Ills of the Road

Being on the road for several days, or weeks, accidents or illness or both are bound to happen to even the most careful of travelers. And our baseball trips have been no different. In fact, you might even say that baseball travel certainly has its own dangers. Baseball parks, depending on where a fan sits, aren’t the safest places to be. If you’re brave enough to sit outside of the netting, you open yourself up to foul balls and the occasional flying bat (and we don’t mean the blood-sucking, hair-tangling type). Even sitting behind the net doesn’t always keep you safe.

In our years of attending baseball games, we have seen our fair share of injuries in the crowd by flying debris from the field. We’ve even been the victims once or twice. The most memorable was during a Cincinnati game (one of the very few major league games we’ve attended as a married couple). This was in 1994; Marge Schott was the owner and Deion Sanders, Barry Larkin, Reggie Sanders were all players and the team was coached by Davey Johnson. Dan’s brother, an attorney in Cincinnati, had given us tickets to the game for which we were very grateful. We have both been Reds’ fans since childhood, as Cincinnati is our hometown. On top of that, the seats were in the fourth row behind the dugout on the first base side—a mere three rows from Marge Schott herself.

We were in heaven! Until the fifth inning, when Deion Sanders hit a foul ball straight above us. It came careening down out of the sky. Ginny ducked under her scorecard, as if that would effectively protect her, and of course, Dan stretched out his arms as far as he could reach above his head, intending to catch the ball. The friendly couple sitting next to us who we had been chatting with, reacted in the same manner. She ducked down next to Ginny, while Ginny tried to cover her as well with the skimpy scorebook and he jumped up, reaching for the stars, as well. And he was actually the lucky one. The ball hurtled down right to Dan—right onto his middle finger and bounced to the seats behind us. In the process, the ball had hit Dan’s finger so badly that it swelled to the size of one of the famous Kahn’s brats sold at the concession stands. Afterwards, we discovered that on the back of the ticket was a disclaimer by the Reds organization that they were not responsible for any injuries incurred during a game. So Dan attempted to get Marge Schott to sign the back of his ticket just as a reinforcement of that rule. He thought it would be funny. In the end, all that Dan got was a trip to the emergency room—but AFTER the game. He certainly wouldn’t go during. The park emergency staff did get him a bag of ice to take down the swelling, but it was little comfort, considering that he didn’t even get to keep the offending ball.

Another danger to watch for on the road is food poisoning. We don’t like to think of such things spoiling our vacations, but these things happen, so be prepared. This has actually happened to Ginny. Actually, we suspect that it wasn’t poisoning per se; it may have been something she was allergic to. Either way, it was certainly unpleasant. But like a trouper, she didn’t let it interfere with her baseball. We were actually in San Juan Capistrano where we visited the mission then went to a very nice restaurant for lunch, so nice that it cost us $75 for two salads, an iced tea and a Coke. Given, Ginny’s salad had salmon and Dan’s had steak, but still…$75?!

Ginny didn’t quite finish hers and Dan had the remaining salmon. We then made a stop at an antiques shop before heading out to Lake Elsinore for the ball game. While in the shop, Ginny began to feel not quite right and on the trip to Lake Elsinore, things just got steadily worse. After getting to our hotel (which was the PITS in every sense of the word), Dan wanted to let her stay in bed and cancel going to the game. Actually, we should say Dan OFFERED to not go to the game. There’s no way he would WANT to not go. And, of course, the same goes for Ginny. She was determined to get there. She wasn’t coming all the way to California just to miss a ball game. She made it through the first three innings before having to run to the bathroom. And there she decided that we needed one more criterion by which to judge a ball park—barfability. How clean is a bathroom? Would you be willing to barf there? Luckily, the women’s bathroom at the Lake Elsinore Storms stadium was exceptionally clean and well prepared for such an emergency. After her epiphany, she returned to her seat and having relinquished the scorekeeping duties to Dan, she managed to use mind over matter to allow herself to stay until the end of the game. Talk about a trouper. A lesser woman, or even man, would have taken the car and gone back to the hotel where she could’ve suffered in a not-so-comfy bed. Not Ginny. She toughed it out for nine innings. Then, of course, she was sick all night at the hotel. However, by morning, she was much better; in fact, the following night we were at the High Desert Mavericks stadium and she was again eating park food (sometimes a dangerous adventure by itself). Because she slept through the two-hour ride, we missed seeing the Roy Rogers museum, which is no longer. She lives with the regret to this day.

Sun burns, laryngitis, colds, allergic reactions, sprained ankles—all these ailments have plagued us on trips, but we don’t stop. Well, we actually do stop: at CVS, Walgreen’s, K-Mart, Walmart, Sams, the local grocery store and, very occasionally, the urgent care facility. One year, we had to travel with Dan’s leg in a removable big black boot (used instead of a cast) because he had broken his leg just above the ankle. The mishap happened before we left on our baseball trip, but it was no less traumatic. And it was during one of the hottest years on record in Texas and Oklahoma. But he survived. And didn’t ever think of NOT going to baseball. The same thing happened to Ginny two years later, but not in the same way. She broke her foot missing the last step on the stairs and ended up in a boot as well. This time, though, we went to the west coast of Florida. It was quite warm, but not nearly as bad as Texas. The problem here was the rain, which would not stop. So she lived in fear of slipping on the wet ground. But, again, we never thought of NOT going!

So the moral of the story, as the cliché goes, hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. You never know what disasters await you. But think of the wonderful time you’ll have before and after. Baseball makes all things better.


Hats for James

As you could tell by the last two editions of our Minor Road Trip blog, we like to talk not only about minor league baseball, travel and historical sites, we also like to talk about food, baseball park food and what is sometimes referred to as “road food.” Road food is served in those little family-owned restaurants, diners and drive-ins that we run across on our baseball travels—those small town coffee shops and places a person would never haunt unless they were a local or someone traveling the back roads of America going from one minor league baseball park to another. We have one here in our hometown that is on the top of our got-to-eat-there list.

