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On to California

California, preaching on the burning shore
California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door
Like an angel, standing in a shaft of light
Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine.

Jihn Barlow & Robert Hall Weir 1

Go West Young Man

Part two of my “Go West Young Man” saga was my weekend trip to San Francisco and Oakland. My faithful readers will recall that this journey started with my short visit to Seattle on Friday, September 13th. When I left Rochester for Seattle the night before, I was in an indifferent mood. I didn’t want to go, as I was tired of the travel.

Decorated hearts in Union Square

Moreover, I also doubted if the trip was a good idea in the first place. I mean, what was I thinking when I decided to make this ambitious, all consuming, thousands of miles trip? However, I had a great Friday in Seattle. My fun walks through the city, and a visit to T-Mobile Park helped me rediscover my traveling, baseball groove.

In my groove, yes, but still searching for meaning. Why, why, why am I drifting around the country? What am I running from, and what am I running to? What’s in my future?

Oracle Park from the bridge over McCovey Cove

I was on my way to San Francisco’s Oracle Park, one of my favorites. Oracle is on the bay, and its scenic setting provides fans with beautiful views and a cool breeze off the water. I always enjoy going back there.

After Oracle, my itinerary took me to Oakland Alameda Coliseum, the last of the ballparks I had never visited. After seeing the A’s play on television so many times, I wanted to experience their home field in person.

I was also traveling back to the city that had not always been kind. It was the last place I worked before my exile into baseball’s oblivion.

Inconsistent San Francisco

I didn’t just leave my heart in San Francisco.

My First Visit to Oracle Park

My first visit to the then-named Pac-Bell Park was around 2003. At the time, I worked with a sorry little consultancy based in Westlake, Ohio, just west of Cleveland. The company branded itself as consultants with advanced skills in analytics and focused on retail. To hear the owners talk, you would think we were “the smartest guys in the room.” We weren’t. Smart maybe, but the owners over promoted our skills.

Oracle Park features famous baseball quotes on its walls.

That summer, I was asked to replace a fired employee at two conferences where he had agreed to speak. Since one was in San Francisco, I was able to visit Pac-Bell (now Oracle) Park for the first time.

I wasn’t the first and certainly not the last to be amazed by the park with its beautiful setting on the water. I remember spending a glorious day in the sun. My Club Level seat was high enough, so I had a beautiful view of the bay. The highlight of the day was seeing Barry Bonds hit a home run that seemed like a laser beam flying off his bat. The ball shot off his bat, traveled in a straight, ascending line, and slammed into the seats in center field.

It was a pleasant, innocent day before it was clear that Barry’s PEDs fueled his dominance and he became an anathema. The opposite of all I hold dear.

San Francisco – Personal Wins and Losses

I had a great time on Saturday and on Sunday I enjoyed a drive up to Napa. However, Monday’s presentation was flat and likely not appropriate for the audience. My talk was one of my first conference presentations in my career, and I made the mistake of not understanding the audience. What were their interests? Why were they at the conference? What did they need to hear? It’s essential to know the audience, and I didn’t.

Statue near Union Square

The conference was not my first bad professional experience in San Francisco. Years earlier, when I worked in retail, I helped open a shoe department in what is now the Westfield San Francisco Centre. Although I helped do the prep work, I was not selected to be a member of the team that got to stay for the grand opening. I’ve always considered this exclusion a personal failure.

On the other hand, I was successful at Dreamforce, the tech conference organized by SalesForce. The event is held at the Moscone center and advertised as the largest tech conference in the world. In 2016, I managed an application developed for use on the Salesforce platform. We publicized the release at Dreamforce, and I gave several presentations that were well received. I’ve always considered the experience a win.

Finally, my most recent San Francisco work experience were the visits I made to my company’s downtown location on Bush Street. My teammates made weekly trips from our Redwood City location into the city to meet with engineers and developers who worked there. I joined them when I was in town. I thought the experience was positive, but I no longer work there, so maybe it wasn’t.

Thus, my walks through San Francisco’s streets that weekend brought back memories, both good and bad.

Two Days at Oracle Park

I walked the 1.5 miles to Oracle Park on both days that weekend. The walk took me from my hotel on Post Street, down the hill past Union Square to 3rd street. I’d make a right turn on 3rd street and walk down to the park.

On my way to Oracle

However, if I walked a few more blocks past 3rd street, I’d be at the old Bush Street office. Close enough to remember visiting it and meeting people at the nearby Starbucks. As I walked south on 3rd, I crossed Market Street. Just a few blocks from the Westfield San Francisco Centre, where I helped open the shoe department. Further down 3rd, I passed the Moscone Centre and remembered my Dreamforce experience.

Near the Mascone Center

The memories haunted me. I was walking through my past, knowing that for better or worse, the results didn’t matter. What’s done is done, and I was now a different person — just a newly retired nomad walking to a ballgame with his cameras on his back.

Willie Mays Plaza

My walk took me to Willie Mays Plaza at the corner of 3rd and King Street. I arrived a couple of hours before game time when people were starting to line up to enter the park. Each day, I’d walk by the statue of Willie Mays and head up 3rd Street as I had more to see and experience.

The “Sey Hey Kid”

Willie’s statue dominates the Plaza. It depicts Willie just after hitting a long drive. He’s looking up, watching the ball fly. The statue shows his classic follow-through with his weight out on his front leg, in a bit of a crouch. His swing was different from earlier players like Babe Ruth. For example, the Babe swung through the ball, twisting his upper body around a fulcrum he created with his legs closer together. He finished more upright.

I always stop and admire the statue. Willie is a favorite of mine. I like and appreciate Hank Aaron, but Willie was my guy. Many still consider Willie the best who ever played the game. However, his hitting accomplishments tend to be overshadowed by Aaron, who hit almost 90 more home runs in his career. I won’t argue the point, but Willie played in Candlestick Park, which was a terrible place to hit. On the other hand, others will say that Willie’s defensive skills overshadow Hank’s defensive capabilities in fans’ memories. Babe’s swing was the model for most power hitters before Willie, Hank and others came along.

Juan Marichal Statue and the Lefty O’Doul Plaza

As I continue up 3rd street, I approach the Lefty O’Doul Plaza and Gate. It’s easy to appreciate the Giants’ devotion to their long history in New York and San Francisco.

Lefty O’Doul Plaza Wall

There is a painted wall in the Plaza with the team’s significant accomplishments, including their world championships. The Giants won their first championship in 1905 and their last 109 years later in 2014. The wall includes individual achievements like Hall of Fame inductees, Most Valuable Player, Silver Slugger, and Cy Young Award winners as well.

Juan Marichal

In front of the plaza is a statue of Juan Marichal mid windup with his iconic high leg kick, ready to fire the ball. Marichal brought a certain flair to the game, as did so many Hispanic ballplayers in the 1960s.

Willie McCovey Cove and the Marina Gate

Just past the Marichal statue is Willie McCovey Cove. If you continue on 3rd Street, you cross the small Lefty O’Doul Bridge that spans the Mission Creek Channel. People park and tailgate on the other side of the bridge.

On Saturday, I made a left turn before the bridge and walked up the promenade with the water on my right and stadium on my left. Although I’d been on the promenade many times, I’d never walked to the end and wanted to give it a try. As I walked, I noticed the statue of McCovey across the Cove at the end of the point. I thought that was a bit odd. Why not put the statue near the park. I decided to get to the park early on Sunday to explore that side of the Cove and take pictures of it.

The Martina Gate

At the end of the promenade is the Marina Gate, with boats docked across a short walkway from the entrance. Not surprisingly, the Gate is not as popular as the one in Willie Mays Plaza. I can’t see why it would be since the Plaza gate is so much more convenient. However, it is quite pretty and unique. No other park is close to a working marina. Also, San Francisco Bay is beautiful; from that spot, I could see the bay bridge and ships going by.

Oracle Park Garden

I entered the park through the Marina Gate and walked through a short, windy tunnel into the park. There are food concessions inside the tunnel, and it opens onto a working garden behind centerfield. The garden supports two food concessions, The Hearth Table and Garden Table. Of course, there is also a bar.

Hot Dog Challenge Continues

Hot Dog at the Marina Gate

I bought a grilled dog with some slaw, and brown mustard at the concession stand behind the Marina Gate. Frankly, the dog was okay, with a crispy char, good bun, good taste, but it was similar to many at other parks. I rank it somewhere in the middle of the pack of ballpark dogs.

China Basin Park & The Wille McCovey Statue

On Sunday, I walked across the bridge to the other side of the Cove. Taking a left turn, I made my way up the path in China Basin Park. At the end of the trail is the statue of Willie McCovey.

As I mentioned earlier, I thought it was surprising that the statue is across the Cove and away from the ballpark. Many fans, except for those who park and tailgate nearby, don’t have an easy opportunity to see it. Frankly, I don’t think I realized that it was there until this visit.

Once I walked closer to the statue, I realized that it is uniquely situated. From one perspective, the boats docked in the Marina frame the figure, and from another angle, the ballpark makes an excellent backdrop.

Inside the Park

Cable Car

Walking through the ballpark, I passed a cable car and a Ghirardelli chocolate stand. In leftfield, there is the kids’ play area with a slide built into an oversized baseball glove and another in a coke bottle. Upstairs there are Lego statues of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner.

I was surprised how narrow the park’s corridors were as I found an escalator to the third level. It seemed much more crowded than many parks. Yankee, Citi, and especially Petco in San Diego are wider.

The third level is called the “View Level” for obvious reasons. The view of the bay is phenomenal from these seats. You can see the Bay Bridge on your left and barges slowly moving through the bay. Also, a ferry brings people across the bay to the game. It’s a great place to enjoy the game.

From the “View Level”

The Games

On Saturday night, Madison Bumgarner faced the Marlins Robert Dugger in a great pitching duel. Bumgarner threw just 66 pitches to get through six innings and only gave up two hits. Dugger threw 85 pitches in six innings and gave up three hits.

The scoring started in the seventh inning. Florida’s Jorge Alfaro slammed a Bumgarner curveball 473 feet for a two-run home run. The Giants tied the score in the bottom of the inning when Donovan Solano hit a two-run triple off relief pitcher Brian Moran. Solano had just entered the game and his triple obviously deflated the Marlins. However, the Marlins came back and scored two runs in the top of the eight and won the ballgame.

Sunday’s afternoon game was also exciting. The Giants went ahead in the third on a Mauricio Dubon homer with no one on base. The Marlins tied the score in the top of the seventh. Then Marlins pitcher Ryne Stanek threw a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth, and Mike Yastrzemski scored the winning run.

Yes, Mike is Hall of Famer, Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson. The Giants were headed to Boston for their next series in Boston, where it turned out, Carl threw out the first pitch to Mike. Later, Carl watched Mike hit a ball out of Fenway. The game went 15 innings, but it was one I’d have like to have seen.

And The Moon Rose

So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

Paul Simon 2

Around the seventh inning on Saturday, a bright red moon rose over the bay and was projected on the scoreboard. I guess there are many definitions of heaven; this view is one of mine.

“And the moon rose over an open field.”

Monday, I continued my search in Oakland.

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One More Ride For The Nomad

They were hiding behind hay bales,
They were planting in the full moon
They had given all they had for something new
But the light of day was on them,
They could see the thrashers coming
And the water shone like diamonds in the dew.

Neil Young – “Thrasher” 1

It would be one last ride for the Nomad, the would-be vagabond. For the last fifteen years, my baseball travel tended to begin and end with my regular trip to Spring Training in March. The exceptions were the occasional trip to Queens to see my Metsies or a visit to a ballpark while traveling for business. This year, my baseball travel continued to opening day, throughout the summer and into the fall.

That season’s long baseball travel ended on Saturday night October 12th at the Arizona Fall League’s “Fall Stars Game.” However, when I booked my journey, I didn’t realize that the AFL had an all-star game. Moreover, I didn’t know that they took an All-Star break after the game. As such, there were no games scheduled for Sunday. Since I didn’t leave until Monday, I had a free day.

However, I was confused. As the trip ended, I knew I was entering a “new normal” where I didn’t have a big baseball trip to occupy my time. The trip was supposed to give me time to decide what my new direction would be. Unfortunately, as I write my latest post, I still haven’t figured that part out.

Moreover, I am struck by some equally profound questions. Do I understand why I made the trip? Why did I need to go away? Why didn’t I do the expected, and find another job?

What to do? I took a lonely, revealing, and rewarding drive.

Morning – Drive North Past Flagstaff

And I was just getting up, hit the road before it’s light
Trying to catch an hour on the sun
When I saw those thrashers rolling by,
Looking more than two lanes wide
I was feelin’ like my day had just begun.

Neil Young – “Thrasher”

My goal for Sunday was to see as much of Arizona as possible, so I left early. My first stop was to be the Sunset Crater Volcano, just north of Flagstaff, about 180 miles away. Since it opened at 9:00 AM, I left the hotel around 5:30.

