Saturday, August 25, 2007

Syracuse

A Side Trip


Alliance Bank Stadium
Alliance Bank Stadium, 2007

Question:
You know what's fun to say? Answer: Gookie Dawkins
Date: Saturday, August 25, 2007
Ottawa Lynx (Philadelphia Phillies) vs. Syracuse SkyChiefs (Toronto Blue Jays)
International League North (AAA)
Alliance Bank Stadium
Syracuse, NY
Promotion: Comic Book Night


Stadium & Fans:
The stadium was a nicely appointed AAA stadium right next door to the biggest farmer's market I have ever seen in my life. A train track that may at one time have carried the team's namesake runs behind the outfield walls. Several cargo trains passed by during the game, but were surprisingly unobtrusive and of great interest to the children in the stands.

One thing of note is that this was an Astroturf field, which stood along with Tampa Bay as the only professional turf fields I've seen. I'm not sure why the ownership would use plastic grass given the field's location in the middle of farm land as far as the eye can see. I can only assume it is to save money. But for whatever reason, hard grounders not hit directly at an infielder went through, and outfield shots that weren't hit into the gap were universally just singles. However, given the well-known medical issues that turf can produce, it is especially surprising to have it on the AAA farm club's field. I can't help but think it gives the upcoming Blue Jays players a disadvantage, and that does seem to be borne out by their performance in recent years.

The crowd was a little sparse (we were able to get tickets right behind the plate with no problems), but that is to be expected from a late season game between the bottom two teams in their division. There were a vocal contingent of Lynx fans whom I presume are following the team around. Having some support on the road is always appreciated, especially in the minors, but one bellowing Canuck who screamed when each player came to the plate could have stayed home as far as I'm concerned.


The Game:
The game was about what you'd expect from two bottom-feeding AAA teams playing out the season. There were the requisite amount of errors (though the game the next night between the two teams would make national news, as it included a whopping 10 errors for the Chiefs and lots of runs (as any AAA pitcher who is in any way worth his salt is up with the big team at this point of the year). The Chiefs got the lead and lost it, but won it in the bottom of the ninth, after squandering a one-out triple by trying to score on an infield grounder. (You'd think the Chiefs' manager would know they are playing on turf.) But they eventually singled home a run, sending away the home team fans happy.

There was torrential rain driving up to Syracuse (producing two or three rainbows at a time), but the stadium itself escaped the torrential rain, though starting in about the third inning or so, there was intermittent rain throughout the game every inning or so. Although it did get heavy in places, the game was never delayed.


Scorecard:
The scorecard was a nice, $2 paper booklet, with generous space for players and notations. The regular paper did make things a little iffy when the rain started, but I carried on. My policy is to always fill out the scorecard as presented, which made their insistence on listing the entire bullpen and bench a tad bit annoying.

Lynx vs. SkyChiefs, 08-25-07
Lynx vs. SkyChiefs, 08/25/07. SkyChiefs won, 5-4.

Miscellanea:
The promotion was free comic book night, and in addition to the comic book, there were also several people dressed up as Marvel heroes in the grandstand to take pictures with kids. The comic book itself was a curious item. It told the story of Reed and Susan Richards taking their children and the rest of the Fantastic Four to the AAA All-Star game. Coincidentally, Peter Parker was also taking his Aunt May to the same game. For some reason, they were all speaking very didactically about the positives of AAA baseball. Soon after the first pitch is coincidentally throw out by Iron Man, the Sandman (who is also coincidentally at the game) proceeds to slam into Bruce Banner (who is coincidentally working as a concessions man at the game while trying to keep a low profile) while stealing a foul ball from a little kid. After Sandman is quickly dispatched, the greater problem becomes an enraged Banner, who turns into the Hulk. After the assembled heroes each try and fail to subdue the Hulk, he is pacified by a young boy who gets him to sing "Take Me Out To the Ballgame," and after more prose singing the glory of AAA baseball, they all enjoy the rest of the game. The idea of the Hulk and the Fantastic Four catching a game is especially ironic when placed in the context of the current Marvel storyline, which has a vengeful Hulk holding NYC ransom as he hunts down the people responsible for shooting him off into space, led, of course, by Reed Richards.

The Stadium Race:
There was no stadium race at the game, but the usual minor-league fan participation events. They did have the K-Man, a common minor league promotion where an opposing player is chosen as the "K-Man," and some fans will get prizes should he strike out during the game. It always struck me as a rather mean-spirited promotion, and if I was chosen as the K-Man, I imagine I would do everything short of bunting with two strikes to try and avoid striking out, and I generally root for that guy. However, the Ottawa K-Man finally succumbed in the ninth, giving some people some free Taco Bell coupons.


Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
This game was all in the context of a visit up to see Mr. Wilson. However, the night before I was heading up to Ithaca, my car died after I picked it up from my parent's house, where I had coincidentally left it for inspection. It died, meaningfully enough, under a mile from the mechanic who had inspected it, leaving me to wait for a tow that would take under two minutes. Undaunted, I borrowed my mother's car and was off for the weekend again. It was a surprisingly quick drive up through some nice countryside.

The shortstop for Ottawa is named Gookie Dawkins. This, apparently, is very, very fun to say. Try it yourself. See?


The Hotel:
Casa di Wilson. He has again chosen a rustic house at the foot of a wooded hill, but this time in the outskirts of Ithaca.


2007 Side Trip

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Newark

Day 9


Riverfront Stadium
Riverfront Stadium, 2007

Question:
Where do Carl Everett and Edgardo Alfonzo now play? Answer: Long Island
Date: Saturday, July 7, 2007, 6:05 PM
Long Island Ducks vs. Newark Bears
Riverfront Stadium
Newark, NJ
Atlantic League Baseball (Independent), North Division
Promotion: Fire Safety Night

Stadium & Fans:
Riverfront Stadium, along with the Newark Arts Center, were the cornerstones of the urban revitalization plan for Newark. And to their credit, the Newark of today is completely unrecognizable from the Detroitian Newark of ten or twenty years ago. Riverfront is a nice, minor-league level ballfield with a parking deck integrated just beyond right field.

The crowds were sparse, but enthusiastic, with a lot of families and kids out to watch a cheap ballgame for an evening.

The Game:
As you'd expect with a league made up of minor league wash-outs and major league has-beens, the play wasn't quite as sterling as a big-league game. The Bears got all their scoring done in the second, and managed to hold on for a 5-4 win. (The Cubs were the only home team to lose on my trip. Make of that what you will.)

Amongst the has-beens were two former major leaguers of note: former Mets Carl Everett and Edgardo Alfonzo. Seeing as Everett went 0-4 and Fonzie only managed 1-4 against what is approximately AA-AAA competition, it is easy to see why they are no longer in the bigs.

Scorecard:
$1 for a flier scorecard that they cribbed from a baseball Web page. Some of the categories they recorded (catcher stats?) were a little weird, but otherwise a roomy and comprehensive number.

Ducks vs. Bears, 07-07-07
Ducks vs. Bears, 07/07/07. Bears win, 5-4.

Miscellanea:
Where to begin?

For lack of a better term, there was a do-over in the fifth inning. The Bears batter reached on a single, but after complaints by Ducks' players, the first base umpire called the batter out for running out of the baselines. Upon complaints by the Bears manager and consultation with the other umpires, the interference call was reversed, but they also did not award him the single. It was eventually just ruled a foul.

There was more excitement in the seventh. A Bears runner on third tried to tag up on a fly-out to mid-right. He was thrown out at home on a questionable call, and then tossed out of the game by the umpires for arguing the call.

And then the left field lights went out. The umpires originally thought it might be a slight against the call, and there was a huge hullabaloo in the infield. It was eventually determined to be mechanical failure, but then the issue became whether or not the game could continue with one bank of lights out. The Ducks manager, whose team was losing and would benefit the most from it, was arguing for the game to be called. Eventually, however, the game continued with a dim left field.

The Stadium Race:
There was no scoreboard race at the Bears game. Similar to many low minor league teams, there were many live races that fans participated in, including the mascot race (where a small child is chosen to race the team mascot around the bases, and although the mascot is given an incredible lead, the kid always seems to win), and various kids' competitions.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
This was my last day on the road. We drove out to Pittsburgh, where I embarked on a tiny flying bus to Newark Airport, to be met by my father. Because I was able to transfer to an earlier flight, I could drop all my stuff back at my apartment and turn on my air conditioning before heading back out to the Newark Bears game.

In a little act of rebellion, I collected all the soaps and lotions and shampoos available in every hotel I stayed at, and took them with me on my flight back. By my rough calculations, I had about six times the liquid volume in my bag as I did when my sunscreen was confiscated, but in approved containers that were not stopped. So I don't know about you, but I feel safer.

The Hotel:
This night, I slept in my own bed. Amen.


2007 The Midwest

Friday, July 6, 2007

Cincinnati

Day 8
Great American Ballpark
Great American Ballpark, 2007
Question: What do you call a cute little four year-old boy? Answer: The bastard with my foul ball.
Date: Friday, July 6, 2007, 7:10 PM
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Cincinnati Reds
Great American Ballpark
Cincinnati, OH
Major League Baseball, National League
Promotion: None

Stadium & Fans:
The Great American Ballpark complex is all nicely done, with an amazing riverfront view.

This was the first game where we even had good seats available to buy. We sprung for some seats just behind the really, really expensive area behind home plate. We were about ten rows back from home plate, and our seats were even a little better because we were on the first row right before the landing into that pit area, and the walkway was behind us, so we had a crystal-clear view. Even though I have sat physically closer at a major league game, this was easily the best seat I've ever had.

