The Glory That is Detroit’s Comerica Park

“6.4.3”

There are three statues down the block from Detroit’s Comerica Park, whose striking boldness herald the serene beauty of the ballpark. Not that, that was their intended purpose. Instead, they were placed on Madison Avenue in front of the Detroit Athletic Club to commemorate its 100th anniversary. The statues “commemorate the role the club has played in amateur athletics and professional sports since its inception in 1887.” 1

“Running Back”

The statues stand on a landscaped median in the middle of Madison Avenue’s wide boulevard. The one on the far right-hand side is the “Running Back” to celebrate Detroit’s football heritage. A statue that similarly recognizes the city’s baseball past, titled “6.4.3,” is located on the other side. One might think that this statue of the baseball player, making his through across the diamond, would speak to me. However, it was the one in the middle that I remember fondly.

“The Finish”

“The Finish” depicts two runners straining to cross the finish line of a tightly contested race. I also felt that my race was over. In Detroit, I reached the finish line. It was the triumphant and to my summer long, thirty ballpark journey.

The day before, I left Tucson on a predawn drive to Phoenix to board my flight bound for Detroit. I had spent the previous two days relaxing and visiting with my brother. Now I was meeting Mrs. Nomad for the final ballpark of my trip.

Detroit

We enjoy the Detroit area because we have family in Ann Arbor, just a short drive away.

My sister (who previously joined us for a game at Wrigley), has lived there for many years. Additionally, Mrs. Nomad’s older brother and his wife moved back to Ann Arbor about ten years ago. They met at the University of Michigan when they were students. They returned when my sister-in-law accepted a position at the University. Their homecoming became even better when their eldest daughter, her husband, and two boys moved there from Scotland.

In turn, I scheduled the Detroit stop for late September, so Mrs. Nomad could join me. We both wanted the chance to see our family. However, she tends to be busy from late July through August and wouldn’t be available at that time. Also, I wanted her to join me on my last ballpark visit. So, September was a good time to go.

My plane landed first, and I was waiting at the SkyClub when Mrs. Nomad arrived. On the way to Ann Arbor, we bought supplies to make signs that would announce my achievement at tomorrow’s game. Later, we spent a wonderful evening with my in-laws, niece, and her family.

Sunday morning, we had bagels at my sister’s house and made our signs. Then the three of us drove off to see the Tigers at Comerica. However, this wasn’t our first visit. The three of us had been there a few years earlier. In the following years, I had forgotten how impressive Comerica is.

While some might be surprised by Comerica’s beauty, I consider it one of the best in baseball.

Comerica’s Tigers

The abundance of Tiger iconography makes a visit to Comerica a unique and thrilling experience. No other ballpark celebrates their team’s name the way Comerica does. There are Tigers everywhere.

The exterior brick walls, near the gates, are lined with thirty-three sculpted tiger heads with baseballs in their mouths. The balls light up at night. 2

Inside the park, there is an “ornate carousel featuring 30 hand-painted tigers.”3 There are also large, circular tiger crests that span the walkway to the baseball-themed Ferris wheel. Additionally, standing tigers holding baseball bats are molded into the side of each row of seats.

However, most impressive are the huge, tiger statues that guard Comerica’s entrances and lurk on top of the scoreboard.

Michael Keropian’s Tiger Statues

The team enlisted sculptor, Michael Keropian to create nine “heroic sized” tiger sculptures to enhance the Comerica experience. The resulting statues are likely the largest tiger sculptures in the Western Hemisphere.4 In addition to the statues, Keropian also created the tiger head wall sconces that line the exterior walls. 5

Four different models, each of a roaring tiger in a different pose, are the basis for the nine statues. One sits back on its haunches while another stands on all fours. Both are growling. A third is prowling and roaring. The fourth is upright and leaning back on its hind legs with its left paw raised, ready to strike.

The statues’ average height is twelve feet, and the longest ones stretch to over thirty-three feet. 6

The most impressive tiger display is at the North entrance, where five of them guard the gate. In the middle of the area is a 15-foot version of the upright tiger with its left paw raised. Two others roar from the top of each wall. Oversized baseball bats and the tiger wall sconces, complete the scene. It may be the most magnificent ballpark entrance in baseball.

Two more tigers stand on each wall that borders the West entrance.

Finally, the thirty-three foot long tigers prowl on top of either side of the giant, left field, scoreboard. Their eyes light up when a Tiger player hits a home run. 7

What’s in a Name?

When I walk into Comerica, the statues make me feel like I’m entering a tigers den, where tigers rule. It’s the kind of presence that engenders the fighting spirit a team wants its fans to have.

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Interestingly, the Tigers are the only team with a name that enables the type of iconography employed at Comerica. No other team’s name singularly delivers the majestic, yet fierce imagery that the name “Tigers” does. It would be absurd for other organizations to use images of their names the way the Tigers use theirs.

Animal Team Names

Eight other teams have animal names, but none of those animals are as fierce as tigers are.

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For example, Baltimore mainly uses its cute “Oriole” caricature, which is not at all threatening. While the Cardinals use realistic representations of their namesake and Cardinal red predominates throughout Busch Stadium, cardinals are not intimidating. Instead, “Cardinals,” “Orioles,” and “Blue Jays” are peaceful, beautiful birds. Some of them even sing. Moreover, fish, like “Marlins” and “(Devil) Rays,” don’t strike fear in peoples’ hearts, either. Finally, while bears are fierce, “Cubs” are just cute, baby bears.

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The Arizona Diamondbacks’ namesake is different. The diamondback rattlesnake is not cute and cuddly like a “Cub.” Nor is it pretty like birds are, and it doesn’t sing. A rattlesnake is fierce and dangerous. However, snakes haven’t gotten good press since one gave Eve the apple in the Garden of Eden. A snake presentation at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field equivalent to Detroit’s tigers would seem somewhat sinister or evil. Not the feeling they are striving for.

Names That Describe People

Fifteen teams, including the “Yankees,” “Angels,” “Mariners,” “Royals,” “Giants,” have names that use various descriptions of people or beings. None strike the same intimidating tone that tigers do. It would be silly, for example, to have images of “Angels” at the gates Angel Stadium of Anaheim. It would take the ballpark as heavenly analogy a bit too far.

Moreover, there are many different representations of these beings, while tiger images are relatively consistent. Thus, teams use, humorous caricatures to replace lifelike images. For instance, the Pirates have used many versions of a Pirate on their logos throughout the years. Some of these pirates are handsome and shaved; others are not. Some have eye patches, and some don’t. All of them are fun, not fierce.

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Similarly, in the Twins Minnesota shaped logo, “Minnie” and “Paul”8 shake hands from each side of the Mississippi. However, “Minnie” and “Paul” are non-threatening, giant twins.

San Diego’s “Swinging Friar” is also cute and fun. He is not fierce and intimidating.

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A “Beer Barrel Man” is featured on some of the Milwaukee Brewers logos. Meanwhile, “Bernie Brewer” stands at the ready to slide down his slide to celebrate a Brewers’ home run.

People Descriptions That Need More Information

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Other team names describe people or beings but need additional context to explain who or what they are. Thus, their names don’t have the impact that tigers do.

For example, the name “Astros” wouldn’t mean much if “astronauts” weren’t a ubiquitous concept. Moreover, astronauts aren’t fierce and intimidating. “Astros” are just cute astronauts.

Absolutely no-one knows what a “Met” is until they understand that the word is short for “metropolitan.” But how would you depict a metropolitan? What would it say about your team if there were statues of metropolitan men and women guarding your ballpark gates?

The name “Dodgers” also makes little sense, but “Trolly Dodgers” does. However, “trolley dodging” was a Brooklyn practice, and meaningless in L.A.

Until you call the “Rangers” the “Texas Rangers.” You can’t know they are brave lawmen. Without the word “Texas,” the Rangers lose their luster. They could be park rangers for all we know.

Offensive People Descriptions

The Indians and Braves can no longer use images that relate to their names because they are offensive. In 2016 the Indians replaced “Chief Wahoo” with a big block “C” as their predominant identifier. A few years later, they stopped all usage of the “Chief.” 9

The Braves stopped using the “Chief Noc-A-Homa” caricature in their logos in 1989. 10 A few years earlier, in 1986, they stopped using the live “Chief Noc-A-Homa” mascot and thus ended his pregame ritual of performing a war dance on the pitcher’s mound.11 Additionally, the chief would no longer watch games from his outfield teepee. He also wouldn’t perform his celebratory war dance after Brave home runs. However, the Braves’ controversial use of Native American imagery continues with their “Tomahawk Chop” cheer.

It would be inappropriate to use these images in Atlanta and Cleveland, the way Detroit uses its tigers.

Tigers don’t offend.

Undefinable Team Names

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There are also teams whose names are almost meaningless in that they don’t describe sentient beings. “Phillies,” “Nationals,” “Reds” and “Athletics” don’t exist.

As such, these teams can’t use images as Detroit uses its tigers. Instead, the Phillies occasionally use the Liberty Bell while the Nationals use the nation’s capital. The Reds use the little guy with a baseball head and 19th-century mustache. The Athletics elephant balancing on a baseball is a great logo but does not have the same impact as a tiger.

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Teams Named After the Mundane

Finally, there are teams named after mundane and commonplace items.

“Sox” is simply the plural of “sock.” Thus the “Red Sox” and the “White Sox” can’t make prominent use of their names in statuary. Other than old banners, there’s not much to display. A series of “sock” statues are not inspiring and certainly not intimidating unless they are dirty.

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Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are not necessarily mundane, but statues of them wouldn’t have the same effect that tigers do.

“Tigers” is the only team name suitable to dominate a ballpark’s appearance. The team makes the most of the opportunity.

Around The Park

It’s not just the tigers. Comerica shines in other ways that I’ve come to appreciate.

Downtown With A Neighborhood Feel

My ideal ballpark is an integral part of a city neighborhood. Few parking lots separate it from the surrounding community. Comerica feels like part of its neighborhood even though some parking lots create a barrier between it and area businesses.

Comerica and the neighboring Ford Field were part of a turn of the century revitalization project.12 However, the revitalization’s success was questionable. Whatever progress there was, it was limited to downtown and short-lived. The recession of 2008, offset any of the limited gains made in the previous decade. Currently, efforts to revitalize downtown continue, with the gnawing question of how to involve the greater Detroit area. 13

However, from the limited perspective of a Baseball Nomad, Comerica is an exceptional addition to downtown. The main entrance is across from the renovated Fox Theater, which also played a role in revitalizing the area.14 Another entertainment venue, the smaller, Fillmore Detroit, is a few steps away from the Fox. Moreover, the Detroit Opera House and the Music Hall are just south of Comerica. Finally, Comerica’s main entrance is between two historic churches St. John Episcopal Church and Central United Methodist Church. 15

The Skyline

And with no upper deck outfield seats, no ballpark offers a better view of a downtown skyline than Comerica Park. 16

Reinforcing the sense that Comerica is integral to the city is its magnificent view of Detroit’s skyline.

The city’s architecture “is recognized as being among the finest in the U.S. Detroit has one of the largest surviving collections of late-19th- and early-20th-century buildings in the U.S.” 17 The skyline contains a variety of styles, including Beaux-Arts, Art Deco, midcentury modern, and postmodern structures.18 Unfortunately, due to the city’s troubled economy, many of the buildings are endangered. 19

Because, Comerica has no upper deck outfield seats, and it faces downtown, it offers a fantastic view of the skyline. The Detroit Athletic Club is just across Michigan Avenue and dominates left-center field. Then in the distance are some of the city’s tallest and most ornate skyscrapers. These include the Cadillac Tower, Ally Detroit Center, the Penobscot Building, and more. Overlooking right field is the David Stott Building with a tall mural of humpback whales.

The Walk of Fame

When we entered the ballpark, we walked the wide concourses that circle the playing field. These are the widest concourses in baseball, so there is a lovely open feeling about the place.20 The openness is enhanced because the playing field is quite visible from wherever you are.

There are a series of outposts in the concourse that speak to the Tigers 125 year history. Such a nice change from other ballparks that constrain their historical artifacts to crowded and usually out of the way areas. At Comerica, Tiger history is integral to the ballpark experience.

Following the concourse to left-center field, we arrived at the Tiger’s version of a Monument Park. Six extraordinary statues of Tiger greats, Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hal Newhouser, Hank Green berg, Willie Horton, and Al Kaline, form a line along the outfield wall. The statues depict the players in action and add accents that intensify their sense of movement. Cobb is sliding, Greenberg and Horton are swinging, while Gehringer is throwing to first. Kaline is stretching to catch a fly ball, seemingly before it goes over the wall. Finally, Newhouser is mid-windup, with his back arched, and leg in the air as he prepares to deliver his pitch. These are simply the best ballpark statues that I have ever seen.

The “Tiger Den” – Why I Need to Go Back to Comerica

The Tiger Den was the first of its kind in baseball. Located at the upper rows of the lower bowl, it resembles the fashionable boxes at old-time sporting venues with moveable chairs. 21

As we walked to our field-level seats, we passed through the “Tiger Den.” These cool chairs look like they belong on the deck in your back yard. In between each set of chairs is a small table to hold your drink etc. “How cool is this?” I thought, “this is my 30th ballpark, and I’ve never seen anything like these seats.” I knew right then; I needed to go back to Comerica.

The Glory of Comerica

I divide my rankings of favorite ballparks into five categories. Wrigley and Fenway are “Historic Gems.” They are in my mind, not able to be ranked since no other ballparks are like them. In many ways, they are perfect and, in many ways, awful. The charm wins out; you have to see them. You just can’t adequately rank them.

Then there are the four “Must See Ballparks,” Oracle, Petco, PNC, and Camden Yards. These are the best ballparks in baseball. If you love the game, you need to make every effort to see them.

At the bottom of my list are the “Near Misses” and the “Need To Be Replaced.” The “Near Misses” are the ones that, for one reason or another, aren’t quite what they could be. The term “Need To Be Replaced” is self-explanatory. It’s just time to start over.

In the middle are twelve ballparks that “I Wish I Lived Close” to. If I lived near any of them, I’d visit them quite often. It would be a joy of epic dimensions to have the pleasure to sit in any of these ballparks regularly. The atmosphere is terrific, and if you’re a baseball fan, you believe that the game itself is perfect. How could you stay away?

As I went from ballpark to ballpark and compiled my list, my rankings changed. Some ballparks would move up, and some would move down. After visiting Comerica, I placed it right at the top of the list.

Sunday at Comerica

Sunday, September 22nd, was the last weekend home game of the Tigers season. The Twins were coming to Detroit for a three-game series starting on Tuesday. After that, the Tigers would end their season in Chicago. I was likely projecting my feelings when I assumed the Tigers and their opponents, the White Sox were tired. I certainly was.

At this point in my journey, I’d traveled an astounding 46,000 miles, and was at the 58th game of my season. Moreover, just in the past eleven days, I’d traveled 6,600 miles. I was at my sixth ballpark in that period and watching my seventh game. I was spent.

Detroit’s Coney Dogs

During the game, I had my 42nd hot dog of the season and my umpteenth beer. The dog was one of Detroit’s famous “Coney Dogs.” However, these “Coneys” should not be confused with Central New York’s famous “Coneys.” Hoffmann Sausage Co. These are naturally cased white pork and veal sausages, which they call “Snappys.” The term “Coney” is a Central New York affectation.22 Whatever you call them, they are outstanding, especially when topped with a beautiful, spicy, german brown mustard.

Detroit’s “Coney Dog” is a beef hot dog on a steamed bun with a chili sauce, onion, and yellow mustard. However, it should not be confused with a “chili dog.” The Coney’s “chili is a loose, almost soupy concoction that traditionally gets an extra-meaty punch from ground beef heart and a variety of spices.”23 The term “coney” is from the Greek-American diners, known as “Coney Islands. 24

You can get a “Coney” at Comerica, and they look quite tasty. However, it was my 42nd dog of the season, and I just couldn’t indulge totally. I, somewhat sheepishly, asked if I could have a dog with just some mustard and a little onion. They agreed, and I then made my way back to our seats with my chili-less hot dog.

The Game – Celebration

The Tigers were ending a seriously miserable, rebuilding year where they were on their way to losing 114 games.25 The White Sox were not quite as bad and actually on their way to being competitive in years to come. However, this year they would lose 89 games. 26

I was happy to have a few beers and hang out with Mrs. Nomad and my sister. We made a few walks around the park to enjoy the environment and take in all that there was to see.

On one of our trips, we passed a throne with a cardboard Miquel Cabrera celebrating his 2012 Triple Crown. In 2012, Cabrera led the league in home runs (44), RBI’s (139), and batting average (.330). He was the first player in forty-five years to lead the league in all three categories. I just had to have my picture taken to celebrate my achievement.

Later, we drove back to Ann Arbor, happy with our accomplishment.

Ten days later, I made my first visit to the Arizona Fall League. It was my final trip of a glorious year.

Continue Reading The Glory That is Detroit’s Comerica Park

Morning at the Mission – Chase Field

“Well I hit the rowdy road
And many kinds I met there

And many stories told me on the way to get there
So, on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
So much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out”

Cat Stevens – “On The Road To Find Out” 1

Saturday, September 21st, 4:00 AM, Tucson

Triumphant, Predawn Drive to Phoenix

I start driving west on I-10 back to Phoenix, at the crack of dawn. I’m a little ahead of schedule since Phoenix is only about 90 minutes or so from Tucson. But I have to gas up and drop off my rental before my 8:00 AM flight. It’s not atypical for me to leave earlier than necessary since I always worry about being late. However, I’m also excited to get to Detroit to see Mrs. Nomad, who’s joining me for the triumphant end to my journey. Detroit’s Comerica Park is number thirty! I’ve done it!

Chase Field

Although I’m not officially done, it’s not too early to celebrate my accomplishment.

When I planned my 42 stop journey, I had no idea if I could finish my quest. To do so, would take persistence, fortitude and a little luck. But, this morning, it’s clear that I’ll complete my journey successfully.

In a sense, I’m like a golfer, walking triumphantly up the eighteenth fairway at Augusta. His ball is on the green, it’s clear that he will sink his last putt and win the Masters. As he walks, he waves to the cheering crowd that is offering its appreciation and congratulations.

Similarly, I have one more ballpark to visit to meet my goal of visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. However, it will be almost impossible to miss my last game in Detroit. The game starts more than 24 hours from now, and I have a nonstop flight to Detroit. I can even miss a few flights and still make it to the game.

My predawn drive to Phoenix is my personal victorious walk up the 18th fairway at the Masters.

More Miles Left to Go

Chase Field

Not that my trip is totally over. I still plan to return to Phoenix in a few weeks for the Arizona Fall League. The AFL will be my forty-first of forty-two stops on this epic journey. It will also be the last one of the season. I’ve already decided that I won’t go to the World Series as I originally planned to do. However, I’m fine ending my journey one-stop short of my original plan. My main goal was always to visit thirty ballparks in one season. I did what I said I would do and what I wanted to do.

The Ties That Bind

To complete my baseball journey, I dropped out of the life I knew and spent money that I wasn’t sure I had. Moreover, I committed to a mission that only I valued and have difficulty justifying. Most of all, I’m willing to live with whatever consequences arise from doing so.

As a generally practical person, I rarely do something totally out of the ordinary because I simply wanted to do it. Certainly, I never invested so much time, effort, and money on what many would consider a superficial whim.

I saw myself like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams. Ray plowed over his crop and risked his farm to follow his dreams. A dream that only made sense to his family. Yet, he listened to the little voices in his head, urging him to follow a different path. My journey was similar. I followed the voices in my head that urged me on. I did so, even though it would likely end my career.

