A Baseball Road Trip

Thirty Major League Baseball Stadiums. Sixty Stadium Dogs. One Season.


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Final Stories, Road Trip Stats, and a Conclusion or Two

“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?”

“Guess not.”

“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?”

“Damn.”

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 cups–30

—-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.


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The Blog That Ate the Baseball Road Trip. Nearly.

“The designated hitter rule is like letting someone else take Wilt Chamberlain’s free throws.”  ~Rick Wise, MLB starting pitcher

Somewhere very early on this journey, my nephew Travis suggested that I blog about our baseball road trip.  Though I knew nothing about blogging, it seemed like a simple enough task.  The story would tell itself.  How long could it take, anyway.

I’ve learned a lot in three months.

–The number of books I finished reading during our 12 weeks on the road—None.

–The number of the fourteen movies we brought with us, and hauled into motel rooms almost every night, that we actually watched—None.

–The number of times I wandered outside the motel room, in search of a coke machine, at an hour when no one else other than my swing shift working friends back home were wandering anywhere, then watched through the curtain as the sky grew light outside while I was still re-arranging words, downloading pictures, and discovering new and wonderful baseball quotes—Sixteen.

–The number of times we turned on the motel room television—Two.

–The number of times my steadfast road trip partner tried to stay up and keep me company—All of them.

–The number of bags of chips I ate, while rearranging words, and watching the sky grow light outside—That’s not important.

–The number of times I wanted to call my nephew, when I was sure he’d be asleep, and let him know how the blog was going—Thirty-seven.


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On the Road to Cooperstown

“Wake up the echoes at the Hall of Fame and you will find that baseball’s immortals were a rowdy and raucous group of men who would climb down off their plaques and go rampaging through Cooperstown, taking spoils….Deplore it if you will, but Grover Cleveland Alexander drunk was a better pitcher than Grover Cleveland Alexander sober.”  ~Bill Veeck

I think we knew a number of games ago that we would end up in Cooperstown.  Not the way Willie Mays ended up there, but in our own quiet, unassuming, trying to connect the dots kind of way.  We have seen a couple of smaller collections of baseball history on our road trip–the Negro Leagues’ Baseball Museum in Kansas City, the Cincinnati Reds Museum–but coming to THE Baseball Hall of Fame seems too fitting a conclusion for our homage to baseball to end any other way.  And I think we need the transition, to help bring us in from the road.

The area of the Mustang formerly known as the back seat is full of souvenir cups, new t-shirts, a few books, old and newly acquired, and other miscellaneous baseball memorabilia.  There is a laptop, a netbook, a couple of bags of books, several canvas bags of food items, a long ago forgotten ice chest, a slightly used Walmart printer, and two baseball gloves and an Official Little League baseball.

“This is bad.”

“How bad?”

“There is no more room back here,” Vicki says.  “We can do no more acquiring.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I say, without looking.

“You clearly have a lack of appreciation for the disarray.”

The final leg of the trip has been intense, with not enough days off between games, between expressways and all the bumper to bumper stuff, and toll booths, or between moments of yelling at our GPS thingies.  So we cross back into the U.S. at Buffalo, and look for the first scenic route to Cooperstown we can find.  We find Hwy 20, and head east.

Upstate New York is as attractive as Vicki promised it would be.  The road winds and dips through lush, rolling farm land, with fields of young corn crops thick enough for young, 8-10 yr old ball players to emerge from, ready to play catch.  There are old farm houses painted in historic colors, villages with old churches and high steeples, and ponds and finger lakes to drive along the banks of.

Just outside Seneca Falls, in the small town of Waterloo, NY, we pass Mac’s Drive In, an old fashioned curb service and walk up soda fountain and cafe.  After mulling for a half mile, we circle back.  We need dairy.

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We walk under the canopy, and up to the counter.  It feels like we’re still outside.  There is a sign advertising their Richardson’s Homemade Root Beer.

“Hey guys, what can I get for you?”

We order a root beer float, and a malt.

“Great.  What flavor malt?”

“What do you have?”

“We have most all of them.  Tell me what you’re wanting.”

“Mint chocolate chip.”

“We don’t have that.”

“Vanilla, then.”

“Awesome.”

