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.


The Baseball Symposium

Some people would be surprised to know that there are actual academic conferences about baseball. Many of them concentrate on literature that uses baseball as a theme, or investigating the portrayal of players in films. The preeminent international conference on baseball, though, is the one held annually at Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This symposium, “Baseball and American Culture,” is co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and attracts attendees from around the world. According to their website, the purpose of the symposium is to “examine the impact of baseball on American culture from interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary perspectives.”

Last spring, 2012, we took a long shot at proposing a possible presentation at the conference about our travels around the country in search of baseball and interesting sites. When our acceptance came, we were shocked and delighted. We were going to speak at a conference held in the baseball hall of fame! After the happy dance, reality set in–we had to actually speak in front of people about baseball, people who probably knew statistics and memorized players for teams in the 1920s. We’d have to actually write something interesting and entertaining and smart. Gulp!

As it turned out, Ginny wrote an academic piece about the metaphors of traveler versus tourist (a traveler leaves home to experience the world and a tourist leaves home to escape the world–thank you, Rolf Potts). We talked about how we are a hybrid of the traveler and tourist, and how our experiences of traveling to see baseball enrich our lives through education about our country and its inhabitants. Then we shared two of our stories about the sites we’ve seen and people we’ve met on our annual journeys to see baseball. Afterwards, we had several people compliment us on our presentation and we were delighted. We even received an invitation to be guest speakers at the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

The most exciting event of the symposium was the welcome dinner held in the Plaque Room. This is the room where hang all the memorial plaques of players who have been inducted into the hall of fame. It felt as though we were eating with history.

So, why write about this now? It seems that we thought we’d try our luck again this year and proposed another possible presentation–this time about fan-speak. That is, we want to analyze how fans cheer and jeer at baseball games. Yesterday our acceptance letter came. We’re going back to the hall of fame. The excitement in our house is palpable (it doesn’t take much to thrill us!). It’s a great feeling–until we realize, once again, we’ve got to write the darn thing!

If you are a true fan of baseball, we highly recommend the Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. It is educational, entertaining and, as Dan says, just way cool. There are few things better than to have a pass into the Hall of Fame—going in and out as an academician and attending presentations and discussions on the history, psychology, legal issues, gender issues and even personal aspects of baseball and American society—and then during breaks wandering through the Plaque Room or rest of the museum reading and soaking in all of the history of baseball. We go to academic conferences all the time and they are enlightening, interesting and fun for a variety of reasons, but this conference is special—just because it’s about baseball.

And if you’re never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame, then it’s time you come! The symposium this year is May 29-31. You can find more information about the conference at the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame website. Even if you don’t attend the symposium, the Hall of Fame is a MUST on any fan’s list.

Baseball in the Cold

In the spring of 2007, both of us were on sabbatical from our respective jobs and we had moved up to the cottage in the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan to spend our time researching and writing. But sabbatical isn’t all about work; it’s a time to rest and rejuvenate, relax and think deep thoughts. And our deepest thoughts, of course, often concern baseball. So while on sabbatical we made two minor road trips: one to the upper Midwest during June/July and the other to the deep South, during a record cold spring.

The trip began ominously enough with us outrunning a snow storm that eventually dumped 14 inches of the white stuff on the cottage and its environs. We had heard the predictions for the storm and we decided that we would leave earlier than planned, outrunning the storm by two hours. But the cold didn’t stop with the North. We stopped in our hometown of Cincinnati to visit with family and found it almost as cold and snowy as Michigan. Then, as we wound our way down south, the temperatures did not moderate. In Birmingham, AL, we sat through one of the coldest games we’d ever experienced—and we live in Rochester, NY! The temperature read 32o. Of course, that’s really not too very bad for us; but the locals were freezing. One very nice couple, Diane and Randy Johnson, who sat behind us had driven down from Albertville (some 80 miles northwest) to see the game and were troopers about the record cold spring, although Diane had several layers of clothing on and FOUR blankets. They explained that they were there because Randy is a sportswriter and Diane likes baseball, although the weather was testing her loyalty. She asked us how we could tolerate the cold with only our two layers of clothing and one thin blanket each. We smiled and told her that up North in our neck of the woods, the Rochester Red Wings were trying to use a Zamboni to clear the outfield. (The baseball season ended up starting two weeks late because of the snow and cold.) So we were happy to be in the balmy South.

