Emotions Flow Through Places

Root Shock

Root Shock by Mindy Fullilove, M.D.

It will surprise no one that I read a couple of baseball books and watched several games while on vacation.  But it may surprise you to know that the best piece of writing I read which included baseball as its subject came from the opening pages of psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove’s 2004 book Root Shock:  How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About ItShe begins chapter one with several powerful paragraphs.  I’m going to quote extensively from those two pages.

“Every once in a while, in a particular location and at a particular time, people spin the wheel of routine, and they make magic.  One such location was Ebbets Field in the heart of Brooklyn, where, through World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar struggles for equality in America, hard-working people enjoyed baseball.  That small, unpredictable, and intimate ballpark was a gallery for characters to strut their stuff, and the characters in the stands took as much advantage of the opportunity as did the characters on the field.  It was there that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and there that ‘Shorty’s Sym-Phony Band’ tortured the opposition.  Words like ‘raucous’ and ‘zany’ are invoked to help those of us who were never present imagine the intensity, and the uniqueness of what went on.

In 1957, Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Dodgers, moved them to Los Angeles.  The horror of that act is undiminished in the voices of the fans. ‘I felt like a jilted lover,’ recalls a sixty-year-old physician of the catastrophe that darkened his young life.  Forty-six years after the Dodgers played their last game there, it remains important to people to tell the story of Ebbets Fields and in particular, to try to take us into its magic.  This is the real essence of ‘nostalgia,’ an emotion that is in one second bitter and in another sweet, as the remembrance vacillates between the joy of what was and the grief of the loss.  Enduring sorrow and untampered anger are hallmarks of the stories related by fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers. ‘I never rooted for them again,’ says my doctor friend, and he is not alone in the implacable anger that still seems the only reasonable response to that kind of pain.

Three years after the Dodgers left, Ebbets Field was destroyed, and apartment buildings were erected on the site.  People have to get the address and specific directions to find the small plaque that is all that remains of the cathedral of baseball which once stood there.  And so the team is gone, the fans dispersed, the stadium demolished.  Of deeper importance for people who had lots of work and not much hope, a place of magic was ripped from their daily lives, leaving them dull and gray.  The loss of Ebbets Field was a tragedy that could not be repaired: it changed Brooklyn forever.

But how could the loss of a baseball stadium undermine what would be the fourth largest city in the United States (were Brooklyn independent of New York City)?

The answer to this conundrum lies in understanding that places—buildings, neighborhoods, cities, nations—are not simply bricks and mortar that provide us shelter.  Because we dance in a ballroom, have a parade in a street, make love in a bedroom, and prepare a feast in a kitchen, each of these places becomes imbued with sounds, smells, noises, and feelings of those moments and how we lived them.  When we enter an old classroom, the smell of chalk on the boards can bring back a swarm of memories of classmates and lessons, boredom and dreams.  Walking toward a favorite bar awakens expectations of friends and drinks, good times, good food.  The breeze on a certain hillside reminds us of a class trip, while the sun in the garden brings thoughts of Dad.  Try to find the shortcut you use to take to your best friend’s house and it is your feet that will carry you there.  The cues from place dive under conscious thought and awakens our sinews and bones, where days of our lives have been recorded.

Buildings and neighborhoods and nations are insinuated into us by life; we are not, as we like to think, independent of them.  We are more like Siamese twins, conjoined to the locations of our daily life, such that our emotions flow through places, just as blood flows through two interdependent people.  We can indeed separate from our places, but it is an operation that is best done with care.  When a part is ripped away, as happened in Brooklyn when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, root shock (the traumatic stress reaction to the destruction of all or part of one’s emotional ecosystem) occurs.”

Ebbets Field

Ebbets Field (photo credit: A Slice of Brooklyn)

People and places are intertwined.  It is why, when discussing preservation’s future, so many people we spoke with over the past two years focused on the stories attached to places and less on the intricate architectural details of the buildings.  In these six paragraphs, Dr. Fullilove captures that connection in an eloquent and personal way. I began my preservation career in August of 1977, and coming out of a vacation four decades later I’m still excited to have the opportunity to help people see, understand, and honor the places that awaken our “sinews and bones, where the days of our lives have been recorded.”

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

A Fine Week

BaseballBabe Ruth — when asked in 1930 why he made more money than President Herbert Hoover — replied, “But I had a better year than Hoover.”

I had a fine last week in July.  Much better than Donald Trump’s week, I hasten to add.

What made my week so special?  I went to two games at Nats Park, where the Nationals lost both games and looked pretty sleepy while doing so

But…

  1. The weather was clear and cool, with highs around 80 degrees and a light breeze adding to the perfect atmosphere.
  2. Ryan Zimmerman — in the midst of a monster comeback year — hit a home run on Tuesday night that gave him the lead for most career home runs by anyone playing for a Washington franchise.  (He passed Frank “Hondo” Howard for the honor.)
  3. Any day at the ballpark beats a day without a game.

