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Wrigley Field – The Friendly Confines

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around?
When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground?

Steve Goodman – A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request 1

I’ve always wanted to go to Wrigley Field and couldn’t consider my baseball life complete without at least one visit. This summer was my chance.

I was ten or so when I first learned of Wrigley Field. I saw a Sports Illustrated cover with a player and beautiful ivy walls behind him. How can a baseball stadium have ivy-covered walls, I wondered. What is this place that is so much different than others?

Later, as a teenager, I lived in New York and saw many Mets games televised from Wrigley. This enchanting, quaint ballpark on Chicago’s Northside was not like any other I’d seen. I loved that fans sat on roofs across the street to watch the games. Furthering my intrigue was the unfortunate team that played there. The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1918 and a pennant since 1945.

He told his friends, “You know, the law of averages says
Anything will happen that can” that’s what it says
“But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan

Steve Goodman – A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request 2

Balls would fly out of the little stadium, especially when the wind was blowing out. When they did, fans would run after balls in the streets behind the outfield walls. Occasionally balls would hit houses across the street from the park, I especially remember one of those long balls by Dave Kingman vividly.

Wrigley intrigued me for decades

Missed Opportunities

Occasionally I’d go to Chicago for business but could never find the opportunity to see Wrigley.

My latest attempt prior to this year, was over the July 4th holiday in 2015. My nephew planned to drive up from Indianapolis and join Mrs. Nomad and me for the fun. Additionally, Mrs. Nomad and I were going to include our first visit to Citi Field in the trip. The plan was to see the Mets play the Cubs at Citi on Thursday afternoon. That night we’d fly to Chicago to see the Cubs play a day game on Friday at Wrigley. We planned to go to at least one of the weekend games as well.

Unfortunately, my old friends, the Grateful Dead, got in the way. That weekend, the remaining members of the band scheduled concerts to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of their last gig with Jerry Garcia. Since the shows were planned for Chicago’s Soldier Field, hotel rooms and flights were scarce and expensive.

Thus we changed our plans and stayed in New York. That weekend we saw the game at Citi Field and then spent July 4th at Yankee Stadium.

What can I say? I’d seen so many Dead shows when Jerry was alive and have hundreds of shows on my computer and phone. I tried not to take it personally that they spoiled my chances of going to Wrigley in 2015.

Now that I was finally going to get my chance to visit Wrigley, I wanted to celebrate! I’d like to take a tour, see a day game, and sit on a rooftop – I had to do it all. So I planned three days over a weekend. Nomad the Younger, Mrs. Nomad, and the Nomad’s sister would travel in for the fun.

Outside Wrigley

Each day of that special weekend, I’d leave my downtown hotel and find my way to the Red Line on Grand Street. Heading north, the train would change to the elevated tracks when it passed the “North/Clybourn” underground station. As it traveled past Fullerton and Belmont, I saw DePaul University’s Wish Field, where the Cubs used to play. The next stop was Addison, where Wrigley Field looms across the street.

Leaving the station, and walking down the stairs would take me to the corner of West Addison and Sheffield. I could walk in one direction up Sheffield and end up behind the park. Instead, I chose to walk up Addison past the statues of Cubs greats Ron Santo and Billy Williams.

The famous “Wrigley Field” red marquee is located at the corner of Addison and Clark. Taking a right and traveling past the stadium on Clark Street, I walked through the new Triangle Plaza with seating and a statue of Ernie Banks. At the end of the plaza is a building that houses bars, restaurants, a team store, and offices. The plaza was part of a five-year renovation. It is reminiscent of other entertainment areas outside ballparks inspired by Baltimore’s Eutaw Street.

At the end of Triangle Plaza is Waveland Avenue, where fans queue to get into the bleachers. Waveland Avenue is also famous for fans chasing home run balls that leave the ballpark.

The individual entrances to the buildings that house the Wrigley Rooftops line Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. At the intersection of the two avenues is the Bleacher Gate behind a statue of the great broadcaster Harry Carey.

Each day I’d linger around these areas and absorb the fun atmosphere of Wrigley that is unlike any other.

Learning Wrigley’s History via The Tour

I started the week in Minnesota watching the Twins playing two games against the Mets. I planned to leave Minneapolis on Thursday morning, so I could be in Chicago in time to take the “Ivy Tour” at Wrigley on Thursday afternoon.

If you tour Wrigley on non-game days, you can visit the press box, Cubs dugout, and visitor’s locker room. For an extra $10, you can take the “Ivy Tour” so you can stand on the warning track, touch the ivy and have your picture taken in front of these unique walls.

Unfortunately, I woke up in Minneapolis to a veritable light show outside my hotel window caused by dramatic lightning.

The lightning delayed my flight in Minneapolis until early afternoon. Luckily they rebooked my tour for Friday morning. I’d miss the Ivy Tour and other non-game-day perks but would still see a lot of the park.

On Friday morning, the tour started w/ opportunities to get pictures taken in front of a projection of the ivy wall.

After some introductions, our guide took us into the hallowed ballpark. The guide was a young baseball fan who worked at the park and also conducted tours. He provided an excellent combination of humor and information.

At our first stop, we stood on the field, near the third-base dugout and watched workers prep the ground in the morning dew. The ivy walls and antique scoreboard were in the distance. The empty stands rose behind us. This Baseball Nomad had made it to baseball’s Mecca.

Back to Back Championships?

After leaving the field, we sat in a section of field boxes on the first base side of the field and listened to some stories.

Our guide began by explaining the Cubs’ century of futility. He explained that after the Cubs won the 1908 championship, they played 107 years of exhibition games before winning their second straight championship in 2016. I thought that was as good an explanation of the Cubs’ century of frustration as any I’d heard.

Jackie Robinson Played at Wrigley

The guide then directed our attention to the retired numbers on white flags that hang from the foul poles on either side of the field. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins’ numbers are in left field. Billy Williams, Ryne Sandburg, Greg Maddox, and Jackie Robinson’s numbers are in right. I thought that was a good number of retired numbers, just Hall of Fame members.

He made special mention of Robinson. Wrigley Field is now the only remaining ballpark where Jackie Robinson played. New stadiums replace all the others. He explained that the only other current stadium that existed in the late forties and fifties was Boston’s, Fenway Park. Since Fenway is an American League park, Jackie never played there.