We sit in the white resin chairs around one of the cafe tables under the awning.  The root beer keg sits on the end of the counter, where our fountain guy fills up Vicki’s glass.  There are signs and pictures advertising the classic car shows at Mac’s.

In just a minute, he walks out from behind the counter and brings us our drinks.

“You guys want some food with this?”

“This as food today.”

“Gotcha.”

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Our dairy needs met, we continue down 20, then along the banks of Cayuga Lake, one of a number of finger lakes in this part of New York.  There are wild lilies, the tall stemmed, orange colored seasonal flower native to this area in most yards, and along the road.  Upstate New York looks nice in the summer.

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Not too far to our north are the Adirondack Mountains.  Vicki tells me she has never been there.

“How is that possible?”

“Not sure.”

So a short time later, we turn toward the Adirondacks, driving north through Utica, and up Hwy 28.  It is cooler in the Adirondacks, but not dramatically so.  They are low, rolling, green forested mountains, with small lakes and streams appearing regularly.  There are canoes and kayaks on car roofs, and at the outfitters’ shops along the two-lane highway.  We decide it would be nice to stay the night up here tonight, at some place quaint, and head to Cooperstown in the morning.  Some place overlooking a lake, we add.

Most of the roads turning off toward the many small lakes have ‘private’ and ‘no vacancy’ signs hanging at the turnoffs. The small towns we pass through are swarming with visitors, walking up and down the streets, in and out of gift shops and galleries.  Motels have their ‘no vacancy’ signs turned on.  We turn down one side road to a lodge that looks promising, but find that you have to book by the week there.  And they have no vacancies anyway, they throw in. Unnecessarily.

We head back to the main road.  It’s getting late.  Ok, maybe a motel in the city.

We pass into and out of Old Forge, and Eagle Bay, and Inlet, with no sign of any vacancies.  Just east of Inlet, we pass by a sign for Lakeside Lodge, and a narrow dirt road heading off into the trees.  We turn around, drive back to the sign, and head into the woods on the winding, tree canopied road, coming to a clearing where there stands an old, white framed home overlooking a lake just down the hill.  We ring the bell at the back porch, near the wooden “office” sign, where we are greeted by the manager, and taken down the hill to the lake side cottage that, yes, is available tonight.  It is old, built in 1937, we are told.  There is a dock at the bottom of the hill, with Adirondack chairs, and a picnic table.  There are canoes on a rack just behind the cottage.  Inside, it looks like the fish camp of my boyhood dreams and remembrances.  Most lights operate by a pull chain, and there is a cozy, wood-sided sunroom with a window that lifts up and hooks like a screen door to the ceiling.  You can hear the lake lapping at the bank, ten feet away.

We are home, on the shores of 7th Lake, and Cooperstown would have to wait a day.

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We haul the essentials down the hill into our cottage, then sit out on the dock.   And do nothing.  For a few minutes.  The lake is long, to our left and right, and a few hundred yards across, the forested hills rising above the opposite bank.  The water is calm now, in the late afternoon.  A couple, with their two sons running ahead, comes down the hill from the main house.  Don is the grandson of the owner, we find out.  His Aunt Marcia, who checked us in, has told him we might be interested in canoeing, and he offers to help me walk the canoe down to the water.  And this is how our stay here unfolds–with a warmth and hospitality that seems to take us in as if we were long lost cousins.  First cousins.

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Lakeside Lodge is the home of Ruth Wright, who is lovingly assisted by her children and her grandchildren in its daily operations.  Don takes his sons, Drake and Duke, out canoeing along with Vicki and I, then heads back to do yard work while we paddle a little farther.  We come across a loon, who poses for us.  Back at the dock, we meet Marty, a two-week guest at Lakeside, who kayaks every morning, and recommends we hike Black Bear Mountain, there, across the lake.  They all come to learn about our baseball trip.  Don’s wife Kristen talks to Vicki about packing for a three-month road trip.  In a Mustang.  Ruth’s friend Rich talks about being a ticket seller for the Baltimore Orioles for 25 years, and tells us his son played Pony Ball with Cal Ripken.  We are advised to make the short drive back into Inlet, to the Old Barn, for dinner.  There are ball caps nailed to the ceiling at the Old Barn, and an overhead electric train that runs the length of the restaurant, and a small meadow just outside where fathers go for short walks with their children.  We read on the back of the menu that, at various times in the history of the Old Barn, there has been live music here–by Fats Domino, and Chubby Checker, and Count Basie, and The Guess Who.  And The Turtles.  Don and Kristen and the boys walk in, ask us how we’re liking dinner, and find a booth.