It was also the closest I've come to catching a foul ball. Because the walkway was behind us, we had some area to maneuver for balls fouled straight back off the loge level. Three came in our general area. Two were reasonably within reach. And one glorious ball was within inches. A foul back off the Plexiglas on the loge level arched my way. I almost had it. The angle was just high enough that it went over my hand and landed in the first row of the pit in front of us, grabbed by some guy and given to his son. His tiny, tiny son.

But no, I let the little blond so-and-so keep the ball, and so I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.

The Game:
The story of the game was the Reds' pitcher Lohse. He had a no-hitter through three and a one-hit shutout going into the ninth. He eventually surrendered a run after three straight hits in the top of the ninth, but held on to go the distance. The Reds put up all the offense they needed in the first, continued with long-balls, and won 8-1.

Miscellanea:
The other story of the game was Ken Girffey Jr. In the fifth, he clocked his 586th homer, tying Frank Robinson for 6th on the all-time home run list. There were fireworks, and the Griffey home run counter in right field turned over. From our seats, we may very well have been on the highlight reels.

Scorecard:
$1 for a cardstock fold-out scorecard customized for the series. Spacious and roomy enough, but for no good reason, it had a stubby area for the player's names.

Diamondbacks vs. Reds, 07-06-07
Diamondbacks vs. Reds, 07/06/07. Reds win, 8-1.

The Stadium Race:
The race was the Mr. Red Race, and it was won by Mr. Red. Pete Rose was seen fleeing the scene.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
The Reds have a hall of fame and baseball museum as part of the complex at Great American Ballpark, and it is included in the admission to the game. The rotating exhibit in the ground floor was devoted to Mr. Red, Pete Rose. Apparently, most of it was from his own collection. I feel sort of bad for him, because it is so obvious that this is all very important to him, and all he ever did with his entire life was try and play a game he loved the best he could. But then again, Pete, don't bet on the f*cking games. The fact that there were lottery machines around the corner from the exhibit was enough to elicit a giggle, and for however much the Reds' fans love him, he's still not even in the Reds Hall of Fame.

Reds Hall of Fame and Museum
The joke is that he bet on games.

But the museum itself was a lot of fun. And I was impressed by the fact that in the historical exhibits they actually talked about controversial subjects. At US Cellular, you cannot find any mention of the Black Sox, but the Reds part in it, as well as things such as Pete Rose's banishment for life, were all there in living color. Quite refreshing.

The second level of the museum was all interactive. There was a pitching cage where you could get yourself timed and have your accuracy measured. (My fastball maxed out at a slow major league changeup, for those interested.) You could also step into the umpire's mask behind the pitching cage to see how you'd call a game. There was an outfield wall to practice snagging home runs back into the park (hitting the wall at speed hurts, by the way), and a batting cage to test your hitting. You can even step into the broadcaster's booth to call some plays, or rest in a Reds fan's "heaven den" right out of the seventies.

It was all very well done.

The Hotel:
This night, we would be stopping in the environs of Columbus again. However, for some reason, we decided to stay at a Holiday Inn that night. It turns our that this Holiday Inn was actually built in the middle of a Western-themed water park. And it wasn't all that expensive, really. However, one frightening item from the evening was that someone was having their wedding there.

Sometimes I just don't get people at all.

Fort Rapids Holiday Inn
Fort Rapids Holiday Inn, Columbus, OH

2007 The Midwest

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Chicago

Day 7:


US Cellular Field
US Cellular Field, 2007
Question: When is segregation not segregation? Answer: When it is done at the ballpark.
Date: Thursday, July 5, 2007, 7:11 PM
Baltimore Orioles vs. Chicago White Sox
US Cellular Field
Chicago, IL
Major League Baseball, American League
Promotion: White Sox poster and discount coupon

Stadium & Fans:
US Cellular Field was nice enough, but it was saved from being generic by its Jumbotron, a re-imaging of the Veeck-era exploding scoreboard that was amongst his bag of flashing tricks to get asses in the seats.

However, the stadium itself was unique in that it had completely segregated upper and lower decks. If you did not have a ticket for the lower tier (as we were not able to get), once you enter the stadium, you are shunted to completely different entrances that only allow you to go the upper decks, and angry-looking bouncers stand guard at the lower decks to keep the likes of you out.

Now, I understand that unofficial seat upgrades can be a problem, but seriously, is this your answer?

The Game:
The White Sox jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. As homers kept flying out of the stadium and setting off fireworks displays, it got to the point that we wondered exactly how many charges they had in place. The White Sox strolled over the Orioles, 11-6.

Scorecard:
$1 for a cardstock fold-out. Especially for an AL scorecard, it was spacious, with plenty of slots for substitutes.

Orioles vs. White Sox, 07-05-07
Orioles vs. White Sox, 07/05/07. White Sox win, 11-6.


