Saturday, September 7, 2013


On the Definition of Insanity

Clipper Magazine Stadium, 2013
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Southern Maryland Blue Crabs vs. Lancaster Barnstormers
Clipper Magazine Stadium
Atlantic League
Lancaster, PA
7:05 PM

Outside of the Game:
The definition of insanity, is, of course, repeating the same course of action and expecting a different result.

And this week I was going back to Lancaster again, because I had to see the Barnstormers before their season ended. And as much as I'd like to believe I wasn't going to leave early, I did.

And on 78 again. I was beginning to hate I-78, except for the fact that it is so much better a road to travel than the PA Turnpike in nearly every way. It has more lanes, is better maintained, and yet has less construction going on. It was a fast ride out to 222, where the turn south began. I stopped off for lunch at an Arby's where 222 basically turned into a local road, and made it down to Lancaster with little difficulty.

I drove out to find where the stadium was first, and it turned out to be literally right next to campus, in what was in my time a disused railyard. The area was now undergoing renovation, the heart of which was the ballpark. With a couple of hours before the gates opened, I drove back to the F&M campus and parked on the street.

In the light of day, the place was less obviously filled with ghosts as the week before. Hot and bright and smelling of the harvest, the scene was familiar, but not menacing. I managed to walk around without any incidents. I even ventured off campus to some of the places I had known in my earlier years. I visited the Arts House, which was a rickety pile of lumber about to blow over twenty years ago, but managed to still exist in its exact same disreputable state today, adorned with a sign labeling it the "Farts Haus" in the wit only available to collegiate art students.

Back across campus, it was easier to define all the new buildings that had appeared in the intervening decades. Even the older places had received face lifts. In the light, the student center didn't even loom that large. The radio station was less imposing in the light, with the failing neon sign unlit and the empty studio less mysterious. I even ventured a walk through the student center itself, which had now been renovated with an art studio and other things that were new to my eyes. I didn't quite make it up those stairs; there was still some bad mojo there. But I saw a sign for the "No Show, No Show" for the radio station, which was the semesterly meeting held for people to sign up for shows. There was something fairly reassuring that that meeting was still going on, though the email and social media avenues to RSVP were something new-fangled and unwelcome.

As it was on the way back to the stadium, I decided to drive out to the train station and see if the comic book shop that I frequented at school was still a going concern. To my great delight, it was still there. Beside the physical new titles on the shelves, it had changed precious little since my last visit. This was a more reassuring thing than a threat, and it put a more positive spin on the whole endeavor. I found it odd I could remember nothing specific about the proprietors, considering the amount of time I spent there. It was very weird hole in my memory to have.

I eventually set off to find parking for the game and go about my business. The fireworks after the contest sealed off my parking lot until it was over. I made an inadvisable attempt to try and find a back way into the parking lot, but was completely lost by my overconfidence in my familiarity with a landscape that had completely changed over time. I eventually returned the way I came and struggled to find my car in the dark after the lot was opened at the conclusion of the display.

Sick, finally, of I-78, I took the PA Turnpike back, my radio tuned to my college station. After an hour, the station began to fade, and in the night, in the same car I was in the last this happened, I lost my grip on time for a while. I was trodding on the same path I had at times in the past, and it became muddy again. Now, then... I was the same person in the same car in the same place. Old man in a young body, or old man in an old body -- it was indistinct.

But the station faded to static. As the 'Mats say, "Passin' through and it's late, the station started to fade." But I turned to WFAN, and I was back in the present, as my back ached from sitting and my soul hurt from another Met failure, and I was just waiting to go to sleep. I made it home and eventually got my wish.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Clipper Magazine Stadium
Home plate to center field, Clipper Magazine Stadium

The unfortunately named Clipper Magazine Stadium (yes, that Clipper Magazine) did not inspire much confidence with its name. As mentioned, the park is located in the area of an old rail yard that is a fixer-upper for Lancaster, and the surrounding neighborhood hasn't quite caught up, but it is clearly on the road to gentrification, for better or worse.

The parking situation is a bit chaotic, with several smaller (free) lots scattered around the park. Figuring out where to go was a bit of a challenge, but you can't beat the price. The park has several entrances around its perimeter, all of which are walkable, but only the main one by home plate (and opposite most of the parking) is available when the gates open an hour before gametime. There was a large party in the picnic zone that was allowed entry early, and skybox and season ticket holders got in fifteen minutes before the hoi polloi. The plaza by the main entrance has several plaques and displays about the history of Lancaster baseball, and, in a nice nod to the baseball community I hadn't seen in any other park, it has a sign telling people to patronize all the other nearby ballparks in the area, not just in the Eastern League. That was sporting of them.