We have a good number of friends who enjoy baseball, but only a few who enjoy it as much as we do. As has been mentioned before, we really don’t have a favorite team. Yes, we both grew up in the Cincinnati area so we always keep an eye on the Reds, but for the most part we have given up on major league baseball—too much money and too many prima donnas. We love the intimacy of the minor leagues. Most of our friends enjoy minor league ball because it is near by and accessible, but they all have a love for one particular major league team. Dan has a friend who has even gone to the point of having the Boston Red Sox logo tattooed on his arm. We both have a close friend who loves baseball as much as we do, but he’s one of those who loves his major league team and enjoys minor league baseball because it is available. His name is James Brown. The issue that we have with him is that his major league team is the New York Yankees. James lives and breaths the Yankees. We, on the other hand, always have to explain to James that the Yankees are the epitome of what we dislike about major league baseball. And we always add that our favorite MLB team is the one that has most recently beaten the Yankees.

James owns and operates a diner in our hometown of Rochester, New York, called simply enough “James Brown’s Place.” It is an absolutely delightful little store front American diner that he has been running since 1998. Dan started going there for lunch sometime in early 2000 when he was the interim rector of the Episcopal Church about two blocks away – he would go there with the lay leadership of the church for meetings. He took Ginny there for lunch shortly afterwards and we have been going back ever since. To put it mildly, it is our favorite restaurant in all of Rochester. The diner is a breakfast and lunch place with a Friday night fish fry. As a matter of fact, we were there this past Friday for the fish fry – well, Ginny had the fish fry. Dan had James’ BBQ ribs. (He does an outstanding job of smoking his own meats.) It’s certainly not a fancy place by any means. Instead, it’s one of those places when you walk in for the first time, you may think to yourself, “what have I gotten myself into.” However, the staff is extremely friendly and the food is wonderful. We are not the only ones in town who think this. James does a good business, but on Saturdays and Sundays the place is generally packed. There may be a wait at the door, but it’s worth it.

James himself is just one of those guys you have to like. He’s a big bear of a man with an absolute heart of gold (as cliché as that sounds) with an ability to keep people coming back. He makes them feel at home (in a restaurant) with his winks or hugs, his self-deprecating sense of humor (the motto of the restaurant is “James Brown’s Place: A legend in his own mind”) and his welcomes to all new and not so new patrons. One wall of the diner is filled with pictures of James and friends, but the most important section is his shrine to the Yankees (a picture of each of the Yankees’ World Series winning teams plus other Yankee fan memorabilia). It should be noted that Dan prefers not facing the “shrine” when he eats. He would prefer to look at a picture of the backside of a naked man grocery shopping (they say it is a picture of James) than have to gaze at the Yankee shrine. (James and Dan have a continual discussion about whether or not the Yankees, according to James, are “God’s Team.” Dan always quips that if they were God’s Team they wouldn’t have to have a $ 230 million payroll and not be doing so poorly—they would play just for the love of the game and be winning.)

One characteristic about James is that he always wears a baseball cap with the logo of some baseball team. He doesn’t get to wear them for long because he cooks in them, so he goes through them fairly quickly. One of our great joys, especially for Dan, is picking up at least one ball cap a trip from one of the teams we visit in a year for James. He loves getting the hats and Dan likes giving them to him. It’s something Dan’s grandmother taught him: if there is something simple you can do to bring joy into someone’s life, do it. So Dan’s goal in life is to find hats for James every trip.

James Brown with his Mets Affiliate hat.

Although James is always grateful for his hats, he does have a couple of rules—no Boston Red Sox or New York Mets affiliates. Occasionally, we do plot evil things and our we-are-not-Yankee-fans side comes out. Then our goal (especially Dan) is to get James into a Red Sox or Mets affiliate cap, and we did it with this last trip to Savannah. We picked up a Sandgnats fitted (7 & 5/8ths) home team hat for James, got him to put it on, took a picture and then informed him that they were a Mets affiliate. He liked the hat so much, he changed his rules a little: as long as it wasn’t Boston, well, even Boston is okay this week.

So if you are hitting the Rochester RedWings (AAA—Minnesota Twins) in between seeing the Auburn Doubledays (Short Season A—Washington Nationals) and the Batavia Muckdogs (Short Season A—Miami Marlins), stop in and see James Brown’s Place ( It is the ideal baseball road food place—and you got to meet James. A legend in his own mind!


Savannah: Bring Your Elastic Pants

In our last blog, “Opening Day 2013,” we expounded on the assets of the Savannah Sand Gnats ball park, historic Grayson Park. One outstanding aspect was some of the food items offered. Turns out that “food” happens to be a grand theme of the overall city of Savannah itself. During our recent visit there, we seemed to eat our way across the city, consuming more food than we had in a year! And, oh, how good it was!

First on the list: since Savannah is situated on a river next to an ocean, of course, seafood is ubiquitous. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a seafood restaurant. Moreover, the offerings are both similar and unique at the same time. For instance, the Shrimp Factory, a restaurant on the riverfront, serves scallops and crab, as many of the other restaurants do, but here the crab is deviled and served in a small tin about the size of a one cup measure. It looked small–being the appetizer portion–when the server set it on the table. But it was just the right amount once Ginny had eaten her salad. In fact, the server told us that the dinner entree portion was normally too much for most people. The scallops were wrapped in bacon and coated with sesame seeds. Dan had them gone before Ginny even took a bite of her deviled crab. Apparently, they were delicious. Down the road from the Shrimp Factory is Huey’s, one of the only places to get breakfast (and lunch and dinner). On their menu they had a seafood omelet, and a Creole omelet with shrimp. They also have beignets with an optional praline sauce. Those of you not from the South, or who have never traveled to the South, particularly around Louisiana, you have been deprived of this treat. Beignets are like a flat yeast donut with powdered sugar. At Huey’s they’ve added a side of praline sauce that will knock you down. We’ve had beignets at the most famous beignet place in the U.S.–Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans–and we have to say that Huey’s were better. Who doesn’t love a great sugary sauce over deep fried dough?