Morning drive passed Flagstaff

The drive took me up through the Coconino National Forest. As I drove, the altitude grew from 1,000 feet in Phoenix to 6,000 feet in Flagstaff. The sun was rising as the terrain transitioned from desert to forests and grassland filled with ponderosa pines. The brilliant orange sunrise cast a hopeful glow on the hills.

I drank my Monster Energy drink and ate a couple of granola bars (bought the night before) as I drove. Energy drinks are a new find for me. I first tried one as I was making a similar drive from Dallas to Houston earlier in the summer. They don’t taste bad and keep me more alert than coffee. Also, I can get sugar free versions – so they don’t add calories.

I entered the park a little before 9:00 and drove onto the 35-mile “Loop Road.” The road connects the Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments to the main highway.

Humphrey’s Peak

The first stop was Bonito Park. I saw the volcano on my left and the San Francisco peaks to my right. The San Francisco Peaks dominated by Humphrey’s Peak – the highest point in Arizona. The vista is covered with trees and grass and is so much different from the desert in Phoenix.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Where the eagle glides ascending
There’s an ancient river bending
Down the timeless gorge of changes
Where sleeplessness awaits
I searched out my companions,
Who were lost in crystal canyons
When the aimless blade of science
Slashed the pearly gates.

Neil Young – “Thrasher”

I arrived at the park gate to the monuments and had a dialogue with the booth attendant: “I need a pass.”

“How old are you?”

“61 – will be 62 in December. Does that help?”

“Any disabilities?”

“Colorblind, pre-diabetic, a tad overweight and a bad sense of humor.”

“It’s $25 unless you want to buy the national park pass for $80.”

I bought the $25 pass and traveled on.

Plants growing through the lava

As I drove, the scenery started to include large, dark lava rocks and ash — an apt setting for a location named the Cinder Hills. I stopped again and walked the short A’a Trail, a jagged lava trail with bright-colored plants growing through the black rocks.

Lava, trees, and ash

Further up the road, I spent about an hour walking through the Lava Flow Trail that winds around ash hills and lava rock mounds. It is the closet location to the foothills of the volcano. The trail slopes downhill, and there are stairs on the other side to take you back up to the road. Along the way, I passed weathered and twisted trees.

Sunrise Crater

However, the better view was at the “Cinder Hills Overlook,” just another short drive up the road. From there, I could see the volcano’s crater surrounded by ash and the vegetation that was slowly recapturing the landscape.

In my questioning loneliness, the trip around the volcano reminded me that nature is all-powerful. That when things are destroyed, life goes on.

It was around 10:30 AM, and I had to move on to stay on schedule.

Wupatki National Monument

It was then I knew I’d had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand
With a one-way ticket to the land of truth
And my suitcase in my hand
How I lost my friends I still don’t understand.

Neil Young – “Thrasher”

I started the 18-mile drive up the Loop Road toward the Wupatki National Monument. The terrain changed from the tree-covered mountains to the grassy Antelope Prairie. In the foreground rose the Painted Desert.

Antelope Prairie and Painted Desert

The Wupatki National Monument consists of a series of pueblos that are roughly 800 years old. My first stop was the small Wukoki Pueblo, which is about two miles off the Loop Road. The structure has just a few rooms on two levels. A small group of people likely occupied it.

Wukoki Pueblo

In contrast, the largest dwelling at the Wupatki Pueblo has about 100 rooms. The site also includes other smaller structures. The indigenous population arrived in the area around 1100. They likely left their previous farms that were closer to the volcano. This new area was hospitable because the volcanic ash provided good nutrients for their farming. However, by 1250, they were gone. Their diaspora started due to drought, disappearing nutrients in the ash, and other natural resources. 2 Another lesson remembered: times change and people move on. People have been doing it for thousands of years.

Wupatki Pueblo

I was barely on schedule. It was getting close to 12:30, and I had to keep going. I drove by a few other smaller pueblos that seemed similar to Wukoki and headed down to Sedona.

Afternoon – Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, and Montezuma’s Castle

Oak Creek Vista Point

They had the best selection,
They were poisoned with protection
There was nothing that they needed,
Nothing left to find
They were lost in rock formations
Or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks and in the stations
They were waiting, waiting.

Neil Young – “Thrasher”
Back down to Sedona

It took 15 minutes to head down route 89 to the point where I entered the Loop Road in the morning. Then I drove another 30 minutes to Flagstaff, where I grabbed a couple of McDonald’s burgers. As I ate, I continued to retrace my morning’s route by going west on Interstate 40 for about ten minutes. However, instead of going south on route 17, I took 89A the “Sedona – Oak Creek Canyon drive.” The drive is a designated Arizona scenic route that spans more than 2,000 feet of elevation between Flagstaff and Sedona. 3

Oak Creek Canyon

I stopped about eight miles down the highway at the Oak Creek Vista Point. The overlook is, “a spectacular overlook perched on the lip of the Mogollon Rim.” It is “the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau and Oak Creek Canyon.” The canyon floor is 2,000 feet below the rim. 4

The canyon was my third ecosystem of the day. Sunset Crater was mountainous terrain covered in lava and ash, the Wupatki Pueblos were in the prairie, and Oak Creek Canyon was a windy, deep gorge covered in trees. Native Americans selling handcrafted ceramics and jewelry lined the path to the overlook. Yes, after bargaining a bit, I bought a couple of ceramic bowls for Mrs. Nomad. I thought they were an excellent way to say thank you for her support during my long trip.

Sedona

So I got bored and left them there,
They were just dead weight to me
Better down the road without that load
Brings back the time when I was eight or nine
I was watchin’ my mama’s T.V.,
It was that great Grand Canyon rescue episode.

Neil Young – “Thrasher”

I continued my drive down to Sedona. Google Maps reported that the 16-mile trip should take 30 to 45 minutes or so. However, the journey took me closer to 90 minutes. There are a series of switchbacks on the road right after the Vista Point that slowed me down. I stopped to take pictures, and as I arrived in Sedona, the traffic was stop and go. It was Sunday afternoon, and the tourists were out in force.

The drive took me to the bottom of the canyon, and tall rock formations started to appear to my left and right. It was challenging to drive around the people parked along both sides of the two-lane highway. They stopped to enter the state park or to venture down to the creek that ran along the side of the road.

From the bottom of the canyon

So far, my travels had taken me through the Desolation Row” of the volcano, and Puebloan ruins to a relatively new paradise. With all of this breathtaking scenery, I remembered that life goes on and times change.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop in Sedona. It was late, and the traffic was heavy. Even if I had time to stop, what would I do and where would I go? There were too many things to see and too little time to see them. A short stop wasn’t a way to experience the town. I guess I have to go back.

Red Rocks near Sedona

So I drove slowly through the town as the scenery changed from the treelined canyon to the barren, sandstone, and limestone rock formations of Red Rock National Park.

Montezuma’s Castle

Where the vulture glides descending
On an asphalt highway bending
Through libraries and museums, galaxies and stars
Down the windy halls of friendship
To the rose clipped by the bullwhip
The motel of lost companions
Waits with heated pool and bar.

Neil Young – “Thrasher”

Toward the southern end of Sedona, I took route 179, heading southeast to Route 17 and Montezuma’s Castle. I made frequent stops on the 26-mile drive to take pictures of Red Rock’s beautiful rock formations. The 40-minute drive took closer to an hour, and I arrived at Montezuma’s Castle around 4:15. There was just enough time to see the Castle.

To Montezuma’s Castle

The Castle is a “20 room, 5-story structure built into a recess in a white limestone cliff about 70 feet adobe the ground.” The Sinagua Indians inhabited the area in the 14th century. 5

A little further down the path are the ruins of “Castle B.” From the trail, you can see a few rooms carved into the limestone wall. More interesting are the holes in the wall that held beams used to support an exterior five-story complex.

Montezuma’s Castle

Needless to say, the Castle was a reminder that the Sinagua Indians were another civilization that moved on and left its great works behind. I need to reconcile with the idea that change is necessary.

Long Drive Home

But me I’m not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time
When the thrashers comes, I’ll be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But I’ll know the time has come
To give what’s mine.

Neil Young – “Thrasher”

A little before 5:00, I left Montezuma’s Castle for what I thought would be a less than two-hour drive. After all, it was only 120 miles back to Mesa. I planned to stop for Mexican food as I got close to the hotel. The day had been great, and I was ready to relax and watch the night’s playoff game. Maybe have a beer or three.

The Astros were playing the Yankees in Game Two of the league championship. Instead, there were travel delays on the way back. I stumbled into the hotel at 8:30 and settled for a flatbread pizza at the Courtyard by Marriott’s Bistro.

The Astros won the game in the bottom of the 11th inning. Yankee pitcher J.A. Happ tried unsuccessfully to sneak a fastball passed Houston’s, Carlos Correa. The ball landed in the rightfield stands – 394′ away.

I flew home the next morning, understanding that people come and go. There are powers higher than us and – as people say – sometimes you hit the ball over the fence, and sometimes you strikeout. Sometimes your fastball gets by the hitter, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I don’t have the answers to all my questions, but I now understand the situation.

Note to my loyal readers. Please don’t despair about the end of the baseball season. I have a lot more stories to share. Stay Tuned.

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Go West Young Man

Take off the parking brake
Go coasting into a different state
And I’m not looking forward to missing you
But I must have something better to do
I’ve got to tear my life apart
And go west, young man

And it feels like I’ve got something to prove
But in some ways, it’s just something to do
My friends turn me around and say,
”You go west, young man.”

Liz Phair 1

Thursday, September 12th – Rochester, NY

Almost a year ago when planning my baseball trip of a lifetime, I couldn’t imagine how I would be feeling in the final stretch. It’s finally here – the final six ballparks. The schedule is tight. I know I’ll survive but admittedly, I’m tired. I don’t really want to travel anymore but I am committed to seeing all the 30 parks this season.

Tropicana Field

I’ve only been home a few days since I returned from my quick makeup trip to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Sunday. You may remember that I was supposed to go there in May. However, a sudden illness had forced me to cancel the drive from Miami to St. Petersburg. I had to go back.

Before the trip to St. Petersburg I spent a weekend at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. Prior to this trip, I had been home for almost two weeks, and I enjoyed the extended time off. Also, I was pleased that I could catch up on my blogging, which I don’t do when I travel. There is too much to do when I am on the road, I don’t have time to write and edit photos.

Little League World Series

But wasn’t my regret and uncertainty about the future the reason I committed to the trip? I wanted to challenge myself and make a clean break from my past. The goal was to find a fresh perspective to ease my state of mind and identify a new direction. Somehow, not wanting to leave home seems like a fundamental part of the experience. So I’m going.

At 6:00 PM, I’m on a Delta flight to Seattle, connecting in Detroit.

Friday, September 13th – Seattle, WA

I’m tired. I was supposed to arrive in Seattle around 10:00 PM PST- but there were mechanical problems in Detroit, and we were delayed for two hours. Unfortunately, I got to my hotel near Pioneer Square around 1:30 AM and fell asleep around 3:00.

I sleep for about four hours, wake at 7:00 AM, and can’t sleep anymore. After all, my internal clock thinks I am still on the east coast and assumes its 10:00 AM. I’m tired but want to see the city.

I’ve never really explored Seattle. My business travel to the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, outside the city limits, is the closest I’ve been. Once, I was able to Uber downtown to Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park) to see the Mariners. Today will be different.

Breakfast – The “Biscuit Bitch”

I check my phone and discover that I’m around the corner from the Biscuit Bitch, a quaint little establishment that serves breakfast. They claim “Trailer Park to Table: Southern Inspired Fixin’s and Kickass Espresso.” I love biscuits, need coffee, “southern-inspired fixings” seem healthy, and I can’t resist a good bitch, so I’m in.

To state the obvious, I’ll have to live with the return of the ten pounds I lost over the winter. Moreover, I’ll likely not lose them again until I get off the road. I decide to eat when I want, try to control myself and get exercise by walking a lot. Today will be one of those days.

At the Biscuit Bitch, I need to decide between the “Straight-Up Bitch,” “Easy Bitch,” “Smoking’ Hot Bitch,” and other bitch themed delicacies. I choose the “Smoking’ Hot ‘Seattle’ Bitch,” a biscuit with gravy, grilled Louisiana hot link, cream cheese, and grilled onion.

I love every bite of it and feel no shame.

A Walk To The Public Market

Since I only have a day, I hope to see as many highlights as I can. At the top of my list are the Pike Place Market and the first Starbucks location. I may even get to see them throw a fish or two.

I say goodbye to the Biscuit Bitch and start my walk to the Pike Place Public Market. It’s about three-quarters of a mile away, the route is down 2nd avenue for the most part.

As I walk by the antique stone arch on 2nd avenue and enjoy the sculpture and gardens in front of the office buildings that I pass, I realize discover that I love Seattle. I listen to podcasts as I walk. “Baseball Tonight” with Buster Olney is a daily habit because it keeps me up to date with the latest news and insights. I also like “Laughter Permitted,” Julie Foudy’s interview show. In this episode, Julie is talking to Olympic star Kerri Walsh Jennings about life before, during, and after the Olympics.