The main entrance opens out onto the main promenade, which extends, eventually, all around the stadium. One section of seating extends down from the promenade from about left field to right field, and a second deck of luxury boxes runs from about first to third. A large picnic berm runs from left to center field, and in center to right field, there is the huge Weis BBQ Pavilion, which hosts groups and special events, such as the ones this night. In dead center is "Home Run Harbor," home to a small bumper-boat pool, which wins points for originality, if not relevance. A main scoreboard out in left-center is supported by a smaller scoreboard in the right-field wall that adds more context data.

An extended kids area is behind left field, including a well-lit carousel. You can eventually walk all the way around the park on the promenade (which narrows to a small asphalt path in the outfield), but you have to go behind the extensive BBQ area in right to get there. Concessions are arrayed at regular intervals along the infield promenade, and the team store is located right by the entrance behind home. The walkways are festooned with album covers parodied to the Barnstormers, such as "Lancaster Calling" Or "Check Your Red."

No, you!
The on-field games were run by monster Cylo (silo -- get it?) and the fun team run by, god help us, I.M. Fun. Many of the games were clear lifts of Price Is Right and standard minor league races and skill games. That night, they were honoring local heroes. The hero of honor was a firefighter who had been severely injured in a blaze earlier this year while trying to rescue people in the structure. The Barnstormers team had dedicated a seat to him at the start of the season, and this evening, he was finally well enough to take his seat during the seventh inning stretch, where he was greeted by his family and a phalanx of his fellow firemen. It was all very nice.

When I think "The Clash," I think "Central PA."

In this meaningless late-season indie game, the place was still easily 3/4th filled with fans, with a surprisingly substantial contingent for the visiting Southern Maryland team as well. One local tradition of the fans was to have someone call out a player's first name, and the rest of the fans answer by calling out his last name. I am unsure of how the person who does the first name is determined, but it seemed to work for them.

At the Game with Oogie:

I got seats, as per normal, behind the home dugout. I snuck in as a single in the second row into the season ticket section. There were families all around. Behind me was a three-generation job, with grandparents, a mother, and her daughter. The daughter kept taking pictures for Facebook, and her grandpa wasn't down with being on the "Internet thing." The granddaughter eventually got a last-out ball from one of the players, and during a beachball toss game, the ball with the winning number landed by grandpa, who had to be told by his daughter and granddaughter that he won. He got his prizes and teased his granddaughter by telling her that he wanted the t-shirt before eventually giving in to her squealing glee.

Yeah. You pull that pork for me.

I got a Weis pulled pork sandwich to eat, which was part of a meal deal they had that included a drink and chips for $8.50, which was a pretty good. I'd like to say that I didn't go crazy in the team store, but that would be a lie. I got a t-shirt and a mascot doll and some postcards, and I eventually also bought a souvenir cup as well. I'm not proud.

The Game:
First pitch, Blue craw vs. Barnstormers
First pitch, Blue Crabs vs. Barnstormers

This was an Eastern League face-off between the Barnstormers, who just missed the playoffs, and the Blue Crabs, who were clinging to the last place in the division. It didn't seem to be much of a contest, but it did not follow projections.

The Blue Crabs started the game with two quick outs, but the third batter drew a walk. The cleanup hitter was having his first Eastern League at-bat, likely meaning he was just cut from some official MiLB franchise at the end of the season. He took the ball deep to right for a two-run home run in quite an impressive start in the league. A flyout ended the half with the Blue Crabs up, 2-0. The Barnstormers got a two-out double and nothing else in their half.

The second inning featured a one-out single for the Blue Crabs, followed by a double that made it second and third with no outs. A sacrifice fly to center brought in the run, but it was part of a bizarre double play, as the runner from second was basically walking to third on a cut-off throw to home and tagged out after a half-hearted run-down. The Barnstormers only managed a two-out single this time, leaving the score 3-0, Blue Crabs, at the end of two.

The Blue crabs cooled down and went in order in the third, and the Barnstormers only got a one-out single in their half. The Blue Crabs followed with only a two-out single in the top of the fourth frame, but the Barnstormers finally got started in their half. A two-out single was brought home by a following double, and then a single came after that to plate the runner from second. A fly-out ended the rally at a score of 3-2, Blue crabs.

