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Bumpy roads often lead to beautiful places

Nats Win Game 3 NLCS 10 14 19

Nats are going to the World Series! (Photo of Game 3 NLCS win by Peter Kiefhaber)

When much-maligned Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez was asked how he felt after his ballclub just completed an improbable four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series (NLCS), he went back to something his mother told him: “Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.”

Then, in light of earning the franchise’s first trip to the World Series, he added, “And this is a beautiful place.”

Oh, is it ever!

NLCS Most Valuable Player Howie Kendrick—one of 18 resident “Los Viejos” (the Old Men) on the Nats playoff roster over the age of 30—said, “I can truly say this is the best time of my career, the best moment of my career this year.”

I can add that in my 55 years of being enthralled by baseball—beginning as a nine-year-old with a 1964 trip to Wrigley Field on a family vacation to see the Cubs play Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals; to following Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants from afar, as a kid growing up in Middle Tennessee; to the Atlanta Braves teams of the 1970s, and 1980s, and 1990s; to the Nationals arrival in DC in 2005; to my bucket list quest to visit all 30 MLB ballparks; to the Division-winning teams of 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017—nothing compares to the joy of watching this year’s Nationals.

What a way to spend a gap year!

I may not have any expectations for this team, but, as I said following this club’s improbable Wild Card game win and again after they crushed the mighty Dodgers in five games of the NLDS with Howie’s 10th inning grand slam, I sure am having fun.

Last evening was no exception.

As a one television family, we had a “discussion” in our household about whether we were going to watch the Democratic Presidential Debate or Game 4 of the NLCS. I volunteered to go on the road, so I headed across the street to our terrific and lively local brewery, the Silver Branch Brewing Company. There I settled in at the bar with a group of other red-clad Nats fans, ordered up an October brew, and watched the game while chatting with new friends and bartenders. The seven-run first inning had us all in a state of euphoria, but I recalled to my bar mate that we had a 6-0 lead in 2012’s elimination game against these same Cardinals. Nothing was assured. When the Cardinals clawed back to 7-4, it was time to order a second beer.

And yet, the Nats hung in there and fought through all the challenges thrown at them.

One of the great lines in the many column inches in today’s Washington Post about the Nationals win came from that long-time baseball scribe Thomas Boswell, who wrote about that May day when, “The team landed a Baby Shark named Gerardo Parra on a one-ounce test line — picked up free, with the San Francisco Giants still paying his salary.”

When Parra came in late in Game 4 and got a hit, somehow I knew that the Nats would win. Parra brought joy back to Washington baseball after too many seasons of pinning our hopes on the talented but moody and aloof Bryce Harper. Heck, Parra even got that old head case Stephen Strasburg to dance and laugh in delight when enveloped in a group hug he couldn’t have escaped even if he wanted to.

As columnist Christopher Powers noted, “Of the four teams left in the MLB Playoffs, there was really only one that could be characterized as ‘likeable,’ that team being the Washington Nationals.” Powers looks at the other teams that were in the two league championship series and finds them all lacking in likeability.

“The New York Yankees? Evil Empire. The St. Louis Cardinals? Most insufferable fanbase ever. The Houston Astros? Cocky players and even cockier fans, which is funny considering they just discovered the franchise existed in 2017.”

Every one of those characterizations is spot on. And speaking of insufferable, who died and left Yadier Molina as the king of baseball’s unwritten rules? He’s a terrific, Hall of Fame-bound catcher, but give me a break with all the grousing about how to play the game. Let the young kids and “Los Viejos” have some fun! Break out the Parra rose-colored glasses!

“As for the Nats,” Powers continues, “now that Bryce Harper is in Philly, there’s really nothing hate-able about them.”

Not only is there nothing hate-able, there’s a lot there to just sit back and enjoy. And now we get to do it for at least four more games in 2019.

So we’ve celebrated, danced, and now we wait for six long days before the start of the World Series, against either the formidable Houston Astros or New York Yankees. A World Series where I’ll have no expectations…except for the expectation to have a great deal of fun.

Go Nats! No, wait. Go, National League Champion Nats!

Let’s continue to play ball!

