Baseball Pilgrimages (Continued)

It was a night when you wondered if Noah was nearby, putting the finishing touches on his ark.

Lightening and thunder in rapid succession. Rain that lashed at the body if you were unfortunate enough to be outside. Howling winds. Waves lapping at the shore.

And I was in Tampa, not to help rewrite the Republican national platform, but for something much more consequential: to catch a baseball game.

In most cities it would have been a wasted opportunity. But the Tampa Bay Rays play in St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, one of the few remaining domes still hosting major league baseball on a daily basis. And for this night, I was glad to have a roof over my head when Ray’s ace David Price threw that first pitch right on schedule.

Tampa Bay was #14 on my journey to visit all 30 major league ballparks.  It promised to be a special night.  The Rays were on a hot streak, winning five games to close the gap with the first-place Yankees to four games. Their ace – and Murfreesboro, Tennessee native – David Price was on the mound throwing serious heat and going for a MLB-leading 17th win. The hapless Kansas City Royals were the opponent and although they had the first pick in the 2006 draft (Luke Hochevar) to go against the first pick in the 2007 draft (Price), it still looked like a mismatch.

Price held up his end of the bargain, pitching eight scoreless innings and throwing fastballs at 95-97 mph that couldn’t be touched. The Royals managed three lonely hits against Price.

But he was matched – or perhaps bettered – by Hochevar.  Throwing a steady diet of 77 mph curveballs that had the Rays flailing all night, he also threw 8 scoreless innings and gave up only one hustle double that did no harm. Rays star Evan Longoria looked so helpless that on a grounder to short, he trotted down to first, eliciting a few “run it out” calls from fans (including yours truly). Yes, he is recovering from a partially torn hamstring, but I would rather not see players on the field if they can’t go all out.

The game flew by (for an American League game) and shortly past the two-hour mark the game headed into extra innings.  The 100 mph heat from the Royals’ Kevin Herrera looked – no doubt – much more formidable following Hochevar’s junk than the 100 mph pitches from Fernando Rodney, who was only besting Price by 2-3 mph on his best stuff. A Rays error in the top of the tenth allowed the Royals to score the winning run, and it was all over.

It was your classic pitchers duel, and ESPN told just how impressive a feat it was for both pitchers:

Tuesday, there was a pitcher’s duel between David Price of the Rays and Luke Hochevar of the Royals. Price allowed no runs and three hits, with 8 strikeouts in 8 innings Hochevar allowed no runs and one hit with 10 strikeouts in eight innings. This is the 2nd game in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) in which each starting pitcher went at least 8 innings, allowed no runs, 3 hits or fewer, and struck out at least 8. The other came in The Year of the Pitcher– August 26, 1968 between the Twins and Senators. The pitchers that day were Jim Perry for the Twins (who won 215 MLB games over his career) and Frank Bertaina (who finished with 19 career wins) for the Senators

The disappointment of the evening – besides the general dated feeling of Tropicana Field (hey, the 70s ended a long time ago) – was with the crowd. With two aces on the mound and the Rays hot on the heels of the Yankees in a pennant race, the stadium looked and felt two-thirds empty.  The morning stat sheets tells me the announced attendance was 10,877 – or 30.2% of capacity. There wasn’t a lot of energy in the stadium, and it sure didn’t feel like other parks I’ve been in (Boston, Philly, Washington) where the homestanding team is right in the thick of the race.  Hell, I was wearing my customary Washington Nationals cap (in honor of Stephen Strasburg’s big win over Atlanta last evening – Go Nats!) and Andrew and I were actually shown on the big screen TV – totally destroying his thesis that you had to wear Rays gear to make the show.

But baseball is still baseball, no matter the crowd, and we had a great time knocking off stadium #14 on my bucket list.  Here’s what remains, and a final photo of David Price from Tropicana Field.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Chase Field
  • Cincinnati Reds – Great American Ball Park
  • Chicago White Sox – US Cellular Field
  • Cleveland Indians – Jacobs Field
  • Detroit Tigers – Comerica Park
  • Houston Astros- Minute Maid Park
  • Los Angeles Angels – Angel Stadium
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Dodger Stadium
  • Miami Marlins – Marlins Park
  • Minnesota Twins – Target Field
  • New York Mets – Citi Field
  • New York Yankees – Yankee 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)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – PNC Park
  • San Diego Padres – Petco Par
  • Texas Rangers – Texas Stadium
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Centre

More to come…


Introducing Rugby (TN) to the Next Generation

Rugby, Tennessee, is a unique community on the Cumberland Plateau, with an incredible story of perseverance.