Moreover, I hoped the journey would help me find a new sense of being. I’d devoted too much of my time, effort, and consciousness to a life that had little meaning. My need for change was especially urgent since my peers discounted my achievements. They certainly saw me as disposable.

I doubt I am the only person who sees little value in their professional existence. I’m certainly not the only person in their early sixties who was left behind.

It was at the Mission on Friday morning when I realized that I’d irrevocably broken the ties that bound me to my old life. I’d felt these strictures loosen during my journey. But in Arizona, the last few ties fell away. I realized that I’d found my new truth.

I was tired, but delighted.

Tuesday, September 17th, Near Midnight, Denver

Four days earlier.

Chase Field

I’m riding back to the Airport on the train from Union Station after leaving Coors Field. It’s late, and I’ll have only a few hours rest since my flight to Phoenix leaves at 6:00 AM.

I’ve worried about this flight since I created my journey’s schedule. I worry that I’ll miss one of my last chances to visit Chase Field. If that happens, I won’t achieve my goal of seeing a game at every MLB stadium in one season. The season ends next Sunday, and tomorrow is one of the Diamondbacks’ last home games. I’m very concerned that a missed flight or significant delay will make me miss tomorrow’s game in Arizona.

If I miss the game, I’ll have to fly back to Phoenix next week. Since, I don’t want to make another cross-country trip, I need to get to Phoenix, tomorrow and on time.

There’s extra pressure because the game starts at 12:40. There’s little room for error.

Wednesday, September 18th, 11:00 AM, Phoenix

Fortunately, all goes as planned and I get to Phoenix on time. I was awake at 3:30 AM and waiting for the airport shuttle with other bleary-eyed passengers, flight attendants, and pilots at 4:00 AM.

My planes leave on time. I even have time to get some coffee at the Delta SkyClub in Salt Lake City, during the layover.

When I get to Phoenix, I see Chase Field’s distinctive roof as I drive to my hotel. It’s big, round, and towers against the buildings that form a backdrop to the scene. I’m looking forward to getting there.

Chase Field

It’s not a surprise that the hotel doesn’t have a room ready for me. Why would it have rooms available so early in the day? So, I store my bags at the front desk and make the short, but hot walk over to the stadium, roughly a half-mile away. As I walk, I admire the mission revival architecture of the buildings I pass.

TGI Friday’s on a Wednesday Morning

Now I’m at the TGI Friday’s that overlooks Chase Field, waiting for my youngest brother to arrive. He’s driving up from Tucson, where he lives and works. I’m at Friday’s because I need to get out of the heat and get something cold to drink. I think I surprised the wait staff who didn’t seem to expect a customer a couple of hours before today’s early game.

Chase Field

However, a waitress happily served me copious amounts of ice water while I watched the pregame activity from the window that overlooked the outfield. Through the open window, I see and hear players in what I assume are their pre-warm up rituals. They are not yet in uniform, just running and playing catch in just shorts and t-shirts.

Later, when I am somewhat refreshed and satiated with ice water, I order some coffee and green bean fries. Green bean fries? Yes, green bean fries. I’m a bit hungry and looking for something, somewhat healthy to eat. After all my travel and indulgent eating, I feel the strong need for healthy food. Green bean fries look like my best bet on this menu filled with fried and other greasy offerings.

National Anthem Practice – Second Time Around

Chase Field

While I watch the small group of players play catch and jog, today’s national anthem performers are led onto the field to rehearse. As the band and singers perform the anthem, the waitresses continue to prepare for the lunch rush, No one at Fridays stands at attention. I quietly eat my green bean fries and other patrons act similarly.

Interestingly, this is the second time I’ve witnessed a national anthem practice session on this summer’s journey. The first time was the Friday morning in July when I toured Wrigley Field. My tour group was sitting in the outfield bleachers in the morning sun when the anthem practice started. Eventually, we all stood at attention. First, one brave soul did so, then a few more stood, and finally, everyone joined in. As we stood, our guide stopped telling bleacher stories and also stood at attention. He resumed his bleacher commentary once the anthem ended and everyone sat back down.

Chase Field

It was a more patriotic display than this morning. However, I doubt that the Wrigley group had a greater sense of patriotism than today’s, Fridays’ patrons.

Interestingly, at Wrigley, a person told me that the performers were not just practicing. Instead, he said, management was recording their practice and would use it before the game. In his telling, the performers would lip-sync the recorded anthem while the crowd stood at attention and sang along. He said that using the recording would ensure that there were no problems in front of the fans. However, I choose not to believe that his suggestion is correct. I’d like to believe that the anthem is actually performed for the fans.

Wednesday, September 18th, Noon, Chase Field, Phoenix

My Wednesday morning Fridays’ sojourn ends when my brother calls to say he’s arrived and is looking for a parking spot. I settle the bill and meet him outside.

Chase Field

We hug, take some pictures and walk inside the park. It’s not our first-time visiting Chase Field together. A few years ago, I followed a similar schedule. Nomad the Younger and I went to see the Rockies at Coors Field when she lived in Colorado. The next morning, I flew to Phoenix to see the Diamondbacks at Chase Field with my brother. Even though I’ve been inside Chase Field before, I still want to check it out again. So, we walk around to reacquaint ourselves.

Retro-Modern Versus Retro-Classic Ballparks

Chase Field is classified as a “retro-modern” ballpark while ballparks like Coors Field, are “retro-classic.”

Chase Field

“Retro-classic” ballparks have the look and feel of older stadiums but with modern amenities. Each resembles the “jewel box” ballparks of the early twentieth century. They feature “green seats, bricks, stone and green exposed steel,” combined with modern-day amenities.2

Conversely, “retro-modern” stadiums combine interiors similar to the “jewel box” ballparks with exteriors that use more progressive forms. In these parks, exterior features include curtain walls, retractable roofs, and materials other than brick. 3

My preferences gravitate to “retro-classic” ballparks more so than “retro-modern” ones. When compiling my list of favorite ballparks, I was surprised to realize that, four of my top five, Oracle, PNC, Camden Yards, and Coors are “retro-classic.” Detroit’s Comerica Park, My next stop, is another wonderful example of the style and another favorite.

Downtown Locations and Parking Lots

Additionally, the more I visit ballparks, the more I realize that its relationship to the surrounding neighborhoods affects its appeal. This relationship is severely dependent on how parking lots are situated. In too many cases, the parking lots create a barrier between the ballpark and the surrounding neighborhood.

Chase Field

Neighborhood locations and parking lot placement vary depending on each ballpark. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are in the middle of city neighborhoods, without parking ramps forming a barrier. Oracle, Petco, PNC, Camden Yards, and Coors are somewhat similar. Conversely, Chase is one of many city ballparks surrounded by parking and thus separated from its city neighborhood.

The most absurd example of the city neighborhood/parking lot paradox is New York’s Citi Field, where the Mets play. Citi’s exterior is very reminiscent of Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, the epitome of a classic neighborhood ballpark, not obstructed by parking. Fans either walked or took mass transit to 55 Sullivan Place to see the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field. Those that drove to the game, found parking somewhere on Brooklyn’s streets. Ebbets Field was one with the neighborhood and businesses that surrounded it, Yet, Citi Field, an homage to Ebbets Field, stands in the middle of a sea of parking lots. It’s not part of the surrounding community.

The Roof and Playing Field

Although Chase is not the first retractable roof stadium, it was the first to have a roof over natural turf. 4

Chase Field

They kept the grass alive and thriving by opening the roof at dawn and letting the sunlight stream in. It remained open until three hours before the game. Then they closed, the roof to cool the stadium down.

However, it’s more than challenging to nurture natural grass in Phoenix. As such, the Diamondbacks replaced the natural turf in 2019.

“The challenges with growing natural grass in our climate and stadium have been well documented, and we have considered alternate solutions for many years,”

Derrick Hall, D-backs president, and CEO 5

Chase is now only one of five ballparks with an artificial surface. However, some other teams followed the Diamondback’s lead and now use natural surfaces under retractable roofs.6

The Pool

During our walk around Chase Field, we make sure to walk by Major League Baseball’s only outfield swimming pool.

Chase Field

As we are hanging out and taking pictures, a guard asks us if we have tickets to enter the area. We, of course, do not but ask him questions about the pool. He says that the pool is rented to corporations for special events and is never empty.

However, I have trouble seeing the appeal. First of all, it’s likely more than challenging to see the game from the pool. So why bother. Additionally, will corporations continue to have events where their employees frolic in bathing suits in the “Me Too” era? It’s hard to imagine how the practice will remain in vogue.

Chase Field’s Future

Over the last few years, the Diamondbacks and the Maricopa County government have had a tense relationship. The team charged that the county was not investing enough in the stadium’s maintenance. Moreover, the Diamondbacks were dissatisfied because Chase Field does not have “mixed-use” capabilities. They are not able to generate new revenue streams through investment in a business and entertainment area adjacent to their ballpark. 7 Other teams added these areas when they built their new ballparks. For example, the Braves built “The Battery” next to SunTrust (now “Truist”) Park. Similarly, when the Cardinals built the latest Busch Stadium in 2006, they added “Baseball Village.” The A’s plan to do the same when they build their new park in Jack London Square.

Chase Field
The Battery in Atlanta

Other teams are investing in these areas adjacent to their existing stadiums. For example, the Giants are building a business and entertainment area south of Oracle Field. These establishments will compete with businesses, restaurants and residential complexes that “have grown organically to the north and west of the facility without any gain for the giants.” 8

After making peace with the city in 2018, the Diamondbacks looked for other sites to build a new park in the Phoenix area. However, they’ve now decided to try and stay at Chase and add a multi-use area there. 9

Wednesday, September 18th, 12:40 PM, Chase Field – Marlins vs. Diamondbacks

We walk around for a while longer, taking pictures and making the kind of jokes only brothers can. The jokes that only brothers will understand let alone tolerate. Finally, we stop for a hot dog, and a beer before we find our seats. The game is about to start, and we need to get our scorecards prepared.

Chase Field

Sadly, my interest in baseball is already waning for the day. After all, I’m in my fifth stadium, watching my sixth game in six days. That’s a lot of baseball, and I’m also tired since I woke up early to catch my early morning flight. Yet, although I need a break, I’m also wonderfully comfortable. After attending sixty-five or so games this season, I’m very accustomed to the sights, and the sounds of a ballpark. Now, I feel at home when I am at a ballpark.

I wonder how the Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks feel. After all, each is playing out the string. Neither, no longer has a chance of making the postseason. Frankly, the Marlins’ hope for a playoff birth ended sometime before opening day. This wasn’t expected to be their year. But, each team has been playing since February, and is there really somewhere they would rather be? I don’t know their mood, so I romantically assume that they are also playing for the love of the game. At the very least, I expect that they are playing for pride. Additionally, the younger players are likely trying to prove their mettle so they can make next year’s team. They don’t want to be traded or start next year back in the minor leagues.

Miami Marlins

It’s my ninth time seeing the Marlins, and I’m starting to feel like we’re old friends.

Spring Training

I started watching the Marlins in Spring Training. We consider Jupiter, Florida out Spring Training base of operations. Since both the Marlins and Cardinals train there, we usually can see at least one of them play every day. However, we don’t have to stay in Jupiter. We can also travel the few minutes to West Palm Beach to see the Astros or the Nationals. Finally, the Mets are less than an hour north.

There’s plenty of baseball games to see. However, the five teams’ proximity to each other means that we will usually see different combinations of them play each day.

As such, we saw the Marlins play four times in Spring Training. We missed a fifth, because another game was canceled due to rain

After Spring Training, I saw the Marlins play four more times. I saw them at home in Miami in April. Later in July, Mrs. Nomad and I saw them play the White Sox in Chicago. Last weekend, I saw them play two games in San Francisco. On Monday, the Marlins went straight to Phoenix to start their three-game series against the Diamondbacks. At the same time, I detoured to Oakland, then Colorado, and now I was seeing them again.

Sadly, this Marlins team that I’ve seen so frequently is also one of the worst in baseball. Their record to date is a sad 53 wins and 98 losses. 10 The team’s awful play is somewhat expected since they are in the middle of a rebuild(some call it tanking). The Marlins hope that the rebuild works and that there are brighter days ahead.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Chase Field

The Diamondbacks have had a fascinating twenty-two-year history fluctuating between success and some failure. They’ve finished first in their division five times, second five times, third five times, and last five times. 11 They also won the World Series in their third year of existence. They’re currently on another upswing, this is their third consecutive competitive showing.

As little as ten days ago, the Diamondbacks were competing with the Cubs for the second wild-card spot. Then they lost eight of the next ten games and are now effectively out of the running. Starting play today, they are five and a half games behind the Brewers and Cubs for the second wild-card spot. They are also a game and a half behind the Phillies and Mets. If the Cubs or Brewers don’t make the playoffs, the Phillies or Mets will. 12

Mike Leake and Sandy Alcantara

Mike Leake, a slightly above average ten-year veteran is starting for the Diamondbacks today. Interestingly, Leake played college ball at Arizona State in Tempe, near Phoenix so he’s familiar with the area. After college, he played his first five and a half years in Cincinnati. Then the Reds traded him to the Giants. For the next two years he played in St. Louis before being traded to Seattle in the middle of 2017. Halfway through 2019, the Mariners traded him to Arizona. Leake is now the definition of a “journeyman.” 13

Chase Field

On the other hand, the Marlins, Sandy Alcantara, is just starting his career. Although he made a few appearances in 2017 and 2018, 2019 is his rookie year. Alcantara was the only Marlin All-Star this year and was also a member of the All-Rookie team. Part of his appeal, besides above-average stuff, is his durability. In 2019, he pitched 197.1 innings, the most by a Marlin rookie in their history. His innings pitched were just shy of the most by a Marlins pitcher. Nathan Eovaldi threw 199.2 innings in 2014. The rebuilding Marlins consider Alcantara to be one of their mainstays for years to come. 14

The Game

We discuss the vagaries of life and compare scoring techniques while we watch the early parts of the game.

Chase Field

Leake had a good first inning, throwing just eleven pitches to get the first three outs of the game. 15 Alcantara’s first inning was more eventful. The Abraham Almonte led off and watched the first three pitches before he took his swing. That ball landed beyond the right-centerfield wall near the swimming pool. It bounced near where we stood an hour earlier.

From there, the game went back and forth before the Diamondbacks won five to four.

In the middle of the seventh, I stopped scoring and went off to take some pitchers of the game. We left soon after and went to find some Mexican food before my brother drove back to Tucson. I in turn got some much-needed sleep.

Friday, September 20th, Mission San Xavier del Bac

On Thursday morning, well-rested, I had breakfast with an old friend who, at one time, was an intern I mentored. Then I drove north & west to Glendale to have lunch with a first cousin, once removed whom I was just getting to know.

After lunch, I drove the couple of hours south to Tucson, to spend more time with my brother.

The “White Dove of the Desert”

Mission San Xavier

On Friday, I visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac which is about 10 miles south of Tucson.

Franciscan monks built the first church on the Mission’s site in 1756. They started building the current version in 1783. As such, it’s the oldest European built structure in Arizona. However, it is still an active convent, church, and school that services the local native population.

Mission San Xavier

The Mission “is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.”16 The beautiful, white, baroque structure stands out in Arizona’s deep blue sky and brown desert. Fittingly, it’s called the “White Dove of the Desert.”

Over its 250 years, the Mission has been part of Mexico and the United States. Jesuits, Spanish Franciscans, the Diocese of Santa Fe, and later the Diocese of Tucson ran the Mission before the Franciscans took over in 1913.

The Mission has survived an earthquake, lightning, and water damage. Each time it was lovingly restored.

Solace

Mission San Xavier

On that Friday morning, I admire the structure whose purpose is as beautiful as its appearance. For centuries, natives have sought solace and peace of mind in the Mission’s beautiful spaces. However, the mission remains while the congregants have passed on to other worlds.

Standing outside in the hot, dusty, Arizona desert, I wonder, is there meaning?

Mission San Xavier

My journey started six months ago in the spring when hope springs eternal. Now fifty thousand miles later, it’s the fall, the baseball season is fading and I’m in the dusty Arizona desert trying to make sense of it all.

Is there meaning?

I sense that if I follow the congregants’ example, I’d find that there is solace in the journey. My meager professional accomplishments no longer mean that much to me. My failures mean even less.

I now choose to validate my existence, based on my experiences and the joy I find in the things that I find important. I don’t need external validation.

I’ve traveled many miles to find my new path. I was starting to realize that the daily journey is what’s central to my being. My success and external validation are secondary.

Early the next morning, I drove to Phoenix, triumphant.

Continue Reading Morning at the Mission – Chase Field

“Barreling” in Colorado

My last trip of the regular season was a whirlwind through the West. Seven days, six games, in five ballparks:

  • On Thursday, September 16th, I took a late flight to Seattle, arriving after midnight
  • Friday night, I saw the White Sox play the Mariners at T-Mobile Park.
  • Early the next morning, I flew to San Francisco and saw the Mariners play the Giants that night.
  • Sunday was easy. Just an afternoon rematch between the Mariners and Giants at Oracle Field.
  • I was still in San Francisco on Monday. After lunch with a friend, I went to Oakland via BART to see the Royals play the A’s.
  • Now it was Tuesday, September 17th. I took an early morning flight to Denver to see the Mets and Rockies play at Coors Field.
  • It was to be a short, eighteen-hour stay in Denver. The next morning, I would leave on a 6:00 AM flight to Phoenix. The Marlins were playing the Diamondbacks at noon.

Coors Field

This wasn’t my first visit to Coors Field. Nomad the Younger, and I visited it a few years ago when she lived in Colorado Springs. I was looking forward to seeing it again.

History

Tropicana Field

Coors and St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, the stadium I visited on my previous trip have an interesting connection. St. Petersburg built Tropicana Field in 1990 with the hopes of luring a team to the area. As they did so, they also attempted to win a new expansion team. In 1991, they expected to win one of the two new national league teams. However, they lost out to Miami, who landed the Marlins. Denver was the other city awarded a franchise.

In 1989, Denver formed the Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District to create a plan to build a new ballpark. This plan was a requirement to win their expansion franchise.

The following year, voters approved a .01% sales tax to fund the ballpark. The fee would eventually provide $168 million – about 78% of the project’s cost. The owners provided the other $47 million. 1

coors field

Since Coors Field would not be ready until 1995, the Rockies played their first two seasons at Mile High Stadium. Mile High is the football stadium where the Broncos play. As such, there are many more seats than the standard baseball stadium. The Rockies fans made good use of the extra space. In 1993, almost five million excited fans came to see the Rockies’ inaugural season. The following year, another three million attended games during a strike-shortened season. Over the two years, the Rockies drew over fifty-eight thousand fans per game. This demonstration of fan support encouraged the Rockies to add seven thousand seats to Coors Field. It opened with a capacity of fifty thousand. 2

A Neighborhood, Retro-Classic, Big Ballpark

Coors Field is a classic neighborhood ballpark, located in Denver’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) district. It’s just a short walk from Union Station and is bordered on at least two sides with stores, restaurants, and bars. As such, it helps fuel the area’s economic activity. Other ballparks, even if they are located in city neighborhoods, are separated from businesses by vast parking lots. These large, empty (or car filled), asphalt areas deter fans from frequenting nearby businesses, which diminishes the stadium’s economic impact.

Coors Field

Coors was only baseball’s second “retro-classic” ballpark. These parks have all the amenities of modern stadiums but resemble the “jewel box” ballparks of the early twentieth century. These aesthetic features include “green seats, bricks, stone and green exposed steel.”3

The first “retro-classic” ballpark, Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, opened just a few years before Coors. Interestingly, the architectural firm, HOK Sports (now Populous), designed both Oriole Park and Camden Yards. 4

Similar to Camden Yards, HOK wanted to instill a 1920s, and 30s feel in Denver’s new ballpark. As such, it includes an outer facade of hand-laid brick. There is a clock tower above the main entrance, and its location is close to the Union Pacific railroad tracks. 5

It also has an asymmetric outfield, similar to the ballparks of old. However, unlike Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, the two remaining “jewel box” ballparks, Coors’ outfield is enormous. It is the largest field in baseball, covering 2.66 acres, one-third of an acre larger than Fenway, baseball’s smallest. 6

Is High Altitude a Factor?