More to come…


Installment #13 of The Gap Year Chronicles

Something More Significant

In her 2018 study Leadership in Turbulent Times, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tackles a subject that could not be more relevant. Drawing on the life and lessons of four U.S. presidents, Goodwin holds up the achievements, foibles, and resilience of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. She examines how each came to be known for leadership as they dealt with civil war, the inequalities of the Industrial Age, the twin crises of global economic depression and war, and, finally, the struggle for civil rights.

Leadership, in other words, in times of crisis and transformation. Something like the times we are in at the moment.

I’m in the midst of reading Goodwin’s study. However, her examination in the opening chapter of the young Abraham Lincoln, and one quality she calls out from that period, came to mind this week after hearing the hate speech of the current resident of the White House directed at Somali Americans in Minnesota.

In contrast to the powerful having a sense that they can bully and hurt the vulnerable for their own political profit, Goodwin notes that the young Lincoln “possessed a profound sense of empathy (emphasis added).” He was able to put himself in the place of others. In doing so, he could “imagine their situations and identify their feelings.”

Lincoln Douglas Debate

Lincoln Douglas Debates commemorative stamp from 1958 (Credit: U.S. Government, Post Office Department – U.S. Post Office Hi-res scan of postage stamp by Gwillhickers., Public Domain)

We are currently grappling with what happens to our nation when all sense of empathy leaves those at the height of power, if it was ever present in the first place. We are seeing what happens when humor is used not to uplift spirits, but to degrade our fellow human travelers.

Goodwin tells us that the young Lincoln’s humor could run amok, “his light mockery turning vindictive, even cruel.” She gives an example when Lincoln—in response to a rival’s light-hearted political jousting at his expense—resorted to mimicry and “scathing ridicule.” Lincoln, apparently, was a master at this type of humor and his rival, sitting in the audience, broke down in tears. In the vernacular of today, Lincoln’s performance “went viral.”

But what he does next is just one example from many of why he became a great leader. Lincoln realized he had overstepped. He went and found his rival and gave a heartfelt apology. The memory of the event stayed with him for years and led Lincoln to “rein in his impulse to throw a hurtful counterpunch.”

We live in a day and age when an hour-long presidential “address” is nothing but a grievance-filled counterpunch, intended to hurt, tear-down, and destroy political rivals.

Why was Lincoln able to rein in his impulses? “He was after,” Goodwin asserts, “something more significant than the gratification of an artfully delivered humiliation (emphasis added).”

In real leaders, the proper aspirations and vision can lead to a place where empathy and humor are used to build up rather than divide and destroy.

Have a good week.

More to come…


Let’s Dance!

Nationals LogoI suspect I wasn’t the only person having a private dance party in my television room at precisely 12:23 a.m. this morning. Or once again at precisely 12:41 a.m.

No, indeed! The Washington Nationals faithful—after enduring crushing defeats in the 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017 National League Division Series (NLDS)—were ready to celebrate in that crazy 2019 Nationals way: the dugout home run dance party.

Why? First, because Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hit back-to-back solo home runs off Dodger legend (and playoff goat) Clayton Kershaw in the 8th to tie the 5th and final NLDS, win-or-go-home, game. Then Howie (THAT man can HIT) Kendrick blasts a grand slam home run in the 10th inning at 12:23 a.m. East Coast time. And finally, Michael A. Taylor made a diving catch in center field in the bottom of the inning at 12:41 a.m. to close out the game and bring the Nationals their first Division Series win in five attempts.

And we all danced!

Thank God the Nats don’t play in the NFL (also known as the No Fun League).  They would be penalized for exuberant celebrations.

There is a lot to be said for disregarding goals and barriers that others set for you in order to allow yourself to simply focus on enjoying the ride. That’s one thing this group has clearly done since the darkest days of May, when they stood at 19-31 on the 23rd of the month and everyone (myself included) was ready to write off the season.

That’s about the time Gerardo Parra arrived, a former Gold Glove winner picked up cheap off the MLB scrap heap, to which he replied, “That’s baseball.” He looked around at his new surroundings and said, “Why’s everyone so tight.” Parra got them to loosen up, and since his arrival the Nats have had fun. They’ve turned Nationals Park into the capital of Baby Shark. They focused on “Go 1-0 today.” They bring a cast of characters, none more important than “Tony Two Bags.” They began wearing orange and pink-colored Gerardo Parra sunglasses. They tied with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball from May 23rd until the end of the season. And, oh yeah, they dance in the dugout after home runs.

