Lake Otsego viewed from the Otesaga Hotel's veranda.
Mrs. Nomad and I first visited Cooperstown almost 40 years ago, the week before she made the dangerous and somewhat dubious decision to become Mrs. Nomad. We were married in New York City and were living in New Hampshire and decided to make a short detour to see the mythical birthplace of baseball. It was a trip I always wanted to make, she was slowly adapting to my passion. I consider it heaven on earth, because of the baseball, scenic beauty and charming restaurants. We’ve been back many times since. This year I wanted to include it on the 4bases tour because of the obvious baseball connection, but I especially wanted to stay at the famed Otesaga Hotel and check out Cooperstown Dreams Park.
Here are a few pictures and comments
The Otesaga Hotel
Cooperstown was settled in the late 18th century by William Cooper, the author James Fenimore Cooper’s father. By the mid-19th century, it was a popular summer retreat due to the beauty of the wooded hills that surround Lake Otsego. The estates and houses are still in use today. 1
The Otsego Hotel was developed by Edward Severin Clark and Stephen Carlton Clark, two grandsons of “Cooperstown’s prominent benefactor, Edward Clark.” The hotel opened in 1909 and included the Leatherstocking Golf Course. It is still owned by the Clark family. 2 Interestingly, the Hotel opened roughly 27 years before the Hall of Fame did. Cooperstown was a destination before the odd baseball connection. 3
The Clark family’s fortune originated with a half-ownership of the patent for the Singer Sewing Machine. They have lived in Cooperstown since the mid 19th century and own “more than 10,000 acres of largely undeveloped land in and around greater Cooperstown.” 4 Thus, Cooperstown and Lake Otsego retain their natural beauty which is why its a wonderful place to visit.
The Clark’s have many holdings and were founding partners and retain an interest in the Baseball Hall of Fame. 5 Jane Forbes Clark is the Chairperson of the Hall. 6
The Otesaga is where many of the Hall of Fame members stay when they visit, especially induction weekend. They meet and swap stories on the veranda that overlooks Lake Otsego. Its where we relaxed and ate breakfast each day of our stay.
Pictures of the Otesaga viewed from Lake Otsego, the lake and a picture of Babe Ruth that i took in one of the men’s rooms. Kids, always take your camera.
Around the Village
The village is small and quaint with a focus on baseball, souvenirs and its rustic history. A brief walk around takes you by the “Hunter and Dog” and “Sandlot Kid” statues. It’s nice to walk down Main street which retains its old-time charm through its architecture. Moreover, it’s fun to watch amateur and semi-pro teams play in historic Doubleday Field.
Of course, there are many souvenirs to purchase. Mickey’s Place has a vast assortment of caps. On my last visit, I bought replicas of Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Browns caps. This trip I purchased a mid-50s New York Giants cap and a 1914 Cubs hat.
You’ll see my new hats in later posts. Since I made a commitment to take a selfie with a different hat at each game or experience I needed to buy these. I have three games at Wrigley with no gear. I figured I could get the classic home cap and a batting practice cap at the stadium. Similarly, I have two games in San Francisco and only have the home cap that I bought a few years ago. I figure the New York version will go nicely.
Yankees gear is prevalent since Cooperstown is close to New York City. You can choose from a large selection of jerseys with or without the names on the back. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.
Statues, architecture, baseball and souvenirs.
The Hall of Fame
Of course, there is the Hall of Fame and Museum. Go once, and go often. We hadn’t been in a few years, and everything looked new. They constantly change the displays, so it’s always fresh.
This time, we saw a new film about baseball across generations that left me in tears. Watching Cal Ripken Jr. talk about Lou Gehrig whose record he broke or Ken Griffey Jr. talk about Willie Mays the previous great centerfielder is quite moving.
The records area, most of the second-floor displays and a new Hank Aaron room are among the other things we saw. Please note, when I say “new,” I mean new since the last time we visited about four years or so ago.
Fenimore Art Museum
You can do more than baseball in Cooperstown. We visited the Fenimore Art Museum and spent a few hours having lunch, walking the grounds and visiting the exhibits. Of special interest were the Herb Ritts exhibit and the Native American art and artifacts.
Native American inspired art and artifacts.
Pictures from the Herb Ritts exhibit.
Cooperstown Dream Park
Finally, there is the Cooperstown Dreams Park where they hold a youth tournament each week of the summer for players 12 and under.
We were hoping to spend a few hours on Friday or Saturday watching the teams play. However, we found that the tournaments run from Sunday to Thursday. Friday is the day the kids move into their lodges and Saturday is for orientation and the opening ceremony. From Sunday through Tuesday, the teams play preliminary rounds. The teams are seeded into the single elimination championship tournament based on their won-loss record. That tournament starts on Wednesday and ends with the championship rounds on Thursday.
We saw the opening ceremony on Saturday and some games on Sunday morning before we left. I’d consider going back to watch the finals on Thursday.
From my vantage point, the tournament exhibits what is good and bad about youth sports in today’s America.
Youth Baseball and Cooperstown Dreams
The good side. The tournament is well run and they seem to do a fabulous job of organizing over 100 teams a week. Organizing means, getting them safely in and out, housing, feeding and of course competing. Moreover, the kids seem to have fun, they get to visit the Hall of Fame and play in Cooperstown.
On the other hand, it is a travel baseball tournament with some extra bells and whistles like the opening ceremony. No offense intended, but it naturally exhibits all the problematic issues that we encounter in youth sports. The teams consist of elite players who are obviously wealthy. They can afford equipment, travel and extra training. It’s not clear to me that there are scholarships that help teams afford the approximately $14k to participate. 7 These costs do not include costs to travel across the country to the “middle of nowhere.8
None of this is the kids, coaches or tournament organizers fault or responsibility. However, it still points to the fact that there is a need to help kids from underserved areas play the great game and participate in elite tournaments.
The opening ceremony and parade.
The kids play and the parents hope.
My next adventure starts in mid-June when I fly to St. Louis. In the following two weeks, I’ll see:
Albert Pujols return to St. Louis when the Angels play the Cardinals
Atlanta’s SunTrust Park was the eighth ballpark I visited. By the end of the weekend, I had been to ten. As I write this piece, I’ve just returned from Baltimore, so now my number is eleven. I rank SunTrust third behind San Diego’s Petco Park and Baltimore’s Camden Yards out of the eleven.
There is a lot to like about SunTrust.
SunTrust Park and The Battery
SunTrust is a pretty and comfortable brick ballpark with good sightlines and food. Additionally, it is connected to “The Battery” a commercial area built along with the stadium that offers bars, restaurants, and hotels. It’s a great reason to avoid Atlanta’s horrible traffic and go to the park early for dinner and a few beers.
The combination of the stadium and The Battery is very profitable for the Braves. In the park’s first year, revenue grew by 47% to $124M. 1
The area is also suitable for out of town visitors. I stayed in a hotel just a short 15-minute walk to SunTrust. I could have stayed closer, but the hotels in the Battery are not cheap.
Celebrating Team History
They do history right at SunTrust. It has a Hall of Fame area with a statue of Hank Aaron in the center. Hank is next to a “sculpture” of the number 755 built out of 755 baseball bats. 755 is, of course, the real – my opinion 2 home run record. It also displays the Braves’ 1995 World Series trophy. It is the only championship trophy awarded to a team from Atlanta. Like the Dodgers that sell Brooklyn hats, the Braves sell Milwaukee hats in the Team Store.
Food – Hot Dogs
The food is good too. With many local restaurants represented at the ballpark, I had my requisite hot dog at H&F Burger and was pleased. H&F has another location in the Ponce City Market, near midtown Atlanta. It’s grilled, with a good bun and I added onions and relish. There is no brown mustard, but Atlanta is not alone in that area.
Additionally, “Taste of Braves Country” the Braves offer delicacies influenced by different parts of the South. So, after my hot dog, I tried the Pimento Cheese Patty Melt, evidently a staple in South Carolina. This is a grilled hamburger patty with melted pimento cheese on marble rye toast. Never heard of pimento cheese? That discovery is worth a trip to the South – book now.
The Team is Good!
A visit to the park does not just entail history, food, and beer. They also play baseball there. After, “tanking” for a few years they have amassed a group of great young players that will be a force to be reckoned with for a long time.
I hear the organist play “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” when one of the visiting players comes to the plate. It seemed odd to hear the song with these lyrics in the heart of the old Confederacy:
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it’s a time I remember, oh so well
Of course, the tradition is to play recorded walkup songs for each player entrance, and they do so for the Braves. They handle the visitors a bit different. When each visitor comes to the plate, the organist plays songs that are cleverly chosen based on the players’ names. A fan behind me said that it can take him an entire four-game series to figure out the connection for each player.
Why “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?” It took me a while, but finally, I realized that the honored player was Lorenzo Cain. The song starts with the lyric “Virgil Cain is my name,,,” Obscure and fun.
So Why Is SunTrust Third on My List?
SunTrust should be an excellent place to have fun and watch a ballgame for a long time, so why is it third on my list?
It’s third because Petco Park and Orioles Park at Camden Yards are pretty darn cool. From my point of view, there are reasons why SunTrust is weaker. I expect it will drop a few places on my list as my journey proceeds. Here are a few issues I have with SunTrust:
The Battery only approximates an existing commercial district like the historic Gaslamp District next to Petco. I like the originals better. Orioles Park has a similar area incorporating the historic warehouse on Eutaw Street behind the outfield. Moreover, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is just a few blocks away for pre and post-game use.
The view from SunTrust consists mainly of the new hotels in the Battery. The others have better views. Petco is near the bay and has a beautiful view of the city. You can’t see Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from Orioles Park, but the warehouse offers a beautiful setting.
SunTrust’s food and drink are possibly better than Orioles Park, but Petco has more craft beers and better food choices.
However, the main reason that I can’t rank SunTrust higher on my list is Braves management’s embrace of the “tomahawk chop.” It’s why I would never recommend a visit and the reason I likely won’t return.
The “Tomahawk Chop”
Branding the Braves
Welcome to the phenomenon that has accompanied, if not lifted, the Braves into a 2-1 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series. Welcome to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, alias the Chop Shop.
Most know how the chop is done. The stadium plays a war chant associated with the way “Indians” were depicted in old western movies. The fans chant along and swing their right arms from the elbow in an up and down motion. This motion approximates the way one would swing a tomahawk if they were killing their foe. Stadium lit signs, foam tomahawks, lit iPhones (called the “iChop”) and a guy pounding a huge drum accompany the spectacle.
The chop is synonymous with the Braves brand. The term “chop” is used throughout SunTrust and Braves nation. There is “The Chop House,” a restaurant in the park near the associated “Chop House Gate.” There is the “Chop Shop” a blog devoted to all things Braves. The Terrapin Beer Company from nearby Athens, Georgia offers a “session version” of their “Hopsecutioner IPA” with a baseball twist. In honor of the Braves, they age the Hopsecutioner over wood chips made from Mizuno bat chips and call the result the “CHOPsecutioner.” Of course, the Chopsecutioner is available in the stadium.
What’s Wrong With the Chop?
The tomahawk chop and war chant have little basis in Native American history. Native Americans used the tomahawk as a weapon but also revered it as a sacred object. Europeans and Native Americans scalped their enemies in the Colonial era, but it was not a widespread practice. The spread of the popular association of Native Americans with mock savagery probably dates to the early 20th century. It was likely fueled by the Boy Scouts who began using Native American-inspired terms and images in its curriculum. The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation called the use of the gesture “offensive and racist” when Senator Scott Brown’s staffers used it during the campaign against Elizabeth Warren. 5
The chop does nothing to help baseball. Most of all, it puts the good people of Atlanta in a poor light.
I mean this sincerely. I have terrific friends who live in and/or are from Atlanta who plan to return. They don’t like the chop and don’t deserve the scorn that the chop engenders in many of us. However, I’m also not naive enough to assume that there are no Braves fans who like it and participate. 6
Random Events and a Sad Irony
That a team named the Braves plays in Atlanta is very accidental and sadly ironic. That’s not to say that Atlanta’s baseball team was an accident. Atlanta had the necessary qualifications to win an MLB franchise by the mid-1960s. Placing a team in the Deep South was a good way for baseball to expand its influence and popularity.