Coors’ vast outfield is meant to offset the effects of the ballpark’s high altitude. However, it is so large that it creates many opportunities for offense to dominate the game. Since, outfielders have so much ground to cover, balls that are catchable on other fields, fall in for hits. At the same time, the vast outfield and use of a humidor somewhat suppresses the excessive number of home runs. However, balls in the air still leave the park at incredible rates.

The home run explosion caused people to refer to the park as “Coors Canaveral,” referring to “Cape Canaveral” where they launch rockets.

“Coors Canaveral”

The supporting data are indisputable.

L.A.’s Wrigley Field
Ballparks of Baseball

In its first year, teams hit 241 home runs at Coors. This sizeable amount was just seven homers short of the record for most home runs in a ballpark. Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, the original home of the Angels, set the record of 248 in 1961. However, Coors would likely have broken Wrigley’s record if the players’ strike had not shortened the season by nine games. 7

The next year, Coors easily broke the record with 271 home runs. It demolished that record in 1999 with 303 home runs. 8

Since 2000:9

  • Coors led MLB in runs scored eleven out of the last nineteen seasons. It was second in another five of those years.
  • Similarly, Coors led MLB in base hits in fourteen of the nineteen years, including the last twelve years, consecutively. Additionally, it finished second three times.
  • Coors tends to be near the top of the league in doubles and triples, as well.
  • Finally, it’s also been one of the top three home run ballparks in twelve of these nineteen years.

“Most Exciting Park in History”

The Rockies have a confounding relationship with the altitude question. While they publicize Coors as the “Most Exciting Park in History,” they tend to minimize the altitude as the cause.

Coors Field
Mile High Sports

For example, they acknowledge that a baseball travels 9% farther in Denver than at sea level. Using this estimate, they calculate that a 400ft home run at Yankee Stadium (sea level) would travel 440ft in Denver. However, they claim the offensive output is part of a general trend in the game. After all, they argue, other teams have more hits and higher batting averages than the Rockies. While this may be true, by focusing only on the Rockies output, they ignore the more accurate number of hits that all teams compile at Coors.

They also argue that Mark McGuire hit only one home run (of seventy) at Coors when he broke Roger Maris’ record. Additionally, a no-hitter and fourteen shutouts have been pitched there.

Finally, there is the wind. They claim that an average (ten miles per average) tailwind causes a 400ft home run to travel 430ft. “So, it’s easy to see how a good tailwind can beat high altitude for home-run hitting any day.” 10

However, holding the variables constant makes for a more accurate comparison. It’s preferable to assume that the same ten mph tailwind at Yankee Stadium is behind the hitter at Coors. Thus, at Yankee Stadium, there would be wind, while Coors would have wind and high altitude. If so, while the 400ft Yankee Stadium wind-aided homer would go 430ft, it would travel 473ft in Denver.

It’s hard to see how altitude is not a significant factor at Coors.

Altitude’s Effect on Baseballs – The Science

Three forces affect the way a pitched or batted ball behaves.

Coors Field
RPP Baseball Training & Development

The first is gravity. The other two, “Drag Force” and “Magnus Force” are aerodynamic and change with the altitude. 11

A baseball travels through the air due to the force that the pitcher or hitter applies. While the players’ actions are pushing the ball forward, “Drag Force” pushes the ball backward, slowing it down.

“Magnus Force” effects the way a spinning ball moves. A fastball’s backward spin has an upward Magnus Force, and thus it doesn’t drop as quickly. Conversely, a curveball’s topspin has a downward Magnus Force, that pushes it down. Sliders and cutters have horizontal Magnus Forces that make the ball move into or away from the hitter.

Drag and Magnus Forces are proportional to air density, which is lower at higher altitudes. Air density in Denver is 82% of that at sea level. That means that Drag and Magnus Forces at Coors are only 82% as effective as at Yankee Stadium.

While the lighter density allows a pitched ball to move faster, it also doesn’t allow it to spin as it should. Even though the ball moves more quickly, it tends to travel a straight path and is easier to hit. Then, when it’s hit in the air, the ball has less drag and goes further.

The Humidor

Denver Post

After the record-breaking 1990s, the Rockies wanted to reduce the number of home runs hit at Coors. A Coors Field engineer named Tony Caldwell suggested that they try storing baseballs in a humidor. Caldwell, an active outdoorsman, noticed that his leather boots became uncomfortable at higher altitudes because they dried out. He assumed that the same was happening to the baseballs and that they needed moisture. Caldwell felt that the ball’s dryness had as much of an effect as did the low air density. 12

In 2002, the Rockies experimented with Caldwell’s suggestion and stored their game balls in a humidor. The humidor maintained a consistent 50% humidity, which was higher than Denver’s 30% humidity. 13

The extra moisture made the ball heavier and thus reduced batted balls’ exit velocity. It also decreased the ball’s “coefficient of restitution,” meaning it didn’t bounce as high. Both factors made the ball less likely to travel as far when hit. 14

Did it work? Between 2002 and 2010, the Rockies hit 25% fewer home runs at Coors Field. Their home runs per game dropped from 3.20 to 2.39. In the same period, their home runs hit on the road remained relatively constant, 1.86 vs. 1.93. 15

While the altitude is still a factor at Coors, storing the balls in the humidor made its effect less extreme.

Coors Must Be The Easiest Place to Hit Home Runs… “Barrels”

However, some suggest that even in lower altitudes, it’s easier to hit homers in some other ballparks. They argue that in those ballparks, even weak hit balls result in home runs.

Coors Field
INTOAROUTE

To hit a ball solidly, the ball needs to hit the bat at just the right spot. If the ball meets the bat too close to the handle or end of the bat, it won’t go that far. There are similar behaviors if the bat only hits the top or bottom of the ball.

In short, the ball needs to hit the barrel of the bat. The rate that they hit the barrel can be measured.

Statcast” (a system that captures very detailed data for everything that happens during a game), assigns a hit ball to one of six categories. It classifies hard-hit balls at a specific launch angle as “Barreled.” It calls slightly less well-hit balls, “Solid Contact.” There are also four classifications of weak hit balls. 16

A researcher found that there are six ballparks where weak hit balls leave the park at a faster rate than Coors Field. Thus, they concluded that home runs are easier to hit in those parks. 17

However, these ballparks are also smaller than the average ballpark and at least half an acre smaller than Coors Field. 18

Yes, Coors’ Altitude is a Factor in its Offensive Production

“Humidors or no humidors, Coors Field has been—and will continue to be—the most extreme hitter-friendly park in baseball due to its high altitude. It’s something the team has embraced.”

Rick Weiner 19

Clearly, in the 1990s, the altitude was a factor in the rate of home runs hit at Coors. In those years, it set records that still stand today.

Since then, the use of a humidor diminishes the number of home runs hit in Colorado’s high altitude. However, even with altered baseballs, Coors Field is still a hitter’s dream and a pitcher’s nightmare.

While some small ballparks allow for more weak hit home runs than Coors, twenty-three ballparks allow fewer. Additionally, Coors has the largest field in baseball and still allows for many soft hit home runs.

Moreover, while the size of Coors’ outfield helps control the number of homers, these dimensions enable many base hits. Coors Field leads the majors in most hits because outfielders have to cover so much ground.

All in all, my expectation for Tuesday’s game was that each team would score a lot of runs. While the expected offensive display did not happen, the perils of pitching at Coors were quite apparent.

Tuesday Night in Denver

Getting to Coors

Coors Field

Locating Denver’s airport, twenty-five miles from the city, always seemed like a royal, expensive pain. My transportation choices were either a costly taxi (now Uber or Lyft) or a rental car. Accordingly, my previous visit was strictly a driving affair. I stayed in one of the hotels near the airport and drove a rental to and from the city.

For this trip, I planned to use Uber, since the costs weren’t more than renting a car. Moreover, it would be safer because I expected to be tired when I left the ballpark that night. Better to have someone drive me.

When I arrived in Denver, I was surprised to learn that there was now a train from the airport to the city. It is just a 40-minute ride on the RTD to Union Station which is a short walk to Coors Field. Even better, there was a train stop near my hotel that I could get to on the hotel’s airport shuttle. After the game, I took the train back to the airport and caught the hotel shuttle from there.

It’s nice to find a ballpark where you can fly in, the morning of a game, and fly out late that night. Or, if there’s not a late flight, you can wait at the airport for an early one the next morning. Nationals Park in D.C. is perfect for that type of trip, and now Coors Field is as well.

Up to “The Rooftop”

As usual, I got to Coors Field a few hours early to experience the ballpark.

First, I walked from Union Station up Wynkoop Street towards 20th street and the brick ballpark that I could see in the distance. The walk took me past brick buildings containing bars and restaurants.

I turned right and walked up to the main entrance at the corner of Blake and 20th. This location is where you can see the clock above the entrance and the statue called “The Player.” The statue itself is quite nondescript and somewhat reminiscent of the Babe Ruth statue outside Baltimore’s Oriole Park.

Then I went inside, bought my Rockies cap, and made my way up to the Rooftop. The Rockies added “The Rooftop) to the upper deck over right field to attract younger fans. 20 It is a thirty-eight thousand square foot area with a series of bars and food concessions. You can spend the entire game there. Or, for the cost of just $16 for a Standing Room Only ticket, you can spend the entire game there.21 I’d enjoy spending time at The Rooftop if I lived in Denver.

Of course, the best part of The Rooftop is its view of the Rocky Mountains. Unfortunately, the mountains are far from Coors, so the view is not as immediate as the bay at Oracle Park or PNC’s view of the Pittsburgh skyline. However, the mountains are still impressive, and this is the only part of Coors where you can see them.

Watching The Mets and The Scoreboard

One of the best parts of a season of baseball travel is seeing your favorite team at many different venues. During my journey through all the MLB stadiums, I was able to see the Mets play ten times. I saw the Mets twice in Spring Training; a third game was rained out. Then I saw them on opening day in Washington D.C. and in Philadelphia on Jackie Robinson Day. Later, in May, I saw them in San Diego and in July, twice at home against the Yankees. Then, in mid-July, I saw them play twice in Minnesota. Now, two months later, I was seeing them for the last time. And I was watching the scoreboard.

Stadium Journey

If a baseball fan is lucky, they get to watch their team in a pennant race. That kind of joy doesn’t often happen for Mets fans. However, this year, the Mets were sprinting for the finish line. Mets fans everywhere were watching the scoreboard every night to see if they were winning and if others were losing.

When the Mets arrived in Denver, they still had a slim chance of making the playoffs. With twelve games to play, they were four games behind Milwaukee and tied with the Phillies. All three teams were chasing the fading Cubs.

However, they still had a chance and were playing great ball. After a desultory first half, they were ten games under .500 at the All-Star break. Then they went on a tear, winning forty-six of their last seventy-two games. Over that period, they were the fourth hottest team in baseball. 22

They gave fans hope, and hope is all that matters to a baseball fan.

Tale of Two Pitchers

The Mets’ Marcus Stroman faced the Rockies’, Tim Melville.

Marcus Stroman
Jim McIsaac

The Mets acquired Stroman from the Toronto Blue Jays, a few months before at the trading deadline. Since then, he had not pitched well, and the Mets were hoping he would regain some of his old form. In his five and a half years in Toronto, Stroman was one of the better pitchers in the game. 23

Twenty-eight-year-old, Stroman is a diminutive 5’ 7” and 180 pounds. 24 When he is on, Stroman is perfect for Coors Field. He throws a mixture of sliders and cutters that dart in and away from the hitter. Their movement forces the hitter to hit a lot of ground balls. Remember, in the high altitude; it’s better to keep the ball on the ground and thus in the ballpark.

Melville was one of the “feel-good” stories of the Rockies’ season. He was a twenty-nine-year-old rookie, finally getting his shot to pitch regularly in the big leagues.

Coors Field
Tim Melville
SBNation – Purple Row

It was quite a change of fortune. Melville started 2019, working at “Little Miss BBQ” in Phoenix, Arizona. Still, in Phoenix on opening day, he watched the Red Sox play the Diamondbacks in the stands with his girlfriend.25

Then the Rockies purchased Melville’s contract from the Long Island Ducks in May. Previous to his stint in Long Island, Melville spent most of a decade bouncing around baseball. Over the years, he played in the Royals, Tigers, Reds, Twins, Padres, and Orioles organizations. In August, he made his first major league start of the year. 26

Melville’s Night

“I just got away from what I was doing — keeping the ball down”

Tim Melville 27

For the game’s first five innings, Melville and Stroman kept the opposition scoreless. Each had the same line after the fifth – no runs, two hits, no errors. 28

Melville faced only fifteen hitters, in the early innings (the minimum number possible), as he paired each baserunner allowed with a double play. His effectiveness was due to his ability to keep the ball down. In those innings, he struck out two and gave up nine ground balls, and two liners. There was only one fly ball. 29

Pete Alonso Twitter (@ESPNStatsInfo)

Everything changed in the sixth inning. After Todd Frazier led off the inning with a ground ball single, Melville hung a slider to Ahmed Rosario. A “hanging slider” is a breaking pitch that doesn’t break. Instead, it sort of hangs in the middle of the strike zone and begs the hitter to hit it. Rosario deposited the pitch in the left field seats.30

With one out, Melville left another slider up and over the plate, and Brandon Nimmo hit it out of the park. 31

Finally, with two outs, major league-leading home run hitter, Pete Alonso worked a three-ball, no-strike count. Not wanting to walk Alonso, Melville threw a fastball down the middle, and Alonso “barreled” it 467 feet. 32

We can overemphasize how Coors’ altitude affects a game. Pitching the way Melville did in the first five innings works everywhere, and his sixth-inning approach works nowhere. However, the strategy is especially crucial at Coors.

Stroman’s Night

“We couldn’t solve him.”

“He had “good movement in the hitting area”

“We just didn’t square many pitches up”

Bud Black, Rockies Manager 33

Stroman was better than Melville and able to avoid hard-hit fly balls. He scattered just four hits over seven innings while striking out seven and inducing six groundouts. Most importantly, He allowed the Rockies to hit only six balls in the air. 34 Likely, none of them were “barreled.”

“Never did Stroman sweat much in this one. He allowed just four hits, retiring 13 of the first 15 batters that he faced while leaning more heavily on his cut fastball than in any previous start.”

“During Tuesday’s start, Stroman “figured something out with my cutter,” using his mechanics and grip to increase or decrease the break of it as he saw fit. Given newfound confidence in the pitch, Stroman threw a season-high 42 cutters, mixing them with 33 sinkers that broke in the opposite direction.”

Anthony DiComo35

On this specific night, Stroman showed people how to pitch at Coors Field. Next time might be different, but that’s why I love the game. There are no sure things.

Back on the Train

The Rockies finally scored with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Charlie Blackmon, “barreled” a 3-2 changeup into the upper deck in right field, 445 feet away. The ball likely landed near The Rooftop, where I had a hot dog and a beer before the game. However, I didn’t see the home run. I was already on the train, heading back to the airport to shuttle back to my hotel. I had to be up early the next morning to travel to Phoenix.

Another great day on the road.

Continue Reading “Barreling” in Colorado

Back to Florida – St. Petersburg

April’s Lost Weekend

I had to find way my way back to Florida.

My first trip to Florida was early in my summer’s thirty stadium journey. I’d been to Spring Training, Opening Day in D.C and the Jackie Robinson Celebration in Philadelphia. Two ballparks down, twenty-eight to go, and I felt the pressure to stay on schedule.

I worried that if I missed a stop, I wouldn’t be able to find a way to get back to that ballpark. Of course, if I didn’t go back, I’d fail in my attempt to visit all the ballparks in one season.

On Friday the 19th, just a couple of days after I returned from Philadelphia, I took an early morning flight to Miami. I was going to see the Marlins that night.

That night went as planned, although I felt a little tired and a little out of it. On the other hand, I started early that morning. I should feel tired.

When I woke on Saturday morning, things had changed. Tired and dizzy, I wondered if I could make the three-hour drive to St. Petersburg. I soldiered on and started to drive to St. Petersburg. However, an hour north of the city, I realized I couldn’t go on.

I slowly drove back to a hotel near the Miami Airport and, all the time, feeling defeated and doubtful. Would there be a way to get back to St. Petersburg? Would I be able to get to all the stadiums?

I slept the rest of the day until the next afternoon, and then the somewhat defeated Nomad flew home.

I knew that I had to find my way back to Florida.

Going Home

Over the summer, I revisited my past haunts. In August, I walked through the Bronx neighborhood where I was born, and my extended family lived. The following week, I went to Fenway. Mrs. Nomad and I have fond memories of our visits there when we lived in New England. Earlier in the summer, Nomad the Younger and I drove by the house where we lived in St. Louis. Then we drove by the office I worked in, near where she went to daycare. Finally, I went to Cleveland, where my father lived, and we saw so many games together before he died.

Now I was in St. Petersburg, where we lived when I was young.

We moved to St. Petersburg when I was five. At the time, we were a family of four. The year after we moved, a new baby brother arrived. Eighteen months later, another brother came.

Mets World Champions
Bettman Archive

I went to elementary and middle school in St. Petersburg. It’s where I played little league baseball and went to spring training games at Al Lang Field with my father. I remember sitting in Mr. Wilson’s Earth Science class in 1969 when they announced that the Mets were World Champions. The Mets were the closest thing I knew to a “home team” since they trained in St. Pete. Of course, I was from New York, so winning reaffirmed my home town pride for my birthplace and newly adopted home town.

I was yearning to visit where I spent some of my formative years. Where I experienced the sixties, the Civil Rights Movement, too many televised assassinations, men walking on the moon, and a war that I had yet to understand.

I was intrigued to go back.

Central Avenue to Al Lang Field

Since I arrived late on Friday night, September 6th, I only had the early part of Saturday to experience St. Petersburg. I couldn’t do more because I was going to the game on Saturday night and flying home on Sunday.

In the fifty or so years since we left St. Pete, the city has experienced a resurgence.

”Fueling the city’s vibrancy is a robust art community and a craft beer scene that continues to bubble and brew. ‘God’s waiting room’ as it was once known, is more like a heavenly rave these days, with downtown bursting on weekend nights with music and street life.”

Janet K. Keeler 1
Al Lang Field
Al Lang Field Then…..
St. Petersburg Time- Fred Victorin via The Historical Images Outlet

Central Avenue is one of these resurgent areas and just a few blocks north of Tropicana Field. It was a short walk for me since I was staying just a block south of the stadium.

Al Lang Field
Al Lang Field Now….

I walked down Central, past eclectic restaurants, bars, and art galleries until I was surprised to see signs for Al Lang Stadium. I turned right on 1st Street and there it was, now refurbished as a soccer stadium. It didn’t look like I remembered it, some fifty-odd years ago, yet I fondly remembered going there with my father.

Lou Brock
CMG Worldwide

In those days, the powerful Cardinals trained in St. Petersburg, winning three pennants and two World Series. I was used to seeing great players like Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and Roger Maris.

My little walk turned into a hot, sweaty, 5-mile hike. When I finally got back to my hotel, I showered, rested, and got ready for the night’s baseball.

How the Rays Came to St. Petersburg

The Stalking Horse

“St. Petersburg had become a stalking horse.”

