JB and Jessi

Jonathan Baker and his sister Jessi stand on the Salzburg Bridge in Salzburg, Austria.

I never really think that it hit me too much. It has been four months since I left the United States back in late March. Maybe it was because I had experienced all of this before last year. Maybe it was because I knew family would be coming to see me later in the summer. Maybe it was because many people go without seeing their family for that length and sometimes even longer stretches of time. 

All I know is, looking back at the end of my spring and start of the summer, four months should have felt like forever. That’s because my older sister and brother-in-law came to visit me this last week. And it wasn’t until Jessi and Ryan arrived at Helsinki Airport where I truly realized how long it had been until I last saw them. 

They planned their travels to first visit me in Seinäjoki and watch me play a game. Then I would join them while traveling Europe during the team’s second, and final, bye week of the season. However, first before play, came business.

We traveled to nearby Vaasa, Finland, to take on our league rival Royals. A team, like us, battling for a playoff spot and positioning early in the season. We would be playing for the Botnia Bowl trophy, which is essentially a tall, wood-crafted butter churn. Okay, it is a butter churn. You have to love the Finnish tradition.

I anticipated a tough, physical game heading into the day, and that is exactly what I got. We received the kickoff to start the game, and had a trick up our sleeve. 

On the very first play of the game, I received the snap in shotgun. I took a step up toward the line and immediately threw it to our British slot receiver, Spencer Cutlan, and making it a backwards pass. He then ran to the sideline before pulling the ball out to throw. A wide open Stéphane Fortes, our French receiver, was waiting for the football and ran untouched into the end zone for the opening score, 7-0.

Working to perfection, our defense carried the momentum and gave us the ball quickly the entire first half. With a 10-0 lead, we were approaching the red zone for our third score of the day. The play call was for a sprint rollout pass to the left side of the field. As I took the snap and rolled that way, I failed to find a target. Knowing my time was running out, I glanced to my right. The defense had shifted with our moving offensive play too much, and I saw green grass to the back side. 

As I ran to daylight, I made one linebacker miss a tackle before running behind the downfield blocking of my right guard and wide receiver who saw me heading out there way. Crossing the end zone was putting more separation and pressure on our rival, 17-0. 

The Royals would answer with some emphasis. In the second half, they managed to turn our only turnover into points and drive the field a couple times on our defense, using up a lot of clock in the process. 

[Enter stage left: Christian Powell] Our American running back ran the ball all day with aggression behind a motivated offensive line. [Powell assumes superhero stance on stage.] When our passing game could not make a play, Powell was the supplement. After our first trick-play touchdown, all of our scores came on the ground, with Powell accounting for two of them. [Powell holds up the number two with his fingers.] 

With less than six minutes to go in the game, we found ourselves with the ball and the score tied, 27-27. Knowing it would more than likely be our last drive, our running game went back to work. Couple yards from Powell here, I would carry for a few there. Another big first-down run from Powell again. Just outside the red zone needing points to take the lead, Powell took the handoff right and drove straight into the backs of our offensive line before disappearing within the black hole of the defense. “Gain of five, six yards?” Turning to our sideline I was thinking about our next play. Then everyone I saw was cheering and throwing their hands in the air.

Powell had somehow kept his feet moving in the black hole and came out the other side. Touchdown Crocodiles, 34-27. My brain was still trying to register our previous score as our defense shut down the Royals’ final drive to end the game. Powell finished with over 200 yards rushing and the win moved us to 3-2 on the year and put us in playoff position. 

Jessi and Ryan were there to watch the whole thing, as well. A fun game with a fun celebration included pictures with the team, family and the trophy. I was even able to ride back with my family and discuss the game, and turn our attention to our fun trip we had planned. 

First up on our agenda, Nuremberg. Located in the middle south of Germany, Nuremberg is located in the northern part of the Bavaria region. With a history dating back to the 11th century, the city holds the famous Imperial Castle, and also hosted the Holy Roman Empire for over 300 years. 

Leaving old town, you find some expansion sites of the city. One of those being the Nazi party rally grounds, built by Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s. Most notably containing the Congress Hall, which never reached completion, and the Zeppelin Field, which hosted the main rallies of the Third Reich during the war efforts of World War II. 

A truly eerie site which now sits unmaintained and uses the lot as a site for automobile and motorcycle drag races. We learned how the entire country would gather days at a time in this location bringing life and energy to the entire city of Nuremberg. 

We also visited the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, which hosted the Nuremberg Trials. Able to walk the famous courtroom which held the post World War II trial for Nazi leaders, the location surprisingly remains still in use to this day. 

Sticking with our historic theme of World War II, our next move was by train to Salzburg, Austria. An amazing city which sits in a valley of the Alps Mountains. It is also a nice location to make a day trip to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, which sits on a mountainside of the Alps in nearby Berchtesgaden. 

Hitler had this elaborate plan to construct a sort of “retirement home” for him and his fellow Nazi leaders for after the war concluded. His home, lower on the mountain, and his summit building atop the mountain were finished by 1938, spending more than 30 million euros from the Nazi party to complete. 

The journey up was just as exciting as being on top, as the ride stretched up the side of cliffs, only protected with a rail on the side of the road. Unfortunately, much of the day was cloudy and we were stuck in between the overcast, but we did catch a few glimpses of the breathtaking views down below. 

Returning to Salzburg, we walked around “old town” and past the residence of famous musician Wolfgang Mozart. We experienced the city market, castle, and truly relaxed for the remainder of our stay. Having mainly traveled by myself for so many of my adventures, it was truly special to share this trip with Jessi and Ryan. 

On our last day in Salzburg, we parted ways at the train station. I was heading back to Finland, while Jessi and Ryan would spend their final days in Europe visiting Vienna, being returning back home themselves. 

Four months is a long time. Which is why my time with Jessi and Ryan was so enjoyable. These next two months should seem easy then, right? I have good faith that they will. Only because I have my parents on the way next, and that is always something worth looking forward to.

Until next time, Go Crocodiles!