Saturday morning was cloudy – and the clouds never really went away. Not an auspicious start to Spring Training in normally sunny Florida. We found the Beatles station on Sirius as we made the short drive from the West Palm to Jupiter. Along the way, we compared notes about our favorite albums — we both like their middle period starting with Revolver. However, I lose a little interest around Sgt. Pepper, not enough guitar – too much orchestration.
Then the subject turned to George Harrison, All Things Must Pass and one of my favorites – “Beware of Darkness”:
Watch out now, take care Beware of falling swingers Dropping all around you The pain that often mingles In your fingertips Beware of darkness
Watch out now, take care Beware of the thoughts that linger Winding up inside your head The hopelessness around you In the dead of night
Beware of sadness It can hit you It can hurt you Make you sore and what is more That is not what you are here for
It occurred to me that the long winter was over and was time to look ahead. What started with the indifference displayed as the powers that be laid me off — the bleakness and dread that followed was over. It’s now spring, the season of baseball’s resurrection. “Beware of Darkness” indeed!
Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium
Home for the week is Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium – a nice little ballpark in Abacoa – a seemingly manufactured town in the middle of Jupiter. Yes, I am a Mets fan, but as I mentioned in a previous post, Jupiter works for us. We’ll see the Mets play three times this week along with the Cardinals, Marlins, Nats, Phillies and Yankees.
Roger Dean Stadium was built in 1998, for $28M which equates to $43M in today’s dollars. It is one of only two stadiums in Florida to host two major league teams – the other is FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches which opened in 2017. 2 Since the two stadiums are only roughly 20 minutes apart, there are four teams to choose from. The Cardinals and the Marlins in Jupiter and the Nationals and Astros in West Palm Beach. Also, the Mets are only 30 minutes north of Jupiter so there is a critical mass of five teams in a small area.
The entire Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex is about 100 acres; each team has six practice fields each. Their two separate clubhouses border the outfield fences making a nice target for the hitters.
The Cardinals and Expos were the original tenants. The Cardinals moved from St. Petersburg because MLB agreed to let the Tampa Bay Rays train there instead. In 2002, the Marlins replaced the Expos as part of their sale to Jeffry Loria.
Saturday – Mets vs. Marlins “WTF Seth Lugo?”
I’m a superstitious Mets fan – I’m sure others are as well. The deal is, if things are going well, don’t move. Don’t go to the bathroom, don’t get something to eat – don’t move! It’s spring training, I’m not in true game form and I simply forgot.
Everything seemed fine, the game started under cloudy skies but only a little drizzle at times. I was pleased that the Mets jumped ahead 6 – 0. Jason Vargas was throwing well and Conforto was raking. He hit a two-run blast two get the scoring started. Along the way, the Mets implemented a “hit and run” possibly a second one as well – I honestly didn’t know that the hit and run was used anymore. They also attempted a squeeze bunt.
A “Dean Dog”
Then I forgot the admonition – “don’t move if things are going good.” I was hungry and got a wonderful “Dean Dog” and all hell broke loose. A “Dean Dog” is a classic hot dog. It is 100% beef and cooked on a griddle so it gets nice and crunchy on the outside. Although it’s optional, I recommend the sauteed onions and peppers. Finally, brown deli mustard is available. Need I say more? Anyway, during the season I’m going to have to remember to not jinx fate by breaking the spell with food etc. Even if it is for a great hot dog.
Of course, Seth Lugo didn’t help. In one inning he allowed three hits and four runs. He also made a nice little catch on a short pop up but promptly threw the ball past first base letting the runners advance.
Refreshments and Dinner
At that point, the clouds started to really darken, and we made our getaway: out the stadium and down the street to the Civil Society Brewing Company where we sat through the resulting downpour drinking some interesting IPAs created on site.
Later, we ate dinner at Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill – a place that should not be missed. We met Ross, the owner a few years ago and make a point to reserve seats at his station. Then we let him choose a series of small plates that are delicious. Everyone should go and skip the large plates for a series ofassorted small ones.
Not a bad first day. “Beware of Darkness” indeed.
Sunday – Cardinals vs. Marlins
The weather was much improved for day two – St. Patricks Day. The Cardinals wore green, the Marlins wore pastel blue. I sported my old green and orange Mets cap bought six years ago on another spring training St. Patricks Day game.
We worked out in the morning – trying to absolve some of the sins from the first day’s eating and beer drinking. Then we headed for Roger Dean – that’s just about all I have.
The Marlins actually no-hit the Cardinals for eight innings. Yes, that never happens – teams don’t get no-hit in spring training. However, Trevor Richards started and pitched six innings of no-hit ball, striking out six and not walking anyone. Drew Steckenrider and Austin Brice followed with an inning each of no-hit ball. In the top of the ninth, Dexter Fowler hit a sharp single to right off Tayron Guerrero, Paul Goldschmidt did the same and we headed for the hotel pool.
Under the heading – “Utter Minutiae:”
Could anyone design uglier socks and hopefully they are only worn for St. Patricks Day? Although why would anyone want to offend St. Patrick with said socks?
When my father was alive, he would call on that special February day and exclaim: “Life begins anew – the pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training!” It is in that spirit that we start our annual spring training adventure that we call “the best week of the year.”
It all started in business school in the late ’90s. I met a new friend – Ken – and we realized that we were both baseball fans. Soon, our discussions began. “Wouldn’t it be great if we went to spring training?” Or, “It’s freezing here, and we could be in Florida.” Or, “Another opening day and we didn’t go to Spring Training!”
In 2004, we called each other’s bluff and decided to give the adventure a try. The result is that this year is the 16th installment of the weeklong tradition that we call “the best week of the year.”
Where Should We Go?
An evident and excellent question, when we started planning was “where should we go.” Each of us had been to Florida and knew our way around, but had not traveled for Spring Training. We wanted a convenient place where we could indulge in baseball, sun, good food, and relax. We didn’t want to drive a lot. Finally, it would be a plus if we could see the Braves (Ken’s team) and the Mets (my team) occasionally.