Pike Place Market

Even though it’s early, the Market is starting to fill with people. Are they all tourists, or are some locals? Is this the type of place where people regularly go shopping for that night’s dinner?

The public Market itself spans many blocks and levels. In addition to the stores, there are bars and restaurants.

The fish and seafood in the individual fish shops look amazing. Of course, there is the one famous for throwing fish – the Pike Place Fish Market. When I arrived, people were standing around, waiting for one of the fishmongers to hurl a fish across the small space. At one point, one of the mongers jokes with the crowd, saying, “so everyone here is shopping for fish?” Then he throws a tuna to a partner fishmonger who is standing a few feet away.

Later, a (likely local) couple chooses a tuna for the night’s dinner. The attending fishmonger throws it to another one to wrap it, weigh it, and complete the transaction. The scenario proves that they do some real business at the Market.

However, no matter how I try, I find it difficult to photograph fish in flight at the Market. The mongers change positions, the light varies depending on the angle, and people can jump in your way. I gave it a few tries and before I moved on to my next adventure.

I still wonder if there is any intrinsic value in tossed tuna? Throwing tuna around the market attracts a crowd, but the efficiency gains seem limited. I doubt frequent tossing improves the taste of tonight’s dinner.

First Starbucks??

The only Starbucks I see is at the corner of 1st Avenue and Pike Street. Remodels have kept the store in relatively modern condition. It looks just like all the other ones. There is a mural of a young woman on an adjacent building seemingly watching the action below. However, the store is not the original location. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I was in the wrong place. It didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t find information on my phone about the other locations. Note: prior research is a good idea.

Further research indicates that the site of the so-called “original” location is just a few blocks away, in the Market at 1912 Pike Place. However, this is not actually the company’s first location. Starbucks moved the store to the current location from the true original site whic was at 2000 Western Avenue. 2 I guess I need to go back to see what’s known as the first Starbucks.

The Walk to T-Mobile Park

I walk back to the hotel and nap. I’m not a napper, but I need sleep and want to rest up for tonight’s game. At around 3:00, I leave the hotel and start the almost mile-long walk to T-Mobile Park. This journey takes me in the opposite direction from my morning walk to the Market. My destination is the Pyramid Brewing Company, which is across the street from T-Mobile. However, as I walk, I want to see what I can, especially the UPS Waterfall Garden Park.

I didn’t know that UPS originated as the American Messenger Company in Seattle in 1907. I keep thinking – “didn’t it start in Memphis?” and then remember that FedEx originated in Memphis. It’s a small branding issue.

Anyway, Pioneer Square developed around the UPS headquarters, and the Waterfall Garden occupies its original space. A foundation started by UPS’s founder built the park and is responsible for its maintenance. The waterfall is 22 ft high and creates a beautiful place to hang out.

I continue my walk down S. Main Street to Occidental Square and run across the Fire Fighters Memorial. I say run across, because at this point I am free-forming it, just walking around to see what I can see.

I found the firefighter statues to be impactful. Maybe because it was so close to September 11th or that I wasn’t expecting to see these life-size statues in the square. The sculptures convey bravery as well as vulnerability. I realize that photographing sculptures in the ballparks I’ve visited has encouraged a more general interest in sculpture. Another unintended benefit of my travels

I enjoyed the Park and walked on. As I went, I passed a coffee shop that obviously has issues with Starbucks – nice artwork though. The statement seems to fit the anti-chain, anti-establishment vibe that I sense.

Pyramid Brewery

I belong to a Facebook Group called “Baseball Chasers.” The group is a hangout for people like me who just need to experience as many ballparks as possible. Members of the group share tips about the different ballparks they see. In one of the posts, a member said that Pyramid Brewery was an excellent place to hang before the game.

I got there around 4:00, a half hour or so before the stadium opened. As I was drinking my Outburst Imperial IPA, I realized I hadn’t eaten since the morning’s “Smoking’ Hot ‘Seattle’ Bitch.” I was hungry and couldn’t do beer on an empty stomach, so I ordered the Rosemary Garlic Fries and a second beer.

As I drink my beer and eat my fries, fans filter in and out. A couple of Japanese guys arrive wearing Ichiro jerseys. One has Ichiro’s number 51 painted on his cheek. I recall spring training when I woke up early to watch Ichiro play his last two MLB games, in Japan, to open the season. People clearly love him in Seattle, but he has even greater significance in the Japanese community.

From where I am sitting, I can admire the beautiful, brick ballpark across the street.

It’s been a good day. You can do a lot worse than live in Seattle and spend summer days at and around T-Mobile.

T-Mobile Park

T-Mobile is near the top of my “I Wish I Lived Close” group of ballparks. The ones it would be a pleasure to live near so I could visit them often. They are very similar, almost interchangeable. Each was built in the last couple of decades since Orioles Park at Camden Yards revolutionized how baseball stadiums were designed.  They tend to be in downtown neighborhoods, close to mass transit and easy to walk to.  They have brick (or stone) facades, historical references, statues of key players, many food choices, craft beer, cocktails, and wine.

My first stop is the Ken Griffey Jr. statue outside the Home Place Gate. The statue captures Griffey mid-swing, looking forward so he can watch the ball sail out of the park. Griffey had one of the prettiest swings in baseball.

I want to go through the Home Plate Gate and see the rotunda that is dominated by a chandelier made of 1,000 translucent bats called “The Tempest.” However, the gates are not open yet, it’s too early. So I walk around the outside of the park to the Center Field Gate which opens early,

The Centerfield Gate opens earlier than the other gates so that fans can enjoy an entertainment area called “The Pen.” “The Pen” has many foods and drink kiosks and a nice view of centerfield and the bullpens. It’s a good place to meet up with friends and spend some together before the game. Since I am alone, I have a beer, take some pictures and wait for the rest of the park to open.

Thirty, or so, minutes later, I proceed up the wide, brick-lined promenades. My goal is to see the rotunda, chandelier, Mariners Hall of Fame and the Baseball Museum of the Pacific Northwest. I did do a little research and know these are the things to check out.

As I walk, I pass other murals and artwork that are scattered throughout the Park. I especially liked “The Defining Moment.” A mural that depicts the moment the Mariners beat the Yankees in the 1995 America League Division Series. Not only is it pretty, but – as I said – it also illustrates the moment the Mariners beat the Yankees in the 1995 America League Division Series. These are the baseball moments I live for. Proof and remembrances that the Yankees are fallible and if so, that David may have actually beat Goliath. What’s not to like.

The Mariners Hall of Fame and the Baseball Museum of the Pacific Northwest are located together. Moments in Pacific Northwest history are intermingled with key moments and players from Mariners’ history. It is the most complete museum and Hall of Fame that I’ve seen in my travels. It’s the type of display I was expecting at Yankee Stadium but didn’t find there.

Finally, I get to my seat and view the field. The Park has a semi-retractable roof, which was thankfully open. My readers know by now, that while I understand the need for domed stadiums, I don’t like them. I feel that they take away from the atmosphere of the Park. The game sounds, smells and feels different, under a dome. Baseball is a game for the outdoors, especially on a nice night in Seattle.

What About The Game?

It wasn’t much of a game. Halfway through the fourth inning, the visiting White Sox were ahead eight to three, and I closed my scorebook. The Mariners scored a couple of runs in the bottom of the inning to get a little closer. After that, the teams settled into a series of innings without scoring any runs.

I left after the seventh inning stretch and started my mile-long walk back to the hotel. As I walked, I saw many teenagers hanging around the WaMu Theater where the “Zedd: Orbit Tour” was playing. I didn’t know who or what Zedd was and felt my age. However, I was glad to be back on the road and went to bed in anticipation of an early flight to San Francisco in the morning.

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The Little League World Series

On a beautiful, sunny, late summer afternoon I’m sitting on a hill in northern Pennsylvania watching 12-year-olds demonstrate the perfection of the game. Welcome to the Little League World Series (LLWS) where “the best seats are on the hill.” While some wish they were in Lamade Stadium’s grandstands, most of the people I met love being on the hill. They love the camaraderie and the almost ready for Autumn breeze that cools the bright sun.

What can be better than two days in the north-central Pennsylvania hills watching the game we love? It doesn’t matter that the players are twelve, it’s still the same game and the level of competition dramatic.

The Game’s Perfection

The Setting

It’s the bottom of the sixth (and last inning) of the championship game. Louisiana is leading Curacao 8 – 0, with two men out. Egan Prather has pitched the entire game and wants to be on the mound for the last out. Earlier in the tournament, Prather pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-hit ball to help Louisiana avoid elimination. That day, he struck out ten kids from New Jersey. Today he continued to dominate, allowing only two hits while striking out six.

“Mighty Casey” statue on the hill

Little League rules state that a pitcher is not allowed to throw more than 85 pitches in a game. However, Prather has thrown only 69 pitches through the first five innings and is well under the limit when Curacao’s Curley Martha comes to the plate with two out and no one on base.

Martha is no slouch. To date, he’s hit .563 with a tournament-leading three home runs to help Curacao get to the finals. One of these was a two-run shot against Japan in Saturday’s International Bracket final.

Martha also seems to match Prather’s competitive fire. Curacao was likely headed for a loss, but Martha wasn’t going to be the one to make the last out. He’ll leave it to one of the next guys to swing and miss or hit a weak ground ball to end the game. Let him walk slowly back to the dugout while Louisiana celebrates.

The Encounter

Louisiana’s Egan Prather Delivers…..

With two strikes, Martha fouls off pitch after pitch. Prather keeps challenging him, and his pitch count continued to grow. Every once in a while, he walks behind the mound, uses the rosin bag, throws it down and climbs the hill to make his next pitch. At one point, shortstop Stan Wiltz takes a few steps toward the mound to check-in and show some support. Prather glares at him, says something like (I assume) “I got this, leave me alone,” and Wiltz walks back to his position.

Martha wants a pitch he can drive, something in the strike zone. Since its a two-strike count, Prather doesn’t have to throw something over the plate. He can throw his best pitches that are around the edges and corners of the strike zone. Pitches Martha shouldn’t be able to hit. Martha’s only recourse is to foul off these pitches in the hopes of getting a better one he can drive.

….Curacao’s Curley Martha Hits Another Foul Ball

The scenario repeats eight times. Prather paces to the back of the mound, uses the rosin bag, climbs the hill, gets set, pitches, Martha swings – foul ball. The suspense increases with each pitch. Prather’s plight increases when he throws his 85th pitch. Prather will continue to pitch to Martha but must relinquish the mound if he gets on base. Of course, Prather does not want to be anywhere other than the mound when Louisiana wins.

Each player glares at the other. Again, Prather paces to the back of the mound, uses the rosin bag, climbs the hill, gets set, pitches, Martha swings – foul ball.

Finally, on the 88th pitch, Martha lines out to shortstop Wiltz and Louisiana’s celebration begins. They’re the last team standing of the 7,700 teams that started the tournament in their respective regions. They meet at the mound, parade the banner around the field and touch the Howard J. Lamade bust in centerfield. 1

Celebration!

“The Game of Ball is Glorious”

Baseball is the only team sport where this type of Mano a Mano confrontation is the centerpiece of the competition. For example, in football, the offensive line protects the quarterback as he throws passes to his teammates. There are 11 players on the opposing team, in various positions, who try to stop what he plans to do.

Similarly, in basketball, while a defender opposes the player with the ball, that defender can be assisted by another player or two. Moreover, the outcome of the interaction is not definitive, the player can pass the ball, so someone else can try.

Tennis, match play golf, boxing and wrestling include the single-player confrontation, but they are not actual team games. Players can be organized into groups and wear the same uniforms, but they are still individual contributors.

That’s why we remember Charlie Root pitching against Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series and the mythical “called shot.” Or Ralph Branca vs. Bobby Thompson in 1951 and the “Shot Heard Round The World” when the Giants won the pennant. Or, Prather vs. Martha in the Little League World Series.

The confrontation between pitcher and hitter is central to the game and incredible. Walt Whitman would say “glorious.”

That’s why it is impossible for me to resist baseball’s allure. I will always find a ballpark and relish everything the game was, is and ought to be. Give me a diamond, nine guys on each side, a few balls and bats and I’m at home.

Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Williamsport, PA (est. population 28,347) is the county seat Lycoming County. The west branch of the Susquehanna River separates it from South Williamsport, the location of the Little League’s headquarters and the World Series. The city is in north-central Pennsylvania between the Allegheny Mountains to the north and west and the Appalachian Mountains to the south.2 For baseball fans, the location of Howard J. Lamade Stadium, the series’ home, is a little slice of heaven: a cute little ballpark nestled in the northern Pennsylvania hills.