The Blue Crabs got a one-out solo homer in the top of the fifth to open back up the lead, and the Barnstormers went in order. Both sides went in order in the sixth and seventh, but that changed in the top of the eighth. The Blue Crabs got a one-out walk that was followed by a triple to bring in the run. The next batter was hit by a pitch, and the one after him sacrificed the run in from third with a pop to right. A groundout ended the damage at 6-2, Blue Crabs. The bottom of the eighth began with the Barnstormers manager arguing with the umpires for no apparent reason and being tossed. The Barnstorms answered their manager's call with a solitary two-out single.

The scoring kept going in the ninth, as a lead-off single and a two-out double got another run across for the Blue Crabs. The Barnstormers went in controversial order in the ninth to end it 7-2, Blue Crabs. (That controversy came from the second out, a ground-out at home plate ending in a 2-3 put-out. The batter claimed the ball hit him in the batter's box [making it a dead ball], and after a lengthy and unprecedented regroup with the entire umpire crew, the original call was upheld. The manager, gone since the bottom of the eighth, likely had an opinion on the matter that was left unvoiced.)

The Scorecard:
Blue Crabs vs. Barnstormers, 09-07-13. Blue Crabs win, 7-2.
Blue Crabs vs. Barnstormers, 09/07/13. Blue Crabs win, 7-2.

The scorecard was a free handout at the park. It was pamphlet-sized on glossy magazine paper. As it was on glossy paper, it made writing with pencil more difficult, and the printing was apparently done on the cheap as there were some smudging issues that got worse as the game went on.

The scorecard itself was all on one page with no ads. It was convenient, if a little cramped, but it had all the necessary categories, and special lines for winning/losing pitcher, saves, umpires, weather, temperature, time of game, and attendance (although it wasn't actually announced at the game; it's a no-no to have a category on your scorecard if you aren't going to announce it.)

There was an odd one in the game. This was the "SF DP 8-6-4" in the top of the second, as a lazy runner got caught in a rundown after a sacrifice fly. A truly outstanding sliding catch into foul territory in the bottom of the fourth got a gem (!). The Blue Claw's Gac got a homer in his first Eastern League at-bat, which was worth a note, and the bizarre and unexplained ejection of the Barnstormers manager in the bottom of the eighth also got a write-up.

Everything else was largely run-of-the-mill.

The Accommodations:
Hoboken, again

2013 Stand-Alone Trip

Monday, September 2, 2013


On Closing Days

Coca-Cola Park, 2013
Monday, September 2, 2013
Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox) vs.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Philadelphia Phillies)
International League (AAA)
Coca-Cola Park
Allentown, PA
1:35 PM

Outside the Game:
This was an early afternoon game, which is why I was even contemplating it on Labor Day proper. It was also the last game of the season for the IronPigs, so I was a little worried about getting tickets.

I got up at a reasonable time after sleeping like the dead for most of the night. I went down to the motel lobby to pick up some breakfast and then went back to my room to pack up. At the crack of 9, I called the ticket office and secured my seat. I worked out how long it was going to take to get the stadium and then killed time until I had to leave.

Up to this point, I'd avoided the rain that was forecast all weekend. It rained overnight in Lancaster, but none of it yet had fallen on me in person. As I headed out on the road to Allentown, my luck would run out. It was overcast all morning, and it was clear that I was heading towards darker skies. About halfway through the drive, it went from a few drops on the windshield to a full-on rainstorm. This lasted most of the drive, but the good news seemed to be that I was driving towards lighter skies by the end of my run, and the rain tapered off as I pulled into the stadium.

I got out of my car to do my normal thing, and about half way around park, I discovered that I hadn't driven out of the other end of the storm; I had driven in front of it. The torrential rain began as I was the furthest possible distance from my car. I found some relative cover quickly and donned my rain gear. I had gotten a new two-piece "rain suit" that I would be trying out for the first time. The good news was that it did keep me head-to-toe dry. The bad news was that it couldn't cover my camera and game bag. The other good news was that I had a second poncho that I put over my rain suit.

So I was able to wait out the rain in relative comfortable terms. The problem was that while all the plastic was keeping the rain out, it was also keeping all the heat in, and it wasn't a cool rain, but a humid rain, and I was getting just as wet from sweating out than I was by rain coming down. Thankfully, the rain eventually stopped right before the gates opened so I could at least ditch the rain gear.