I may not have any expectations for this team, but, as I said following this club’s improbable Wild Card game win, I sure am having fun.

I could write about so much here: Stephen Strasburg’s gritty effort that kept the Nats in the hunt after he settled down from a rocky start. Patrick Corbin’s gutty relief appearance after a meltdown earlier in the series. The bullpen as a whole, which kept the Dodgers at bay after they scored three runs in the first two innings. The absolutely horrible managerial decisions made by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. (Yes, he could win the Matt Williams Award for boneheaded calls under pressure.)

But I won’t.

There are great accounts in the Washington Post by columnists Thomas Boswell and Barry Svrluga. Scott Allen has a wonderful piece on the reactions at the late-night watch party at Nationals Park, from the Washington Capitols (tuning in from Nashville where they are in town to play the Predators tonight), and around the country. Go read the professionals.

Nats October gear

Ready for October baseball! Go Nats!!

And on my morning walk through Silver Spring today, my new Nats jacket—one that’s especially warm for October baseball in the District—brought approving comments and “Go Nats” calls from fellow travelers.

Go Nats, Indeed! On to St. Louis!

More to come…


All That’s Left to Learn

Grace yoga

My local yoga studio

Gap years provide opportunities to try something new or—if your time off comes later in life—to return and revisit neglected passions. In the last six months I’ve taken a writing course. I’ve incorporated my long-time love of guitar playing into my daily routine. A course on wine or bourbon tasting, to gain fresh insights into a couple of my more pleasurable pursuits, may be in my future. Perhaps I’ll use the new bike path that runs in front of our house as the impetus to rekindle my passion for cycling.

And while I’d given yoga a chance in the past, there were always other, seemingly more important, calls on my attention. But I now find myself here, in my gap year, returning to the yoga studio.

There’s a very logical reason for making this move: my muscles and joints were crying out for more flexibility. Several months ago I tripped while stepping off the train in London and fell to the concrete platform, landing directly on my right knee. For a number of weeks the pain in that kneecap, along with sympathy discomfort in my hips and other related body parts, had me feeling as if I had suddenly jumped on a fast track to old age*. It was easy to project forward a few years, see the probable upshot if things didn’t change, and know that it wasn’t pretty. While I have a collection of historic walking sticks I inherited from my dad, I’m not interested in using them anytime soon.

That led me to give yoga another try and, thankfully, the knees and hips are responding well. My morning walk no longer brings twinges of pain as I ramble through downtown. I find myself moving better than I was before my encounter with the train platform.

But physical flexibility hasn’t been the only outcome of this practice. Something strange began to happen while stretching body parts into new positions and discovering previously unknown bones, joints, and muscles. As I focus on listening to my teachers, I’m beginning to see that the lack of suppleness in my body had perhaps become too well matched with similar traits in my way of thinking.

This will come as a shock to those who know me well, but I realize that when making decisions or choosing a path forward, there are times when I can be inflexible. (I’ll wait for the laughter to die down.)

In working through issues with physical flexibility, I came to see that rigidity in mind and spirit can also be a challenge. Think of the decline in communication that’s all around us, where we attack others rather than seek to understand different perspectives. We’ve all seen examples of people who, as they move through life, fear what’s next and want to hang on to what they have and what they wish to be true. As the writer Ursula K. Le Guin notes in No Time to Spare, these are the ones who have “given up on the long-range view.”

Fortunately, there are also those who, in her words, live in a country that has a future. Who realize the incredible amount we learn “between our birthday and our last day.” If we are flexible enough in mind and spirit to recognize “how rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn,” we can maintain the seeking, trusting capacity for learning that we had as a two-year-old.

I went into a recent yoga session with this on my mind. When the question was raised of our intention for that day’s practice, a thankfulness for having the time, the teachers, the family members, and the friends to focus me on the need for flexibility—in all its manifestations—rose to the top. I am grateful for those who have encouraged me to pursue that link between mind, body, and spirit. Although I am (at this point) about the least capable and least flexible yoga student in my classes, it doesn’t matter. The very practical impetus on getting my body aligned has, surprisingly, led me to think more deeply about the need for flexibility in other parts of my life.

The gap year results are not always as planned, but thanks to an unexpected search for flexibility, I’ve been rewarded nonetheless. Who knew? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

Have a good week.

