Monday, December 28, 2009

Cooperstown

An Introduction:

It has been at least nine years since my last trip to Cooperstown. I actually don't know the exact time period, except that I think it was when I was still in publishing. It was definitely after college, at least. I remember quite little, except that I had my Plymouth, went off-season, and stayed in an extremely cheap motel by the lake -- it was one of the only motels in Cooperstown at the time that had a Web site. Ah, the nineties. Having just finished my trips to all the major league ballparks this season, I figured this was as good a time as any to visit the Hall of Fame again, and it would be a chance to actually do something on the week I had off between Christmas and New Years, which I usually just spent sitting around.


On Traveling North and Turning Left

Night Hall
The Hall at Night


Sunday, December 27, 2009
Cooperstown, NY


Outside of the Game: 
I waited to leave until after the Giants football game began to avoid any residual traffic and then started my drive up, guided on my TomTom not by the previous dulcet British voice, but a Dalek one that I downloaded off their Website. My traffic management stratagem proved only partially successful, as a serious accident where 287 turns into 87 in New York tacked a good 45 minutes onto my trip before I even really got going. Once past the accident, there was less and less traffic to be found as I jetted away from population centers, and by the time I took the left turn at Albany, there were next to no cars on the road for the remainder of my drive.

After checking into my hotel, I popped out for some dinner next door and took a quick trip to Main Street, and then went to bed.

The Accommodations:

Holiday Inn Express

Outside of some over-priced bed and breakfasts and some really shaky-looking motels, there's very few places to stay that are actually in Cooperstown proper. Just on the border of the village is a mini-mall complex where the two closest chain hotels are. I stayed in the Holiday Inn Express slightly removed from the mall proper. It was a nice enough place, and literally down the road from Main Street Cooperstown, such as it is. The long sloping driveway of the hotel would prove to be interesting the next day, but I get ahead of myself.


On Dreaming of a White Post-Christmas


Casey at the Bat
Casey at the Back

Monday, December 28, 2009
Cooperstown, NY

Outside the Game:
I awoke to something of a surprise, as I looked out my hotel window to see the entire landscape covered in snow. Once I got myself completely awake after a shower, I observed it was just a dusting of powder. Because I was up early to get to the Hall when it opened, and because I was literally a five-minute drive from Main Street, I wasn't too concerned. The hotel's aforementioned long driveway did give me a bit of adventure to get up and out before it was fully plowed, but besides that, it was no trouble.

Snow
Bit of snow

I parked in the tourist lot right next to Doubleday Field. As everything was snowed over, the small gathering of out-of-town cars were all parked in an arbitrary row. After the lot was plowed later in the day, it turned out that we managed to all park within the lines, so there's something to be said for serendipity -- or perhaps just the first car in the line parking before the lot was completely covered in snow.

Doubelday Field
Picturesque Doubleday Field

After walking around the closed-for-the-season Doubleday Field a while, I went straight to the Hall of Fame as it opened at 9. There had been several renovations since my last visit, so I didn't really recognize everything straight away. One new exhibit right by the entrance is the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. While it is nice that the Hall has finally done something--anything--to acknowledge Buck's life and all he has meant to baseball (and the first recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award was, unsurprisingly, Buck O'Neil), it is a half-effort. Induct him--just do it. There's simply no excuse not to do so.

Buck O'Neil
Buck

The new layout takes you to the second floor, where you get a history of the Hall, and then the "Grandstand Movie Theater," based on the old Cominskey Park. I have clear memories of the theater from my last visit, so it must have been here for a while, though the "stars of today" content in the film has obviously been updated.

After the film, the timeline of the history of baseball section begins, with separate branch rooms for Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and women in baseball. Of particular note in the "women in baseball exhibit" was the fact that Suzyn Waldman is in the Hall of Fame, and not as "The Worst Announcer in the History of the Game." There are some artifacts from her and a picture detailing her access to the locker rooms after lawsuits to allow in women reporters. This strikes me as the largest travesty in the entire Hall. It actually offended me, as any it would any right-thinking individual.

Steroids
Elephant in the room

At the end of the "timeline" area is the "Today's Game" section, where they have the lockers with all of the teams currently in the league. At the entrance to this area is one of the only mentions of PEDs in the entire hall. There is a tiny disclaimer at the entrance to the area that says they acknowledge the existence of steroids, but want to take a longer view of history to see what the real impact on the game was, or something squirrely along those lines. In the Giants' team locker is the Bonds home run ball that fans voted to brand with the asterisk, along with perhaps the longest explanatory panel in the entire Hall documenting why it looks like that. I have to say, it nearly brought a tear to my eye.

*
*

The next area is all about ballparks and fandom. From what I can discern, this is a relatively new area, and is quite well done (if not up-to-date with the ballpark openings from last year). There is a large virtual reality area where you can see parks from the past, and more areas on World Series, and baseball art and whatnot. Another room has a constantly running video of the original Abbot and Costello "Who's On First" routine and George Carlin's "Baseball vs Football."

Holiday Hall
Holiday Hall

And this brings us to the Hall of Fame proper. It was all done up for the holidays, and particularly pretty looking. I was amazed how much time I spent in there just reading all the plaques. You almost get the sense that they are headstones, with the bodies in the wall behind them. The first induction class and the newest entries are all now at the back of the Hall in an alcove, with some particular disturbing statues of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. The Hall also has a nice, new disclaimer of its own, saying that the info on the plaques was believed to be true at the time it was engraved, which is a disclaimer that Cooperstown itself needs to put on the outside of the Hall, when you get right down to it.

Walter O'Malley
Opinions

The Hall of Fame Library building has now been linked up with the Hall proper, and the display on baseball journalism is the last area in that building, along with the research library (sadly closed that day) and a kid's area. The statue of Casey has been moved to the back library exit that is there now.