There are currently 15 teams playing throughout Florida. In 2004, I believe there were a few more, so we thought we had many choices. In actuality, we only found one spot that fit our needs. However, it was a great choice.
We started deliberations – where all deliberations tend to start – at a local Starbucks. I brought a Spring Training map divided into three sections – Central, West Coast, and East Coast to help us decide where to focus. Later, I listed the games at each stadium for the four days that we had scheduled to be there. Yes, when we started, we thought that a short, four-day trip would be enough. Silly idea!
Jupiter, Florida was the best choice that year, and we have been going ever since.
Many towns/stadiums only support one team, and thus, daily games are likely not available. Since Jupiter hosts both the Cardinals and Marlins, we can expect to see at least a game each day. “At least” a daily game, because we can see a second game at another stadium if the planets align correctly.
Why not one of the other areas that also support two teams?
There are many teams clustered around Tampa. However, two of those teams are the Yankees and the Phillies. With our allegiance to the Mets and the Braves, do I need to explain the issue? OK, we don’t relish the thought of spending a week dominated by the Yankees and the Phillies. After all, it’s supposed to be a vacation. We’re more comfortable on the other coast, buffered by most of the state of Florida.
Fort Myers has the Red Sox and the Twins. However, it is one of the more isolated of all the Spring Training sites. It would be difficult to find other games when needed.
We also found that Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium is a nice place to see a game — not too big, not too loud, you can sit close to the action, easy parking, good food, and beer. We also like hanging out in the area. The people are friendly, the lodging is as good as we need and the restaurants are wonderful.
In 2015, our situation got even better when the Astros and Nationals moved to a new complex in West Palm Beach. Now we have even more choices. Also, the Mets have always been just 45 minutes north, so we can go there as well.
A Twin Bill?
On the rare occasion that there is not a game at Roger Dean, we can try West Palm or Port St. Lucie. We also have the twin bill opportunities discussed above. Last year, we were enjoying a beer at a microbrewery just down the block from Roger Dean.
Please take a moment and consider this concept to understand the joys of Spring Training fully. After enjoying the sun in a small ballpark watching baseball, you can walk five minutes to a microbrewery. Any more questions as to why we go?
Anyway, we were enjoying a beer at a microbrewery just down the block from Roger Dean when we noticed that the Mets and Nationals were playing in West Palm Beach that evening. I used the MLB app to buy tickets to the game. A few hours later, we were watching Zach Wheeler try and figure out how to pitch. He had a rough night and was a far cry from his brilliant second half of the season. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer displayed the brilliance of throwing first pitch fastballs and having excellent command.
We more than enjoyed our first four-day trip, but of course, the trip was too short! So, the next year we pushed the schedule to five days. When five days wasn’t enough, we extended the tours to six days. Finally, we “cried uncle” and began renting condos or rooms at a resort for their minimum of seven days. Still not enough, but we worked for a living and had to go home.
Early on, we tried to fly down early on a Saturday morning, in time for the afternoon game. By doing so, we avoided paying for a hotel room on Friday night. Initially, we’d return late on the last day of the trip after seeing most of an afternoon game. However, that arrangement was not satisfactory. It made Saturday a very long and challenging day, and we missed a lot of the final game.
Additionally, In March there is the risk of missing the Saturday game if bad weather causes delays. One year, we were stuck in Baltimore when we changed planes. The plane was frozen to the tarmac and needless to say, we were late to the afternoon game.
Our Time Tested Ritual
Our time-tested ritual is to fly down on a Friday evening, so we avoid any transit problems. We stay in an inexpensive hotel near the airport when we arrive around midnight. The next morning we have a leisurely breakfast, go to the game, and then check into our hotel/resort. Later we have a nice dinner at one of Jupiter’s fabulous restaurants. For the rest of the week, we work out at Gold’s Gym in the mornings, and then go to a game. The days end with a dip in the pool, drinks from the pool bar and an excellent meal that evening. We follow this routine until we have to fly home the following Saturday after seeing eight games in seven days.
Our friends say that we have the arrangements down to a science. Ken reserves rooms by mid-November, once he knows which week in March he can take off. He has flight reservations before the end of the year. Once we know our flight schedule, I reserve a rental car.
MLB publishes the Spring Training schedules by mid-December, and we confirm our choices. I buy the tickets as soon as they go on sale – usually the second Saturday in January.
Unfortunately, this year I didn’t realize that the tickets went on sale the first Saturday in January. Consequently, I bought the tickets on Wednesday and two of our three Cardinal hosted games are in seats past third base. I had to buy bleacher seats for the third game when the Yankees make a rare visit. I bought them from Stubhub no less. As you might expect, Cardinal tickets go fast; Marlins tickets do not.
Our final statement when the trip is over is “only 51 weeks until we can go again.” This year, I’ll have many more baseball miles to go before I’m ready to think about Spring Training again.
I’ve always been intrigued by Thomas Boswell’s question, “Does baseball, like a liquid, take the shape of its container?” From the ballparks that I have seen, I’ll argue that the game changes as I go from park to park. The serene feeling I’ve had, looking over San Francisco Bay is different than the cold austerity of Yankee Stadium. I love the intimacy and the food at Citi Field – not to mention my Metsies. Fenway can be uncomfortable, but the Monster and the Citgo sign are beautiful. I love the idea of a row of vendors offering “street meat” outside, if not the quality of the food. Camden Yards is beautiful; the warehouse on Eutaw Street in right field enhances its charm. A ballpark’s dimensions, its signs, the height of its walls, and the view from the seats define a unique experience.
My Stadium Travels
As I mentioned in a previous post, I started picking up parks as I traveled on business. A presentation at a conference in San Francisco gave me the opportunity to visit and PAC Bell (now Oracle), for the first time. I returned many times after when I visited my company’s San Francisco’s office. Similarly, I was able to go to Safeco Field when I was in Seattle for meetings at Microsoft. I’ve been to North Little Rock’s Dickey-Stephens Park when I was in town for business. Family adventures took me to Comerica in Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. It follows that my first thought when we plan a trip tends to be “is the home team in town and do we have time to go?”