However, that team might not have been the team from Boston by way of Milwaukee. Moreover, the Boston club tried many names before settling on the “Braves.” Other names that fit the Boston area were possible. Finally, the chop migrated from Florida State University, where it originated because of only one player. One out of the thousands that played for the club.
What is not accidental is the corresponding racist imagery, including the chop that the Braves adopted. All are a sad reflection of our country’s normalization of Native American bigotry. To their credit, the Braves ended many of these practices. It’s to their shame that they allowed the chop to become such a big part of their brand.
Moreover, it’s so sadly ironic that a team named “the Braves” with all the accompanying imagery is based in Atlanta. So close to the area where the “Trail of Tears” began. I doubt anyone thought about the juxtaposition of name and place when the Braves moved to Atlanta.
The “Trail of Tears”
In the 1830s, Eastern Woodlands Indians of the Southeast region of the United States were forced to leave their homes. These nations included Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole. All were forced to travel (mostly on foot) to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.
Estimates based on tribal and military records suggest that approximately 100,000 indigenous people were forced from their homes during that period, which is sometimes known as the removal era, and that some 15,000 died during the journey west. 7
Georgia was one of nine states that worked to remove Native Americans from their land.
Atlanta is quite close to the so-called “removal area.” Additionally, the Braves’ Class A affiliate, plays in Rome, GA which was on one of the Trail’s “pickup routes.”8 Rome is just a short 68 miles from SunTrust Park.
How the Braves got to Atlanta
The team named the “Braves” existence in Atlanta is the result of some random and unplanned events:
For their first 40 or so years in Boston, the names used names including “Red Stockings,” “Red Caps,” “Beaneaters,” “Doves,” “Rustlers,” and “Bees.
The team adopted the name the “Braves” in 1912 after their new owner borrowed Tammany Hall’s 9 Indian Chief symbol.
The Shame of it All
The shameful part of the story is that the Braves organization adopted the chop and made it part of their brand.
Moreover, they instigate the chop. I stayed through the seventh inning stretch and by my count the crowd was prompted to chop at least eight times. It started when the Braves came to bat in the first inning. Other times when the Braves were rallying or threatening to rally the call to chop began. At one point the lights when down, signs flashed and the crowd waved their flight lit phones. I was told this is called the “iChop.” Fans started a wave or two, but never the chop.
One would have hoped that the team had never adopted the practice. It follows that a good time to end their involvement was when they built SunTrust Park. The Braves could have quietly decided not to put up the flashing tomahawk and chop related signs, not sell chop merchandise, and ask vendors to remove the chop branding. Moreover, they would never prompt the fans to chop. Instead, assume fans that wanted to do the chop would do so and others would follow just like fans start a wave. If they had done so, the practice might have died out over time.
However, the Braves reaction to the chop in 1991 was:
“We’ve had a few complaints that the tomahawk is demeaning to Native Americans, but we consider it a proud expression of unification and family.” –
Jim Schultz, the Braves’ director of public relations 10
How Do You Put the Toothpaste Back in The Tube?
Now it’s hard to stop the chop. As the saying goes, “It’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.” Any declared end to the chop would face a fan rebellion and “Save the Chop” protests. Fans don’t like to be told what to do and don’t like change.
Major League Baseball is also complicit. Last week commissioner Rob Manfred announced that SunTrust would host the 2021 All-Star Game. In his comments, he said:
There is no better-managed organization in baseball than the Braves. It’s been true for a very long time, and it makes it a lot easier for us to give them an event
“No better-managed..” only if you forget that the Braves include this display of racial intensity in their brand.
People evolve. I’m old enough to remember when the Braves, Indians, Redskins and other teams names and behaviors seemed OK. For example, the “Saltine Warrior” was the Syracuse University mascot when I arrived for my freshman year. When I was a junior in 1978 the university banned its use.12 It seemed odd – it doesn’t now. People evolve, and organizations should too.
Beautiful SunTrust Park and the good people of Atlanta deserve better.
My next stop was Texas for games in Arlington and Houston.
Monday morning, I headed back from Mexico. I flew nonstop from Monterrey to Los Angeles. When we landed, I promptly rented a car and headed to San Diego, about a three-hour drive. The next morning, after I spent a lovely evening in Petco Park, I drove back to Los Angeles. That night I visited the venerable Dodger Stadium. No offense to Dickens, but it is somewhat a “tale of two cities” – certainly two ballparks. Dodger Stadium is one of the oldest ballparks, and Petco Park is one of the newest ones. Both have their charms.
It’s also not “The best of times and the worst of times,” in terms of the teams. The Dodgers have won the National League pennant the last two years and want to go back and finally win it all. On the other hand, the Padres have experienced bad times but are rapidly improving. They have a lot of good young ballplayers and are starting to win. Let’s call it “The best of times and the getting better times.”
Petco Park opened in 2004 and is one of the youngest ballparks. Only six are older. It is a gem!
The Gaslamp District
The park is situated near the harbor and the Historic Gaslamp Quarter which is full of bars and restaurants. An excellent place to meet friends and have drinks and dinner before the game and drinks after it. It is advertised as the “West Coast’s premier entertainment district” with “rich Victorian architecture and history.1” Additionally, there is a pedestrian promenade that connects the area with Petco’s “Park at the Park” a vast area behind the stadium. This area is where ticketed fans can hang out and relax. It’s also where a beautiful statue of Tony Gwynn is located.
A few things that I like in a ballpark:
The park’s look and feel are similar to the surrounding area. Petco’s exterior isn’t Victorian, by any means. In fact, its sandstone and stucco exterior was patterned after the sandy colored San Diego cliffs and beaches.2 However, it seems to fit the area nicely. Additionally, incorporating the Western Metal Supply Co. warehouse in the design helps to incorporate the surrounding area.
The park incorporates a commercial district nearby where fans can hang out before and after the game. The Gaslamp District provides more than enough bars and restaurants.
The commercial area should precede the ballpark. Better that, than an area built when the park is. Turning the concept into a mall of sorts. Those built with the stadium are better than nothing but not as good as if the area exists already.
I stayed at the Horton Grand Hotel in the heart of the District. It was inexpensive and a quick walk to the ballpark and harbor. The room was a suite, with a bedroom, a sitting room and bath. Not bad for less than $200, but I was only there for the day. This is a place that I would like to return to with Mrs. Nomad. We could spend a week experiencing the Gaslamp District, other points of interest, excellent restaurants, and some visits to Petco.
Honoring Padres History
Petco also offers a nod to San Diego’s vast baseball history. Yes, there are the retired numbers as all ballparks have. These are displayed on the stands behind home plate and just above the “Jerry Coleman Broadcast Center.” The broadcast center is another acknowledgment to the team’s history.
Jerry Coleman played second base for the Yankees in the 1950s. He was a Yankee broadcaster for seven years in the 1960s and then the Angels. In 1972, he started a 42-year stint as the radio voice of the Padres. That is except for 1980 when he managed the team.
They also have a Hall of Fame, again, most ballparks do. But Petco’s is prominently placed near the left field entrance off the pedestrian promenade. Over the entrance are paintings of Randy Jones, Dave Winfield, Tony Quinn and Trevor Hoffman (I think).
Also in the plaza is the “Padres in Cooperstown” area. The area is devoted to National Hall of Fame members associated with the Padres. Remember, the Padres were members of the Pacific Coast League for a long time before they were awarded a major league franchise. Nice to see a plaque for San Diego native, Ted Williams.
Food, Craft Beer & A Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog
I’ve seen good and bad reviews about Petco’s food and didn’t try enough to comment. However, I was intrigued. There are restaurants of many denominations throughout the ballpark many local outposts. Also some bars as well.
A few of the local outposts offer bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Since I was focused on the “Hot Dog Challenge” I asked around and found one at Randy Jones barbecue. It’s a 1/2 pound dog with a somewhat crusty bun and the optional grilled onions. Guess what? They have brown mustard at the condiment stand! Yes, this one is at the top of my list.
Rookie Chris Paddack and Jacob DeGrom hooked up for one of those great pitching duels. DeGrom gave up two runs over the seven innings he pitched. Paddack was better, shutting out the Mets for 7 2/3 innings. Paddack has a level of intensity that is difficult to describe. He has these fierce eyes and sticks his jaw as he stomps to and from the mound. The game was not as close as the 4 – 0 score suggests. Paddack and the Padres were always in control. You can read more about the game here.
Venerable Dodger Stadium
I don’t think you can say “Dodger Stadium” without adding “venerable.” It doesn’t sound right without the word “venerable” included. The stadium opened in 1962 and is the third oldest ballpark in the major leagues. Only Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field are older.
When you approach any other ballpark, they stand out like proud edifices to the great game. It’s not that way at Dodger Stadium. Unless you approach the stadium from the outfield side, you only see gardens, stairs, and signs. When you approach the stadium from the front, you enter at the level that your seats are at and then you see it. The beautiful stadium is spread out in all its glory below you.
There are palm trees and views of the San Gabriel mountains past the outfield fence. From my perch in right field, I could see a series of homes either built into or on top of the ridge behind the stadium.
The outfield bleachers and grandstands are covered with wavy rooftops that instill a 1960’s feel. This feeling is reinforced by the murals on the walls and the font used in the signage.
Where’s the Recognition of Dodger History?
While it’s a beautiful baseball stadium and a fun place to see a game, I didn’t sense the park’s glorious history. Remember, this park is where Koufax and Drysdale had their greatest success. This is also where Kirk Gibson hit his dramatic World Series home run in 1988. Frankly, Dodger Stadium was home to eight World Series, but you wouldn’t know it. It is also home to twelve no-hitters.
However, it’s interesting that in the merchandise store they sell Brooklyn “B” hats along with the now classic “L.A.” ones. I say interesting, because the last time I was at (now) Oracle Park, I thought it would be fun to get a New York Giants cap – yes, the baseball team. They didn’t have them.
There are also signs that celebrate the longest rivalry in baseball – the Dodgers vs. Giants. I did a double take – forgetting for the moment that they have been playing each other for a long time. That is if you consider Brooklyn, Flatbush, Coogan’s Bluff, etc. when discussing the rivalry.
The Park is Restrictive
Part of the problem is that it’s a hard stadium to get around in. The design restricts you to the seat level that your tickets are in. 3 I Ubered in and entered at the top of the stadium and was able to walk around the entire level. However, then I took the stairs down to my level and didn’t get a sense of the rest of the ballpark. It’s easier when you enter on the ground floor, and the stadium is designed to show you its best features. That’s the joy of the new.
So I don’t know how much of a Hall of Fame there is and didn’t remember to see the Jackie Robinson statue which is outside in the Left Field Reserve Plaza. 4 Probably a long walk from where I was in Right Field.
In keeping with its “venerable” status, Dodger Stadium has not entered the 21st century in the food arena. Again, I may have missed something. But walking into Dodger Stadium is like going back in time to when a dog and a beer was sufficient.
Actually, with some post-game research, I found that there was more food than just the Dodger Dog and Mexican food like the beef burrito I had after my Dodger Dog adventure. However, as I write this, I wonder how a slightly overweight, and happy eater like myself didn’t notice the other choices. So while there are more choices than I realized, it’s still a relatively “skinny” menu compared to other places. I should point out that they are competitive in the alcohol area. But, all in all, Citi Field, Petco Park, and many others have Dodger Stadium beat.
The Famous Dodger Dog
In keeping with my goal of getting a representative hot dog at every stadium, I tried the famous Dodger Dog. The Dodger Dog is so famous and has such a cult following that there is a Dodger Dog statue at the stadium.
When the stadium opened, Thomas Arthur wanted to capture some of the “old-school Brooklyn charm.5” So he created the Dodger Dog that is “inspired” by those that you can get at Coney Island. I love this next part.