The Stadium Race:
Perhaps to make up for St. Louis, there were two races. The first was the Connie Pizza Race (won by Sausage), and the second was the McDonalds Race (won by McGriddle).

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
We had a lot of swapping around to do before the game, and the Chicago traffic was not helped by the fact that The Police were having a reunion concert on the North Side that night. We fought our way up to O'Hare to pick up my friend's car, then we got lost for a while trying to find where to drop off our rental. And then we had to fight our way back down to the South Side to get to the game. We ended up taking the back way in by going against the traffic and then swinging back northeast. We did manage to get to the game in time.

The Hotel:
With all the scoring, the game ended later than we would have liked, and we had a ton of road to cover to get to Cincinnati. We drove as far as possible, eventually bedding down in a very nicely-appointed Motel 6 somewhere.

Motel 6, Lafayette, IN
Motel 6, Lafayette, IN


2007 The Midwest

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

St. Louis

Day 6

Busch Stadium
Busch Stadium, 2007

Question: Do you not like the weather in St. Louis? Answer: Wait ten minutes.
Date: Wednesday, July 4, 2007, 6:15 PM
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Busch Stadium
St. Louis, MO
Major League Baseball, National League
Promotion: Cardinals backpack, fireworks display

Stadium & Fans:
Busch Stadium is a delight, and well-designed for its purpose. Similar to PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the stadium and field are accentuated through the skyline view through the outfield walls.

St. Louis is known for their fans, and coming off last year's World Series win, they sold out the park on July 4th. Given the reception of boos that the pre-recorded messages from commissioner Bud Selig and President Bush received last year at July 4th games, it was hardly surprising that the experiment was not repeated this year, though there were tasteful honorings of servicemen and women throughout the game. People even got the chance to take their picture with the World Series trophy.

Once again, the Midwest propensity for lining up astounded me. As we were waiting for the stadium to open, people were forming orderly lines by all of the gates to the stadium that extended back a long way. A few minutes before the gates were to open, someone inside informed the line to our left that that gate would not be opening. I immediately started to look for an escape route from the ensuing riot, but by the time I had turned around, all the people in the line had already soundlessly re-attached themselves to the other gate lines.

I cannot understand this mindset at all. If this had happened at Yankee Stadium, I can already see the Post headline the next day, "BASE-BRAWL: dozens injured in stadium melee."

Another anomaly was the "Kiss Cam." This is common at a lot of parks, where they turn the Jumbotron camera on couples, and they have to kiss or face the opprobrium of the crowd. People will do it here on the coast, sometimes begrudgingly, but I have never seen the enthusiasm for this activity as I saw in the Midwest parks. The way people's faces lit up, it is as though this is the greatest moment of their lives. And sometimes they go at it with an inappropriate gusto. "Oh, Jesus, grandpa's heading to second."

The Game:
The Cardinals fell behind early, but never let the game get away from them. After pulling within one run in the bottom of the seventh, they scored two in the eigth and jumped ahead and held on for the win, despite a lead-off double by the D-Backs in the top of the ninth. Cardinals win, 5-4.

Scorecard:
$1 for a fold-out scorecard customized for the series. I've got to say it was a disappointment, especially for the Cardinals. There was a tiny amount of space for recording game data crammed within a ton of advertisements. It was completely inadequate for a NL game, and for the love of all that is holy, they didn't even have an area for the pitching lines.

Diamondbacks vs. Cardinals, 07-04-07
Diamondbacks vs, Cardinals, 07/04/04. Cardinals win, 5-4.

Miscellanea:
The Diamondbacks managed to hit three ground rule doubles.

The Stadium Race:
Surprisingly (or, refreshingly), there was no race at St. Louis.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
We had to drive all the way from Louisville before the game, so we didn't have all that much time to savor St. Louis. As a matter of fact, literally the very second that we got out of our car in the parking deck down the street from the stadium, the sky opened up as though the day of judgment was upon our pathetic mortal souls.

However, a little over an hour before gametime, the rain abruptly stopped, and it proceeded to get insanely hot and humid. The giveaway backpack was very useful for holding my rain slicker and other waterproofing gear. And in return for signing up for some contest, we also recieved a Cardinals towel that was very handy for drying off our seats.

Once again, under the cover of fireworks, we slipped out of a city. However, the citizens of St. Louis did not show themselves to their best light. There were apparently two fireworks displays going on in the city, and some of its more intellectual of citizens thought to take advantage of the view afforded by the active interstate by stopping in the passing lane and parking to watch the displays.

The Hotel:
We had a lot to get done the next day in Chicago, so we tried to drive as far as we were able towards the city, eventually bunking up for the night at a very nice Motel 6.