After my first run-though of the Hall, I ducked out for some lunch. Many of the small food places were closed for the season, but the Cooperstown Diner remained open. I ordered a burger and fires and received a chunk of meat larger than most steaks I've ever been served, crammed inside an intimidated-looking bun. Thus fortified against the cold, I headed back out to Main Street. As a male member of the species, I generally don't have a problem controlling my shopping habits, with two notable exceptions: when new Venture Brothers merchandise comes out, and anything baseball related. The later was a particular problem, being in a village utterly dedicated to divorcing baseball geeks such as myself from their money. The temptation was happily diminished somewhat by the season in which I visited, as many of the stores were closed for the season as it was for the restaurants.

Cooperstown Diner
As big as my head

Which isn't to say that I got away scott-free. The Willis Monie used book store was open, and with its cluttered isles, poor lighting, and cavalcade of books, it stands as a paragon of what a used bookstore is supposed to be. Given its location in Cooperstown, the first two or three walls of books, in addition to other little annexes, are dedicated to the subject of baseball. They even sold items such as old scorecards and programs. It is a wonder I got out of there without them owning my soul.

Truth
Truth

After some more tooling around at other stores more dedicated to baseball card crowd (a particularly clever sign in a store advertised that they had all the cards your mother threw away), I headed back to the Hall for a while. The only other big baseball attraction in town, the wax museum down the street where Pete Rose generally holds court every year, was--from what I could understand from the handwritten sign in the window--closed for the week. Because of this, I was able to head back to the hotel at around 6 PM, having seen everything that I wanted to see.

The Accommodations:
I was at the Holiday Inn in the morning. As mentioned, I had gotten up extremely early to get to the Hall of Fame when it opened, so I had a big helping of the breakfast buffet before heading out into the snow.

Every weather report for the second day was warning of additional "Lake Effect" snow, which seems to be a blanket term that meteorologists feel empowered to use when they have no real idea how much snow was actually going to come. The forecast was literally for 1-6 inches of snow, with possibly more or less. These are frankly the kinds of tolerances I need in my job performance. "The job is going to cost between $1-$600,000, or possibly more or less. I'd like to give you a more accurate estimate, but you know, it is Lake Effect."

The snow from overnight previous had already been cleared, but the trouble I had getting out of that parking lot with just an inch or so of snow was starting to weigh heavily upon my mind, as was getting back to the main roads with a half a foot of snow on the ground. After confirming the "forecasts," I decided to check out of the hotel after a brief nap and drive back that night to try and beat the snow.

It is rare to get an almost immediate validation of your decisions, but mine came as the night sky exploded into snow as I finished packing up my car for the trip back. I grabbed some gas, and started back towards Albany. It was then that my little Dalek-voiced master decided to have some fun with me, as the TomTom mapped a course up some mountain county road, in the night, in the snow, to get me back out to the main roads. As calmly as possible, I nervously weaved my car up switchbacks and down abandoned stretches of road before finally arriving on the main road back to Albany.

Once on populated roads, I tried to make as best time as possible to get around Albany for the right turn home to get out of the weather. I eventually outran the snow front, and made my way back, driving into the parking lot in Hoboken at a little after ten.


2009 Stand-Alone Trip

Monday, September 28, 2009

Boston

On Finishing What You Started


Fenway Park
Fenway Park, 2009

Monday, September 28th, 2009
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Boston Red Sox
Fenway Park
Major League Baseball, American League East
Boston, MA
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
So, this was it. Or something similar.

It was with some ambivalence that I was approaching the end of this road, even temporarily. On the one had, it was the work of four years coming to fruition. On the other hand, I was going to Boston. No one needs that.

When I bought these tickets back at the start of the year, I got it because it was the only one available at the time that seemed to be sufficiently distant from the launch date of my project at work that would still allow me to see a game at Fenway before the end of the year. Fate would have it be the one where they could claim the wildcard, for whatever the hell that dubious honor is worth.

It is hard to argue against a unanimous decision, and every last person who I spoke to who had grew up in Boston, lived in Boston, or had passed through Boston at one point told me not to drive to Boston. While there is a certain bloody-mindedness that would have me do it just to spite the universal opinion, I decided to err on the side of caution in the land of every last thing that's wrong with the world.

So I found myself in the tender mercies of Amtrak. The fact that the birthplace of the railroad industry as a real item cannot do modern train travel when literally every other nation on Earth can is something of an embarrassment. To be fair, Amtrak has improved over my last interactions with them, but, my fellows, the bar was extremely low to begin. On the Accelas, at least, all of the seats in "Business Class" were First Class airline seats crammed into trains, and they try very hard to make it seem like an airline experience, and I don't even know where to begin with what's wrong holding the airline industry as your goal to achieve.

Accela
The name is a lie.

The experience was much like a three year old trying to draw in perspective -- they knew what they were trying to achieve, but did not quite have the motor skills to pull it off, and failed at some rather basic executions. The train, for example, rode like a covered wagon. It was bumpy, noisy, and listed precariously from side to side at several points during the journey, sending people walking in the isle horizontally into the seats they were passing. This isn't new technology, guys. It has literally been around for over 150 years.

Once arriving at Boston's Back Bay Station, it was a short walk to my hotel. I trundled up to my room, dropped off my gear, and then got directions to the nearest pharmacy to get some heat patches for my leg to relieve the searing pain in my knee.

Back at the hotel, I decided to take a stadium tour before the game, and even then, I had two hours to kill before the game, so I went out a little ramble. I started with a walk through the Public Gardens just north of my hotel, and then migrated westward to Boston Commons. I eventually went to the Granary Cemetery and wandered around in the area by the old City Hall before needing to get back to the "T" station to get my "Charlie Card" and ride on "subway trolley." I mean--come on, Boston. Work with me a little, here.