Statues in Market Square

The Little League began as a three-team league in Williamsport in 1939 – with three teams: Jumbo Pretzel, Lycoming Dairy and Lundy Lumber. It added a second league from Williamsport the next year. Since then, the Little League has grown into an international organization of approximately 200,000 teams in every U/S. State and 80 countries worldwide.3

In 1947, the Maynard League from Williamsport defeated a team from Lock Haven, PA to win the first LLWS.4 In 1952, the first international teams played in the series. Today, 7,700 teams from around the world compete in regional tournaments. Ultimately 16 teams represent eight regions from the United States and another eight from around the world compete in Williamsport for the championship.5

Of course, people throughout the region celebrate the Little League and its World Series. I enjoyed the welcoming signs hung from businesses and private homes. I also loved the statues of players, on each corner of Market Square in the center of town.

If You Go

What am I saying? Of course, you should go!

The gates open at 8:00 AM (occasionally earlier). To get good seats, fans begin to line up earlier, around 6:00 AM, although I met some who were there even earlier. Once the gates open, fans race to their preferred seating locations.

There are15,000 seats in the grandstand and up to 40,000 seats (they claim) on the hill behind the outfield.

Sitting on The Hill

Most attendees sit on the hill behind the outfield fence.

The steep hill is divided by a flat area that includes a paved walkway, that enables people to walk from end to end. At the top of the hill are stairs that lead to exits.

The area in front of the walkway is used only for seating. Although some people sit behind the walkway, that area is used almost exclusively as the famous sliding area. Kids and the young at heart use pieces of cardboard to slide down the tall and steep hill.

Toward the end of this year’s championship game, soccer great, Julie Foudy left ESPN’s broadcast booth and gave the hill a try. It brought back good memories. Twenty years before, I was at the Rose Bowl with the Nomad family watching Foudy play, and the Women’s National Team (aka “the 99’ers”) win the World Cup. Now here I was watching her barrel down the hill at the LLWS.

Of course, every fan has their individual preference as to what is a good seat. The people I sat with chose a location right where the hill started to flatten out. They were in front of some bushes that surrounded the flagpole, which is in front of the walkway. Others choose to sit closer to the field on the steep angled part of the hill.

You Need the Right Chair

Different types of chairs facilitate seating:

  • Plastic chairs where the back legs are cut in half, making them perfect for sitting on the steepest part of the hill – closest to the action.
  • Folding chairs that have very short legs, like the ones you see regularly at the beach are a good choice. These chairs work nicely on the gradual sloped and flat part of the hill. They enable the viewer to see over the people in front of them without blocking people behind them.
  • Folding chairs with standard height legs are best for the flat areas in the back because they can block the view of others if placed in front of them. Moreover, they can’t handle the steep angles.

The Fans

The choice of seating engenders different behaviors. In my two days of extensive research, I noticed five different kinds of fans. You have to decide which you are going to be.

Stadium Wannabees

Some fans head to “Will Call” when the gates open and wait for any remaining tickets to be distributed. I originally, understood that the grandstand was only for VIPs and the players’ families and their friends. However, I met people who said that there are a few thousand tickets that remain and are distributed to fans.

Long lines at “Will Call”

Getting some shade..

The problem is, if you are alone and go for the stadium seats, you lose a chance at good positions on the hill. So here is the strategy: you need to choose the seating location to target before the gates open. If you have family or friends with you, part of the group can wait at “Will Call” while the others stake out a position on the hill. However, everyone needs to be at “Will Call” when the tickets are distributed. Each person only receives one ticket. They can’t have extra tickets for friends.

Note that some of the VIPs don’t use their tickets. From the hill, you will see many empty seats in the grandstands.

Hill – Early Birds

Members of this group, park close to the stadium, near the top of the hill. In so doing, they will likely pay a small fee to near-by residents or businesses to park on their property. When the gates open, they are in a position to get the best seats available on the hill. They stake their claim with blankets for friends and family to use when they arrive later or as a buffer between other attendees.

Hill – Gate Openers

I was in this group. Not knowing any better, I followed the “Stadium Parking” signs as I headed up Market Street toward the stadium. The parking here is free. However, it is below the stadium, so I had to walk up the hill to get to the stadium. By the time I got to the seating area, there were no prime locations.

Moreover, good spots were limited since I did not have the requisite chair. I mistakenly assumed that most fans sat on the ground. Without the right chair, the dramatically angled slope was uncomfortable. However, I needed to be as close to the slope as possible, so I could see over others that had chairs.

Luckily, I charmed a group of “Early Birds” and asked if I could sit in the area that they had declared as theirs. I sat next to them both days.

Hill – Late Nicks

These people get to the grounds hours after the gates open and try to squeeze their chairs into any available space. However, they are polite and make sure that they do not block others who are already situated.

Hill – Jerks

Jerks get to the grounds late and place chairs wherever they want without considering whose view they are blocking.

Is Baseball Like a Liquid?

During my two days on the hill, I considered the question I asked at the beginning of my adventure:

“Does Baseball like a liquid take the shape of its container?”

Thomas Boswell

After all, I have now been to venues in four different countries, Mexico, Canada, England, and the United States. To date, I have attended games at 23 MLB ballparks. Not to mention, I sat in Doubleday Park in Cooperstown for a few innings. I also saw the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha. Now I was at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Even though I still have seven more ballparks to see, I am ready to declare, unequivocally, that the experience at each ballpark is different. The game transformed as I went from site to site.

It’s not that the strategy or the way the game is played is different. The adventure, the feeling, the view and sounds of the crowd make each experience unique.

My next stop on the tour is the makeup game in Tampa. It replaces the one I missed in early May when I was too ill to make the drive from Miami. A few days later, I leave for a long trip out west to complete my journey to all 30 ballparks. I can’t wait.

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Target Field – Minnesota Nice

Hot Dogs

I started July’s five-ballpark trip around the Midwest with two games at Minneapolis’ Target Field. From there, I continued to Chicago for three games at Wrigley Field, a quick trip to Milwaukee’s Miller Park and then back to Chicago to see Guaranteed Rate Field.

My rank for Target Field is slightly above average. I like its downtown location, not to mention the view of downtown from the seats. Additionally, the use of limestone throughout the park and exterior was a great touch.

“You’re Going to Make it After All”

Readers know that I appreciate a ballpark’s intimacy, its focus on the home team’s history, it’s food (especially hot dogs) and beer selection. Other than a relatively weak craft beer selection, Target Field is as good as any of the stadiums I’ve been to. It also has impressive statues all over the place.

There is a pub called “2 Gingers” on the second level right behind home plate. Little did I know when I bought my tickets that I was in the sections right in front of the pub. I could walk through the pub to get to my seat! How cool is that? Not that I did too much drinking, just a beer or two, but it’s nice to know that a bar is near if you need it.

Fortunately, I stayed in a hotel downtown, so I had the opportunity for nice walks past the Mary Tyler Moore statue and a beautiful mural of Minnesota’s Bob Dylan – a personal favorite.

“Don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters” B. Dylan

Finally, the Mets were in town, and they were starting their post-all-star game hot streak. They won both games – Alonso hit 474-foot bomb and life was good!

Around The Park

Excellent views of downtown, a plethora of representations of “Bullseye” the Target Dog, fun Minnesota humor and the Metro is right outside. What more do I need?

Panorama View From my Seat on the Second Level – 2 Gingers is Right Behind Me

Outside and along one side of the stadium is a timeline of great moments in Twins’ history. However, on the other side of the ball park is the real find. There are three cut stone murals by an artist named Craig David. One is “Sustainability Reborn,” “A History of Minnesota Baseball,” and “Transit Then and Now.” A very nice touch.

I score every game. During one of the games, I noticed that one of the Facebook groups I belong to was discussing scoring, I added this photo of my scorecard. I’m a tad compulsive and, among other things, I count and record the sequence of pitches. My scorecard photo resulted in some admiring comments.

Honoring Former Players

Twins Statuary

Statues and pictures of Twins players are all around Target Field – inside and out. However, even though I thought I walked every inch of the ballpark, I never saw the Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett ones. Twins fans, please tell me how I missed seeing them!

Tony Oliva

Hot Dogs

Schweigert’s All Beef – Jumbo Dog

Schweigert’s – All Beef Hot Dog

On day one I had to try the locally made Schweigert’s Original Twins Hot Dog. There is nothing wrong with it, it’s grilled, charred and crispy, with an all-beef taste. It comes with grilled onions. However, I ranked it sort of in the middle of the pack since it is similar to others around the league. ​

Kramarczuk’s Polish Sausage

Kramarczuk’s Polish Sausage

Kramarczuk’s was one of the first places to catch my eye as I walked around the stadium on the first day. So, I had to have one on my second visit. Decision time; they had four sausages to choose from – Polish, Hungarian, bratwurst and, I think, a traditional hot dog. “Which is best?” I asked. “Do you like garlic?” I mean, who doesn’t love garlic? So, I had the polish sausage that is very garlicky with some good sauerkraut.

It tasted great, I rank it high on my list. Readers of my blog know that grilling is essential to my hot dog experience. Kramarczuk’s grills their sausages and thus the one I had a nice crunch and char.

After two days in Minneapolis, I planned to fly to Chicago on Thursday morning in time for a Wrigley Field tour in the early afternoon. However, heavy rain delayed my flight and, I rescheduled the tour for Friday morning. That story will be in a future post.

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A Visit to Yankee Stadium

In my last post, I belabored the “why the new Yankee Stadium should never have been built” point of view. Now that I have that out of my system, I will describe what a visit to Yankee Stadium is like.

“Savages In The Box” That Don’t Like Boston

I’ve always wanted to see a series between the historic rivals, the Red Sox and Yankees and this was my chance. I also saw the teams play two games in London. As it turned out, the Yankees won all five games, in the two series. It’s not my fault, better luck next year to the Red Sox.

Yankee Fans

Although I was born in the Bronx, I’m congenitally not a Yankees fan. It’s in my DNA. I don’t have the ‘Yankee fan’ gene. As I have written, the condition wasn’t apparent when I was born. My non-Yankee predilection started to present itself when I was around eight or so. By my early teens, it was clear that I did not have any sort of capacity to appreciate the Yankees.

The Fans

Since I understand that I have this congenital aversion to all things Yankee, I am being cautious not to be too critical of the Yankee fan experience. I could be missing something that only they can see.

I will say that while growing up in New York, “the center of the universe,” I noticed that my friends and neighbors had this attitude that they were “in the know.’ They always knew the right places to go, the right restaurants to eat at, and the most up and coming books to read, etc. However, my experience was that except for being in the place that everyone else was, or where everyone wanted to be the experience wasn’t all it was supposed to be.

Craziness Outside The Stadium

Yankee fans seem to be similar. Yankee Stadium is the place to be, the place to see and be seen. The fans have a transactional relationship with the team. Brian Cashman (the general manager/President?) gets them a new free agent player or two, always “the shiniest toys” available and they are happy to believe they are part of this winning tradition. However, the days of winning frequent championships are long gone. Yet, Yankee fans walk around the Stadium with what seems to be a sense of entitlement.

But as I said, I’ll try and be objective.

Getting to Yankee Stadium

Much of my baseball travels have included a hotel within walking distance to the ballpark. I like to be about a mile away from the stadium. So, I can’t compare all stadiums in regards to the ease of using mass transit to get to them. What I can say is that Yankee Stadium is one of the easier ones to get to.

From The #4 Line Station

Of the ones I’ve attended:

  • Target Field in Minneapolis seems uncomplicated, the train stops right out front. However, I haven’t tried it.
  • Nationals Park in DC is very easy to get from Reagan National, and I assume other places in the city. I took the metro from Reagan and loved it.
  • Both Guaranteed Rate Field and Wrigley Field in Chicago are a comfortable ride on the Red Line.
  • Citi Field in Queens is an uncomplicated but longish ride on the 7 Line from midtown Manhattan.
  • Yankee Stadium is a very short ride on the subway – one of the easiest trips. You can take the B, D or 4 train. I’ve always been a Lexington Avenue guy so, I take the #4.

The Atmosphere at Yankee Stadium

It’s Nice But a Bit Artificial

The Frieze

Yankee Stadium is a new version of the original gem. In a sense, it has this artificial, Disney kind of feel. The feeling that you’re in Epcot and walking around all the European nation’s exhibits. While it has some of Europe’s appeal, the food, etc., you’re still in Orlando.

At Yankee Stadium, you can walk around the park, see the beautiful frieze surrounding the roof and imagine what the original park was like. However, it does not feel real.

Cold and Austere

All in all, the Stadium has a cold, austere feel to it. It doesn’t have the intimacy of places like Camden Yards, Petco and Oracle Parks or Citi Field. Indeed, it can’t match Wrigley or Fenway, but no place can.

It also doesn’t have a New York feel to it. The food, while good does not represent New York City’s fine restaurants the way Citi Field does. While you see the apartment buildings of the surrounding Bronx neighborhood, the Stadium no longer faces the iconic, grey Bronx Courthouse that fans used to see.

Honoring the Legacy

Finally, Legends Hall, Monument Park and prominently displayed retired numbers tend to reinforce the Yankees historical legacy, but it doesn’t seem sufficient.

