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.


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