Granary
Hope isn't the only thing that dies here.

After the game, I got back to the hotel with no problem. I got some room service and then went to bed.

Room service
Mmm.... room service


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Fenway Park
Home plate to center field, Fenway Park

Fenway and Wrigley are the only stadiums of any age worth talking about left in the majors, after the unnecessary closing of Yankee Stadium at the end of last season. It is for this reason that I left Boston for last, and it is because of this that I had to give it due consideration.

Unlike the modern stadiums which allow access to all but the most exclusive areas through rotundas and other modern architectural magic, the old parks often have many areas reachable by ticket-holders only, and this was part of the reason I decided to take a stadium tour. It is the first one I've ever taken, and while it was something to do before the game, and would give me access to all the areas of the park, it was just something I wanted to do.

I got one of the last $12 tickets to the 3 PM tour. The tour was unsurprisingly run by a local college student working part-time at Fenway. The tour was nice in itself, with the expected mix of boosterism and salesmanship, but not without an interesting flourish of history as well. And, as expected, we got to go up on the Green Monster seats, which was a ticket-only area during the game. We had to go there out of turn for the tour because the Red Sox were starting batting practice early, and people on the regular tours are not allowed up there for liability reasons. The rest of the tour was on the Budweiser party deck, the club area, and downstairs in the wooden Grandstand seats.

After the tour, I had about an hour before the gates opened officially, so I wandered around the area, very much similar to Wrigleyville in Chicago, filled with bars and souvenir stores, and parking lots.

Overall, in both Wrigley and Fenway, you can see the parks' origins in old bandboxes that got expanded around to eventually fill in the entire space available to them to the most capacity that could be forced in. It also throws the original Yankee Stadium is such sharp contrast in how much larger and grander it was than its rather small contemporaries with which it shared the league at the time. It was a Collosus amongst pygmies, but it was still of that age, just on a larger and grander scale.

Yankees suck
Noted.

And it was with that tragic realization that I knew that there were on two cities left where real baseball was being played, and neither was New York anymore.

The fans were enthusiastic and copious, as Fenway has been sold out for over five years now. Although this game turned out to be of some potential import, I can't image it is much different any other days. And the fans were tried and true, with most of the crowd remaining through the weather difficulties. But more on that later.

At the Game With Oogie:

Fenway scoring
Look familiar?

I bought these tickets way back in February, and was able to get a decent $100 single in the loge boxes between the dugout and first base. This is the section between the "luxury' seats right along the wall of the field and the wooden seats that fill out the lower deck Grandstand. The seat was incredibly close to the field and well worth the money.

I was sitting next to a couple of older gentlemen who drove down from Maine (beg pardon, who "drahv dahn fra Mahne") to see the game. We got to talking throughout the proceedings, and they were making their yearly pilgrimage down to Fenway. As the game progressed at its slow pace, they expressed concern of getting home before 3 AM, a fear that was not eased when the rain started and we discovered our row was exactly two rows too far down to be under the cover of the upper deck.

The Game:

First pitch, Blue Jays vs. Red Sox
First pitch, Blue Jays vs. Red Sox

The term "brutal beating" gets bandied about so much these days... But I get ahead of myself.

By virtue of being beaten like a redheaded stepchild the weekend previous by the Yankees, the Red Sox entered the game with a "magic number" of 2, meaning that a combination of any two Red Sox wins or Texas Rangers loses would mathematically lock the Sox into the American League Wild Card. This could happen in this game if the Red Sox won and the Rangers lost.

This was not to be. Red Sox starter Josh Beckett was scratched before the start of the game due to "back spasms," so a Red Sox reliever was put in as a spot starter to try and get the job done.

He did not. After getting the first out in the first, he gave up five straight hits, putting the Sox into a 4-0 hole before they even came to bat. There was some light for Boston, as they got two back in the bottom of the first on a Yukilis two-run home run, and then getting the Blue Jays in order in the top of the second. Stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the second would be as close as the Sox would get, as Toronto got three more in the third, and two more in the fourth and fifth, staking themselves out to an eventual 11-4 lead.

The game was also s-l-o-w. It was on pace for four hours-plus, as the Sox game to bat in the bottom of the seventh. But they began an unlikely rally, as the new Blue Jays pitcher walked two, and the Red Sox drove one of them in with no outs, making the score a slightly closer 11-5.

Rain
Whopise.

And then the sky opened up with the judgment of a vengeful god. Those paying attention to the scoreboard on the Green Monster would have noticed that the Yankees game against the Royals was just starting up after a rather extensive rain delay. The nature of the weather patterns on the east coast would have become apparent as the first desultory drops of rain came down, prompting the jeers of fans to those bailing to shelter at such mild weather. Those jeers would be silenced by the weight of the entire crowd surging to under cover as cold, torrential rain bathed the self-righteousness jeers from the park.

The scoreboard immediately claimed that it was passing weather, and hey, please enjoy the Yankees-Royals game while you wait. I imagine that Bush would receive a warmer welcome at the ACLU national convention.

I was holed up with the guys from Maine for most of it, as we retreated several rows up to get under the overhang. I only made one foray out into the stands to hit the bathroom, and it was like a refuge camp in the Fenway hallways, as people milled around, and the lines at the stands selling beer can only be described as epic.

So we all waited in the seats for a resumption that would not come. After an hour, the scoreboard changed from messages about "passing weather," to messages saying "It's not passing; go home." And a great whine went up from the crowd. In the course of my travels, I'd been to over 30 major league games prior to this. Although there were rain delays of varying lengths, I had never had one prematurely called for weather. Way to go, Boston.

