“All baseball fans can be divided into two groups: those who come to batting practice, and the others. Only those in the first category have much chance of amounting to anything.” ~ Thomas Boswell
While still in New York City, the first time, we were exploring Time Square one night, a little after midnight. The City was not sleeping. There were people everywhere. Sidewalks were crowded with them, as they gaped up at the constantly changing lights and high-definition screens hung from the sides of so many buildings, and they lined up at the food carts, and they took photographs of themselves, and of all things New York.
As Vicki and I are doing our own gaping, Batman walks up to us.
“You folks are safe tonight. Gotham City’s crime fighter is here, for you.”
“Glad to hear that.”
“How about a picture with Gotham City’s crime fighter?”
“I’m thinking your lady there might like a picture of you and the Caped Crusader. Or maybe she’d like one herself? My cape looks good, they tell me. Ladies like Batman’s cape.” And he twirls it a little.
He looks at Vicki, but she continues to walk, a little faster.
“Next time,” I tell him. “We’ll do it next time.” And I try to catch up. She’s really fast.
“It’s like your pins, brother,” he calls out.
“Yeah?” I’m walking backwards now, looking back at Batman. “How’s that?”
“It’s your Public I.D.. It’s all about your Public I.D..”
I laugh. “I don’t EVEN know what that means.”
Batman stops, and looks at me.
“Let me walk with you a bit,” he says finally. And he runs to catch up.
“People WANT to be seen with a superhero,” Batman tells me. Batman is tall. “They want that picture. They need it. And I give it to them. I let them have that picture. That moment. And while we’re together, I’m on a platform. The people put me there. I am Batman. And the people want to hear what Batman has to say. They want to know what Batman is thinking. What I’m thinking.”
We’re walking together now, Batman and I. Vicki is up ahead, looking over her shoulder.
“So what sorts of things does Batman talk about, when he’s on his platform?”
Batman shrugs. “It changes. Whatever’s on my mind. Or maybe it’s whatever’s on their mind. I can do that, too. And they listen. They always listen.”
“And you like that.”
“I love that, brother. And I bet you do, too. When people ask you about those pins. It’s your Public I.D..
I try not to, but I grin a little.
“Yeah. Yeah.” And he points at me. “You know. You know. You know what ol’ Batman is talking about. I knew you did.”
Batman and I bro-hug, and he spins around and runs back to a crowd of people behind us. His cape does look good when he spins like that. And in just a moment, the Dark Knight is posing, and holding court.
And I think I understand. We’ve seen them all now, all the ballparks. And our Baseball Road Trip has reached its natural conclusion. And with that, I’ve lost my right, it seems, to hold court, and expect you to follow along. I could tell you about Acadia National Park, in Maine, and how many times we ate lobster there, and about Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Connecticut, and Thoreau’s Walden Pond near Concord, which is now nothing but a public swimming hole, though the Thoreau statue is neat, and about Brody, the likable cook and owner of Brody’s Diner in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, who told us he keeps that autographed photograph of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, posed together, high up on the wall there, so it won’t walk out the door. But all that, and our accidentally coming across Franki Valli performing at the site of the Woodstock festival (which, by the way, was moved to a farm 67 miles from Woodstock before the festival–but it was too late to change all the promotional stuff), has nothing to do with baseball road trips. And so I have to stop.
But I think I will mention to you that we drove around a full hour, the day we left New York City the first time, trying to find a parking place, just long enough to take our Rawlings gloves and our Official Little League Ball, and play catch, for just five minutes, in Central Park. And that we were never able to.
“Let’s just double park.”
“Other people do.”
“So let’s just put on the flashers, run across the street, and make two throws.”
“We have to.”
“Let’s do it.”
But we didn’t do it. It was just talk. The city was just too big that day.
And did I tell you that Chris, the Mets fan who, sadly for us, we didn’t see again after the rain delay that night, had earlier told me that the location of the baseball diamond in his old Shea Stadium, was commemorated out in the Citi Field parking lot, just across from the Tom Seaver Gate? We went there of course, after the game.
There are several guys walking up to the commemorative bases, and pitcher’s mound, as we arrive.
“This is so cool!” one of them says. He crouches behind the plate, as his buddy jogs out to the mound.
“Wow,” his buddy calls out. “This is a long way.”
“I know, right?” his friend hollers back.
I tell them about our visit to the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame and Museum, and about the pitching cage, and the radar gun. And about the electronic umpire who wasn’t giving me any corner calls.