Slowly, the temperatures did begin to moderate, and while it was still a little cooler than normal for the South, the beautiful bright days and the warming made the trip lovely. The scenery of lush green trees and grass was a treat for us, coming from the color-starved wintry North, and we marveled at how summer-like it looked already.

By the time we reached New Orleans—about ten days into the trip—the extreme cold had cleared out of the South and we were back into shorts, at least during the daylight hours. NOLA (New Orleans, LA, for those of you who don’t know the shorthand) was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina that had hit there some year and a half before. We came to New Orleans to attend a College English Association national conference at which we were presenting a paper on the use of travel narratives in college writing classes (of course, we used memoirs from our baseball trips).

On our way back north, we traveled through Arkansas, then headed east, back across Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and north once more through Kentucky, Ohio (stopping again for family) and finally back to the cottage. Over the course of this three week trip, we saw Civil War sites, museums, cemeteries, Episcopal churches, state parks, preserved mansions (including our first plantation), the world’s smallest library (run on the honor system), homes of famous writers, hurricane damage, innumerable roadside historical markers, fabulous (and not so fabulous) restaurants and seven new ball parks. Dan even got a haircut at the Chattanooga Lookouts stadium! And we never guessed that we’d fall in love with the state of Mississippi, despite the fact that it was cold and gray for much of the time we were there. This was (and still is) the longest trip we’ve taken during our years of baseball travel, even with its inauspicious frigid first half. Baseball trips can truly be educational experiences, given the time and a little bit of planning. See the country, meet the people and watch baseball–what can be better in America?

Baseball Fans (and Players) Behaving Badly

When mobs of people get together, sometimes unfortunate things happen. Too often common courtesy takes a seat on an out of the park fly ball. The majority of our time with baseball fans has been pleasant, even absolutely delightful. But there have been those few times when some jerk—or a whole gaggle of jerks—has made the situation so foul, that we put a park on the “never returning here” list.

For example, one of our trips through the Midwest and Southern states took us to Little Rock, Arkansas, an interesting city and home of the Clinton Presidential Library. The day we visited the ballpark turned out to be a morning game with busloads of school children in attendance. (It was spring and teachers will do anything to get the kids out of the classroom!) Since this was a special occasion, tickets were all general admission. We were told that anyone—other than the school kids—could sit anywhere they wanted. Great! So we headed to our spot of preference in any baseball park—right behind home plate. We were settled in, the game started and a group of people took the row of seats behind us. Not unusual. Then suddenly, a 40s-something man dressed in what looked like clothes straight out of Brooks Brothers (their summer line, of course—it was quite warm) and a $500 haircut demanded that we vacate HIS corporate seats. He didn’t ask politely, he didn’t say perhaps we had gotten the wrong tickets, he didn’t even pretend to be courteous. Instead, when Dan explained that we were told to sit anywhere, he blustered on about how much HE had PAID for HIS season tickets, not to mention the $10,000.00 for the corporate advertising and HE was by God going to sit there! HE didn’t care WHAT the office had said. To say the least, we were stunned. The man was the worst kind of fan: an arrogant bully who didn’t know how to say “please.” Needless to say, we moved our stuff and ourselves back one row and over, out of ear shot of the bully and his entourage—who had stayed uncomfortably quiet while our encounter happened. When we got into our new seats, Dan, miffed beyond his mild manner, went back to the front office to complain. When he returned, he said that the management was refusing to even be bothered with comments or concerns of the fans. Ironically, Dan said, during his attempts to talk to the management he could see a sign in the office with the famous quote, “The buck stops here.” Dan came to the conclusion that is was the “money buck” that stopped there, not the “buck” of responsibility or caring, which seemed apropos since the bully’s corporation was a financial institution.

Actually, the people we ended up sitting next to turned out to be as friendly as the bully was mean. They sided with us and explained that that particular group often acted like they owned the stadium. So, we do have an ambiguous view of the Arkansas Travelers’ Dickey-Stephens Park: although there are people in Little Rock you need to avoid, there are also some fans who could make the trip worthwhile.