The Scorecard:

Blue Jays vs. Red Sox, 09-28-09. Blue Jays win, 11-5. Rain shortened.
Blue Jays vs. Red Sox, 09/28/09. Blue Jays win, 11-5. Rain shortened.

I ended up purchasing three score cards for this contest. The first was outside the stadium, where there was a concessionaire selling them at a discount from inside the stadium. Since there were other parks that had done this, and I couldn't imagine the score card business flourishing enough that the market could sustain more than one per stadium, I bought one, went inside, and immediately found out this was, in fact, not the official program.

Number two is the obvious purchase of an official card inside the stadium. Three was by virtue of the weather previously mentioned. The initial downpour had come largely as a surprise, and there was every indication that the game would continue after a rain delay. So I bought a third card in case the rain did in the first one. It proved unnecessary as the game was called within 15 minutes of my purchase.

The card itself was an average paper bi-fold in a rather thin $5 program. It was spacious enough for an AL game and otherwise unremarkable. I did have to put in the new notation for the rain cancellation instead of a delay, which was a first. A referencing of the rules revealed that the new rule on games called on account of the weather is that at the moment the game is called, the game ends at that exact point. I seemed to recall that the game reverted to the last completed half inning where the home team completed an inning (orafter the visitors batted when the home team was ahead), which would have made the end of the sixth the last official inning, but there appears to have been a rules change at some point.

The Accommodations:

Boston Plaza Hotel & Towers
Boston Plaza Hotel & Towers

I made my hotel reservation back when I bought my ticket in February, and as the nervous economic situation was just starting to get its steam at that point, I got a very reasonable rate for a room at the Boston Plaza Hotel & Towers, just south of Boston Commons and the Public Gardens. This hotel has been here a while, and is likely the illustration for "fancy-schmancy" in the OED, if it carried a definition for such a word. It is in the register for historic hotels in America, whatever that is. Impressive-sounding, though, isn't it? The place has an honest-to-goodness ballroom, and that's all you really need to know.

It was interesting that the doors to their rooms make watertight bulkheads on naval ships seem flimsy. I thought that the key to my room was not working properly, until I sheepishly discovered that I just wasn't pulling the door open hard enough. Once inside the bulkhead, you can be summoned by a doorbell that ever room has, perhaps because there is no chance in the world that you would hear anything short of manic pounding on the Brobdingnagian doors once inside the room.


On Going There and Back Again


Back Bay Station
Back Bay Station

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
Hoboken, NJ

Outside the Game:
There was not much to do today except get back home. I didn't bother to set my alarm clock at the hotel (not needing to be anywhere before noon), so I woke up when I woke up, stumbled downstairs to the breakfast buffet, and ate the hotel out of house and home. I don't know why I was so hungry, but I do know that I had at least one of everything and two of most.

Since my knee was acting up after all the walking around the day before, I went back up to my room and packed up my stuff while filling the tub up for a needed soak. After that, it was time for checkout.

The train station was only a few minutes walk away, and I had an hour or so to kill before the Amtrak train was rumored to show up. I killed it walking around the "Southwest Corridor Park," and came to two realizations about Boston.

The first was why no one in Boston could drive. And the answer is simply that the traffic system in Boston was arranged by someone on drugs -- and not fun, gateway drugs, but someone on a hard-assed cocaine binge, or perhaps LSD. Further research is necessary to determine the exact cocktail of pharmaceuticals. Contrary to every single other city planning on the face of Earth, the crosswalk patterns in Boston are not arranged so that the two parallel-traveling sides of pedestrian traffic cross at the same time. Oh no, we could not have that. At intersections, two sides of the street going perpendicular to each other cross at the same time, meaning that you could be stranded at a corner with no legal way to cross. No wonder people in Boston can't drive -- this is the system they were taught. There are probably ex-traffic wardens in Mogadishu who would look at this state of affairs and shake his head sadly over the travesty to civic organization.

The other is why I don't cotton to Boston. And it boils down to it being a completely self-conscious city, a statement which needs to be unpacked a bit more. NYC, for example, is built on one single principle: capitalism. Everything that is there, everything that happens there, and everything that goes there is there to make a buck, from the lowliest artist dreaming to make it big, to the douchebag suburban stock manager who commutes there every morning. Because old can sometimes equal money, there's still a bunch of old things there, but only as long as they are valuable as old things. New Jersey, for example, is completely function over form. With very few exceptions, most of the cities and towns in New Jersey have one or two old buildings, and beyond that, you couldn't prove that the place wasn't built in the 70s (or at most, the 50s) because it is just rebuilt and rebuilt to the current standards of suburban living. As a contrast to Boston, there is San Francisco, which in a lot of ways is like Boston, but without the self-consciousness. San Francisco, for lack of a better world, is more "practical" in its organic-ness, in that while there is a lot of form, there is also a lot of function to that form, and that the development was more organic and less self-possessed. Boston, while it has an excellent record with historic preservation and being a haven for the arts, is... not quite smug about it, perhaps, but it definitely seems to be doing it more for how other people who perceive it instead of how it is used. In New York, something is there because it makes money. In New Jersey, something is there because a mom needs it. In San Francisco, something is there because someone is using it. In Boston, something is there because someone thinks they should have "one of those."

Or perhaps I think I can actually edit this down even further: If you got the people at "Things White People Like" to design a city from scratch, it would look an awful lot like Boston.

After some walking around, I wandered back to Back Bay Station to catch my Accela back to NYC. The train showed up vaguely at the time it was expected, and after crashing down in the sort-of-filled mid-day train, I promptly lapsed into a nap for an hour or so.

The ride back to the city was uneventful beside an announcement from the train staff about the importance of locking the rest room doors, which I have to imagine was prompted by a specific incident that we missed in our car.

I was dropped back into midtown at rush hour, and after a day in Boston, I found myself smiling in spite of myself as I leaned a shoulder into some guy who wouldn't get the hell out of my way.