Retired Numbers

The Yankees Museum is underwhelming as the displays could include so much more. It’s great to see Thurman Munson’s locker and statues commemorating Don Larson’s 1956 World Series perfect game, but where are statues commemorating other great moments, other great Yankee players’ jerseys and equipment. It should be more extensive with more exhibits. It is nice to see the Yankees borrow essential items from the National Hall of Fame on a rotating basis. Replace them every few months with other pieces. There are so many items at the Hall of Fame that could be temporarily displayed at Yankee Stadium. Every few months, the pieces would be exchanged with other items.

I’d love to see statues of great players in Legends Hall, not just banners. Something similar to the figures that the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs (to name a few) have in front of their stadiums.

Legends Hall

Monuments Park is beautiful but not easily accessible. To visit, you have to walk up a corridor and wait online to be ushered through. Frankly, it’s cramped. SunTrust in Atlanta has a much more accessible area. Braves greats are honored in the main corridor behind home plate. Additionally, it’s embarrassing and insulting that George Steinbrenner’s plaque is the largest.

Monument Park is somewhat hard to see from the stands. It’s hidden behind the centerfield wall and shrouded by protective netting. I wish they would open up the centerfield doors and roll up the netting before and after games. Celebrate the legacy, the great players while the teams warm-up, and the fans arrive. Shine a spotlight on the monuments as the fans leave. It would be beautiful.

Somewhat Hidden Monument Garden

The Food at Yankee Stadium

Not that I’m proud of it, but my ballpark food choices have mainly focused on the “Great Hot Dog Challenge,”so I can only speak from observation. There seem to be good, basic food choices, but the Stadium does not draw from New York’s great local food tradition the way Citi Field does. Cleveland does a better job of incorporating the local food scene as well.

The Yankees do a lot with buckets filled with food:

  • The Yankees Bucket of Chicken – a large bucket filled with French fries and topped with fried chicken tenders.
  • Sliders – the same bucket filled with “at least a pound of fries” and topped with five hamburger sliders.
  • The “Grub Tub” – one of the most inventive things I’ve seen at a ballpark since teams started batting their best hitters second. The Grub Tub is this contraption where a large (16 oz) soda cup holds a bowl filled with french fries and chicken nuggets. The bowl has a hole in the bottom that allows a straw to get to the soda. Thus, the whole contraption can be held in one hand.

Beer choices are not as extensive as many other stadiums, like San Diego, Cleveland or Cincinnati.

Minor complaint – they need more Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops! Two spots will not handle the crowd. The lines were much too long for me to consider ruining my waistline.

Minor Observations – are the lines slower at Yankee Stadium than other places? Seems so. Fans seated around me tended to be gone a long time before returning with their edible treasures.

Hot Dog Challenge

I tried three hot dogs – don’t judge, I had one per game.

Sabrett’s (?) 12” Hot Dog

Sorry, the Nomad is slipping, I’ve lost my hot dog memory. I had a 12” dog on Saturday night on the 3rd level of the Stadium. For some reason, I don’t think it was a Sabrett’s hot dog, but in reviewing the stadium map, I’m convinced it must have been.

Sabrett Hot Dogs are a staple of New York City. You can find a Sabrett’s cart on almost any street and conveniently ruin your dinner and upset your doctor. They are quite good. The one offered in the Stadium was grilled, had a nice char/ crunch, and overall made me very happy. Additionally, Yankee Stadium has brown mustard. I rank this one very high on my list.

Primo Italian Hot Sausage

I had the same issue in New York as I did in Chicago. To a certain extent, the hot dog/sausage vendors are similar in both ballparks. In this case, Nathans and Primo are prevalent at both. Since I had the Primo Italian Sweet Sausage at Citi Field, I went with the Hot Sausage this time. Not surprisingly, the sausage was just as good. Excellent taste, good crunch, and char, sturdy bun. However, they use less grilled onions, which makes it more manageable. I ranked it just above Citi’s version because it was slightly easier to eat.

Kosher Hot Dog and Another Knish

On Sunday, I decided to do the kosher all-beef hot dog – just like I did at Citi Field. It was likely from the same vendor and also quite good. However, the knish I had with it was not as firm and crisp as Citi Field’s. So I ranked this one, just under theirs.

So How Was The Play Mrs. Lincoln?

In my last post, I outlined why the “new” Yankee Stadium should not have been built in a new location. However, the pertinent question was, how is a visit to Yankee Stadium? Some people don’t know or care that the old Stadium was torn down. Is it a good place to see a game?

When you get by the controversy about building the Stadium, it’s an OK place to see a game.

Not great, but above average. It’s too cold and austere and not intimate enough to call it a great ballpark. Yankee Stadium reminds me of Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field, the last stadium built before Camden Yards revolutionized baseball. Neither has the appeal of the so-called retro ballparks and as such, they are a bit more austere.

My nest stops were Fenway Park to see Mike Trout and the Angels – err and family. After that the Little league World Series.

From Left Field
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The House That George Built

The House That George Built
The Frieze

I saw three games at “New” Yankee Stadium, the so-called “House That George Built,” as my 19th ballpark of the summer. It wasn’t my first visit, Mrs. Nomad and I had been there once before, so I knew what the Stadium was like.

New and Old Stadiums – New on the Left
via www.digitalcentrality.com

I believe baseball stadiums are shrines to a team’s baseball legacy. Each game played in the park honors that legacy. The stadium itself is perhaps the most visible statement about a team’s respect for the past. Additionally, teams honor their greatest players with retired numbers and statues. SunTrust in Atlanta and Yankee Stadium have monument gardens, to name just two examples. Many teams have Hall of Fame areas in their stadiums that provide an important historical connection to the past for the fans of the future.

Amateur Fields Occupy the Original SIte

The original Yankee Stadium was the “Cathedral of Baseball.” So many vital events occurred at the original site, it’s sad that it was torn down. Amateur baseball fields across the street now occupy that site.

Building the replacement across the street was in my opinion, a tragic blunder. It’s inconceivable that the Yankees, an organization that says it values its legacy and traditions more than almost anything else, demolished the old stadium. Baseball deserved better.

The Yankees have broken a few of their other traditions as well.

The Yankees Legacy

From 1913 to 1922 the Yankees shared Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants. Giants owner, Charles Stoneham and manager John McGraw found it frustrating that the upstart Yankees were a bigger draw than the World Champion Giants. 1 The Yankees had this kid named Babe Ruth who was in the process of revolutionizing baseball and sports celebrity. Stoneham and McGraw’s reaction to Ruth and the Yankees’ increasing popularity was to evict them after the 1922 season. The Yankees ownership always wanted a permanent home in the area and built their new stadium right across the Harlem River in the Bronx.

Legends Hall at the New Stadium

The mammoth Yankee Stadium which people referred to as “The House That Ruth Built” opened at the start of the1923 season. For the next 85 years, Yankee Stadium was the center of the baseball universe. In that span, the Yankees won 39 pennants and 26 world championships. Great Yankee players like Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter thrilled the home town fans. Most of all, some very significant moments in baseball history happened there:

  • Ruth’s 60th home run
  • Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” farewell
  • Roger Maris’ 61st home run
  • Don Larson’s World Series perfect game
  • Jackie Robinson stealing home in the World Series

Yankee Traditions

As The Yankees won championships, they codified a series of traditions. The Yankees have:2

  • worn their iconic white pinstripe uniforms since 1912, continuously since 1915 3
  • worn plain gray uniforms with block lettered “New York” since 1916, continuously since 1931
  • never worn names on the backs of their jerseys 4
  • worn the insignia with interlocked “NY” on their navy blue caps since 1923 and their chests since 1936
  • used the “bat in hat” logo since 1947
  • maintained some sort of Monument Park since 1932, when they built their first on-field one dedicated to Miller Huggins

Little Change Since1936
pictures via http://exhibits.baseballhalloffame.org/dressed_to_the_nines

Although the Yankees declare their pride for these traditions, over the years, they compromised some of them when they deemed it necessary. In my mind, it all comes back to George Steinbrenner and money.

If you sacrifice what you say is most important so that you can make more money than I would suggest it wasn’t that important in the first place. It’s easy to say tradition is vital if you don’t have to choose it over more money.

Sacrificing tradition for the sake of higher profits cheapens the Yankees brand.

George Steinbrenner

In 1973, George Steinbrenner led a group of investors in purchasing the then struggling Yankees and started a sometimes controversial resurgence. Steinbrenner was a bombastic owner, and the story of his turbulent tenure is well known. His philosophy was that winning the World Series was the only acceptable option for his Yankees. To do so, he spent millions on free agents, hired and fired managers, and won a few championships. However, his teams finished out of the running quite often. The myth of tradition and success continued.

The Myth of Steinbrenner Success

“I’m not a win-at-all-costs guy. Winning isn’t everything. It’s second to breathing.5

“I hate to lose. Hate, hate, hate to lose.” 6

– George Steinbrenner

The Yankees won their first pennant in 1921, their first World Series in 1923. Since then, they have won 40 pennants and 27 world championships. 7 It’s a stupendous achievement and one that the Yankee organization is entirely justified in being proud of. However, the pace of the championships slowed in the mid-1960s. It remained relatively slow throughout the Steinbrenner era.

Celebrating the Championships
via www.fansedge.com

Although Steinbrenner’s Yankees won seven world championships, most occurred in a short five-year span. The Yankees won four championships in the extraordinary period from 1996 to 2000. However, in the previous seventeen years, the Yankees did not win any championships. Similarly, in the following 18 years since 2000, the team has won only one championship.

Consider that in the ten years before I was born in 1957, the Yankees won nine pennants and seven world championships. They barely equaled this performance in the 45 years since Steinbrenner bought the team.

An 18-year-old Yankee fan who brags about the team’s legacy of twenty-seven championships has only experienced one of them. However, kids the same age in:

  • Boston experienced four championships
  • San Francisco saw three championships
  • St. Louis celebrated two championships
  • Eight other cities experienced one championship

Financial Success

Steinbrenner parlayed this exaggerated view of the Yankees on-field success into a fortune. The team is currently worth $4.6 Billion. “The value of the Yankees has compounded annually at 15% since a group led by George Steinbrenner paid $8.8 million for the team in 1973” 8

The Steinbrenner family also reaped a lot of money:

“Steinbrenner’s initial investment in the purchase of the team was just $168,000 (about $890,000 in today’s dollars) according to the L.A. Times, or about 1.9% of the total sale price. By the time Steinbrenner passed away in 2010, his stake in the team had grown to 57%. That share was passed on to his family, led by his sons Hank and Hal.”

“If the Steinbrenner family still owns 57% of the team, it is now worth more than $1.8 billion, or about 200,000% more than the elder Steinbrenner’s initial investment (considering inflation).”

Cork Gaines – Business Insider 9

The New Stadium

Why would a historically successful team that insists its traditions are sacrosanct decide to remove the centerpiece of that tradition? I’m going to suggest that those traditions aren’t as sacrosanct as the Yankees claim. It was easier to build across the street and demolish the existing structure. Moreover, doing so, generated the most significant financial return.

Were Physical Improvements Needed?

Yankee Stadium was falling apart, pieces of concrete were falling from its facade. A solution was necessary.

However, almost from the beginning of his tenure, Steinbrenner lobbied for public support to replace the Stadium. As a first step, the Yankees shared Shea Stadium with the Mets in 1973 and 1974 while they remodeled Yankee Stadium. 10

However, after the remodel, Steinbrenner kept pressuring New York for a new stadium. So much so, in the mid-1990s he threatened to move to New Jersey if the city didn’t support a new ballpark. 11 His initial stated concern was that the surrounding neighborhood was dangerous and depressed attendance.12 However, since the Yankees annual attendance has been between 3 and 4 million fans, since 1998, he needed another reason. 13

Greater Revenue

Luxury Legends Seats

The other stated needs were “greater revenue, additional parking and better access from highways.” The additional revenue would come from “entertainment attractions, retail shops, and restaurants.”14 Luxury boxes would add even more revenue. 15

My opinion is that 1974’s remodel wasn’t appropriate. Removing the famous frieze that hung from the rooftop and other design changes did not maintain the Stadium’s historical grandeur. Building the new Stadium that was more respectful of the original design was preferable.

However, the best option was to rebuild on the same site, to maintain (and re-establish) the historical connection.

Was Renovation or Replacement Possible?

The question is, was it possible to rebuild at the existing location or renovate the existing structure? Did they have to build a new stadium across the street?

To Steinbrenner, brand new was better than any reclamation project. The city presented plans to renovate the existing stadium. However, the sense from team officials was that the concept would likely not satisfy Steinbrenner.

“Can any structure or renovation ever satisfy the demands of the mid-’90s, consistent with other state-of-the-art facilities around the country?”

David Sussman, Yankees Executive Vice President and General Counsel 16

It was also easier and cheaper to build across the street.

To rebuild, they likely would have had to play at a different site for a year or two. That would inconvenience fans – especially season ticket holders – and risk revenue. They would also incur higher costs to lease a new park etc.