More to come…


*For many weeks after my fall, the lyrics of the old spiritual Dem Bones (as heard in this version by the Delta Rhythm Boys), kept rolling through my brain:

“The toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.”

Old Ezekiel would have made a good yoga teacher!

Installment #12 of The Gap Year Chronicles

Now That Was Exciting!

Nationals LogoI was there for Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series, camera up and ready to capture Drew Storen throwing the division-winning strike that never came.

Two years later I was in the stands when rookie manager Matt Williams walked to the mound in the top of the 9th. There stood Jordan Zimmermann, just one out away from completing two of the most amazing back-to-back games with a potential win in Game 2 of the 2014 National League Division Series following his no-hitter to end the season. Only Williams never gives him the chance. Williams pulls Zimm from the game and puts in . . . yes . . . Drew Storen. Who in this instance quickly gave up two hits and one run and the Nats went on to lose the game in an excruciating 18 innings.

And there was more in 2014, 2016, and 2017. Yes, there’s a pattern here.

So the bottom of the 8th and the top of the 9th in last night’s National League Wild Card game was the chance for the Washington Nationals to bury old demons and set a new narrative. It was a chance to finally win a “win or go home” game in the playoffs.

And they won!

Even though they are far from perfect, these Nats are such fun to watch and the Nationals fans are responding. The energy of the 42,993 who were in the park was evident, and it really came to the fore in the 8th. You can read about the sequence of events in Thomas Boswell’s column. Suffice it to say that 20-year-old Juan Soto’s sharp single against one of the most feared relievers in the game with two outs and the bases loaded, coupled with an error by a rookie right fielder for the Brewers, cleared the bases and gave the Nats the lead. But the top of the 9th still loomed, and for some of us the Drew Storen-factor made it emotionally exhausting. Thankfully, Daniel Hudson came in to finish up a strong relief effort by Stephen Strasburg. Except for one single, Hudson shut down the Brewers and—blessedly—did it pretty quickly and effectively.

I haven’t raised my expectations for how the Nats—Dodgers series will turn out, but thankfully my expectations for what happens next are not tied to my happiness.

After last night, I’m very happy!

Go Nats!

More to come…


Follow Your Heart

Pacific Grove

What happens when, facing a choice, your heart suddenly inserts itself into the conversation?

The final question in the recent Democratic presidential debate focused on resilience in the face of personal setbacks. All the candidates had strong responses, but South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had—by almost all reviews—the most moving story. It connected at such a personal level for many because it was an account of following his heart.

A military officer and elected official from a deeply conservative state, Buttigieg spoke eloquently about living in fear of the impact that would result from revealing that he was gay. Yet he reached a point, he said, where he was “not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer.” The good news ending to his story of following the heart is that “When I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them, they decided to trust me and reelected me with eighty percent of the vote.”

As an ambitious young politician, the safe approach may have been to keep his secret hidden until after that election. Many of us, no doubt, would take that path, following the lead of our head in order to navigate the slings and arrows of the world. The struggle between head and heart—or logic and emotion—is as old as humankind.

Let’s be clear. Not all attempts to follow our heart are wise. Not all stories of following the heart turn out as well as Mayor Pete’s. It is fair to say that the world often dismisses those who follow their heart, marking them as unrealistic dreamers. There are many individuals and groups who have felt they had little choice but to hide their feelings, because if their emotions came through too strongly they would be criticized or not taken seriously. Yet, following your heart can often be not only the emotionally satisfying way forward, but the right choice which deserves to be respected and supported, especially in situations where our culture tells us to be safe and prioritize our head.

When faced with personal setbacks, my natural instinct is to push my feelings aside and show a strong, pragmatic, stoic exterior. But I’ve also had the opportunity—when I choose to do so—to take a different path. I find too often that I limit both my ability to connect with others and the possibilities for personal growth when I quickly and reflexively dismiss the impulse to bring my emotions forward.

Mayor Pete’s story led me to think about times when I’ve decided to follow my heart. I almost always find unexpected surprises and learn new lessons about myself. When I call on my emotions, I open up to others and their perspectives in ways that don’t always come naturally. When my heart is part of the equation, the journeys we are on together become more important to me. I am pushed to see and understand with new eyes. My heart encourages me to let gratitude be a driver in my life.

Following the heart, as Mayor Pete showed, often requires courage. But don’t be so afraid of the consequences that you choose not to live fully with head and heart. We really need both to survive.