Jonah Keri 2

In 1997, the Tampa Bay community formed the Pinellas Sports Authority to build a stadium and acquire a team. In the early eighties, before building the stadium, they made unsuccessful efforts to buy the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers. Finally, in 1986 the St. Petersburg City Council agreed to build Tropicana Field without any promise of securing a franchise. It was a risky gamble that paid off. In 1995, MLB awarded the city an expansion team.3 The “Devil Rays” started play at Tropicana Field in 1998. Twelve long years after the vote to fund the stadium.

Acquiring the expansion Devil Rays was anything but easy. Instead, it was a difficult and frustrating, almost two-decade slog. Many teams used the threat to move to St. Petersburg to obtain lucrative new stadium deals in their home cities. The Twins, Rangers, Mariners, White Sox, Giants, and A’s all negotiated with the Sports Authority. Only the A’s, failed in their attempt to get a new stadium in their home city. 4

The White Sox and the Giants came the closest to moving to St. Petersburg. Each ultimately failed.

The White Sox – Sorry, No Deal

In the early 1980s, new White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn wanted to replace aging Comiskey Field. However, the state would not finance the effort. So the team made plans to leave for Florida. 5 In 1988, they agreed to bring the White Sox to Florida.

Tom Nickens Photo

However, Illinois Governor Jim Thompson wouldn’t let the White Sox leave. On June 30th, with a midnight deadline looming, he ceaselessly negotiated and lobbied with state legislators to keep the White Sox in Chicago. Approaching midnight and without enough votes to pass the necessary legislation, Thompson took the extraordinary step and had the statehouse clocks stopped. The bill passed after midnight. 6

Meanwhile, in Florida, where fans who were already buying Florida White Sox t-shirts, the frustration was palpable.

The White Sox now play in “a soulless, modern object stuck in the middle of parking lot.”7 called Guaranteed Rate Field. Interestingly, this is also an apt description for Tropicana Field.

The Giants – Sorry, No Deal – Again

After their White Sox heartbreak, St. Petersburg tried to win one of the expansion franchises awarded in 1991. Unfortunately, in a surprise last-minute decision, MLB selected Miami, instead of St. Petersburg as expected. It was another heartbreaking loss.

The next year, St. Petersburg turned its attention to San Francisco, who wanted to leave cold and windy Candlestick Park. Similar to the White Sox’s situation, the Giants could not get public support for a new ballpark. 8

In August, Giants’ owner Bob Lurie agreed to sell the team to future Rays’ owner Vincent Naimoli. Naimoli would, in turn, move the team to St. Petersburg.9

Neither Major League Baseball, Giants fans, or Mayor Willie Brown wanted the Giants to leave San Francisco. Everyone’s preference was to find a local owner who would keep the Giants in San Francisco. Finally, in November, Peter Magowan agreed to purchase the team and keep them in San Francisco. In turn, the owners voted against the Florida deal. With a final bit of frustration for St. Petersburg, Magowan’s offer was $11 million less than Naimoli’s. 10

Naimoli, as well as city and state government officials, understandably believed that the process was unfair. A series of lawsuits and a congressional investigation followed. These actions likely helped their cause. In 1995, MLB awarded St. Petersburg its franchise when they expanded again.11

The Giants moved into their beautiful ballpark overlooking San Francisco Bay in 2000.

The Trop’s Esthetics

“……Unfortunately, the Rays have the worst home park in MLB to which to draw those folks. It’s an absolute dump. It’s horribly located, poorly lit, utterly lacking in both charm and intelligent design.”

Matt Trueblood 12

Tropicana Field was almost ten years old when the Devil Rays started to play in 1998. During those years, it remained empty, with occasional sporting events – tennis, arena football, and hockey – and concerts.13 In the meantime, ballpark design changed drastically. New ballparks followed the retro style trend began when the Orioles opened Camden Yards in 1992 to rave reviews.

Even if done well, The Trop’s utilitarian design would dissatisfy baseball fans who enjoyed the charm of these new ballparks. Frankly, it’s the kind of stadium that I loathe. It’s an all-purpose, domed stadium that has few outstanding features other than they play baseball inside.

My first-row seat in the “lower box,” on the aisle just above the field level seats was disappointing. The seat was almost as uncomfortably cramped as my small seat at 107-year-old Fenway Park. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much legroom either. To make matters worse, my view was blocked by the raised railing in front of the aisle.

Considering that my ticket cost $70, I can understand why fans have second thoughts about going to the Trop. It can be an expensive and uncomfortable experience.

The Rays Attendance Problem

The Rays have an extreme attendance problem.

Tampa Bay ranked last or next to last in American League attendance in seventeen of their twenty-two seasons. However, their continued weak attendance isn’t a function of the team’s poor play. In five of the last twelve years, they finished first or second and appeared in the playoffs. In 2009, the year the Rays played in the World Series, Sadly, their attendance ranked eleventh out of fourteen teams. 14

Baseball attendance for both teams in Florida is so bad that many wonder if professional baseball can exist there. For example, in the last two seasons, their attendance ranked 29th and 30th in the major leagues.

What’s Wrong With Florida Baseball?

The poor state of Florida baseball surprises people since it is one of the two states that host spring training. However, many of the fans who attend the “Grapefruit League” are on vacation and not Florida residents. They are not there during the season. 15

Other issues affecting attendance are:

Vince Naimoli
Collier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Florida fans are transient, many move there from other parts of the country. Baseball fans bring their original allegiances with them. So while there may be baseball fans in Florida, only a small proportion are Marlins or Rays fans. 16
  • To a certain extent, the teams have not been competitive. The Marlins’ last playoff appearance was in 2003. Although the Rays made the playoffs in five of the previous twelve years, their first ten years were awful.
  • Bad ownership is another problem. Vince Naimoli, the Rays’ first owner, created “a perception he was more interested in making money than winning.”17 In so doing, the Rays had a poor chance of gaining a popular following. 18 Moreover, South Florida fans considered long time Marlins’ owner Jeffery Loria, only somewhat more favorably than Fidel Castro. 19

It’s Hard to Get to The Trop

“It all boils down to the worst-kept secret in Tampa Bay sports, Tropicana Field was built on the wrong side of the bay.”

Noah Pransky 20
Howard Frankland Bridge
Tampa Bay Times

Tropicana Field is roughly a twenty-mile drive across the bay from the Tampa International Airport. However, what should be a 20-minute drive over the Howard Frankland Bridge on interstate 275 can take much longer, due to congestion on these roads.

Moreover, the Airport is on Tampa’s west side, far from the populated areas north and east of the city. 21 Traveling from those areas can take much longer.

“Fan out to population centers east of Tampa—Hillsborough County’s fast-growing Brandon, for example—and you could be looking at two-plus hours, coming and going, to see a Rays game on a weeknight. Northern bedroom communities face similar hair-pulling commutes. Greater Orlando’s two million-plus residents are theoretically within range, with a ninety-minute jaunt from its southwestern suburbs to the ballpark on paper—but that trip is an exercise in vehicular masochism for those who dare chance it during rush hour.”

Jonah Keri 22

Locating a new ballpark in Tampa makes a lot of sense. However, it’s hard to see how St. Petersburg would agree to the move, and they hold the Rays’ lease at the Trop through 2027.

The Neighborhood Around Tropicana Field Has Few Residents

If the Rays can’t draw enough people from Tampa and its outlying areas, they need to attract fans from the surrounding communities. However, that is also problematic, since few live near the stadium.

”Only 19% of Tampa Bay residents live within a thirty-minute drive of the Trop—by far the smallest percentage of any MLB market. Seattle, with roughly the same population base, counts two and a half times as many residents in a half-hour driving radius. Every market smaller than Tampa Bay counts at least half its residents within thirty minutes of the ballpark.”

Jonah Keri 23

The Trop sits in the on 66 acres of land 24 surrounded by nine vast parking lots and bordered by two highways. As such, it is the antithesis of a neighborhood ballpark where fans patronize businesses that closely surround the park. Instead, fans park their cars, walk into the stadium and after the game, get back in their cars and drive home.

The barriers created by the parking lots and highways inhibits the Trop from helping the local economy. One study suggested that that the stadium generates no more than $10 million of economic impact in the community that surrounds it.25

The Rays Success

“The Rays have no fan base to speak of, play in a dump and are stuck in a division with the two biggest spenders around. Yet somehow, they put up 90 wins in 2018, equal to or more than 20 other teams.”

Paul Ladewski 26

I, for one, am fascinated by how the Rays stay competitive.

In 2004, Stuart Sternberg purchased a 48% share of the currently named “Devil Rays.” The following year, he became the managing partner and started to make long, overdue organizational changes. Over the next few years, the team would change their name – the “Devil Rays” became the “Rays,” their uniforms, and, most importantly, their philosophy.

Rays
Stuart Sternberg
Money Inc.

The new philosophy came with members of the Front Office staff that Sternberg brought into the organization. Sternberg and Team President, Matthew Silverman met at Goldman Sachs when they worked as investment bankers. Twenty-eight-year old Andrew Friedman, the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, was an analyst at Bears Sterns and MidMark Capital. 27

Although all three are baseball fans, their skills in evaluating investment opportunities dominated their baseball strategy.

“Though their backgrounds were somewhat different, all three men shared an ability to recognize value in a company and to pull off successful deals.”

Jonah Keri28

Positive Arbitrage

“To Friedman, every trade, signing, and draft pick was part of a greater process. The Rays searched for ways to create situations of, as Friedman called it, “positive arbitrage.” In financial markets, arbitrage refers to the concept of simultaneously buying one asset and selling another, where the asset you’re buying is cheaper than the one you’re selling;”

Jonah Keri 29
Andrew Friedman
Getty Images

Even though Friedman is now the Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations, the Rays seem to have continued the philosophy that he, Sternberg, and Silverman introduced. 30

The Rays use analytics and data to find the players that other teams don’t want. At the same time, they trade players whose value is peaking, but they cannot afford. In so doing, they get maximum return.

They also offer recommendations as to ways the players should change their game to be more successful.

“While 29 other teams thought Charlie Morton was too old (he’s 35) or too fragile (he never had exceeded 172 innings) or too risky (give me age, give me brittleness, don’t give me both), the Rays were smitten. He set career highs in starts (33), innings (194⅔) and strikeouts (240). He should finish third in AL Cy Young voting. His five innings in the wild-card game allowed home runs from Diaz, Tommy Pham and Garcia — two others cast out by their teams — to stand up.”

Jeff Passon 31

“The Envy of Baseball”

“The ability of the Rays to consistently find ways to field competitive teams in the face of long odds has made their front office the envy of baseball. It has also caused the franchise to lose many of its top executives.”

John Perrotto 32

A short list of the executives that started with the Rays and have moved on to other teams includes:

Friedman became the President of Baseball Operations with the Dodgers in 2014

Chaim Bloom
Tampa Bay Rays Web Site
  • Chaim Bloom, the Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, became the Boston Red Sox Head of Baseball Operations in October 2019.
  • James Click, the Vice President of Baseball Operations, succeeded Bloom but then became the Houston Astros General Manager in February.
  • Rocco Baldelli won the Manager of the Year award with the Minnesota Twins last year. Previously, he was a Rays player and held a series of coaching and front office positions with the organization.
  • Charlie Montoya managed the Rays Triple Rays affiliate for years. He then became their major league third base and then bench coach. In 2018 he was hired to manage the Toronto Blue Jays

”We have great organizational leadership, strong faith in our ability to regenerate, and we have supreme confidence in the men and women who will be stepping up into their newfound opportunities and responsibilities. That is the Rays way. It is who we are, it is what we do.”

Stuart Sternberg 33

Saturday Night at The Trop

“More Cowbell?”

I dealt with my cramped seats but found the cowbells annoying as hell. The cowbells were inspired by the famous Saturday Night Live Sketch, with Will Farrell and Christopher Walken. It’s the sketch that reimagines the Blue Oyster Cult “Don’t Fear the Reaper” recording session. As the band plays, Farrell bangs his cowbell wildly, Walken, frequently interrupts, and demands “more cowbell!”

Sternberg thought it would be a good idea to distribute cowbells to the fans, have them make as much noise as possible, and gain a home field advantage. It became a “thing” and they still do it. 34 I hated it.

Pure Rays Fashion – The Curious Case of Travis d”Arnaud

Other than said cowbells, I enjoyed the game.

Anthony Kay made his first major league start with the Blue Jays after a mid-season trade with the Mets. In exchange, the Mets received talented, veteran pitcher, Marcus Stroman. Kay had an excellent debut, striking out eight in five and two-thirds innings. When he left the game, he was ahead and left the game with a one-run lead.

However, the Rays came back, in pure Rays fashion thanks to another ex-Met, Travis d’Arnaud.

Rays
Travs d’Arnaud
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In December, the Mets tendered d’Arnaud a $3.5 million contract even though he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, they released him in May when d’Arnaud had trouble with his timing at the plate.

Travis left with his $3.5 million and promptly signed with the Dodgers. However, the Dodgers promptly traded d’Arnaud to the Rays for cash considerations. That’s when he started to play well. Statistically, d’Arnaud’s performance was similar to Mets catcher Wilson Ramos.35 The Rays and possibly Dodgers saw something in d’Arnaud that the Mets did not.

In tonight’s game, d’Arnaud singled and scored the tying run in the seventh inning. Later, he hit a sacrifice fly that scored what would be the winning run.

In true Rays fashion, they picked up d’Arnaud, a guy that the Mets didn’t want, and paid him $428.6 thousand. Conversely, The Mets paid Wilson Ramos, d’Arnaud’s replacement, $7.5 million. The Ray’s won 96 games and went to the playoffs, the Mets won 86 games and went home. In the offseason, d’Arnaud signed a two-year $16 million deal with the Braves.36

Also, in true Rays fashion, there weren’t enough fans to start a wave in the eighth inning.

Home

I flew home on Sunday and got ready for my last big trip of the season. It would be two weeks through Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Denver, Phoenix, and Detroit. The end was near, but I had a long way to go.

Meanwhile, I was happy that I got back to Florida, and saw the quirky Rays play in their odd ballpark. I still can’t handle the cowbells, though.

Continue Reading Back to Florida – St. Petersburg

Pittsburgh’s Working Class Icons

Pittsburgh isn’t fancy, but it is real. It’s a working town and money doesn’t come easy. I feel as much a part of this city as the cobblestone streets and the steel mills, people in this town expect an honest day’s work, and I’ve it (sic) to them for a long, long time.”

Willie Stargell 1

Pittsburgh has shed its working-class roots and is now a shining example of a post-industrial city. However, my love of baseball’s history makes it hard to separate today’s modern city from the hard-nosed players of the past, who made Pittsburgh into such a storied baseball town. These were the ones that lived up to the fan’s expectations for an “honest day’s work.” Guys like Honus Wagner, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and members of the city’s Negro League teams, certainly fit the bill.

The Wrong Pitch

“I don’t know what the pitch was. All I know is it was the wrong one.”

Ralph Terry 2
Mazeroski Home Run
pophistorydig.com

At 3:36 PM on October 13, 1960, William Stanley Mazeroski hit Ralph Terry’s 1 – 0 pitch over Forbes Field’s ivy topped, left field brick wall to make the Pittsburgh Pirates World Champions. His home run shocked the world and gave Pittsburgh a bright moment to always savor.

In 1960, Mazeroski was in the fifth year of his seventeen-year Hall of Fame career. Mazeroski played for what was essentially his hometown team. He was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, roughly sixty miles from Pittsburgh and raised in nearby Witch Hazel, Ohio. Bill lived with his parents and sister in a small one-room dwelling with no indoor plumbing or electricity. 3

Mazeroski
Berra
pophistorydig.com

Similar to Honus Wagner, the other iconic Pirate infielder, Mazeroski’s father was a coal miner of Eastern European descent. Mazeroski was of Polish descent, while Wagner’s parents were German immigrants. 4

The lifetime Pirate was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee based on his defensive prowess.5 He wasn’t flashy, was a mediocre hitter, but was a superior second baseman.

The Weird 1960 World Series

The mighty 1960 Yankees were the favorites to win the Series. After all, they had just won their eleventh American League pennant in fourteen years. 6

On the other hand, the public had few expectations for the Pirates. Their pennant was just their first in thirty-three years and only their fifth of the century. They were known as the “Battlin’ Bucs” since they had won 28 games after being tied or behind after the sixth inning.7 They were a fighting and scrappy bunch.

It was a weird and exciting Series.

When the Yankees won, they won big. In their three winning games, the scores were 16 – 3, 10 – 0, 12 – 0. Moreover, they outscored the Pirates 55 – 27 in the seven games. 8 Yet, for all their dominance, they couldn’t shake the Pirates. They left New York to play the final two games of the Series behind three games to two. The Yankees had to win game six to force the seventh game.

Mazeroski home run
pophistorydig.com

The final game was a seesaw affair. The Pirates fell behind in the early innings and were losing by three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Battling back as they were want to do, the scored five to go ahead, 9 – 7. Facing elimination, the Yankees tied the game in the top of the ninth.9

Mazeroski’s Home Run

Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Mazeroski’s leadoff home run ended the game. The upstart Pirates beat the powerful Yankees and were world champions. Pittsburgh has never forgotten the moment that Mazeroski’s ball flew over Forbes Field’s walls.

It was a towering fly ball that sailed over the ivy-covered, left field wall, 406 feet from home plate. As it did so, Yogi Berra, playing left field that day, turned and sadly ran towards the dugout. That piece of the wall is outside Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, behind a statue of Mazeroski celebrating his accomplishment as he rounds the bases. His cap is in his right hand with both of his arms triumphantly raised in the air.

Forbes Field’s Walls

Forbes Field

What remains of the rest of Forbes Field’s walls are still standing where they always stood. However, the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and other parts of the University of Pittsburgh now occupy the area where the rest of Forbes Field stood.

On a sunny Saturday morning, I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of Forbes’ remaining walls. Trees have grown in what used to be the outfield. A granite sign announcing the school of business is between me, the trees, and the ivy topped walls.

FOrbes Field

I follow the line of red bricks inlaid in the sidewalk that outline where the rest of the outfield wall stood 10 as I walk over to nearby Pozvar Hall.

Forbes Field’s home plate is inside the building. “Near the spot where the likes of Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron once batted, and where Babe Ruth launched the final three home runs of his career.”11 Superstitious students visit home plate before big exams, for good luck. Every October, fans gather to celebrate Mazeroski’s home run on the anniversary of the event.

Forbes Field

Note that home plate is only “near” its original spot because the actual location is in the nearby women’s room.12 Thus are the vagaries of history

Columbus at Dawn

Earlier that morning, I left Columbus before the sun came up to make the three-hour drive to Pittsburgh. I left early so that I would have time to visit the Forbes Field location before attending that afternoon’s game between the Cubs and the Pirates at PNC Park. The teams were scheduled to play the following night’s game at the Little League World Series. Playing in the afternoon gave them time to make the short three-hour drive to Williamsport that evening.

My morning drive capped off a great week of baseball travel. On Wednesday, I drove to Cleveland to see the Indians play the Red Sox. The next day, I drove from Cleveland to Cincinnati to see the Reds play the Cardinals. Friday, I drove to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory and then back to Columbus. Saturday morning, I headed to Pittsburgh, pushing east into the morning sun as the dark sky turned to dawn. I drove over West Virginia’s hills, into Pennsylvania and finally through the Fort Pitt Tunnel under Mt. Washington.

On my approach to the tunnel, all I could see was the mountain towering in front of me. Then I was in the long, tile-lined tunnel with cars on either side. When I exited from the two-thirds of a mile expanse, Pittsburgh seemed to explode in front of me. It was possibly the most dramatic entrance to a city that I’ve seen. The drive from mountain to tunnel with nothing to see transformed into Pittsburgh everywhere. Pittsburgh’s skyline, bridges, and rivers were everywhere I looked.