New York’s Coney Island was known for their “footlong franks,” and while Arthur planned to borrow the moniker, the actual hot dog measured in at ten inches. To stop the inevitable customer complaints about those two missing inches, the Dodger Dog moniker came to Arthur’s mind, and L.A. has never looked back.
I’m a proud New Yorker and son of a proud Brooklyn Dodger fan. As such, it’s nice to know that the best that L.A. could do was two inches shorter than New York.
Moreover, they offer a thing called the “Doyer Dog.” “An homage to the Spanish pronunciation of the team name.” This version is actually larger than the traditional dog and “topped with chili, nacho cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos.6” If you agree that the term “doyer dog” is racially insensitive, you will love my next piece about Atlanta’s “chop.”
Is The Dodger Dog Worth The Hype?
So how is the Dodger Dog? Most would say – “not so good.” New Yorker’s interpretation of the phrase is “sucks.” I have little to nothing good to say about the experience except that I found some brown mustard. For the most part, it does not meet my criteria for a good hot dog. It’s a pre-prepared dog – you pick up your foil-wrapped bundle at concessions stands. Including the “Dodger Dog Express.” The dog is tasty enough, but if it is grilled, it still has no char, no crunch. The bun is steamed, no crust. Condiments are OK, and yes there is brown mustard.
I ate my requisite Dodger Dog and then went off to find something substantial to eat and had a pretty good Beef Burrito.
The Dodgers proved why they are one of the best teams in the game. In contrast, the Braves displayed the relative weakness of the N.L. East. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched a complete game 4-hit shutout and no-hit the Braves for five innings. Justin Turner hit three home runs. The Dodgers walloped the Braves 8 – 0. You can read more about the game here.
Where else but in L.A. can you see KISS frontman, Gene Simmons sing the National Anthem. I caught it on a video monitor as I raced to my seat.
Why I Watch
And then there was Cody Bellinger in right field.
It’s the top half of the seventh inning and there are two out. The Braves have Ozzie Albies on first, and Ronald Acuna Jr. is at bat. They both are fast, and Acuna Jr. is the reigning Rookie of the Year. They’re the kind of players you can draft if you lose a lot of games for a few years.
The Dodgers are ahead 5 – 0, Ryu is “lights out” so it’s not like I think the Braves can come back, but you never know. Acuna Jr. launches a line drive to right field, and Bellinger starts to run to his left in pursuit of the ball. Since Acuna Jr. bats right-handed, the ball has some spin that keeps pushing it away from Bellinger. My mind starts to race as I imagine the others do as well. Will Bellinger get to and catch the ball? If he doesn’t, how far will it roll? Albies will score, but where will Acuna end up – on third, or will he score too 7 Finally, and right below me, Bellinger reaches across his body and a few inches above the turf. The ball nestles into his glove as he tumbles head over feet 8.
The suspense, tension, and brilliant play are why I watch.
Next, I was off to Atlanta’s new SunTrust Park, where I encountered a pretty good hot dog, a Pimento cheese patty and the infamous ”Chop.”
Part of my goal for this summer is to experience as much baseball as possible. As such, I couldn’t pass up the Mexico Series. This year, MLB scheduled three, two-game, weekend series in Monterrey, Mexico. My two days in Mexico was the last of the three. The Angels were playing the Astros, so I got the chance to see Mike Trout a few more times as well.
The morning after my visit to Angels Stadium, I drove back to Los Angeles for the flight to Monterrey. I bought my plane tickets early so I could get the only nonstop flight on Delta. And I only fly Delta because the points get me perks.
I have to say, I learned a few things on the trip. The good people of Mexico people have a sense of humor and are tolerant — I’m very grateful for their help. I had a great time and saw a great example that “baseball is like a liquid.”
So what did I learn?
Understand The Language – Even a Little Bit
Silly me, I just got on a plane with a passport, camera, and iPhone and assumed that the Mexican would cater to my inability to speak the language. I jokingly tweeted 1 about my lack of knowledge in Spanish and said I needed to prep better for the London trip.
It was difficult to order at a restaurant, take an Uber or cab and so many more things. It’s a good experience to have if you want to understand what refugees experience when they come to the U.S.
Research is Good, as Well
It would have been a good idea to research and find restaurants that made traditional Mexican food but accommodated English speakers. I didn’t do that.
Moreover, I didn’t read about the stadium rules and learn that cameras were not allowed. I can get into ballparks with my camera and a short lens (55mm) and a small zoom lens (70mm to 250mm). Occasionally, I bring my long lens that extends to 400mm, and I can see players up close.
So, I showed up with my small sling camera bag and security told me “no cameras!” What to do? I found an English speaking guy who worked with MLB security, and we discussed it. My suave, New York communication style did not change anyone’s opinion. The result was, I couldn’t come in with any cameras, and there was no place to store them. So I quickly jumped into an Uber and made a 45-minute round trip back to the hotel. I had a good Uber driver who waited while I went to my room and dropped off the camera. Luckily, I get to stadiums early, so I had time.
Finally, I had to continue my tradition of buying the home team’s cap at the stadium and taking a selfie in the stadium. To that point, I have a new page, devoted to the subject that is almost ready to launch. It has a selfie at each game with a different cap – kind of cool.
I needed my Mexico hat! However, I had to wait about 45 minutes when I finally got inside the stadium to get into the merchandise store. I should have known better and realized that everyone would want a Mexico Series cap or two. So I waited, waited, and waited. By the time I got inside the shop, the fitted hat I wanted wasn’t available in my size.
I know better now. For London, I’ll buy online before I leave or at the merchandise store, that was set up in another part of the city.
Baseball in Mexico
Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey
The Baseball Stadium in Monterrey, also known as Sultan Place, opened in 1990, but it seemed older when I visited. It is the home of the Mexican League team, Monterrey Sultanes.
The cement structure, handrails, concession stands, hallways just made it seem older than roughly 30 years old. MLB and other websites 2 say that the stadium holds 27,000, but the Monterrey Sultanes web site says 22,061. 3 Either way, the Sultan Palace is a cute if somewhat utilitarian ballpark. The fans seem to have fun.
The city of Monterrey is 1,772 ft. above sea level. The only MLB stadium that is higher is Coors Field in Denver. 4 I’m not sure if it was the climate or the altitude but the ball seems to carry well. Frankly, what do I know? I was up in the third level (“tank”) and it was just my impression that batted balls seemed to carry. I later found this quote that confirms my suspicions “it rewards hard contact on the ground or in the air. 5
The upper deck in the stadium is very steep. My seat (both days) was in the second to last row of the upper deck, so I had a bit of a climb. My thought was, what will it take for me to go down and up again. I mean how bad will I need to pee to make that dangerous trip.
However, then I turned around and saw the view! The view is beautiful, possibly the prettiest view from a ballpark that I have ever seen. The view of San Francisco Bay from (what they now call) Oracle Park is excellent, but the view in Monterrey is much different and better. Tall mountains surround the ballpark.
The Mountains of Monterrey
When I looked to my left from my seat a little past third base, I saw the Cerro de la Silla over the left field fence. It’s tallest point, Pico Norte (North Peak) is 5,740 ft. tall. 6
As I panned to my right, I saw the Cerro de Chipinque in center and right field, over the scoreboard. Its elevation is 7,313 ft. tall. 7
Finally, way to the right and almost behind home plate is the Cerro de las Mitras standing 6,752 ft. tall. 8
Not something you see every day at the old local ballyard.
Surprisingly, the games weren’t sold out. Approximately 18,000 attended each day. Moreover, it’s not clear how many local fans attended as opposed to American tourists. It seemed like many people from Houston made the less than 500-mile drive to Monterrey and cheer for their team. On Saturday, the people sitting next to me were from Houston and bilingual – which for me was very helpful.
Whatever their origin, the atmosphere was electric and festive. People were celebratory. It didn’t hurt that the Astros beat the Angels 14 – 2 on Saturday and 10 – 4 on Sunday.
The fans were very enthusiastic between innings with the normal scoreboard activities “kiss cam” etc. However, they did one I had never seen before and love. It’s called “Simba Cam.” They play the music from the Lion King while fans hold up their children above and in front of them. Just like the movie. Of course, the camera pans and captures the action on the scoreboard. It looked like fun, and here I was not speaking the language with no toddler to display. I almost thought about renting one. However, that may not have gone over well.
I didn’t eat much but was fascinated by the differences between the concession practices in American ballparks and Mexico. Vendors tend to sell packaged, finished products in the U.S. Not so in Monterrey, where they assemble the food in front of the fans.
For example, I saw a food vendor carrying a tray with six containers filled with various nuts. I guess that the fan requests their preferred assortment, and the vendor puts it together. He likely adds a nice shot of chili powder that is prevalent in Monterrey.
Speaking of chili powder, the seasoning (possibly mixed with a few others) is dispensed from a squeeze bottle commonly used for syrup. Yes, they have syrup bottles filled with chili powder that they use as needed.
The chili powder is used everywhere, including on corn chips. So the vendor walks around with a tray filled with bags of Fritos and other types of chips. When a fan orders one, he opens the bag and “whoosh” he dispenses another big puff of chili powder.
They serve beer in big plastic cups that hold two bottles worth. The vendor holds two bottles, uses a bottle opener two open both at once and then pours them into the cup. They do this in the stands. Moreover, the bottles are carried around in giant metal tubs and were placed at the bottom of the stairs and halfway up the stands. The vendors would run up and down the stairs, get the beers, deliver to the patron and get paid. Much different than a vendor carrying a plastic tub of beer cans.
Mangos, Chamoy, Chili Powder and Lime
My favorite food was a revelation. The vendor walks through the park with 10-ounce plastic cups filled with various fruits, mangos, pineapple, and possibly strawberries. The fan has a choice of three toppings: chili powder, chamoy, and freshly squeezed lime juice. Chamoy is a sauce made of pickled fruit that “will make your summer sweet, tangy, and a little spicy.” 9 I didn’t understand the experience, but “Alex” the very accommodating, bilingual, Astro fan sitting to my left explained it to me. When it was my turn to order, a woman in his group said I should get all three toppings. Who was I to argue?
The vendor grabbed a cup of mangos cut into cubes and squeezed some Chamoy from a plastic syrup bottle. Then he grabbed the ubiquitous chili powder squeeze bottle and added a nice shot of spice. Finally, he took out a lime squeezer and squeezed fresh lime juice over the entire concoction.
I dutifully mixed it all around a took a taste. There was the fruity mango taste, mixed with sweet and sour, spicy with a hint of lime. Fantastic on a hot day with a cold beer.
It’s something I’m going to try at home. I’ve already ordered my Chamoy.
The Sultanes Monster Dog
An excellent dog and possibly a famous one as it was part of the 2019 MLB Food Fest in Los Angeles. 10 With that said, I’m not exactly sure what I ate, and internet research only goes so far.
The dog was long and thick – clearly a “jumbo” dog – served on a hearty roll. It was topped with a creamy, spicy sauce and some crunchy things – bacon bits? The pictures on the internet tend to show a dog smothered in cheese sauce. These were available but not what I got.
It’s a grilled dog, so it was crunchy with some char, and it had a spicy taste. Further research indicates that it may be Chorizo sausage or have Chorizo mixed in. I think it was the latter.
It’s served with some potato chips, and cut in half, so it’s easier to manipulate. There are additional condiments, but no brown mustard, and I didn’t feel the need to have much more.
There is no need to repeat what good baseball writers have done. Here are links to a recap for each game if you want to read about them. May 4th/Game 1, May 5th/ Game 2. Here are a few things that struck me as impressive:
I was surprised to see Pujols playing first base in the first game. I thought he only DH’d and no longer played the field. In that game, he hit a home run for his 1,999 RBI. Only four other hitters in history have 2,000 RBI – Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Cap Anson, and Alex Rodriguez. Although, I would have stayed anyway, the chance to see him get his 2,000th was another incentive.