Have a great week.

More to come…

Play more music

Installment #11 of The Gap Year Chronicles


Citi Field

The view from my seat on September 23rd as the Mets played the Marlins at Citi Field during the final week of the 2019 regular season

The latest stop on my quest to visit all 30 Major League ballparks* found me, earlier this week, with a friend at the front gate of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. It had taken almost an hour by train during the height of the evening commute to get from midtown Manhattan to Flushing. After stepping off the subway, I was disappointed to find the ballpark—home to one of two major league baseball teams in the nation’s largest city—in what was essentially a suburban setting, surrounded by parking lots. The game had just begun so we stopped only briefly to take in the entry rotunda, yet even that short pause made me think of the gateway to Ebbets Field, the famous home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It was only later that I discovered that the ballpark was in its unfortunate location thanks to that old enemy of urbanism, Robert Moses. And yes, the owners of the Mets had appropriated the Brooklyn Dodgers and the “New York City history of the National League as abandoned property” in creating the entrance to Citi Field.


Ballpark: Baseball in the American City by Paul Goldberger

Those insights, and hundreds more, are found throughout Paul Goldberger’s magnificent new book Ballpark: Baseball in the American City. Goldberger—Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic, Trustee emeritus of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a personal friend—has written an elegant and engaging work on a subject that’s clearly as dear to his heart as it is to mine.

In slightly more than 300 pages, Goldberger takes the reader through a detailed, intriguing, often unexpected, and richly-illustrated history of the intersection of baseball parks, the American city, architecture, urbanism, business, sports, and culture. Always a clear and lively writer, he brings his vast knowledge of cities, architectural history, urbanism, and historic preservation to bear on a building type that differs from many other public buildings and landmarks found throughout the country. Sports facilities, Goldberger notes in discussing the ultimately unsuccessful preservation battle to save Tiger Stadium in Detroit, have histories “which often follow very different trajectories.” Even as the preservation movement grew in strength and matured, it remained a challenge to get club owners and city officials to see the “compelling social and aesthetic value” in a ballpark.

There are four distinct phases in ballpark history, in Goldberger’s telling, and each gets a richly detailed section in the book. The first is the period when ballparks were city-bound. Goldberger spends time describing the virtues and challenges of now-demolished ballparks—such as Ebbets Field and Philadelphia’s Shibe Park—and also includes great descriptions of the history and changes to the two remaining parks from that era: Wrigley Field in Chicago and Boston’s Fenway Park.

Wrigley Field bleachers

DJB (in full Nats gear) with former colleagues from the National Trust in the bleachers at Chicago’s Wrigley Field

Next came the almost universally unloved suburban, concrete doughnuts. Goldberger brings the reader through the city-flight era of the 1950s and 1960s and discusses how that period led to abominations such as San Francisco’s Candlestick Park and the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Stadium, with an exterior that had “something of the air of a 1950s Formica kitchen” and acres of parking  that were “a reminder that it was designed with the expectation that every one of its occupants would arrive by car.”

The third phase began with the 1992 construction of Baltimore’s Camden Yards and led to a long period of building retro-style ballparks. There is a lovely chapter on the heroes behind Baltimore’s move back to the city to construct a ballpark that made it fun to both play and see the game. Some of the best of those that followed—including San Diego’s Petco Park, Target Field in Minneapolis, San Francisco’s Oracle Park, and Pittsburgh’s PNC Park—are covered in depth.

Petco Park

Petco Park in San Diego as seen during my 2018 visit.

Target Field Panorama

Target Field and the view of the Minneapolis skyline from my visit in 2014

With Willie at ATT Park

With my childhood hero, Willie Mays – the Say Hey Kid – outside then AT&T Park in 2014

We are only just now entering the fourth—and very ominous—period of sterile corporate campuses/amusement parks, most easily seen through the terrible decision of the Braves to move to SunTrust Park in Atlanta’s far northern suburbs. It was a move away from the city, public space, public transportation, and—most egregious from my point of view—communities of color. Goldberger describes SunTrust as “a mallpark as much as it is a ballpark,” and notes that what makes it different from most of the post-Camden Yards parks is that it “extends the entertainment zone outside the ballpark into a pseudo-urban neighborhood that has been created solely as a complement to the ballpark. It is a simulacrum of a city, which is very different from a real city,” Goldberger notes, as a real city is “created over time, with its mix of different types of buildings, different kinds of neighborhoods, and, most important, different kinds of people.”