It is also a place that means a great deal to me, as it was where my preservation career began. Today I took the opportunity to introduce Claire, Andrew, and Candice to Rugby and to show them the places that inspired me.

Here’s the official story from my last post:

Rugby was established in the 1880s by the successful Victorian-era author Thomas Hughes as a Utopian community for the second sons of English gentry.  Due to the system of primogeniture, these men would inherit little or no property and had very limited career opportunities.  Hughes established this colony in the beautiful but hard-scrabble Cumberland Plateau area of Tennessee.  After some initial success, the colony fell on hard times, ultimately failed and was largely forgotten.  In the mid-1960s, residents of the area began to restore the remaining historic buildings and over the course of five decades have saved this wonderful place and turned it into a thriving community and a favorite spot for tourists.

Candice has heard me talk about Rugby, my introduction to this utopian community, and the work of the Stagg family for years. (Brian Stagg was the charismatic founding director of Historic Rugby. His sister Barbara took up the organization’s leadership after Brian’s untimely death and deserves a huge amount of credit for the current state of the village’s preservation.  Brian’s brother Alan Stagg was the scoutmaster who took us to Rugby year-after-year in the 1960s.) I suggested a drive up to Rugby during a family vacation, and everyone readily agreed.

Despite an off-and-on rain, it was great to introduce this unique place to the family today.  Everyone loved the intimate and beautiful Christ Church (Episcopal). We had a tasty lunch at the Harrow Road Cafe, reconstructed from the rather sparse building I remember from my youth. Claire was especially taken with the Thomas Hughes Public Lending Library – one of the most remarkable collections to survive under any circumstances.  Because of the rain we weren’t able to hike down to the Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole, but we did tour all the public buildings, see the new homes on land that had been originally plotted for homes (but never built), and relive memories of great summers past.

Rugby is in a period of transition as Historic Rugby searches for a new director, but just as the next generation will see to the village’s preservation, I wanted the next generation in my family to know of my connection to this place of dreams.

Mission accomplished.

More to come…


Baseball Pilgrimages

Say Hey!  Check another ballpark off the list!!

About five years ago I made it a life goal to take in a game at all the Major League Baseball stadiums across America.  I wanted to achieve this goal by 2015 – when I reach the big 6-0.  It may be tough to meet that timetable, but what are goals for and I have hit a bit of a jackpot in the past six weeks. It is time for an update.

I do have some rules for this quest. First of all, I have to actually see a game.  I can’t just drive by, or I could put the Ballpark in Arlington, among others, in my checked off category. I use to buy a hat of the local team to prove I’d been there, but Candice thinks I have enough caps – and she’s probably right.  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 umpire – 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. Ah, 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 goal, getting to one stadium in my lifetime counts…even if it no longer exists.

Now, with that bit of background, on to my recent games. In late June, I was in Chicago for a retreat when a colleague suggested an outing to Wrigley Field to catch a Cubs game.  Now I have been to Wrigley before – in fact it was the site of my first major league game. In 1964 our family took a vacation to Chicago and I went to a game at Wrigley Field with my parents, brothers and sisters, and my aunt and uncle.  I can still remember a great deal about that day.  We sat in the upper deck along the third base line, and the Cubs played the Cardinals – who won the World Series that year. I do remember that Ken Boyer had a hand in the Cardinals victory over the Cubs.  Later that year, Ken and Clete Boyer became the only brothers to hit home runs in the same game of a World Series – in this case the decisive Game 7 won by Ken and the Cards over Clete and the Yankees (one of my earliest World Series memories). A former colleague and I also saw a great day game at Wrigley in 2007 from terrific seats beside the third base dugout courtesy of a mutual friend.