“So how fast? What’d you have?”
“I’m not telling you.”
He laughs. “Was it 55?”
Looking at Brody’s Ruth and Gehrig’s photo, and the one he has of Ted Williams, in his military uniform, lighting a cigar for a grinning Babe Ruth, has reminded me of the black and white photograph we saw on the wall of the Dennys in Fort Bragg, California, that night many, many late nights ago, of the Fort Bragg Loggers, and how happy we were that we were able to find that same photograph on the internet. And that all seems so long ago now, I’m thinking, that it must have been on a different baseball road trip.
But it’s just been the one trip. And since it has been a baseball trip, we kept track of stuff, our Baseball Road Trip Statistics:
—-Days, and nights, on the Road–80
—-Miles Driven–17, 136
—-Gallons of Gas–745
—-Souvenir T-shirts acquired–28
—-Team hats given to us–8
—-Promotional Bobbleheads given to us–8
—-Tote bags–1 (Mother’s Day, Arizona)
—-Nights that Price-Line put us in Extended Stay Motels–22
—-Number of times we heard a lazy fly ball called a ‘can of corn’–6
—-Souvenir hat pins–62
—-Number of times we crossed the Mississippi River–6
—-Hot dogs consumed, including those calling themselves breakfast–49 (Someone stopped eating her share. I’m not naming names.)
—-Number of times the home team won–17 out of 30
—-Number of fans who watched 30 baseball games with us–951,876
We’ve learned things on this trip. And feel the need to share. So, for anyone out there who would like to take on their own baseball road trip, here are my two pieces of advice. I recommend leaving some off days scattered around. Otherwise, the dirty laundry starts to stack up. And do not attempt this alone. One needs a steadfast partner for this trip–one who will walk the concourses with you, and eat fruit pies and hot dogs for breakfast. Choose wisely. This is important.
On our way back from our side trip to Maine, after Cooperstown, we stop for one last train trip into The City, as it is referred to by upstate New Yorkers. We have some unfinished business. So we spend the night in Fishkill, NY (named after the Dutch word for stream, not the toxic waste event), take the morning train from Beacon to Grand Central Station, then, after walking the fifteen blocks to the August Wilson Theater for tickets to tonight’s performance of Jersey Boys, walk another eight blocks to Central Park. New York City is under a heat advisory, and we are feeling every bit of it. We stop at Central Park South for a couple of food cart dogs and some Gatorade, then head into the Park, find a grassy spot in the shade, and eat lunch. There is a couple across from us, sunbathing. A man to our right is practicing acrobatics. A young girl watches him, then does cartwheels, looking to him for his approval. Which he gives her. After we cool off awhile, I open up our day pack, dig past the change of clothes for the play later, and pull out our Rawlings gloves and our Official Little League ball, and we walk out into the sun. And as we launch the ball toward each other, in Central Park, in New York City, and wait for it to return to us, as it always does, so we get to feel and hear the ball thwack in our glove, we remember the rest areas, and the grassy spaces at motels, and the back yard in Orange, where we’ve been warming up for this.
So why did we go? I’m still not sure I know the answer to that. The bacon-wrapped hot dogs, maybe. The new parks that look like old parks, and the old parks that still look like black and white baseball might be played there, snow globe baseball. Where we can imagine that the players just walked into the stadium from a vacant lot across the street. And that they would play for free, and will never leave us for another team.
And so now the Baseball Road Trip that we thought would never end, somehow has.
Thanks for coming with us. And to the ‘what now’ question we’ve heard several times recently, I do have an answer. There are, by my rough count, 240 minor league baseball teams. Batters won’t pose at home plate down there and admire their work, when they go yard, and the traffic shouldn’t be as bad.
My son Joshua, who has been my enthusiastic companion on our many trips to Houston’s Astrodome, and later, Minute Maid Park, told me something awhile back about baseball games that took me awhile to grasp. Maybe it took me until now. I was asking him why he didn’t bother to learn why a team might sacrifice bunt in the 8th inning of a tie game, or why a runner getting to third with one out was so much better than his getting there with two outs. That’s not why he goes, he told me. He likes going to the games, he said, not so much so he can watch and understand lead-off doubles and late inning sacrifice bunts, but so he can cheer with and high five and have conversations with total strangers, while we all watch those things together. He has 20,000 friends, he told me, on the days he and I go to a ball game. So maybe it’s that.