I ruefully remembered that this was just another reason why the old Yankee Stadium should still be standing. That’s where Robinson played so many World Series games. I have the iconic picture of Jackie stealing home in Yankee Stadium in 1955, hanging on my office wall. The image is one of my favorites.

Why the Name “Cubs?”

Our guide continued with his history lesson. After compiling these notes, I checked his stories with written sources to add some things and confirm his points.

The Cubs began to play in the nineteenth century as – believe it or not – the Chicago White Stockings. The guide didn’t mention this, but Adrian Constantine (Cap) Anson led the White Stockings. Anson had a Hall of Fame career, spending 22 years with the team as first baseman, manager and minority owner. However, Anson also infamously instigated the Gentleman’s Agreement that kept black players from Major League Baseball for about seven decades.3 He did so, in the mid-1880s by declaring the team would not play against teams that included black players. Others followed his lead, and soon the ban was universal.

The White Stockings won six pennants between 1876 and 1886 and became known as the “Chicago Colts” (or “Anson’s Colts”). In 1897, when the team floundered, and they fired Anson, newspaper reporters started to refer to the Colts as the “Orphans.” Beginning in 1903, they became known as the “Cubs” because of all the young players on the team. 4

Meanwhile, the American Baseball League started in 1901, and the Chicago franchise took the “White Stocking” name. They later shortened it to the “White Sox” 5

The Federal League and Wrigley Field

The Cubs played in a series of ballparks during these years. You pass one of them, West Side Park (now DePaul University’s Wish Field), when you ride on the red line train To Wrigley from downtown.

Wrigley Field was built in 1914 but was initially known as “Weeghman Park” after owner Charles Weeghman. Weeghman built the stadium for his Federal League franchise, the “Chicago Whales.” 6

The Federal League was a short-lived initiative organized in 1914 by owners who wanted to invest in the increasingly popular sport. They lured current American and National League stars to their teams by offering them higher salaries and other benefits. Since the players were unhappy with their existing situation, many moved to the new league. 7

Part of the new league’s allure was new fan-friendly stadiums. Thus Weeghman built his ballpark on Chicago’s north side, about two miles up North Sheffield Ave from West Side Park, where the Cubs played.8

When the league folded in 1916, Weeghman became an owner of the Cubs and moved them to his new ballpark. However, Weeghman’s businesses were failing, and he gradually sold his shares to chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley, Jr. By 1921, Wrigley was the majority owner, and Weeghman Park was renamed Wrigley Field. 9

7th Inning Stretch

Our guide told a story about how the Cubs and Wrigley have a lot to do with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner before all sports events. However, I can’t find support for the story in my albeit brief research.

His story is that during World War I, Weeghman was worried that his German ancestry would make him seem disloyal. To indicate his support for America, he hired bands to play the Star Spangled Anthem at his ballpark. He recounted (as I remember it) that a band played the song when President Taft stood during the seventh inning.

However, this story runs counter to the numerous stories about how the seventh inning stretch started. The most famous is that President Taft stood up in the middle of the seventh inning during opening day at Washington’s Griffith Stadium in 1910. Fans saw him do so and also stood up as a sign of respect for the president. Thus the tradition started.10 Other stories point to the tradition starting in 1869 in Cincinnati. There is a letter from Red Stockings manager Harry Wright that describes the practice. 11 Moreover, Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I, not Taft.

National Anthem

In any event, in 1918, the Cubs and Red Sox faced each other in game one of the World Series at Comiskey Park – not Weeghman Field, which was deemed too small. During the seventh inning stretch, a band played the Star Spangled Banner. Players took off their hats and turned to face the music. Others followed, and the fans started singing.

After that, Boston owner Harry Frazee opened each game when the series returned to Boston by having the band play the song. It’s been a tradition ever since. 12

First Concession Stand – The Marquee Grill

Then the stories returned to food. Initially, vendors served food in the aisle that bisects Wrigley’s lower boxes. However, the smoke and steam would rise from the grills and spoil the patrons’ view from above. In a move of sheer brilliance or at least originality, Mr. Wrigley built the first permanent grill in a stadium. It’s called the Marquee Grill and is still in use. It stands right behind where we are sitting.

Ivy Walls

Stories about the origination of Wrigley’s distinctive ivy-covered outfield walls vary. The story the guide told is roughly similar to most of them.

His story was that owner P.K. Wrigley, did not appreciate the original, bare red brick walls. He wanted the park to have a garden atmosphere that would give fans a sense “sunshine, recreation and pleasure.” 13

The story goes that during a renovation in 1937, Wrigley suggested adding the ivy. His assistant, Bill Veeck, Jr. quickly complied by planting the ivy with help from groundskeepers in one night. I’ve found articles that support the guide’s story. These stories suggest that the ivy-covered outfield walls Wrigley saw in Indianapolis’s Perry Field, inspired him to do the same.14 However, I’ve found other stories that say Veeck was the one inspired by ballparks with ivy-covered walls he’d seen. In these stories, Veeck planted the ivy without seeking Wrigley’s input. 15

Alternatively, some stories say that Veeck did not supervise the secret planting one night. The ivy was purchased well in advance, and the team had announced that they would plant it in the outfield. 16

Regardless of the ivy’s distinctive beauty and origin, it interferes with the game when balls get lost in it. Our guide recounted that outfielders have “accidentally” retrieved lost balls from previous seasons while chasing a hit ball in play. To avoid confusion, Wrigley has unique rules that award the hitter second base when the ball lands in the ivy.

Finally, Wrigley is the grandfathered exception to the league rule requiring padded outfield walls to protect the outfielders from injury. 17 However, the red brick is exceptionally unforgiving, and the ivy does not provide padding. Instead, the warning track in front of the wall is much wider than others and offers some protection.

Bleacher Bums

The tour continues as we follow the guide to the bleachers and listen to more stories.

He says that the bleachers are the largest general admission section in sports and hold 5,000 or so fans. To get the best seats, fans line up one Waveland and Sheffield Avenues as early as possible. The Bleacher Gate is at the corner of the two avenues, right behind a statue of broadcaster Harry Carey.

The guide explains that the team started to televise its games in the 1960s. Writers began to notice that the same fans were in the bleachers day after day. Since the Cubs only played day games, they assumed they were unemployed. As such, they described them as “bums” or “bleacher bums.” However, these fans did not consider the name disparaging. Instead, they accepted it with pride.