Another instance of people behaving badly was when we attended a game at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Our seats were in the front row just next to a staging area where some of the off-duty players sat watching the game and/or keeping the stats. Anyone milling around that area could take different routes to exit from that area, one of them being directly in front of us. We soon found out that this staging area was busier than a turnstile at the World Series. No sooner had one person crossed in front of us blocking the game, than another one would be coming back the other way. And never once was there a polite “excuse me.” We missed half the plays because of someone scooting passed our knees. Ginny got so fed up, she put her feet on the concrete wall in front of us and told people to go the other way, down an aisle of seats, by the way, totally unoccupied. The definitive moment came when she was sworn at by one of the players, and not just a more innocuous curse word, but the “f— you” bomb. Here we were, visitors to their town and their stadium, trying to enjoy an evening of baseball, and one of their own players is swearing at us! It was here that we came to the conclusion that there are just some stadiums where it is not worth your time or effort to confront bad behavior—it is better just to warn people about these places. So, that’s a stadium you don’t need to visit.

Then there was Hagerstown, Maryland. The “Root, root, root for the home team” sign on the front of the stadium should have been a clue to us. What fans need to be reminded to cheer for their own team? We found out.

The Suns stadium in Hagerstown, Maryland was a very different experience for us. Never had we seen or heard such behavior from the hometown fans. Yes, they bad-mouthed the umpires—normal. They shouted at the other team players—not polite, but not out of the ordinary. But when they heckled their own team members, we knew something was wrong. Was it perhaps some trick of the atmosphere? It was 90 degrees at 7 pm, another day of a long heat spell, and heat lightening crackled in the distance. Maybe it was all the ozone in the air. No, said the scout sitting next to us. These fans were like this all the time. Ouch. And as we were getting to leave after the game, the scout said, “God help me, I’ve got two more nights to be here.” When an experienced scout who’s seen many, many stadiums says that, there must be a problem!

Yes, it may be that in our culture, politeness and courtesy seem old-fashioned. In this age of bench-clearing brawls—and we’re not talking about hockey—and when one fan gets killed because of saying the wrong thing to someone, it does seem that the days of politeness are gone. But remember, everyone, baseball is a pastoral game. It’s played in a “park” and players come “home” at the end. Is it too much to ask, then, that we the fans extend some friendly common courtesy to one another? Or are we just being old and fussy?

The Baseball Radio Interview at Everett

Ginny had her hand on the car door when she saw Dan lean over and motion frantically at her. It was the international sign for “come here,” or “look, there’s something wrong with my arm and my hand’s gone to sleep.”  Ginny thought, “What the heck?” and started gawking around the parking lot looking for some exciting site that she was missing. Ooh, perhaps a robbery, or a police show-down. Or maybe Dan’s hand had just gone to sleep and he was shaking it to get the pins and needles out. No, the look on his face was more insistent than that. Vaguely she began to hear him yelling from inside, “Get in! Get in!” So she did what any curious person would do: took another scan of the surrounding cars and mall entrance. Nope, no action there. So she opened the door. After she slid into the passenger seat, Dan pointed to the radio, making a stern face. Chatter emanated and Ginny looked at him puzzled. With eyebrows raised and a more intense “listen” expression, Dan once again pointed to the radio. Then she understood. She heard Dan first, then herself, talking about baseball and our trips across the country. Wow! We were on the radio. In Seattle, Washington!

But we should back up a bit. Let’s start with why we were in Washington in the first place. Like some of our trips, this one was family-related—Ginny’s brother Mike was getting married. Thus we were tacking on our baseball trip. We arrived in the state a week early, spent some time with Mike and his bride-to-be Colleen, which included attending a Seattle Mariners’ game (another story unto itself), followed the next day by a visit to the Everett AquaSox. When we arrived, there was already a line outside the gate, so Dan got a place in while Ginny went off to take pictures of the outside of the park and their sign. Of course, Dan did his natural thing, started talking to the people around him.  Baseball fans love to talk, and those that get to the park early wearing the jersey of the home team, holding seat cushions with the same logo or even bringing their own lawn chairs, are, by goodness, rabid fans, as were the few in front of Dan. They had their lawn chairs set up smack in front of the gates having staked out their territory even earlier than we.

Dan inquired curiously about the unannounced doubleheader and why in the world they only opened the gates five minutes before the first game was suppose to start.  The couple explained that due to the rainout the previous night and since the opponents would not be able to return that season and since they hadn’t called the rainout until all of the staff had been sent home, there was no convenient way to get the concession staff in any earlier than when they normally arrived. It was obvious to these fans that we were not locals, so it was their turn to be curious: what were we doing in their fair city.  Dan explained that we travel the country visiting minor league parks. “Why just the minors,” they asked and Dan rattled off all our reasons, ending with a smile and telling them that, usually, the local people are much more friendly at the minor league parks.