Motel 6, Springfield, OH
Motel 6, Springfield, OH


2007 The Midwest

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Louisville

Day 5


Slugger Field
Slugger Field, 2007

Question: How do you make a bologna sandwich better? Answer: Deep Frying
Date: Tuesday, July 3, 2007, 7:05 PM
Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh Pirates) vs. Louisville Bats (Cincinnati Reds)
Slugger Field
Louisville, KY
International League (AAA)
Promotion: Fireworks Night

Stadium & Fans:
From the outside, Slugger Field looks like a mini-mall. However, inside it a quite nice Triple AAA park. One the local specialties is a deep-fried bologna sandwich, which is a fried bologna sandwich with cheese and onions, fried again. Awesome.

It was a packed house on the very affable night before July 4th, with an energetic group very into the game. However, there was one vendor who was selling cotton candy. His call sounded nothing like what he was selling, and to our ears, it sounded as though he was a purveyor of "Derek Jeter." Too bad I didn't have my other wallet with me.

The Game:
If this game is any indication, the Pirates have cause to doubt they'll have young pitching talent worth mentioning any time soon. The Bats jumped out to an early lead, and beside a brief three-inning period, they kept adding on. The Indians looked as though they were going to leave one of their pitchers out there to dry for the last two innings, but after seven straight runners reached base and the fans getting restless that the post-game fireworks were ever going to start, the Indians manager sent another pitcher in to get the last out. The Bats ran away with it, 13-4.

Scorecard:
$1 for a landscape, fold-out cardstock scorecard and program. It had a comfortable amount of space, and it was definitely necessary, as each of the managers were double- and triple-switching as though it was going out of style, not to mention the constant stream of pitchers. It was easily one of the most complicated games I've ever had to score in my life, and it wasn't helped by the fact that the card had areas for assists and put-outs.

Indians vs. Bats, 07-03-07
Indians vs. Bats, 07/03/07. Bats win, 13-4.

Miscellanea:
From the Department of Dubious Honors: Brian Shackelford became the all-time leader in appearances for the Bats with his stint in the eighth inning.

The Stadium Race:
There were two races. The first was the "K-Games" (the Kentucky Lottery), and it was won by Cash Ball. The second was the Chugs Race (a regional brand of drinks), and it was won by Chocolate.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
When most baseball fans hear "Louisville," it is inevitably and no doubt subconsciously linked to "slugger." And to the bat factory we did a-go. There was a small museum and a factory tour to be had. The museum was quite interesting, letting you examine bats through the ages, from the Cro-Magnon clubs used by players past, through the svelte rapiers used by today's players. There was also a very nice temporary exhibit on Peanuts and baseball where I was able to watch a good half of Charlie Brown's All Stars.

Louisville Bat Museum
Never touch another man's bat.

When you think of the place that is providing all the major league players and most of America with their bats, you'd imagine a larger operation. But in fact, it is a rather modest factory area of maybe fifty people.

They, of course, give you the opportunity to buy custom bats, with your name or special messages on them. And, for the big suckers, you can get a bat with your signature on it. Mine will be shipping in a couple of weeks.

The Hotel:
After our non-sleep experience the night before, we decided to give ourselves a break and spend the night just across the river in Indiana instead of driving after the game. We stayed at a very nice Holiday Inn Express right on a lake, and we checked in early in the afternoon right after we went to the bat factory and caught a nap before heading over to the game.

Holiday Inn Lakeview, Clarksville, IN
Holiday Inn Lakeview, Clarksville, IN

2007 The Midwest

Monday, July 2, 2007

Cleveland

Day 4


Jacobs Field
Jacobs Field, 2007

Question: How bad are the Devil Rays? Answer: Worse than you imagine.
Date: Monday, July 2, 2007, 7:05 PM
Tampa Bay Devil Rays vs. Cleveland Indians
Jacobs Field
Cleveland, OH
Major League Baseball, American League
Promotion: Fireworks night

Stadium & Fans:
The Jake is another new old ballpark that is pulled off quite well. There's not a bad seat in the place, you can get concessions while still watching the game, and everything was laid out for maximum efficiency. They did still have some trouble with the scoreboard.

When you took a walk into the Indians team store, you get the impression that the team ownership looked at the MLB merchandizing catalog, which no doubt listed out all the items you can order with your team's logo on it, and said, "Give me the lot." They even had Indians TVs. My favorite, however, was the odd recycling of their racist mascot as a candy bar.

Mmmm, social injustice never tasted so good.

As with the games before, this was a near sellout, with an enthusiastic and supportive crowd for the home team. However, the wave is alive and well in the Midwest.

Every single game I went to in the flyover states had at least one wave, and usually multiple ones. Someone needs to come and rescue these people from the time-space anomaly that has them trapped in the late eighties.

The Game:
It was a 3-2 game in the top of the eighth, but it ended a 10-2 blowout an inning later. Indian center fielder Grady Sizemore had been looking for his 500th hit for most of the game, but struck out twice and grounded and flied out in his first four at bats. He redeemed himself with a grand slam in the 8th inning, a memorable 500th hit to be sure.