The story goes that since the Cubs of the 1960s were awful, the bleacher bums tended to get bored. The boredom, combined with the Wrigley classic, Heinemann’s Old Style Beer, resulted in a sense of reckless abandon. Thus the start of the famous bleacher bum races.

Bleacher Bum Races

Back in the day, a Bleacher Bum Race started with two – likely inebriated – “bums” on top of each end of the centerfield wall.

It’s important to note that Wrigley’s outfield has a unique shape. Recessed areas in right and left field give Wrigley the most extended dimensions (355 feet) down the line of any ballpark. These recessed areas end as the outfield wall juts back into centerfield. The bums began the race at the point where each of the recesses ends.

Fans enlisted a female usher to stand in the center of the section and start the race. She held a handkerchief in one hand and an Old Style in the other. When she dropped the cloth, the bums ran forward, trying to maintain their balance on top of the wall. The one who reached the usher first won the race and was awarded the beer.

Of course, since too much beer can negatively effect a “bum’s” balance, many accidents occurred. Moreover, the railing they tried to balance on was not terribly wide, and so they were not very stable. Many a bum fell off the wall, and dropped the eleven feet to the clay warning track, hurting themselves and interrupting the game.

The races ended In 1970 when the Cubs transformed the wall, so the top was slanted and very difficult to stand on. They also added the famous outfield baskets to the top of the wall. The baskets prevented many types of fan interference including falling into the field of play. 18

Returned Home Runs

The guide confirms that the Wrigley bleacher tradition of throwing home runs hit by visitors back onto the field continues. That leads to the discussion of fans outside the park chasing balls that leave the stadium. Once caught, visitors’ home run balls are also thrown back onto the field from the street. Thus, the game can be interrupted when a ball comes soaring over the bleachers and lands in the outfield.

The Longest Home Run and the “Kingman House”

The natural next subject is about the longest ball hit out of Wrigley. My ears perk up when the guide describes a home run, Mets slugger Dave Kingman hit at Wrigley. He confirms a memory that I’ve described for years but could never find a video to prove it. Later research shows that the event happened on Wednesday, April 14th, 1976. 19 At the time, I was near the end of my freshman year in Syracuse. I assume that I was home from school when I saw it on television, possibly as a replay on the news.

My memory is of Kingman hitting a ball that went out of Wrigley. The ball went over the bleachers, passed Waveland Avenue and down what I now know is North Kenmore Avenue. I remember the ball hitting against the front door and a woman answering the door to find a baseball.

The guide repeats the story and points to the third house down North Kenmore Avenue off Waveland. He says this is where Kingman’s home run landed. The only difference between his story and my memory is that the woman saw the ball hit the house because she was watching the game on television. She went outside to pick the ball up.

I was so happy to have some sort of confirmation that this had actually happened and that the woman subsequently opened her door. For the record, there is some controversy if the ball went 530 felt or 600 ft.20 On Sunday, Nomad the Younger, took my picture in front of the house. It is a treasured item from the summer.

Scoreboard, Pennants, W & L Flags

Now we’re up on the second level of the park and discussing the famous scoreboard.

Interestingly, although there are 30 teams in the major leagues, the scoreboard only reports the games for 24 teams. That can’t change. The scoreboard is a declared landmark and can’t be changed.

Then there are the pennants that hang above the scoreboard. They are ordered based on the standings in each National League Division. Observers can watch them move up or down the order, in the form of a race. In short, the term “Pennant Race” originated with this practice at Wrigley.

Possibly my favorite story is about the flags they raise after a Cubs game. The flag is white with a blue “W” when the Cubs win. When the team loses, they fly a blue one with a white “L.” In the days before the internet and smartphones, when the Cubs only played day games, the flags were how people learned the games’ result. They could see the flags from the Red Line as they rode home from work. It’s a quaint story about the baseball days that are long gone.

The Games

The Fans

Maybe its Wrigley mystique, or perhaps it’s real, but the fans seem to appreciate the game differently than others. They seem to know they are in a special place, and that inspires reverence for what goes on there.

I was able to have good conversations with the people around me. They were friendly and accommodating. For example, at the game on Saturday, some of my view was blocked by a pole. I imagine that an obstructed view is likely not a rare occurrence. The young guy sitting to my right was a local. He and his wife, who was sitting to his right, live close and come often. He said, “if this is your first visit to Wrigley, it has to be good, let’s change seats.” He amazed me with the offer, but I declined.

As we talked, I tried to learn more about the fans. My new friend agreed that they tend to be knowledgeable and into the game. I also noticed that they weren’t doing the wave. I asked if it was something they do there. After all, Wrigley is an excellent place to do the wave. A wave of fans can flow around the park, through the outfield bleachers and back around. Other stadiums have more of a break between sections that don’t accommodate the wave as well.

My neighbor said that the wave is “frowned upon.” My kind of place.

Standing Ovation for the Wind

It was a hot weekend. On Friday it was 92 degrees, and on Saturday it was 94. Luckily, we were under the overhang and not in the direct sun. What wind there was blew in from behind us and out to the outfield. Luckily Mrs. Nomad brought cooling towels. When you get these towels wet and “snap” them, a reaction starts, and they get cold. We wore them around our necks to try and survive the heat.

During the top of the sixth inning of Saturday’s game, everything changed. Instead of breeze from behind us heading out toward the outfield, a strong wind started to blow in from the field. This wind was clearly off the lake, as it was cool and had a fresh lake smell. It was so much different than the stagnant, hot city air that we endured for two days.

As the wind blew and cooled down the crowd, the fans stood and cheered. It was my first standing ovation for the wind!

The Rooftops – “Closer to Heaven”

Oh memories of yesterdays broken dreams
Don’t you know they’ll all fade away
If you’ll come
up the ladder to the roof where we can see heaven much better.
Go up the ladder to the roof where we can be oh closer to heaven.

Edward Holland Jr. / Lamont Dozier / Brian Holland – Up The Ladder To The Roof 21

Almost from the time that Wrigley opened, fans would watch games from the rooftops of buildings behind the outfield. At the time, it was a very casual thing, a perk for the people who lived in the buildings and their friends.

In the 1980s, owners of the building started to set up bleachers and other seats and charged admission. Not surprisingly, the Cubs owners didn’t appreciate the fact that others were profiting from their product. Legal hijinks ensued. Finally, in 2004, 11 of 13 roofs settled out of court. The agreement included the Cubs receiving 17% of the gross revenue in exchange for official endorsements.