Harvey is an ex-Met, so his performance interested me. As many know, he suffered a series of debilitating injuries. He missed the entire 2014 after Tommy John surgery. In 2016, he suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, which required surgery to remove his first rib. In 2017 he didn’t pitch well and missed time due to a stress fracture in his scapula. 11
Last year, his pitching never improved, and he landed in Cincinnati after he and the Mets disagreed on an improvement plan. After showing some promise with the Reds in 2018, he signed a free agent deal with the Angels.
In the fifth inning on Sunday, he hit Robinson Chirinos with one out. After Adremys Diaz flew out for the second out, George Springer singled, and then Harvey walked Jose Altuve. At that point, Manager Brad Asmus replaced him, with Cam Bedrosian. Removing Harvey surprised me since he was pitching well, throwing strikes, and hadn’t thrown a lot of pitches. Bedrosian’s first two pitches to Alex Bregman were balls. Possibly feeling the pressure to get a strike, Bedrosian grooved the next pitch. Bregman hit it over the centerfield wall, and that was pretty much the ballgame.
Another ex-Met, Hansel Robles, is now the Angels closer. Robles was ineffective with the Mets and released. I was surprised to find he had resurfaced in Los Angeles.
More surprising is Robles’ absurd entrance routine. They play the “undertaker theme” over an ominous video, with a white horse and flower petals. Yeah, I don’t get it either. Moreover, they play the gong from the song each time Robles records a strikeout.
This type of grand entrance may be appropriate for some. For example, Mariano Rivera the greatest of all time deserved the “Enter Sandman” entrance “off to never-never land.” But in the Angels’ case, we’re talking Hansel “f’ng” Robles who doesn’t have the record to justify this treatment.
Any pitcher has to live up to the entrance or will look foolish. On Sunday, the Astros blistered Robles, and he looked foolish as did the Angels.
Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander was not at his best. He seemed to struggle at times. Additionally, he was surprised by the way the ball carried. David Fletcher greeted him on his first pitch with a bomb to left field. From my perch, it seemed like Verlander might be thinking, “WTF that should be a fly out!”. The critical point is that Verlander is a master, and there was no question that he was in control. He would find a way to win. All in all, he pitched seven innings, gave up three home runs, but won the game.
Every team needs a stud pitcher. A leader that the team has total confidence in and knows he will do battle as needed. They will follow him into the breach and do battle as well.
Verlander is one of those guys.
As far as I can tell, the Astros are the best team in baseball. They dismantled a pretty good Angels team.
The Astros are a result of a lot of high draft choices from their “tanking” days. They simply decided for four years that they would not make an effort to win in the major leagues. They would save their money, lose games, and earn the draft choices needed to rebuild their team. It’s a sad way to manage a ball club, but it works. Just ask the Braves, Phillies, and Cubs who did the same to a certain degree.
With that said, the Astros are also one of the best analytic teams and know how to pick and develop players. That’s why their draft picks are still with the club and are playing well. It’s also why they have a second baseman who stands 5′ 6″ and is on his way to the Hall of Fame. Most teams wouldn’t add a young, unproven Jose Altuve to their organization. The Astros and are reaping the benefits.
I can’t wait to see them again in Houston on May 20th.
After Mexico, I traveled back to Southern California to visit Petco Park and Dodgers Stadium before I headed home.
Over six days, I saw five games in four ballparks on a trip through Southern California and Monterrey, Mexico. My first stop was Angels Stadium in Anaheim. As interested as I was in the Angels of Anaheim, I was most interested in finally seeing Mike Trout. Trout is considered the best player on the planet and I have barely seen him play.
Marketing Mike Trout
How could a devoted baseball fan, not see the game’s greatest player? Baseball has a series of problems marketing stars like Trout:
He plays on the west coast, so many on the east coast are asleep when he is playing.
MLB relies on local television to broadcast each team’s games. Fans can subscribe to see any game, and there is also the MLB Network. However, there still is the timing issue. Moreover, the casual fan is not a subscriber, so they will not be exposed to his greatness. Of course, post season play would increase the player’s exposure. Unfortunately, the Angels have not been in the playoffs in a while.
It’s not a sure thing that a specific player will have the chance to do something memorable. Other sports benefit because their stars have constant chances to display their skills. In comparison, a baseball player comes to the plate only four or five times per game and at specified intervals. Exhibiting his defensive prowess is limited because it requires a ball hit in his vicinity.
Baseball is Difficult
You expect failure in baseball. Consider that a measure of excellence is to bat 300. The “300 batting average” sounds much better than “30% hitter,” however, the terms are synonymous. The sad fact is that fans can turn in to watch a celebrated player and he will fail. In Trout’s case, if you watched all his 4,822 plate appearances 1; you would have seen him make 2,761 outs2 That is not what the uninitiated would consider exciting.
With that said, Trout does so many things well. If you keep your eyes on him, you will be amazed by the way he attacks the game. He brings everything to his hitting, running and fielding. If you focus on Trout, you’ll see something you’ll remember for years to come.
Needless to say, one of my goals on this journey is to see as much of Mr. Trout as possible.
Mike Trout – a Primer
The 25th Pick
My take on Mike Trout is that he snuck up on the casual fan. He was the 25th draft pick in 2009. Not first, not second – 25th! Why so low? One theory is that he’s from New Jersey and as such considered a risky choice. Northern players don’t play as much winter ball, and thus they are lesser known3
Many teams missed him. A quick review of the list of players drafted before Trout shows a few all-stars. Stephen Strasburg was 1st, Aaron Crow 12th, A.J. Pollock 17th, and Shelby Miller was 19th. Strasburg has been better than many think, Pollack is a solid star, but neither has reached Trout’s heights. No one has. Then there are the others on the list: Donovan Tate, Dustin Ackley, Jacob Turner, etc. Their only baseball achievement to tell their grandkids may be that they were drafted ahead of Mike Trout.
His progress was quick. Before 2010, baseball ranked him the 3rd best prospect in the Angels system and 85th in baseball. By July they increased his ranking to number two. At the end of the year, he was the youngest ever to win the Topps Minor League Player of The Year. Before the following season, ESPN’s Keith Law and MLB’s Jonathan Mayo ranked him the number one prospect in baseball.
Trout’s Major League Career
Trout’s first seven years in the major leagues could be the best in history. A summary:
2012: In his first year, he posted one of the “best statistical seasons ever. His 10.9 “Wins Above Replacement (WAR)” 4 that year is tied with Ted Williams for 21st all-time in a single season. The only other outfielders who have posted a better WAR in at least one season are Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Carl Yastrzemski, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, and Willie Mays. Not surprisingly, he was the youngest and 18th unanimous Rookie of the Year Award winner. Trout finished second in the MVP balloting. Miguel Cabrera, the first player to win the triple crown award in 45 years, won the award.
2014: He was the second youngest and 17th unanimous winner of the MVP award.
2015: Became the youngest to reach 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases. He is also the second to win four Silver Slugger Awards 5 in the first four years of his career. For the third time in four years, he finished second in the MVP balloting. He was the first player since Barry Bonds to finish in the top three places for four consecutive years.
2016: He won his second MVP Award.
2017: Trout became the seventh player to hit his 200th career home run before the end of his age 25 season. He also recorded his 1,000th career hit.
2018: He finished fourth in batting average (.312), first in on base percentage (.460) and third in slugging (.628) 6.
The best way to codify a baseball player’s comprehensive skill set and compare him to others is to examine his “WAR.” “WAR” (“Wins Above Replacement”) scores players based on their calculated value compared to a minimally viable player 7. What’s nice is that the score can be used to rank current players and historical ones.
As I mentioned above, Trout’s first-year WAR was one of the best in history. He’s continued to post high scores since then.
Trout’s career WAR shows him on a trajectory to be an inner circle Hall of Fame inductee. In 2016, Trout achieved the highest career WAR in an age 24 season since 1913. The next four highest at that age are Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, and Ted Williams. Good company.
His 67.3 career WAR ranks 126th on the all-time list. His only behind four active players. All of them – Zach Greinke, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, and Albert Pujols – have played at least eight years longer than Trout. In only his seventh season he already has had a better career than almost every other current player8.
Watching Mike Trout Play
Trout is on a historic run, one that fans need to experience. If the Angels are on television, watch it. If they’re not, stream the game. Most of all, if you are in a city where the Angels are playing, go. Don’t ask questions, go. If you live in L.A., go a lot!
It’s best to see him live. The problem with television is that the director decides where the viewer should focus their attention. Just focusing a camera on a single player is not an option. And you can’t just watch a game that Trout plays in as if it was a typical game. In those games, you focus on the interplay with the pitcher, catcher, and hitter. You then turn your attention to the lead runner or where the ball is hit. However, when the Angels play, you must keep your eyes on Trout.
Trout is a guy who is focused and always in the game. He hustles. Watching him ground out is a revelation. He sprints down the line as fast as possible, no matter how sure an out the ground ball is. In comparison, most players including the $300 million men, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado trot. If there is an error, they will be safe at first. If the ball goes past the first baseman, they will make it to second. Not Trout, he sprints and makes the easy play close.
Making Things Happen
I saw him sprint through two ground outs when I saw him for the first time on Thursday. Later, he doubled and hit a home run and had a pretty good day. However, it was Sunday in Mexico, where he really impressed. In the third inning, the leadoff hitter, David Fletcher singled. Trout walked, creating a situation where men were on first and second with no one out. The next hitter, Brian Goodwin, flew out to center. That’s when the fun started.
As expected, Fletcher advanced to third. The centerfielder – George Springer’s – play was to throw to second. The theory is that a good throw will keep the runner on first in so doing, avoiding a second player in scoring position. Most runners understand the theory and assume that they won’t get to second safely. Instead, they proceed halfway and then go back to the safety of first when the throw is made. Not Trout. He sprinted and slid headfirst into second, beating the throw.
Did it mean anything? Not really. The Astros retired the next couple of hitters, no runs scored, and they came from behind to win 10 to 4. But it happened, and it’s why we watch. It’s why everyone should watch.
There are the players we wish we saw or at least wish we remembered seeing. I barely remember Clemente, Mays or Mantle, even though I saw them and I never saw Joe DiMaggio or Jackie Robinson. I am just a little too young to have experienced their greatness and I regret it. In the future, people will wish they saw Mike Trout. You don’t want to be one of them.
Along Came Andrelton Simmons
On Thursday, it was Andrelton Simmons’ play that I will always remember. Simmons also seems to fly under the radar. Only devoted fans know of his prowess. I assume that he might be more popular if he still played in Atlanta. The issues with his popularity are the same as Trout’s.
However, Simmons is one of the best shortstops in the game. MLB The Show ranks him the 4th best shortstop in baseball 9. He’s astute and very talented. He displayed both facets in one play on Thursday night.
In the top of the sixth, the Angels were ahead by a seemingly comfortable margin of four runs, 5 -1. However, Eric Sogard led off the inning with a walk and scored when Randall Grichuk doubled. Then Justin Smoak walked.
So, there was one out, and Brandon Drury representing the tying run was at bat. Moreover, pitcher Tyler Skaggs was faltering and the team needs someone to “step up.” Drury lofted a short fly toward second base. It wasn’t high enough to be considered an out under the infield fly rule. The expectation was that Simmons would catch the ball and record the second out with no runners advancing.
Instead, Simmons let the ball hit the ground and then pop into his glove. He quickly stepped on second to force the runner on first out. He then chased the man on second into a rundown for a fantastic double play.
Some shortstops would have thought to let the ball drop, but don’t have the skill to turn that double play. Others have the talent but wouldn’t have thought to do it. Simmons is unique, he did both.
However, I don’t think anyone noticed.
The reported 40,064 that supposedly attended the game were preoccupied. I’m going to guess that most didn’t realize that Simmons instigated the rundown.
No offense intended. Angels fans don’t seem much different than other fans. They don’t seem to pay attention to the finer points of the game. On Thursday, they drank some beer, ate some food and seemed to have a good time. When the scoreboard said “make noise” they made noise. They did the wave, played with their phones and waved them late in the game to light up the stands. Although they seemed to follow the game and cheered appropriately, I doubt that many realized Simmons’ direct influence on the play.