And…

Family time at Nats Park

Family week at Nationals Park – first with Andrew on Tuesday and then with Claire the following Sunday

…oh yeah, Andrew and Claire each joined me for a game at the old yard.  With Claire in Washington for a month before heading back to graduate school, everyone has been around the house and we had the chance to catch a couple of games on the recent home stand.

One of the wonderful things I seem to have done as a dad is to have raised a couple of baseball fans.  This was Andrew’s fifth game of the season – four at Nats Park and one with Claire at Dodger Stadium in LA.  Claire just moved to Oakland, and what do you suppose she did for her first night in her new city?  Yep, went with a new roommate to see the A’s (a significant downgrade from the Dodgers, I must admit).  However, it was “Bark at the Park” night, so she got to see fans bring their dogs to the stadium and catch an A’s win.

Both took selfies after we found our seats in section 313, and soon I was all over Facebook.  Andrew was in a discussion with a mutual friend who was asking him to define “biggest” in his post about being at the game with the family’s biggest fan.  (Not funny.)  Claire posted that there was no one she would rather be at a game with…and then added that it didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’d buy her beer.

Here I am on vacation, living the dream.  Any better way to spend three hours or so than with your son and/or daughter at the ballpark.  (That’s a trick question.) No!

Hope you get time to catch a few innings, savor a half smoke (all the way), and down an I.P.A. or two this summer with someone you love.

Play ball!

More to come…

DJB

Spend Some Money on a Closer

I was at Nationals Stadium on Wednesday evening with a co-worker.  Beautiful evening.  Low humidity.  Stephen Strasburg on the mound for the home team.  Nats are playing the world champion Chicago Cubs.

And 10,000 seats are empty.

Nats v. Cubs

Nats vs. Cubs on a beautiful night at the ballpark

What the heck is going on? I certainly asked that question.  But today’s Washington Post had the full story.

The Nats and Lerners—according to writer Barry Svrluga—were price gouging, in hopes of making an easy buck at the expense of long-suffering Washington sports fans.  Plain and simple.

“Nationals officials clearly saw the four-game Cubs series as an opportunity to draw large crowds at high prices. Last year, when Chicago played a Monday-Wednesday series at Nationals Park in mid-June, the crowds were 37,187, 41,955 and 42,000 — and the environment was perhaps the best of the regular season.

This year, the four Cubs games were listed in the preseason pricing structure as “Diamond” games, the highest of four tiers of pricing the Nationals offer. The only other Diamond game on the schedule was Opening Day. Even the annual Fourth of July game, this year against the Mets, is a step down.

That means there were higher prices across the board for the Cubs series. The July 5 game against the Mets, for instance, is in the “Regular” tier of pricing — the lowest. The most expensive seat is $370. A dugout box seat is $90. The cheapest advance-purchase ticket is $12.

But for the Cubs games, the increases were significant. For Thursday’s series finale, the high-end Delta Sky360 Club seat runs $450. The dugout box seats are $140 apiece. And the right-field terrace seat — that cheap ticket that is the price of the movie less than a week from now — is $35.”

What is it about real estate developers that makes them think that all of life is a deal and they can make people pay unreasonable prices just to line the developers pockets?  The Lerners need to put some of their billions into hiring a decent closer.

A modest proposal for the Nats:  until the team wins multiple playoff series and gets to the World Series under this ownership team, the “Diamond” level pricing should go the way of the Edsel.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road (Or The “I’ve Been Everywhere” Edition)

Rook Coffee

Dad Hat from Rook Coffee (photo credit: Rook Coffee)

Life on the road can become a blur.  I began writing this from the Molly Pitcher Inn’s dining room which overlooks the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey. Candice and I have come here to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of her cousin Mary Beth and husband Greg.  It is the second time we find ourselves in Red Bank in three weeks, as we were here earlier in the month to celebrate with family and friends the life of Candice’s aunt and godmother, and Mary Beth’s mother, who passed away at age 90.

June is perhaps a bit more than typical in terms of travel (16 out of the first 24 days spent on the road), but only at the margins.  Good thing that I enjoy it.  In June alone I’ve not only visited Red Bank twice, but I’ve also been to Madison, Wisconsin (one of prettiest small college cities in America…in the summer); Athens and Atlanta, Georgia (my God, they never stop building highways); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (a gem of a city with much to recommend it and work to be done); and Hampton, Virginia (home of Fort Monroe, Freedom’s Fortress). And there’s still a week to go before we hit the 4th of July weekend!