Second on the list: since Savannah is situated in the South, of course, there is Southern cooking. Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, biscuits…we can’t even finish the list without salivating. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to partake in two Southern cooking buffets during the time we were there. The first is quite famous and you MUST make a reservation if you want to get into the restaurant. The Lady and Sons restaurant on West Congress Street is owned by the queen of Southern cooking, Paula Dean. Thus, the wait to get a table. We actually called the day before to get a reservation for lunch and the earliest they could get us in was 3 p.m. So, ok, we had a later breakfast (at Huey’s), then walked all over town for several hours working up a healthy appetite and had our late lunch/early dinner. Thank goodness we walked! And we needed to walk more afterwards! The buffet at this restaurant had all things Southern, including fried chicken, ribs, mac and cheese, collard greens, biscuits, and desserts brought to your table. For those health conscious patrons, the buffet included baked chicken. There was also what Ginny described as the best lima beans dish she’s ever eaten. (Dan wouldn’t know because lima beans wouldn’t touch his lips for a million dollars.) The macaroni and cheese is of special note here. It came out from the kitchen with at least a quarter inch of extra melted cheese on the top. The two kinds of cheese made gooey strings on the spoon when it was dipped from the pan. (We didn’t see a defibrillator anywhere, although it should’ve been near by.) The desserts included Paula’s famous chocolate gooey butter cakes. By the time we got to that course, Dan couldn’t even look at the dessert. Ginny had a tiny space left in her stomach and just had to try the cake. Quite tasty. After that, we waddled our way around town, trying to digest our huge meal.

The next day, Sunday, friends took us to the Desoto Hotel where they served a champagne brunch. Despite the fact that the day before we had sworn off food forever, we were actually hungry again. Here, Ginny discovered that champagne’s not so bad with orange poured into it. The brunch buffet included the typical breakfast offerings, eggs, sausage, bacon, and grits (remember, we’re in the South) and biscuits. The buffet also included dinner items: baked fish, shrimp, fried and baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, salad. While the mac and cheese wasn’t quite as good as what we’d had the day before, the baked fish was superb. Ginny normally always asks for tartar sauce when eating fish (yes, she’s something of a Philistine), but she said that this fish was too delicious to ruin with anything like tartar sauce. The servers also kept filling our champagne (or Mimosa) glasses until the brunch was officially closed. Even then, as we lingered over desserts, they continued to fill water glasses or fill requests that we might have. We actually were the last people out of the restaurant that afternoon. The atmosphere was truly laid-back Southern hospitality.

Beyond these two restaurant experiences, there were other places that we thoroughly enjoyed, and places that we just didn’t have time to get to, or were so crowded with tourists that we chose to go elsewhere. One of those places was Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House, famous for its fried chicken, and famous for being in the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. When the taxi approached the restaurant, we saw that the line was out the door and down the street. No thanks to that. So we had the taxi drop us just three blocks away at Clary’s Cafe on Abercorn. It, too, was featured in the movie, but for some reason didn’t attract the attention as Mrs. Wilke’s, which is quite unfortunate. We found the food here to also be scrumptious. Ginny had Crab Cakes Benedict and Dan had the corn beef hash and eggs. They both came with a choice of grits or buttermilk biscuits. When in the South, do as Southerners do–we had the grits. This restaurant also has kosher food, which we’re sure is equally delicious.

We’re now back home in Rochester, NY, missing the warm weather and the flowers, but now on a necessary strict diet. We don’t want to have to wear those stretchy pants for too long!


Opening Day 2013

Happy opening day to all baseball fans! And this year we got to celebrate opening day at the Historical Grayson ball park in Savannah, Georgia. We were in town for business–a conference–and were able to attend the Sand Gnats vs. Rome Braves game. The game did not disappoint (unlike the weather) with back-and-forth scoring by both teams, with Rome finally winning the game–sorry, Savannah.

The food, likewise, did not disappoint. The ball park is old and small, and doesn’t have too much selection of eats, but it has one of the best sandwiches we’ve ever had in all the 143 parks we’ve been to so far. “The Godfather” consists of an Italian sausage on a hoagie roll with your choice of either Philly Steak or Chicken Philly meats. Then you can add mushrooms, grilled onions, peppers, or American cheese. They also used some kind of sauce while cooking the meats, that we didn’t identify. We ordered one each of the different kinds of meat sandwiches. After all, we needed to see how both tasted. They were fantastic! Yet, be prepared to get messy, especially with the Chicken Philly meat. The sauce tends to make the bun a bit soggy and the meat falls through the bottom. But that’s ok–what are fingers for anyway?

One other unique food item they offered was a hit with Dan, but not with Ginny. The “S’more Panini” is a dessert made with white bread stuffed with a concoction that needs to be seen to be believed: Nutella, marshmallow and broken pieces of graham cracker. All this is pressed in a panini press, slapped onto a paper plate, covered with powdered sugar and Hershey chocolate. When Dan brought that back to our seats, Ginny just stared at him like he was crazy. “What–is–that?” she stuttered. “A S’more Panini’,” Dan said triumphantly, then tried to eat it. The panini was cut into halves, but the crust on the top was still hanging together, so when he attempted to pick up one half, the other came along with it, trailing powdered sugar and chocolate precariously close to spilling down Dan’s black jacket. Finally, Dan managed to detach the two pieces and made a swift end to one of them, mumbling between bites, “This is good, you have to try it.” Ginny eyed it suspiciously. “You know I hate marshmallow,” she said. “But it really doesn’t taste like marshmallow. Here, try it.” Dan pushed the remaining half toward her. Finally, during the break in one inning to the next, Ginny tentatively took the plate and gingerly picked up the dessert. She took a bite, then a second and handed the plate back to Dan. Through a mouth full of panini, she asked, “What is that crunchy stuff in the middle? Were the marshmallows roasted?” Dan smiled strangely: “That’s the graham cracker. But first they spread Nutella on the bread.” Ginny grimaced: “Ugh! I just ate three things I hate! Nutella, marshmallow and Hershey’s chocolate! Ugh!” Dan, finishing the dessert, just shook his head, muttering that he couldn’t believe anyone would turn down marshmallow and Hershey’s.