After the game, I headed out to the car while they were still throwing balls at hoops in the stadium. I left the parking lot and navigated the minor congestion to the main roads to get me back home.

And then the traffic ahead of me stopped. And I was wondering if there was an accident ahead of us, until I realized that I couldn't see the traffic ahead of us anymore. There was a dividing line in the universe, and there were the things on this side of it that I could see, and there were things on the other side of it that I couldn't see. And when it was my turn to get to the line between seen and unseen, I got another unpleasant trip though memory lane.

Torrential rainstorms are endemic in central PA. There's nothing in the geography to break them up, so it is just a wall of rain as far out as you can see, and that is about ten feet in front of your car once you enter the storm. The last time I had been through the area was when I was driving home from college for the last time, and one of these storms came up, and I remember it seeming just about right for the day I was having.

And this day, after alternately being soaked and scorched all afternoon, it was just about right as well. A lost caravan of cars proceeded along at about 25-35 MPH through the worst of it. As if the analogy wasn't perfect enough, the storm broke away almost the instant that I crossed over into NJ. If just to drive the point home more, I didn't even have any traffic on the Polaski, nor the Holland Tunnel. I parked my car in the garage and dragged all my crap home, hoping I wouldn't meet the new neighbors as a damp, dirty mess dragging along various bags of things.

I managed to make it to my apartment, where I started to unpack, do my laundry, and take a shower all at the same time. I eventually remembered about work the next day, got depressed, and went to bed relatively early.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Coca-Cola Field
Home plate to center field, Coca-Cola Park

Given the beating Allentown has received in popular culture, it was odd to me that it managed to get such a big-name sponsor for its minor league team as Coca-Cola Park. Yet here we are. The stadium was surrounded by parking lots, again with the closest ones reserved for season ticket holders and other big-wigs. Along the main facade at one end is the entrance for VIPs, and the main entrance is on the farther end, past the ticket office, by the main gate where the regular folks go. Two big chambers on either side of the main gate spew bubbles while you wait, so there's that. It was actually a bit depressing on a gloomy day such as this was.

The main entrance dumps you out into AT&T Plaza beyond right field. There is a ton of table seating for the concessions found there, and an iron piggy bank and other curiosities right next to the main team store. You can pick up the main promenade here, which extends all the way around the stadium, and leads down to the one section of seating below the walkway. Regular seating extends from left field to right field, bleachers sit out in left, and several bars and wall-level seating crawl around center and right. A picnic hill also resides in center field. Luxury boxes and the press box extend the traditional first-to-third base above the main seating area, and some special luxury seating is available right behind home plate.

The kids area is in the center field area starting behind the batter's eye in center, and a giant Martin & Co. Guitar sits near its end in right-center. A tiki bar and the "Bud Light Trough" sit out in center, as well, near the K-tracker. The main scoreboard stands atop the picnic hill in center. Concessions are at regular intervals along the promenade, and there's a special "Beer and Bratz Platz" on the first-base side that leads to a small area with lederhosen-clad women selling beer and sausage. What more can you ask for?

Nothing is funnier than periodic table jokes

On-field activities are run by Iron Pigs FeRRUS and FeFe (know your chemistry), as well as a fan team. It was super-hero day, so everyone and the mascots were dressed up as heroes, aligning with the children's give-away of capes. There was a part of my disappointed that there was not an adult-sized equivalent give-away, but not disappointed enough to ask. On the scoreboards, all the players had their heads superimposed on the cartoon bodies of likes of the Hulk, Batman, and even Space Ghost. Activities were minor-league standard races and tests of "skill," including one absolutely adorable pig race, where kids gets dressed up in pink pig suits and joyously run around the infield.

Grounds Crew

The grounds crew does the Yankees bit where they dance around during the late-innings field work. They were strutting their stuff to "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" today, doing a bit of line dancing. I'm not sure if that is there regular bit or not. The crowd for closing day was, as you'd expect, pretty large. There was even a small, but noticeable, contingent of PawSox fans on the first base side.

At the Game with Oogie:
Heart-healthy food

As this was the first closing day I'd ever be attending, I stayed the course and bought my tickets ahead of time before I left the last hotel. I managed to get a seat several rows up behind the home third base dugout. The place was packed that day, even with the rain. It was mostly families around me, including one group with two tweener girls in front of me. They were quite eager to get any freebee from the field and were often up on their chairs any time the mascots or party patrol came around. It made it harder to take pictures, but I can't really fault their exuberance. Some older folks were behind me, talking about the larger baseball world, and it was nice listening to their talk to offset the youth in front of me.