I’ve thought so many times of writing a blog post on this or that subject, only to drop the idea as I rush to a meeting or another airport.  So this “Observations from…” post will be very short (dare I say Twitter-like”) comments on several things swirling around my travel-addled mind.

Rook Rocks—The waitress at the Molly Pitcher on Friday morning commented on my big cup of Rook Coffee. I told her I just had to try any independent coffee shop with the guts to locate next to a Starbucks, as is the case with Rook in downtown Red Bank’s wonderful Main Street.  She replied, “Oh, you’re not from around here.  In these parts, Rook so out-performs Starbucks.  After a few sips, I knew why.

Independent Coffee Shops (and bookstores) are holding their own—I’ve come to seek out those independent coffee shops no matter where I go.  When in Madison, stop by Colectivo Coffee on the Square. Their baristas  rival Rook in their friendliness (and they have that Midwestern Nice vibe going for them).  Jittery Joe’s is a tasty find in Athens. And on that rare occasion when I’ve been in DC, I took the time to stop by my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose, where Candice and I enjoyed a late-night coffee recently at The Den after stocking up at the store’s member sale.

Everyone (and every thing) needs refurbishing now and then—I have stayed in just about every type of hotel imaginable this month. Most have been great.  A couple have been a bit long in the tooth.  Just like people, hotels need the occasional refurbishment every now and again. Let’s begin with those electrical outlets. (I’m looking at you, Molly Pitcher Inn!)

If I keep up this level of travel, I’m going to have to break down and get the MLB network—In June I’ve been to the ballpark once (but have a second game next week to see the World Champion Cubs and our Nats) and have only caught about five games on television. While I have enjoyed catching up with some other teams, I miss seeing my Nats on a regular basis.  And I really like our announcers—Bob and F.P.—after sampling home team announcers in other cities.  Truth be told, however, I don’t miss the heartburn that goes with the all-too-frequent Nats bullpen meltdown.  Come on, Rizzo, please go find a closer.  Thank God for yesterday’s laugh-fest blowout against the Reds!  And I want to have a renaissance like Ryan Zimmerman!

I have to drive HOW FAR to go see the Braves—Even though I don’t need to visit the new Atlanta Braves stadium to add another one to my bucket list, I gave serious consideration to taking in a game one evening while I was in town.  Then I Googled the distance from my mid-town hotel.  Then I drove a bit in Atlanta.  Then I watched the game from the comfort of my hotel room.  What a dumb way to build a broad base of support for a sport that’s already seen as too old and white…build a new stadium way out in the northern suburbs to make sure that the city’s African-American fan base (real and potential) can’t get there.  Jeez.

If I bite my tongue any more, part of it will fall off—I try to keep politics out of my blog. For now.  But with so many things happening to endanger our American experiment in democracy, I may have to throw caution to the wind.  I’ve traveled in both red and blue states this month and I’ve spoken with people from across the political divide.  We need to face some hard facts as a nation.

Celebrate family and friends—Candice and I were talking today about all the interactions with family and friends we’ve experienced in recent months.  Funerals.  Weddings.  Wedding Anniversaries (our own and others). Birthdays.  Celebrations of Mothers and Fathers. Dinner parties. Picnics on our saint’s day at church.  We’ve traveled for as many of these as we’ve celebrated at home in Washington.  When family isn’t nearby, you lose something by not making the effort to see them on a regular basis.  And friends expand the family circle.  We are blessed on both counts.

Father's Day at Jack Rose

Drinking whiskey at Jack Rose on Father’s Day with Andrew

Is anything better than bourbon and baseball for Father’s Day—That’s a trick question.  Nope.  Well, yes there is.  It would have been even better if Claire had been here in D.C. with us.  Andrew and Candice took me to Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a Father’s Day feast and some mighty fine bourbon last Sunday. (Largest bourbon selection in the Western Hemisphere!) Claire and Andrew are buying me a Nats jacket in anticipation of those October playoff games.  What could be finer?  (Another trick question.) Woo hoo!

Even in very busy and often challenging times, it is important to remember the wonder of travel, the joy of seeing new places, the lifetime pleasures of staying connected with family, the unexpected moments of delight that come from an expanded circle of friends, and the satisfaction of seeing (and being) people living their passion.

More to come…

DJB

Beware the Asides of Summer

Off Speed

Off Speed by Terry McDermott

When I write I often fall in love with my own asides.  (Aside: a remark that is not directly related to the main topic of discussion.)  I believe that what I want to say is so fascinating that it doesn’t matter if it fits the topic.  Nope, I’m going to interject it simply because I can.

I’ve just read a book that may—if not cure me—get me to think more deeply before heading down some rabbit hole.