Roberto Clemente

“Roberto Clemente’s greatness transcended the diamond. On it, he was electrifying with his penchant for bad-ball hitting, his strong throwing arm from right field, and the way he played with a reckless but controlled abandon. Off it, he was a role model to the people of his homeland and elsewhere. Helping others represented the way Clemente lived. It would also represent the way he died.”

Stew Thornley 13
Roberto Clemente
bleacherreport.net

Roberto Clemente Bridge

Downtown Pittsburgh is on a peninsula created by the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. Historic, Ft. Duquesne bordered by parkland is on the tip of the peninsula. My hotel was across the street from the fort and parks. I arrived early in the day and was not surprised that my room was not ready. So, I checked my luggage and made the short walk to PNC Park.

Clemente Bridge
PNC PARK

I walked the few blocks away from the Fort to the Roberto Clemente Bridge. The bridge is one of the “Three Sisters,” three nearly identical suspension bridges. The “Sisters” span the Allegheny River and connect Pittsburgh’s downtown to the city’s north side.

All three bridges are named for notable Pittsburgh residents. The “Ninth Street Bridge” was renamed for naturalist and Pittsburgh native, Rachel Carson, in 2006. The “Seventh Street Bridge” was named after Andy Warhol, another Pittsburgh native, in 2005. The “Sixth Street Bridge” was renamed after Clemente in 1998.

Interestingly, naming the bridge after Clemente was a compromise with the city. Despite public sentiment to name the new ballpark after the team’s greatest star, the Pirates sold the naming rights to PNC Corporation.14 Naming the adjacent bridge after Clemente gave the whole arrangement some balance.

The city closes the bridge to traffic on game days, which transforms it into a beautiful pedestrian crossway. Even though I’d been to a game at PNC park previously, I was excited to walk over the bridge for the first time.

“The Great One”

A riverboat passed under me as I walked over the Clemente Bridge. I could see fans gathering on the Riverwalk that runs behind the stadium. On the other side of the bridge stood the statue of Clemente, engraved with his nickname, “The Great One.”

Clemente Bridge - Riverboat
PNC Park

As I approached the statue, I could not help that the day before I had held Clemente’s model bat that he, unfortunately, would never use. At the time, I was in the Louisville Slugger Bat Vault, holding the bat as a tour guide told the sad tale. Although the bat was ready for Roberto to examine in mid-December 1972, he never would. Only a few weeks later, he died in a plane crash on a rescue mission to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua.

Clemente stood 5′ 11″ tall and weighed just 175 pounds but swung an unusually long, 36-ounce bat.15 He used the long bat to lash out at almost any ball that approached the plate. The ball skyrocketing to the far reaches of the park.

He played the outfield with a sense of reckless abandon and was one of the best defenders in history. Moreover, he had an unbelievably strong and accurate arm. His long, accurate throws from right field were awe-inspiring.

Clemente
PNC PARk

My favorite memory is how Clemente rolled his neck and stretched his back so that his chin almost touched his shoulder. The motion always reminded me of a proud thoroughbred that could run like the wind but was not entirely tamed.

Willie “Pops” Stargell

“INTIMIDATING PRESENCE BETWEEN THE LINES AND CHARISMATIC PATRIARCH IN CLUBHOUSE AND DUGOUT.”

Stargell Hall of Fame Plaque 16
roberto Clemente congratulates Willie Stargell on home run in 1969  Original Filename: HIST Clemente Stargell bw   Original Filename: clemente0713a.jpg
Roberto Clemente Congratulates Willie Stargell
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I walked from the Clemente statue down Federal Street past long lines of fans waiting for the gates to open. Many likely came early for today’s giveaway, a souvenir cardigan sweater. I didn’t understand the significance of the sweater giveaway until another fan explained that it was Mr. Rogers Day. Fred Rogers is another great American with near Pittsburgh roots, having been born in nearby Latrobe. The beige sweater zipped in front and had a little Pirates “P” over the left breast and was quite nice.

The statue of Willie “Pops” Stargell was just past the fans and gate.

“Pops”

“If he asked us to jump off the Fort Pitt Bridge, we would ask him what kind of dive he wanted. That’s how much respect we have for the man.”

– Al Oliver 17

If the Pirates had a “golden age,” it was the 1970s. Between 1969 and 1980, the Pirates dominated their division finishing first, six times, second, three times, and third, three times. Moreover, they won the World Series in 1971 and 1979. In the middle of it all, was the power-hitting Willie Stargell, the Pirates inspirational leader. Stargell became the de facto leader of the Pirates after Roberto Clemente died. Later in his career, he picked up the nickname, “Pops” which fit the persona of the aging, respected leader.

Willie "Pops" Stargell
PNC Park

Stargell’s spotlight moment occurred when he led the Pirates to the 1979 World Series championship. The 38-year-old dominated the series as he led the Pirates back from a three games to one deficit. Over the seven games, he hit .400, with three home runs, and a World Series record 25 total bases. His majestic, sixth-inning home run in game seven, put the Pirates ahead to stay. 18

In his Hall of Fame career, Stargell finished in the top ten in MVP voting seven times. In 1979, he won the MVP award, was the World Series MVP, and Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.

Occasionally, a player comes along who has impressive skills but also a real sense of pride in his craft. He also carries himself with a sense of dignity that other players respect and admire. It’s a small group: Jackie, Hank Aaron, and Stargell are vital members.

Into PNC Park

PNC Park is approachable and pedestrian in scale. Designed to fit within the existing city grid, it is also orientated to allow a great majority of spectators a spectacular view of the Clemente Bridge and the downtown skyline beyond. 19

PNC Park

I was having a good day in Pittsburgh. First, I visited Forbes Field. Then I walked over the Clemente Bridge and remembered two of baseball’s most respected players, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. After some fish tacos and a couple of beers at “Steel Cactus,” I went inside the park. “Steel Cactus” is a Mexican place that is one of a series of PNC restaurants that are accessible to the outside pedestrian traffic.

As I walked to the team store to get my Pirates hat and then to my seat, I took in the gorgeous ballpark.

”The home of the Pirates is instantly recognizable as a ballpark, with architectural flourishes of Forbes Field lending a touch of nostalgia. The series of masonry archways extending along the entry level facade and decorative terra cotta tiled pilasters exude the charm of the club’s former home of 61 years.” 20

However, something was missing. When Mrs. Nomad and I first visited PNC Park a few years ago, we were more than impressed with Legacy Square. In 2006, the Pirates added the Legacy Square exhibits to honor Pittsburgh’s Negro League past via statues and interactive kiosks. What a fantastic way to celebrate the players and remember our unfortunate history.

Unfortunately, although I found the Square, the exhibits were gone. Instead, banners of popular Pirates and Negro League players were the only things I saw.

Sad End to Liberty Square

The Negro Leagues in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh had a unique relationship with the Negro Leagues. Between 1927 and 1948 Negro League teams from Pittsburgh – the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords – dominated Negro League baseball. In that period, they won thirteen regional and five world championships. 21 They also fielded some of the greatest players of their era.

Homestead Grays
Homestead Grays
baseballhistorycomesalive.com

During the winter in 1937,22 Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter Chester Washington sent this telegram to Pittsburgh Pirates manager, Pie Trainer:

“KNOW YOUR CLUB NEEDS PLAYERS STOP – HAVE ANSWER TO YOUR PRAYERS RIGHT HERE IN PITTSBURGH STOP – JOSH GIBSON CATCHER FIRST BASE B. LEONARD AND RAY BROWN PITCHER OF HOMESTEAD GRAYS AND S. PAIGE PITCHER COOL PAPA BELL OF PITTSBURGH CRAWFORDS – ALL AVAILABLE AT REASONABLE FIGURES STOP WOULD MAKE PIRATES FORMIDABLE PENNANT CONTENDERS STOP – WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE? – STOP WIRE ANSWER”

Chester Washington – The Pittsburgh Courier 23

There was no response.

In 1937, the Pirates finished in third place with a record of 86 – 68.24 Even though they still won only 86 games in 1938, they finished in second place just two games behind the Cubs. 25 If the Pirates’ focus was solely on winning, wouldn’t adding some of the greatest players in history have improved their prospects?

Pittsburgh Crawfords
Pittsburgh Crawfords
brittanica.com

Of course, the Pirates weren’t alone in disregarding winning so that they could exclude black players from the Major Leagues.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Black Ballplayers Legacy

The Pirates were slow to integrate their team. They finally did so in 1954 when they added second baseman, Curt Roberts. They were the tenth team in baseball to integrate, and Roberts was the 42nd player of color in Major League Baseball. 26

Although they had a late start in integration, the Pirates “took the lead among MLB teams and unveiled the first all-black and Latino starting lineup in 1971.” 27

Legacy Square
Legacy Square Statues
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

The Pirates also honored Pittsburgh’s Negro League past. In 1988, they commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Homestead Grays victory in the last Negro League World Series. The pregame ceremony honored living members of the Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords and a championship pennant raised atop Three Rivers Stadium. Possibly most importantly, Pirates team president, Carl Barger, “apologized for the role played by the Pirates and by Major League Baseball in perpetuating segregationist practices in baseball.” 28

”With this moment, the Pirates became de facto leaders in navigating the complex relationship between professional sport and race, and this comparatively small ceremony was, at the time, a truly groundbreaking moment for professional sport in America. Over the next two decades, the Pirates continued what they started by holding annual Negro leagues nights and installing permanent Grays and Crawfords championship banners at Three Rivers Stadium in 1993.”29

Legacy Square
Photo posted on post-gazette.com

So, Where’s Legacy Square?

In 2006, the Pirates opened Legacy Square, an exhibit that celebrated Pittsburgh’s Negro League past. Central to the presentation was interactive kiosks and nine life-size, bronze statues of Pittsburgh’s greatest Negro League players, including five enshrined in Cooperstown. 30

At the opening ceremony, Pirates managing general partner Kevin McClatchy said:

“A lot of people probably don’t realize the incredible history we have here, Kids today probably don’t know about segregated players in different leagues, eating in different restaurants. … This will tell the story of the Negro Leagues. Because it is a huge part of our baseball history.” 31

Imagine my surprise when discovered that the statues were missing from Legacy Square. All I saw were a few banners of Pirates and Negro League players. Did I misremember?

Josh Gibson
Josh Gibson
Photo posted on post-gazette.com

No, I did not. When McClatchy sold the team in 2015, the new ownership led by Bob Nutting, decided to remove the statues. 34 All that remains are banners of Pirates and Negro League greats.

Fortunately, Sean Gibson, CEO of Pittsburgh’s Josh Gibson Foundation and Josh Gibson’s great-grandson, was able to gain control of the statues. He sold them at auction with the proceeds going to the Foundation.

All in all, it is a sad state of affairs.

Honus Wagner, Mazeroski and Home

A Girl Named Olivia

I had a great time at the game, and throughout, I talked to a young sixteen-year-old fan. I believe her name was Olivia. She’d driven in from Chicago with her father to see their favorite Cubs play. Hearing that she was a Cubs fan led to a conversation about my family’s recent first trip to Wrigley Field. We also talked about events in the game, how I kept score, and other things.

Be still my music-loving heart, but it turns out that Olivia is a musician who plays the violin. I asked who her favorite composers were, and she mentioned Brahms and Dvorak. Had she heard the Dvorak cello concerto (one of my favorites)? I asked. She hadn’t but did love the cello in general. I mentioned the second movement of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto that has a wonderful cello part and she said she would listen to it.

Honus Wagner

Then we talked more about baseball and our conversation spread to the people in the row in front of us. They were also Cubs fans. I told them about my trip and how much I loved PNC Park.

When the game ended, I walked by Honus Wagner’s statue that is in front of the stadium. Wagner is the epitome of Pittsburgh’s working-class past.

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner, the son of German immigrants, was born in Chartiers (now Carnegie) Pennsylvania in 1874. His birthplace is roughly six miles from where his statue greets fans entering PNC Park. Wagner’s father was a coal miner for more than 20 years. None of his children wanted to work in the mines. Honus – then likely known as John – planned to become a barber, as one of his older brothers had. 35 Instead, Albert, another older brother, recommended that the team that he played for in Steubenville, Ohio, sign Honus. 36

Wagner was an “awkward-looking man…..oddly built – 5-feet-11, 200 pounds, with a barrel chest, massive shoulders, heavily muscled arms, huge hands, and incredibly bowed legs that deprived him of any grace and several inches of height.” 37 Yet he was an extraordinary ballplayer.

Honus Wagner
Brittanica.com

He was second to Babe Ruth in voting for inclusion in the initial Hall of Fame class. Other records include a league-record eight batting championships (tied with Tony Gwynn), seventh in career hits, third in triples, tenth in doubles and stolen bases. Remember, he retired 100 years ago!38 Most of all, he led the Pirates to four pennants and one World Championship.

His last public appearance was at the unveiling of the statue I admired. It first stood in Schenley Park outside Forbes Field, then at Three Rivers Stadium and finally at PNC Park. Wagner was too weak to get out of his car at the ceremony and just waved from the window. 39

Bill Mazeroski’s Statue

Before heading back to Clemente Bridge and my hotel, I walked up Mazeroski Way to pay homage to Mazeroski’s statue and the section of Forbes Field’s wall behind it. From there, I enjoyed the sunny day as I walked on the Riverwalk, towards the Clemente Bridge.

A few hundred feet in front of me, a couple of women asked a fan if they could have his “Mr. Rogers cardigan.” Unfortunately, he tried to sell it to them, and they declined the offer. I caught up to them and gave them mine. Better that they have it than me.

There was a massive crowd in my hotel’s lobby. Some of the people were attending a formal event in the ballroom. Others were football fans who were there to see the next day’s pre-season game between the Chiefs and Steelers. There were also three big busses outside. The rumor was that they were for the Cubs to drive up to Williamsport. Fans were gathered around them to see the players.

Williamsport was my next journey. I’d wanted to see the major league game at the Little League World Series since the televised event looks like such a lot of fun. However, the Little League restricts the game to the Little Leaguers and their families, which is how it should be. They play in a minor league stadium, which does not have the capacity to allow others to attend. Moreover, outsiders would destroy the event’s intimacy. Yet, I wish there was an exclusion for a certain Nomad.

On Sunday, I drove home and had a few days to relax, say hello to Mrs. Nomad and write about my travels. It had been a long but gratifying week. Possibly the best of my travels!

PNC PARK
Continue Reading Pittsburgh’s Working Class Icons

Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory

“The pitcher has got only a ball. I’ve got a bat. So the percentage in weapons is in my favor, and I let the fellow with the ball do the fretting.”

Hank Aaron 1

Fans focus on a pitcher’s pitch. The question is which of his pitches is the best. Is it his fastball? His curve? Maybe his splitter? Or his slider? Regardless of the pitch, the ball is always the same. Notwithstanding the issues about possibly “juiced” balls, each pitcher uses the sport’s current version of the ball.

The ball itself is not terribly interesting unless it’s the one used when something unusual happens. An ordinary ball becomes distinctive if it was used in a no-hitter or a record-breaking hit or home run. Besides that, one pitcher’s baseball is not different from another’s ball. Baseballs aren’t exciting.

Babe Ruth Bats – Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum

Hitters’ bats are different. Each player’s bat is unique. Their bats are like medieval knights’ swords. Each one is different and has a special relationship with its owner. Similarly, the bat is what hitters take into battle, and fans revere them. Many fans who cherish the game and its traditions, want to see and hold their favorite players’ bats.

I was in the middle of a drive through Ohio, and Pennsylvania. My goal was to see the Indians, Reds, and Pirates. Since Louisville – home of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory – is only 100 miles from Cincinnati, I had to include it in my itinerary. After all, the Louisville slugger was synonymous with the “official” Major League’s bat for most of its history.

The Louisville Slugger a Brief History

“Baseball just came as simple as the ball and bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.”

Ernie Harwell 2

The legend tells us that 17-year-old John Andrew “Bud” Hillerich was watching the major league Louisville Eclipse in 1884. At that game, the team’s superstar, Pete Browning, whose nickname was “The Louisville Slugger,” broke his bat. Bud, who was an apprentice at his father’s woodworking shop, “J. Heinrich, Job Turning,” offered to craft a replacement. When Browning got three hits with his new bat, Heillerach’s baseball bat business was born. 3

However, Bud’s father, J. Fred Hillerach, was not interested in the baseball bat business. He didn’t like baseball and didn’t think bats would be a valuable addition to his burgeoning business. Instead, J. Fred felt that the future of the company was in his “very popular, swinging butter churn.”

Undeterred, Bud continued to build their bat-making business and even invented some patented manufacturing processes. As the bat business grew, the company trademarked the name “Louisville Slugger” in 1894.

In 1897, Bud became a partner in the business, which became J.F. Hillerach & Son.

As their business grew, they started garnering endorsements. The first was from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ superstar shortstop, Honus Wagner, in 1905. In so doing, Wagner became the first professional athlete to endorse an athletic product. Additionally, his autograph was the first to be used on a bat.

In 1911, Frank Bradsby, a successful salesman, joined the company. Bradsby’s sales and marketing skills, combined with Hillerich’s manufacturing capabilities, pushed their success even higher. In 1916, the Hillerich & Bradsby Co. was born when Bradsbury became a partner.

Friday – August 16 – Louisville

”I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I change bats.”

Yogi Berra 4

On Friday morning, I drove the few blocks to Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park to take pictures in the daylight. Unfortunately, the ones I took the previous night were too dark. After I captured the photos I was hoping for, I drove about two hours to Louisville to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.

sluggermuseum.com

The museum and factory are in a red brick building on West Main Street. Leaning against the two-story building is a very tall replica of a Louisville Slugger bat. I’d seen the bat from the highway when I drove by years ago and always wanted to visit.

There are four parts of the location to visit. Once I had my tickets, I spent a little time in the store where I ordered a personalized bat. Then I went to the museum to meet my group for the factory tour. After the tour, I went to the Bat Vault, which was the highlight of my day. Finally, I went back to the store to pick up my bat, buy a t-shirt, cap, and a few gifts.

Museum and Store

“They give you a round bat, and they throw you a round ball, and they tell you to hit it square.”

Willie Stargell 5

I started my visit in the store to order a personalized Louisville Slugger bat. It wasn’t something I had planned to do; frankly, I hadn’t realized I could do so. But when I saw people leaving the museum with bats, I couldn’t resist memorializing my journey with a “Baseball Nomad” inscribed Louisville Slugger. I’m so glad I did as it’s one of my treasured souvenirs from my eight-month adventure. I like the small souvenir bat that they give you after the tour, but the real, engraved bat is great!

The museum is a large room with displays that describe the company’s history. It has artifacts, pictures, and bats from famous players and the company. While the items are interesting, they’re reminiscent of things I saw at the Hall of Fame and other museums. The real fun was in the Factory and the Vault.

The Factory

“I don’t like to sound egotistical, but every time I stepped up to the plate with a bat in my hands, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the pitcher.”

Rogers Hornsby 6

My experience became much more enjoyable when a guide led us into the factory for the tour.

First, we watched a film about how they select white ash trees from forests in Western New York and Pennsylvania. These trees were traditionally the most popular bat material. However, maple bats now dominate due to the devastation of white ash forests caused by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle. For the record, the Emerald Ash Borer, is an exotic beetle whose larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. The beetle is destroying Ash trees, especially in the northeast part of the country. 7

sluggermuseum.com

The guide led us through the factory where we saw every stage of the bat creation process. It started at a display of three inch diameter, cylindrical pieces of wood called “billets.” After the billets are aged in kilns for six to eight weeks they are sent to the factory. 8

At the factory, lathes are used to form bats according to specific dimensions using a template. Initially, workers used lathes to carve the bats, but the process is computerized now. After lathering, the bats are hardened with heat treatments, and finished with lacquer and/or paint. Finally, labels are burnt into the bats or decals applied. The bats are ready for action. On average, Hillerich & Bradsby makes 3,000 bats per day. 9

The Bat Vault

“Are you tall? Are you strong? How big are your hands? You must be honest with yourself, or you will end up using the wrong bat.”