Goldberger’s writing on the urban and rural natures of baseball is poetic without becoming sentimental. In his estimation, one of the most important points in building a good place to play the game is that the space be “so open, as to as allude, at least symbolically, to the notion that the outfield extends into infinity.” Thus stadiums with domes and retractable roofs generally fall well short of being great places for baseball. On the other hand, some of the post-Camden Yards generation of ballparks have recaptured this important element in the mixing of baseball’s urban and rural natures. I join Goldberger in finding PNC Park in Pittsburgh to be one of the sport’s best new venues to watch a game and to see the city.

PNC in 2013

A packed PNC Park on a visit in 2013

Which brings me back to Citi Field. Once I got through the parking lot shock, my friend and I enjoyed the experience inside the stadium. The seats were in the 300 section just below the press box—almost identical to the location of my season ticket package at Nationals Park. Yet these seats were lower, we were much more on top of the game, and there were multiple foul balls landing around us all evening. (My seats in Washington are too high for that to happen more than once or twice a season.) The amenities were much better as well, as our seats were directly accessible to one of several “clubs” that featured food a bit better than what I find around Section 313 in Nationals Park. Both the Mets and the Miami Marlins, their opponent for the evening, have had disappointing seasons and were playing out the string during this last week; yet, we saw two grand slam home runs—one by each club—which was a first for me. And while the fans were disappointed in the 8-4 Marlins win, they were great and knowledgeable company during what turned out to be an entertaining game.

Ebbets Field

Ebbets Field (photo credit: A Slice of Brooklyn)

After the game, I read Goldberger’s account of how the Dodgers left Brooklyn and the Mets came to play in FlushingWalter O’Malley, the owner of the Dodgers in the 1950s, wanted to move from Ebbets Field to a new ballpark in downtown Brooklyn at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. The autocratic public works czar of New York, Robert Moses, would have none of that. Instead, he wanted to build a new ballpark in Flushing Meadows, Queens, the site of the 1939 World’s Fair and land he controlled. Moses promised to build the ballpark and rent it to the Dodgers, but as Goldberger recounts, O’Malley “had not the slightest interest” in the new site. “To move the Brooklyn Dodgers to a stadium in Queens—and one that he could only rent, not own—was to him, tantamount to leaving the city altogether.” Goldberger continues by noting that to O’Malley, it would not matter if he took the Dodgers “five miles or 3,000 miles” away. If “they were not in Brooklyn, they could be anywhere.” We know how that story ends, of course, with the Dodgers moving 3,000 miles away to Los Angeles and  Brooklyn getting its heart torn out by the loss.

The story comes full circle when Moses finally gets his stadium in Flushing (the original Shea Stadium) which is then replaced by Citi Field—which Goldberger accurately describes as “an urban ballpark without an urban setting.”

DJB at Citi Field

Outside the rotunda at New York’s Citi Field, taking another ballpark off the bucket list

In Ballpark, Paul Goldberger has combined two of my personal passions—baseball and cities—and created a rich and engaging saga that is American to the core. I’m indebted to my friend for capturing this remarkable story. Take my advice and treat yourself to a great read to prepare for the playoffs!

More to come…


*I do have some rules for my bucket-list quest. First, I have to actually see a game at the ballpark. I can’t just drive by. I use to buy a hat of the local team to prove I’d been there, but it was suggested to me that I have enough caps—so that’s no longer necessary. Finally, demolitions have wrecked havoc with these plans. I decided—in a totally arbitrary way, since I am the commissioner and umpire for this game—that if I’ve seen a MLB team in their home ballpark that has since been demolished, then it counts against my list. (My best example is Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where I used to catch a Braves game about once a home stand in the early 1980s when I lived in the city. Ah, I still remember those wonderful $5 tickets not far behind the first base dugout!) I am going to try to visit the new stadiums in those cities when I can, but for the purposes of this pursuit, getting to one stadium in my lifetime counts . . . even if it no longer exists.