Scorecard:
$1 for a cardstock scorecard, but it was the first that was not customized for the series. Even with a full-page card for each team, it was still a little cramped, but adequate for an AL game.

Devil Rays vs. Cleveland, 07-02-07
Devil Rays vs. Cleveland, 07/02/07. Cleveland wins, 10-2.

Miscellanea:
Those of you who remember last year's trip know that I tend to run into some "baseball firsts" on these trips. The one in this day's game was an AL pitcher being forced into the batting order. For the uninitiated, the American League has the Designated Hitter rule, which states that a player can hit in place of the pitcher's slot. But this only remains the case as long as the DH doesn't play the field. If that is the case, then the pitcher has to bat. I knew the Devil Rays were among the worst teams in the majors, but I did not realize the depths to which they plumbed. In the eighth inning, they replaced their first baseman with a pinch runner to try and get back into the game. However, it seems the only other first baseman they had left on their bench was their DH for that night. And this meant that their pitcher would have to bat if the batting order went around again, because once a DH is out, there is no replacing him.

And while they did close the game to a one-run deficit by the end of that half inning, the Indians came back with seven in the bottom of the inning, making the move pointless, although, to be fair, the pitcher never did have to bat.

The Stadium Race:
The race was the Hot Dog Derby, and it was won by Ketchup.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
Cleveland was a pleasant surprise. We got in early and had the entire afternoon to mull around, and preconceived notions notwithstanding, Cleveland (or at least the bit I saw of it) was outstanding. We popped into the library to grab some Internet access, and I was impressed with the well-appointed marble structure and the gorgeous view it afforded. They even have just opened up a little baseball museum in the shopping arcade where we had lunch.

We hung out down on the waterfront before the game, which, as you may know, means the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

The incongruity of trying to make a tribute to "rebel music" into a tourist attraction was not lost. And I went into the experience with eyes wide open for disappointment. And the disappointment did not disappoint.

On the one hand, the people who made the place clearly got it. They were all fans of the music who didn't want the experience to be lame. They tried different things and filled the place with exhibits that other fans would find cool. However, it ultimately turned rock and roll, for which they were celebrating its vibrancy and meaning, into another big box that parents dragged their bored children through on vacation. There was a special exhibit on The Clash that was open during my visit, and it was filled to the brim with insanely cool things that fans would appreciate and lust after, such as the typewriter that Joe Strummer used to write most of his songs, rare stuff from the 101ers and other precursor projects, and passes from many of their tours. But as I was sitting there watching video of a live performance of "Clampdown," one of the songs most likely to be the soundtrack for a revolution, a catatonic grade schooler was tugging on his mom's leather jacket asking when they were going to get luuuuuununch, over and over again.

And their celebration of revolution and social change was also slightly undercut by a certain jenes se Dinsey. Sure, you got a free trial subscription to Rolling Stone with your admission price, but it was $20 to begin with. And talk about expressions of freedom are a little ironic when you are largely hand-led through the museum experience, given unbreakable rules on behavior throughout about not taking pictures and other strictures, and then are dumped out after your tour of the history of wild abandon and artistry in an overpriced gift shop.

The Hotel:
Under cover of the fireworks display, we quickly exited Cleveland to get in as much road time as possible to our far-off next destination of Louisville. While we got out of town easily enough, and the drive to Columbus went without incident, our choice of hotels left something to be desired. We had called ahead to book our room for the night with hotel sight unseen.

The Super 8 in Columbus is right next door to a strip club, and it may come as no surprise that there were cleanliness issues with the room. But, it was 2 AM, it was only for one night, and we just needed to get some sleep and then take off early for the rest of the drive to Louisville. However, at around 5 AM, the battery died in the fire alarm, and it started an intermittent beeping that would wake the dead, not to mention my cranky, half-asleep person. A quick call to the front desk established that the night attendant did not have the authorization nor the technical know-how to fix the issue, but she would be happy to move us to another room. Although we were moved to a slightly clearer room, it is safe to say that a pleasant night's rest was not had by all.

Super 8, Columbus, OH
Super 8, Columbus, OH.


2007 The Midwest

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Detroit

Day 3


Comerica Park
Comerica Park, 2007

Question:
What does a city look like when it gives up? Answer: Detroit
Date: Sunday, July 1, 2007, 8:05 PM
Minnesota Twins vs. Detroit Tigers
Comerica Park
Detroit, MI
Major League Baseball, American League
Promotion: Magglio Ordonez bobblehead, On-the-field Picture Night

Stadium & Fans:
Comerica Park is one of the few things that Detroit can be proud of. It is one of the new "old-style" ballparks, perched on the edge of the livable section of Detroit. It is a great stadium to watch a game, but if only there was something outside the walls.