The Accommodations:
Home, for whatever it is worth.


2009 Stand-Alone trip

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bronx

On the House that Jeter Built


New Yankee Stadium
New Yankee Stadium, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009
Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees
Yankee Stadium
Major League Baseball, American League East
Bronx NY
1:05 PM


Outside of the Game:
This was just a day trip from home. Travel on the subways is always more of a chore on Sundays, when the trains run at what can only be called a leisurely pace. By leaving a half hour or so early, I managed to get the the stadium to pick up my tickets about fifteen minutes before the gates opened.

After the game, I got to the subway just as a D was coming in. On the ride back to Manhattan, I was only almost killed twice by dance groups performing in the subway car. Threats to my life on the second leg of the trip home on the PATH were minimal, due to the lack of street dancers performing on them.

The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, New Yankee Stadium
Home plate to center field, New Yankee Stadium

How can you replace a legend? Especially when said legend still lies, veiled like an old Italian lady in mourning, right across the street?

Yankee Stadium
Nonno passed.

To be fair, the new Yankee Stadium is as nice as any new park I've been to, and completely blows Not Shea out of the water. It is what Not Shea should have been, wants to be, but isn't. The history of the franchise infuses the place, but for all the historical references, it is very clearly a modern ballpark.

The main entrance "Grand Hall" puts the Robinson Rotunda at Not Shea to shame. And the park still has the gravitas (and pedestrain ramps) of the old place. The Yankees claim the dimension of the field is the same, but something about it looks a little off, though it seems correct in general dimensions.

The main promenade houses concessions and walkways that give access to the lower deck seating and the specialty restaurants in center field and by first base. Also in center field is the bunker entrance to the new Monument Park (and even though I got there right when the gates opened, the line was already an hour or so long). The middle deck houses the new Yankee Museum (also over an hour line) and the area in center field has a special section with tables on which to eat concessions. It also gives access to the new bleacher seats on either side of the center field restaurant. Having sat in some of the seats next to the wall, I can safely say you can at best see half the field. The upper decks (or whatever the euphemism is) only goes from left field to right field, holding the seats under the restored bunting around the edge of the roof.

The stadium was all well laid-out, convenient, clean, and personable -- and those are all adjectives that I would never apply to Yankee Stadium. And I think that may be its biggest problem. It is a very well-designed park, with many interesting details, and heavy thought clearly went into its production, but it was those rough edges and supposed "inconveniences" that made the real Yankee Stadium what it was. There is something just missing that you can't quite put your finger on.

New Yankees Stadium
From the upper deck

Even though it was the opening weekend of the football season and the Yankee's opponent was the last place team in the division, the stadium was nearly full, and the crowd was in the doors as soon as the gates opened. The crowd was loud and expressive as always, and a handful of Orioles fans scattered throughout the crowd made no impact between one or two continuing their "special" practice of shouting the "O" in the Star Spangled Banner.

At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
New scoring

I got a seat in the 200s right behind first base. The view was excellent, and the seats not as claustrophobic as the real Yankee Stadium. A group of the most vapid women in the world were seated right behind me, but it turns out they were sitting there because two groups of people had the same tickets. In a slight smile from the powers that be, they were escorted away when the rightful owners of their seats showed up, and it turned out they had counterfeit tickets.

The Game:

First pitch, Orioles vs. Yankees
First pitch, Orioles vs. Yankees

The term "brutal beating" gets bandied about so much these days, that it has lost its impact.

While the game ended up a casual slaughter the likes of which you'd expect from someone with "Khan" somewhere in their name, it was a close-fought thing for the first half.

The Yankees jumped out to an early lead, with Jeter scoring in the top of the first, but with the Yankees leaving two in scoring position at the end of the inning. Sabathia got sloppy in the second, giving up two runs and then eventually stopping the bleeding there. The Yankees managed to strand two more on base in the third before the O's jumped ahead with a run in the top of the fourth.

Then the tide turned. The Yankees plated two in the bottom of the fourth to tie it, but A-Rod looked at strike three with the bases loaded to end the inning. He was apparently so upset that he continued arguing about the call in the bottom of next inning, and got tossed, along with Girardi who went as insane as I've ever seen him get. The Yankees scored two in the bottom of the sixth, but again ended the inning with the bases loaded, adding a shadow of missed opportunities to the game.

That shadow was completely dispelled in he bottom of the eigth, where the Yankees got eight runs on eight hits, and blew through three pitchers (including one with the uneviable pitching line of nill innings pitched [no outs recorded], with four earned runs on four hit and a walk.)

The Scorecard:

Orioles vs. Yankees, 09-13-09. Yankees win, 13-3.
Orioles vs. Yankees, 09/13/09. Yankees win, 13-3.

The scorecard is only part of the $10(!) program, making it the most expensive scorecard in the majors. The card itself is the same one-pager the Yankees have been using for at least the last several years. The entire page is devoted to the scorecard, Yankees lineups, and the list of AL umpires.

While the scorecard is sufficient for most AL games, its limits are stressed by games with a lot of changes, as was the case today. Also, the ink used in the printing is easily smudged by erasing or sweat.

There were a couple of events of note, including Jeter scoring his 100th run of the season and the aforementioned A-Rod and Girardi ejections. The most interesting scoring note was the two-base sacrifice fly in the third. The Oriole center fielder field out to deep left, and the runner on second advanced on the throw. Yankee's left fielder Johnny Damon forgot how many out there were and airmailed in a throw to the infield that allowed the run to score from second. Oops.


2009 Stand-Alone Trip

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Oakland

On the (Real) Longest Day


Oakland Coliseum
Oakland Coliseum, 2009

Saturday, September 5, 2009
Seattle Mariners vs. Oakland Athletics
Oakland Coliseum
Major League Baseball, American League West
Oakland, CA
6:10 PM 

Outside the Game:
I awoke at 1 AM Pacific Time.