This year, I had the good fortune to experience Wrigley as a bleacher bum. We sat out in center field and took in all the sights and sounds that go along with being “out with the people.” It was great fun – as you can see in the picture above.  I didn’t get too much ribbing for showing up in full Nats gear and I was able to cheer for a Cubbies win since they were playing the Mets who are in the same division as the Nationals. We also got to see the Cubs debut of Anthony Rizzo, who since went on to win Rookie of the Month for July in the National League. Wrigley is, of course, one of the icons in baseball and well deserving of the honor.  It also needs some updating, along the lines of the award-winning renovation at Fenway Park. But as I’ve written before, calls to demolish Wrigley showcase all that is wrong with the modern sports-industrial complex.  Save Wrigley indeed!

While this visit didn’t actually move my number forward, it got me off to a great start for the summer of 2012.

Exactly one month later I was in St. Louis for a speech and meeting, but had the good fortune to take in a St. Louis Cardinals day game in the new Busch Stadium. I went as the guest of a good friend and his wife, and the tickets were – how shall I say this – directly across the diamond from the center field bleachers. Great view! The home-standing Cards were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers and their new man Hanley Ramirez, and the Cardinals won 7-4, punctuated with a strikeout to end the game.

Technically, this didn’t advance my number either, because I saw a Cardinals game in old Busch Stadium in 1993. However, I’ll take this wonderful venue anytime.  The stadium sits right on the street in downtown St. Louis (I walked about a block from my hotel), it has a cozy feel, Stan “The Man” Musial is appropriately recognized with his own statue (see photo above), the sightlines out to the arch and city are awe-inspiring, and it appears that all the seats provide a great view of the field. Now, if they could just do something about that heat and humidity…

Earlier this week, I finally added another to my “ballparks visited” list when I went to San Francisco’s AT&T Park with colleagues and friends.  This was an especially meaningful visit, as I grew up as a Willie Mays and Giants fan. So the first stop – as seen at the top of the post – was by the Willie Mays statue in front of Willie Mays gate.  The Giants have done a great job of recognizing their players from the past, not just Mays, as important as he is to the history of baseball.  Orlando Cepeda was in the house and looking dapper as he handed out an award to Melky Cabrera before the game. Every left-handed batter who steps into the box tries to hit a “splash hit” into McCovey Cove – named after Willie “Stretch” McCovey, one of the most feared left-handed hitters of his day.

As could only happen in San Francisco, the Giants were handing out Jerry Garcia bobbleheads (for a hefty price) in honor of Jerry Garcia day on what would have been the 70th birthday of the Grateful Dead’s guitarist. Band mate Bob Weir sang a beautiful national anthem with the Giants third base coach Tim Flannery.  (A singing coach was a first for me!) At the seventh inning stretch, Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Deadhead Bill Walton led the crowd in Take Me Out to the Ballgame (see photo of them waving to the crowd above). All in all you knew you had left St. Louis and could only be in San Francisco.

The weather was cool, but perfect, and a full moon came out to shine on McCovey Cove. Unless it is the view of the Rocky Mountains from Coors Field, I’m hard pressed to think of a better ballpark view than AT&T Park. The game was close, with the visiting Mets leaving 13 men on base, yet eking out a 2-1 victory over Matt Cain.

To keep my streak going, I’m looking at Tampa Bay Rays games for when I’m in Florida later this month.  I think it will work!

I want to thank some of the folks who have either encouraged me in the quest, have provided tickets (some pretty wonderful tickets I must say – such as the Citizens Bank box in Citizens Bank Park in Philly), or have cheerfully volunteered to attend a game with me.  I wouldn’t be at this point without their encouragement and help, so many thanks to Alicia, Amelia, Anthea, Barb, Candice, Claire, Dolores, Donald, Genell, Kevin, Jonathan, Mark, Marty, Nancy, and Tom.