I got a brat at the Beer and Brats Platz to eat. It was very nice, but after a whole weekend of that kind of food, I was getting some rebellion from my system that let me know I should probably eat healthy the next few days.

The Game:
First pitch, Pawsox vs. Ironpigs
First pitch, Pawsox vs. IronPigs

Here we had yet another game with a division leader and a team struggling to stay above .500, this time on the last game of the season. It went about as you'd expect.

It started slow, as both sides went in order until the bottom of the second. The IronPigs managed a two-out single in the bottom of the inning, who made it to second on a steal, but that was it. Both sides went in order in the third in what was either a tightly-fought pitchers duel, or two teams sleepwalking through a meaningless last game.

Things picked up in the top of the fourth, as the PawSox got back-to-back singles to lead it off. A successful bunt moved both runners over, and then a sacrifice fly to left brought in the lead run. A strikeout ended the half with the PawSox up, 1-0. The IronPigs could only answer with a two-out walk in the bottom of the inning.

Scoring one run would become a theme for the next few innings. In the fifth, the PawSox again lead it off with a single to left, moved him over to second on the most blatant balk I've witnessed in person, and then further on to third on a ground-out to second. A one-out walk made it first and third, and a two-out single brought the lead run in, making it 2-0, PawSox. The IronPigs managed only a one-out single in their half of the fifth.

In the sixth, the PawSox had a one-out single followed by a double to left to make it second and third with one out. A single brought the lead run in, but the runner on second was gunned down at the plate. A fielder's choice ended the inning with the PawSox up, 3-0. The IronPigs managed a two-out walk in their half. The gravy train continued in the seventh with a PawSox leadoff single. Back-to-back, two-out singles brought in the lead run before a ground-out ended the half with their lead extended to 4-0. The resigned IronPigs went in order.

The scoring streak was broken in the eighth, as the PawSox only managed a leadoff single, and the IronPigs again went in order. Both sides backed into the end of the game and regular season by going in order in the ninth, securing the PawSox's 4-0 victory.

The Scorecard:
PawSox vs. IronPigs, 09-02-13. PawSox win, 4-0.
PawSox vs. IronPigs, 09/02/13. PawSox win, 4-0.

This one was a mixed bag. On the plus size, it was a free pamphlet-sized giveaway on good magazine paper. There were limited ads and a reasonable amount of space to score on. However, it was good magazine paper, so it was hard to write on with regular pencil and nearly impossible to write on with colored pencils.

An odd aside was that the full lineups were available (for free) from the fan relation booth, separate from the programs (which were available at the entrances), but there was also a pre-printed paper scorecard available at the booth, as well. I ended up using the program, but at least the printed scorecard was pencil-friendly and included all the lineups, as well as the umpires.

There were a couple of interesting plays. In the fourth, I can't remember the last time I saw anyone in the majors or minors in America use two sacrifices back-to-back to bring in a run. The balk in the fifth was an uncommon occurrence, of course, and there was a pretty, pretty 3-6-3 double play in the top of the eighth. There can never be enough of those.

For the second straight game, the K-man for the game waited until their last at-bat to strike out, granting the crowd a discount on something at some local restaurant. And on Fan Appreciation Day, no less.

The Accommodations:
Hoboken, with a bunch of new people


2013 Labor Day

Sunday, September 1, 2013


On Chasing Ghosts

Sovereign Bank Stadium
Sovereign Bank Stadium, 2013
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Long Island Ducks vs. York Revolution
Sovereign Bank Stadium
Atlantic League (Independent)
2:00 PM

Outside the Game:
This game was an early afternoon Sunday contest, as opposed to the night matches the previous two days, so I had to make a relatively early start of it.

I got up an availed myself of the free breakfast buffet coupon for the restaurant in the motel. It was actually quite a nice spread that included many things, such as biscuits and hot gravy, which is frankly all it really needed. I ate my fill while staring out at the motel pool before going back to the room to finish up packing.

I did some research and selected a hotel for that evening, booked it on the iPad, and then called up the ticket office to get a seat for the game. Although their phone message clearly said that they were open at 10 AM, they weren't there at 10 AM. Given that I had to get going to make it for the game, I decided to start driving and pull off at a rest stop to call again when I was about half way there.

My route took me on the PA Turnpike, which was an immediate failure in and of itself, and the journey of about an hour for that leg of the trip cost me $10 to drive on the barely adequate road it presented. I did manage to dump off at the last rest area before I turned off to order my ticket successfully, so there was that.