For example, I never miss a chance to go to Camden Yards when I am in Baltimore. I’ve been there when the Orioles were kind of good and when they were kind of bad. However, I’ve never been when the Orioles were awful – I guess this is the year for that experience.
The last time I had the chance to go was when a friend’s son had his bar mitzvah, in Philadelphia. Why I didn’t think of going to see the Phillies and not the Orioles explains a lot about me. It might say a lot about the Phillies as well. Anyway, we flew into Baltimore on Friday, drove to Philadelphia Saturday morning and were back at Camden Yards that evening. It was the night Manny Ramirez hit his 500th home run. Doesn’t everyone travel with baseball as the priority?
We try to go to Citi Field every year. On one July 4th, we even made our only visit to the travesty that is the “NEW” Yankee Stadium.
Stadiums Should Recognize a Team’s History
I’ll fully explain my issues with “the house that George built” in a future post. For this discussion, I’ll state that it violates a key aspect of what I look for in a ballpark. I need a ballpark to celebrate it’s team’s history.
Yes, the Stadium has Monument Park and banners for all the Yankee greats, and frankly, it’s somewhat greats. The too long list of retired numbers is there for all to see. However, the fact that it is across the street from where the real one was, is a nonstarter for me. The Yankees should be playing on the field where the Babe hit home runs, where DiMaggio patrolled center field and where Gehrig proclaimed that he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
In contrast, I like that the Red Sox and Cubs have maintained the charm of their beautiful old ball yards. I also love that there are statues of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. I also appreciate PNC’s 21-foot high wall in right field that remembers Clemente’s jersey number. Yes, I even like that the Mets celebrate their National League heritage in Citi Field. Citi’s exterior and rotunda are reminiscent of Ebbets Field; it’s green seats after the Polo Grounds.
A Ballpark Should Have Good, Unique Food
I’ve enjoyed food almost as long as I’ve enjoyed baseball. As such, I don’t want a cold, mushy hot dog with a crustless bun. I want to try food that is native to the home city and thus the stadium. My goal is to try things like the pierogies in Pittsburgh, the crab sandwich and garlic fries in San Francisco, or street meat in Boston. Almost anything in Citi Field I’ve tried has been great – Arancini Brothers, Pat LaFrieda Steak sandwiches, the Shake Shack, Keith’s Grill, or Fuku Chicken. Citi’s food choices reflect New York City’s many cultures and cuisines.
What about the traditional hot dog? If I have a hot dog, it needs to be one that the ballpark is known for, like the famous “Dodger Dog” or Milwaukee’s Brats. While the hot dogs in Cleveland didn’t make this list, it’s unique brown mustard makes it something to try.
I’ll need to plan my food strategy long before I get to each ballpark. There is only so much that I can eat – I think. So I need to know what the options are so I can make the right selections.
My Modus Operandi
My ballpark experience can start outside the ballpark. For example, I want to walk across the Clemente Bridge to get to PNC Park in Pittsburg. My modus operandi is to be near the front of the line when the doors open. I like to walk around the park, take in the field from all angles. I want to get a feel for the different parts of the park and see what makes it unique. For example, Yankee Stadium’s monument park, PNC’s Highmark Legacy Square (honoring Negro League Baseball), or Oracle’s view of San Francisco Bay. I need to see the essential players’ statues, the retired numbers and if there is time, the Hall of Fame. My souvenir from the Team Store is a fitted New Era cap that the home team wears. My goal is to have one hat from each current stadium when the trip is over.
By the time the game starts, I’ve got a feel for the place, and I am enjoying the unique atmosphere. I’m well fed, and I am ready for the game to start.
My itinerary will help me find my new way. As I mentioned in my first post: “I needed a change, I couldn’t go back to my old life, but didn’t know what else to do. I still don’t.” Instead, I’ll search for a new path for my life in “the refuge of the roads”.
“I was running like a white-assed deer Running to lose the blues To the innocence in here These are the clouds of Michelangelo Muscular with gods and sungold Shine on your witness in the refuge of the roads”
This is not a just a trip to see each ballpark and have other baseball experiences. Nor is it a trip to see my team play as much as possible. No, this is a personal quest to find a new path, a new destiny. I need to fulfill my penance and give something to society. I envision a pot of gold at the end of this trip to support youth baseball.
However, to fully achieve the goal, I need the satisfaction of finishing the journey! I will not be satisfied if I don’t complete all forty-two planned stops. I’m like Frodo – I need to get to Mordor.
Up until now, baseball has been a hobby for me. Now I plan to immerse myself in the game and hopefully discover who I really am. I imagine that there will be times where I will need to force myself to travel or to write. However, by facing the challenge, I believe I will find my elusive new path.
How do I plan an eight-month journey with forty-two specific baseball stops? Scheduling the trip is a logistical challenge, to say the least. A fundamental difficulty is that the tour needs to fit team and event schedules.
First of all, there are logistic requirements:
Needless to say, I need to make sure that there the teams are home when I get to their cities.
To conserve costs, I need to group cities together, so I don’t retrace my steps and book more flights than necessary.
Stay warm – there is no use in going north in late April – the sunny south will be better.
Of course, I’m going to all 30 MLB baseball stadiums. However, I have some specific things to see at the ballparks along the way. I discuss these in the section below.
Twelve additional baseball experiences will make the journey complete:
Field of Dreams Location
Negro Leagues Museum
College World Series
Little League World Series
Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
International Games in London, England
International Games in Monterrey, Mexico
Arizona Fall League
All-Star Game and Home Run Derby
As soon as the schedules came out, I charted my path to navigate the journey. As with most things in my life, I created a spreadsheet with the games, flights, hotels and associated costs. After a few edits, this is the plan:
Spring Training – “The Best Week of The Year” – March 15th – 23rd
This will be the 16th straight spring that a friend and I make this trip. We interrupt the end of the dreary winter with some sun, good food and especially baseball. I’ll detail the experience in my later posts.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 0; Other Experiences: 1; Total Stops: 1
Mets’ Opening Day – Washington D.C. March 28th
I almost didn’t have this game on my schedule. For one thing, I thought I might still be working; it was to be my last full week. Things change, and clearly, my employment status is no longer an obstacle.