Tensions increased as improvements that Cubs made to the park blocked some sightlines from the rooftops. The rooftop owners sued in 2015. In response, the Ricketts family began buying the properties and currently own or control through agreement 11 of the locations. 22

I had to experience the rooftops. After all, I had been enchanted by the experience since I was young. I was impressed that there was a website that allowed me to compare locations and choose the one I wanted. The level of coordination made more sense once I realized that the Rickets family owned most of the sites.

The Rooftop Experience

We picked a good day for the rooftops since Sunday was overcast and rainy. We stood in light rain. waiting on line to get into the building at 3639 Sheffield. After a security procedure, we received passes on necklaces and proceeded up the stairs. On the third and fourth floors, there were seating areas and bars where we could hang out until it stopped raining. When the skies cleared, we moved up to the rooftop’s bleacher seating on the fifth level.

The ticket price includes all food and drink (soda, beer, and wine). I chose to tip heavily when I got my beers. I thought it was only fair. The food was okay, nothing phenomenal, but certainly not bad. The menu included steaks, burgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, and Italian beef sandwiches. Accompanying these choices were nachos, chips, pasta salad, and fruit.

The view was good, and we could see most of the action. The rooftop next door had a loudspeaker tuned to the radio broadcast of the game, which I found to be a bit annoying at first.

My reaction to the rooftop experience is that it’s okay, but only for larger groups. We were a group of three, likely too small to take advantage of what the rooftops offer. I’ll probably stick to the ballpark when I go back. On the other hand, Nomad the Younger thought it was the “coolest sports experience” of her life.

Wu=ith that said, the rooftops seem perfect for weddings and other similar events. The owners market the rooftops for corporate events and outings, which are also a good idea.

Monday morning, Mrs. Nomad and I rented a car and drove an hour north to Milwaukee with fond memories of our Wrigley weekend. I’ll go back to “The Friendly Confines” anytime!

Continue Reading Wrigley Field – The Friendly Confines

“Someday the Orioles Will Deserve Camden Yards”

Historic Camden Yards

There is a statue of young George Herman Ruth, Jr., at the intersection of Eutaw and West Camden Streets. He is looking toward the sky and dreaming of greatness. Behind the statue called “Babe’s Dream” is Baltimore’s revolutionary Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The ballpark abuts “Pigtown,” the historic neighborhood where “The Babe” was born. Ruth’s father ran a saloon located near what is now Oriole Park’s centerfield. When the stadium was under construction, the team asked archeologists to survey the area to see if there were any artifacts. They found a few bottles and dishes, but nothing noteworthy.1

Ruth’s birthplace – now a museum – is just a few blocks from the ballpark. The house is small, clean, and orderly. If one did not know better, they would assume that it was a happy home. It wasn’t happy, and neither is the current day Oriole Park.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a revolutionary ballpark distinguished by many unique elements. However, its beauty unsuccessfully camouflages many of the Orioles and baseball’s problems.

The Babe

The romanticized version of Ruth’s life is like the story of his statue in front of Oriole Park suggests. It’s the story of the always hopeful boy who perseveres through life’s challenging obstacles to realize his dreams of baseball greatness. At St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, young George meets Brother Mathias, who teaches him baseball. From there, he on his way to fame and fortune.

Babe’s birthplace.

Ruth’s childhood was far more traumatic than the romantic legend suggests. His parent’s troubled marriage ended in divorce with allegations of his mother’s infidelity. His father was an alcoholic. George Jr., the eldest of seven children, felt that his parents blamed him for the loss of the five siblings that died in infancy. The family was poor and relocated often.

Young George Jr. (back row center) at St. Mary’s.
Baltimore Sun

George Jr.’s relegation to St. Mary’s was akin to parental abandonment. He rarely saw his parents after he moved there. Life at the school was harsh. Food was rationed, all activities were controlled, he slept in a large dorm with little privacy. These experiences colored the rest of the young George’s life.2

Ruth’s Rosary that he carried all his life.

Ruth was America’s first and possibly greatest sports celebrity. The poor kid from Baltimore set extraordinary baseball records and commanded record salaries. However, a realistic view is that his outward gregarious behavior hid a sad and somewhat lost existence. Ruth was a womanizer, likely alcoholic, and died an old man at the young age of 53. Moreover, despite his legendary career, he never garnered the respect needed to realize his dream of managing a major league team.

Eutaw Street and Statues

Just past the “Babe’s Dream” statue is a gate that leads to Eutaw Street. This section of the busy street became a pedestrian thoroughfare that runs between the 120-year-old Baltimore & Ohio Warehouse and the outfield when the ballpark opened. On game days, the Orioles restrict Eutaw to ticketed fans who frequent the many eateries, including former Orioles great Blog Powell’s “Boog’s BBQ” and the souvenir stands. When the Orioles are not in town, the street is open to all pedestrians.

I visited Oriole Park at the end of May with an old friend, Joel, and his wife, Jennifer. I had been to the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum a few weeks earlier, during my Jackie Robinson Day trip to Philadelphia. Jennifer, Joel, and I enjoyed Boog’s Barbecue, explored the area, and had a great time.

Later we walked behind center field to Legends Park, a courtyard and picnic area that was added on the park’s twentieth anniversary to honor six Orioles greats who helped the team dominate baseball for almost two decades. In it, there are statues of manager, Earl Weaver and players Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken, Jr.

Eutaw Street on game day.

Unfortunately, those glory days were a long time ago. But for a brief period, the baseball in Baltimore was better than almost anywhere else.

Cal Ripken Jr. in Legend’s Park

The Orioles

Origins

There have been teams named the Orioles in Baltimore since 1894. From 1894 to 1953 they were mainly a minor league club that played in the International League. However, for a short period, from 1914 to 1916 the Orioles joined the upstart Federal League as it tried to become a third major league. 3

Babe signs his contract with the Orioles, Jack Dunn is on his left.

Famously, the local 19-year old kid named George Herman Ruth, Jr. joined the team in 1914. Since Ruth was so young, Jack Dunn, the team’s owner, had to become his legal guardian to complete the contract. Due to Ruth’s youth, lack of experience, and round face, his Orioles teammates referred to him as “Jack’s newest babe. Ruth was from then on known as “Babe Ruth,” and the rest is history. 4 Ruth was sold to the Boston Red Sox later that year.

When the Federal League folded in 1916, the Orioles rejoined the International League where they played until 1953. In 1954, the historically bad but major league moved to Baltimore and became took the team’s name. The minor league Orioles moved to Richmond and became the Richmond Virginians. 5

The St. Louis Browns

Bill Veeck, Jr.
Look Magazine

The Browns were a losing franchise best known for surprising behavior, especially when Bill Veeck owned the team. In the early 1950s, Veeck used a series of promotional stunts to draw fans to the ballpark. Most memorable was in 1951 when he hired the very small Eddie Gaedel to appear as a pinch hitter. To further the comedy, Gaedel, who was only 3 feet 7 inches tall, wore uniform number “1/8.” As expected, Gaedel walked on four pitches, all high.

Eddie Gaedel
AP Photo

Another time, Veeck held “Grandstand Managers Day,” where fans held placards to vote on the manager’s decision.

Grandstand Managers Day

During World War II – before Veeck bought the team – there was such a shortage of players that the Browns needed to employ a one-armed outfielder named Pete Gray. The previous year the Browns won their only pennant, an example of the weak competition caused by the war.

Pete Grey

Although the Browns played in St. Louis for half a century starting in 1902, by the 1950s, they faced the same issues that the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants did. None could compete with the more popular teams that they shared their cities with and needed new homes. Specifically, the Browns could not profitably exist in St. Louis with the more popular Cardinals. Veeck’s first choice was to relocate to Milwaukee, but American League owners denied the proposal. The baseball establishment didn’t like Veeck and thought that denying his move would force him out of baseball. The team’s move to Baltimore was contingent on the disliked Veeck’s agreement to sell his controlling interest in the organization. 6

Orioles Opening Day Parade, 1954
Clarence B. Garrett – Baltimore Sun

The Oriole Way

”The winning tradition, by the reckoning of baseball executives who were running the team in the glory days, that came to be known as The Oriole Way – a code phrase for a coherent philosophy of evaluating and training the players, an insistence upon the highest standards of professionalism and the shrewd scouting and consistent development of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of blossoming stars in the organization’s farm system”

Bruce Buursma – “Whatever Happened to ‘the Oriole Way’?” 7
Frank Robinson statue in Legend’s Park

Under new ownership and management, the lowly & sometimes whimsical Browns transitioned into a powerhouse in Baltimore. The resurgence started with their philosophy referred to as the “Oriole Way” that entailed superior scouting and player development. Adhering to this philosophy, the Orioles stocked their farm system with the young talent that drove their future success. Then in 1965, they traded one of these players, their former Rookie of the Year, Milt Pappas to Cincinnati for established slugger Frank Robinson. Although the trade wasn’t quite as bad as people remember, many still refer to it as one of the worst in history.8

In his first year with the Orioles, Robinson won the Triple Crown, became the first man to win the MVP in each league, and led the team to their first World Championship.9 More wins would follow. Between 1966 and 1983, the Orioles won seven division titles, six pennants, and three world championships. Moreover, they won at least 90 games 16 times, had only one losing season, and held the best record in the majors. 10

Fall From Grace

Although the Orioles of the 1960s and 70s were successful on the field, they were only a breakeven investment for their owner, Jeff C. Hoffeberger. The Orioles simply couldn’t compete for the city’s affections with the more popular football team, the Baltimore Colts. However, since Hoffeberger was the head of the National Brewing Company, there were other financial rewards. While the team did not generate a great return, they were “an excellent promotional vehicle to sell beer.” 11 However, when Carling Brewery bought the company in 1976, the Orioles promotional capabilities were no longer needed.

Cal Ripken Jr. – a bright spot in the 1990s.

Carling sold the team to Edward Bennett Williams in 1979 for $12 million. When Williams died in 1988, his family sold the team to junk bonds dealer, Eli Jacobs for $70 million. However, Jacobs encountered financial issues in 1991 and in 1993, declared bankruptcy. As a result, he sold the team to Peter Angelos, the team’s current owner, for $173 million.

Through the ownership changes, the Orioles lost their direction. Although they made the playoffs in 1997, 2012, 2104 & 2016, they’ve not won a championship since 1983. Over the years, they’ve lost their focus on the fundamentals they taught when they developed young players. The farm system is now one of the worst in baseball. Moreover, they’ve made bad trades and poor free agent acquisitions. Finally, they can’t compete financially with their more powerful division rivals, the Yankees and Red Sox. It’s difficult for them to attract and keep good talent.

Non-competitive Behavior – “Tanking”

In 2019, the Orioles had a division worst 54 wins, 108 loss record. They finished 49 games behind the division-winning Yankees. In 2018, they were even worse, finishing with a record 47 and 115. They are firmly in the middle of a total rebuild, which some refer to as “tanking.”

“Tanking” is the now popular strategy where teams trade all their good players, don’t invest in new ones, and do everything they can to lose. Losing earns better draft choices. The goal is to amass a large group of good prospects who will help reset the team’s fortunes. Meanwhile, the owners save money from reduced payroll costs.

The model for successful tanking is the Houston Astros, who lost 300 games between 2011 and 2013. Their drafts started to pay off in 2015, and they won the World Series in 2017. 12

However, this non-competitive behavior is not good for the game. Baseball attendance has declined each year for the past five years, as many teams have adopted the Astros’ strategy. 13

Noncompetitive Behavior Doesn’t Work

Moreover, there is mounting evidence that the strategy does not work:

“The idea of trying to lose 100 to 115 games, while claiming it’s a long-term plan for glory, always has been a long-shot notion, seldom born out in actual baseball experience. Of the current 30 clubs, 20 in the past 50 years have not lost more than 200 games over consecutive seasons, at least not after you exclude their early expansion-team days. Yet those 20 teams have won 33 of the past 50 World Series, exactly the ratio you’d expect if there was no difference between having a Horror Era and never being truly awful at all.”

Thomas Boswell – “Tanking by MLB teams isn’t a strategy. It’s fan abuse” 14

So far, the strategy is certainly not working for the Orioles:

Brooks Robinson statue in Legend’s Park

“Rebuilds take time, but the Orioles have finished last in the A.L. East for three consecutive seasons and appear destined for a similar fate in 2020. There is some impact talent coming, but not a lot of it. The major-league roster has been almost entirely stripped of assets, and the remaining pieces are almost surely not going to net any impact talent in return.”

Jeff Wiser – “From the Outfield Grass: Orioles’ Tank Still Running On Fumes” 15

I’m sure Orioles fans long for the glory days when they watched so many winning teams. They remember fondly the 25 years between Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, Jr’s rookie years when so many great players came through the team’s farm system.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

“Those who know the story best like to refer to the ballpark’s origin as the perfect convergence of people, circumstance and time. There was Lucchino, the team president, who wanted an old-style baseball park with modern amenities. There was Maryland governor and former Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer, who wanted to attract visitors and development to the city’s blighted inner harbor. There was a city and a fan base that had lost its NFL team, and thus was more willing than most to break the mold and fund a stadium that would host only one tenant.

Bill King – “Janet Marie Smith’s passion, personality and artistic eye helped redefine sports architecture” 16

While the Orioles’ dominance on the field was waning, they were revolutionizing baseball off of it.

By the early 1980s, it was clear that the Orioles needed a new stadium to ensure consistent attendance. The Orioles’ success in Baltimore was especially crucial to the city since its other professional teams had recently abandoned it. Their NBA franchise, The Baltimore Bullets, moved to Washington DC in 1974.17 Even more traumatic, the NFL Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984. Under the circumstances, “the loss of the Orioles would be a crushing blow to the pride of Baltimore, which would no longer be viewed as a ‘big league’ city and likely suffer economically.” 18

Throughout the decade, then-current owner Edward Bennet Williams negotiated with the city to garner support for the new stadium. Approvals and financing were in place when Williams died in 1988.

Larry Lucchino’s Vision

At the time, sports facilities were the multi-purpose variety. These stadiums could accommodate baseball, football, and other sporting and entertainment events. For example, the Toronto Blue Jays were about to open SkyDome, “a futuristic stadium with a retractable roof and a hotel overlooking the field” 19 when planning for Oriole Park began. Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg opened the year after SkyDome with somewhat similar features. While these facilities were efficient investments, they were boring and had little appeal.

New Comiskey Park was the next stadium planned to open after Tropicana Field and just a year before Oriole Park. Orioles president Larry Lucchino hated its design when HOK Sport, the architects for both the Chicago and Baltimore projects, showed him a model. Lucchino “tore the model apart,” since he considered it “antiseptic” and “undistinctive.”20

”We just ripped one piece out of it after another,” he said. “I said, ‘We don’t want this, we don’t want that.’ One of the architects said, ‘Larry, do you have any idea how much these models cost?’ I said, ‘No, but we’re trying to make a point.’”

Thom Loverro – “MLB’s unsung hero made ballparks fun again”21

Lucchino wanted something different. He wanted “an asymmetrical, old-style ballpark that took cues from its surroundings.” 22 In short, he wanted to recreate the old-time downtown ballparks, but with modern amenities.

Revolutionary Design

“Oriole Park is state-of-the-art, yet unique, traditional and intimate in design. It blends with the urban context of downtown Baltimore while taking its image from baseball parks built in the early 20th century. Steel, rather than concrete trusses, an arched brick facade, a sun roof over the gentle slope of the upper deck, an asymmetrical playing field, and natural grass turf are just some of the features that tie it to those magnificent big league ballparks built in the early 1900s. Ebbets Field (Brooklyn), Shibe Park (Philadelphia), Fenway Park (Boston), Crosley Field (Cincinnati), Forbes Field (Pittsburgh), Wrigley Field (Chicago), and The Polo Grounds (New York) were among the ballparks that served as powerful influences in the design of Oriole Park.

Orioles.com “Oriole Park/History

The result was a design that changed baseball history.

From the time that Oriole Park opened in 1992, 21 additional new parks opened. Most of these incorporate design elements that were popularized by Oriole Park. 23 Moreover, Lucchino and lead architect Janet Marie Smith supervised some of these other revolutionary projects. When Lucchino became president of the San Diego Padres, he hired Smith to work on the new Petco Park.

He then moved to the Boston Red Sox and was instrumental in the decision to remodel Fenway Park instead of replacing it. “Over the course of a decade they spent $285 million resurrecting a baseball landmark that had been given up for dead.” 24

It’s too bad, the Yankees didn’t follow their lead and remodel Yankee Stadium rather than replace it.

Repeatable Design Elements

Elements of Oriole Park’s design flow from ballpark to ballpark.

For example, Fenway Park’s concession area that connects to the enclosed Jersey Street is very similar to Eutaw Street. Similarly, these same features are found at St. Louis’s Ballpark Village and Atlanta’s Battery.

Coor’s Field’s “The Player”

Most of the new ballparks are either brick or stone, similar to Oriole Park. The bronze statue called “The Player” in front of Coors Field’s brick facade is very similar to Oriole Park’s “Babe’s Dream.”

Finally, Smith used the now iconic, 120-year-old Baltimore & Ohio Warehouse as the centerpiece of the park’s design.

“The thing about the warehouse: It’s real,” Smith said, extending both hands to make the point. “That’s one thing I love about having it here. It gave us a reference point that dictated virtually everything else — from the field dimension to the vertical scale of the building to the brick and the steel palate and the seat colors. … The warehouse, more than anything, was like our clue of what to do.

Bill King – “Janet Marie Smith’s passion, personality and artistic eye helped redefine sports architecture” 25
Oriole Park

Similarly, when Lucchino moved on to the Padres, he pushed for the new downtown ballpark. He decided that instead of demolishing the Western Metal Supply Co. Warehouse, it would be the cornerstone of the stadium. “This is what is going to make this ballpark special, this will make it unique. I don’t think this can be duplicated.” 26

Petco Park

“Someday the Orioles Will Deserve Camden Yards”

Camden Yards is historically located & exquisite. Most significantly, it’s a revolutionary structure. In so many ways, it is the model of all the ballparks built after it. It is one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country and one that all fans should visit at least once.

However, the Orioles are now a struggling team as a result of years of bad management and ownership. Moreover, their attempt at “tanking” is a baseball wide epidemic that is causing attendance to diminish. The glory of the park masks the problems with the team that calls it home.

On my way out of the park, I gave a silent nod to the statue of young Babe Ruth. Hope springs eternal, old baseball fans can dream little boys’ dreams, and as my friend, Joel says: “someday the Orioles will deserve Camden Yards.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Continue Reading “Someday the Orioles Will Deserve Camden Yards”

“America’s Most Hated Stadium”

”it is perhaps America’s most hated sports stadium. Players and coaches deride it. The Oakland Raiders are fleeing it. The lights are breaking, mice are dying in the soda machines, and the sewage that sometimes floods the dugouts has its own Twitter account.”

Jack Nicas, “The Beauty of America’s Ugliest Ballpark”1

Over the weekend (September 14 and 15) I visited San Francisco’s Oracle Park. For those two days, I sat in awe of all that the ballpark had to offer. I enjoyed the view of the Bay Bridge, the bay, and the marina that sat behind a ballpark that celebrates all of baseball’s glory.

However, all good things must come to an end. On Monday afternoon, I walked to the Powell Street Bart Station and left San Francisco for places unknown. The train passed graffiti marred neighborhoods, run-down industrial areas, and troubled city streets. Of course, these sights are not unique to California’s Bay Area. I saw similar sights from the elevated trains passing through Queens on the way to Citi Field and through the Bronx to Yankee Stadium. The difference is that, on those trips, there was a baseball oasis at the end of the ride. In contrast, this ride ended at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum.

The Monochromatic Abyss

The exterior of the stadium is all grey cement and chain link fencing. There is little to suggest that there are other colors in the world. The Coliseum is a monochrome abyss.

While it is depressing to look at and has a bad reputation for its inferior amenities, the Oakland fans give the place a certain sense of wonder. It’s like they are the survivors of a baseball apocalypse. In Oakland, the game has been reduced to its essential self, all else has been stripped away. The fans that remain, glory in the primitive experience. They are there because they want to watch baseball, little else is necessary.

“And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge

Jackson Brown “Before The Deluge” 2

Pre-Game

Walking In

A chain link covered bridge separates the train station and stadium. The bridge spans railroad tracks, graffiti-covered train cars, and storage shacks. As I cross the bridge, I pass a few locals who have randomly set up portable grills and are selling food. Approaching the stadium, I see two vertical banners on either side of an entrance. One of them represents the A’s, the other the Raiders, Oakland’s football team that is leaving for Las Vegas. The banners are the first colorful things I see.

More chain-link fencing and large “No Reentry” signs surround the entrance I am supposed to use. I’m confused, is there a place to enter? As I walk closer, I see ticket takers and go in.

Once inside, I enter a dark and almost empty passageway, with puddles scattered along the way. A worker is sweeping the water to the side of the walkway as I pass.

The tunnel ends at the top of the stadium near “The Treehouse,” the newest stadium attraction. My plan is to go there later, so I walk past it and the small souvenir stand and start my search for the Team Store. Faithful readers know that I mark my visit to each ballpark with a selfie wearing the home team’s cap. Finding the cap is usually my first stop. However, I like to buy caps at the Team Store because I want to see as much merchandise as possible and I pass this more convenient outpost.

Down, Down, Down

I take a series of ramps down to the ground level. People who drive to the stadium enter at that level, and most of the concession stands and my seat are there.

In contrast to the relatively crowded first level, the middle levels are dark and mostly empty. As I continue down the ramps, I pass the Statue of Liberty and Mickey Mouse statues that I’ve seen in many ballparks. These, of course, are decorated in Oakland A’s colors. There are also banners that celebrate memorable achievements in A’s history. However, although these artifacts provide some color against the concrete, grey background, the walkways are still depressing and dark. These additions seem to highlight the depressing nature of the environment rather than improving the situation.

The lowest level has many concession stands, but there is no team store similar to those at other stadiums. Instead, there is a large stand that is run by two men. The transactions are very matter of fact. I asked for a hat in my size, and a man gave me one to try on. I did so, but asked for another, since I like to compare how different caps feel because they all fit different. It’s not that the men aren’t friendly, but I sense that they will tolerate my need to try on different caps only for so long. Luckily the second one fits fine.

My seats are on the first level, and I’ve walked a lot. I’m hungry and need a beer. Of course, nobody needs a beer, but I want a beer, badly. I’m also hungry and am ready for a hot dog.

Smoked Bratwurst and Bertman Ballpark Mustard

I find a kiosk selling bratwurst and hot dogs. My smoked bratwurst is nicely charred, the little bit of burn enhances the already good bratwurst taste. It comes with some tasty grilled onions and peppers. More importantly, somehow, they have Bertman Original Ballpark Mustard. Bertman is the holy grail of baseball mustard. It’s nicely brown and spicy, and I previously understood that it’s exclusive to Cleveland, but here it is in Oakland.

The brat was delicious, and the mustard was a significant plus. I’d like to rank it near the top of my list, but the damn bun broke!! So, I’ve listed it further down than it should otherwise be. If the bun doesn’t break, Oakland’s smoked bratwurst with Bertman mustard is an unparalleled treat.

The Game

The Crowd

My seat is in the “Field Infield” section behind home plate. It is behind a walkway that separates it from the lower boxes. As is my usual practice, I take a few selfies in my new cap. I like my new cap’s classic green and yellow combination. I also like how the motif works with the white home uniforms that the players wear.

I’m not surprised that Monday night’s crowd is relatively sparse, even though the A’s are in the playoff hunt. The A’s do not draw well, regardless of their success. However, I’m surprised that the crowd is so sparse that I can easily order a beer from a vendor two sections away. Since there were few fans to command his attention, I waved, and he waved back. Then, he walked over, and I bought my “805 Beer.”

The crowd is also pretty laid back. The game has a friendly, relaxed vibe. No one seems to know or care that its Mexican Heritage night. I don’t think it’s an ethnic bias; the fans are just laid back. Mexican dancers frolic in the outfield while ballplayers go about their pre-game business.

Throughout the game, drummers in the right-field stands keep drumming. They supposedly play a different rhythm for each player at-bat. I love the accompaniment to the game. It reminds me of a Grateful Dead concert, which I consider a good thing as I am a long-time fan.

Wild Card Chase

Tonight’s game between the A’s and visiting Kansas City Royals is one my most enjoyable of this long trip. The fourth inning was the epitome of what I consider compelling baseball.

It doesn’t hurt that this game matters. With just a few weeks left in the season, the A’s are barely ahead of the Tampa Bay Ray’s in the Wild Card race. The A’s can’t afford to lose any games. They especially can’t afford to lose games to the lowly Royals who are far out of contention and one of the worst teams in the league.