The staff at the park also did not disappoint. They were incredibly friendly and helpful. We want to thank “Miss” Sarah and Hank, who pointed us in the direction of what unique food was at the park and all the others we spoke to about the team, the park and Savannah itself. The only disappointment was the weather. We had expected, being the South, that for opening day it would be warmer than Rochester, NY. How wrong we were. A wet, cold snap had come through the area, leaving things damp and chilling. In fact, Ginny had to use Dan’s extra fleece jacket to wrap her legs. The jeans just didn’t cut it keeping the cold out. At home, we’d have dressed in several layers, but in Savannah, we foolishly believed we’d be warm. We should have known better, considering that in 2007, we had to wear several layers during one of the coldest springs ever in Alabama and Mississippi.

On the other hand, Savannah–and the Sand Gnats ball park–is definitely worth the visit. Historic, quaint and curious, it’s welcoming and warm–at least the people are warm and when the sun’s out, so is the weather



Foul Balls in Any Territory

Foul balls, as we all know, are as ubiquitous to baseball as hotdogs and homeruns. When they’re hit deep into the bleachers, we see the kids (old and young) scramble across benches and aisles to latch onto that treasure. We also see fans reaching out across fences and barricades attempting to snatch the ball from the air, or off the ground–sometimes upending the reacher onto the field. We all get a thrill seeing that ball bounce close by (at least far enough away not to hit us) and perhaps having that urge to run for it. Of course, getting hit by a foul ball is no fun, especially if you don’t even get to keep the ball afterwards. Somehow that’s just not fair! But having that souvenir ball from any park–major or minor, triple A or rookie league–seems to be an intricate part of the whole baseball experience.

When we first began our trips to minor league ball parks, we didn’t think much about the idea of chasing down foul balls. It’s a kids’ pass time and we always sit behind home plate where the netting normally shields us from the dangers of an errant ball–for the most part. (Of course, there have been times when a pop-up has soared over the net into our “protected” area. Ginny ducks under her scorebook and Dan uses his hat to try to catch the ball.) So, it was much to our surprise and pleasure when we discovered our first foul ball.

We were in Durham, North Carolina, at the AAA league Bulls’ stadium. It had just opened that year and it was a treat to see such a beautiful new park. We had seen a great game–the Bulls had defeated the Prince William Cannons 5 to 4–and we were just leaving the park. The exiting crowd was thin since the park was having fireworks and we were leaving before they started. We strolled across the street that runs in front of the park, stepped up onto the sidewalk, and there it was: our first souvenir foul ball. It was lying in the gutter between a parked car’s rear tire and the curb. Dan saw it first and gasped, “Look! A ball!” He was on it before Ginny knew what was going on–just like one of those kids in the stands, except that he didn’t have to fly over benches to get to it. The ball was definitely not a practice ball. It was too new and clean for that. It was marked with the official stamp of the Carolina league and was now ours. And that’s when we got hooked. (The Bulls were still in the single A Carolina League that year. The following year they moved up to the triple A International League.)

Now when we visit a new stadium, we always show up early for the game so that we can walk around the outside area to see if there are any errant foul balls that have been left behind by the kids who also scrounge around during the games. Some areas surrounding parks are easily accessible, allowing us to walk the entire perimeter. Others are fenced off in certain areas and we can’t make a circle around the park. We have to just make do with where we can go. But we’ve found foul balls in many, many areas close to many, many parks. In fact, Ginny has had her hands scraped and scratched many times by poking them into hazardous areas. There was even one time that Dan wanted a foul ball that had ended up on the other side of a chain link fence across from the park and he convinced Ginny she could fit her hand under it to grab the ball. Of course, this was after a night game and it was rather dark around the area where the ball lie. So, Ginny, not one to be squeamish, got down on the sidewalk, wiggled her hand under the fence–right into a patch of thistle. Not daunted, and saying an assortment of words that would make a sailor proud, she managed to get a finger onto the ball, roll it to the fence, and coax it under. She came back to the car, picking thistles out of her hand.

In Las Vegas, we managed to scrounge up three foul balls from a grassy area behind the park after a day game by using a long stick to roll the balls to within grasping distance. Of course, we were sweating after that one. It was 104 degrees at 7 p.m. We have also dug balls out of rushing creeks, from under thick bushes, down gullies, out of ditches, and from under cars. But one of the best times we have found a foul ball was in Reading, Pennsylvania. We had gone to pick up our tickets and it was raining so hard we could barely see. As we drove away from the park, which is in the middle of the downtown area, we passed an alleyway between two buildings. Dan shouted to Ginny to go around the block (she was driving). She did, although she thought he was crazy–why drive around in this rain any more than need be? When we reached the alleyway, he told her to turn into it. There, smack in the middle of the road, was a foul ball. Ginny slowly drove up to it so that the ball would be just below Dan’s now-open door. He reached out into the pouring rain and grabbed the ball. Sure enough, it was stamped with the Eastern league seal, to which the Reading Phillies belonged and was quite waterlogged. But we had another ball to add to our growing collection.