There is early, and then there is so early, it is the night before. I was only able to get reasonably priced direct tickets to San Francisco by taking the first flight of the day. This was at 6:30 AM. Getting up after a brief nap the night before, I had a quick ride to Newark Liberty Patriotism Bald Eagle God Bless America Airport.

Of course, I was leaving from one of the small terminals, so of the few concession stalls that were there, only one was open at 5 AM. However, the good thing about early flights is that you are pretty much guaranteed two of the three of the holy triumvirate to get off the ground (plane and crew). Circumstances actually held out for the third (takeoff position), and we departed on time, in what may be a first for these trips. The early flight was also not fully filled, so there was actually an empty seat between my row-mate and myself, which we claimed for democracy and our right and left legs, respectively. Outside of some mild amusement at a non-English speaking passenger a few rows ahead of me who kept on getting out of his seat whenever he felt like it (to the great consternation of the crew, who eventually referred him to the ominously euphemistic "Customer Relations" before his connecting flight), there were no great events of note, and we landed on time with all fingers and toes accounted for, and naps of a varying lengths for all and sundry.

After loping uneasily into the discontinuity of early afternoon, I waited for my shuttle to the DoubleTree Hotel by the bay. This came and deposited my body, completely assured that it was late afternoon, at the hotel, where I blearily tested the cheerful smile of the woman at the check-in counter. She was, however, nice enough to allow me to check in early, at the point she realized that I was the kind of person who didn't give a good goddamn about how high my overlook of the bay was, and only cared about dropping my bags and person in a paid-for box that had a bed, toilet, and access to the outside world.

I took a quick shower, got dressed into more San Fransisco-appropriate attire, and went out to catch the shuttle back to the airport. I was dropped a short walk from the BART station, upon which I was basing my reguar travel for the trip. After decyphering its arcane symbols and curious messageways, I bought a ticket, worked out what line and stop at which I needed to exit, and got on a train. The progress of the stops on the trip out were interesting in their novelty, and immediately lost any further interest for their repeated iterations for the remainder of the trip.

As it was still only early afternoon, and the game did not open until 4, I got off at the Embarcadero station to wander up to North Beach for lunch. I had taken a rather extensive trip to San Francisco about six or seven years ago, and had revisited the city briefly last year to check the Giants off my list, so after hitting the pavement for a little while, I started to get my bearings again. I made my way to Columbus, and headed northwest until I reached the City Lights bookstore, promised myself I wouldn't go nuts, and walked out with three books. A brief walk further up deposited me at the Stinking Rose for a lunch of garlic pesto ravioli. (Yes, I know the place is touristy, and the locals hate it, and it's overpriced--but damn if it isn't the only restaurant in the world that I've found to be sufficiently garlicly.)

The Stinking Rose
Your judgement means nothing.

After the late lunch, I traveled back down to Market and the Embarcadero station, deciphered the appropriate hieroglyphics, and got on an Oakland-bound train. With a holiday weekend and a team scraping the bottom of the division, I hadn't expected a large turn-out for the game, and my estimation for the baseball crowd dwindled as I saw a large number of drunk twenty-somethings on the wrong train to go watch the opening of college football season, for whatever non-professional team for which the poor waifs could be compelled to root.

There is a special BART stop just for the Oakland stadium, with a connecting umbilical walkway from the station to the park proper. As I hadn't seen fit to buy a ticket ahead of time, I walked around until I found the main ticket window to secure said item. I was apparently disoriented and blathering upon reaching the window, because the patient lady behind the counter was having difficulty discerning if I wanted to sit in or out of the sun. After some gentle prodding and re-questioning, she gave me a ticket out of the sun in the middle deck behind home plate. The transactions and translations for the ticket had managed to elapse the time left before the gates opened, and I was able to enter as soon as ticket was in hand.

After the game ended at a rather reasonable 9-ish (due to the early start time), I made my way back to the station for a train back to the airport. There is no direct line between Oakland and the airport, so I had to work out where I needed to transfer on the ride back. I switched trains for the airport, then they decided to see if I was paying attention by dropping me at a stop at the airport that I did not recognize at all to see what I'd do. After a bit of fumbling around, I found my way out to the hotel shuttle stand in time to see my hotel's van pulling away.

I got back to the hotel proper at a little before midnight, and when I did the math to discover that outside of some sundry naps on my flight up I had been up for nearly 24 hours straight,I decided to get some sleep.


The Stadium & Fans: 
Home to center, Oakland Coliseum
Home plate to center field, Oakland Coliseum

The Oakland Coliseum is another multi-purpose stadium that is a throwback to an earlier age. It was particularly funny seeing banners for the A's promoting "100% Baseball," right in front of an Oakland Raiders banner. Maybe math works slightly different out there.

As multi-purpose conversions to baseball goes, it wasn't that bad. The seating in the round provided good views to the field, and the upper decks were covered with A's-specific tarps with retired numbers and other messages. The extra football seating wasn't retracted up like a high school gym, but physically removed and stored out in the parking lot during a ball game. The football gridiron patterns, however, were still clearly visible lying just under the baseball diamond, and Raiders logos were in great abundance throughout the coliseum.

Mascot
Stomper stomps
There was a special Labor Day Breast Cancer survivor event that day, where 500 breast cancer survivors marched out on the field to form a human pink awareness ribbon, and then they released 500 balloons and a flight of doves. The ceremony was actually very nice, if marred by the doves, who decided to fly around the stadium for a good five minutes instead of majestically flying off immediately as they clearly were intended to do.