The stadium itself is the fourth oldest in the major leagues, and it feels like it needs a remodel. The ballpark has gone through many renovations. In the late 1970s, the ballpark was enclosed to add 20,000 seats to entice the Los Angeles Rams to play their home games there. At the same time, they moved the iconic Big A from the scoreboard area to the parking lot. After the Rams left in 1994, the stadium was reconfigured to support only baseball, and seating reduced to 45,000.
While it’s a fine place to see a game, the renovations may have cost it its character. The stadium doesn’t have a unifying theme and is missing some of the amenities of newer stadiums.
For example, there are a few flourishes of Disney’s influence in Anaheim. There are a few statues but not enough to make a difference. I realize that Disney no longer owns the team, but either you need more Disney influence or remove it all. After all, if you think Anaheim, you think Disney. Moreover, I didn’t see play areas as I saw at Citizens Bank, Petco or Marlins Park. Put that concept with Disney, and you have something.
I passed some excellent beer stands that offered a series of craft beers. I liked the Bud Patio, Coors Light Cold Zone and the Picnic Area. If I were in Anaheim, I’d spend too much time out there before a game.
Time For A New Stadium?
However, walking through the stadium made me feel like management keeps trying to add new things where they can to try and stay relevant. It’s like they keep trying to retrofit the stadium to fit a new sensibility. So the food areas are scattered through the stadium with little rhyme or reason. The experience is like walking through an old mall that is trying to stay relevant and compete with the new one up the street.
There is a much different feel at San Diego’s much newer Petco Park. It’s like the new mall.
The team is considering moving to a new stadium, and that seems to be a good idea.
Bad Night for Hot Dogs
I blundered in my quest for the best MLB ballpark hot dog! I went against my stated criteria and should not be surprised that I was disappointed.
At the start of the journey I said, “at some point, you’re eating something someone did to the dog and not just a dog.” My goal was to stay away from hot dogs that had excessive toppings that overwhelmed the basic hot dog. So why did I choose a jumbo dog with bacon, caramelized onions and apple cider sauerkraut from Crafty Dawgs?
Somehow, I understood that the place to go was the Legend Dog stand near the Bud Patio for an excellent grilled Jumbo Dog. It was only open on weekends so I couldn’t get one and a guard suggested Crafty Dawg.
Shame on me, the Angel Dog from one of the other stands was probably the way to go and what I will do next time. Most of all, I’ll do more research.
For the record, the Crafty Dawg had some of the criteria I was looking for:
crunchy, with some char
possibly a sturdy bun – it couldn’t handle the weight of all my toppings, but what could?
The problem is that I should have bucked the trend and just ordered the dog with the apple cider sauerkraut and some honey mustard. In total, to my taste, it was a below-average dog, but I should have known better. Moreover, others seemed to enjoy the experience.
I needed an excellent rebound from the Lost Weekend in Florida. Luckily, I planned an early season trip with Mrs. Nomad to Toronto to see the Blue Jays and relax a bit. From a trip planning perspective, I wanted to get this one out of the way. The Rogers Centre is domed so the weather wouldn’t be an issue. Why not get the trip done before the schedule got crazy? As it turned out, the trip was just at the right time. It was relaxing, fun and rejuvenating. Mrs. Nomad and I have always had fun in Canada, and this trip north of the border was no different. Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s first weekend in the show was an added plus.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. – Ken Griffey Jr. or Clint Hurdle?
When we drove north on Friday, I was feeling much better. So much so that I suggested that we try and see Friday night’s game too. After all, it was Vlad Jr.’s first game. However, I got the look – not that Mrs. Nomad doesn’t like baseball – but this was an overly aggressive idea. We were both tired.
“Discretion is the better part of valor” is my new motto. So, instead of testing fate, we decided to have a quick dinner and watch the game on television. Predictably, I fell asleep in the middle of the game and missed Vlad Jr.’s ninth-inning double and Brandon Drury’s home run to win the game.
Hazel Mae is a member of a seemingly excellent Blue Jays’ broadcasting team and seems to be a good reporter. So, I mean no offense. However, she said something on Friday that struck me as odd. While recounting how Vlad Jr., a weak fielder, was working diligently on his defensive skills, she said it was his “next step on the road to greatness.”
I thought about Clint Hurdle. Then I thought about Ken Griffey Jr. Each had a different career arc, and the appropriate question is “which road is Vlad Jr. on?”
My first memory of Clint Hurdle was the cover of the March 28, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated. Clint was on the cover – smiling broadly. The headline read “This Years Phenom.” Unfortunately, Clint was anything but a can’t miss rookie. He missed badly.
In ten years, he hit only 32 home runs, batted a mediocre .259 and only played more than 80 games in two seasons. He had a severe back injury that affected his play for a long time. He partied and may have battled alcoholism. Some suggested that they rushed him to the majors too quickly. 1
Hurdle is now the very successful manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Happy with his life and apparently the saga of his playing days a distant memory.
Ken Griffey Jr.
I don’t remember when I first noticed Ken Griffey Jr. It may have been his broad smile or the way he casually wore his cap backward. Possibly it was the understanding that Reds and Yankee outfielder, Ken Griffey had a namesake that played the game and was going to the bigs.
Griffey Jr. had the pedigree and was gifted. However, lineage is not a determinant of talent, and there was the chance that Griffey Jr. would not be that good.
He was more than good, he was great!
His 22-year career that started in 1989, when the 19-year-old Griffey Jr. was third in Rookie of the Year voting. It ended as a 1st ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame with 99.32 percent of the vote. The highest percentage until a guy named Rivera was a unanimous electee. In his career, Griffey Jr. hit 630 home runs and slashed .284/.370/.538. 2
Vlad Guerrero Jr.??
Vlad Jr. has the pedigree. He has his dad’s swing and has a presence on the field and seems to be a natural leader. Additionally, he enjoys the game and plays with as much joy as enthusiasm. Very highly regarded, he is either the number one or number two prospect in the game.
My only point is that his success is not assured. We shouldn’t be ready to engrave his Hall of Fame plaque at this point in his nascent career. I remember an old saying (that I can’t find a reference to anywhere) “There are two types of ballplayers – the ones that have been embarrassed and the ones that will be embarrassed.” Nothing is certain, especially in baseball.
If Vlad Jr. fulfills his destiny, remember that his success was not a sure thing. It took a lot of work and dedication to get to Cooperstown. On the other hand, if his career doesn’t pan out as expected – remember that he worked just as hard, it just didn’t happen.
I hope he enjoys the road he is on, regardless of the destination. He’s a good guy and deserves that much.
Note that I am not going to discuss the fact that the Blue Jays likely manipulated Vlad Jr.’s service time so that they can control him for an extra year. It’s not a good practice and hurts the players. However, I discussed the practice in a previous post, and I’m sure there will be time to do so later. Let’s stick to the game and fun weekend in Toronto.
Saturday Morning in Toronto
Peameal Bacon Sandwich’s
What do you do when you have a free morning in Toronto? We decided to go in search of the St. Lawrence Market in Old Toronto. The market opened in 1803 and has been a centerpiece of Toronto’s culinary tradition for almost as long and was just a short walk from the hotel. We were in search of a Peameal Bacon Sandwich for breakfast. The best ones are from the Carousel Bakery, “The fabulous sandwich has been often imitated but never duplicated by many competitors.” The sandwich is an adult does of pork on a soft bun. I liked mine, but couldn’t quite finish it.
After we finished our sandwiches, we walked through the market. Past incredible seafood stands – a woman ladling mussels out of a big bin filled with water. Then we went by the meat stands – fantastic steaks, chops, and sausages on display. There were specialty shops, candies, chocolate, “Montreal Bagels” at St. Urban Bagel. A Montreal-style bagel in comparison to the New York-style bagel is “is smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser, with a larger hole, and is always baked in a wood-fired oven. It contains malt, egg, and no salt, and is boiled in honey-sweetened water before being baked.” 3 We tried a delicious poppy bagel.
And then we found the Kozlik’s Canadian Mustard stand. Kozlik’s is family owned and operated since it opened in 1948. They say that their recipe and process to produce hand-maid mustard in small batches has not changed in 60 years.
Something I did not know – Canada is the second-largest mustard producer exports more mustard seed than any other country in the world.4
Kozlik’s had numerous mustards on display. Very few were yellow. They segment their mustards into three groups, Spicy, Sweet, and Savory. As far as I can tell, the traditional Canadian mustard is a lovely shade of brown.
Imagine my concern that the Rogers Centre feature’s yellow mustard. See my comments regarding hot dogs below.
On To The Rogers Center
The game started at 3:00. We arrived at around 1:30 and headed straight to the team store. Unlike the other team stores that I have been to, they had numerous, friendly and cheerful salespeople to assist. I dutifully purchased my Blue Jays’ hat and broke down and got a Guerrero Jr. #27 jersey. Today’s a once in a lifetime event when you see a likely future baseball great in his opening weekend. Might as well commemorate the occasion.
Then we walked the perimeter of the main level. It had been a long time since we were there. The last time was in the early 1990s. The Rogers Center is not a ballyard, it’s a stadium. It feels like a domed arena. The dome is impressive, and it was more than good to be in from the cold. However, it is a closed-in domed stadium without the beautiful windows featured in Marlins Park. as a consequence, there was not a connection to the outside. A fun time, but we felt like we were in an arena – not a relaxing ballyard.
However, if I lived in Toronto, I’d go often. The wave through the smallish crowd during the later innings was silly but quaint. And Rogers Centre is the only major league ballpark that can offer “Loonie Dogs Night” since the “loonie” is the Canadian dollar. So every other stadium can only try “Dollar Dogs Night” which just doesn’t seem to be as much fun.
“You never know what’s going to happen… And that’s the fun of it!! That’s what baseball’s all about!!”
The Blue Jays are playing a new style (for them) of ball. They’ve lost their power hitters (e.g., Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista”) and so they have turned to “small ball.” The change is likely due to new manager Charlie Montoyo who coached for Tampa Bay when they played similar ball. 5
The Blue Jays won 7 – 1. Guerrero Jr. went 1 for 4 with a walk and two strikeouts.
We saw a safety squeeze play in the second inning when Eric Sogard pushed a bunt up the first base line allowing Danny Jansen to score from third. Pretty play.
We saw some excellent defense too. Teoscar Hernandez saved the day with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. The Jays were ahead 4 to 1, and Matt Chapman was the tying run at the plate since men were on first and second. Chapman hit a scorching line drive to the gap between left and center field that Hernandez barely reached, stretching to catch the ball. If he missed the ball, Chapman would have been on second (if not third) with both runners scoring.
Here’s something I’ve never seen in a game. In the top of the seventh, Nick Hundley hit a ground ball to the left of the second baseman, Brandon Drury. Drury started moving to his left and collided with umpire Larry Vanover, allowing the ball to go through and Hundley to be safe at first.
The Great Hot Dog Challenge – We have a new leader!
Toronto’s hot dog offering was a very lovely rebound from my choice at Marlin’s Park! Schneider’s franks are the official hot dog of the Blue Jays. They were founded in Canada in 1890 by JM Schneider. So first criteria met – they are unique to the area!
Moreover, the dogs are big not just long – a very meaty feast. They are tasty – with an exciting mix of spices. The dogs are grilled at a specialty stand and assembled as needed. They are on a soft bun with a little crust that works nicely with the crispy dog.
Additionally, they offer grilled onions and a series of condiments from raw onions, relish, chorizo sauce, pickled peppers and more.
So I am giving the Rogers Centre’s hot dog offering high marks and moving them to the top of my burgeoning list. However, I need to deduct some points for their choice of mustard.
How is it possible that in the real home of mustard the mustard of choice is Heinz Yellow Mustard? Moreover, how can they taunt me with the slogan “It Has To Be?” No, it doesn’t “have to be!” Call the folks at Kozliks and offer their mustard, please. Doing so will restore my faith in what is possible.