Pete Rose 10

Now it was time for the most fascinating and memorable experience of my entire summer journey. My premium ticket permitted me to visit the Bat Vault. [9] The Vault contains the models used as templates during the lathing process. The Vault is small, and there is only room for small groups. I was with another couple and a guide who was responsible for selecting exciting models for us to see. Of course, the most interesting were the models of bats used by some of baseball’s greatest hitters.

sluggermuseum.com

After we put gloves on, our guide gave us famous bat models to hold and examine as he told us stories about the players that used them.

He explained that the models were necessary to tailor bats to each player’s specifications. Through a series of iterations, they create a model of the player’s ideal bat. Then they use the model to form the bats used in games. In the old days, when they manually lathed the bats, workers used calipers to measure the bats at critical points. Workers drew six to eight lines a few inches apart on the model to identify the bat’s measurement points. Of course, today, the process is more precise since they use computers that make more accurate measurements.

Ted Williams’ Bat

“God gets you to the plate, but once you’re there, you’re on your own.”

Ted Williams 11

Ted Williams, of course, is legendary for his scientific approach to hitting. The science was part of his bat creation process.

Instead of measurement points a few inches apart, Ted’s bat model has markings at every inch. In effect, there are thirty or so rings drawn on his bat. It’s quite different from the other bats we held. Williams expected the bat to meet his specified measurements at each of these points on the bat.

Our guide recounted that once when Williams examined a new order, he felt that one bat was a little off. They measured the bat once they received it at the factory. Surprisingly, they found a variance of less than a sixteenth of an inch at one point on the bat. The difference was amazingly small, only the thickness of a sheet of paper, but Williams noticed it.

Mickey Mantle’s Bat

“Somebody once asked me if I ever went up to the plate, trying to hit a home run. I said, ‘Sure, every time.'”

Mickey Mantle 12

If Williams was likely the game’s best left-handed hitter ever, Mickey Mantle was possibly the best switch hitter. However, their approach to hitting and their bats were very different. Where Williams was the scientist with a very analytical approach, Mantle was more primitive. Mantle did not think that much, he just found a pitch and hit it. In contrast, Williams thought about every phase of his swing,

”One time before a game, Williams confused Mantle with a series of questions of his own. When Ted asked him which hand was his power hand and which was his guide hand, Mickey had no idea what he was talking about. After listening to him, Mantle tried applying his theories at the plate, but imitating Ted only made batting more difficult. He didn’t get a hit for about twenty-five straight plate appearances.”

…“Hell,” Mantle said years later, “I just used to go up there swinging.”

Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith 13
brittannica.com

Their process of selecting bats followed this pattern. Where Williams was extremely precise about his bats, Mantle was not. When Mantle started his career, he tried a model created for Chuck Klein (model number K55)14, and he liked it. It was the only H&B model he ever used as he batted .298 and hit 536 home runs in his career. 15

Jackie Robinson’s Bat

“Above anything else, I hate to lose.”

Jackie Robinson 16

I revere Jackie Robinson. I don’t just admire his desire, determination, and skill that revolutionized the sport and opened the door for so many. Moreover, I also admire his courage to change the game and fight for Civil Rights in all walks of life.

So imagine my excitement when he pulled out Jackie’s #R-17 17 bat and gave it to me. The bat was surprisingly heavy with a thicker handle than most. It was an honor to have the chance to hold the bat model that he likely held.

Roberto Clemente’s Bat

“I dedicated the hit (his 3,000th) to the Pittsburgh fans and to the people in Puerto Rico and to one man (Roberto Marin) in particular. The one man who carried me around for weeks looking for a scout to sign me.”

Roberto Clemente 18

During the hour we spent in the Bat Vault, we heard many stories and held many bats. One of the last was unforgettable.

lavidabaseball.com

Roberto Clemente was one of my favorites. Fortunately, I saw him on television a lot when I was growing up, since the Pirates and the Mets were in the same division. I likely saw him play in person at Shea Stadium, but don’t have any memories of that. He was a graceful, beautiful ballplayer.

I’ll also remember his last hit. The Mets were in Pittsburgh at the end of the 1972 season. I was watching on television when Clemente hit a double in a near-empty Three Rivers Stadium off John Matlack. Standing at second, he raised his helmet to acknowledge the crowd’s applause and flicked his neck like a proud thoroughbred. It was his last hit in his storied career. At the time, he was just the eleventh man to reach 3,000. 19

In the Vault, the guide explained that they were working on a new bat for Clemente and had a model ready for him to examine in December 1972. However, he never did so, since he died a few weeks later in his infamous plane crash on New Year’s Eve. I was near tears as I held the bat.

Driving to Columbus

“When you play this game for twenty years, go to bat ten-thousand times, and get three-thousand hits, do you know what that means? You’ve gone zero for seven-thousand.”

Pete Rose 20

I left Louisville in the early afternoon for the three and a half-hour drive to Columbus. I was retracing the route to Cincinnati that I took that morning. Moreover, I was retracing the course to Columbus that I took the day before. In my mind, I was replacing my life’s route that took me through two careers and into Louisville’s Bat Vault.

It was just another beautiful summer day on the road. I had now been on my journey for five months and traveled thirty-five thousand miles. Over time, a new consciousness was forming. By this time, I had few regrets about not working. I didn’t harbor resentments for the way my career ended. I was just happy to be where I was and ready to head to Pittsburgh tomorrow.

Continue Reading Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory

On To Cincinnati

Day two of my five days drive through Ohio, to Louisville, and finally, Pittsburgh. I was on my way to Cincinnati. These were possibly some of the best days on my long journey to all of the major league ballparks and associated landmarks.

Why? Why would the ballparks in Ohio and Pittsburgh excite me more than the more exotic locales I previously visited? Undeniably, San Diego and San Francisco are beautiful places to watch a ballgame. San Diego, situated next to the Gaslamp District and just a few blocks from the ocean creates a memorable and unique experience. San Francisco with its beautiful view of the bay and the sea breeze is breathtaking.

However, the little ballparks in these forgotten Midwest cities that used to be part of the “rust belt” have a lot of charm. Cleveland’s Progressive Field is close to the Cayuga River and has views of downtown, highlighted by the ornate Terminal Tower. Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark is on the Ohio River near the historic Roebling Bridge. It also has excellent views overlooking the city. Finally, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is an extraordinary ballpark. From most seats, the panoramic views of the skyline, the Clemente Bridge, and the Ohio River are riveting. It may be the second-best exterior view after San Francisco’s. These great ballparks, in their often maligned cities, prove that the game can be beautiful anywhere.

Thursday – August 15th – Cincinnati

My hotel in Cleveland was right next to the highway on Orange Place. We previously stayed in this area when we visited my father on family visits. We liked that the area was close to where dad lived and convenient to restaurants and, of course, the highway. Thus my baseball stay was fraught with memories of life’s passing.

The proximity made it easy to get on the road early Thursday morning. However, the Nomad needed sustenance. I first, stopped at McDonald’s for a couple of Egg McMuffins before I started the four-hour drive to Cincinnati. I ate them while I drove.

I arrived at my hotel in Cincinnati by the early afternoon. It was located downtown, just a few blocks from the river and Great American Ballpark. I decided to spend the afternoon walking around that part of the city on my way to the game.

The Roebling Bridge

My first stop was the Roebling Bridge, originally named the “Cincinnati – Covington Bridge.” The bridge spans the Ohio River and connects Cincinnati with Covington, Kentucky. When it opened in 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet. 1 More importantly, John Roebling designed the bridge before he created the East River Bridge – more familiarly known as the Brooklyn Bridge.

I love the Brooklyn Bridge for its beauty and historical significance. Although I’d driven by the Roebling Bridge on other trips, I’d never explored it up close. I was very interested in seeing it.

I started my walk from my hotel on East 4th Street to Vine Street and took a left turn. Two blocks down the street, Vine becomes Rosa Parks Street as it passes the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Walking one more block took me to the park next to the bridge.

The park connects the Paul Brown Stadium, where the football Bengals play and Great American Ballpark, my ultimate destination. The Roebling Bridge is in the middle.

The bridge is a majestic structure that rises above the Ohio as the Brooklyn Bridge looms over the East River. Additionally, it’s ornate sandstone towers are reminiscent of Brooklyn’s bridge as well.

One of the baseball rituals for Cincinnati fans is to walk across the bridge to visit the hotels and bars in Covington, Kentucky, before and after games. I plan to stay in Covington next time I visit and take that walk across the bridge.

The Reds 150th Anniversary?

As I walked through Cincinnati, I noticed many signs and banners celebrating professional baseball’s 150th anniversary. Unfortunately, some of the banners and signs mistakenly suggest that it’s the Reds’ 150th anniversary, which confuses the story. While Cincinnati should be celebrating professional baseball’s 150th anniversary, with the Reds participating, it’s not the Reds anniversary. Instead, the Atlanta Braves should be celebrating its 150th anniversary.

The true story goes like this. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, formed in 1869, were the first professional baseball team. As it turns out, the Cincinnati Reds had nothing to do with this development. The “Red Stockings” did not become the Cincinnati “Reds,” as some of the signs suggest. The Cincinnati Reds started play in 1882 in the American Association and joined the National League in 1890.2 The Red Stockings played in Cincinnati for just a year, then disbanded and reformed in Boston as the Boston Red Stockings.

Additionally, the Boston “Red Stockings” did not become the Boston “Red Sox.” Instead, they used many names before they became the Boston “Braves” in 1912. These Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and then to Atlanta in 1966.

Riverfront and Three Rivers Stadium

I’ve discussed the era of boring, multi-purpose stadiums in many of my posts. These stadiums dominated the sports landscape before Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened. 3 Interestingly, this trip took me to the epicenter of the cookie-cutter craze.

Riverfront Stadium
ballparksofbaseball.com

As I approached Great American Ballpark, I was near the site of Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. In 2001, they demolished a portion of Riverfront’s left field to make room for Great American.

Three Rivers Stadium
Gold Star/ Norman W. Schumm

Riverfront opened on June 30th, 1970. Two weeks later, and just a few hundred miles up the Ohio River, Pittsburgh opened Three Rivers Stadium. As sportscaster Howard Cosell would say, it was located “at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers.” Heinz Field, Pittsburgh’s football stadium, occupies the site now. PNC Park is on the Allegheny River, just a short walk away.

In the era of “cookie-cutter stadiums,” Riverfront and Three Rivers were seemingly more similar than most. This similarity was very apparent. The Pirates and Reds dominated the National League at this time and met in the playoffs on a few occasions. Television viewers watched the first games at one of the stadiums. Then the teams would move to the other one. While they would change locations, the stadiums didn’t seem to change.

Cincinnati’s Great American and Pittsburgh’s PNC are a welcome departure from that rule. They’re both beautiful, little ballparks on the river and next to pedestrian bridges, but they don’t look alike. Thus it’s so much fun to go to each one. Luckily, I went to both on this leg of my trip. Thursday, I went to Great American, and then I went to PNC on Saturday.

Great American Ballpark

As I walked through the park, past the Roebling Bridge, the ballpark slowly appeared through the trees.

Great American Park is on the corner of Joe Nuxhall Way and Johnny Bench Way. Most people know who Johnny Bench was, but fewer know that Joe Nuxhall spent 60 years with the Reds. He started as a fifteen-year-old pitcher and was the Reds broadcaster after his pitching career ended.

A few hundred feet from the ballpark’s main entrance on Nuxhall Way is a small gazebo with busts of famous Red Stockings. Closer to the main entrance are statues of the members of the 1970s Big Red Machine. Pete Rose is sliding headfirst into a base, Tony Perez is hitting, and Joe Morgan is taking off from first. Possibly the most significant Red of them all, Johnny Bench guards the entrance.

Inside the gates, but still outside the park, is a group of statues that form “Reds Legends of Crosley Field.” The Reds played at Crosley Field before they moved to Riverfront Stadium. The figures are the “best of the best” players from various eras in Reds history, before the move. Ted Kluszewski, the power hitter from the 40s & 50s, stands on the on deck circle. A few feet away, Joe Nuxhall pitches to Ernie Lombardi. Lombardi is a Hall of Fame member who played in the 1930s and 40s. Finally, Frank Robinson, who played for the Reds between 1956 and 1966, is the hitter.4

This statue is the third of Frank Robinson I’ve seen on my summer-long journey. He also stands at Baltimore’s Oriole Park and Cleveland’s Progressive Field. He won his second Most Valuable Player Award in Baltimore – his first was in Cincinnati. In 1975, he became the first African American Major League Manager in Cleveland.

Ernie Lombardi and Frank Robinson

Attendance, Commitment, and Tanking

I walked around the near-empty ballpark before finding my seat.

On the promenade on the third base side of the park is a long bar serving beer, including local microbrews. Close to the bar are stands serving local favorites like Skyline Chili, Porkopolis Specialty Dogs, and others. While the dogs at Porkopolis looked interesting, I chose a more traditional Kahn’s hot dog. Although it was an average hot dog, I give the Reds points for making Dusseldorf German Mustard readily available. Of course, there is food everywhere. There are restaurants in the promenade and an area near the outfield dominated by barbecue.

The views inside the ballpark are engaging. The riverboat deck and smokestacks dominate the outfield view. The stacks explode after every home run.

Sadly, only 14,891 fans attended the game. It seems like a tiny park, but the capacity is actually 42,391,5 and it feels depressing when only one-third of the seats are filled. I asked some people around me about the attendance. While they mentioned that it’s tough to get people out on a weekday night, the overarching reason is tanking.

As the game started, the Reds were in fourth place, 7.5 games behind the first place Cardinals, tonight’s opponent. They would end the year in fourth, fourteen games behind the Cardinals. Over the previous four years, the Reds finished last and lost more than 90 games each year. The poor performance was likely intentional as their payroll was the 25th lowest in each of the previous three years.

The fans’ point was when the Reds made a commitment and started to win, people would flock to Great American Park again. Since the rebuild was coming to fruition and the Reds should blossom in 2020; the fans could return soon.

Thursday’s Game

The Reds Sonny Gray struck out ten through five innings. In so doing, he extended his scoreless streak to eighteen innings in August. Michael Wacha pitched for the Cardinals and threw well. However, the two runs he gave up in the fifth were enough to lose the game. The Cardinals made it enjoyable in the ninth when Kolton Wong doubled with two outs scoring Marcel Ozuna. The final was Reds two, Cardinals one.

My seat was behind the plate, and some friendly Reds fans surrounded me. We had a good time chatting about the game and the Reds. Meanwhile, a beautiful red moon rose over the stadium. An usher watched me keep score and asked to see my book at the end of the game. He was suitably impressed with my detail and my journey.

Walking to the Hotel, Listening to the Mets

I walked back to the hotel and listened to the end of the Mets game. My walk started well; the Mets were in Atlanta, ahead ten to three going into the bottom of the eighth. However, the Mets’ brought Drew Gagnon in to pitch, and he promptly gave up a home run to Freddy Freeman. But, Gagnon survived the rest of the eighth, so why should I worry? The score was ten to four.

My nerves started to tingle when manager Mickey Callaway let Gagnon start the ninth. My concern grew when Rafael Ortega singled to lead off the inning. After Gagnon got the next hitter to ground out, Ronald Acuna homered on the next pitch. Mets ten, Braves six, and the Nomad was worried.

I breathed a little easier when Ozzie Albies popped up for the second out.

However, Freeman came up again and hit Gagnon’s two-strike pitch over the centerfield wall, making the score ten to seven. It was a good time, for a mound visit from pitching coach Phil Regan, to calm Gagnon down.

Gagnon’s first pitch to Josh Donaldson is a strike, so maybe the visit worked. Nope, Donaldson hit the next pitch over the centerfield wall, and the score was ten to eight.

My nervous frustration grew as Callaway replaced Gagnon with Edwin Diaz. Edwin Diaz was experiencing the worst year a relief pitcher may have ever had. I wasn’t confident.

As I got to the hotel, Diaz walked Brian McCann on four pitches. Really! Somehow Ender Inciarte is coming to the plate, representing the tying run. How can this happen? Somehow Diaz strikes Inciarte out, and the game was over. The Mets won; my heart attack was averted.

Now relieved, I was ready for tomorrow’s drive to Louisville.

Continue Reading On To Cincinnati

Return to Cleveland

As my trip entered mid-August, I’d been on the road (off and on) for five months. I’d already traveled to Spring Training, Mexico, London and Canada, but still had thirteen more stops on my baseball journey. I’d already made my August trips to New York and Boston when I left for Cleveland. It was the start of a five day drive through Ohio, to Louisville, and finally, Pittsburgh.

This journey was not just a baseball trip for me. It was also a quest, my chance to find relevance after ending a second career. I needed to find a new path, a new reason for being.

Coincidently, and certainly not by design, my first August trips retraced essential stages of my life. They fell in an order that allowed me to see where I came from and would help me decide where I was going.

Journey Through My Past

Yankee Stadium – The Bronx

The first weekend in August was my trip to Yankee Stadium, located near where I was born in the Bronx. That Saturday, I met my eldest cousin for breakfast on 86th street in Manhattan. It was near where we lived when I was in high school. We took the number four train to the old neighborhood in the Bronx. She grew up there, but I hadn’t been there in decades. Yet, there we were, next to Lebanon Hospital, where I was born. Then, walking down the hill, we passed the library to the corner where my grandparents, Aunt, and cousins lived. Across the street was where a building whose wall we used to play handball while making fun of Barry Goldwater’s name when I was six.

As we walked the few blocks down to Claremont Park, I remembered that fateful day when I broke my ankle. It was Father’s day in 1971 and I was thirteen. We’d just moved back to New York from St. Petersburgh, FL. The Long Island contingent of cousins was visiting, and we were playing baseball using trees as bases. I slid back to first, caught my foot in some roots, and the rest is history.

Then we walked up 174th street, along the Cross Bronx Expressway where there used to be little shops where my grandparents purchased groceries in one store and kosher meat in another. These were the days when we didn’t know what supermarkets were.

We walked to blocks to Weeks Avenue where PS 70, the first school I ever attended was. Finally, we walked under the Grand Concourse to the building, my family lived in before we moved to Florida.

After that, I went to Yankee Stadium, a facsimile of the ballpark my father took me to when I was small.

Fenway Park – Boston

My second weekend in August took me to Boston.

Years ago, I met Mrs. Nomad in New Hampshire and started my career in retail while she earned her Ph.D. (Dr. Nomad?). We lived in New Hampshire and Maine for nearly ten years. During our time there, Nomad the Younger, was born in Portland, Maine.

Meanwhile, one of my brothers met his wife at a Boston area college, and they’ve lived there ever since. Over the past thirty years or so, they’ve established themselves and raised three beautiful children. My sister, who is now firmly ensconced in Michigan, led the way to New England when she went to college in Maine and graduate school in Boston.

I have a long history with this area and mostly happy memories. Some of those memories are of visits to Fenway. It’s a place I’ve been to often. This year, I went to Fenway with my brother and his family on Saturday and with him alone on Sunday.

Cleveland

I left for Cleveland, early on a Wednesday morning, less than thirty-six hours after arriving home from Boston. Cleveland, of course, is where I spent so much time with my father in his last years. Many of these hours were at Progressive Field. Now I was going back.

Wednesday – August 14th – Cleveland

Cleveland is a special place for me. As I’ve written, my father spent the last years of his life in Cleveland. For some of those years, I worked for a company based in Cleveland and visited regularly. Trips during the summer enabled us to go to games together. We did so many times.