Given the holiday weekend and the opening of college football season, the crowd was sparse, with a smattering of primarily Japanese Seattle fans in attendance. The crowd that was there was enthusiastic and into the game, which was a nice surprise for a team out of the playoff race.


At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
Bay scoring

It was bound to happen eventually. As I was wondering around the stadium trying to find the main facade, I ran into a guy at the main facade asking me to take a picture of him there. It turns out he was doing the same thing I was doing in trying to go to all the MLB stadiums. While I was at the end of my trip, he had just started the process this year. We talked for a while,  and somehow I feel a little relieved from the quest by passing it onto another and providing them proof that the it can be completed.


I bought a ticket in the middle deck right behind home plate, in what turned out to be a season ticket holder area. As is often the case, the area was filled with hard-core fans that all knew each other. I was sitting right next to an older gentleman fully attired in an A's jacket, jersey and hat. We had a nice ongoing conversation throughout the game, and his seeming unshakable faith in the Athletics was pleasantly borne out.


The Game:

First pitch, Mariners vs. Athletics
First pitch, Mariners vs. Athletics
Two teams with nothing to play for in September is probably not going to be a great baseball experience, and it looked like the A's were out of it early, as the Mariners scored a quick 3 in the top of the second. But the A's roared back with four in the third and did not look back. Eventually, every single player on the A's, including replacement players, had gotten at least one hit and scored at least once, with the sole exception of the left fielder.

The Mariners' Bill Hall had a night that can only be called horrific. He managed to strike out five times, with the final strike out ending the game, killing a mini-rally Seattle had in the top of the ninth. I had to look up what five strikeouts were referred to. (Three is a "golden sombrero." Four is a "golden sombrero with tassels.) Wikipedia tells me that five strikeouts is called an "Olympic Rings" or a "Platinum Sombrero." The more you know...

Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki even looked as though he was going to have a bad night (at least for him), going one for three to start out, yet he ended the night three for five, which explains how this inhuman hitting machine keeps up his batting average and torrid hitting pace.


The Scorecard:

Mariners vs. Athletics, 09-05-09. Athletics win, 9-5.
Mariners vs. Athletics, 09/05/09. Athletics win, 9-5.

The scorecard comes as part of a $5 program, and I have to say, it is perhaps my favorite scorecard at any stadium I've been to so far. It is a heavy weight paper, tabloid-sized folded card. It has the A's logo on the front, scoring instructions on the back, and on the inside, nothing but scorecard. It is not laden with ads as many other cards, and outside of not having the game day lineups in the card itself, it is large, spacious, easy to write and erase on, and has all the relevant stats.

I did have a first for scoring in this game. There was a pop fly to the first baseman in foul territory that was dropped, which counts as an error for prolonging the inning without allowing a baserunner to reach a base. I scored it at the bottom of scoring diamond for that at bat.


The Accommodations:

DoubleTree Hotel
DoubleTree Hotel

I was at the airport DoubleTree. It was a nice room, with a great view of the Bay, if a little removed.


On a Day Off

Fog
Beautiful San Francisco

San Francisco, CA
Sunday, September 6, 2009

Outside the Game:
I had allowed myself three days on this excursion on the chance of a rainout on the first day. I didn't want to fly out and spend all this time and money on the chance of not seeing the requisite game. As it turned out, this precaution was unnecessary under the foggy skies of San Francisco, so I had a full day to kill in the city by the bay.

I partook of the breakfast buffet at the hotel, worked some of it off in the exercise room, and then showered up and went back out to the airport. A fog-obscured BART ride dumped me back at the Embarcadero stop. After spending some time at the weekly Embarcadero art fair, I took a trolley car up to Fisherman's Wharf.

Not having any particular plan of action, I wandered around Pier 39 to get some cheesy memorabilia and see (and smell) the harbor seals before heading further down to the docks.

Seals
They really stink

The perfect example of the unintended destination presented itself on my way out the dock with the historic military ships. There was an exhibit tucked into a parking lot by the pier, called the Musee Mecanique. I wandered in to find a palace of my dreams that I had managed to completely miss in my last visit to San Francisco. The Musee was a collection of old coin operated games and amusements from the 19th century to present. In addition to some very old classic video games (coin op Pong anyone?), not to mention some more recent classics (Moon Patrol and Star Wars, for the win), the main exhibit was cabinet-sized coin op games, music boxes, fortune tellers, movie players, and automated dioramas. In this wave of Make Geek ascendancy,this place should be a shrine. All of the boxes worked, and most also had a brief history with them and a photograph of the machine's workings underneath the visible play area. Not only was playing some of the old mechanical games that I remembered filling out the early video arcades of my youth and discovering a host of baseball-themed games entertaining, but watching the intricate clockwork mechanations of the automatons was also utterly, utterly fascinating. My personal favorite was a fortune telling machine that, based on your birthsign and whatnot, had a typewriter bang out your fortune while you watched, fed the paper with the fortune up and out, sheered off the paper, and deposited it in a slot for retrieval. The unnecessary complexity and the act of making something cool work for the sake of making it work nearly brought a tear to my eye.

Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique

After prying myself away, I eventually went to my initial destination of the military ships. I started with the WWII submarine USS Pampanito. I sprang for the optional audio tour (which, these days, are being done on iPod Shuffles, for the interested) which turned out to the be the best $3 I sprang for the entire trip. It had contributions from the surviving original crew, and really helped fill in a lot of the blanks of life inside a tiny metal tube.

USS Pampanito
USS Pampanito

But the best part of the trip was an ancient Asian ex-crew member who was sitting in the galley, getting people to sign the guest book. Although hard of hearing and sometimes seemingly doll-like, I spent a good half hour talking with him. I was immediately endeared by his exasperation with my obvious ignorance about signing the guest book he had perched in front of him, but he was good enough to set me straight with a bunch of fascinating stories.