We keep all these balls in a type of shrine area where we also have signed baseballs by old-time players. Dan also keeps some of the balls on his bookshelves at work. They’re fun to look at and to remember just how we retrieved them and where. Of course, our young nieces and nephews will shake their heads and think how crazy their aunt and uncle were when it comes time for them to clear out all our stuff after we’re gone. In the meantime, we’re having fun collecting our mementos.


Finding Pearl Buck

Many times on these baseball trips, we stumble across sites that we had no idea existed and are intrigued and entertained (or at least mildly amused) by them, for instance, when we found the Marble King factory, or the Borax Museum, or the Weightlifting Hall of Fame (all stories for another time). Then other places that we set out to see give us grave difficulties in finding them, such as the Pearl Buck home outside of Dublin, Pennsylvania.

Being that Ginny teaches in an English department and is a great lover of fiction, Dan says she drags him to every author’s house that we come within 50 miles of. Secretly, Dan also often finds these museums interesting, but wouldn’t admit that over a hot bed of coals. Yet, on our eastern Pennsylvania and western Tennessee baseball trip, Ginny had planned for us to visit Buck’s home.

According to the AAA Guide, the house is located in Perkasie, PA, a small town about 20 miles north of Philadelphia. We were coming from Doylestown (home of the Mercer Museum, another story for a later time), also a small town north of Phillie. The key is that you can’t get from one of these towns to the other without great difficulty and a great deal of swearing. But we managed to make the twisty trip to Perkasie, only to be stymied by where Buck’s house was in the town. The directions in the Guide simply stated one mile south of SR 313 at Dublin Road, but there was no SR 313 on our map and after driving here and beyond, no signs of it in Perkasie. So, Ginny in her wisdom, stopped in a mall parking lot to further peruse the map and the Guide for any clues. Instead, though, she spied a police vehicle parked in the same lot. She confidently got out of the car, walked up to the police officer (who was talking to another citizen of this fair town—a man driving a pickup truck) and asked boldly, “Excuse me, sir” (always be polite to our civil servants—you never know what kind of trouble you’ll be in on any trip). “Could you tell me where the Pearl Buck house is?”

After a short exchange with the truck driver, in which they hemmed and hawed, then settled on a definite answer, the police officer took out a piece of paper and drew a map explaining what each line meant and what turns to take. Then he handed it to Ginny stating emphatically, “If this doesn’t work, you never saw me.” She laughed taking the makeshift map and hurried back to the car. Finally, some directions we could really follow! Or not.

Turns out—or not. (Notice I haven’t mentioned the officer’s name.) We drove and drove and drove, until we knew we couldn’t possibly be on the right track. So, we turned around, made our way back toward Perkasie. On the outskirts of town, we spied an ice cream parlor set up in an old Victorian house at an intersection. It stood out clearly because it was the only structure in acres of farm land. It looked as though the original farmhouse had been converted into some sort of oasis of cool refreshing enjoyment in a sea of leafy green. Ginny pulled into the parking lot. Dan said, “Is this really the time for ice cream?” Ginny only scowled at him and jumped out of the car.

Inside the shop, which was empty save for the woman behind the counter, dressed in a red and white pinstriped apron, Ginny asked where the Pearl Buck house was. The woman stared at her like Ginny had spoken in Swahili. “We had directions from a police officer, but it seems he wasn’t quite right. We missed a turn off or something,” Ginny explained. The woman shook her head, but added, “I think you take this road out front down to the light and turn right, then you should find 313.” Ginny thanked her and fled back to the car. We were back in business. If we could find 313, surely we could find the house.

Think again. After we had followed the ice cream woman’s directions, we found ourselves in a residential area of mostly ranch homes with good-size yards, probably built in the 1950s-60s. It was a very pleasant area with manicured lawns and well-kept homes. But no sign of the Pearl Buck house. As she was driving through the neighborhood, admiring the homes, Ginny spotted a yard sale with several cars parked out in front. She made an executive decision and pulled in behind the last car. Dan snarled, “Now what? See something you can’t live without?” Ginny snapped back, “Since you won’t ask for directions, I’m improvising.” Obviously, spending too much time in a car being lost takes its toll on good humor.

When Ginny reached what looked like the homeowner and sponsor of the sale, she said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but do you know where the Pearl Buck house is?” The woman frowned a bit and called to one of the women browsing through the yard sale treasures, “Phoebe, you know where the Pearl Buck house is, don’t you?” Before Phoebe could answer, two women standing to one side getting money from their wallets in readiness to pay for their purchases, both spoke up, “Yes, we do.” Ginny began to ask where, hesitating about receiving more faulty directions, when one of the women said, “If you could wait a moment while we pay for these, you can follow us over there. I drive right past the place to go home.” Ginny almost kissed the woman’s hand! She said thank you so many times, the woman must’ve thought she was crazy. She finally said, “We’re in the white convertible over there. Thank you!”

The woman was true to her word and in about five minutes, we were at the driveway to Pearl Buck’s house. Ginny honked the horn in another “thank you” gesture and the women waved as they continued on home. We drove up the long winding driveway to the out building of the home. Here was housed the business area, with a museum store, a video room, conference areas and ticket sales. We were so relieved when we finally got into the building that we were almost giddy. Until they told us that the last tour was at 2 p.m., and it was now 4 p.m. We could not believe our luck. After searching all afternoon for this place and to be told we couldn’t get in was almost too much. We looked at one another and started laughing. The sales people and docents looked at us perplexed. So we had to explain. They apologized profusely—although none of it was their fault—and pointed out that they were open the next day. Unfortunately, we had tickets to a baseball game the next day and couldn’t return. But we could possibly rearrange our schedule some to return in three days.

Before we left, we asked for directions to Dublin where our motel was located. They told us to turn left out of the driveway and we’d run into State Route 313. Oh no, 313 again, the bane of our existence. But we followed their instructions, turned left out of the driveway, went one-quarter mile and found SR 313. Our motel was about two miles away. We had actually passed this turn off for the Buck house when we had left that morning. If we had returned to our motel the way we had come that morning, we would have been a quarter mile for the Buck house.