Renovation might allow games during construction but would inconvenience many and likely reduce revenue due to lower attendance. Moreover, the project would take longer to complete if they tried to use the Stadium as they renovated.

However, the Yankees couldn’t have it both ways. It’s contradictory to portray their organization as protectors of tradition yet tear down the real Yankee Stadium. Similarly, they can’t explain away the contradiction by complaining about costs. They are the wealthiest team in sports charged with protecting the sport’s grandest traditions. Costly renovations to preserve the sport’s legacy are part of the deal.

The House That George Built

The real debasement of the Yankee tradition is referring to the new Stadium as “The House That George Built.”17

Note that Steinbrenner’s picture looks out over the playing field at the new Stadium. In contrast, there are no similar pictures of any of the great Yankees players. The fans came to see Babe Ruth in 1923 and other great players after that. The fans never paid to see Steinbrenner or any other owner do anything. You can’t exchange Ruth for Steinbrenner and pretend you protect the Yankee tradition.

Steinbrenner Overlooks the Playing Field

One wonders if Steinbrenner also “considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth?”

Do The Yankees Honor Their Traditions?

The new Stadium is the most egregious example of the Yankees not protecting their traditions. However, while we’re on the subject, let’s discuss other ways where the Yankee commitment to tradition is wanting.

Retired Numbers

The Yankees reinforce the idea that they are more successful than other teams by having more retired numbers than any other team. There are currently 21 retired numbers for 22 players – they’ve retired the number 8 twice. 18 The bloated list of retired numbers cheapens the tradition by falsely elevating players into the pantheon of great Yankees.

Through the 1960s only four players: Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle had their numbers retired. The team added three more numbers in the 1970s, representing Dickey, Berra, Whitey Ford, and Casey Stengel. After that, the Steinbrenner marketing approach went into action, and the team retired another 13 numbers.

Enhancing the Image With Retired Numbers

Many of the numbers retired in the Steinbrenner era honor some pretty good ballplayers; however, they were not all significant. Guys like former centerfielder Bernie Williams, pitchers Andy Pettitte and Ron Guidry, and catcher Jorge Posada don’t qualify. There are others as well – this article provides a good list.

In my mind, you need an exceptional reason to retire a player’s number if he is not already in Cooperstown. As such, Thurman Munson, the great catcher who died tragically in a mid-career plane accident, is undoubtedly deserving. Arguably, there are other ways to honor great players. For example, the Blue Jays list the names of their great players, but only retired the numbers of those elected to the Hall of Fame. Statues are another idea. For example, the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds have a series of these outside Busch Stadium. Frankly, most teams do.

Where’s Jackie Robinson’s Number?

The only number missing from the Yankees display of retired numbers is Jackie Robinson’s number 42. I have not visited any other ballpark that doesn’t include Jackie’s number displayed prominently.

Jackie’s Number Is Missing

I invite my readers to hypothesize about the missing number 42 as I would prefer not to speculate. However, please don’t suggest that not including his number has something to do with a conflict with Mariano Rivera’s retired number 42. Remember that they display two number 8’s.

Of course, there is a plaque honoring Jackie in Monument Garden. It’s the same size as most of the other players, which are roughly half the size of Steinbrenner’s.

Uniform Traditions

“but wearing a Yankee uniform represents tradition”

George Steinbrenner 19

“The Yankees love traditions; for example, with very few exceptions, the team’s uniforms—pinstripes, no names on the back of each players’ jersey—haven’t changed since the early 20th century”

Amy Pitt 20

The Yankees have been wearing the same – white, pinstripe home uniforms consistently since 1915. They first wore them in 1912. 21 Similarly, the Yankees started wearing plain gray road uniforms with the block “New York” letters on the front in 1916. Except for a short period between 1927 and 1930, they have done so ever since. 22

Jersey’s With Names On The Back

Most of all, they have never worn names on the back of their jerseys in their entire 116-year history. 23 The concept is that only the name on the front of the jersey is important. 24

On Sale at Yankee Stadium

While the no-name policy is the Yankee tradition, they still license Yankee merchandise with names on the back and sell these in Yankee Stadium. Why do so? I can only assume that it’s because the fans want them, and it thus increases sales.

The better approach is to sell only the unnamed version of the jerseys and if some fans want to debase this significant tradition of the team they love, let them. It’s a free world. There is no need to support or profit from the practice.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

In spite of my aversion and complaints about replacing Yankee Stadium in a new location, I did see three games there. Those that don’t know or care about the move across the street, might enjoy watching games there. So, what’s a visit like from my point of view? See my next post.

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Cleveland Rocks!

Yes, and emphatically, Cleveland Rocks!

Fountains at Public Square – a few blocks from the ballpark

Cleveland is one of those underrated “rust belt” cities that I never thought got its due. Some only know it as – “the mistake on the lake” where the Cuyahoga River caught fire. However, I always found it to be a cool city with great restaurants, nice places to stay, and friendly people. Finally, Cleveland is a great baseball city.

I’ve been to Cleveland and Progressive Field many times. It was where my father and I ended our baseball journey that started in 1964. As the story goes, it began with him leading me around the ballpark when I was six or so. It ended with me pushing his wheelchair almost 50 years later. He moved to Cleveland – his wife’s hometown – in the early 2000s. I worked for a company based outside of Cleveland and was there often.

My business travel enabled us to find our way to the ballpark many times.

With that said, I had only been back to Cleveland and Progressive Field a few times since we buried dad. This trip was a revelation. Could it be that the city was even better than I remembered? I’ve always liked Progressive, but in the five years since I’ve been there, it seems to have gotten even better.

Rock & Roll

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum

Cleveland has been associated with Rock & Roll ever since disc jockey, Alan Freed popularized the term there. 1 The city incorporated the phrase into its branding when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opened there. Not surprisingly, the All-Star Game captured the city’s Rock and Roll lineage.

Guitar Logo

Each day, I wanted to get down to the city early so I could walk around and take pictures. On Tuesday, as I was entering Public Square – the centerpiece of downtown – I found a kiosk that was displaying Fender guitars painted to represent each team. I especially loved the Baltimore Orioles one that included Baltimore’s favorite (rock and roll) son, Frank Zappa. He is a personal favorite.

Frank Zappa/ Baltimore Orioles Fender Guitar

Naturally, I found the Mets guitar fun. I’m a fan and love all things Mets.

Cincinnati’s was designed to recognize the 150th anniversary of professional baseball that originated there in 1869. The Reds have been celebrating the first professional baseball team (the Cincinnati Red Stockings) all season. However, it’s interesting that the Reds are not descendants of the Red Stockings, the Atlanta Braves are. So in a sense, the Reds are celebrating the Braves’ birth.

PlayBall Park

I thought that MLB did a credible job selling the joys of baseball at the London Series, but I wasn’t blown away. I didn’t think there were enough displays or activities, and there certainly wasn’t a wide variety of merchandise. However, Cleveland was another story.

In Cleveland, Major League Baseball and PlayBall took over the convention center and two adjoining park areas for kids activities, displays and merchandise.

Outside Activities

The outside activities tended to be baseball oriented, as one would expect. But there was also fun things like a zip line that sent riders over ann entire city block. It started at St. Clair Avenue and ended across Lakeside Avenue.

Inside the Convention Center

In the convention center, there were areas that explored the Hall of Fame, the Negro Leagues, Women’s Baseball, and merchandise for sale. Near the merchandise area was a display of each cap for each organization. The major league cap for each team was at the top of each column and then below were caps for each minor league team in their system. Pretty cool for a cap collector.

The Home Run Derby and All-Star Game

Progressive Field is just a short walk from the convention center. This ballpark was, of course, the focus of my trip.

As is my normal practice, I’m not going to bore the you by telling them things they likely saw or that sportswriters who were closer to the action can write about. These are my impressions of the experience. However, I’ll also be honest and say that I don’t tend to watch these events at home. I lost interest in the All-Star Game when each team spent more effort getting all players in the game and less time trying to win the game. So I didn’t expect to stay for the entire game and didn’t think I’d love the Derby. I was wrong on both accounts.

The Home Run Derby

I’m not going to lie, I wanted Pete Alonso to win. I’m a Mets fan and he’s my home town guy. I also wanted Jacob DeGrom and Jeff McNeil to do well in the game but I’m getting ahead of myself.

My reactions to the Derby are:

  • I understand that there are people who don’t like the current format. I loved it and found it much more compelling than the old one that was used through 2014.
  • The best view is from the seats facing the outfield. Unfortunately, my seat was out in left field near the foul pole. My location was very Bartmanesque in that it was right against the railing. To watch the action, I had to swing my head around to watch the flight of the hit ball. However, because the balls were hit so rapidly, I lost track of how many home runs were hit.
  • The fact that all of Alonso’s wins were walk-offs didn’t excite me, as it seems to have others, other than there was a lot of suspense as to whether he could exceed his opponent’s total.
  • The Vlad Jr., Joc Pederson match up was awesome. After each round, my section mates and I would just look at each other in disbelief. How long would it go on?

Follow this link to read more.

The All-Star Game

The game was compelling enough to stay until the end. It was a well-played, close game with the American League winning 4 – 3. Nothing major happened, it was just an exciting game and as I note below there were some cool moments. Also, I was not as distracted by all the player changes as I thought I might be.

Nod to Cleveland

I especially liked and appreciated how American League manager, Alex Cora, and Major League Baseball honored Cleveland:

  • The pre-game tribute to one time Cleveland manager, the late Frank Robinson was fitting since he was the first person of color to manage a major game and the breakthrough was with the Indians.
  • Former Indian, Michael Brantly who left the team in the off-season as and signed as a free agent, with the Astros started the game and received a great ovation.
  • Including Carlos Corrasco in the “Stand Up to Cancer” fifth inning observation was poignant and well-received.
  • Sending ex-Indian, honorary coach and future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia out to talk to Aroldis Champman was a nice touch. The crowd was able to show their appreciation for his years in Cleveland.
  • Sabathia also threw out the first pitch to another former Indian, Sandy Alomar Jr. in another nod to Cleveland.
  • Finally, MLB awarded Cleveland pitcher, Shane Bieber the MVP award, because…I honestly don’t know why. Other than, of course, he plays for Cleveland. Yes, he struck out the side in the fifth and the crowd got excited, but Aroldis Chapman did the same in the ninth to save the game. However, they weren’t going to give the award to Chapman who is now a Yankee. Moreover, he helped defeat the Indians in the 2016 World Series when he was with the Cubs. My choice was Texas’ Joey Gallo who hit the game-winning home run.

Other Moments

  • It was moving to see Mike Trout and Tommy La Stella wear their teammate Tyler Skaggs’ number. Twenty-seven-year-old Skaggs passed away suddenly, a week before the game.
  • Jacob DeGrom was Jacob Degrom, retiring the side in seven pitches. He also faced Mike Trout – possibly the premier matchup and induced a popup in two pitches. It was almost as impressive as his 2016 appearance where he struck out the side on ten pitches.

Scoreboard Issues?

The scoreboard operator confused a few players and pictures – fun.

Progressive Field

Progressive Field

People seem to underrate Progressive Field like they do Cleveland. However, its high on my list. Moreover, I think it’s improved since I used to go with my dad. There are much better food and beer choices. The Indians celebrate their long history well. The stadium is comfortable with good sightlines and a great view of the city. What’s not to like? It reminds me of San Diego’s Petco Park on a minor scale.

Kids asking players for baseballs

I’ll also congratulate Cleveland and the Indians for removing the presence of “Chief Wahoo” from the entire stadium. “Chief Wahoo” was a much-criticized caricature of a Native American tribal chief. The image was officially introduced in 1948 and adorned hats, uniforms and all other paraphernalia associated with the Indians.2 In stark contrast to Atlanta’s SunTrust Park where the “Tomahawk Chop” was ubiquitous, I didn’t see any reference to the old logo.

Most of all, I love the fans. The joy of baseball is that you can make friends at the ballpark. I had the same seat for all the events – Sunday’s Celebrity Softball Game and Futures Game, Monday’s Home Run Derby, and Tuesday’s Game. The people around me did as well and we became fast friends. Others asked, “how long have you guys known each other?” They were surprised when we said we just met.

Food- Hot Dogs

Cleveland is a good eating city, with great restaurants representing many cultures. There are and at least a dozen restaurants are featured at Progressive Field. Then there are other food stands that are specific to the ballpark. I don’t recall this type of food community involvement on my previous visits, a few years ago. Back then, there was more basic fare – Subway was my diabetic father’s favorite.

Of course, there has always been Cleveland’s not so secret weapon “Bertman Original Ball Park Mustard;” a spicy brown mustard that is a good as they get.

Hot Dogs

Charred Dog

The hot dog choice is a very important one. So I walked around the stadium looking for the right dog to try. On the first night, I tried “Charred Dogs.” Anyone who understands my criteria and seen my rankings knows that I appreciate a crispy charred hot dog. This one didn’t disappoint.