Additionally, I didn’t know that my Metsies would be playing the Nationals. Note that I use Mets broadcaster, brilliant first baseman and should be Hall of Famer Keith Hernandez’s affectation of “Mets.” They are the “Metsies” in our lexicon.
Opening Day in D.C. also means that DeGrom (“the DeGrominator”) might go against the great, Heterochromia iridium impaired Max Scherzer. DeGrom and Scherzer are possibly the two best righties in the National League, so I have to go. “Heterochromia iridium” means that Scherzer’s eyes are two different colors. Not sure it is an “impairment” as he still has excellent stuff.
Finally, how do I experience the entire season and not attend opening day? I mean – it’s almost a disqualifying event to not participate.
I’m making it a one-day trip. I’ll fly down in the morning take the Metro to the game and fly back when it’s over.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 1; Other Experiences: 1: Total Stops: 2
Jackie Robinson Remembrance, Philadelphia, April 15th
There is no one I revere more in baseball and society in general than Jackie Robinson. He changed the world through his courage, commitment and willingness to take a significant amount of abuse.
April 15th is the anniversary of Jackie’s historic first game in 1947. Each year, all players wear his number to commemorate the day and demonstrate that we are all the same – that we are only distinguished by our talents. It is, more than anything, a lesson for all to remember.
I’ll drive down to Philadelphia on Sunday, see the game on Monday and then drive home on Tuesday.
Oh, by the way, I bought a historically accurate replica of Jackie’s jersey to wear to the game. Yes, the only jersey I own is the most expensive version that I will wear once a year. One does not wear the #42 especially when it’s on the back of a Dodgers jersey to just any game. It is also not something one wears to neighborhood barbeques, bar mitzvahs, weddings or funerals. Wearing the jersey is a one day a year sort of thing.
I’ll discuss my aversion to classic jerseys made historically inaccurate when they include player names, in another post.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 2; Other Experiences: 1; Total Stops: 3
Florida – Miami and Tampa, April 19th – 21st
Sunny Florida when it’s cold up north is a nice idea, no? I have always been intrigued by Marlins Park. It’s got touches of Miami’s Art Deco, a big fish tank and the “sculpture” in the outfield. There are big glass windows that show the Miami skyline. I’m looking forward to going.
On the other hand, “The Trop” in St. Petersburg is supposed to be, hand’s down” the ugliest stadium in baseball. When compared to Marlins Park, it is quite the juxtaposition.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 4; Other Experiences: 1; Total Stops: 5
Toronto – April 26th – April 28th
My lovely wife, Marcy and I, love Canada. We’ll make it a long romantic weekend and see the A’s play the Jays on Saturday night.
I wanted to stay in a room that overlooked the field. However, they were too expensive, and I believe sold out when I reserved the rooms in October.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 5; Other Experiences: 1; Total Stops: 6
Mexico and Southern California – May 1st – 8th
This will be my first long trip. While I’ve been to Dodger Stadium, I’m looking forward to seeing the Angels and Padre’s parks. I especially want to see the warehouse in the left field of Petco Park.
Additionally, seeing the Angels means seeing the great Mike Trout. Since I live in the east, don’t subscribe to MLB TV, and like to sleep, I don’t see him that much. However, I hear tell that he is the greatest player of his generation so I plan to see the Angels as many times as I can. To that point, there are three games with the Angels on this leg of the journey.
It’s also my first of two international trips with two games in Monterrey, Mexico. I’ll also be in London to see the Red Sox and Yankees exhibit their rivalry in July. I’m sensing that the Mexicans will understand the game better than the English.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 8; Other Experiences: 2; Total Stops 10
Also three possible Mike Trout sightings!
Atlanta and Texas – May 17th – 21st
I’m going to thread the “climatic needle.” so to speak. It will be mid-May, and I’m still thinking I need to stay warm by traveling south. However, I also get to see Atlanta and the two Texas teams before the summer heat becomes unbearable.
I’ll see the Braves first then fly to Dallas for two games at Globe Life Park where the Rangers play. Two games? Yes, I need to wait until the Astros are home on Monday – they are away over the weekend. Also, I like spending more than one day in a stadium when I can. It gives me a better feeling about the place. It’s a relatively short drive see the Astros at Minute Maid Park. I’ll drive back to Dallas and fly home the next morning.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 11; Other Experiences: 2; Total Stops 13
Baltimore – May 28th – 29th
Originally, I had planned to see Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C. during this week. I added D.C. for Opening Day and Philadelphia for the Jackie Robinson Remembrance. So I only need to see Baltimore’s Camden Yards to complete my mid-Atlantic trifecta.
I shouldn’t say, “need to see” since Camden Yards is a pleasure to visit. Significantly, it is the first of the modern retro ballparks. I’ve been there a few times and love it. This time, I’d like to spend a little time on Eutaw Street between the outfield and the famous warehouse. While doing so, I may be able to try Boog Powell’s Barbecue, which I have always wanted to do. I’d also like to check out the surrounding neighborhood and Babe Ruth’s birthplace. I may be able to do that the day after the game before I fly home in the afternoon.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 12; Other Experiences: 2; Total Stops 14
Cooperstown Dreams Park – June 13th – 16th
In addition to Canada, Marcy and I love Cooperstown and have been there many times over the years. We’ll go down for a few days to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary and have a few nice dinners.
We usually stay at one of the many, charming and quaint bed and breakfasts in town. This time I wanted to stay where the Hall of Famers stay during induction weekend and made reservations at The Otesaga Resort Hotel where we have never stayed. Yes, this is the hotel with the big beautiful veranda overlooking beautiful Lake Otsego where the players relax. We have had afternoon drinks there on other trips. Once you sit down, you never want to leave.