The moral of this story is to use Google maps before you go. And always stop at neighborhood yard sales—those people know what they’re doing.


Dancing with Mr. Shoeless

Dan is a great fan of bluegrass music. Ginny has a respect for it—on a limited basis. So in 2009 we made our Baseball and Bluegrass Tour to West Virginia and southwest Virginia (with some Pennsylvania and Tennessee thrown in on the side). We saw six new ball parks, saw many historical and famous geographic sites, and attended two live bluegrass venues—where they danced and sang and played and danced some more, or I should say clogged.

For those of you not familiar with this particular Appalachian form of dancing, you’re missing a treat. This form of dancing uses loose metal taps on the heel and toe of a leather shoe (usually cowboy boots), so that when the dancer’s foot hits the floor, the metal pieces clink together like castanets. The sound becomes an integral part of the music, tapping rhythms in time to the dance. The clogging we witnessed was done by individuals, not couples as other dancing would be. However, there are team competitions across the country (with a grand championship at Opryland in Nashville). According to “A Brief History of Clog Dancing” by Jeff Driggs, modern clogging descended from the Irish and Scotts, as well as from square dancing, and was influenced by Cherokee, African and Russian step dances. Clogging in turn has influenced street dancing and hip-hop.

People clogging in southwest Virginia.

People clogging in southwest Virginia.

One of the bluegrass venues we attended was at Lay’s Hardware Center for the Arts in Coeburn, VA. The place was a former hardware store in the middle of the downtown area. Although it had been converted into a small concert venue in the middle, there was still much evidence of the old store left behind. All along the walls were drawers and shelves, including a general-store-like counter. In the center of the “store” were rows of chairs taken from some old movie theater. In the back of the “store” was the stage and in between that and the chairs lay the dance floor.

Lays Hardware in Coeburn, VA, one of our bluegrass venues.

Lays Hardware in Coeburn, VA, one of our bluegrass venues.

We arrived an hour early for the performance, but we weren’t the first in line. A couple of local people sat outside smoking and waiting for the place to open. They eyed us somewhat suspiciously since we were conspicuously not locals. When the doors opened, the ticket sellers were quite curious about our state of origin, since we definitely did not sound local, either. They were delighted when we announced New York and, as always, wondered why we had come so far. Dan explained our obsession with minor league baseball and his personal interest in bluegrass. They welcomed us heartily. But that wasn’t all….After the band had taken the stage (we had snagged front row seats), but before they began to play, the M.C. for the evening announced that they always liked to acknowledge new visitors and that people who travel long distances were special guests. He asked us to come up to the stage, which we reluctantly did, and he presented us with a signed and numbered print by a local artist. The picture was of the Lays Hardware sign surrounded by several of the most prominent bluegrass artists who had performed there. We were speechless. And for both of us—that’s a miracle.

After the presentation, the players finally got down to playing and the dancers got down to dancing. It was fascinating! We watched, enthralled by the music and the rhythms of the feet as people tapped their way past us, again and again. First, the band played several faster numbers where clogging was the dance. Then they played slower songs, where couples actually danced together a type of two-step that neither of us had seen before (despite seven years of ballroom dancing lessons). Ginny watched intently for the patterns: two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back. Some dancers were better than others, but even the children were trying out their skills on the floor.

One particular man caught our attention. He was sitting in the front row of seats that completed an L with our front row. He sat at the far end with a woman we supposed was his wife. He was short, probably about five foot six or seven, wore a cowboy hat of straw and brown cowboy boots. His red shirt was ornamented with a brown vest. He looked ready to take on the town. When the first song started, he popped up from his seat and clogged his way around the floor. He danced every dance and was always the first one on the floor. Then a strange thing happened. Seated behind the man and his wife was a little grizzled old man, who, we found out later, was the oldest person there, being in his 90s. The dancing man wanted to get the old man onto the floor—apparently his clogging skills were something of a legend in the area. However, the old man didn’t have any clogging shoes. The dancing man sat down, took off his boots and handed them to the old man. In no time flat, the old man was on the dance floor, clogging as if he were 25 (well, at least 55). It was amazing to watch. But no shoes didn’t stop the dancing man—he was up whenever there was a slower song where he didn’t need to pound his feet into the floor.

After intermission, during which several people approached us to ask about our travels, the music started up again and the dancers clogged their way around the space. Then came a slow song and here came the man with no shoes. He walked right up to Ginny and asked her to dance. Flustered, she stuttered out that she didn’t know the dance. Yet, Dan prodded her out of her seat, saying, “Oh, you can do it. Go ahead. Go ahead.” She gave him a dirty look, then smiled at the stranger and said, “Okay.” And it was okay; she caught on very quickly and only stepped on the poor man’s toes once. While they danced, the man said his name was Jim and that he’d been dancing his entire life. Ginny asked him about the clogging tradition and he bemoaned the fact that not many young people were interested any more in the centuries old dance. He was afraid that their type of dancing would die out with his generation. After the song ended, Ginny thanked Jim and retook her seat.

With the end of the concert, we said our goodbyes to the organizers, saying how much we enjoyed the music, and waved to shoeless Jim and his wife. The people here had been more than just friendly; they had been the epitome of Southern hospitality. Just another great example of how to enjoy our nation, with a side of baseball.


The House that Money Built

If you’ve been following the last couple of posts, you know that we’ve been talking about our New York City trip in 2004. When planning that trip, Ginny stated that we had to see Yankee Stadium (the old stadium, pre-2009), but she had to do some major persuading to get Dan to go. Neither of us is a Yankee fan—in fact, we’re far from it. Ginny’s argument, however, was that the stadium was such a major part of baseball history, that we couldn’t possibly go to NYC on a baseball trip and ignore the “house that Ruth built,” especially since a new stadium was on the horizon. And the team was in town that week. So we coughed up the $45+ a seat on the left field side (who can afford box seats behind home plate, except the overpaid players themselves?) and ordered the tickets.