I planned to fly into Miami on Friday afternoon and see the Marlins that night. On Saturday, I’d drive the three and a half hours to St. Petersburg and catch the Rays. On Sunday, I’d drive back to Miami and fly home. In so doing, I would visit two ballparks I’d never been to before and have some fun. The resulting post would discuss why Florida’s baseball franchises are troubled and my thoughts on the ballparks I visited. That didn’t happen. Instead, it was a lost weekend in Florida, and I never made it to St. Petersburg.
A Rough Start
My game day flights leave early, around 6:00 AM, which means that I am up around 4:30 and out by 5:00. Thus I expect to be tired all day. Friday was no different. I landed in Miami around noon, got to my hotel and promptly slept until it was time to go to the game. This is not the way I roll. I might be tired but never so much that I require an afternoon nap, no. However, I felt odd, out of it and very tired. That night, after the game, I was up every couple of hours with stomach issues.
By Saturday morning I knew I was in trouble. I was a little dizzy, felt feverish my stomach was still bothering me, and I was somewhat short of breath. , I wondered if the pneumonia I had the previous week was back, even though I thought I felt better on Thursday. I didn’t want to drive to St. Petersburg, and I considered taking a train. I didn’t know they had trains between Miami and Tampa.
The timing for the train wouldn’t fit my schedule so I “soldiered on.” I left the hotel around 10:00 and started driving north.
“Soldiered on?” Isn’t this going to be the trip of a lifetime, every baseball fan’s dream? Yes, the journey of a lifetime and something I desperately want to do. However, that doesn’t mean that every day will be enjoyable and the travel easy. There will be days when I don’t have it all together when things don’t go smoothly.
Moreover, there is no turning back. Thirty ballparks and 42 stops is not a goal, it’s a commitment I’ve made to myself, and I don’t plan on failing. Which means I will need to push myself at times, and so I did.
The drive seemed to be going fine. When I was about 100 miles out, going west on I-75 and just entering the Everglades, I decided to take a break at a rest stop. My sense was that rest stops would be few and far between, so it was a good time to stop.
I didn’t realize how sick I was until I got out of the car and stood up. When I did so, I felt dizzy and didn’t think I had the energy to walk the 100 feet to the men’s room. So I sat on a bench near the car while I gathered my strength to try the walk. In the men’s room, I was hot, sweaty and thought I was going to pass out.
Remembering that “discretion is the better part of valor,” I decided to stop and drove back to Miami. I slept for most of the next 24 hours and flew home.
I’ll go to St. Petersburg on September 7th. I’m soldiering on.
Friday Night at Marlins Park
I may not be the most objective soul out there. I’m a baseball fan and will probably like most of the ballparks I visit. I like Marlins Park and find it sad that more people weren’t there. The Washington Nationals are in town on a Friday night and only 8,000 or so people are in the park. Many of them were wearing Nationals gear; I’d guess that no more than 60% were Marlins fans.
Miami’s attendance is so bad that they didn’t even sell tickets in the upper deck. It’s closed.
My take is it’s a great place to go. I don’t need the Marlins Mermaids dancing during the middle of the third inning, but it’s fun. There is Cuban music playing, Cuban food offered around the park, the bobblehead museum and a beautiful view of Miami through dramatic tall glass windows in left field. Just imagine if the place was packed, the music was blaring and the fans rocking. It would be impressive.
So what went wrong?
What’s Wrong With Florida Baseball?
Florida baseball attendance is awful. In 2018 the Rays ranked 29th (1,155k) and the Marlins 30th (811k) in attendance. Their combined attendance of 1,966k would rank 20th! 1
The Marlins have been among the worst five teams in average attendance in 18 of the past 19 seasons. The Rays have ranked last in six straight seasons. 2
The poor state of Florida baseball surprises people since it is one of the two states to host spring training. However, many of the fans who attend the “Grapefruit League” are on vacation and not Florida residents. They are not there in the summer. 3
Most of the articles I read point to both macro and micro issues with Florida baseball.
On the Macro side, consider that:
Florida fans are transient, many move there from other parts of the country. Baseball fans bring their original allegiances with them. So there may be baseball fans in Florida, but a small proportion are Marlins or Rays fans. 4
Additionally, many of these transient fans leave Florida in the summer. 5
The teams are not successful; they have only reached the playoffs six times in their 45 combined seasons. Competitive teams tend to draw more fans. 6
They don’t spend a lot of money which makes it hard to keep their best players. Currently, the Marlins rank 28th and the Rays 30th in team payroll. 7
The Marlins’ Problem
On the Micro side, both teams have their distinct issues. I’ll discuss the Rays in September when I finally get to the Trop (Tropicana Stadium). The Marlins problem is that they have a long history of trading their best players.
The team has gone through four distinct fire sale periods in the last 20 years. They sold off critical assets after their 1997 world championship and did so again two years after their 2003 title. This bizarre strategy seemed designed to minimize goodwill and long-term fan investment and failed to capitalize on the rare feat of winning it all. After spending big to coincide with the opening of Marlins Park in 2012, the team once again traded away nearly every major league asset after a disappointing season. Dismantling the team again was probably the last straw for baseball in Miami, especially after the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County had chipped in a staggering and unconscionable $500 million to help build the stadium.
In 2017, the Marlins had one of the best outfields in baseball and traded all three away as part of a historic selloff. That year they traded players that accounted for more WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than any other team in history. 9
My Visit To Marlins Park
I got to the park a little early. My assumption was that the gates would open two hours before game time. Nope, the gates open 90 minutes before the game so I waited a bit.
Once I was inside, I took a walk around the perimeter of the first level past the various food stands. There were many Cuban selections, and I wished I was hungry. I wasn’t in the mood for beer either, so I wasn’t too concerned that the beer selections seemed to be similar to most ballparks. Goose Island seems to have made a push into all the stadiums because I see them everywhere.
I visited the bobblehead museum – its big enough to be impressive, yet I assumed it was more prominent. However, where else can you see a Don Drysdale bobblehead, or a Hank Aaron one wearing number 5 as he did in 1954. There are many Mets bobbleheads and two Rusty Staubs. One in a Mets uniform the other in classic Expos garb. My favorite may have been one where Yadier Molina faces Adam Wainwright after winning the World Series. The manic bobbing of the two heads in unison is transfixing and a little disturbing all at the same time.
They Uglified Centerfield!!
As much as I like the ballpark, I was disappointed with what they did to centerfield. Since the ballpark opened in 2012, a very odd 75-foot statue that lit up after the home team hit a home run, dominated centerfield. It was behind a green wall that curved creating a kink in the wall. So it wasn’t just straight. The wall also displayed the out of town scores. I loved it!
Evidently, the new ownership including Derek Jeter didn’t like the statue. I’m also sensing that Jeter is knowledgeable about how franchises can ruin ballparks after his experience playing in the new Yankee Stadium. So the statue is gone and so is the curved green wall. In their place, a three-story plaza where fans can stand and watch the game and a boring straight wall. There is an empty section behind the wall covered in what looks to be fake grass.
Without the statue and the oddly shaped wall, the outfield loses its unique character.
Where’s The Statue?
My understanding was that they moved the statue outside the stadium. So the first thing I did when I got to the park, was to look for the icon. The attendee at a customer information desk laughed and said that the statue was disassembled and stored in the stadium, somewhere.
Further research suggests that the statue will be rebuilt outside in the winter before the 2020 season. I’ll believe it when I see it.
I’ve rekindled my passion for scoring the game!! It’s a beautiful tradition that keeps your head in the game. However, the one thing you need to score the game is a scorecard.
As I trudged around the stadium, I kept asking this question. Where are the guys selling scorecards and giving away the little golf pencils? I can easily find them at Citi Field, and I thought I saw them at Citizens Bank Park and Nationals Park. Is scoring a ballgame such a dying art that we don’t sell scorecards anymore?
Finally, I asked an attendant at the New Era cap kiosk, “do you sell scorecards, anywhere?” The answer, “they may have some at the team store.”
I head back to the team store where I had already purchased my souvenir — a fitted Marlins replica of the cap they wear at home. I didn’t see scorecards. So I went to the counter, where the salesperson said: “welcome back.” I guess I’m more memorable than I thought.
She had two versions of a scorecard. One was in a small program type affair. The other was printed on an 81/2” by 11” piece of printer paper. I took them both.
I now carry my own scorebook which will enable me to score the games to my heart’s content — counting pitches and keeping tabs on all the other detail I crave.
The Rain Came
The massive wall of windows in the outfield that displays a dramatic panorama of downtown is even more impressive during a rainstorm.
Yes, around the seventh inning they announced that they were canceling the outdoor-after-game-party due to impending bad weather. Who knew? Bad weather?
Then the lightning started. Through the outfield windows, we saw lightning illuminate the night’s darkness. Loud bursts of thunder followed it.
When we got outside, it was pouring. A classic Florida downpour. Not sheets of rain. Just a steady downpour that soaked me while I tried to find my ride. It’s challenging to get a Lyft or an Uber using your phone in the rain in the confusing, designated “shared ride lot.”
I loved the stadium and am looking forward to going back, but Marlins management: please work on the shared ride experience.
The Great Hot Dog Challenge
Marlins Park is not a hot dog paradise. I headed for “Top Dog” as I assumed these would be more unique than the dogs sold at the general concession stands. If they are unique to the ballpark, they are still not special. Just an assortment of Nathan’s Hot Dogs. I chose the “Slaw Dog.” The basic Nathan’s Hot Dog with brown mustard and slaw. Very good, but also very run of the mill.
I asked if there was another stand with other hot dogs, “not really” they said. Later I saw them! At certain beer stands, they have grills with nice big dogs and sausages with grilled peppers and onions. I almost got one of those which I assume would be better than my “slaw dog.” However, I wasn’t feeling well, wasn’t hungry and figured that I had similar at Roger Dean Stadium. My favorite, the “Dean Dog.”
Note to Marlins management: they’re called signs. You write in big letters that you have grilled dogs and sausages along with the beer, and people may buy them.
I rated the hot dog experience as average. It was okay, but nothing special.
I don’t tend to discuss the games I see in my posts since they are more than adequately covered all over the internet including my favorite home away from home www.mlb.com.
My recap is that the Marlins’ Caleb Smith struck out eight and led them to a 3 to 2 victory. Smith is in his second season and was picked up from the Yankees. He is one of the young guns that could make the Marlins competitive soon. Hopefully, the Marlins will fulfill that destiny. If they do, I hope the fans will give them another chance and start attending games as they should. If they do, they will find an excellent baseball experience awaits.
Next stop is the doctor and then Toronto and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
They said it would be warmer. I was thinking early 60’s, a lovely spring night. Then I heard it was going to be windy. So, there I was with four layers sitting in low 50’s weather with the wind blowing. It felt like the temperature was in the 30’s. At least that was my impression. I’m just recovering from a bad cold that my doctor told me on Friday might be “pneumonia.” A cold night in Philadelphia, indeed, but I had to observe Jackie Robinson Day in a ballpark.
These are my impressions of the rather short night.
Jackie Robinson Day
Remember, I planned to go south in the early part of the season and avoid the cold northeast. I slightly amended my plan because of the Jackie Robinson Remembrance.
Los Angeles would have been a better choice. Jackie was a Dodger, and it would be warm in L.A. However, I tied my L.A. trip to the series in Mexico so I couldn’t go in mid-April as well. Philadelphia seemed easy – I could drive. The Mets were playing the Phillies, why not go?
I needed to remember and celebrate Jackie Robinson in a ballpark, finally. My last post “My Father and Jackie Robinson’s First Game” should have made it clear how special I think Jackie is. I had to see everyone wearing the same number 42. And I had to join the baseball community and pay my respects.
I didn’t drive. I wanted something easier. So, instead, I used some points to fly to Baltimore and drive up to Philadelphia. Baltimore is much more affordable than Philly, and it’s an easy drive to and from. Moreover, I would offset the cost of my rental car by losing a night in a hotel. I was so happy I made that choice. Driving six hours from Rochester to Philadelphia while recovering from pneumonia would not have worked well at all.