Detroit was the first place I really became aware the preternatural ability of Midwesterners to line up. An ability this refined simply isn't taught; it is innate to a people. There were two big give-aways for this game: a bobble-head doll and the opportunity to get your picture taken in the outfield. There were huge crowds out early for the game, and they constructed perfect, self-policing, single-file lines that extended for blocks. It is like it didn't even occur to them to try and cut. I saw only one instance, and even that seemed to be a misunderstanding on the part of the almost-cutters, who immediately apologized and went to the back of the line with no further incident. It was a situation that was to be repeated many times over during the trip, and it is completely alien to my state of being.

That said, we sat right behind a group of drunk assholes who kept on holding up their bedsheet sign every half inning trying to get on the Jumbotron. (And they were all Gary "Clubhouse Cancer" Sheffield fans, to boot, with their chef hats. They might have wanted to check the lineups for the game, as Sheffield did not play that night.) Although in their own way they were polite by only holding their signs up during the half inning, they still were quite annoying and loud, even after they got on the Jumbotron. They got into a creepily polite, passive-aggressive fight with an old couple sitting directly behind them.

The Game:
This game was a tight pitcher's duel, with the Tigers getting two-hit through seven innings, while blanking the Twins for a similar time. However, the Tigers broke through with a solo homer run in the bottom of the eighth that decided the game, 1-0.

Scorecard:
It was $1 for a cardstock score card with full lineups for the series built in, and another case of both teams being on one page. But with it being an AL game (and lower chances for double switches), it was less of an issue. However, for no good reason, they put the opposing pitcher boxes in with the other team, which technically makes sense, but was a little confusing.

Twins vs. Tigers, 07-01-07
Twins vs. Tigers, 07/01/07. Tigers win, 1-0.

The Stadium Race:
The race was the Dunkin Donuts Race, and it was won by the Dashing Donut.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
Detroit is a hellhole, and I say that with the possibility of offending hellholes everywhere. The blocks and blocks of abandoned and decaying buildings do not merely suggest a migration, but a lost war. It is though some rampaging Huns invaded from the north, and pushed back the stalwart defenders towards the river, laying waste to everything in their path. And they eventually drove the heroes to the very edge of the Detroit River, where they could easily have cut and run across to the clear and pleasant fields of Canada just across the way, but for some reason, perhaps even unknown to them, they stood their ground. And then the Huns looked about them and truly understood their "prize," and simply left in disappointment. And from their riverside redoubt, the city has consolidated the three block area, and is tentatively sending out new colonies further afield, perhaps with a terror that the Huns may not have actually left the area and could return to sweep them away at any moment.

And not only that, but it was a closed hellhole, as nearly every last part of the city was closed on Sunday. In a particular bit of futilism, the riverside mall was open and staffed with security personnel, but all the stores inside were closed. Outside of a microbrew pub we found open further afield, there was nothing to do except wait for the game to start.

We did wander around the riverside for awhile and soaked in the irony. Across the river, in Canada, they had some manner of fair or festival going on, and we could hear the music and merriment, taunting us. In addition to the many signs that told you how to get out of the country, there is actually a monument to fleeing the country right on the riverside. It was in commemoration of the northern terminus of the Underground Railroad, but it still seemed as appropriate today as ever. There was also an overwrought monument to the American Labor movement, which consisted of a large arch. Now, I know the symbolism they were going for, but having a monument to organized labor that seems not quite finished was just too much.

The Hotel:
We got out of Detroit as fast as humanly possible after the game and drove halfway to Cleveland. We stayed the night in a nice, cheap Super 8 that was staffed that night by two friendly Goth chicks. I don't think they got the handbook.

Super 8, Millbury, OH
Super 8, Millbury, OH, 07/01/07 

Super 8, Millbury, OH

2007 The Midwest

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Chicago

An Introduction:

For those of you who remember last year, I have again used the week of July 4th as an excuse to get a week of vacation at the expense of only four vacation days, and then spend that week touring the ballparks of America. This year, I decided to hit the Midwest, also known as the Central Division. I hadn't spent any significant time in the area since some visits to Chicago during college and a driving trip that my father dragged the family on one summer in grammar school. A friend who joined me on the first leg of the trip last year was doing some graduate work out in South Dakota and decided to come along for the entire trip this year. We met up in Chicago.

Day 1



Holiday Inn O'Hare Airport
Holiday Inn O'Hare Airport, 06/29/07

Question:
When is insanity not insanity? Answer: When it is inherited.
Date: Friday, June 29, 2007
Chicago, IL

On Friday, we met up in Chicago in the O'Hare airport area. I flew in after work in what was my most painless flying experience ever. We boarded on time, took off when we were supposed to, arrived a little early, and received a landing gate without incident. (Although my slightly too large sunblock bottle was confiscated for the safety of democracy.) After a short shuttle ride, I got to the Holiday Inn Express at O'Hare where my friend had already driven earlier in the evening.