Once I got on the road to York, it was a short drive to the park from the city limits. Parking became an issue, because after my first circuit of the stadium, I couldn't find any lots that weren't VIP only. I eventually asked the attendant of the next lot I passed, and he gave me directions to the general acces lot that was across a bridge from the stadium, but he also helpfully pointed out that there was cheaper parking just down the street at a shipping company that rents out its lot for games. Suitably informed, I parked there and went about my business.

After the game, hot, sweaty, and unkempt, I retrieved my car headed to my hotel. I drove down state route 30, the road connecting York and Lancaster, and got to my hotel to dump off my stuff, take a shower, and head back out.

My destination was the past, but I lacked the necessary DeLorean or police box. Since I started to venture out into central PA on these trips, I was avoiding a thing that needed facing, namely my alma mater, which was nestled in the center of Amish country. While not directly visiting the team in the town, York was close enough to stop beating around the bush. I had picked a hotel in Lancaster for this reason.

But I literally had no idea how this was going to go. Just driving on the roads that were so circumstantially familiar to me these last months were triggering things that I wasn't quite sure about, and I had no idea where it would lead. Especially with the stresses at work, we were opening a box of... things.

So I decided to start at someplace undeniably positive. There was an axiomatic giant mini-golf course at which I spent far too much time when I was in college. It had been there a long time when I was in college, and now it was nearly twenty years after that. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was still there. So visit it I must.

Freshman year, the place was nicknamed "Zen Golf," because of its many appealing characteristics. Aside from having 23 holes instead of the normal 18 was the fact that it was a beautifully landscaped facility with many water features, and flowers, and whatnot, which made it very peaceful to play, especially when you are a stressed-out college student, perhaps or perhaps not on other mind-altering substances. After a while, our group stopped keeping score, partly because we were getting so good at it, and partly because keeping score was holding us back, from a spiritual perspective.

As soon as I pulled in, I found the place largely unchanged, and laden with ghosts. It was not helped by the fact that I was still driving the same car that I was driving my senior year of college. When I got out of the car, I was immediately looking over at the passenger side for friends long gone to exit with me. It was at this point that I was losing my grip on reality and probably should have just headed back to the hotel for some sleep, but emotional competency has never been my strong suit.

At the booth, I was waited on by a woman who was not alive the last time I was at this place. I talked to her about my amazement that the course was still open, and she said that her aunt worked here when she was in school, and all of a sudden I was wondering if this aunt had ever taken my money when I was at school. Was this two generations of a family providing me a green golf ball and putter? Run, Oogie. Go home. Is what I didn't do.

And so I went down the walkway to the first tee, and I didn't make it past the putting practice green before I was remembering things that happened here with people whose mortal state I'm no longer sure of. Everything was more or less that. That's the hole where I fell over the railing and down the hill. That's the hole where Gillman hit the ball off the course and it bounced in for a hole in one on the next hole. That's where... It all became non-linear quickly.

Zen Golf
Zen Golf

But it was still fun. I had several groups let me play through because I was only a single golfer, so I outpaced the crowds fairly soon and was out there with my memories and a green golf ball. At least I still have muscle memory, as I managed to shoot -8 on the toughest mini-golf place I've ever played. And I missed winning a free game by a quarter inch on the last hole.

It is here that any sane person would have packed up and gone back to the hotel. But I decided I wanted to go into the belly of the beast, so I programmed the soothing British voice to take me to my old college. I didn't need the TomTom, really. Much like the mini-golf course, once I started the ride to school from the mini-golf course, it was like a day hadn't passed.

The sights had changed a lot in twenty years, but Lancaster hadn't. They finally fixed the traffic issue in the center of town, there were so many old buildings gone and new ones up along the way, but it was all the same roads.

I made the short drive and parked my car across from campus, and then completely disconnected with reality for about a half hour. The last time I experienced anything similar to this was when I went back to the city in England I had stayed when I was studying abroad, ironically from this school. The places were all there, but the context was missing. There were all these places that had deep, meaningful connections to me, but the people were gone. My flat wasn't my flat anymore. The people I knew in that flat wouldn't be there waiting for me, or go to the places I remembered with me. It was just this husk of a connection that was only real for me, but ultimately meaningless. Because the context no longer existed.

And so I walked onto campus for the first time in nearly twenty years. There were new buildings that changed the landscape of campus, and buildings I remembered that underwent facelifts in the interim, but the shape of it was there. And it was all the same reactions as the golf course, or England, but much stronger to the point it was real again.