In reading Paul’s book, I was also reminded that name changes for baseball parks come along every year or two. For those keeping score, here is the list of ballparks visited, some links to stories in my blog, an update on the name(s), and perhaps a few thoughts about how my impressions align with Paul’s careful insights:

  • Atlanta BravesFulton County Stadium (multiple visits in the 1980s) was one of those terrible concrete doughnuts near the freeway. I never made it to Turner Field before they tore it down, but this counts given my rules. I thought about visiting SunTrust Park on a recent trip to Atlanta, but after looking at how far I’d have to drive from my midtown hotel in rush hour traffic and thinking about how much I hate the decision to move to the northern suburbs, I dropped the idea and watched from the hotel bar.)
  • Baltimore OriolesOriole Park at Camden Yards (multiple visits in 1990s and 2000s) is still one of the great places to watch baseball and deserves all the credit it receives for helping to rejuvenate downtown Baltimore and cities across the country.
  • Boston Red SoxFenway Park (1988), which I visited before the renovation, is a national treasure. It was also a bit seedy on my visit, in August of 1988, when a rat ran across right field and into the bullpen during the game. I’ve toured the renovated ballpark and it is wonderful.
  • Chicago CubsWrigley Field (1964, 2007, 2012) is like Fenway, in that I’ve seen it before and after it was sensitively renovated. This is where I saw my first major league baseball game, with the Cubs and the eventual world-champion St. Louis Cardinals, in 1964.
  • Chicago White SoxUS Cellular Field (2013) and now known as Guaranteed Rate Field was the last old-style stadium built before Camden Yards, and it rises like an impenetrable fortress alongside the Dan Ryan expressway in South Side Chicago. Paul writes about the steepness of the upper deck, and I recall that bad design feature as well. It was Heavy Metal night when I visited. Just imagine Heavy Metal night in South Side Chicago and you get the picture. Oh boy!
  • Cleveland IndiansProgressive Field (2014) was a nice-enough park, but Paul notes that there are too many luxury suites that take up too much of the prime real estate, and as I looked back at the pictures he was right. My daughter Claire and I made visits to Progressive Field, Target Field, and AT&T Park on our cross-country trip in 2014, and I noted then that this was the weakest of the three in terms of design. Yet it fits well in the city and we were able to take the train to the game, both major positives in my book.
  • Colorado RockiesCoors Field (2008, 2013) is a well-designed ballpark that fits within the revitalized section of LoDo. (This is not only my opinion, but Paul’s as well.) Seeing a sunset over the Rocky Mountains while catching a game is pretty special.
  • Houston AstrosMinute Maid Park (2016) was a surprisingly nice place to watch a ballgame. I know that Paul doesn’t like retractable roofs, but when I was there the humidity was unbearable, so it was welcomed.
  • Kansas City RoyalsKauffman Stadium (2009) features a clean, modernist design that makes for a good experience for fans of both baseball and architecture. Its major drawback is that you have to drive to take in a game and the park is surrounded by acres of parking. Kauffman and Miller Park in Milwaukee are the only baseball parks where I’ve seen tailgating before a game. That’s just weird.
  • Los Angeles AngelsAngels Stadium (2016) was more to my liking than I expected. Perhaps it was because Claire was with me (can you see who is my go-to baseball fan in the family?), or perhaps it was because I got to see Mike Trout and Albert Pujols hit back-to-back jacks (or homers, taters, four baggers, dingers, you name it) in the first inning, setting off an impressive fire display in the waterfall just beyond the center field fence.
  • Milwaukee BrewersMiller Park (2005) was half-filled with Cubs fans when I attended, as many of the Chicago supporters made the short drive up to Milwaukee for the game. Until the President’s Race came along at Nationals Park, Milwaukee’s racing sausages were baseball’s best mascot race. Also, let me just say there was a GREAT DEAL of beer consumed over the course of 3-4 hours of baseball. I’m talking Justice Brett Kavanaugh-levels of beer consumption. (Okay, I know that was a cheap shot that will just make my right-wing friends furious. So take me to court!)
  • Minnesota TwinsTarget Field (2014) is, simply put, terrific. It is right up there with the best in baseball. (Of course, I wasn’t in Minnesota for a ballgame in early April, which may have changed my opinion.)
  • New York MetsCiti Field (2019). See above.