As time went by, his breathing problems required him to use a wheelchair. With the attendants pushing him through the ballpark and me following, I couldn’t help but remember the games we attended when I was small. In those days, forty-five years earlier, it was my father leading me through ballparks when I was a young boy. Now, more and more, I took the lead.

I’ll always remember two stories from our Cleveland experiences.

The Griffey Prediction

One Sunday in 2000, we were in right field watching Ken Griffey Jr, and his Reds play the Indians.

Indians’ pitcher, Chuck Finley, seemed to be doing well. He’d only thrown 76 pitches through seven, shutout innings. Moreover, the Indians’ offense was cranking. They were leading five to zero, and my mind had turned to tomorrow’s work tasks. My father, the brilliant mathematician, was doing other calculations.

When the Reds opened the eighth inning with two hits, a walk, and a passed ball, he made a prediction 1:

“It’s five to one; there are runners on first and third, and no outs. Griffey is only four hitters away – he’ll either be the tying or go-ahead run.”

I shrugged my shoulders; I hadn’t thought that far ahead and wasn’t sure he was right.

Steve Reed replaced Finley and induced Juan Castro to hit a sacrifice fly. The score was five to two, but at least there was one out. Reed got a second out when Pokey Reese, forced Benito Santiago at second.

With two outs, Reed wasn’t out of trouble. Barry Larkin singled to left, advancing Reese to second. Just as predicted, Griffey came to the plate as the tying run. Just as my father said, he would.

Griffey grabbed the advantage by taking the first two pitches, both balls. With the count 2 and 0, Reed had to throw a strike. Meanwhile, Griffey was waiting for something he could hit and deposited the next pitch into the center field picnic area.

The score was tied and would remain that way until the Reds scored two runs in the thirteenth inning.

My father’s successful prediction challenged me to improve my observation skills.

Our Last Game

Every time I go to Progressive Field, I remember that it was the last ballpark I visited with my father before he passed away.

The game was Saturday, August 14th, 2010. I planned to drive to Cleveland that morning, visit a bit and then drive dad downtown to the game.

However, first, I needed to get home from Memphis on Friday night, where I was working with a client. As I’d never been to Memphis before, I wanted to visit Graceland. So, instead of taking the late afternoon flight home, I took the last flight of the night. I used the extra time to tour Graceland on my way to the airport.

Unfortunately, my flight was late into Atlanta, and I missed my connection. So I spent the night in an Atlanta hotel and took the first flight out the next morning.

I didn’t get home until noon, long after I was supposed to leave for Cleveland. Mrs. Nomad reminded me that I didn’t have to go. There would be other games. However, for some reason, I felt an urgency I can’t describe. I don’t remember thinking that it would be my last chance to attend a game with my father. But I felt an urgency that I can’t describe. I knew he was looking forward to going, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. However, there was a greater urgency, almost as if I knew it would be the last game we’d see together.

We made it to the game, but it rained off and on; thus we didn’t have a great time, and we left early. I thought there would be other games in the future. However, the next year my father was already fading, and there were no more games. He died the following April.

Wednesday’s Game

As I approached Cleveland’s eastern suburbs, I stopped at Chagrin Falls to pick up my half-sister, “P.”2 As we drove downtown, we talked about life, her Indians, and that day’s opponent, the Red Sox (a team she hated). When we arrived at the ballpark, we walked around, and I showed her some of the food outlets that I enjoyed on my last visit.

The Red Sox won 5 to 1 as Xander Bogarts hit two home runs. However, Shane Bieber gave up only two runs and pitched well. The last time I saw Bieber pitch, he struck out the side in the All-Star game. His performance made him the game’s MVP.

The Drive Home – Down Memory Lane

Of course, the traffic was crazy when we left, so I decided to avoid the highways. Instead, I tried to recreate a drive through the city that dad and I used to take. However, it didn’t work well; I couldn’t find the right path. In contrast, my father could seemingly recreate a map of every one of the many cities he visited. He never got lost.

With that said, we had a nice ride through the city’s eastern neighborhoods. First, we passed University Circle, where dad and I once went to Severance Hall. We drove by the hospitals where he stayed in his last months and the cemetery he and “R” (“P’s” mom) rest.

Then it was on to Shaker Heights where “R” grew up and lived when “P” was born. Finally, we arrived in Beachwood, where dad and “R” lived after they moved back to Cleveland. I dropped “P” off at her house and then went to my hotel to get ready for Thursday’s drive to Cincinnati. However, first I stopped at Corky and Lenny’s – “Cleveland’s Favorite Deli” for some Pastrami and a Knish. It was old-time sustenance for the Nomad. My visit brought back memories of times I went there with Mrs. Nomad and Nomad the Younger, not to mention my father. It was a lonely dinner.

Final Memories

I went to sleep that night thinking about the young man who hitchhiked from Antioch College to Cincinnati to enlist in the Navy in 1943. My trips to Cincinnati – especially this one – were for different reasons. However, every time I start off on another leg of my eight-month trip, I wonder what he would think about my travels.

I have a feeling that he would recognize as I do, that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

Continue Reading Return to Cleveland

Fenway Park – Baseball’s Nirvana

As July turned to August, my trip of a lifetime was entering the final stretch. In the five months since my trip started at Spring Training in March, I:

  • traveled 33,740 miles
  • took 41 fights
  • visited 36 of my planned 42 stops
  • watched 41 games at 18 major league stadiums as well as London Stadium, Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey, and two minor league parks

I planned four trips in August. Of course, the trip would take its toll. It required that I be on the road for 15 days and at home for only 16 days. Stop number one was a trip to the Bronx, the land of my birth and home of the Yankees. Later in the month, I would spend almost a week traveling through Ohio, Kentucky, and Western Pennsylvania. MOREOVER, On that journey, I was looking forward to seeing the Indians, Reds, Pirates, and the Louisville Slugger Bat Factory and Museum. The following week, I would travel back to Pennsylvania for the Little League World Series.

Before my trip west to Ohio was my weekend at Fenway, baseball’s “uncomfortable” nirvana. Fenway is one of the very best ballparks to visit. I’ve enjoyed my many trips there and hope to go back often. However, for all its beauty, history, and charm, Fenway’s seating can be awkward and uncomfortable for the 21st-century sports fan. These are the things one has to deal with when traveling through the baseball world.

Fenway Enchants

“There’s nothing in the world like the fatalism of the Red Sox fans, which has been bred into them for generations by that little green ballpark, and the wall, and by a team that keeps trying to win by hitting everything out of sight and just out-bombarding everyone else in the league. All this makes Boston fans a little crazy, and I’m sorry for them.”

Bill Lee1

In the wake of recent Red Sox successes, Fenway’s patina of futility is slowly fading. However, for the longest time, Fenway had a tragic aura due to so many heartbreaking Red Sox failures. Through it all, Fenway has enchanted baseball fans for generations.

It certainly caught Nomad the Younger’s eye when she was small.

Soccer Hall of Fame?

It all started in 1998 when the family Nomad drove to Cooperstown to spend a relaxing few days. Mrs. Nomad and I love Cooperstown and try to go back there anytime we can. It’s a great place to rest and reflect as we sit on the Otesaga Hotel’s veranda overlooking Otsego Lake. Cooperstown has excellent restaurants and, of course, baseball, baseball, baseball.

At the time, Nomad the Younger was an eleven-year-old soccer player. Although Mrs. Nomad and I would be content to hang out in Cooperstown, eleven year old’s need a bit more entertainment. To keep things interesting for the youngest nomad, we decided to drive over to Oneonta to visit the Soccer Hall of Fame. I have no idea why the Soccer Hall of Fame was located in out of the way Oneonta, New York. Others probably didn’t either, since that version of the hall went out of business in 2010. Its replacement is at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

Anyway, we drove to Oneonta and enjoyed the exhibits, including what I understood to be the world’s oldest soccer ball. In actuality, the oldest soccer ball is 450 years old and on display at the Smith Museum 2 in Stirling, Scotland. We saw the first vulcanized rubber soccer ball, which was developed by Charles Goodyear in 1855. 3

On our way out of the museum, we saw an advertisement for the Women’s World Cup scheduled for the following summer. I had never heard of the Women’s World Cup, but it sounded interesting, so we made plans to go.

Nomad the Younger and Fenway

We had never spent time in Los Angeles, so we decided to spend a week and see as much as we could. On our first Saturday, we saw the World Cup Finals at the Rose Bowl. All summer long, we watched with surprise as the team and event we hadn’t known existed became the biggest story in sports. The games were as exciting as anything I have ever seen. Drama in sports is dependent on suspense, and there is nothing more suspenseful than a scoreless, championship soccer match.

On Sunday, we made our first visit to Dodger Stadium to see the Dodgers play the Griffey and ARod led Mariners. Griffey homered, and Rodriguez made an error as the Dodgers won 14 – 3.

A few days later, we sat in our small hotel room in Manhattan Beach and watched the All-Star game from Fenway. Pregame festivities included the announcement of the nominees for the All-Century Team. We watched the parade as each living; all-time great walked onto the field when announced. Finally, they brought out Ted Williams, and all the relatively young all-stars gathered round to meet the great man.

Nomad the Younger had never seen Fenway. She didn’t know about the oddly shaped little ballpark in the middle of Boston with its lush green field and walls. Nor had she seen the 37 foot tall Green Monster. Awed by Fenway, she turned to us and said, “I want to go there!”

We went the next year.

On my office bookcase, I have a picture of the youngest nomad from that day. She’s smiling and wearing a Sox cap with the field and players in the background.

These are fond memories, indeed.

My Fenway History

At the time, I was already very familiar with Fenway. Mrs. Nomad and I met in New Hampshire and lived in New England for about ten years in the 1980s. Nomad the Younger was born in South Portland, ME, during that time. Moreover, my brother and his wife have always lived in Boston ever since they met in college. They have three children, all born in Boston and loving the Sox.

My first memory of Fenway was the 1967 World Series when the Bob Gibson led Cardinals beat the Red Sox. A few years later, I was in college when the 1975 World Series reignited my love for the game. Eleven years later, we lived in Maine when my Mets played the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. At the time, Mrs. Nomad was pregnant with Nomad the Younger and drove an hour to work each day with “Mets 86” license plates on our small car. As she drove, she dealt with Sox fans honking their horns and making obscene gestures. Yes, we knew Fenway.

Every once in awhile, when we lived in New England, we attended games at Fenway. On our first trip, we watched Mrs. Nomad’s favorite Brewers play the Sox from the right field bleachers. Mrs. Nomad, a former Wisconsin resident, rooted for the Brewers. So did others in the stands. One person had a large, Styrofoam “M” that he would wave occasionally. Late in the game, a Sox fan walked down to the fan, grabbed his “M,” and broke it into a few pieces. As the crowd roared, he handed the pieces back and walked back to his seat.

Welcome to Fenway.

Fenway is Baseball Nirvana

Fenway is so very right in so many ways.

Fenway is Still Standing

Even though Fenway opened the week after the Titanic sank in 1912, it still stands on Jersey Street. As such, it will celebrate its 108th anniversary on opening day in April 2020. It’s the oldest baseball stadium in the country, just two years older than baseball’s other historic gem, Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The next oldest ballpark was Yankee Stadium that opened 1923. Unfortunately, it was demolished in 2009.

I’ve written copiously about my disdain for the new Yankee Stadium. It’s not that the new Yankee Stadium is an awful place, although it is notably sterile and generic. However, the original Stadium was, to me, the cathedral of baseball. Yankee Stadium was the site of so many significant events and the stage for so many great players. It’s such a shame that they couldn’t find a way to protect it. Frankly, it’s a shame that they didn’t seem to want to protect it.

In contrast, the Red Sox and the Cubs have labored to keep their historical parks standing.

I’m partial. Baseball’s link to the past fuels my love for the game. When I look at the past, I realize that everyone has good days and bad. Yet we survived. Possibly wounded a bit, but we survived, nonetheless.

Similarly, Fenway Park represents survival and perseverance. In its long history, it’s seen championships and heartbreaking failures. However, in the last 15 years, the Sox broke their 86 year-long championship drought and won the World Series four times. With that said, tragedy lurks behind Fenway’s brick walls.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, the current cheating scandal tarnishes some of their recent record. Moreover, their payroll is too high, and they are starting to make cuts. It’s possible that there are years of adversity to come.

Fenway Has Been Modernized

Original Fenway (on right) and proposed Fenway (on left)

There was a genuine chance that new owners would demolish Fenway in 1999. The proposal was to build a new version across the street 4 similar to what the Yankees did in New York. Instead, Larry Lucchino – new team president led an initiative to remodel Fenway. I’m so glad they did.

Between 1998 and 2011 the Red Sox added:5

  • a new video display in center field
  • three new scoreboards in right center field
  • seats on top of the Green Monster
  • party decks in left and right field
  • new luxury boxes
  • updated food areas
  • in-game access to Jersey Street which runs next to Fenway

Let’s face it; it takes courage to remodel a 100-year-old stadium. The easy thing to do was to tear Fenway down and build a new bigger one across the street. A new Fenway would likely be more profitable as well.

I appreciate that they took the risk on the original Fenway.

Fenway is a Neighborhood Ballpark

I recently wrote a piece about Guaranteed Rate Field that speaks to the idea of a neighborhood ballpark as opposed to new, retro-designed stadiums. Initially, owners built ballparks in existing neighborhoods, which constrained the amount of space that they could use. As such, each was different from the others, with their individual charm.

In contrast, the suburban stadiums built in the next era of new stadiums had seemingly unlimited space and thus lost their distinctive charm. Using similar design principles, the resulting stadiums all look the same; they were sterile and utilitarian.

Finally, the latest retro stadiums starting with Orioles Park at Camden Yards had plenty of space. Their unique character is “more affectation than necessity.” 6

Additionally, parking lots that surrounded these stadiums created a barrier between the park and businesses nearby. This placement diminishes the economic value the ballpark brings to the area. Fans drive in and drive out and make no connection to the neighborhoods.

Fenway is unique because it is an actual neighborhood ballpark that is integral to the economic viability of the area. You experience that every time you go. Stores, bars and restaurants surround Fenway, not parking lots.

Fenway is a Party

You’ll find lots to do on Yawkey Way before every Red Sox game. Check out Big League Brian (stilt walker), the Hot Tamales Brass Band, a face painter, a balloon artist, a juggler, and speed pitch. A caricature artist also makes an appearance on Saturdays and Sundays. 7

What do you get when you combine a little ballpark with a vibrant neighborhood that includes bars and eateries? You get a party. It’s not a drunken brawl kind of party, just a lot of baseball fans having a great time.

You should arrive at Fenway early and have a beer at the Cask ‘n Flagon or Beerworks or any of the bars that are in the neighborhood. Drop by a cart outside the park and have some “street meat” or find something to eat at one of the many restaurants. Just enjoy the atmosphere created by the neighborhood and rabid baseball fans.

Fenway is Green, Green, Green

“You should enter a ballpark the way you enter a church.”

Bill Lee8

Of course, they also play baseball at Fenway. That means you need to leave the party and go inside and find your seat.

What you’ll see inside the park is terrific. It opens up to a sea of green. The seats, walls, and field are a lush green. Moreover, seating is intimate, so (if you are in the right place) you’re close to the action.

And then there are the quirky dimensions. The 37 foot tall “Green Monster” dominates the view as it stands only 310 feet from home plate. Starting at the left field foul pole, the Monster angles out to center field. It ends about 379 feet from home, where it forms the centerfield triangle, 420 feet away at its deepest point. In right field, the wall curves past the bullpens and ends at the “Pesky Pole.” There is nothing like Fenway Park.

If you go with someone who knows the park – or possibly take a tour (which I didn’t do), you’ll see little nooks and crannies like “Canvas Alley.” “Canvas Alley” was initially a pathway designed to enable circus elephants to walk in and out of the park. It’s now a much smaller area near right field where the grounds crew sits until they’re needed. 9

My Visit to Fenway

Since Fenway is in a neighborhood near Kenmore Square, it is a great ballpark to walk to.

My starting point was a hotel in Cambridge that overlooked the Charles River. In the mornings, I could see crew teams row up the river from my room. The hotel was about a mile and a half from Fenway, perfect walking distance.

Each day, of my two-day visit, I walked along the Charles to the Boston University Bridge, where I crossed the river. Past the bridge, I took a left turn and walked along Mountfort Street. Then, I took a right onto Arundel Street, walked a few blocks, and turned onto Beacon Street. From there, I could see the Citgo sign and knew I was close.

Walking on Maitland Street and then crossing onto David Ortiz Drive, I saw increasingly more fans in Red Sox gear. Finally, I walked across Brookline Avenue and was next to the red brick park.

Saturday in Right Field

I went to Saturday’s game with my brother and his family. When I bought the tickets, I chose five relatively affordable seats in right field, near the Pesky Pole. I was on a budget and didn’t want to spend more than $100 per ticket. However, I didn’t want tickets along the foul lines between the bases and outfield. Fenway’s seats don’t angle towards the pitcher’s mound, so if you sit along the foul lines, you have to awkwardly turn to see the action. Granted this is a “first world problem,” but it’s not comfortable staring straight into the outfield.

We didn’t have to deal with awkward shifting since our seats faced the action. Unfortunately, the seats were further away than I expected, and I felt removed from the action. I’ve had similar seats in other parks without that feeling of separateness.

Later in the day, when the crowd started to thin out, we walked up to see who was in my brother’s corporate seats. The firm has seats above the walkway on the first base side. When we arrived, we found some empty seats, so we stayed and watched an inning or two. These seats were much better. They were closer to the field and seemed to have a little more legroom. We didn’t feel as cramped.

Sunday on the Third Base Side

Sunday, my brother’s family abandoned him as they had other things to do. So it was just the two of us.

We met near the park and walked over to Beerworks for a beer. Beerworks is a microbrewery that opened across from Fenway about 25 years ago. My brother tries to get there before each game he attends.

After our beer, we walked over to Sausage Connection, a cart on Lansdowne Street. I had a 12″ dog with brown mustard and kraut. It was nicely charred, crispy, and tasted great. It ranks third on my list of best hot dogs.

Finally, we hung out on Jersey Street, which is closed off to the general public on game days. In so doing, fans can walk in and out of Fenway, making the experience similar to Eutaw Street in Baltimore. We watched the brass band, the jugglers, and Big League Brian (the stilt walker). We soaked up the fun atmosphere and got in the mood for baseball.

Our seats were on the lower level, somewhat close to home plate on the third base side. Their location was fine, but uncomfortable because they were tight with no legroom. They were so tight that we were almost on top of each other. Later we snuck down to the field level where season ticket holders sit. These seats were more comfortable and wonderfully close to the action. I felt that I was part of the game.

Uncomfortable Nirvana

My Fenway weekend were two of the best days of my trip. I was with my family and in a park that I love. I felt like I was part of the history of the game. In many ways, Fenway is baseball’s nirvana.

Unfortunately, the seats can be uncomfortable. Since the games are popular, it’s likely hard to get good seats. Moreover, you have to know your way around the park or research where the best seats are located.

My recommendation is to do some research and spend a little extra to get comfortable seats with a good view. You might find better seats on the secondary ticket market (a service like Stub Hub). Whatever you do, go to Fenway and get there early to enjoy the atmosphere and game in the best way possible.

I flew home on Monday. After the two day respite, I drove west to Cleveland to start my trip to see the Indians, Reds, Pirates, and Louisville Slugger Bat Factory and Museum. My journey’s pace was picking up.