Just as he had gotten to this point, the gates opened and everyone participating in the conversation scattered towards their seats or some other destination within the park. Shortly after we got settled in to our seats, meaning that Ginny had filled out all the players’ names, numbers, positions in the appropriate order in her scorebook and we had eaten our hotdogs, a young woman approached us and asked, “Are you the couple who travels around to different minor league parks?”  Dan nodded and she said, “My name is Katy Khakpour, and I work for KSER Radio with the AquaSox game show. Can I interview you for the show?  It won’t be live, I will do it on my tape recorder.”  To say the least, we were taken aback—why in the world would anyone want to interview us— but we thought what the heck, it was a local radio show and nobody we knew would hear it. Dan turned to Ginny who was looking at him, and we gave each other that mutual shrug of the shoulders indicating that why not—let’s do it.  With that Dan turned to Katy, and said, “Sure, since I have the ideal face for radio, it wouldn’t be too bad of an idea. But can we do it in between the two games so that we don’t miss anything?”  She said sure and that she would return in between games.

Thus shortly after the Everett AquaSox (short season single A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners) lost to the Tri-City Dust Devils (an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) 5 to 7, Katy showed up again with her tape recorder.  She informed us that the interview would be initially broadcast during their Saturday morning baseball round-up show and that she would edit out anything that we might say that would be inappropriate or that would be “bleeped out” during a live broadcast. Thus assured that we would not get ourselves into too much trouble, we proceeded with the interview. Interestingly enough, her questions were very similar to the ones we get all the time: How many parks have you been to? Why do you do it? Which is the best or which is your favorite park and/or team? What else about doing this interests you? And the such. After it was over, we exchanged addresses and Katy promised that she would send us a copy of the tape because we were sure that we would not be in the area when it was to be broadcast on the following Saturday morning. We didn’t think much about it afterwards except that we now realized that we were about to become famous radio personalities in the airwaves of Everett, Washington. We watched the second game, which the AquaSox lost again to the Dust Devils 1 to 3, then went on our merry way to the hotel.

The next morning we proceed on our tour of the ballparks of the Pacific Coast League(AAA) and the Northwest League (Short Season A), visiting the Vancouver Canadians and the Tacoma Rainers before proceeding to the main reason for the trip, the wedding, which was held on Orcas Island in Puget Sound in a small hotel right next to  the ferry, which blasted its arrival and departure horn at God-awful times in the early morning. Otherwise, it was a wonderful event. The next morning we were back on our baseball trip, which took us to Oregon and through Washington state.

On the last day of the trip we headed back toward Seattle for our flight that didn’t leave until midnight. We had arrived in town at 6 pm but had no desire to sit in the airport for six hours. What to do? Then Ginny proposed going to the movies, another one of our favorite pastimes. So the new problem was that we were in a town that we hardly knew at all looking for a movie theater. It can generally be acknowledged that even the maps from the American Automobile Association do not list movie theaters—but they do identify malls on the city inserts and we figured, if you can find a mall you can find a movie close by.  So we headed to the closest mall; however, we failed to locate a theater. It had to be the only mall in Washington state not to have a movie theater near by. But then Ginny had another great idea (she’s a smart girl—sometimes).  We could go into the mall to find a public telephone (yes, there were still a few around back then) or at the very least ask someone. And since the task at hand included the possibility of asking someone for directions, the task naturally fell to Ginny. Dan is a man and it goes against his genetic makeup to ask for directions. Instead he parked the car, while Ginny headed into the mall for directions.

Since he needed something to while away the time, Dan fiddled with the car radio trying to find anything but opera or rap, when he heard “the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard about baseball,” then he realized that he was the one speaking! Just at that point, Ginny had emerged from the mall and was walking toward the car.

So there we were, on the radio.  As the interview ended, we looked at each other in amazement that “we” were on the radio. And then Dan began shouting at Ginny that when he was flailing his arms about desperately trying to get her to do something, that it was a good idea to do it! It might just save her life! She really still hasn’t grasped the concept, even after Dan watched her almost get killed in Nashville—yet another story.

Several months after the trip, when we had completely forgotten about the interview, we received a package in the mail. A cassette tape (yes, now an historical artifact) with a very nice note from Katy thanking us again for the interview. It’s with the rest of our stuff, jumbled up in a drawer somewhere. We’ll have to get it out someday soon and play it before our old tape deck goes the way of all technology—to the Salvation Army.