Cleveland Kraut Dog

The second night was equally good. This time, I tried the Cleveland Kraut Classic Caraway dog. Cleveland Kraut is a local supplier of “the best tasting and crunchiest sauerkraut in the world.” When you combine their kraut with the Bertman’s brown mustard, you’re in dog heaven. I ranked it slightly behind the Charred Dog because I liked the bun and dog a little better on the first night. It was pretty much a dead heat.

Beer

OK beer… the Great Lakes Brewing Company has a stand in the park where you can try their different offerings. There are other craft options around the park as well. I settled on Fat Head’s Brewery since I was intrigued by the “Sunshine Daydream IPA.” I asked the people at the stand if the name was an homage to the Grateful Dead song of the same name. They didn’t know, but I gave it a shot and liked it a lot. I liked it so much, that I went back a few more times over the two days.

All in all, it was a fun time. I drove home and prepared for a trip to the midwest. My first visit to Wrigley Field with trips to Target Field, Miller Park, and Guaranteed Rate Field. The last one just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

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Farewell to Citi Field

I ended my previous post about Citi Field saying that I couldn’t go back. As I was, sitting in this ballpark I love and watching the team that I have been a fan of for over 50 years, I realized, that it’s all a bit of a facade. Citi Field is a mere replica of Ebbets Field, located in Queens, not Brooklyn, and the home team is the Mets, not the Brooklyn Dodgers. The organization mimics a modern MLB club, the way its stadium mimics the great ballpark of Fred Wilpon (The Mets owner) dreams. So, I’m saying “Farewell to Citi Field” until things change.

NOTE: I’m quite aware that as I started writing this piece, and decided to publish it, the Mets started winning. As of Monday morning August 5th, the team is 15 and 6 since the All-Star break. They are firmly back in contention for a wild card spot in the playoffs. I still stand by my statements herein that the Mets organization and ownership is weak and needs to change.

Citi Field at Night

I love the team, bleed orange and blue, etc, but I can’t handle the owners’ mismanagement and poor decision making any longer. The problem is not that the Mets have finished under .500 eight out of the last ten years. 1 The sad fact is that Fred and Jeff Wilpon are horrible owners. They don’t seem to want to build a competitive organization focused on putting a great product on the field. The last two years have been especially troubling.

Credit Where Credit is Due

That’s not to say that the Mets front office has not had some successes. Quite the contrary, they drafted and developed last year’s Cy Young Award winner – and possible baseball’s best pitcher Jacob DeGrom. Additionally, the starting staff is also one of the best. The organization drafted or acquired in the minor leagues a good core of young players. These include Pete Alonso, this year’s Home Run Derby winner and possible Rookie of the Year and Jeff McNeil who is in contention to lead the majors in hitting.

The Mets will always be my team. I’ll read about them and watch them at home, but I can’t go to Citi Field until I see something positive from the organization.

The Problem Is… Leadership

Theo Epstein
slate.com

Consider two baseball executives, Jeff Wilpon, and Theo Epstein. Both Wilpon and Epstein became head of baseball operations for their respective teams in approximately 2002. Epstein was hired based on his talent and experience. Wilpon took over when his father bought the team with little ability and no experience.

In the approximately twenty years since they assumed their roles, Epstein broke the Boston Red Sox’s 96-year and the Chicago Cubs 110-year eras of futility. Meanwhile, Jeff may be considered one of the worst leaders in the game.

Jeff Wilpon

Jeff Wilpon
amazingavenue.com

Wilpon’s defenders could point out that the Mets have come close to winning a championship during Wilpon’s tenure. The Mets came especially close in 2015 when they went to the World Series. They also had winning teams from 2005 through 2008. However, his focus on short term success rather than consistent competitiveness is a strategy that often leads to failure and rarely to victory.

When Jeff was taking control of the Met’s operations, former owner Nelson Doubleday said:

”Mr. Jeff Wilpon has decided that he’s going to learn how to run a baseball team and take over at the end of the year… Run for the hills, boys. I think probably all those baseball people will bail… Jeff sits there by himself like he’s King Tut waiting for his camel.”

Nelson Doubleday 2

Joel Sherman quoted a baseball executive in 2010 as saying:

“Jeff is the problem with the organization, and he is never going to realize that. He cannot help himself. He has to be involved. He will never hire anyone who will not let him have major input. He will not hire anyone who does not run every personnel decision through him.”

Joel Sherman 3

The sense is that the Mets can’t attract good people to the organization because of Jeff Wilpon. The result is a series of bad decisions and an organization that is increasingly out of step with modern baseball.

The Problem is…Money

If baseball teams want to win, they either need to be very smart, spend money or both. Fred and Jeff Wilpon do not seem to be either. They make poor baseball decisions and do not invest in the team as they should. I’ll discuss the Mets bad decisions later. Let’s start with the fact that the Mets don’t spend enough money.

Payroll

Although the Mets 2019 payroll is approximately $160 million, it is currently ninth highest in the majors.4 Their payroll is approximately $70 million less than the World Champion Red Sox, $60 million less than the Yankees (in the same media market) and $50 million less than Epstein’s more successful Cubs.

Moreover, only about $96 million is devoted to the 25-man payroll – 15th highest in the major leagues. The spend the rest of the salaries on:

Injured players: The Mets spend roughly $39 million on injured players. They also adhere to the standard practice of insuring their players’ salaries. Thus 75% of the $39 million is reimbursed to the team. However, Instead of reinvesting the reimbursements in replacement players, the Wilpons keep the money. 5 “They saved money in player payroll and just pocketed it, continuing to let the fan base down.” 6

Retained Contracts: Salaries for players still on the Mets major league payroll who were released, traded or had their contracts bought out. The Mets rank fifth in the major leagues ($24.5 million), indicating that they make lousy player decisions.

Buried Contracts: Payments for players with major league contracts that play in the minor leagues. The Mets rank eighth highest in the majors ($8.5 million).

Team Value

The obvious question is, do the Wilpon’s have the resources to invest more in the team? The answer is a) yes they do and b) if they don’t why do they own the team? The Mets don’t report a complete picture of the team’s finances; however, the sense is that they are profitable. For example, they earned $54 million in income from Citi Field Operations in 2018. This amount was down from 2017 when they made $96 million.

Relative Team Values – In The National Baseball Hall of Fame

Moreover, the team’s growth in overall value is staggering. The Wilpon’s purchased the team in 2002 for $391 million and the Mets are now worth $2.3 billion.7

Interestingly, when the Wilpons bought the team, the Mets were second only to the Yankees as the most valuable team in baseball they now rank sixth. Other organizations, especially the Yankees, have appreciated faster than the Mets. For example, Epstein’s Cubs (in a market half the size of New York) is now worth more than the Mets. 8

There are many factors as to why the Yankees and Mets have not appreciated the way other organizations have, 9 However, it’s clear the Mets, although valuable, are falling behind more aggressive organizations.

The problem is that the Mets don’t invest the way they should and more importantly, they don’t maximize their investments. In today’s game, the best way to evaluate, select, and develop players is through analytics.

The Problem is…Missing the Analytics Revolution

The Tampa Bay Rays an unpopular team that plays in an even more unpopular stadium, exist in a much smaller market and spend much less than the Mets do. However, the Rays are one of the smartest organizations in baseball. They are currently in second place in their division and in contention for a playoff spot.

The Mets missed what I call the Analytics Revolution. As discussed in “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis, the Oakland A’s in the early part of the century used data analysis to inform their decision making. Other teams soon followed. Now everyone (including the Mets) have an analytics component in their organization. However, some are stronger than the others.

The Rays, Astros, Dodgers, Indians, and Yankees are some of the teams I hear mentioned when analytics are discussed. I never hear the Mets mentioned. Their analytics staff is likely not as robust as others. Moreover, is their input respected?

Does it matter? Some will still argue that teams can do just as good with the old statistics and intuition, but those opinions are fading. When the best organizations in MLB and college are also the ones known for their analytic chops, it’s hard to argue that analytics don’t have an impact.

The Travis d’Arnaud Saga

Travis d’Arnaud
Anthony J. Causi – NY Post

As an example, Travis d’Arnaud was an oft-injured, catcher who never realized his potential with the Mets. They released him this year during spring training as he was rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery. Although not thoroughly explained, the sense was that Mets management was concerned about d’Arnaud’s poor performance and uncertain future. However, he is now doing well with the Rays.

Joel Sherman made these points:

“If we were making a list of organizations that have their act together, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay would be in the top five. If I ran the Mets — decidedly not in the top five — I would be asking my baseball operations what did well-run franchises see in d’Arnaud that we didn’t, particularly now that he has become a valuable piece for the Rays?”

Joel Sherman 10

“It is the largest Mets problem — the need to recognize their near-term success and failure is not about one or two moves, but the process to create thoroughness and consistency — plus the highest level of information from scouts, analytics, sports scientists, medical, psychological, etc. They should be digging down on the d’Arnaud progression and really coming to peace with how they made their determination every step of the way, and what the Dodgers and Rays saw that they did not.”

Joel Sherman 11

If you want to argue the point, read these books, and then we’ll talk:

Two Years of Bad Decisions

”The Mets are playing darts blindfolded.”

“The Mets are behaving like the Yankees used to; conversely the Yankees are behaving like the Mets should.”

Paul Hembekides 12

In the early 80s, the Yankees used to have the same “win now” mentality that the Mets do. The practice resulted in annual failures. They recovered through patient management, and later by becoming a leader in the analytics revolution. 13

Here are a series of poor decisions that stem from the issues outlined above.

Jeury’s Familia Trade

Familia in Oakland
nbcsports.com

The Mets traded Jeury’s Familia to Oakland before the July 2018 trade deadline. The transaction was expected since Familia was to become a free agent at the end of the season. Teams normally trade players in their so-called “walk year” so that they can get some compensation before the player leaves. However, the Mets handled the trade poorly and didn’t receive the compensation they should have. Keith Law remarked:

If the New York Mets are just going to trade their most valuable major league assets for salary relief, rather than to try to improve the club, then it’s time for MLB to step in and force the Wilpons to sell the team, just as the league did with Frank McCourt and the Dodgers.

Keith Law 14

For a franchise that operates in the largest market in the league to do this — and do so 10 days before the trade deadline rather than waiting for someone to offer a legitimate return — is embarrassing for the Mets and for Major League Baseball as a whole.

Keith Law 15

Hiring Mickey Callaway and Brodie Van Wagenen

Mickey Callaway
newsday.com

Before the 2017 season, Wilpon hired Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway to manage the team. Callaway was hired even though he had no experience in management, the National League and with the New York media. Mickey deserves better, but he is out of place and has failed in New York

Chaim Bloom Tampa Bay Rays Web Site

Last December, Wilpon hired player agent Brodie Van Wagenen as the new General Manager. In so doing he bypassed Chaim Bloom, the young but very experienced Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations with the Rays. The Rays are one of the best, analytic organizations in baseball. Hiring Bloom would start the transformation of the Mets into an organization that used data and analytics to inform its decisions.

Instead Van Wagenen was hired because he promised Wilpon that he could make the Mets win immediately. Van Wagenen has to date been a failure.

Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon
New York Daily News

The current practice in the major leagues is to focus on valuable young players and not use the more expensive, older players. In previous years, teams were willing to trade prospects for veterans. That trend is changing, teams value their prospects more so than ever and hold onto them. Bloom would have followed this strategy, Van Wagenen did the exact opposite. He made a series of deals that may have damaged the Mets for years.

Prospects For Cano

Robinson Cano
La Vida Baseball

He traded two young prospects and two existing players to Seattle for 36-year-old Robinson Cano and young Edwin Diaz. In so doing, acquiring Cano’s $25 million annual salary. Although the players traded offset some of the salary, the Mets are committed to paying Cano for five years. Moreover, Cano plays second base, and the Mets had Jeff McNeil, a promising younger player at second base. McNeil is now one of the leading hitters in the majors, while forced to play the outfield. Unfortunately, Cano has not hit well and has a limited range at second.

Other Older Players

In addition to adding the 36-year-old Cano, Van Wagenen signed:

  • 35-year-old infielder, but oft-injured Jed Lowrie to a two-year $20 million deal. Lowrie has not played the entire year due to injuries.
  • 31-year-old Wilson Ramos to a two- year $19 million deal. Ramos can hit, but his best days as a catcher are behind him.
  • The previously mentioned Jeury’s Familia is 29 and will end his three-year $30 million contract at the age of 32.
  • 33-year-old Todd Frazier was not acquired, by Van Wagenen, but is in the last year of his current contract.

In total Van Wagenen committed the penny pitching Wilpons to paying $69 million over the next few years to players that most organizations wouldn’t consider because of their age. More importantly, Jeff Wilpon approved the deals.

Stop the Madness

There are many more examples, but why go on? Blog posts should be relatively short. I’m not the first to refer to the Mets organization as a “Dumpster Fire,” or a “shit show.” But that is what they are. Even if, as I write this post, The team has an outside shot at a wild card playoff appearance.