Continue Reading Fenway Park – Baseball’s Nirvana

Promises, Promises – Miller & Comiskey

After our three day Wrigley Field sojourn, Mrs. Nomad and I visited Milwaukee’s Miller Park and Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field. If you go, to either expect the standard visuals presented in various forms and quality. There are statues, retired numbers, some brick, good food, and baseball.

Milwaukee’s Miller Park

Miller Park

I enjoyed Miller Park – and rank it relatively high on my list of favorite ballparks. It’s the kind of ballpark I would be happy to live near so that I could go often. It’s easy to get to, comfortable to sit in, the food and beer are plentiful, all in all, a lot of fun. Then, of course, there is the tailgating.

Tailgating

Only 17 of 30 ballparks allow some sort of tailgating. However, of those, four don’t allow alcohol, and I’m not sure it’s really tailgating without beer. Others have restrictions as to where one can tailgate and if open flame/ charcoal is allowed. However, at least four ballparks not only encourage your tailgating event, but they will also cater it.

Late afternoon tailgating before the game

Then there are places like Wrigley that allow tailgating, but why would you miss the fun in the surrounding neighborhoods. Others like Coors and Camden Yards don’t allow tailgating, but the great activities around the stadium offset the loss.

With that said, Milwaukee is known as the best:

Finally, an MLB organization and ballpark that not only permits tailgating before games but openly encourages it! It’s been stated that Miller Park is one of the, if not the best, greatest places to tailgate in all of baseball. The tailgating rules are pretty simple: parking lots open 3 hours before game time, tailgating ends 30 minutes after the game starts, it’s permitted in all lots (except for Logan and Front Office), no open flames are allowed but you’re able to use gas/propane or self-contained charcoal grills, and of course all tailgating activities must coincide with the law.

Baseball Tailgating – A Quick Guide for Pregaming This Summer 1

History – Statues

Hammerin’ Hank outside Miller Park

Statues of the Brewers’ most celebrated players, broadcasters and executives surround Miller Park. Hank Aaron, albeit a nominal Brewer, but Milwaukee legend is there. Nearby, stand Hall of Fame members shortstop Robin Yount, and former owner and MLB commissioner Bud Selig. I appreciate statues at ballparks. It’s nice to see the players that I respected so much when I was growing up honored and remembered this way.

Selig has a mixed reputation. Some fans appreciate his work to reinvigorate the game after the 1994’s player strike. In those years, he played an instrumental role in returning baseball to financial stability and profitability. However, others criticize him for failing to stop the widespread use of steroids that ultimately marred the game.

Mr. and Mrs. Nomad in the “front row” with Bob Ueker

If Selig is controversial, Hall of Fame announcer Bob Uecker is not. Everyone loves Bob Uecker, and he has two statues, one inside the stadium and one outside. The one inside memorializes his Miller Lite commercial, where he assumed his seat “must be in the front row.” Uecker’s humor, genius, and respect for the game is evident in his Hall of Fame induction speech.

An exceptional addition to Miller Park is a space that commemorates the workers who built the ballpark. I don’t remember another ballpark that so significantly gives credit to the people whose work the fans enjoy each game. It’s made more poignant by the statue named “Teamwork” that memorializes the three workers who died in an accident during construction.

Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field

Readers of my blog know the value I place on the whole baseball experience. It’s not just about the team, but about the style and personality of the park. I’m interested in the fan experience, the setting, the food, and beer.

Guaranteed Rate Field’s main entrance

In this context, it’s unfortunate that Guaranteed Rate Field is a sterile suburban ballpark stuck in the middle of urban South Chicago. Not surprisingly, it has none of the neighborhood appeal that its crosstown rival – Wrigley Field – does. Of course, Wrigley is hard to compete with, but the “retro” ballparks built after Guaranteed Rate Field also have much more charm.

It’s not that the White Sox don’t try. Guaranteed Rate Field is just not special even if they offer the requisite statues, a plethora of food and drink choices and other amenities that fans expect.

Guaranteed Rate Field is a disliked, suburban ballpark wedged into an urban area. It’s also the last ballpark built before the Orioles revolutionized baseball when they opened Orioles Park at Camden Yards. As such, it is the last of the pre-retro “dinosaurs.” Unfortunately, the White Sox ignored a revolutionary and better design for “New Comiskey.” If built, it might have usurped Baltimore’s retro ballpark revolution.

Promises, Promises

So we had two more good days at two more ballparks. For me, it was the end of a long stretch of baseball infused travel. In ten days, I went to three cities, four ballparks, and eight games. I started in Minnesota, flew to Chicago, made the short drive to Milwaukee and returned to Chicago the next day.

White Sox retired numbers

What intrigued me on the last leg of the long trip was the story of these stadiums’ origins. As I’ve written in other posts the history of ballparks reveals many of the issues facing the game. In this case, the stories include public funding controversies, damaging naming rights, disloyal franchises, and non-competitive behavior (aka “tanking“). The basic question is – what is a franchise’s responsibility to its fans?

Miller Park’s Promises

Milwaukee County Stadium

Interestingly, Milwaukee’s County Stadium was the first stadium financed entirely with public funds. 2 Milwaukee built it in 1950 to attract a major league team back to Milwaukee. I say “back to Milwaukee” since the Brewers were a charter member of the American League in 1901. However, after only one year, they moved to St. Louis and became the Browns due to a lack of support. The Brewers remained in Milwaukee as a minor league team, through 1952. The next year, they moved to Toledo 3 when the Braves relocated from Boston and started to play at County Stadium. 4

Miller Park’s Wall of Honor

When County Stadium opened, it started a trend where public funding was responsible for about 75% of all new stadium costs. This trend was in part due to “widespread urban renewal policies” that made funds available. It’s success also established the practice of using tax dollars to build stadiums to fund private, professional teams. However, public financing correlated with the plethora of multi-purpose and ultimately boring stadiums.5 Municipalities wanted to get the most for their money and thus funded stadiums appropriate for many purposes.

County Stadium was revolutionary in more ways than just its funding. More importantly, it was the first stop in baseball’s westward expansion. When the Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953, they drew record crowds and demonstrated the profitability of moving west. 6 The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants soon followed their example and headed for California.

Enter the Brewers

Unfortunately, although very popular and successful, the Braves stayed in Milwaukee for only thirteen years. They moved to Atlanta before the 1966 season because they wanted the benefits of a broader TV market. However, Milwaukee was not without a home team for long. In 1970, future baseball commissioner Bud Selig brought a franchise to Milwaukee when he purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots. When they moved, the Pilots revived Milwaukee’s traditional name, the Brewers.

Robin Yount

For the next 31 years, the Brewers played relatively mediocre baseball at County Stadium. They finished second or higher only four times with only one World Series, losing to the Cardinals in 1982.7 That loss was a sad event for Mrs. Nomad, who spent some of her formative years in Wisconsin.

After they lost the Series, the Brewers returned to mediocrity, finishing out of the running more years than not. Significantly, they endured eight consecutive losing seasons before they moved into Miller Park. 8

From a business point of view, the team’s attendance was also mediocre. During this period, the Brewers finished eighth or lower in attendance 23 out of the 31 years at County Stadium. Average attendance was an unimpressive 1.4 million per year. 9 As a result, the team lost money throughout the 1990s and accumulated most of what would become a $110 million debt.10

Miller Park’s Controversial Funding

Thus, by the mid-1990s, the Brewers were not competitive, financially unstable, and played in an outdated stadium. Moreover, County Stadium lacked many profitable amenities, especially luxury boxes.11 As such, Selig sought public funding to replace the aging County Stadium.

Allan “Bud” Selig

Selig argued that the new stadium would generate the revenue needed to increase payroll and field a competitive team.12 The new stadium funding plan was extremely controversial. Future governor, then County Executive Scott Walker declared it was “the most polarized issue he ever dealt with as a state legislator, even more so than abortion or gun control.” 13

The most controversial part of the financing bill was a one-tenth-of-a-cent sales tax imposed in Milwaukee County and its four surrounding counties. George Petak, the Republican legislator who cast the deciding vote, was recalled the following year.14 Further funding came from the nearby Miller Brewing Company that purchased naming rights over twenty years for $40 million.15

The stadium tax will finally end in 2020 after raising $600 million over twenty-four years to offset the initial $160 million debt. 16

Broken Promises

Imagine the fans’ dismay when the Brewers moved into their beautiful new ballpark but reneged on their promise to field a competitive team. In the first 18 years at Miller Park, the Brewers finished above third place in their division only three times. They made the playoffs just twice. 17

What happened? Due to their massive debt, poor drafts and acquisitions, the Brewers were a troubled franchise when Miller Park opened.18 Likely, more so than anyone predicted. To improve, they started a drastic rebuild, which resulted in years of losses. In their first six years at Miller, The Brewers finished in the bottom half of their division five times. In that period, their best finish was third.

Additionally, as befits a rebuild, they dramatically reduced salaries. Over that period, the Brewers’ salaries were between 25 and 60% below MLB’s per team average.

The fans’ disappointment was palpable:

‘They have a massive credibility problem that will be difficult if they don’t come clean with the people who helped build the stadium,’ said Assembly Speaker John Gard. ‘That credibility problem is with the people they’re trying to convince to take money out of their pockets to go to Miller Park.

Pat Borzi – BASEBALL; In Milwaukee, a Bookkeeping Brouhaha 19

Resurgence, “Tanking,” and Resurgence

After the rebuild, the salaries stabilized at just below the per-team average, and the team’s performance improved. Though 2012, the Brewers tended to finish in the top half of their division and made the playoffs twice. However, in 2013, they finished fourth and stagnated through the 2015 season. That year they hired Houston’s Assistant General Manager, David Stearns, to become their new GM.20 Houston was famous for its “tanking” methodology. Sterns started another rebuild. In the years between 2015 through 2017, their salary levels plummeted to roughly 50 to 60% below the MLB average. Meanwhile, they lost games at a rapid pace while they rebuilt their farm system.21

In 2017, they emerged from their rebuild extremely competitive, making the playoffs twice. In 2018, they were only one victory away from the World Series.22 The team acquired future MVP, Christian Yellich via a trade with Miami in 2018 and he promptly won the MVP award. At this time, they expect success with controllable salaries to continue. 23

Interestingly, the fans seem to have grown accustomed to the Brewers’ up and down performance. Attendance has exceeded 2.5 million fans in twelve out of the last thirteen years.

Maybe, Selig’s initial promise is finally coming true.

Of course, business is business, and “Miller Field” will take a name in line with their new sponsor, American Family Insurance, in 2021.24

Chicago’s Comiskey Field – err Guaranteed Rate Field

Aging Comiskey

In contrast to Milwaukee’s experience with the Braves, the White Sox have always been loyal to Chicago. They were charter members of the American League 25, using the name that originated with the crosstown Cubs – “White Stockings.” During most of that time, Comiskey Park on Chicago’s South Side was their home. 26

Charles Comiskey

In the mid-1980s, new owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn started discussing replacing their aging stadium. They planned to build a publicly financed stadium in suburban Addison about 25 miles away from Comiskey. Addison was their choice because marketing studies indicated that they should cultivate their high-income fan base in the western suburbs.27

The plan called for a suburban stadium because Reinsdorf was “enamored with Royals Stadium in Kansas City.” The initial design for Chicago was similar to Kansas City:

There’s a modern “intergalactic” feel to both designs. You see the vertical circulation ramps positioned in close to the same spots, the long-span upper decks. The outfield light banks look surprisingly alike. You see the symmetrical dimension, the rounded edges, and the slivers of green beyond the outfield fencing.

Dayn Perry – The White Sox ballpark in Chicago that never was and could have changed history 28
The stadium, viewed from the approach from the Red Line.

However, when Addison’s voters denied the funding proposal, other cities expressed interest in hosting the White Sox. Naturally, Reinsdorf and Einhorn were happy to listen to the offers. 29

The 11th Hour Deal

Tom Nickens Photo

Denver, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and especially Tampa expressed interest in the team. Tampa was already building a new stadium (now Tropicana Field – where the Rays play) to attract a franchise. The White Sox were so close to agreeing to move that they sold “Florida White Sox” t-shirts and hats in Tampa. 30

In an “11th hour deal,” the Illinois State Legislature agreed to fund the new ballpark. As part of the deal, the White Sox agreed to build the new park next to the original Comiskey Park. 31 However, Reinsdorf and Einhorn used the threat to the move to Tampa to extract amicable terms.

By the time it was all done, the White Sox had secured a clause that allowed them to pay no rent at all if they failed to sell a certain number of tickets. According to a 2011 Crain’s Chicago Business story, the team didn’t pay any rent at all for the first 18 years. Only when they renegotiated the lease in 2008 did the White Sox begin paying the IFSA (Illinois Sports Facilities Authority), and even then, their rent was one of the lowest in baseball.

Dayn Perry – The White Sox ballpark in Chicago that never was and could have changed history 32

Design Issues

Ultimately, they built a suburban park in an urban setting. 33 “A soulless, modern object stuck in the middle of parking lot.” 34

Charm, intimacy, and the idea of weaving the stadium into the fabric of its surroundings — all the things the retro parks have come to represent — were not high on the agenda of the White Sox or the agency that built Comiskey, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.

Blair Kamin – 10 years later, Comiskey still has a bad reputation” 35
Harold Baines

The ballpark opened with these issues:

  • Field-level seats were too far from the playing field. In 2001 the club added additional seats “along the foul lines and beyond the dugouts.”36
  • Similarly, bullpens created a “moat” between the outfield walls and the seats behind them. The team added more seats there in 2001 and thus created a “much needed” sense of theater.37
  • The outfield walls were too deep. In one of their many remodels, the Sox moved them closer to home plate. 38
  • Worst of all, the too steep, upper deck was too high and too far from the field. Its odd design was an attempt to avoid the overhang from the upper deck blocking the view from below. In later years, the team removed about 8,000 seats, and the original roof was replaced to make the upper deck a bit more comfortable. 39

“Site Driven” vs. “Program Driven” Stadiums

Interestingly, there was an initial revolutionary plan for the new stadium that might have changed the game as Camden Yards did a year later. Unfortunately, that stadium was never built.

A young architect named Phillip Bess became enamored with the stadiums built between 1900 and 1923, “from Shibe to Yankees.” 40 What interested him most was that the surrounding neighborhoods constrained their size. Additionally, they were an integral part of the neighborhood and adopted the neighborhood’s charm. For example, consider how the available area influences Fenway Park’s shape. The short left field and the Green Monster are a result of the neighborhood’s constraints.

Armour Field Design
Philip Bess/AfterBurnham.com

Bess felt that the suburban, multi-purpose stadiums were boring because they were “program-driven.” Since space was virtually unlimited, designers could easily include all of the owners’ requirements. In contrast, the older stadiums were “site-driven.” They could add only as many of the owner’s needs as the site’s size would allow. The resulting ballparks had unique dimensions, shapes, and character. Interestingly, in many of the retro stadiums, the available area is not a constraint, and thus their charm is “more affectation than necessity.”

Armour Field Design
Philip Bess/AfterBurnham.com

Additionally, the retro parks tend to have large footprints and anchor downtown entertainment districts. As such, vast parking lots create a barrier between the nearby neighborhoods that surround the ballpark. In so doing, the parking lots diminish the economic advantages that the ballpark could bring to the surrounding area.

Armour Park – The Neighborhood Ballpark

In contrast to the future retro stadiums, Bess created and presented a plan for “Armour Park” that fit into the area used by Comiskey Park. It was a real neighborhood park integral to the surrounding area.41

Armour Field Design
Philip Bess/AfterBurnham.com

Armour Field would express, in arresting physicality, Bess’ hopeful thesis: ‘I realized that baseball fans were a kind of community,’ he said. ‘And the thought occurred to me that you can make this argument about buildings as a form of community and make that point by using baseball parks and advance the larger idea.’

Dayn Perry – The White Sox ballpark in Chicago that never was and could have changed history

Additionally, it had unique dimensions required to fit into the existing space:

That would be perhaps the most compelling set of outfield distances and angles in all of MLB today (400 feet to center, 421 to the alleys, 388 to the first turn in the outfield, and 283 down the lines). Indeed, the “shotgun house” layout bears a great of similarity to the dear, departed, singular Polo Grounds. That deep outfield and those short foul lines are distinctive in a genuine way, as they’re necessary in order to fit the park within those neighborhood constraints.

Dayn Perry – The White Sox ballpark in Chicago that never was and could have changed history

Unfortunately, decision-makers did not seriously consider Armour Park’s plan.

Had they adopted the plan, the resulting ballpark that opened the year before Orioles Park may have revolutionized the sport in a different way. Future ballparks could have been both neighborhood oriented and “retro” in appearance.

Armour Field Design
Philip Bess/AfterBurnham.com

White Sox Performance In The New Park

So what did the taxpayers get from their investment? Fans want their teams to play exciting, meaningful games. They want their team to win. It follows that if they invest their tax dollars to support the team, they expect to see results on the field.

Carlton Fisk

In contrast to the Brewers’ early experience at Miller Park, the White Sox were on an upswing during their first years at New Comiskey. They finished second in the Central Division in their last year at Old Comiskey. Over the next 15 years, they never finished lower than third and finished first or second twelve times. Moreover, they won their first world championship in 88 years in 2004. 42

Billy Pierce

Throughout these successful years, their fans were likely happy since their salaries were competitive and consistent with MLB averages. Interestingly, the White Sox payroll grew in the years after their championship as they tried to keep their key players. Unfortunately, as their salaries grew, they started to finish lower in the standings. Beginning in 2013, the team reduced payroll dramatically as they began another drastic rebuild – they began to “tank.” 43

As of this writing, the White Sox now potent farm system is producing excellent young payers. They are augmenting these players with free agent acquisitions, and the future looks bright.

What About The Fans?

When I started my journey, I assumed I could produce a blog post for each ballpark as I visited them. I’d let my readers experience my adventure as it happened. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, the season is long over and I’m still writing.

I only focus on my delays as a way to explain why I can include mid-January events in this piece. As I finish this piece about threats, tanking and broken promises, baseball focuses on the events in Houston and Boston.

As you know, the Astros and Red Sox cheated in their championship seasons of 2017 and 2018. They used video equipment to steal the opposing team’s signs and then relayed them to their hitters. Houston fired its suspended general manager and manager – Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch. Boston fired manager Alex Cora but we still don’t know the length of his suspension. The Mets fired their new manager but former Astro, Carlos Beltran even though he escaped the commissioner’s punishment.

In the future, I’ll write pieces about some of the subjects brought to light by this scan-dal. What is the appropriate use of technology in baseball – and in life? Why is there so much moral ambiguity in social media? After all, how can they suspend AJ Hinch for only a year if they suspended Pete Rose for a lifetime? After all, doesn’t every-one cheat? Hasn’t sign stealing been around forever? What about foreign substances? And don’t get me started on PEDs.

Tainted Championships and Disappointments

Today, I just want to focus on the fans. The fans in Houston who waited so long for a championship and now have a tainted one. In Boston, they waited 86 years for their championship. Then they won four – however, the last one is also tainted by cheating. In New York and Los Angeles, the fans think the championship trophies should be theirs. I disagree but understand their disappointment.

Fans live and die by their teams. In Milwaukee, they paid dearly to watch their team lose and owners make a lot of money. They already lost one team and didn’t want to lose another. In Chicago, the fans dealt stoically with one losing season after another. Only to have new owners threaten to move their team to Tampa.

The fans deserve better.

A week after I returned from Chicago, I spent a weekend in New York watching the Yankees play the Red Sox. I wrote about the travesty of New Yankee Stadium after I returned. The baseball world lost something special when the Yankees demolished the original stadium. Some fans were disappointed.
After that, I was off to Boston’s Fenway Park. The fans are proud that the place still stands even if it is a bit uncomfortable. The team found other ways to disappoint.

Continue Reading Promises, Promises – Miller & Comiskey