,546

Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Dunkin' Donuts 

Starbucks' record (# of days Starbucks was more common): 19-5-1

Dunkin' Donuts' record: 5-19-1

Cheapest gas I saw today: $ 2.49

Number of states visited overall: 11

Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 8 (Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia)

Number of blue states visited overall: 3 (California, New Mexico, Florida)

Percent humidity when I went for a run at 4 pm today: 95

Percent stupidity for running in those conditions: 100

Answer when I asked the hotel bartender what Jacksonville is best known for: The Jaguars (NFL team)

In yesterday's post I mentioned that I had actually succeeded twice in reaching Vince Coleman to discuss this project. The first time was my ambush at the White Sox Spring Training facility that ended with Vince turning his back and shaking his head.

The other time occurred several weeks before the start of the trip when I managed to get him on the phone. This in and of itself was an accomplishment, as I had tried half a dozen phone numbers for him through public records searches and ended up with lots of doo-doo-doo the number you have dialed has been disconnected or sorry, you have the wrong number.

But I interviewed former MLBer Royce Clayton for an upcoming Grantland story on the history of walk-up music (and his new, very cool company MUSIQ Locker which designs custom walk-up songs), and through Clayton, got Coleman's number (the two are good friends) and asked him to comment for the story. He wrote back a short text saying he had no knowledge of walk-up music other than that he was told that Kenny Lofton started the trend with MC Hammer's 2 Legit 2 Quit

Steeling my nerves once again for the Man of Steal, I dialed his number. Vincent Van Go answered.

"Hello," the voice said, flat and low.

"Hey Vince, this is Brad Balukjian, thanks for getting back to me about the walk-up music."

"What is this all about?" he said, a hint of frustration in his voice.

"Well, I'm writing this book about tracking down all the players in a pack of 1986 baseball cards, and you were in that pack. I'd love to be able to talk to you about your career. Did you receive any of the letters I sent?"

Now I knew he must have received at least one of them. He (or someone at his house) had returned the letter to his home address unopened, but I had also mailed letters to the White Sox headquarters and their Spring Training facility. 

"Nope," he said.

"Do you remember me? I was that crazy guy shouting at you from the stands back in March in Spring Training about your Uncle Carter's sweet potato fries and Mixon Town."

Long pause.

"Vaguely," he said.

 He was getting away again. I was the pitcher with too slow of a move to home who hadn't held him close enough to first, and he had gotten a great jump and was cruising towards another steal of second.

"Oh, well, I would really love to talk to you some more. I've done a lot of research on your career. Would that be possible?"


I went all in: "A lot of the other guys in the pack have agreed to cooperate, Vince, and I want you to have the chance to have your voice in there."

"Brad, I told you, I'm not interested," he said, dragging out the last two words.

It was done then. Vince Coleman didn't want to play. 

Of course, even if I fail in getting a player to cooperate, I am still going to write about him. In fact, the failure makes me that much more determined to figure him out, to better understand why he would be so recalcitrant.

Driven by that impulse, I set out today in Vince's hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to find Vince's Uncle Carter. If Vince didn't want to talk about those sweet potato fries, well, I'd just have to taste them for myself.

Since "Uncle Carter" doesn't do a lot of good in public records databases, my only lead was a mention in an old article that Uncle Carter was a deacon at Abyssinia Baptist Church in Jacksonville. After checking out of my deplorable Red Roof Inn and scarfing down a Publix sandwich, I Googled the church and got an address.

Jacksonville is the biggest city in the U.S. area-wise, the kind of place you could live for years and still have not seen huge swaths of the city. I struggled to get a grasp of the city's character--my inquiry to the hotel bartender about what Jacksonville is best known for did little to help.

"The Jaguars," she said, referencing the football team.

I followed my GPS to a forested road that ran alongside I-95. I passed vacant lots with advertised acreage and a Camping World RV Sales business, and came upon a large brick building with enormous parking lots and a sign that read "Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church" with an electronic display of rotating announcements. 

I parked and walked in the lobby, already sweating from the three-minute walk. An arch of purple and and blue balloons welcomed me, and off to the side I could hear the din of squeals and shouts that could only be vacation Bible school. I scanned the framed photographs of church luminaries, hoping to spot one named Carter.

The front desk was unattended, so I walked down a hallway of offices in search of life. I came upon the office of one of the administrators, a pleasant black woman in her fifties (based on the kids down the hall and the photographs on the wall, Abyssinia appears to be a predominantly African-American church). I explained the book project, and asked if she knew of a deacon named Carter. She paused, thinking, then got up from her desk and led me to the office next door, where I found a heavy-set man in all black slouched behind a desk, his office brimming with books and sermons. His gray hair was slicked straight back, Al Sharpton style. 

The sign on the door read "Minister Richard Black."

"Reverend Black, this gentleman is a writer, and he is wondering if you know of a deacon here named Carter."

I jumped in, introducing myself and my quest. The reverend had kind, wise eyes, and pondered my request for several moments. 

"Hmmmm...well, there was a...wait, yes, Robert Carter!" he exclaimed, proud of his own memory. "You must be talking about Robert Carter. But he passed, wow, maybe 25, 30 years ago. Yes, Robert Carter," he said, his voice traling off.

"That was a long time ago. I was just a young man," he said.

I explained how I was here to trace Vince Coleman's roots, and how he had spoken so highly of his Uncle Carter's sweet potato fries, which I was now realizing I would never taste.

"Yeah, Vince, he lived over there off of Fairfax," the reverend said.

"I remember now, Carter, he would always talk about how his nephew Vince was a professional baseball player."

I thanked the reverend and the administrator for their time, walked out of the church, and set my GPS for Fairfax St.

This isn't over yet, Vincent Van Go.

For older blog entries, click here.

Vince Coleman's childhood home

On the Trail of Vincent Van Go, Part 2

Day 26: Jacksonville, FL, 7.14.15