Terry McDermott’s Off Speed:  Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception comes close to being a wonderful book. Using the framework of Felix Hernandez’s 2012 perfect game, Seattle Mariners fan McDermott takes the reader through a nine-inning/chapter history of pitching, pitches, and—naturally, given the subject—deception.  Hernandez is one of the best in the game and a terrific subject for this fan’s dive into the deep end of baseball.

McDermott is a life-long lover of baseball, having been reared in the rural Midwest in “Field of Dreams” country.  And that is where the trouble begins.  McDermott finds his upbringing fascinating, and he drops in stories, footnotes, phrases (parenthetical and otherwise), and all matter of stuff that simply distracts from what could have been a terrific little baseball book.

Let’s take those footnotes denoted with an asterisk and placed at the bottom of the page that McDermott overuses throughout the book.  He can’t even get past the second page of the preface without a long footnote about obscure Mariners relief pitcher Bobby Ayala and a call with his daughter.  These footnotes occur so frequently that you feel compelled to read them, yet when you finish, 9 times out of 10 you have the thought “this book could have used a better editor.” And the use of a different pitch for each of the 9 chapters “almost” works…until you get to chapter 5 and the knuckleball—which Felix Hernandez doesn’t throw.  That gives McDermott almost an entire chapter to chase down different stories, some of which are interesting and others of which are trite.

Which is all too bad.  When I read in that same preface that reliever Brandon League “is a pitcher with a great arm, two great pitches, and apparently no brain” I thought I had latched onto a book both interesting and fun.  And for the most part it is.  The story of Hernandez’s perfect game, told inning-by-inning and almost pitch-by-pitch, is fascinating.  McDermott does a good job of describing pitches, and for those who want to know the difference between a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slider, and a cutter, this book provides that information in  different ways that are almost all illuminating.

McDermott is a gifted writer, but he let’s his love get in the way of tighter editing.  I’ll still recommend Off Speed, but—with apologies to William Shakespeare—beware the asides of summer.

More to come…

DJB

Opening Day

Teams on Opening Day

Nats and Marlins line up for Opening Day Introductions at Nats Park

Today saw a near-perfect opening day for the Nats and their fans.

Strasburg pitches seven strong innings and gets the win.

Harper homers.  Adam Lind – in his first swing as a Nat – pinch-hits the game-winning two-run homer.

Blake Treinen gets a 3 up, 3 down ninth for his first save as the new closer.

Andrew and I had good seats along the third base line and enjoyed a cloudy but mild spring afternoon.

A beer.  Some brisket. A win.  What could be better?

Old Glory at Opening Day

Old Glory at Opening Day

More to come…

DJB

 

Seeing Opportunity in Every Difficulty

NLDS 2016

Ready for Opening Day

Today is opening day for the Washington Nationals.  If the president really wanted to make America great again, he would declare opening day of the baseball season a national holiday.  It could be a celebration of optimism and new beginnings.

I find that a clear-eyed optimism is an important element for a balanced outlook on life.  While former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson spoke for one approach when he said, “I’m an optimist, but an optimist who carries an umbrella,”  one of his predecessors as prime minister – Winston Churchill – probably did a better job of hitting the nail on the head. Churchill, who governed during some of the darkest days of civilization, said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Circling back to baseball, fans for every team in America are optimistic (clear-eyed and otherwise) on opening day.  They know that in years past teams have gone from “worst to first” in one year (see Atlanta Braves, 1991), so it could happen again.  Heck, even the Cubs won the World Series last year after a drought that may have seemed to their fans like a millennium (but was only a century) in length.  New players blend with familiar favorites – just like old and new buildings in a thriving, vibrant city – as we look expectantly to the future.  The fact that opening day takes place in the spring when the trees and flowers are coming back to life makes the symmetry that much better.

When I was at the Mayors’ Institute on City Design last month, I was struck by how many of the cities represented had minor league baseball stadiums.  A recent survey by the National Trust’s Forum Research Desk found 33 historic ballparks still in use in cities represented by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  All of this led me to think that perhaps the reports of the death of baseball as America’s game have been – to paraphrase Mark Twain – greatly exaggerated.  My favorite minor league park among the ones I saw at the Mayors’ Institute was Modern Woodman Park in Davenport, Iowa.  The city has made the conscious decision not to build a flood wall on the nine miles of the Mississippi River that boarders Davenport and to build in a sustainable, resilient way that respects nature instead of trying to tame it.  Yet the baseball stadium sits within sight of the river.  In the floodplain.  When the river floods (as many as several times per year), temporary walls go around the stadium, a floating walkway is set up to the parking lot on higher ground, and baseball is played on a field surrounded (literally) by the mighty Mississippi.  Who says American ingenuity is dead!

Modern Woodman Park

Modern Woodman Park on game day…during a flood. (photo credit: MiLB.com)

No matter your thoughts about baseball, enjoy this spring and the time of new beginnings.  And let’s look for opportunity in difficulties.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB