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Cleveland Rocks!

Yes, and emphatically, Cleveland Rocks!

Fountains at Public Square – a few blocks from the ballpark

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

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

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

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

Rock & Roll

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum

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

Guitar Logo

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

Frank Zappa/ Baltimore Orioles Fender Guitar

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

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

PlayBall Park

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

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

Outside Activities

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

Inside the Convention Center

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

The Home Run Derby and All-Star Game

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

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

The Home Run Derby

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

My reactions to the Derby are:

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

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The All-Star Game

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

Nod to Cleveland

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

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

Other Moments

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

Scoreboard Issues?

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

Progressive Field

Progressive Field

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

Kids asking players for baseballs

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

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

Food- Hot Dogs

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

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

Hot Dogs

Charred Dog

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

Cleveland Kraut Dog

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

Beer

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

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

Continue Reading Cleveland Rocks!

Farewell to Citi Field

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

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

Citi Field at Night

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

Credit Where Credit is Due

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

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

The Problem Is… Leadership

Theo Epstein
slate.com

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

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

Jeff Wilpon

Jeff Wilpon
amazingavenue.com

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

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

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

Nelson Doubleday 2

Joel Sherman quoted a baseball executive in 2010 as saying:

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

Joel Sherman 3

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

The Problem is…Money

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

Payroll

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

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

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

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

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

Team Value

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

Relative Team Values – In The National Baseball Hall of Fame

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

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

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

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

The Problem is…Missing the Analytics Revolution

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

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

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

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

The Travis d’Arnaud Saga

Travis d’Arnaud
Anthony J. Causi – NY Post

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

Joel Sherman made these points:

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

Joel Sherman 10

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

Joel Sherman 11

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

Two Years of Bad Decisions

”The Mets are playing darts blindfolded.”

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

Paul Hembekides 12

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

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

Jeury’s Familia Trade

Familia in Oakland
nbcsports.com

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

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

Keith Law 14

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

Keith Law 15

Hiring Mickey Callaway and Brodie Van Wagenen

Mickey Callaway
newsday.com

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

Chaim Bloom Tampa Bay Rays Web Site

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

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

Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon
New York Daily News

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

Prospects For Cano

Robinson Cano
La Vida Baseball

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

Other Older Players

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

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

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

Stop the Madness

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

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

What I Want

I’m not going back to Citi Field until:

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

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

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

One More Thing

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading Farewell to Citi Field

Fred Wilpon’s Brooklyn Dodger Obsession

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

From the 7- Line heading out to Citi

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

Mets Fan For Life

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

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

Merchandise….7 Line Army and Alonso t-shirts

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

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

Fred Wilpon’s Brooklyn Dodger Obsession

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

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

The Jackie Robinson Rotunda

The Jackie Robinson Rotunda

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

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

Honoring Jackie

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

Who Owns Jackie Robinson’s Legacy?

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

Route from Ebbets Field to Citi Field

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

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

Celebrating Mets History

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

Casey in the Mets Hall of Fame

Tom Seaver – “The Franchise”

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

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

Retired Numbers & Hall of Fame

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

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

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

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

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

Gates

Casey in the Stengel Entrance

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

Hot Dogs, Sausage and a Knish

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

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

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

I needed other options.

Day One – Primio Sausage

Primio Sausages on the griddle

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

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

Day Two – A Kosher Hot Dog…

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

…And a Knish

Kosher hot dog, knish and some nice brown mustard

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

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

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

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

Farewell

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

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

I’ll explain in my next post.

Continue Reading Fred Wilpon’s Brooklyn Dodger Obsession

London Series

Surprisingly, I let good sense take precedence over my ambition and I decided to play it safe. I was in Omaha on Wednesday morning, roughly eight hours from St. Louis where I was scheduled to leave for London on Thursday afternoon. Rather than try to make the whole drive on Thursday, I didn’t stay for game three of the College World Series. I started my trip to the London Series on Wednesday morning by driving back to Kansas City.

The drive took me by the results of the rainstorms we experienced earlier. I drove past swollen lakes and rivers and flooded farm fields that looked like lakes.

On Thursday, I dropped off the hats I acquired during the first part of the trip and drove another 3 hours or so to St. Louis where I boarded a flight to London via Atlanta.

These are pictures from my three days in London – I’ll add more text soon.

Truman Brewery

Friday afternoon I headed to the London Yards where there was a London Series gathering place. Games, food, music, and merchandise. I was in search of hats and a few gifts for friends. My goal was to find the hat I saw online (no size 7 1/2 available) – Boston or New York with the Union Jack design in the emblem.

My online hat.

Brick streets, centuries-old buildings, and many packed pubs surrounded the Truman Brewery on Friday night. Unlike in the states, there were overflowing crowds outside the pubs, beers in hand.

The hat selection was weak. I did get one with “London Series” on the front but didn’t find the ones I was looking for. Moreover, I was wearing a Boston hat, with Big Ben on the front, that I bought online (this one adjustable). People were asking me where I got my hat.

After the rather disappointing search for hats, I stopped for Fish and Chips.

Kensington Gardens

Since Saturday’s game started later in the day, I decided to spend the morning in and around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

Swans at the Serpentine

The London Series

I’ll post text about this extraordinary experience soon.

From my seats on Saturday.
Sunday I was right of center.

I’ll add more text soon. Thanks!

Continue Reading London Series

College World Series

The morning after we visited Field of Dreams, I dropped Nomad The Younger off in Des Moines and then drove a few hours to Omaha, for the College World Series.

Here are some pictures, I’ll add the story soon.

I will add text soon

Continue Reading College World Series

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams
Is this heaven?

Pictures of the Day

Here are pictures of the fun adventure to Dyersville, where Nomad the Younger and I visited the site of our favorite baseball movie.

I’ll add the story of the day soon.

There is no admission fee to walk the grounds. You’re free to use the field and play catch etc.
“Try and hit my curve….Yeah you can hit the curveball”
Unfortunately, the corn isn’t tall until the fall.
Art for art’s sake…

Inside the House

It’s a $20 fee to tour the house, I recommend you do so. Just make sure you don’t miss the start – more on that later.

Is Fenway the one with the big green wall?… I’ll help you pack!”
“Daddy, there’s a man out there on your lawn.”
“Hey, what if the Voice calls when you’re gone?” “Take a message.”
The tour guides dress like the 1919 White Sox.

More text to follow.

Continue Reading Field of Dreams

Museums at 18th & Vine

After the aborted game at Kauffman Stadium, we headed downtown to the Negro League Museum. The museum is in the Museums at 18th & Vine complex. The museum occupies a large space on the right. Across the lobby is the American Jazz Museum.

This connecting lobby includes displays of the 18th and Vine area and a film that discusses its rise and impact on the Civil Rights movement.

We didn’t have a lot of time (or energy) so we went through the Negro League side relatively quickly. After the College World Series, I headed back to St. Louis through Kansas City, where I spent the night. That gave me time to see more of the Negro League Museum, take some pictures and also visit the American Jazz Museum.

Negro League Museum

I describe the Negro League Museum in two parts. In the first, a series of displays provides a detailed account of the league’s history, it’s triumphs and ultimate demise. The exhibits explain the initial impact of black players in the major leagues.

Interestingly, I knew that black players dominated the National League MVP selections in the fifties and transformed the league’s style of play. Their play included bunts, the hit and run, aggressive base running and stolen bases. In comparison, the American League played a slower, “station to station,” and power-hitting type of game. However, I never entirely made the connection between the dominance of the new players and the dominance that the national league started to demonstrate in the 1960s.

The best thing about the museum is the other section. In the center of the museum is a great room that contains a replica of a baseball field. There are near life-size statues of great players at their defensive positions. For example, Satchel Paige is on the mound, Josh Gibson is behind the plate. Accompanying Gibson at home, Nisan umpire and hitter. Buck O’Neil watches from the first area. This is simply the most impactful baseball display that I have ever seen!

American Jazz Museum

For a music lover – which I am – the American Jazz Museum is a blast. The colorful displays wind around the museum taking you past the great players and the styles they developed. The museum also explores the nightlife where Jazz was performed. It opens into The Blue Room one of the more famous and still active Kansas City clubs.

I left the museums, went back to the hotel and rested. The next morning I drove to St. Louis and boarded my flight to London.

Continue Reading Museums at 18th & Vine

Kansas City – Royals and Museums

Day Two on the “Midsummer Odyssey.” The day I pondered my existence and walked the tightrope between sanity and insanity. No, stop! It wasn’t that bad. We had a difficult time seeing the Kansas City Royals and Museums but maintained our sensibilities and made it to the next day.

Friday Night – Look at The Tickets!

Somewhere between the raindrops, standing ovations, beer, and tornado warnings, Nomad, the Younger decided to check the next day’s schedule. “So the game starts at 1:10 tomorrow?” “Nah,” I respond, “they play tomorrow night.” Sweetly, yet forcefully persistent, Nomad the Younger explains that if they are playing on Saturday night, someone should tell the Royals. “The Royals are playing at 1:10.” Yes, an unforced error by the Nomad.

The Kauffmans

Here’s the problem. The plan was to go to the Negro League Museum and the game, and we don’t have any extra time. Thus, we need to squeeze both into Saturday so that we can see the Field of Dreams movie site on Sunday. We can’t delay because I need to get to the College World Series on Monday. Not to mention the younger Nomad has a plane to catch.

OK, no problem. It’s a three and a half-hour drive to Kansas City, give or take. We’ll leave at 6:30 and be in Kansas City by 10:30, see the museum and make it to the game by 1:00. Who cares if we are a little late?

Saturday Morning – The Drive From Hell

Another inaccurate, overstatement. Hell is probably worse, and I’ve never heard about rain in Hell. The stories I hear refer to fire and heat, not SUVs and pouring rain.

As we leave, it starts to rain. Then it starts to rain harder. For a while, the rain stops, and we begin to make good time. As we talk, the sky starts to darken into an eerie purple. The sky continues to darken, then darken some more. Soon it was the color of eggplant or the center of a nasty bruise.

The purple sky correlates with the wind blowing wildly. I grip the wheel while we look for tornados, houses blowing over, or a woman on a bicycle flying through the sky. Then the heavens open and sheets of rain pour down. This is the type of storm that windshield wipers won’t solve. The wipers simply push water back and forth, the water coming down too fast to actually keep the windshield clear.

Inside Kauffman Stadium

We crawl along – following other slow-moving vehicles. We’re creeping our way through a creepy, artificial night caused by clouds, wind a rain. Finally, I can’t take it anymore, and we take the next exit looking for shelter. The hoped-for shelter is “Ozarkland.” Roadside America describes Ozarkland as “a gift shop/tourist trap.” The description is a tad harsh. There are cute knickknacks, what looks like fantastic fudge and the bathrooms are clean. Most of all, the patient salespeople who let a couple of wet nomads hang around for a while.

We watch the clock and check our weather apps to see if the weather will clear.

The New Plan

Finally, we get back on the road. The skies are clearing, but we’ve lost a lot of time. I suggest that we just head for the hotel which is conveniently across from Kauffman Stadium. This plan should be OK – it’s supposed to start raining around 3:00. That will allow us to catch a few innings and when the rain starts again, we can head for the museum.

The Heat and Humidity

If the wind and rain weren’t hellish, the resulting heat and humidity might have been.

We arrive at the hotel around 11:30 – the sun is beating down. Unfortunately, we can park but not check-in. They had a busy night, and the rooms aren’t ready. So we start our walk to Ewing Kauffman Stadium.

To get out of the parking hotel parking lot, you walk up a short incline. At the top is a four-lane street/ highway. There are a few attendants and police around in case we need help with traffic to get across. Once on the other side, we were looking at “The K” – as the natives call it.

View from the ridge

From our vantage point, Kauffman Stadium is on the right side of a vast parking lot. On its left is Arrowhead Stadium where the Chief’s play football. We need to walk down an incline and around the parking lot to get into the ballpark. I’m starting to notice that it’s hot and I’m sweating profusely. It doesn’t help that I’m wearing my trusty photographer vest and carry my small camera bag.

It’s about a half-mile from the hotel to the Stadium entrance.

A Short, Hot Stay

Long story short, I’ll need to get back to see “The K” at some point. It’s supposed to be a great ballpark. Likely because we were hot, tired, sweaty, and possibly dehydrated, I didn’t feel the greatness.

We entered through one of the outfield gates and walked around the sunny and hot promenade past statues and food outposts looking for merchandise. I needed my cap. For some reason, we didn’t think to follow the walk to the covered section that surrounds the infield.

We get some food, but there is no place to sit. There is a beautiful seating area, but that is reserved for a group. That group either isn’t coming, booked too much room or hasn’t arrived yet. No matter the reason, there are empty seats, but we can’t use them. I stare longingly like a parched man in the desert imagining a mirage. This is not the first I’ve eaten standing up at a baseball stadium.

Finally, we go to our seats which are on the fourth level, right behind home plate. The stadium was a beautiful, modern, suburban ballpark when it was built in the early 1970s. It is still beautiful but isn’t big on sheltered seats. We’re sitting in a short row, in a section that seems to be placed directly under the sun. More of a device to heat your dinner than a place to sit comfortably.

At first, we are alone. Then people fill the rest of the row, and we are cramped. It’s hard to move. A little room would be helpful so that we can dissipate the heat. Nomad the Younger is the first to suggest we find shelter before we pass out. I can’t disagree.

The Leaving

We escape the heat in a very open promenade. Since we are in one of the upper levels and most fans are watching the game, we have a lot of room. Moreover, the walk is shaded and breezy and pleasant. However, there is no place to sit. Most stadiums don’t have a lot of places to sit in what are supposed to be walkways. However, in our mood, the lack of seating seems surprising.

Since it’s close to 2:30 and even though the expected rain is not coming, I suggest we go to the museum.

Outside the park, we start retracing our steps to the curved, incline that will take us around the parking lot. Nomad the Younger is tired and can make the walk but is wishing there was another way.

Security?

Of course, I remember that Mrs. Nomad and I were at Cooperstown Dreams Park earlier in the month. At that park, there were volunteers with carts offering people rides to the parking areas. Additionally, there are similar carts at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. To be fair, the drivers in St. Louis weren’t offering patrons rides.

Since we are approaching a security guard, I figure why not ask if there is a way to get a ride up the hill. I tell Nomad the Younger to look especially weak and ask for help. The guard seems somewhat surprised like this is a new question. He doesn’t know how we can get a ride – since it was so early. However, he suggests we walk the few hundred feet back to the stadium to ask there. We did not want to retrace our steps, so I ask if he could call. He says he can’t do that either almost suggesting that he does not have any way to do so.

We trudge on. All the time, wondering what would happen if there was a real threat to this public building. It seems that tens of thousands are at risk, but what do we know.

The Fountains

Kauffman Stadium is not an awful place to see a baseball game. From my brief experience, I’d say it’s better than most. An excellent suburban stadium in the mold of Dodgers Stadium. I most certainly would go back. I really have to go back and get a better sense of the place.

It’s known a picturesque ballpark, and the beauty is enhanced by the fountains that stretch from right field to mid-left field. I thought they were beautiful. However, I wish that they extended all the way to left field. In so doing, they would be equally sized on either side of the scoreboard. The resulting symmetry would help to draw your attention across the area and not just to right field.

Smoked Kielbasa

Smoked Kielbasa w/ Smoked Gouda, Braised Red Cabbage and Apple Mustard

The hot dog of the day was actually a Kielbasa. I couldn’t find a dog that inspired me, the “Smoked Kielbasa” from the “Specialty Brats” stand was an excellent substitute. The young attendant taking my order asked innocently, “do you want everything on it?” “Everything” was braised red cabbage, smoked gouda, and apple mustard. Who wouldn’t want that!

I’m ranking this one high on my list. The Kielbasa had a great smokey and spicy taste. The mustard and cabbage paired really well with it. I’m not sure the smoked gouda helped – it didn’t seem to stand out against the other flavors.

The Museums at 18th & Vine

18th & Vine 1 is “internationally recognized as one of the cradles of jazz and a historic hub of African-American businesses.” 2 It was where many worked and assembled on Saturday nights.

Mural in 18th and Vine Neighborhood

As we drive, I remember the song “Kansas City,” which references (my memory) “18th and Vine.” One of those lyrics that sounds good but has little meaning until you do some research. Of course, once you do research, you find that the song references “12th and vine” and 12th street no longer crosses Vine since a housing project was built there.

I’m gonna be standing on the corner
Of Twelfth Street and Vine
With my Kansas City baby
And a bottle of Kansas City wine.

Leiber and Stoller 3

Anyway, this is what used to be the beating heart of black Kansas City. The area and its businesses were instrumental (as you learn at the museum) in the Civil Rights Movement. For the romantic nomads its where Charlie Parker learned to play, where the Kansas City Monarchs were treated like royalty.

We didn’t spend enough time at the museum and didn’t even get a chance to check out the Jazz side. So I went back a few days later on my way to St. Louis and my flight to London. My post devoted to the museum is here.

We recouped at Arthur Bryant’s with a great slab of ribs an beer. The next day we made the pilgrimage to the Field of Dreams.

Continue Reading Kansas City – Royals and Museums

Homecoming in St. Louis

Homecoming in St. Louis
Cool Pappa Bell and George Sisler

On Thursday, June 20th (my wedding anniversary), I started my 10,000 miles “Midsummer Odyssey” to the Midwest and London. During the 14 day’s journey, I made six stops, visited three MLB ballparks, and saw eight games. A somewhat exhausting and exhilarating adventure with Mrs. Nomad and Nomad the Younger traveling with me at times. The first stop was to see Albert Pujols homecoming in St. Louis.

Albert Pujols
Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire

The Nomads lived in St. Louis for a short time when the youngest one was an infant. So, a trip back was a bit of a homecoming. That night’s game was a more critical homecoming for Cardinals’ fans. The mighty Albert Pujols was returning to St. Louis for the first time since he joined the Angels in 2011. I planned the trip to St. Louis to coincide with the game as I wanted to see the crowd’s reaction.

Prince Albert

Pujols will enter the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, possibly unanimously. I can’t imagine anyone voting against him. Mariano Rivera’s election last year broke the silly rule that no one can be elected into the Hall unanimously. I’m guessing Derek Jeter will also be unanimous when he is elected next year. Certainly, Pujols deserves to be a unanimous selection also.

Albert Pujols connects on his 3000th career hit.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Accomplishments

A brief list of his accomplishments in his 19-year career1:

  • 2001 Rookie of the Year
  • 2005, 2008 & 2009 Most Valuable Player
  • 2006, 2011 Member of World Champion St. Louis Cardinals
  • Tied with Alex Rodriguez for most seasons with 100 RBI (14)
  • 32nd player to achieve 3,000 hits in his career
  • 4th player to achieve 2,000 career RBI
  • 9th player to hit 600 career home runs
  • Currently ranks 6th on the career home run list
  • 4th player to record both 600 home runs and 3,000 hits

Leaving, Anger and Reconciliation

Cardinals fans were angry when he turned down a lucrative offer from the Cardinals and accepted an offer from the Angels. For example, at spring training, I saw a boy’s Pujols jersey with the number 5 covered in duct tape. My opinion was that he should continue his legacy in St. Louis and win a few more championships. After all, he had a chance to have his statue next to the great Stan Musial if he stayed. On the other hand, Pujols says that he did not feel appreciated in St. Louis. That he felt “more appreciated” by the Angels’ owners. 2

Any anger from the time Albert left had certainly dissipated by the time he returned. The organization shared a highlight reel, and the crowd showed its appreciation every chance they could. There were standing ovations each time he came to the plate. They cheered some more when he left the game, replaced for a pinch-runner in the 7th inning.3

Rain and The Old Haunts

On Friday morning, after I worked on my blog, I took a short walk to the Gateway Arch. I wanted to check it out before I picked up Nomad the Younger at the airport. She was driving in from Memphis and planned to park at the airport while we drove around Missouri and Iowa. She would pick her car up when she flew back from Des Moines on Monday.

When I arrived at the Mississippi River, I realized how much rain there had been. I saw the news and knew that they had experienced storms but didn’t understand the impact until I saw the river. It had crested its banks, and street lights and walkways were under water. The river’s dramatic height was also evident as it covered most of the Eads Bridge foundation.

During my short walk to the river, the skies started to darken, and I hurried back to the hotel. I barely made it back to the hotel before it started to rain. By the time I was in my car and pulling out of the garage, there was a downpour of epic proportions. Sheets of rain. This was the type of storm we dealt with for the next few days.

It was sunny again by the time I picked up Nomad the Younger at the airport. The skies darkened, and it rained again as we visited the house where we lived almost 30 years ago. Then we drove back downtown, stopping in Clayton to see the office building where I worked – fun memories.

Busch Stadium

We walked through a downpour during the short walk to the game. When it rained harder, we decided to duck into a restaurant and have some food and wait out the rain.

The newest (built in 2006) Busch Stadium is beautiful. A red brick affair that has the ambiance similar to SunTrust Park in Atlanta. However, SunTrust seems a bit out of place in the suburbs, while Busch feels right at home downtown. Also, and similar to SunTrust’s “Boomtown,” Bush has “Ballpark Village,” a retail and entertainment area just outside the park. The current village is smaller than Boomtown, but it is undergoing expansion to include a hotel, residential and office area. There may be more construction later.4

Rooftops and Patios

Clark Avenue runs between Ballpark Village and the Stadium and is closed for pedestrian-only traffic. There are bars with rooftop seating and viewing areas on the rooftops. Additionally, inside the ballpark, there are a series of patios where people congregate and watch the game. From our seats, the terraces and village rooftops seem to extend the ballpark, creating a city like atmosphere. It reminded me of a small version of the Wrigley rooftops. Although, I’m not sure that was their plan.

The Statues

Thirty years ago when we visited the older Busch Stadium, one of my fondest memories was a famous statue of Stan Musial. The inscription on the statue read:

The “Perfect “Warrior”

Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior … Here stands baseball’s perfect knight

Ford Frick

It was more than appropriate that the statue was moved to the new Busch Stadium. However, on another corner, there is another series of sculptures that surrounded the old Busch Stadium.5 Until I did some research, I thought they were added when the new stadium was built. I don’t remember seeing them when I went to the old stadium in the late 1980s.

These statues are equally memorable and they underscore how the Cardinals celebrate their great history. The celebration includes the Negro Leagues and one of its former players, Cool Papa Bell. Cool Papa played for the St. Louis Stars.

Moreover, the statues seemed to resonate in the rain.

Hot Dogs

There are a few hot dogs that one can try at the stadium:

  • The Regular $5.00
  • Nathan’s $9.00
  • Jumbo $7.00
  • Bacon Wrapped $10.25
Bacon Wrapped With Crispy French Fried Onions and Spicy Aioli

Faithful readers will not be surprised to learn that the Nomad had the Bacon Wrapped hot dog. It’s a “jumbo hot dog wrapped in Applewood smoked bacon, served on a locally made jumbo bun.” You have a choice of toppings including baked beans, pico de gallo, spicy aioli, and crispy fried onions. I had the spicy aioli and crispy fried onions. It rivals the Randy Jones Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog in San Deigo – and I’m starting to notice a bacon influenced trend.

Something Different

Here’s something you’ve likely never seen at a ballpark, I certainly hadn’t. In the second inning, alarms blared, and we were told to leave our seats and head for the stairs for shelter. It was a tornado warning. The players were walking around the field, seemingly not knowing what to do. Many left their seats, others did not, and the whole experience was over in a few short minutes.

The weather followed us where ever we went for the rest of the weekend. The next morning, we left for Kansas City.

Continue Reading Homecoming in St. Louis

Deep in the Heart of Texas

After Friday’s travel and a late-night watching the Braves, my alarm chirped me awake very early Saturday morning. I needed to catch a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth for three games “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The first two with the Rangers in Arlington and then one in Houston to see the Astros. Including Atlanta, I saw five stadiums in four days that represented a few different design concepts. One was a clear favorite.

The reason I scheduled the entire weekend in Arlington was that the Astros wouldn’t be in town until Monday. OK, why not stay in Arlington and watch another Rangers game? It would be more convenient than flying back to Houston later.

However, I must have good Karma. It poured on Saturday; the game was delayed a few hours. So much so, I lasted just a few innings. I went back on Sunday, a great day with beautiful weather.

Five Stadiums

During the four-day trip to Atlanta, Arlington, and Houston, I visited five stadiums. Each had a different “something-something.”

SunTrust Park

SunTrust Park

My first stop was Atlanta’s SunTrust Park. As mentioned in my previous post, SunTrust is a charming new ballpark where they built a community “Boomtown,” adding fun and commercial activity. Its biggest fault is that they encourage racially insensitive behavior that has no place in polite society. All other esthetics are excellent, except they are new, and the feel walking through Boomtown is like walking down Main Street at Disney. Fun, but a tad artificial.

Minute Maid Park

Houston’s Union Station houses the team store, the other building is Minute Maid Park

My last stop was Houston’s Minute Maid Park. It was quite the opposite of SunTrust as it is firmly ensconced in Downtown Houston. Moreover, it incorporates the century-old Union Station, and so it fits somewhat nicely into the neighborhood. Inside, Union Station’s main concourse is used as Minute Maid’s main lobby. Brick and other design elements help retain the Union Station flavor throughout the first floor of the stadium. The Astros didn’t need to build a Boomtown, the facilities were already there. It does not feel artificial. In short, I liked it a lot.

In the middle of the trip were three stadiums in Arlington.

AT&T Stadium

AT&T looming over the Nolan Ryan Expressway next to Globe Life Park

The Dallas Cowboys play in AT&T Stadium – sorry, l know football should not be mentioned during baseball season. However, AT&T was near my hotel and Globe Life Park – where the Texas Rangers play. It looms over the landscape like a huge, football-shaped edifice that reminds me of an alien spaceship landing in the middle of a parking lot in suburbia. I imagine scientists, soldiers, and citizens surrounding it looking so small in comparison. They have this look of wonder. “What is it?” “Are there living beings inside?” “Can they communicate?” “Do they mean good or harm?”

Globe Life Park

Globe Life Park

If you stand in the right spot, you can slowly turn your head and scan from AT&T to Globe Life Park where the Rangers play. It has the standard retro look, a lot of brick with engraved cement ornamentation around the exterior. There are old-time gates reminiscent of Camden Yards. However, it looks as out of place as AT&T does. While AT&T is this big monstrous thing, Globe Life seems like a quaint downtown ballpark. But there is no downtown. You want to see other similar buildings around it. Buildings that look like Globe Life don’t fit if they are standing on their own in the middle of an open area. Boomtown helps Sun Trust fit into the area. The downtown and Union Station makes Minute Maid fit in. Globe Life needs something.

Actually, it doesn’t need anything, because it is being replaced at the end of the year, but the point is still appropriate.

The New One – Also Globe Life?

The new Globe Life Park under construction

They’re building Globe Life’s replacement across the street. The new ballpark planned to open next year is located between Globe Life and AT&T about a mile away. It will connect to an entertainment, retail, and lodging area somewhat like Boomtown, called “Texas Live.” 1

Texas Live may help give the new stadium the context, that the current Globe Life Stadium doesn’t have. However, I sense the same artificial atmosphere that SunTrust Park has.

And then there is the juxtaposition between it and AT&T Stadium which is just odd. There will likely be no commonality between the two. Moreover, it represents the difference between football and baseball. Football is trying to represent the space age future. Baseball is beholden to its traditions.

So, “All things considered, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” Here’s how the three days went:

Saturday, Cardinals at Rangers

Morning Travel

The only thing I don’t like about my summer-long journey is the early morning flights when I have a late afternoon or night game. Saturday was one of those days. I left my hotel in Atlanta at around 6:00AM to catch an 8:45AM flight. It’s a good 30-minute drive to the airport, and I needed to get gas and drop off the rental car.

I landed in Dallas around 11:00 AM. This was the weekend when tornados were blowing through the area. When I got outside the airport, it was cloudy, windy and looked like rain.

Pouring Rain

I worked on a blog post in the few hours I had at the hotel, and the games start time at 3:15. While I worked, it poured, stopped, and poured again. Since I had tickets for Sunday’s game, I was more than happy to hear a rain out announcement. I’m okay with Sunday doubleheaders.

Pouring rain at Globe Life Park

Finally, it was clear that the game was going to happen, so I made my way to the hotel’s ballpark trolley stop. The little bus travels around the hotels and drops people off at the stadium. You can also return on the trolley if you would like. The trolley took a winding route to the ballpark – past AT&T Stadium and the new stadium’s construction site. As we went, the clouds started to darken. By the time we arrived, it was pouring. The rain was coming down in proverbial sheets.

So, we ran across the street to the ballpark, and even though I had a waterproof jacket and hood, I was soaked when I got inside. Then I waited for a little over two hours for the game to start.

First Impressions and Food

Open areas and exposed beams.

During the wait, I bought my hat, took my selfie and explored the park. My first opinion was that Globe Life was kind of nice. So, I didn’t understand why the new one was needed. Interestingly, the promenades are unique in that they are very open with the metal beams and supports exposed. While there are some food places built into the center area, the promenade is also scattered with kiosks. For example, the team store is in one of the booths.

Jumbo Hot Dog from Texas Big Dogs
Rainy days and bourbon….

“Texas Big Dogs” is in another kiosk. This is where I got a “Jumbo Hot Dog” with grilled onions. No brown mustard (I’m getting used to it), but “Sweet Baby Rays” barbecue sauce was a nice touch. My “Jumbo Hot Dog” was the first of two good hot dogs I had at Globe Life. On Sunday, I tried the “RWB Dog,” more on that one later.

The “Jumbo” had an excellent hot dog taste, was nicely grilled on a tasty bun and the onions, barbecue sauce, and the basic yellow mustard made for a nice lunch.

Brisket Sandwich

Later I found my way up to the second level where my seats were. It was still raining so I drowned my sorrows in a glass of bourbon at the Shock Top Bar while I waited. Truth be known, I didn’t have any “sorrows,” but it was a great day to pretend I did. And, it seemed to make the bourbon better.

Finally, the rain stopped. I grabbed a brisket sandwich – c’mon it’s Texas, you must get some barbeque – and found my outfield seat.

Frito Chili Pie

Something I was tempted to try was the “Frito Chili Pie.” For those not from Texas, the “Frito Chili Pie” is a bag of Fritos topped with chili, shredded cheese, diced onions, and jalapeños. It’s served in the Fritos bag, and you go at it with a plastic fork and a few beers.

Frito Chili Pie

When I go back to Arlington to see the new ballpark next year, I’m going to have to have one. It seems like perfect ballpark food. I’ll make an appointment with a gastroenterologist just in case the experience doesn’t go well.

A Short Stay

I spent a few innings in my outfield seat, still wondering why they would replace such a cute little ballpark. The park is a bit odd, with different features that mimic the “Jewel Box” or classic parks. There is a roofed home run porch in right that is like the one in old Tiger Stadium. Then there is a white frieze surrounding the upper deck like Yankee Stadium. The outfield has “nooks and crannies” like Ebbets Field. There are also arched windows like Comisky Park.2 I thought there was a little Polo Grounds influence, but what do I know?

After a few innings, I was spent and had no reason to stay. I’m not a Rangers fan, there is only so much I can eat and drink and was tired from the early start. Moreover, I had tickets for Sunday. I left and walked back to the hotel.

Sunday, Cardinals at Rangers

Different features inspired from other ballparks.

It was as beautiful on Sunday as it was miserable on Saturday. Sunny, warm but not hot, not a cloud in the sky. Before each game, they publicly reset a sign that lists the number of games left in the old ballpark. They have a local celebrity or former player pull the old number off, exposing the new one. As they did so on Sunday, they said of the new domed park “on days like today, the roof will be open.”

I walked over early to explore the parts of the stadium that I missed the day before and have my scorecard filled out in time for the 2:00 start.

The Duke Snider Story Reenacted

My father used to tell a story about how he and I met Duke Snider in a San Francisco hotel. I was four and a half so I can’t say I remember the event. If it happened, it was 57 years ago. However, if this makes sense, I remember remembering it. When I was younger, I was pretty sure it happened.

Duke Snider’s #4 jersey in the Hall of Fame

The story goes that my dad saw one of his Dodger heroes and introduced me “Raymond, this is Duke Snider.” Duke bent down, shook my little hand, and said: “I’m number four.” In turn, I responded, “I’m four and a half.” My father often told the story for the rest of his life.

So, almost 60 years later, I’m walking to a ballpark that had not been built when the story took place. As I’m walking, I see a family. Dad is holding his young son’s hand. The son is wearing an Albert Pujols St. Louis Cardinal jersey with the famous number 5 on the back. How did he get the jersey? I wonder. The boy wasn’t even born when Pujols played in St. Louis. So, as I pass, I say, “Interesting shirt.” The father responds with something like “yes, a classic.” Instead of asking about where the shirt came from, I ask the boy, “are you number 5?” The boy responds, “I’m four,” as he holds up four fingers.

In baseball, some things never change. It used to be fathers and sons going to games. Now it’s any combination of parents and kids, but the experience is the same.

The Shannon Stone Statue

Shannon Stone and Cooper outside the Home Plate Gate

Of course, and unfortunately, there is another side to the father and son saga. At the Home Plate Entrance is the statue in honor of Shannon Stone and his son. Stone is the man who accidentally fell to his death when he leaned over a railing to catch a ball tossed to him by Rangers player, Josh Hamilton. A sad and senseless tragedy. 3

I’m not sure what to think of it. Stone needs to be remembered, but it’s hard not to believe that the statue in some way inadvertently trivializes his death. I’m left with feelings about park safety, life is short, live life to its fullest, etc. None of these opinions represent the extent of the tragedy.

Now I Understand the Replacement

I had a better chance to see more of Globe Life now that it wasn’t raining. First, I made my way to the centerfield seating area where there is a bit of a food court. In comparison, the newer ballparks have bigger areas and thus more revenue opportunities and are more comfortable for the fans. This was my first sense that the ballpark might have outgrown its usefulness.

Posts?

Later, when I arrived at my seat, I understood the issue, at least from my point of view. I was on the third base side, under an overhand and realized that there were poles that could block one’s perspective. Even in the retro ballpark era, how in the world can you open a stadium in 1994 that has poles? It was like I was in the first iteration of Yankee Stadium when I was very young.

Of course, The Rangers likely have a different reason. They are likely building their new stadium because of the revenue possibilities that Texas Live offers. Additionally, the dome will improve the chances of getting fans into the ballpark on hot Texas afternoons. Hopefully, there won’t be any seats with views obstructed by poles.

Nolan Ryan and The RWB Dog

Out in the centerfield area is a statue of Nolan Ryan waving his cap. An excellent place for families to have their picture taken. It’s a testament to Ryan’s longevity and skill that his number is retired in Arlington and Houston.

Nolan Ryan

Near Ryan’s statue is one of the American Dog stands home of the famous RWB (Red White and Blue) Dog. A regular size dog in a reasonable bun with a red pepper relish, chopped onions, and a blue pickle relish. Surprisingly good – I didn’t even think of mustard, although I did wonder about blue pickle relish.

The Game

As always, I assume that there are better writers than I who report on the games I see, so I don’t spend too much time writing about them. Moreover, I’m having problems releasing posts in a timely fashion, so I doubt a game from mid-May is interesting in mid-June. The review of the game is here.

However, it was exciting:

The Cardinals jumped ahead in the first scoring two runs on a Paul DeJong double. In the bottom of the inning, Shin-Soo Choo homered to make the score 2 -1.

RWB Dog from American Dog

Hunter Pence doubled in the bottom of the fourth to tie the score 2 – 2.

The score remained tied until the bottom of the eighth when Danny Santana homered. I had the old “Okay, too bad Cardinals, three outs and the Rangers will win, what’s for dinner?” feeling.

Then, in the ninth inning, Dexter Fowler smacked a home run to the short porch in right. Tie score, extra innings.

In the top of the tenth, the Cardinals went ahead on a sacrifice fly, Cardinals 4 – Rangers 3.

The Rangers promptly came back and scored two in the bottom of the tenth to win the game.

Everyone went home happy, and I was off to Houston.

Monday, Chicago White Sox at Astros

Early the next morning, I Ubered back to the airport to pick up a rental car and headed over to Houston. It’s roughly a 4-hour drive. I had to deal with some traffic, so it took a bit longer, but I made it to the hotel in good shape. A couple of hours later, I walked over to the ballpark.

The Game

In contrast to the competitive affair on Sunday in Arlington, Monday’s game in Houston was an example of pitching dominance. The Astro’s Brad Peacock scattered six hits and shut the White Sox out. The final score was 3 – 0. You can read more about it here.

The Park and The Food

As I said in the introduction, I really enjoyed Minute Maid Park. I like how it fits into the neighborhood and how it incorporates 100-year-old Union Station. So, I spent a couple of hours walking around the park. I did the full circuit around the park, enjoying the atmosphere, the hall of fame, and murals on the wall. All the while, I was trying to decide what to eat.

In prepping for my visit, I read about the “Ken Hoffman Dog” and thought why not. Ken Hoffman is a columnist who “covers the quirky side of Houston.” 4 I’m not sure why they named a hot dog after Mr. Hoffman. Moreover, I didn’t love the dog. It’s very basic and pre-made, served in a plastic container, pretty dull. I ranked it toward the bottom of my list.

Ken Hoffman Dog

There’s a lot of good food at Minute Maid, and I, unfortunately, fell into this no man’s hot dog land. My choices were either the elaborate dogs or the basic Ken Hoffman dog. So, to keep with my hot dog tradition I tried the Ken Hoffman dog; this time it didn’t work out. That’s baseball.

Chopped Beef Sandwich

I made up for the Ken Hoffman Dog diversion with a chopped beef sandwich – yes more barbecue, and on the way out some soft ice cream.

My Houston experience was somewhat like my San Diego experience. I loved the ballpark, it’s in a cool part of town, and the team is fun to watch. It’s the kind of place I hope to return to with Mrs. Nomad and spend a few days.

My next stop was Baltimore and a whole different set of issues.

Continue Reading Deep in the Heart of Texas