That week, when we got into the stadium, we were immediately funneled into a line to see Monument Park. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, except that it was hyped as the must-see baseball site in New York. We knew those particular players were not buried there, but it didn’t seem so “great” to us. To us, it seemed small and unimposing. The area was about the length of a school bus, situated down the left field side of the stadium and consisted of slabs of granite with players’ names. We’re sure that a true Yankee fan would be awed by this. In fact, there was a type of reverent silence, or whispers usually reserved for church, from those moving along the little path. Ginny took the prerequisite pictures; after all, this was baseball history. And we left to get food.

We thought the price of the tickets outrageous. By the time we had gotten a souvenir program, three hot dogs, two beers, a bag of peanuts and two ice cream bars, we were out another $60. How did families do it? We know now how the housing crisis happened—too many families had to mortgage their house to come to one game!

When we finally found our seats—waaaaayyyy passed third base about 30 rows back—we settled in for an evening of baseball. Surprise! First of all, we were so far from home plate, we couldn’t hear the crack of the bat. What kind of game is it if you can’t hear the crack of the bat! Why do people bother coming to a game when all they can see is a tiny person waving around a tinier stick? And all we could hear were conversations around us, particularly the one behind us. It was more like a soap opera out here.

One of the two men seated behind us was on the phone most of the game, thanking the person on the other end for his wonderful birthday present. “Yeah, these are the greatest seats. I can’t believe you got them for me. Thank you so much.” His tone was like one of a father to his daughter, kind and parently. Of course, when he said these were great seats, we looked at each other with “are you kidding me!” eyes and snorted our derision. The next call asked, “Who helped you get the tickets, anyway? These are so good, you had to have somebody help you out.” How cute, we thought, a young daughter maybe getting Mommy to buy the tickets for her to give to Daddy. In between calls, he also made calls to the beer vendor, but not on his phone. By the fifth inning, his responses on the phone were beginning to show the warm glow of the beer. “You were so thoughtful, getting these tickets. When I get home, I can show you how grateful I am.” That statement was a bit lurid for a daughter. What was really going on here? In the seventh inning, the call included, “Wait till I get home. I’m really going to give you a good time as a thank you.” The tone was so sleazy, we finally figured out that the “daughter” was either a girlfriend or wife who he treated as a sexual child, which was made even more disgusting by the fact that every time an attractive—and some not quite so attractive—woman passed by him, he would nudge his buddy and say, “I’d do her.” This was topped off by his racist comments about the Japanese players on the team. Ginny desperately wanted to turn around and let him have a feminist tirade (as she had done before in other places, much to Dan’s chagrin), but he was a New Yorker, drunk and muscled. She knew Dan couldn’t outrun him.

Our experience at Yankee Stadium can be summed up with the first phrase Ginny wrote in the scorebook: “Is this hell on earth?”

But our adventure to the stadium did not end there. After the game, we followed the crowds back to the subway to make our way a hundred blocks or so to our hotel. There we encountered a man trying to break into a public phone coin box. He was quite audacious about it. Some 50 people or so were all milling around with him standing smack in the middle of the platform trying to jimmy the lock with a bent wire coat-hanger. Never before had we seen someone so oblivious to those around him AND how blithely the populous allowed him to go about his business freely. The gentleman worked diligently for some time, but finally gave up and walked away unmolested. The subway train arrived and we all got on. It was New York City after all.

Beyond the disappointments with Yankee Stadium and the Brooklyn Cyclones, we had an exciting time in New York City and are anxious to return. Maybe not to those stadiums, but certainly to Staten Island and the theaters and the museums and the restaurants and the shopping and….NYC really does have an infinite charm.


A Tale of Two Ball Parks

The Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones organizations were both surprises to us. And they were complete opposites.

When we were visiting New York City in the summer of 2004 we saw the Staten Island Yankees the second day we were in town. We were both excited about the trip. Neither of us had ever ridden the ferry and probably acted like every other tourist that’s ever seen a boat and water. Ginny took pictures (her primary responsibility) while Dan tried to play it cool. When we deboarded, all we needed to do was turn right up a small hill and we were at the park. The stadium was fairly new, having been opened only three years before (2001) and is so conveniently placed that anyone could find it: “Take the ferry to Staten Island, then turn right.”

The staff were friendly and eager to help us find what we needed, from our seats to New York style food to the right sized hat for our friend. But the most impressive and memorable event is, when they sing the Star Spangled Banner, the fans are looking out over the water at the Statue of Liberty. Just writing this, we still get goosebumps. That particular evening, Taylor John, the son of the team’s coach and former major league pitcher Tommy John, sung the national anthem, which made our visit even more memorable.

Then we have our trip to the Brooklyn Cyclones. It seemed to begin well, with a great subway ride out to Coney Island and a stroll along the beachfront down to the amusement park area. But when got into the park and to our seats, the disappointment began. You must know that, when possible, we always sit directly behind home plate. Dan admires the profession of the umpire. So much so that at one time he wanted to use his sabbatical from work to attend umpire school. And Ginny just likes to be safe behind the mesh. It is definitely a unique view of the game. However, here we were out on the furthest edge of the seats passed third base. As we trudged our way out to this desolate land, Dan grumbled that he had specifically asked for the closest seats to home plate. At some sold-out parks, this might just be the closest. But here we were with NOBODY around us. There was no way that the park was sold out. Besides being out in the back of beyond, the whole area around us was filthy. It looked like the day after soccer hooligans had been there: peanut shells everywhere, hot dog wrappers strewn up and down the steps, empty beer cups thrown under seats, and a melted nutty banana prominently situated at our feet—at least, we hoped it was a nutty banana. If it wasn’t, sitting in the sun as it did, it would soon be emanating a smell that would reflect the looks of the trashed area.