It’s a beautiful sight. Tonight, the out of town scoreboard that lists the probable pitchers by number only contains the number 42. Oddly, all except for Los Angeles which is showing a number 22. Obviously, a mistake, but I’m standing there saying “WTF Kershaw.”
Then the players appear wearing number 42 with no names on their backs. We are all equal, no? Honorable mention goes to Bryce Harper who wore UCLA (Jackie’s alma mater) Bruins accessories.
All in all, I was moved.
Philadelphia is an interesting place to celebrate Jackie’s debut. After all, in 1947, Philadelphia was managed by the notorious Ben Chapman. Chapman’s insulting taunts were awful, one of the few times Robinson reconsidered his no retaliation promise with Branch Rickey. When the Dodgers got to Philadelphia, Chapman was forced to make nice grudgingly. Sixty-nine years later the city apologized. 1
Additionally, the Phillies and Philadelphia had a long history of poor relationships with the black community for a long time. In 1969 Curt Flood would not accept a trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia. “The Phillies were a second division club known for their hostility toward black players.” 2 He sued the league and the rest is history. Yes, Flood hated the Reserve Clause 3 and the idea of being forced to change teams, but the idea of moving to Philadelphia was galling.
The point is that times change. More importantly, people change.
It was moving to see black families happily enjoying an evening at the ballpark. I watched as they posed for pictures next to a statue of Jackie. But it was also moving to see everyone enjoy the moment. “Moving?” you likely will ask. It is the anniversary of the event that instigated the change. We celebrate the occasion together. We rejoice in it.
History Normalizes Events and Attitudes
History normalizes things. Most of us were born and raised in an integrated society; to us it is normal. To some, it may be either embarrassing or insulting to remember those bad days. It was so long ago.
Really, how long ago?
It’s the 72nd anniversary of Jackie breaking the color barrier. Roughly the same for the integration of the armed services by Harry Truman.
It’s 65 years since Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954
62 years since the Montgomery bus boycotts
56 years since the Letter from the Birmingham Jail and the March on Washington
54 years since the Voting Rights Act
51 years since Martin Luther King’s assassination
48 years since the forced busing decisions
I could go on, but clearly, the days of segregation were a long time ago.
But think about it this way. The so-called “Gentleman’s Agreement” that segregated baseball can be traced to 1887. Segregation was a 60-year tradition that was as normal then as integration is now. Yet the practice ended. And when it broke, there was a tidal wave of other changes that followed.
However, I sense that in hindsight we assume that integrating baseball was a fait accompli. That we just needed a Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson to come along to make everything right. I don’t think so.
What if the player chosen wasn’t a great player? Robinson was. What if the player selected didn’t understand the mission and had overtly challenged the forces of resistance? Robinson understood his task. What if the player chosen couldn’t handle the pressure? Robinson could. What if the player selected didn’t draw fans and make the owners money? Robinson did.
That’s what made me emotional. Segregation didn’t have to end. We have Jackie Robinson to thank for the world we live in.
Citizens Bank Park
I like it! It’s a bandbox, but I like it. The promenade around the stands is fun. The food selections in “Ashburn Alley” are good. I love “The Yard” where kids can play in a small version of the stadium. There is leg room between the rows – so much room that I, frankly, couldn’t believe it.
The scoreboards are where scoreboards should be. They provide great information.
The stadium is not too loud, it’s not too quiet.
The fans seem to know what’s going on. It appears to be a community. As I was hunkered down under my four layers of clothes trying to stay warm, I heard a woman yelling behind me. It’s her grandmother’s birthday. Grandma is sitting there under a few blankets looking like she may have been a young adult when Jackie broke in. The woman asks us to all sing happy birthday, and we do. Fun!
Don’t tell anyone, but I like Bryce Harper. I’m not sure he’s worth the money they paid for him. He is a bit full of himself, and he isn’t Mike Trout, but I like him. It was a cold night, a lot of empty seats, but not in right field, where Harper plays. Those seats seemed full. I enjoyed Bryce charging out to right, his dramatic bow and then pumped fists inciting the fans.
I also like that when I watch him hit, I see a little bit of Babe Ruth. He starts with his feet back in the box and as the pitch comes in and he starts to swing, his entire body flows into the act.
Finally, I like his commitment. A few years ago, we saw the Nats – with Bryce – play the Mets in Spring Training. It’s the seventh inning. All the starters have hit the showers. To quote Bob Dylan “as the crowd thinned out, (and) I’s just about to do the same.” 4 Yet, there’s Bryce, still in right field. I’ll never forget that.
The Great Hot Dog Challenge
I’m trying to watch my weight, so I’m trying to be careful. However, I did commit to testing a hot dog in each ballpark. So, I need to find a unique one that fits my criteria. I also need a Cheesesteak. I mean we’re In Philadelphia – how can I not get a cheesesteak. Also, how many ballparks ensure that the food they are known for is in the park? Rhetorical question, we’ll find out this summer.
I have two cheesesteak choices – both in Ashburn Alley. Ashburn Alley is the section along the left field side that opens early for people to hang out, take their kids to “The Yard” and stuff their faces with unhealthy things that make one glad to be alive. My choices are either Tony Luke’s or Campo’s Steaks.5 I chose Campo’s and got the basic cheesesteak. Steak, provolone and grilled onions on a delicious bun. I loved it.
The Hot Dog is from the “Boardwalk Eats” section. Instead of the “Phillies Frank,” I choose the “South Philly Dog” a dog with “sharp provolone, roasted red peppers, and broccoli rabe. Is broccoli rabe a south Philly thing?
The South Philly Dog isn’t bad – the broccoli rabe provides a bitter counterpoint to the sweet red peppers. It comes on a doughy, crusty bun. Complaints? The dog isn’t crispy enough for my taste, the bun is a bit too big, so it overwhelms the dog, I couldn’t taste the cheese, and there is only yellow mustard. Not bad, I would do it again. I’m ranking it slightly behind Washington’s offering.
Yes, there was a game. Possibly due to to the cold, the Aaron Nola – Noah Syndergaard matchup did not materialize into a great pitching duel. Nola is still trying to locate his breaking pitches and gave up five runs in four innings. Syndergaard was dominant in the first inning but gave up a three-run lead in the second and another two-run lead in the third. He was gone after five innings.
The Mets finally won in the eleventh on a Rhys Hoskins error. By then I was back at the hotel, having hung up my authentic Jackie Robinson jersey that no one saw since it was the second of four layers.
I’m glad I went to Citizens Bank Park but I need to go back when it’s sunny. After all, there is a cheesesteak from Mr. Luke’s to try. Next stop is two games in sunny Florida, one in Miami and the other in Tampa Bay. I’m guessing I’ll be able to watch more ball there.
On Thursday, many teams played their first game with 161 more to go. I visited the first stadium of 30 I will see this season. My story recounts the day – the glory of opening day, the National’s odd legacy “The Tale of Two Cities,” and my first installment in the “great hot dog debate”. Yes, I also had visions of the “Swinging Friar.”
When designing my travel schedule, I originally didn’t consider going anywhere on Opening Day, but how could I not go? I couldn’t say I did it all (baseball-wise) if I didn’t go to Opening Day. Then I saw that my Metsies were playing the Nationals in Washington and I like Washington. Most importantly, I knew in November that the Mets opening against the Nationals likely meant a Scherzer vs. DeGrom encounter. That could not be missed! And long after I purchased my ticket I found out my pitching matchup hunch was right.
Opening Day – Morning:
5:00 AM Rochester International Airport – TSA Pre Check Line
I’m in the security line when I pass a priest (maybe a monk – but in Rochester? Do we have monks?). He’s decked out in full regalia (no offense intended) in a full cassock, skull cap, big cross, and rosary beads. I’m only thinking about baseball. Thus, my first thought is:
“He must be heading to a San Diego Padre’s game dressed like their mascot the “Swinging Friar1.” All I have is my Nats hat and my camera. What if he plans to go to all the stadiums dressed like the home team’s mascot? That’s more than I’m doing.”
5:15 AM Rochester International Airport, Gate B1
I realize I’m going incognito, I’m a Mets fan in a Nationals cap. I bought the hat last year during a family outing to a Nats game and a weekend in DC. That was when I was trying the slow approach to “collect ballparks.”
At the gate I see the usual — a few Yankee hats but no Mets gear. How do I explain if asked? “Going to Opening Day? Are you a Nats fan?” Do you think they will play the Yankees in the series?”
“Actually no, I’m a Mets fan going to DC for the game. I’m wearing the cap because my goal is to get a selfie in the home team’s cap at every major league stadium. I have a blog, and I’m raising money for youth baseball.”
7:00 AM Delta Sky Club LaGuardia Terminal C
I’m eating the standard hard-boiled eggs and bagel surrounded by business people and vacationers. The business people are talking on phones and pounding keys on their laptops. I used to do that – might do so again. Today I don’t miss it and wonder how many of them want to join me at the ball game instead of doing business.
11:30 AM Outside Nationals Park
I can’t do it. My misgivings started when I saw all the fans at the L’Enfant Plaza metro station. Most were in Nationals attire, but a significant few were wearing Mets shirts and hats. Today, I’m not representing appropriately. I don’t feel like I am part of my tribe. I can’t greet my brothers and sisters and wish them luck for the season in a Nats cap. I’m somewhat embarrassed, somewhat ashamed of myself.
Luckily I pass a street vendor selling Nats and Mets caps for $10. The caps have a tab back so I can expand the Mets one to fit over my original Nationals one.
Other than taking my ritual selfie with the Nats cap, I spend most of the day, wearing two hats. I have no place to put the Nats hat except on my head, so I cover it with the Mets cap. The sight draws attention. “So, you’re a Mets fan, but live in Washington?” Or “you’re a fan of both teams, how is that possible?” I explain:
“Actually no, I’m a Mets fan, only in DC for the game. I’m wearing the cap because my goal is to get a selfie in the home team’s cap at every major league stadium. I have a blog, and I’m raising money for youth baseball.”
The explanation is getting redundant, but the spectacle enables me to pass out a few cards and maybe garner a few more followers – all is good.
Later, on the way out, I pass the vendor who sold me the Mets cap. “I remember you,” he says. I express my thanks, “you saved my day.” I’m superstitious, wearing the Nats cap may have jinxed the Mets season and my journey. He’s my mythical angel.
Opening Day – The Day Before
To prep for Opening Day, I am thinking about three things – the bliss of Opening Day, the history of the two cities that spawned the Nationals, and hot dogs.
“There is no sports event like Opening Day for beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League.”
Previously, I wrote that life begins anew when the pitchers and catchers report to spring training. While that is true, spring training only happens because of the impending baseball season. Spring training is only the first sign that winter is over and that it’s time for baseball. Opening Day confirms our spring training thoughts, that the sun will shine, and all things will be good again. Or, when things aren’t good, you can endure the hardship at a ballgame with a beer and a dog.
Moreover, Opening Day is a time of optimism. On day one, anyone’s team has a chance to win it all. Everyone is undefeated and the future is bright.
Baseball is glorious and Opening Day is rebirth:
“In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing “base,” a certain game of ball … Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms … the game of ball is glorious.”
– Walt Whitman, from the 23 July 1846 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle3
Baseball is back in all its glory. I am partial, but the first game of the NFL, NBA or NHL is just that – a first game. Opening Day of the baseball season is rebirth, time to enjoy the summer’s warm air and relish in the optimism.
Washington and Montreal: The Tale of Two Cities
The Misery Index
Despite many great players and some successful seasons, the Nationals represent a long history of sad baseball. Depending on how you calculate it, the Nationals heritage includes two cities and four to six franchises. Over 160 years they have won only one major league championship, and that was 95 years ago. To be fair, their Montreal antecedents won some minor league championships. However, so did the precursor to the major league San Diego Padres and their fans long for more as well.