I could almost see the people I expected in the places I expected them. The shapes of them were still there. The buildings, the places... it wasn't just, "There's Ben-in-a-Box where you can watch the first walk of shame of the freshman women the first weekend back on campus." I was there again, with those people, watching those things happening. It was first hazy shapes, but as I let it go, it became more real. Memories, reality, whatever.

Despite all the changes, the shapes were still there. It was all functional until I went to up the pathway to the student center. My college radio station was located in the top left window when walking up this path, with its dinky neon sign in the window of the broadcast booth.

And what is no doubt that same sign was still there, weakly lit and flickering in that window after twenty more years. And I was no longer seeing individual instances of walking up to that studio -- I was seeing all of them at once, from the first time I saw that sign in the window, to the time Rich mooned me (and the entire campus) because he felt like it, to the moment now, and that was it.

It was the same place, but the people I knew weren't there, and there were just these impossibly young people walking around instead of who I expected. There were monuments to things that hadn't happened yet when I was there. It was also a useful lesson on the uselessness of commemorative history, as the hapless college president who incompetently managed during my tenure there (and apparently another decade afterwards) was unabashedly praised in the plaque dedicating a statuary garden by the student center. The current inhabitants, who had no idea of his failures, receive no other inputs but that plaque and make entirely the wrong conclusions.

And I stood there before the student center, and I could see in, and it had changed a bit, but the stairs to go to the second floor were still there -- the stairs that I had gone up hundreds of thousands of times. And my mind was already weak, but it suddenly became clear to me that if I just went in and went up those stairs again... something would happen. Maybe I would go up there, and go to the station, and Dave would be up front cursing about something, and Dan would be in the back trying to get a free single from some label, and it would be time to check records out of the library for my show that night, as long as that damn Apple II was working right. That maybe I was really just an old man in a young man's body again.

And I was just standing there, not sure I should be more worried about the fact that this was making perfect sense to me, or that since it was making perfect sense to me, I wasn't moving. I could even hear what was going on in the studio now. I could hear it, and I was standing there. I'm pretty sure I saw Bobo waving to me from the darkened booth. Standing there...

I had to go. I got myself pointed towards my car and went in and drove off, because I had to. I had to, if for nothing else the disappointment of going up might kill me if I believed it enough.


And I went back to my hotel, and watched Breaking Bad, and got some of this onto virtual paper, and went the hell to sleep to dream of god knows what.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Sovereign Bank Stadium
Home plate to center field, Sovereign Bank Stadium

Sovereign Bank Stadium immediately dredges up Venture Brothers references, and that's more an indictment of me than anything else. Like it's sister stadium over in Lancaster, it is a renovation project on old railyard territory, and the park is generously littered with historical markers for historic locations at or replaced by the stadium.

The main entrance to the park is at the Brooks Robinson Plaza, which is adorned with a statue of the titular individual signing autographs for some young fans. The entrance filters you into the promenade right behind home plate. That walkway extends around the entirety of the field, with slight diversions in the outfield. A single section of seating extends down from this walkway from about left field to right field around home plate, and a second deck of luxury boxes extends from first to third base. The section of the promenade under the cover of the luxury boxes houses most of the concessions, facilities, and the team store.

A massive picnic deck for events sits in left field. Just beyond is Bricker's Famous French Fries and a big picnic hill in left center. Some graffiti celebrating an Eastern League championship is on the wall of the berm, right by where the canon sets up. You read that right. A man dressed in full colonial regalia mans a small canon that fires at the start of the game and when the Revolution take the lead. It is quite loud and smoky.

In center field is the extensive "Downtown's Playground" kids area, which has a row of seats right behind the center field wall in front of it. And right next door to that is the large manual scoreboard in left field. On the walkway behind the scoreboard, you can watch it being operated by a man looking through a hole to follow the action.


Action on the field is directed by generic monster "Downtown." The crowd is riled up with a pre-recorded announcer screaming "REVOLUTION!", followed by the sound of a baseball hitting the bat in a manner to suggest a firing gun. The crowd greets batters by chanting "Hit the ball," to which some others refrain, "Over the Wall." The crowd was very much into the game, which was impressive for an indie-league park.