We have two things to see: the Hall of Fame and Cooperstown Dream Park to watch that week’s youth tournament.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 12; Other Experiences: 3; Total Stops: 15
Midwest to London and Back – June 20th – July 4th
I’m tired just thinking about this trip and happy I have 20 days to rest up for it. Over the two weeks, I will travel through the Midwest, then to London and finally to New York City.
Why do so much at one time?
Timing: The College World Series and the Red Sox vs. Yankees are within the same week. As I said, I plan to immerse myself in the game and experience it all. I had to find a way to do both. Additionally, the College World Series is about a week after Albert Pujols makes his first visit back to St. Louis. I can’t miss that.
Geography: St. Louis is close to Kansas City. The Negro League Museum is in Kansas City, and so are the Royals. Kansas City is a four-hour drive to the Field of Dreams location – “Is this Heaven?“2 Dyersville, Iowa is only a few hours to Omaha and the College World Series. New York is on the way home, and the Yankees are playing the Mets at Citi Field.
It will be a hectic couple of weeks – but possibly the most enjoyable, as well.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 15; Other Experiences: 7; Total Stops 22 – Halfway to 42!
Not to mention my 4th possible Mike Trout sighting in St. Louis.
All-Star Game & Home Run Derby – July 8th and 9th
The 8th and 9th aren’t on the weekend, but I can leave my house early on Monday the 8th and be in Cleveland in time for the Home Run Derby. I can stay for the game on the 9th and drive home on the 10th.
I’ve already purchased tickets – they were so expensive that I just got Standing Room Only. My opinion, the pomp and circumstance tend to be more exciting than the game. Additionally, the game can be long. I don’t mind leaving early when my feet wear out. I’ll see how long I can handle the Home Run Derby.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 15; Other Experiences: 8; Total Stops 23
Since Mike Trout is a perennial All-Star my 6th possible Mike Trout sighting.
Wrigley and the Upper Midwest – July 16th – 24th
After a week off I see the Twins, Cubs, White Sox and Brewers. Of course, I am looking forward to visiting Target Field in Minneapolis, and Miller Field in Milwaukee seems cool. I’m especially interested in the Bob Uecker Statues and good old Wisconsin Brats at Miller Park.
However, the highlight of the trip is definitely Wrigley Field! In my 60 years on this planet, I’ve never been and consider it a bit of a moral failing. Now I will get to experience “The friendly confines,” day baseball and the ivy. To do it right, I’m there all weekend. I want to do a tour on the Cubs off day when I arrive in Chicago on Thursday. Then, I’ll spend a couple of days in the stadium and another on one of the rooftops across the street.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 19; Other Experiences: 8; Total Stops: 27
Yankee Stadium – August 2nd – 4th
This was to be my Red Sox vs. Yankees weekend. Where I experienced the entire series. However, I’m cutting costs and only going on Saturday and Sunday.
Of all the scheduled stadium visits, this is the one that I’m least excited about. Even though, it’s an easy trip, a short non-stop flight to the city I’m just not excited. There is not much more to say. It’s the crosstown rival Yankees playing in a stadium that I feel should never have been built. Additionally, many feel that the new Stadium is very austere. I’ve been there once, and I can’t argue with them.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 20; Other Experiences: 8; Total Stops: 28
Fenway Park – August 10th – 11th
I’m more excited about Fenway Park! It’s one of my favorites. I love the green monster, the street meat, the Citgo sign – you name it, I simply love Family.
With that said, I had planned for a three day weekend watching the Bosox play the Angels and cut back to just Saturday and Sunday to save money. Larry and his family will join on Saturday and Larry, and I will go alone on Sunday.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 21; Other Experiences: 8; Total Stops: 29
Another two more possible Mike Trout sightings for a total of eight for the season.
Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh – August 15th – 19th
I get a couple of days off before I drive to Cleveland to start my little foray into Ohio, Kentucky (yes Kentucky) and Pennsylvania. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been to Progressive Field many times, and it has a warm spot in my heart. I’ve never been to Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. I’ve only been to PNC in Pittsburgh once, but believe it rivals AT&T in San Francisco as the best.
I’m going to take a side trip to Louisville, which is less than two hours from Cincinnati. It’s a Friday with no games for me to attend and I want to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. I’d also like to see a Bourbon distillery but will try to stay focused on baseball. After the visit, I will then drive three hours to Columbus for the night. If the Clippers are in town that night, I may catch the game. Going to the game seems like the appropriate thing to do. True to my goals for the summer, while it’s a little manic, if I am in a city and there is baseball, I should go!
I’ll make the short drive to Pittsburgh the next morning to see the Pirates’ afternoon game against the Cubs. Before I drive home, I want to find the site of Bill Mazeroski’s World Series winning home run. Home plate is on display at the University of Pittsburgh campus; however, it is only “near” the actual location. I understand the exact location is in the women’s room a few feet away.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 24; Other Experiences: 9; Total Stops: 33
Little League World Series August 24th and 25th
I get a week off to recoup, rest and write. Then on Saturday, I will drive about four hours, to Westmoreland, PA. to see the Little League World Series. I should be able to see the last two games. The atmosphere seems great. I want to sit on the bluff behind the outfield for one of the games.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 24; Other Experiences: 10; Total Stops: 34
Seattle, Northern California, Colorado, Arizona and Detroit September 13th through 27th
My last regular season trip of the year….
Similar to my two-week trek across the Midwest with a stop in London, the geography makes the stops on this leg, necessary.
The trak starts with a long flight to Seattle to see the White Sox play the Mariners at Safeco. However, it’s just two hours to San Francisco where I can see AT&T and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. I’ll see two games in one of my favorite ballparks while watching the Giants and looking out over the bay. The second game on Sunday is needed because the A’s won’t be home until Monday. Then I take a short flight to Denver for a game at Coors Field and another short flight to see the Diamondbacks.
After a few days visiting my youngest brother, I can end my regular season with a few days in Detroit visiting my sister and in-laws. My sister and I will celebrate the end of the regular season and a significant milestone in my quest at a game in Comerica before I fly home.