Think of it this way. The last time a Washington team played in the World Series was during the summer before my father was born. He lived for 86 years without seeing a team from Washington or Montreal in the World Series.
This history is why The Atlantic listed the Nationals third on the “Fans Misery Index.” They are behind only the Padres (yes those Padres) and the Mariners.
Washington’s Sad Baseball Legacy
Before the musical “Damn Yankees” George Washington was considered “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” The play transformed the saying to describe the Washington Senators’ sad legacy. The Senators were “first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.” 4
Unfortunately, the current version of the Washington Nationals has continued to disappoint somewhat. Even though they have won four NL East titles, they have never won a playoff series. They are also the city’s third franchise (possibly fourth depending on how you classify the 1901 incarnation).
A Brief Washington Chronology
Consider this brief history:
1892 – 1899: The Washington Senators play in the National League until the league reduces from 12 teams to eight.
1901: The Senators join the new American League. I’m not sure why this team is not counted as the second Washington franchise.
1905: The “Senators” change their name to the “Nationals”, but everyone continues to call them the Senators.
1925: The lowly Senators win their only World Series
1926: They win their last pennant but lose the Series.
1955: The aforementioned “Damn Yankees” opens on Broadway and becomes a hit. Note that the play references the “Senators” even though the team name has been the “Nationals” for 30 years.
1956: The Nationals officially change their name to the Senators but continue to play in front of increasingly fewer fans.
1960: The Senators move to Minnesota and become the Twins. 5
1961: Version two (three? see 1901) of the Senators replaces the first one (second?) but is not successful either.
1972: After eleven years of difficulty, the team moves to Arlington and becomes the Texas Rangers.
1972 – 2005: The city tries to lure a new franchise to the capital. 6
2005: Washington’s third (fourth?) franchise is born when the ownerless Montreal Expos move to the capital and become the Nationals. They play in a new stadium, and the team is popular.
2005 – 2018: Although winning many games, and four division championships, the Nationals never win a playoff series.
Montreal – A Prouder Tradition?
Others may disagree, but my read is that Montreal has a prouder tradition than Washington but ultimately suffered a similar fate.
Montrealers started playing baseball in 1860. They formed the Montreal Base Ball Club (MBBC) in the 1870s and an amateur league in 1898. 7
Professional ball started in 1897 when a minor league team from Rochester, NY moved to Montreal and became the Royals. After disbanding in 1917, the Royals reformed in 1928. They soon started affiliations with major league teams, most notably the Brooklyn Dodgers. 8
In 1933 and 1934 the Royals were the AA Affiliate of the Philadelphia Athletics.9 Then in 1937, they became the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.10 In 1939 they started their famous association with the Brooklyn Dodgers, serving as their top farm team through 1960. Between 1935 and 1958 the Royals played in 11 league championships winning seven of them.
As you can imagine, the Royals’ association with the Dodgers enable Montreal to host many future hall of fame members. Campanella, Robinson, Drysdale, Snider, and many more greats (including Roberto Clemente) played in Montreal and thus offered the city a great brand of baseball. I didn’t know that Clemente played in the Dodgers organization. Talk about the one that got away!
The Montreal Expos
Due to baseball’s continued popularity in Montreal, the Expos were formed in 1969 as the Leagues expanded. Their history is fraught with inadequate financial and municipal support. However, they were able to develop and acquire a stable of excellent ballplayers and future hall of famers. These include Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Tim Raines.
Although it took ten years to achieve their first winning record, the Expos won 95 games in 1979. In 1980 they almost won the National League East and in 1981 came within one game of the World Series.11
After an uneven rest of the 1980s, the Expos developed another strong team. In 1994, they had the best record in baseball (74 – 40) when the players went on strike. Since the strike canceled the rest of the season, playoffs and World Series, the Expos’s never capitalized on their strong team. The strike discouraged fans and attendance dwindled. Ten years later the Expos moved to Washington.
Montreal is now in the barren, baseball purgatory that Washington was in for 32 years. They are lobbying for a new team to play in their city.
Hope Springs Eternal – A New Start?
Despite the sad history and losing Bryce Harper to free agency, many still predict them to do well in 2019. Most think they are better than the Phillies who engaged the priceless (“bryceless“) one for the next 13 seasons. I think they are right.
The Nationals have pitching, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, and two new catchers. The Phillies are good, but I think they’re overrated. Sure, they have made many additions, more than just Harper. But winning the offseason doesn’t always mean you will win a pennant.
Opening Day – Reactions to the Game
Tale of Two Pitchers
”There are opening day pitchers, and pitchers who start on opening day.”
What many misunderstand is that a great pitching matchup is like a “Mano a Mano” heavyweight fight. Each pitcher goes out to outdo the other with as few pitches as possible. The fans anticipate who will get hit first, possibly “knocked out” of the game.
I don’t know if today’s game was the greatest Opening Day pitching matchup, but it was impressive and record-breaking.
I have nothing but respect for Max Scherzer. Scherzer is relentless as he storms around the mound like a bull, breathing steam out of his nose. Today he was no different. He dominated the Mets striking out 12. However, the Mets were able to plate two – one in the first and one in the eighth.
Jacob DeGrom is brilliant, but today in a less commanding way than Scherzer. DeGrom pitched six shutout innings, striking out 10. However, he faced more challenges than Scherzer, as he had to deal with more men in scoring position. He was able to keep the hitters off balance with an assortment of pitches including his amazing fastball and changeup.
For the record, today’s game was the first time in almost 50 years that both opening day starters struck out at least ten men.14 DeGrom also extended his streak of consecutive games allowing three or fewer runs. He’s now at thirty and passed Jake Arrieta for the most in history. 15
The Mets acquired Robinson Cano for his power bat and leadership. Mets fans question how much he has left. Today he proved his worth:
He homered off Scherzer in the first to give the Mets the early lead – all that was needed.
He singled in the eighth to produce the Mets’ second run and the insurance they needed.
Most important, he was “pivotal” (pardon my pun) in the 5-4-2-5 double play that ended the third inning and the Nationals’ biggest threat. It’s worth reading Anthony DiComo’s pieceabout Cano’s day and this play
The Great Hot Dog Debate
A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.
I’ve decided to taste and rank hot dogs from each ballpark this summer.
In the next few days I will post the rules for the “contest”, but in the meantime lets discuss Washington’s entry.
I tried the “BANH MI” Hot Dog from Haute Dogs and Fries. The “BANH MI” is a beef dog on a grilled New England style bun, with sriracha mayo that is topped with a Vietnamese style slaw made from Jalapeños, cucumber, carrots, and cilantro.
I found it to be quite good, a nice way to open the hot dog season. The dog had a nice crunch, the grilled bun had a wonderful buttery taste and the slaw was nice and spicy. A refreshing change from the traditional sauerkraut.
However, Haute Dogs and Fries loses points because their signs don’t describe the dog choices. It would be nice to review the menu and know what you are ordering without having to ask. Imagine how many times the counter people had to explain what the “BANH MI” was. Also, the service was slow. They had a great group of people handling the orders but only one cashier.
Opening Day – Midnight:
I fall into bed roughly seventeen hours after I left home on this wonderful day.
The Mets and Nationals have 161 games to go. I have 29 more ballparks and 40 more stops to go. Can’t wait. Philadelphia is next on April 15th.
The game falls into three distinct phases. In the first couple of innings, you are enjoying your new surroundings, savoring the first beer of the night and anticipating how the game will go. In contrast, the last few innings of a close game are tense, how will it end? The middle innings, like a novel, are where the story develops. The same is true for my spring training trip – the story developed in the middle games and was where I reaffirmed my “love of the game.”
Two key themes were the so called “road roster charade” and the rain. Yes dear friends, I learned that it actually rains in sunny Florida.
Monday – Cardinals vs. Phillies – Where’s Bryce?
Unfortunately, and not terribly surprising, visiting teams in spring training don’t bring the “A” team if they have to travel far. The league argues that there are rules against this travesty happening. After all, they don’t want fans to pay a lot of money and have high expectations only to be disappointed, or do they? MLB’s rules state that at least four players who either played MLB ball last year or have the chance to do so need to play at least three innings of a spring training game.1. So what’s wrong with this lineup?
In comparison, this is the Phillies projected 2019 lineup per MLB.com 2 the bolded ones appeared in Jupiter:
1) Cesar Hernandez, 2B 2) Jean Segura, SS 3) Bryce Harper, RF 4) Rhys Hoskins, 1B 5) J.T. Realmuto, C 6) Andrew McCutchen, LF 7) Odubel Herrera, CF 8) Maikel Franco, 3B
Rotation and closer: 1) Aaron Nola, RHP 2) Jake Arrieta, RHP 3) Nick Pivetta, RHP 4) Zach Eflin, RHP 5) Vince Velasquez, RHP Closer: David Robertson, RHP, or Seranthony Dominguez, RH
So, no Bryce, no Rhys, no J.T. And where’s McCutchen and Segura? Clearly, the Phillies did not field a compelling team on Monday and the fans deserve better.
Although the Phillies train in Clearwater on Florida’s west coast and Jupiter is on the east coast, it’s not that far away. Per Google Maps, the drive from Clearwater to Jupiter is 209 miles which equates to 3 hours 29 minutes travel time. I assume the busses are nice, it’s not clear why the players are not expected to appear.
Thursday – Is That The Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders?
Similarly, George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is only 194 miles from Roger Dean Stadium. It’s only a 3 hour and 9-minute drive. Yet the team that appeared seemed to be more like the Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRaider, the Yankees AAA farm club than the mighty New York Yankees.
Normally the minor league players in the major league spring training camp wear numbers 50 and above (Aaron Judge’s #99 is an exception). However, Thursday’s Yankees lineup featured 5 players with numbers higher than 50.
Moreover, no one in the starting lineup was a member of the Baseball Prospectus top ten prospects 3.
Meanwhile, the game drew a standing room only crowd. The Cardinals’ regulars outclassed these dregs from the Yankees farm system and won 11 – 3. We went back to the hotel pool after six innings.
MLB can do better – and the Yankees should have more respect for their fans.
Tuesday/Wednesday – “Buckets of Rain”
Buckets of rain Buckets of tears Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears…
…Life is sad Life is a bust All ya can do is do what you must
For the first time in 16 years of Spring Training we experienced a rain out. It poured for most of the day. It was an awe inspiring tropical rain storm with high winds and sheets of water. We stayed near the hotel and didn’t do much.
It was still cloudy on Wednesday and there were a few episodes of light rain and drizzle, but we got the game in. In comparison to Thursday’s drubbing of the so-called Yankees, the Cardinals lost 6 – 0 to the lowly Marlins. My opinion of this spring’s version of the Cardinals is that they are playing a somewhat uninspired brand of baseball. I don’t sense a fire in their belly. They’re not hitting, and their defense is spotty. They’re not a team that should beat the Yankees 11 – 3.
“For The Love of The Game”
Credit where credit is due, “For The Love of The Game” is third and somewhat maudlin installment in the Kevin Costner baseball trilogy. I’m a bigger fan of “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” but still, recommend you watch it. With that said, I am simply borrowing the phrase to explain why I will continue to come back to Spring Training.
Despite the great “road roster charade”5, and despite the rain, not to mention the rising ticket prices, I’m having a great time. Yes, Florida – I’m coming back! You see, I love the game.
I love what my father used to call “performance art” when the teams change sides. The ritual of the players running onto the field, warming up, then throwing the ball once “around the horn” before play begins. I love the sights, the sounds, the smell of fresh grass. I love sitting in the sun watching to see what will happen next. “Get me a weiner before I die!“
One more thing I love is meeting baseball fans – those who understand the world as I do. After Monday’s game, we got a beer at DAS Beer Garden, which is down the street from Roger Dean. We started talking to a guy in a Phillies jersey and compared notes, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Brye Harper, and Chase Utley. Yes, Chase Utley. Sorry Mets fans, despite the shameful play in the playoffs that broke Rubén Tejada’s leg, Utley was a great hard nose ball player. I’m guessing he’d ride the bus to play one more game.