For those keeping score, here’s the ballparks visited list:

  • Atlanta Braves – Fulton County Stadium (multiple visits in 1980s; still need to visit Turner Field)
  • Baltimore Orioles – Camden Yards (multiple visits in 1990s and 2000s)
  • Boston Red Sox – Fenway Park (1988)
  • Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field (1964, 2007, 2012)
  • Colorado Rockies – Coors Field (2008)
  • Kansas City Royals – Kauffman Stadium (2009)
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Miller Park (2005)
  • Oakland A’s – Oakland Coliseum (2008)
  • Philadelphia Phillies – Citizens Bank Park (2008)
  • San Francisco Giants – AT&T Park (2012)
  • Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field (2009)
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Busch Stadium (old – 1993; new – 2012)
  • Washington Nationals – RFK (multiple times) and Nationals Park (multiple times + part of a season ticket group 2012)

And here are the ballparks remaining to visit list:

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Chase Field
  • Cincinnati Reds – Great American Ball Park
  • Chicago White Sox – US Cellular Field (I’ve seen it from the outside, but haven’t made a game)
  • Cleveland Indians – Jacobs Field (I drove by this on a game day last year, but had to give a speech while the opening pitch was taking place. I’ll work on my priorities in the future.)
  • Detroit Tigers – Comerica Park (Another park I’ve seen but haven’t made a game.)
  • Houston Astros- Minute Maid Park
  • Los Angeles Angels – Angel Stadium
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Dodger Stadium
  • Miami Marlins – Marlins Park
  • Minnesota Twins – Target Field
  • New York Mets – Citi Field (I thought I was going to catch this one earlier this year on a New York trip, but it didn’t work out.  This is an easy one, as often as I’m in NYC.)
  • New York Yankees – Yankee 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)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – PNC Park
  • San Diego Padres – Petco Park
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Tropicana Field (If all goes as planned, this will move to the “visited” list the week of August 20th)
  • Texas Rangers – Texas Stadium
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Centre

If I’m able to make it to Tampa this month, I’ll have 14 out of 30 ballparks…with a month to go in this season plus three additional years to meet that 2015 deadline.  Yikes!  I need to pick up the pace.  So let me know if you believe in the Church of Baseball and want to join me at any of the 16 still on the list.  Time for a road trip!

More to come…


Eating Local

With a great deal of travel on my schedule for June – November, I’m trying to focus on what’s wonderful about leaving home.

So this will not be a post about the state of the airline industry in the U.S.

Instead, I am thinking about food. Local food to be exact.

Regular readers will know that I like to avoid chains and hotel restaurants when I travel, seeking instead the local landmark. I’m only two days into this week’s trip to the west coast and I’ve already hit my “go local” stride.

Lunch on Tuesday came from a wonderful cheese and sandwich shop named Cheese Plus which features tasty sandwiches with locally themed names such as the Willie Brown Duck (named for former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown), Crissy Field, and Castro’s Cubano.  I had the Happy Thanksgiving, which – along with the brisk city breeze and temperatures in the 60s – made me wish for the fall.

After a drive to Sonoma County to view a site where we’re working, and especially after a temperature rise of what seemed like 30 degrees, thoughts of fall were gone and we were looking for something cool. My colleague Anthony directed us to a California institution – Foster’s Freeze – in Sebastopol, and we satisfied our cravings for soft serve ice cream in a historic setting (for those of us who think of old fast food places as historic).

My luck continued for dinner. Based on Anthony’s recommendation (as he had done such a great job in finding Foster’s), a colleague and I tried a small neighborhood eatery, the Mission Beach Cafe, and had a wonderful meal featuring fresh local and organic ingredients.  A restaurant with great food PLUS an acoustic music track in the background that included Alison Krauss and the Soggy Bottom Boys is A+ in my book!

I do bring some local food traditions to my travels as well, and when I’m in San Francisco I always stop by Roxanne Cafe for breakfast when I’m around Nob Hill. This trip was no different. Wednesday morning found me ensconced in this small neighborhood cafe having my eggs and reading the newspaper on my tablet.  The walk down the hill to breakfast is easy. Life is good.  Heading back up the hill after enjoying a simple breakfast? Not so easy.

Wednesday lunch was a real treat as my colleagues and I were at Fort Baker, the old army post turned hotel and institute. Lunch at the Murray Circle Restaurant not only featured fine food, but it isn’t every day you get to gaze out the window and see the Golden Gate Bridge peeking in and out of the fog.

We have seen some remarkable preservation work – and challenges – this week. In the process, we’ve learned from some very smart people. Finding new local eateries along the way helps ground us in this place and this moment…and that’s a very good way to work when you’re all about saving the authentic and the original.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

More to come…