Tanner Roark’s Fourth

Tanner Roark – Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

When the fourth inning started, the A’s were ahead by the score of 4 to 1and Oakland’s Tanner Roark was pitching fairly well. However, Jorge Soler, led off by hitting a Roark four-seam fastball over the centerfield wall. Then, in quick succession, Hunter Dozier doubled, Roark hit Alex Gordon and walked Bubba Starling. The bases were loaded, and the game was about to get out of hand.

After a visit from A’s Pitching Coach, Scott Emerson, Roark promptly runs the count full to Ryan O’Hearn. O’Hearn swings at a two-seam fastball to strike out.

Meibrys Viloria comes to the plate and works another full count. He also swings at a Roark two-seam fastball and misses. There are two out. Can Roark get out of the inning?

Brett Phillips is up next & promptly works another 3 – 2 count.

Roark has thrown 38 pitches in the inning, and his back is to the wall. If he walks Phillips, another run will score and Roark will likely be out of the game. Moreover, if Roark tosses one down the middle to get the third strike, Phillips will likely double against the wall, a few runs will score and jeopardize the game.

Roark tries his two-seam fastball, one more time. Phillips assumes its a ball and doesn’t swing. The umpire calls it a strike, and Roark is out of the inning.

To me, this is what it’s all about. Roark was in trouble with the game and possibly the season on the line. Three Royals challenged him, and Roark struck each of them out. The action, especially in the context of the pennant race had me at the edge of my seat.

Up to The Treehouse

The Treehouse opened in 2018 to “enhance the viewing experience.”3 In real person speak, it is an attempt to add some modern amenities, to a ridiculously antiquated stadium. It consists of a couple of bars, seating areas, and a view of the game from above left field.

Even though the game was tied and it was only the seventh inning, I decided to check it out. Typically, I would remain in my seat and focus on the game.

As I headed up a near-empty ramp, I noticed two kids smoking a joint. Oh, to be young again.

When I got up to the Treehouse, I decided to have a glass of bourbon to celebrate my latest achievement. My trip to the Coliseum meant that I had been to every active MLB ballpark at some point in my life. It was also this season’s 27th ballpark. I ordered a double Makers Mark, neat and walked over to the railing to celebrate and watch the game. The whiskey helped me stay warm as the night grew colder and colder.

Conversations

Standing next to me were a couple of guys that I started talking to. I broke the ice by mentioning that the Kansas City hitter, named “McBroom,” sounded like “a failed McDonalds giveaway.” They laughed, the ice was broken and we discussed the ballpark and my travels.

I pointed out that I had been to every ballpark in the country, and this was the only one that had football field markings on it. They agreed and said it would be nice to have a better baseball facility. But they still enjoy the Coliseum and are A’s fans. Interestingly, one of them worked for the Giants at Oracle Field.

They told me about the drummers in right field and agreed when I expressed how friendly everyone was. They also said to me that although the Coliseum was nicer in the old days before additions ruined the design. For example, the luxury suites above the outfield seats that everyone derisively calls “Mount Davis,” unfortunately, block the beautiful view of the Oakland Hills.

As we talked, the A’s went ahead in the bottom of the eighth, and the mood brightened as it looked like they would win. However, at the top of the ninth, the Royals scored two and won the game. We said our goodbyes and went home.

I headed for Denver, early the next morning.

New Stadium Blues

Building Blues

The obvious questions are, will the A’s get a new ballpark, and if so, when? The more difficult question is, can the A’s be successful in Oakland?

The A’s have been trying to build a new stadium for years:

“Since the middle of the last decade, the A’s have proposed building on the existing Coliseum site in East Oakland; in Fremont, Calif.; in San Jose; and at Oakland’s Laney College, a plan that was halted last December by the board of the Peralta Community College District.”

Tyler Kepner – “Soon to Be Alone in Oakland, the A’s Inch Closer to a New Stadium” 4

Although there have been some hiccups and roadblocks, as of this post, it looks like the A’s will be in the new 35,000 seat, Jack London Square Ballpark in 2023. 5

Proposed Jack London Square Ballpark
https://www.mlb.com/athletics/oakland-ballpark/howard-terminal

Just last month (October 2019), Governor Gavin Newsom signed two bills to move the project forward. 6 However, who knows what issues will arise to stop the momentum.

If They Build It Will They Come?

But will fans go to the new stadium? The A’s have never been a good draw. In fact, their attendance has always been near the bottom of the American League. Their attendance has been in the bottom third of the league for 36 of their 52 years in Oakland. Moreover, they were in the bottom third for 10 of the 13 years they were in Kansas City and the last 22 years of their Philadelphia tenure.[9]

So, will a new stadium draw sizable crowds and help the A’s become a popular attraction? Significantly, they drew a sell-out crowd of 58,000 to their wild-card playoff game in October so there seems to be interest.

Payroll, Attendance and The Problem With Moneyball

However, their personnel strategy could hurt their chances of attracting large crowds, even in the new stadium. The A’s have limited payroll flexibility, their payroll is relatively low. In an effort to compete with limited funds, the A’s revolutionized baseball by using analytics to find good, low priced talent to compete with the league leaders. The strategy was, of course, discussed in Michael Kelley’s book “Moneyball.”

Unfortunately, to maintain a low payroll, the A’s need to trade their best players before they get too expensive. Although they can stay competitive on a low budget, it’s challenging to remain popular managing this way. While winning teams tend to attract a large audience, it also helps to have popular, established stars. They need a so-called “face of the organization.”

For example, the A’s much more popular Bay Area rival, the Giants, market popular players like Buster Posey and Matt Baumgardner to remain popular. The A’s don’t keep good players long enough to be able to build a marketing campaign around and draw an audience.

Of course, the Giants also have won three championships in this decade and the A’s have not won one since 1989. However, the fact remains that the Giants have been a good draw since they moved into Oracle Park regardless of their success 7. The A’s are likely hoping the same will happen when they have a new waterfront ballpark.

Time will tell if the ballpark filled with cheering A’s fans becomes a reality.

Continue Reading “America’s Most Hated Stadium”

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.

Continue Reading On to California

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.

Continue Reading One More Ride For The Nomad

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.

Continue Reading Go West Young Man

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.

Continue Reading The Little League World Series

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.

Continue Reading Target Field – Minnesota Nice

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
Continue Reading A Visit to Yankee Stadium

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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