If I’ve learned anything in my travels this season, I can enjoy baseball anywhere and also follow the Mets. A trip to Citi Field requires flights and hotels as well as the ticket and food costs. For the same investment, I can go to Wrigley. It’s even less expensive to drive to Toronto, Cleveland or Pittsburgh. I can also take a vacation in say San Diego, which is a beautiful city and visit one of the best ballparks in the country. Not that I’m a fan of the Padres, but they are young, talented and exciting. I can enjoy a few days at Petco Park.

What I Want

I’m not going back to Citi Field until:

  • The Wilpons either sell or at least remove themselves from active management of the team.
  • The team increases their payroll so that they rank in the top five highest-spending teams in MLB. Can they win for less? Probably, but they have a lot of bad contracts to deal with, and it’s going to be expensive for the near future.
  • Build one of the most modern, analytic organizations in baseball. Let me hear just one time, “they should run their organization the way the Mets do,” and I’ll be back.

By doing so, the Mets will build around a core of talented young players that fans can enjoy, somewhat consistently over a series of years. They will also have a strong farm system that will consistently replenish the major league club.

I long for the day that the Mets organization transforms into a unit that I can support. When they do, I’ll be happy to visit Citi Field again. Until then, I’ll root for the team from afar. Lets Go Mets!!

One More Thing

If the Twins have a statue of Kent Hrbeck at Target Field, can’t we have a few with our great players? How about statues of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Piazza, and David Wright along with the requisite Tom Seaver one that is in progress. They should retire their numbers as well.

Moreover, why is there is a statue of Hank Aaron in front of Milwaukee’s Miller Park and no mention of Willie Mays at Citi Field? After all, Aaron ended his brilliant career with the Brewers after spending the 1950s and early 1960s with the Milwaukee Braves. Mays did roughly the same thing with the Mets after playing for the New York and San Francisco Giants.

Just an idea, but why not create a monument garden between the Home Plate Gate and the train station across the way. Most fans would walk by it on the way to the Robinson Rotunda. Include statues of the players I mentioned, add Jackie Robinson and another with “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.” A real organization with owners that loved the team would do something like that.

My next stop was the All-Star Game…More fun, less angst.

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Fred Wilpon’s Brooklyn Dodger Obsession

Mrs. Nomad and I made the Subway Series at Citi the last stop on my Midwest Odyssey. The two-week-long odyssey took me through St. Louis, Kansas City, Field of Dreams, the College World Series, and the London Series. Now I was back in the States at Citi Field – a place I refer to as “Fred Wilpon’s Brooklyn Dodgers Obsession” – with Mrs. Nomad.

From the 7- Line heading out to Citi

It’s become an annual Nomad family tradition to go to Citi Field. We’re Mets fans and its a great place to see a game or two. I rank it high on my list of best ballparks. Citi may also be the best ballpark for food in the major leagues. Unfortunately, as much as I love the place and the team, this may be my last visit to Citi for what could be a very long time. As I will explain in my next post, I’m saying Farewell to Citi.

Mets Fan For Life

I’ve been a Mets fan most of my life. As I recount in my “Why Collect Ballparks,” I’ve been intrigued with this beguiling team since my father took me to Shea Stadium for the first time in 1965. My family had moved to St. Petersburg, Florida and the Mets opened a training complex across from my school, Azalea Junior High. I remember riding my bicycle to watch them play the newly minted Montreal Expos in 1969. Later that year, I was in Mr. Wilson’s Earth Science class when the Principal announced that this team of assumed misfits had won the World Series.

A few years later, we moved back to New York City and I started following my cousin and sister to Shea Stadium and the rest is Nomad history – check out the post, you’ll enjoy it.

Merchandise….7 Line Army and Alonso t-shirts

The point is I love my Metsies. Through thick and thin I start the season with high, usually, delusional hopes and then by July I understand the epic tragedy that reality presents. The Mets usually aren’t that good.

But I digress, I liked going to Shea Stadium and love Citi Field.

Fred Wilpon’s Brooklyn Dodger Obsession

Fred Wilpon is obsessed with the Brooklyn Dodgers of his youth. He was born in Brooklyn and went to high school with Sandy Koufax. His fondest memory is likely his beloved Dodgers finally winning the World Series in 1955 when he was 18. Wilpon went to Lafayette High School with Sandy Koufax and they remain good friends. Interestingly, they both played on the school’s baseball team. I’ve read that Wilpon was the pitcher and Koufax played first base. If true, I consider it an eery preview of Wilpon’s way of getting most things related to baseball backward. Of course, Koufax would become a hall of fame pitcher.1 Wilpon became a notoriously bad team owner.

Citi Field is supposed to honor both of the Met’s National League predecessors, the Giants, and Dodgers. However, while it has green seats like the Polo Grounds where the Giants used to play the stadium’s overall design more than resembles the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field. 2 The overwhelming Ebbets Field influence is clearly a testament to Wilpon’s love for the old ballpark. 3

The Jackie Robinson Rotunda

The Jackie Robinson Rotunda

And then there is the beautiful Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which is similar to the entrance to Ebbets Field. Fans entered Ebbets Field through a “majestic marble rotunda” which included a baseball influenced chandelier. The chandelier had “twelve baseball bat ‘arms’ holding twelve baseball lamps.” 4 Citi Field has the same arrangement, an awe-inspiring rotunda oriented behind Home Plate. However, in Citi’s case, the rotunda honors Jackie Robinson.

I’ve read many criticisms about the stadium’s focus on Jackie and Ebbets Field. After all, the home team is the Mets, not the Dodgers. The feeling seems to be, “let the Dodgers manage their legacy, we’ll manage ours.”

Honoring Jackie

However, I don’t mind. I like the fact that both New York ballparks remember the city’s storied baseball heritage. The Mets in the Ebbets Field look-alike, the Yankees in a replica of Yankee Stadium. However, I do understand the irony that Mets occupy the Ebbets Field look-a-like, not the Dodgers. Moreover, the ballpark is in Queens, not Brooklyn. I need a stronger word than “irony” to discuss the fact that the Yankees play in a replica of Yankee Stadium across the street from where the real one was.

Who Owns Jackie Robinson’s Legacy?

The obvious question (at least to me) is who actually owns Jackie Robinson’s legacy – the Dodgers or the Mets? Clearly, Jackie was a Dodger and the Dodgers should celebrate everything about him. No one should suggest that Jackie had any association or affinity to the Mets.

Route from Ebbets Field to Citi Field

With that said, Citi Field is less than 15 miles from Ebbets Field’s location at 55 Sullivan Place. Its also located on the site that the Dodgers were offered to use for their Ebbets Field replacement. They decided to go 3,000 miles to L.A. and not 15 miles to Queens.

Additionally, the fastest route to Citi is across the Jackie Robinson Parkway, near where Jackie owned property. Jackie’s gravesite is located in Cypress Hills Cemetery, adjacent to the parkway’s exit three.5 Additionally, the 1997 ceremony and announcement retiring Jackie’s number across baseball was held at Shea Stadium. I’ve always been proud of New York’s connection to Jackie Robinson and feel that honoring him at Citi Field is more than appropriate.

Celebrating Mets History

If the efforts honoring the Brooklyn Dodgers is bizarre, the way that the Met’s management honors the past is confounding.

Casey in the Mets Hall of Fame

Tom Seaver – “The Franchise”

The Mets waited 50 years to celebrate and honor Tom “The Franchise” Seaver’s accomplishments. They only changed Citi Field’s address to 41 Seaver Way and announced plans to erect his statue earlier this year. In classic Wilpon fashion, the wait took so long and the publics’ demand was so great that the sense was that the Wilpons had to be pushed, reluctantly to do the right thing. The underlying assumption was that – “you know – statues are expensive.”

For some perspective, note that Nolan Ryan’s career overlaps Seaver’s. Seaver began his career with the Mets in 1967. Ryan’s debut with the team was in 1966. They both pitched in the 1969 World Series. Seaver retired in 1986 and Ryan pitched until 1993. It took the Wilpons 33 years from Seaver’s retirement to announce that they would erect a statue. At the same time, Ryan was honored with two statues. One in Houston and one in Texas. Similarly, two Frank Robinson statues were erected in that time frame – in Baltimore and Cleveland. Finally, Hank Aaron was honored with two statues as well – in Atlanta and Milwaukee.

Retired Numbers & Hall of Fame

Mets’ management is stingy in recognizing their great players. While important players are recognized in murals and in the Mets Hall of Fame, their names are not prominently displayed around the playing field like in other parks. The Mets’ management seems to follow an unwritten rule that only the players elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame have their numbers retired. Other teams do the same, Toronto and Cleveland to name a few. However, in these and other ballparks, the names of important players who are not in the Hall of Fame line the seating areas.

Not the Mets. Only the retired numbers of Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, and of course Jackie Robinson are visible from your seat. 6 Where are names like Hernandez, Carter, Gooden, Strawberry, Staub, Harrelson, Agee, Jones, and Swoboda, etc?

Jacob DeGrom’s Jersey and Cy Young Award in the Hall of Fame.

While we’re on the subject, could they just retire Gary Carter’s number “8”, please? He’s in the Hall of Fame – yes as an Expo – and was a great Met who helped lead the team to a championship. He deserves the honor.

The Yankees retired the “8” twice – honoring Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey – the Mets management could do it once. They tend to do half of what the Yankees do, so retiring the number “8” once seems par for the course.

Gates

Casey in the Stengel Entrance

Finally, Citi also features three gates named after famous Mets; the Stengel Gate, the Hodges Gate, and the Seaver Gate. It’s a nice touch, but Seaver is not the only great Mets player. Stengel and Hodges were of course managers.

Hot Dogs, Sausage and a Knish

I love the food at Citi. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, you can go to Citi Field and just eat. You don’t need to like or even tolerate baseball. You don’t have to watch the game, just buy a cheap ticket and eat until you drop.

Unfortunately, due to our scheduling not to mention two weeks on the road, where I experienced lots of fabulous – and a few less than fabulous- eating opportunities, I wasn’t very hungry at these games. That meant I couldn’t enjoy Arancini Brothers nor could I feast on a Pat LaFreida Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich.

However, my commitment to the Hot Dog Challenge is a given, so I had a hot dog each of the two nights we were there. Surprisingly, a unique hot dog is difficult to find at Citi Field. Its almost as if they figured, with all these great offerings, who needs a hot dog? So the hot dog selection starts with the Nathans hot dog. No offense intended but at the beginning of the Hot Dog Challenge, I was very clear that I expect something more unique than a basic Nathan’s Hot Dog. Nathan’s hot dogs are ubiquitous in baseball stadiums, and if you’ve had one, you’ve had them all.

I needed other options.

Day One – Primio Sausage

Primio Sausages on the griddle

We started to get hungry around the third inning. I left my scorebook in Mrs. Nomad’s capable hands and went off to find some hot dogs. Instead, I found the Primio Sausage stand which was close to our seats and looked – as they say in Boston – “wicked good.” There was a choice of Sweet or Hot Italian sausages and I took the sweet. I had the grilled onions, Mrs. Nomad’s was unencumbered. In normal Mets fashion, the first condiments bar had empty mustard dispensers. The next one was fully stocked.

It was a good tasty sausage, though a few too many onions made it challenging to eat – but I didn’t lose any. Also, it was very filling, with a nice substantial bun that handled all the onions.

Day Two – A Kosher Hot Dog…

Since we walked through the stadium on the first day, I was able to plan my day two hot dog prior to our arrival. I thought, why not go for the Kosher Dog? My late mother might be somewhat happy that I was eating kosher. As it turns out, she was living in a nursing home quite close to Shea Stadium when she passed away. Her death was surprisingly not Mets related.

…And a Knish

Kosher hot dog, knish and some nice brown mustard

But I digress, on to the kosher dog. When I got to the stand, I noticed that they offered Knishes. Some might ask “what is a knish?” Others may not care, but it’s my blog. A knish is a little bit of heaven. It is a large dumpling type affair where the dough is normally stuffed with a potato mixture that resembles – but is much different from – mashed potatoes. The dumpling can be baked or fried. Those in the know like their knishes with a little mustard.

When the Nomad’s sister was going to Mets games in the 1970s, her tradition was to get a Knish during the fifth inning. I gave her a silent nod as I ate mine before the game.

So I had a wonderful kosher hot dog, with sauerkraut and a knish on the side. It was a good basic dog. The beef gives it a different flavor from a regular hot dog and the knish took me back to the days when I had to shop in the husky department. A hot dog, knish and body shaming all for less than $20,

I’m ranking the sausage and the kosher dog relatively high on my list. However, it’s becoming clear that the larger the dog, the higher the score. Using that scale, the kosher dog was a little wanting.

Farewell

I had a great time at Citi – I always do.

However, I’m mostly sitting 7 in this wonderful but odd replica of Ebbets Field that’s not quite in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers don’t regularly play, and I realize that I can’t go there anymore. At least not for a while.

I’ll explain in my next post.

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