It was "York College Day" when I was there, and obviously a lot of York College students and faculty were in attendance. I'm not sure if some of the contests that day were specifically tailored to the college students, but there was an apple sauce race where participants had to navigate an obstacle course without spilling apple sauce, and then chug the container, which they all did with a practiced ease. Most of the rest of the events were standard minor/indie-league races and the like.

At the Game with Oogie:
Chicken fingers

I again got seats right behind the home dugout for the game, which was right in front of a lot of the between-innings festivities. There was a nuclear family sitting right next to me, though the father and daughter showed up late because the daughter had a stomach ache. It it is amazing what you can learn about people by just sitting in their general location.

I saw a sign for the Meiji cookies in left field, but after searching the entire stadium, they weren't actually on sale there. There was a "famous fries" stand out in center field, and if they were famous, I suppose you had to try them. I got a chicken fingers meal with the fries, and, to be fair, these were some pretty exceptional fries: great texture, not soggy, good flavor. But in the end, they were just french fries.

The Game:
First pitch, Ducks vs. Revolution
First pitch, Ducks vs. Revolution

This was a contest between the division-leading Ducks against the bottom-dwelling Revolution, so one might expect a certain outcome. And although it was in doubt for a bit, one would not be disappointed.

The Ducks only managed a single in the top of the first, which paced the Revolution, who went in order. The Ducks followed along in the top of the second, but the Revolution started their half of the inning with a homer to deep center, but then only managed a single for the rest of inning, leaving them with a 1-0 lead at the end of two.

The Ducks again went in order in the third, and this time, the Revolution went along. The Ducks went in order yet again in the fourth, but the Revolution had other plans. They got a one-out hit, and the baserunner stole second and was then driven in with a single to deep center. Two outs closed down the half with the Revolution improbably up, 2-0.

In the fifth, the anemic Ducks managed only a one-out double, and the Revolution only got a lead-off single (subsequently erased on a double-play). The sixth began with three back-to-back singles for the Ducks that drove in the lead run. The last single in the sequence was bungled by the left fielder to move up the two runners, but three outs in order ended the rally with the score 2-1, Revolution. The Revolution only managed a one-out single (erased on a steal attempt) in their half.

Things fell apart for the Revolution in the seventh. A leadoff single for the Ducks moved to second on a wild pitch, and that was followed by a walk. A  grounder to third sniped the lead runner, but the next batter hit one to center, and the throw came home to try and get the runner from second. The throw was late, and then the catcher threw the ball away, allowing another run to score and the remaining runners to move up. A pitching change followed, as did a walk, but two outs ended the damage at 3-2, Ducks. The Revolution was going in the other direction and only managed a walk in the bottom of the seventh.

The Ducks tacked on a two-out homer to right in the eighth, to make it 4-2. The Revolution went in order, as did the Ducks in the ninth. The Revolution only managed a two-out single in their last half, ending the game at 4-2, Ducks.

The Scorecard:
Ducks vs. Revolution, 09-01-13. Ducks win, 4-2.Ducks vs. Revolution, 09-01-13. Ducks win, 4-2.
Ducks vs. Revolution, 09/01/13. Ducks win, 4-2.

The scorecard was a free tabloid newsprint giveaway. The lineups were included as an insert. The newsprint paper was adequate for the task, though when it got wet (as mine did when a Revolution player "helpfully" sprayed the hot crowd with a water gun), it held up okay.

The scorecard had only nine lines for players, but a copious amount of space for notes, which makes it even more puzzling as to why there were not totals lines for each inning. As far as the game went, it was all pretty pedestrian. The only note I made was in the bottom of the ninth inning, when the number eight man in the Ducks lineup (the K man for the evening) finally struck out and gave the grateful crowd their free breadsticks coupons.

The Accommodations:

The big deal for today was Breaking Bad. A new episode was airing over the holiday Sunday, and I wanted to make sure I was able to watch it.

The plan was to stay over in Lancaster, a little closer to Allentown and most of my planned post-game activities. I actually called several hotels in the area to see if they specifically had AMC on their in-room cable offerings. Literally none of the more upscale places did, when I noticed that they had AMC in my Travelodge room. So I checked with the Travelodge in Lancaster, and they indeed did have it as well, and so it was booked.

It was not as nice as the one the previous night, and I had to settle for double beds instead of a king, but it did what I needed it to do. (I actually ended up with numerically more pillows with the two beds, which I just piled onto the one bed furthest from the door.) Beds, TV, desk, table and chairs, and a little larger bathroom than the night before, though this one was a strictly shower-only affair without a tub to speak of.

It did its job.

2013 Labor Day