So here's the thing. In the animal world, there is behavior known as imprinting, which means that if a young enough individual is exposed to a behavior, they will continue to execute that behavior even if they eventually know better. My father, bless his heart, always took photos of the hotel rooms we stayed in on vacations because he "wanted to remember what he paid for." I got a nifty new digital camera right before the trip. I think you can work the rest out.

We had both been traveling all day, so we weren't really out to paint the town. The hotel itself was very nice, and we ventured next door to a sports bar. After a drink or two and a basket of fried ravioli, we had to retreat from the beautiful awfulness of the place, and got a good night's sleep. My dad would no doubt be proud.


Day 2


Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field, 2007

Question: How many brats is too many? Answer: More than 6 an hour.
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2007, 2:55 PM
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Chicago Cubs
Wrigley Field
Chicago, IL
Major League Baseball, National League
Promotion: 7-11/Cubs Coin Night

Stadium & Fans:
Once again, I seem to have chosen the best stadium for the first day of my trip. Wrigley is absolutely everything that people say it is. It is an old park that they have absolutely stuffed with as much as possible, up to and including putting seats on the roofs of the buildings across the street.

Wrigley just oozed of a time passed. You sit in your seat, and although there are now TV monitors in the rafters so people in the impeded view areas can see the whole game, when you look out to the Great Lake past the manual scoreboard, or glance behind you to see the most rudimentary of chain link fences keeping the people in the cheap seats from plummeting to their deaths, you get the feeling that there have been others before you. That, and there are piss troughs in the men's bathroom.

For early birds, there is a 25% discount on food up to one hour before the game. I abused this privilege to eat more brats than advisable by any medical board.

The game was a regional rivalry with the Milwaukee Brewers from just up the road, so the game was sold out, with a good mix of Brewers and Cubs fans. What struck me the most about the Cubs fans was that they never gave up. When the Cubs put together a rally in the sixth inning, even when the game was long out of reach, the fans were just as in it as they were at the start of the game. And there were few empty seats at the last out.

After game ended and the crowd emptied out, it looked like a garbage truck exploded in the stadium. Almost immediately, flocks of birds took over the bleachers.

The Game:
As mentioned previously, it was over early for the Cubbies. They fell behind in the first, and never quite stopped the bleeding. The Brewers triumphed, 13-4.

Scorecard:
It was $3 for a cardstock scorecard, small program, and Cubs pencil. It featured good card with full lineups for the entire series, but both teams were on one page, so it was a little cramped for a NL game, but otherwise fine.

Brewers vs. Cubs, 06-30-07
Brewers vs. Cubs, 06/30/07. Brewers win, 13-4.

Miscellanea:
The give-away for that day was a Cubs' coin in a case. Hey, I've got a great idea. Let's give fans a small, heavy, aerodynamic item that can't possibly be thrown onto the field with great accuracy and do serious damage.

To the credit of the fans, none made it onto the field, even when it was clear that the Cubs were getting their asses kicked. Still: bad idea.

The Cubs also pinch-hit pitcher Carlos Zambrano in their 6th-inning rally, to the delight of the fans. He struck out.

The Stadium Race:
Most baseball fans won't need an explanation on this one, but for others who have wandered in, one of the staples of between-inning entertainment at baseball games is some manner of race. This is either done on the scoreboard, in real-life with guys in foam suits, or some combination of the two. The racers are usually regional (in NY, there are subway races, etc), and the racers are almost always tied to a section of the stadium so that all the fans have a rooting interest (the 4 train represents the upper deck, etc.). At many parks, a random section of the winning area will receive free gifts, such as food or T-shirts.

At Wrigley, it was the Tire Race. It was won by Goodyear.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
We ditched my friend's car at our hotel and picked up our rental for the week in the morning. Dollar Rental managed to completely lose my reservation, but a quick walk next door provided us with a new steed, a blindingly white Ford Focus Hatchback.

From there, we got to Wrigleyville early, parking in one of the remote lots and getting shuttled to the area. What used to be a crappy part of town has turned into never-ending streets of bars. The shuttle to the game was filled with boisterous Cubs fans and wary Brewers fans, and the shuttle from the game was filled with dejected Cubs fans and quietly smug Brewers fans. I still don't quite get the Midwest.

Cleveland was a while away, so we pretty much hit the road after the game.

The Hotel:
And it is a good thing, too, because for no good reason, we couldn't find a hotel for the night. Our plan was to go to the games, drive a couple hours afterward, find a place to stay, and then drive the remainder the next morning, and repeat.

However, in the vicinity of Ann Arbor, we ran into an issue. Every town we came to was full up. First it was an Air Show; the next town down the road it was an Antique Car Show. The next town down had a room open at a Country Inn, and we got a discount because they had been hit by lightning recently, which apparently blew all the electrical appliances out in part of the hotel. Except that our TV and other accessories operated fine. We never did work that out, but we were tired and the room was discounted cheap.

Country Inn
Country Inn, Jackson, MI, 06/30/07



2007 The Midwest