Dan handed Ginny his purchases from the team store and went back to Will Call to complain. Meanwhile, Ginny sat down with a sigh, a few seats away from the questionable banana, to set up her scorebook. Twenty minutes later, he returned, his mood even more sour. It seems that the Brooklyn club’s sales were handled by the parent club—the NY Mets—and those people had never seen the stadium. They had no idea where the seats closest to home plate were even located! Brooklyn couldn’t exchange tickets either because—according to them—there were no seats available. And all this information was delivered to Dan with a condescending, snotty attitude to boot. Dan described the people at the ticket counters and in the front office as unwilling to help anyone, even if we were from out of town and here to specifically see their team. They didn’t care. This was added to the fact that later, during the game, when we surveyed the area behind home plate, we saw that it was almost completely empty.

It was a sad disappointment that a Yankee organization had outshone the Mets’. We thought, well, maybe money really does buy happiness. At least it hired friendlier people.

Combining Culture and Sports

As the title implies, you can combine culture and sports, which we have done in the past. Those who love baseball are already exceedingly refined in their tastes. After all, baseball consists of all the best aspects of a civilized society: nine people working in unison, played in a pasture, scoring runs (not goals or points), and, of course, coming home. This is in stark contrast to football which consists of the two worst things in America society: violence followed by committee meetings. (Thanks to the late George Carlin for first pointing out this contrast to us.)

Thus, in 2004, we found ourselves planning a trip that combined several of our interests and kept us close to home. Due to extended family concerns we also needed to keep our trip quite short. But the state of New York is blessed with several minor league teams and New York City has two of them. Besides baseball, though, we both enjoy the theater—and what better place to be for its vast selection of plays and musicals than New York City.

Through the Baseball America’s Directory, Dan found dates when both the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees were playing at home in the same week. Ginny then found a great online deal for a combination flight and hotel for six days. The hotel is located in Hell’s Kitchen (which is NOT what it sounds like) and is only a short walk to the theater district. Next, we foraged through the list of theaters and came up with three plays that we were interested in seeing where we could get tickets not costing the proverbial arm and leg (or more likely, TWO arms and TWO legs!).

We had six glorious days in the Big Apple with two baseball games and our choice of plays, with the many sites of the city beckoning. We saw the Cloisters, a fascinating place that we didn’t know existed until reading a tourist reference in our hotel room. It is actually a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—although located in Upper Manhattan—and houses a medieval collection that includes paintings, statues, tapestries and stained glass windows, most all of which are associated in some way with religion during the middle ages in Europe. The museum consists of lavish gardens, a Romanesque chapel and five French cloisters, hence the name. One of the main attractions at The Cloisters is the Hunt for the Unicorn tapestries, many of which are now represented as posters and pop art. Most people would recognize having seen them somewhere. According to the explanations provided by the museum, the tapestries were woven in Belgium in the late 1500s most likely for a wedding. Their religious connotations are hard to miss. Most experts believe that the Unicorn represents Jesus Christ who is hunted down, killed, then resurrected through love. The tapestries originally hung on the walls of a castle in France until the Revolution, after which they were used to cover a farmer’s fruit trees during inclement weather. In the 1850s, the family of the original owner reclaimed them, but major damage had been done. Today, the tapestries hang in a room designed as a European nobleman’s hall in the mid-17th century.

Later in the week, we made out way up to St. John the Divine, the largest cathedral in the world. This Episcopal church has a massive presence and is worth the time to tour. Begun in 1892, the building is still not complete. According to the cathedral’s welcome pamphlet, the 601-foot cathedral was dedicated in 1941, one week before Pearl Harbor. When the war commenced, construction was ceased and did not begin again until 1979. It was again suspended in 1994 because efforts were needed for site improvements and preservation instead of new construction. In December of 2001, fire broke out, destroying the North Transept and causing extensive smoke damage to the interior. Restoration wasn’t begun until 2003. We managed to view much of the fire damage to the transept, but the smoke damage luckily had been cleaned away. The $3 entrance fee for tourists is well worth the donation. Unfortunately, due to the fire parts of the church were closed. We did get a close up look, however, of the outside of the burned out transept. They were lucky to have saved the rest of the church.

We continued our trek north and toured the campus of Columbia University. Because we are such bibliophiles, we checked out their library (something we do often when traveling). Then worked our way north along the Hudson River, where we found General Grant National Memorial. After all the years of hearing that bad joke about “who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?”, we discovered the truth: a woman named Julia. OK, so it is General Grant’s wife along side of him. The sarcophagi are quite impressive, made of Wisconsin red granite and weighing eight and a half tons each (according to the docents). Despite the joke, this is a solemn and honorable site to see.

The Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, another great museum we toured, was only a couple of blocks south of our hotel. How could we pass up such a chance? The decommissioned World War II-Vietnam era aircraft carrier houses artifacts in four different halls: Intrepid Hall, Pioneers Hall, Technologies Hall and U.S. Navy Hall. Between its time as a war ship and then as a museum, the Intrepid spent time as a space recovery ship. In fact, the first space shuttle orbiter, the Enterprise, will soon join other space memorabilia at the museum. Imagine, the Enterprise ON the Intrepid. Does boggle the mind!

The day of the Brooklyn game, we arrived early in order to walk over to Coney Island, which is next door to the stadium. While there, we had a hot dog at Nathan’s—the site of the infamous 4th of July hot dog eating contest. Because we were so early, the crowd was just beginning to form around the staging area. Luckily, we were also early enough to grab a hot dog at the stand before the insanity truly began. A lot can be said about kosher, natural casing hot dogs, but one word comes to mind: delicious!

For the next installment here, we’ll talk about the Brooklyn and Staten Island stadiums—what a world of difference! Stay tuned.