Score: MLB Stadiums: 30; Other Experiences: 10; Total Stops: 40
Post Season – October
Post Season will be consist of two (possibly three) events:
The Arizona Fall League was created in 1992 and allows the top AA and AAA talent to continue to develop their skills. There are six teams and thus six sites all around Phoenix. I’m planning to be there for four days, hopping from stadium to stadium as I like to watch the teams play.
The League Championships are a bit hard to plan for – how many games are needed, where will they be, etc.? For budgetary reasons, I may not go. However, it’s important to note that the playoffs are not on my list of requirements, and I don’t feel a real void if I don’t go. Of course, if the Metsies are in the championship, I will be there.
Conversely, my goal has always been to go to all the World Series Games but will decide when I get closer if I do so. Due to my budget, I may focus on games four through seven. Either way, I want to be at the final game. I usually hope for seven game World Series, as I need the season to be extended as long as possible. In this case, if I decide to go to all the games, my wallet may be wishing that the Series ends after four games.
Trip of a lifetime – don’t you think?
Score: MLB Stadiums: 30; Other Experiences: 12; Total Stops: 42!!
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.” 1
As I said in my previous post, I plan to take a break and consider a new existence. However, since this break can entail almost anything, why should I devote my energy to collecting ballparks? Most people would likely find it excessive to focus an entire year on baseball. Excessive even if I raise money for youth baseball and softball.
There are a lot of places to go, things to see, and experiences to have. Do I need to devote my time and money to baseball?
Baseball has been a constant source of joy in my life. Consequently, this trip has become one of my dreams. Is it that the game reminds me “of all that once was good and could be again?” 2 Will the trip make me feel young again? What is it about baseball that compels me to make this trip? I don’t have answers that I can verbalize. However, I feel like I’ve been on a trajectory to take this trip for a long time. Of course, part of the path is a result of my career choices and where they have led. My career and the questions that I have at the age of 61 can wait for another day. For now, I’ll focus on my lifelong enchantment with baseball and why this trip is my next logical step.
You see, I trace my life story in terms of my baseball awareness. It’s a story that has only one logical ending – my quest to find baseball’s essence and my reason for being. I need to experience each stadium and baseball’s wonders. As my father used to say, I need to “collect ballparks”.
I Probably Should Be a Yankee Fan
As a Bronx native, I guess I should be a Yankee fan. I was born just a short 1.7-mile walk up the Grand Concourse from Yankee Stadium. It’s an even shorter trip on the #4 train. It’s only three stops to the Mt. Eden Avenue station and a five-minute walk to Lebanon Hospital on 173rd street.
However, I have decidedly National League roots as my father (an ex-catcher) was a Dodger fan. I arrived in the winter of 1957 when he was still distraught that “Dem Bums” moved to California that winter.
Frequent Trips to The Stadium
When I was five, we moved to St. Petersburg, Florida so my father could further his career in aerospace. Every summer we returned to the Bronx to visit my grandparents and other family members. On every trip, I found myself with him at Yankee Stadium almost as soon as the plane landed. We returned to the sanctity of the Stadium many times during the visit. I acquired my early love for the game on these excursions. In classic style, a devotion for baseball passed from father to son at the ballpark.
I assumed it was a common practice to quickly say hello to relatives and then leave for the ballpark. I later realized that this behavior was not the standard arrangement and we were not a typical family. Instead, my parents were embroiled in a lousy marriage with much anger on display. My father’s haste was likely due as much to his antipathy for his in-laws as his love for baseball.
At the time, the Stadium was what the cognoscenti now call Yankee Stadium 1. It was the “House That Ruth Built,” with the monuments, the façade, and the pillars that could block your view. I spent my time learning about the Yankees glorious history with so many crucial moments happening at the Stadium. As I did so, Yankee Stadium transformed into a massive baseball cathedral that held all the wonders of the game.
I’m sure I saw Mickey Mantle and other greats but don’t remember too much from those early days. However, I will always remember when Frank Robinson dove into the standsrobbing Roy White of a home run.
The National League, Willie Mays and The Mets
After a few years watching the Yankees, my father announced that we needed to see national league ball. Since I wanted to see my new hero, Willie Mays I was happy to do so. There was a national league team playing in Queens, in a place with a funny name, “Flushing.” What was a “Met”? I’d soon find out.
I believe we made my first trip to Shea Stadium 1965 to see Willie Mays and the Giants. From the Bronx, we likely took the #4 train past Yankee Stadium and transferred to the #7 at Grand Central. It was a much longer trip, at least an hour’s journey to Shea.
However, all I remember is that we were there and my hero was signing autographs for kids leaning over the dugout. I remember watching Willie in center field, commanding my attention.
I also remember seeing Joe DiMaggio, possibly playing center field for an inning at an Old Timer’s Game. At the game, a woman dressed in a long antebellum dress escorted Casey Stengel onto the field. Casey, of course, stepped on the hem and the dress fell off revealing long skirts underneath. All good fun.
Spring Training With The Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals and the Mets trained in St. Petersburg. Each year, we went to Al Lang Field to see Spring Training games. In those years, the Cards were an outstanding, championship team and the Mets were still a joke.
So I became a nominal Cardinals
fan, regularly listening to my LP of Harry Carey and Jack Buck calling critical
parts of their championship 1967 season. I saw the characters described on the
record at these games, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Orlando Cepeda, and Bob Gibson.
One night, third baseman (and now broadcaster) Mike Shannon appeared in our
kitchen and was talking to my father. I never knew why he was there or how my
father knew him.
Yes, it was only Spring Training, but in 1969, we saw Bob Gibson pitch against 31 game winner Denny McClain. A World Series rematch that was meaningless to most, but memorable to me.
Meet The Mets
The Mets opened a training facility behind my junior high school. I remember riding my bike to watch them practice against the brand new Montreal Expos.
More importantly, I followed the Mets progress as they started to improve. Tom Seaver was a real star. That year, I was in Mr. Wilson’s earth science class when they announced that the lowly Mets were World Champions.
The Mets winning the World Series was considered impossible. All of a sudden the Mets mattered and our long, somewhat troubled romance began.