The economy of space worked into the submarines was of great interest, but while I was in the boat, some rough water came in and shook the boat around slightly and disconcerted me enough to realize that life as a submariner would not be in my best interest. If some rough tide was enough to make me scramble for the exit, I'm fairly certain that a depth charge attack would not be endured by my seemingly delicate nautical constitution.

I then went further down the pier to visit the Liberty Ship, SS Jeremiah O'Brien. This was the older brother of the Victory Ship that I had visited in Tampa Bay. The mass-produced Liberty Ships were used early in the war to replace merchant tonnage lost to U-Boats. The cargo ships lack something of the sexy of submarines, but it had its own stories worth hearing.

USS Jeremiah O'Brien
I didn't know it was Irish.

As with the Pampanito, there were ex-crew on the O'Brien acting as guides. I talked to one on the main deck who talked about the D-Day anniversary. The ship had taken part in D-Day, and the veterans wanted to sail the ship back to take part in the anniversary, where many of the ships still in existence were participating. The Navy said that there was no way unless it passed various seaworthiness certifications in time to sail, which would be impossible. So a crew of average age of 65 repaired the ship in half the time, passed certification, sailed it to France, and parked it exactly where it was 50 years previous.

After finishing on the O'Brien, I walked up the rest of the way through the Warf up to Ghiardelli Square (and I swear to something or other, I just at that moment connected the dots as to why their flagship product was a square of chocolate) before deciding to walk back down Columbus to go to the new Beat Museum across from City Lights.

I was interested in visiting because I thought it faced the same conundrum of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in that it was a static, by its nature commercial, structure that was supposed to chronicle a movement that was by its very nature opposed to such ossification. I speculated that the execution of it could range from a room with a ratty old couch and a crooked shelf of Keruac books to a naked, animatronic Alan Ginsberg screaming, "The poet stands naked in front of the world!" The museum is housed between two topless bars in what appears to be an abandoned topless bar, so it had that going for it, as did the fact that it tended more towards the former execution than the later.

Beat Museum
Beat Museum

After visiting, it was a quick walk back down to the Embaracadero station. An extended wait for a trolley car to take me back up to Fisherman's Wharf led to me walk all the way back up myself, and the wisdom of my decision was borne out by the fact that no trolley cars passed me for the entire walk back up.

Going back to the Wharf, I was looking for what apparently was a crazy idea: a nighttime cruise of the bay. But all of the cruise lines stopped running at 6 PMish, and outside of one over-priced sunset cruise, it did not seem that anyone had ever considered such a thing. About to give up and go to the wax museum or something, I heard the calls from a small tour boat that was taking out a half-hour cruise around Alcatraz for $10. I paid my money, and actually got my cruise out to the night bay. All the other patrons were provided blankets and hats for some reason. The night temperature was probably around a litte under 60 degrees or so, and the huddled masses all stared at this odd superman who could handle temperatures in the 50s without a jacket.

Night bay
Night Bay

After the tour, I took another quick visit to the Musee Mecanique, and then grabbed a trolley back down the Embarcadero. I took a quick walk up to the Stinking Rose for some garlic meat loaf, and then took the BART back to the airport and the hotel, getting some sleep after less than 23 hours of activity.

The Accommodations:
I was at the airport DoubleTree again, and again just missed the damn shuttle on the way back to the hotel in the evening.


On Unwanted Returns

San Francisco Airport
Joltin' Joe

Hoboken, NJ
Monday, September 7, 2009

Outside the Game:
The one direct flight back to Newark Liberty Apple Pie God-Fearing 'Merican Airport left in the early afternoon, not early enough to force any unnecessary early rises, but not late enough to sneak in another trip to the city proper. So I slept in a little, soaked in the tub for a bit, and then ate another large breakfast at the hotel. After packing up my bag and doing a room sweep, I killed the last of the time before needing to get to the airport shuttle walking around the south bay walk outside the hotel.

A quick shuttle later, I was at the airport and waiting in a line to wait in a line to go through security. A herd of bimbos behind me was loudly complaining about the injustice of waiting in all these lines, and stuff, and like how they never had to even wait in lines like this at clubs, I mean really. I was saddened to discovered that I still was unable to kill people with my mind, even if I tried really, really hard. I was later gratified by the fact every last one of them ignored every last sign that were posted and got pulled for extra screening by the good folks at the TSA. Go get 'em, boys.

Unlike United's peripheral location at Newark, they were in one the main concourses at SFO, which provided choices enough for a decent lunch before the flight. Not wanting to be compressed for the 5.5 hour flight, I inquired about the possibility of the upgrade to the extra leg room seats. The lady behind the counter said the flight was full up, but she was ecstatic I asked, because the number of children on the flight was making her final seat assignments a nightmare, and would I be interested in a free move to an exit row with extra leg room? Although it was a middle seat, it was ten rows further up on a full flight, so I'd  have a better shot on finding someplace to stow my carry-on, and not having my knees locked up on arrival another added perk.

The flight trended a little on the late side, and largely went without incident, although there were times I wondered seriously, seriously about how much jail time I would get for strangling any of the seemingly unnumbered screeching babies sharing the metal tube with me. Also disconcerting were the rather curt messages from the pilot, who did not proscribe to the standard folksy pilot patter of backing into things such as seat belt announcements ("Hey, folks, it looks like we may be heading into a little bit of choppy air coming up, so if you could all make your way back to your seats and buckle up, I'm about to turn on the seat belt sign."), but rather the nun teacher version of clipped, condescending orders ("SEATBELTS.") that made me wonder if he knew something that I didn't.

Nonetheless, the flight landed about five minutes late, and a quick car ride had me back at home, in plenty of time for work, damnit.

The Accommodations:
Home, sweet Hoboken.


2009 Stand-Alone Trip