  • Oakland A’sOakland Coliseum (2008) is the last of the baseball/football shared stadiums. It looks like Oakland may get one of those “mallparks” that Paul discussed, but at least it will be in Oakland and on land—much like Nationals Park—that is ripe for redevelopment. The A’s are Claire’s team now, and as of last night they made the playoffs for 2019. Both Claire and I now have playoff-bound teams to root for this year.
  • Philadelphia PhilliesCitizens Bank Park (2008) was the site of one of the most exciting games I’ve ever watched live, as the Phillies took over first place from the Mets in the heat of a pennant race. The ballpark was electric, and I had a seat IN the Citizens Bank suite right above home plate. (My hosts were preservation developers who had connections with the bank.) Paul is correct in noting that much like Citi Field, Citizens Bank Park is an urban ballpark in search of an urban setting.
  • Pittsburgh PiratesPNC Park (2013) is thought by many (myself included) to be the best baseball park in America. (I actually place it in a tie with San Francisco.) I was fortunate to visit PNC Park with the entire family on a gorgeous August day, when we walked across the amazing Roberto Clemente Bridge with thousands of other fans to see the Pirates, who were in the middle of a successful playoff drive. It was thrilling.
  • San Diego PadresPetco Park (2018) is a wonderful place to watch baseball . . . if only the Padres were any good. Maybe next year.
  • San Francisco Giants AT&T Park (2012 and 2014), now Oracle Park, ties with PNC in my mind as the best ballpark for baseball. The setting with McCovey Cove just over the right field wall is unbeatable. The food is the best in either league. Walking to the park with thousands of other fans through the city is an incredible rush. And on one visit I made, it was Jerry Garcia bobblehead night. Bob Weir sang the national anthem and was joined by (a-less-than-in-tune) Bill Walton for Take Me Out to the Ballgame. The only downside is that around the 7th inning, like clockwork, the seagulls begin to circle the field waiting to swoop in for their after-game treats. It is like being in a Hitchcock movie.
  • Seattle MarinersSafeco Field (2010) was the park where I had the “best” seat to watch a major league game: the first row behind home plate! You know the seats, as they are the ones you see every night as the center field camera captures the action. It was a great spot to watch baseball, and I could have reached out and touched Ichiro, if I didn’t fear getting thrown out of the park. At one point I turned to my friend Camille and said, “That ball looked a little low” and then I added, “And that’s the first time I could say that at a baseball game with any real authority.”
  • St. Louis CardinalsBusch Stadium (old – 1993; new – 2012) is one place where I’ve seen games in the old concrete doughnut and the new post-Camden Yards ballpark. I walked over to the latter from my nearby hotel and loved the experience. Also, the Eero Saarinen-designed Gateway Arch is hard to top as a backdrop.
  • Tampa Bay RaysTropicana Field (2012) is the last domed stadium still in use, and it feels very dated. We were there with David Price on the mound and the Rays in the midst of a pennant race, and yet the crowd was small and the enthusiasm was flagging. My son Andrew and I almost got decapitated by a screaming foul ball, because the tickets were so cheap we secured two behind home plate and were just high enough to be above the protective netting.
  • Washington NationalsRFK (multiple times) and Nationals Park (multiple times + part of a season ticket group since 2012). I could have linked to many stories about Nationals Park on my blog, but one of my special nights at the ballpark was getting to attend the 2018 All Star Game at Nationals Park with Andrew. It was another bucket list item.  Now, let’s go Nats, so I can knock off that World Series game from the list before I leave this world!

Here is the list of ballparks still to be visited. If you live in one of these cities and want to invite me to go to a game with you next year, the answer will, in all likelihood, be yes!

  • Arizona DiamondbacksChase Field
  • Cincinnati RedsGreat American Ball Park
  • Detroit TigersComerica Park (I’ve seen it from the outside, but haven’t made a game.)
  • Los Angeles DodgersDodger Stadium (This is the only park that family members—Claire and Andrew—have seen before I have had the opportunity. In Claire’s case, she’s been three or four times, no less. That’s just not fair!)
  • Miami MarlinsMarlins Park is a place I’m excited to visit, after reading Paul’s take on the architecture.
  • New York YankeesYankee Stadium (I know—how can I not have made it to Yankee stadium yet?! Just goes to show I’ve never been a big Yankees fan. Maybe I’ll save it for last, even though Paul notes that it is pretty mediocre in terms of design.)
  • Texas RangersTexas Stadium (I’ve seen it from the highway, but haven’t made a game to date.)
  • Toronto Blue JaysRogers Centre