Back to New York City – “Ya Gotta Believe”
In the early seventies, my parents finally divorced, and my mother took us back to New York.
Almost as soon as we arrived, I promptly broke my ankle in true baseball fashion. It was Father’s Day, and I was playing a friendly ball game at the park with my cousins. Feeling aggressive, I slid back to the tree we were using as first base. I caught my foot on the roots in so doing, twisting and breaking my ankle.
I spent the summer of 1971 on crutches and watched games on television. At the same time, my sister followed our cousin’s lead and developed an interest in the Mets.
The next year, when I was healthy, I started going with them.
I remember sneaking out to Shea on opening day to watch Seaver pitch against Steve Carlton. Thanks to Google I know that the Mets won 3 – 0. My memory is not good enough to remember opening day scores. However, I do remember being there the day that Tug McGraw announced “you gotta believe” after a team meeting. This proclamation was the mythical start to the Mets push for the pennant and their rallying cry.
The Mets ended the season with a very mediocre .500 record, yet almost won the World Series! I was able to see one of the games at Shea but losing game seven was heartbreaking.
In College, I Had Other Priorities
Baseball lost a little luster when I was in college in the latter half of the 1970s. My lack of attention may have been because, each year, the Mets seemed to be competitive only through May. At that point, they would be swept (in my memory, usually by the Phillies) and they were done.
Although I had other priorities, I do remember these highlights:
I “borrowed” my freshman roommate’s television so my friends and I could watch game six of the ’75 Series. He wasn’t pleased.
The Yankees were good, and the Mets weren’t. I rooted for the Red Sox to beat them. Imagine the heartbreak of being a Met’s fan, rooting for the Red Sox to beat the Yankees and Bucky Dent! Bucky Dent, forever known in Boston as “Bucky F’ing Dent,” hits the home run to win the 1978 playoff game.
Reggie Jackson went nuts in the ’78 series. The Yankees beat the Dodgers a guy down the hall shed tears of joy. However, I was not pleased.
The Early Eighties I Realize That Baseball Is A Performance Art
By the early eighties, I was married and living in New England. Marcy and I lived in Portsmouth, NH and occasionally after dinner took walks and watched snippets of little league games.
I found that I couldn’t escape the joy of watching a game – any game. I loved it all and couldn’t get enough.
The fact is that I realized what my father once told me was true. He always said that Baseball was performance art.
There is a rhythm and beauty to the sides changing and the teams warming up each inning. The performance continues when the catcher gives his signs, the pitcher acknowledges, winds up, and delivers the pitch. Then, the batted ball, if it is a ground out, the ball is tossed around the “horn.” If the batter gets on base, the ballet between the first baseman, pitcher and runner begins. The pitcher glances, he throws to hold the runner on, the runner dances off the bag ready to go.
It doesn’t matter who is playing, the players’ age or skill level. The art form is always on exhibit. Since the ballparks are all different, they help mold the experience.
I escorted Marcy to her first live game – the July 4th doubleheader at Shea in 1980. The Mets split the twin bill with Expos. One game was close, and the other wasn’t. There was a grand slam and a benches-clearing fight. She was hooked.
We married in 1982. On the way to the wedding in New York City; we visited Cooperstown for the first time. We’ve been back many times. It’s a great trip, with many things to do, everyone should add a visit to their “bucket list.”
Stirrings in Flushing
The Mets started to win! They brought up Doc and Straw and won some more. Then in ’83, they traded for my personal favorite, Keith Hernandez – evidently only the “Cardinal’s second-worst trade.” They were getting closer. Then in ’84 came the Gary Carter deal and for a moment the Mets were the best team in baseball.
The Mets were up and comers in ’83 and ‘84, came real close in ’85 won big in ’86 (when the Red Sox victory parade went up Beacon turned left and got lost between Billy Buckner’s legs), disappointed in ’87 and somehow lost to the Dodgers in the ’88 playoffs. It’s hard to believe they didn’t win more.
Before the ’86 season, we were sure
that the Mets would win and got “Mets ‘86” license plates. For context,
remember that we didn’t live near New York, we lived in Old Orchard Beach,
Maine – Red Sox country. Who knew the Red Sox were going to be that good and
would face the Mets in the Series? I didn’t.
Marcy was pregnant with Leah and
was driving the “Mets ’86” car to work in Durham, N.H, about an
hour’s drive. She didn’t experience road rage, but did hear many horns and saw
more than her share of middle fingers. These gestures got more frequent during
the World Series and its aftermath.
The harassment continued occasionally until we moved to St. Louis in 1988, often with the infant version of Leah in the car. Yes, the Mets fan moved from Red Sox country to the home of our arch nemesis the Cardinals.
Pond Scum and The 90’s
We had a short stay in St. Louis between 1988 and 1990. There was a corporate box in Busch Stadium that we used occasionally. I worked in an office filled with Cardinals fans and got more than used to the term “pond scum” in reference to the Mets, their fans and I. One guy, an ardent Cardinal fan called gave me the nickname “TBK” (Total Baseball Knowledge).
A memorable night entailed dining
with my father at Charlie Gitto’s and then searching The Hill for Yogi Berra’s
house. We asked a guy on the street for directions assuming that everyone would
know such things. I don’t believe we ever found the home although my father
would tell you different.
We left St. Louis, for a brief
stint in Allentown, Pennsylvania and then moved to Rochester, NY. I spent the
‘90s, and early ‘00s focused on career, being a good father and husband and
observed baseball from afar. The Mets weren’t much, and I had other priorities
– but the game was always close to my heart.
There were some great moments:
afternoon that my father and I drove through Brooklyn looking for where Ebbets
Field used to be
Larry, Ted (my brothers) and I took my father on his
only trip to Cooperstown.
saw the green monster for the first time, after watching the 1999 All-Star Game
on TV and exclaiming “I want to go there!”
The Best Week of the Year
In 2004, a friend and I did something we had been talking about for a few years – Spring Training. The weeklong tradition called “the best week of the year” is now fifteen years old and going strong.
We stay in Jupiter, Florida, which hosts both the Cardinals and the Marlins. The location is even better now since the Nationals and Astros recently moved to a facility in West Palm Beach. West Palm is about 15 minutes away, and the Mets are only 30 minutes in the other direction. Not only do we have plenty of baseball choices, we like the area. The restaurants are excellent, the lines aren’t too long, and it’s easy to get around.
Our usual and now time tested routine is to fly down on a Friday evening. We stay in a cheap hotel near the airport that night The next morning; we go to the game, then check into our hotel and have a nice dinner. Each day, we work out in the morning, then go to a game. The day ends with a dip in the pool, time at the bar and an excellent meal. We follow this pattern until we fly home the following Saturday after seeing eight games in seven days. Our final statement when the trip is over is “only 51 weeks until we can go again.”
Thus, I’ve started each baseball season by immersing myself in the game, for a very long time. In fact, for a very long time, I’ve wanted to continue the trip into the regular season. But, in previous years, I returned to work – as we all must do.
In addition to Spring Training, the road to this current
experience was gaining momentum in other ways.
I earned my M.B.A in 1998 and
started working with a small marketing consultancy. Soon, I was assigned to a
new project that required me to drive to Cleveland frequently. Coincidently, my
father moved there a few years earlier with his second wife, a Cleveland native.
There were times I was there almost
every other week. The visits enabled dad and me to frequently go to Jacob’s
Field (“the Jake”) – now “Progressive Field.
In contrast to when he took me to
ballgames when I was young, I was now taking him. What started as the father
holding his son’s hand ended with the son pushing his father’s wheelchair.
Baseball was the constant.
I also started to travel more and could visit ballparks around the country. My father would say, I started “collecting ballparks.”
San Francisco conference? Catch a
game at AT &T. A meeting in Seattle? Easy ride to Safeco. In addition to
Cleveland, family adventures took me to Comerica in Detroit, Cleveland,
Pittsburgh, Boston, and Baltimore. We go to Citi Field every year, and one July
4th went to the “NEW” Yankee Stadium
Over the years I have ”
collected” about 12 or so ballparks, with 18 left to see. However, it’s
not fulfilling enough. No matter how much time I spend at ballparks, I feel
like I am missing something. I want more. It’s time to see all the ballparks
and have other baseball experiences along the way.
Why does one decide to travel across three countries to experience baseball in every way imaginable except for actually playing the game? In my case, I became irrelevant – at least from a business point of view.
Moreover, it clearly wasn’t my decision.
For two decades I worked for an advertising technology company and was considered a relatively strong performer. I rose through the ranks, was well paid and had a good stock package. However, in October my company restructured and I was no longer needed. In other words, I was considered irrelevant from a business point of view.
I was frustrated – my separation wasn’t because I couldn’t do the work, I clearly could. Instead, the company changed its policies – I worked remotely and that was not acceptable anymore. Additionally, an underlying factor was likely that I was considered too old – I was 60 at the time.
I was also very tired – somewhat burnt out. In Silicon Valley, you work six to seven days a week, long and odd hours. I also travelled a lot.
I’m not complaining. I know I’m not alone. Job loss and career change happens to many people my age. Frankly, it’s my second twenty career to end abruptly. However, this time I am older, near the end of the road and it feels much different.
Long story short – I needed a change, I couldn’t go back to my old life, but didn’t know what else to do. I still don’t.
So I started thinking, what does a 61 year old, lifetime baseball fan with time on his hands do now?
I’ll Have A Baseball Adventure
The answer came to me quickly. I had a series of consecutive thoughts that added up to a brilliant idea – at least I think so.
Why not take some time, break with the past and really find something rewarding to do with the rest of my life?
I can indulge my baseball fantasy and travel to every Major League Baseball stadium in the country – I’ve always wanted to do it?
A thirty-stadium tour will be great, but a really rewarding baseball experience needs to include some other stops. Spring Training, the Little League and College World Series, international games, the Negro League Museum and more.
I’ll need to keep a journal to support this journey of self-exploration.
I’m a budding photographer so I’ll certainly take pictures.
It stands to reason that I can transform my journal and photos into a book that someone can be convinced to publish.
My friends will want to keep tabs on my progress – so I’ll post updates on Facebook, maybe learn to Tweet and I’ll have photos to post on Instagram.
The Adventure Needs Meaning
Now, the reason I have a blog and you are hopefully still reading it.
Note that I am very sensitive to the fact that you are likely wondering what the point of this story is.
The trip needs to contribute to the common good. I can’t just travel around the country eight months, selfishly enjoying baseball and contemplating my life. It’s time to make a difference.
Last summer, a close friend from work cycled through the Himalayas with his son. Yes, you can do that if you have the energy, money and are physically capable. In contrast, a baseball trip through the United States, Mexico and England doesn’t sound quite as crazy and the bathrooms are much nicer.
They posted photos and commentary on Facebook – just like I plan to do but also asked their friends to donate to a charity called “Take Her Back” which focuses on liberating children from forced prostitution.
Clearly, I should do something similar. I can include a link on my facebook page directing my friends and followers to donate to a cause associated with the trip’s main subject – baseball. How about supporting youth baseball in low income and inner city areas?
However, if I just “market” the idea to my Facebook friends, I won’t raise that much money. I possibly can generate a few thousand dollars, but I want to raise as much money as possible. Instead, I can raise much more money if I step out of my comfort zone and take the idea public. I can build a website where I post blog updates after each baseball experience. Additionally, I can maintain branded social media accounts that link with the website. Moreover, I can coordinate with existing youth baseball organizations to validate and publicize the program.
So that is my story and this is my plan. I have a list of 42 stops on my journey – please see the schedule. The journey starts in the middle of March during spring training and will hopefully end in October at the last game of the World Series. In the meantime, I am doing outreach to get organizational support, I have built a website and am buying tickets and reserving hotel rooms.
I want to reiterate that the trip is entirely self-funded – all donations minus the collection fees will go to the selected charity. I hope you follow my progress and please donate to the cause. It’s a good way for all of us to become relevant again, don’t you think?