Later that evening, we read in small sunroom, with the window latched up so we can hear the water just outside, and decide we need to hike Black Bear Mountain.

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Next morning, we speak with Marcia about extending our stay, and about mailing off some bills.  She points to the mailbox sitting on the edge of the dock.

“He comes by around 11:30.  He’ll hit the other side of the lake first, then come up from the back side of the island there.”

The boat does come by, very near 11:30, the mailman’s large black dog’s front paws perched up on the gunnel, his tail wagging.

“Pretty hot today,” the mailman tells me, then he and his partner motor away to the next dock.

I turn to Vicki, sitting on the dock, in her Adirondack chair.

“I want to be a mailman.  Here.”

“There’s probably a line.”

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Rich tells us to wave at him from the top of Black Bear Mountain, and we promise we will.

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That night, Don and Kristen invite us to join them for smores at the fire ring near the main house.  Drake cooks a perfect marshmallow for his Dad.  I burn mine.  The fire dances and crackles while the boys laugh about everything.  They ask us about our trip, and we end up talking about Yellowstone, and snowmobiling, and seeing a wolf.

“Wow!”  Drake is excited about the wolf.  “Tell us another story.”

I tell him about the bobcat.

“Wow!”  He wants to know all about bobcats.  He asks his Dad about it.  He wants to know what kind of bomb the cat has.

“It’s a bobcat,” his Dad tells him.  “Because of his short tail.”

“Ohhhh.”

The next morning feels like the end of a family reunion.  Everyone gathers around our car as we pack.  Kristen gives us a card with their email addresses.  They wish us well on our journey to Cooperstown, and the rest of our way home.  Ruth wants a copy of the book, she tells me.

“An autographed copy,” Rich says.   “It’ll be worth a lot of money!”

I tell him I’ll bring one to him personally.

“All right,” he nods.  “I like that.”

And we drive away from the house, out the dirt road that winds through the trees, and we’re back on Hwy 28, for the two hour drive into Cooperstown.

The village of Cooperstown seems to be fully on board with the vintage baseball look.  Downtown, with the Hall of Fame as its center point, is itself historic in appearance.  Brick multi-storied store fronts butt up against one another, offering up dugout loads of baseball memorabilia, in  shops with Mickey Mantle and Shoeless Joe as part of their names.  Inside the museum, we find baseball’s Smithsonian.  One can spend an entire day, roaming through the three floors of history, record-setting equipment, and memories.

Some things we learn, and see, in the Baseball Hall of Fame:

—Cooperstown makes the confession, right away, that Abner Doubleday had nothing to do with the creation of baseball. In a 1905 attempt by Albert Goodwill Spalding (yes, that Spalding–noted pitcher in the 1870’s, and eventual baseball promoter and entrepreneur)  to prove once and for all baseball’s purely American heritage, the myth was launched, and somehow substantiated, that Civil War hero Doubleday had ‘invented’ baseball in 1839, in Cooperstown, complete with his drawings depicting diamond dimensions, and rules, and the price of a souvenir cup and footlong combo.  None of this is true, of course.  Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball, the Hall of Fame admits, “baseball invented Abner Doubleday.”

—The glove worn by Ty Cobb in the 1906 season.

—Ted Williams’ 500th home run ball, and bat.

—We learn that in the inaugural Hall of Fame class of 1936–Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, and Walter ‘Big Train’ Johnson–it was Ty Cobb who received the most votes.

—Steve  Carlton’s 4000th strike-out ball.

—The seven ball caps worn by Nolan Ryan, when he threw each of his record seven no-hitters.

—The ball from Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game.

—And my favorite, and it surprised me, how much it meant to me to see this one—the glove used by Willie Mays to make his famous over the shoulder catch in dead center.   That catch.  The one you’ve seen replayed countless times, made on September 29, 1954, in game one of the World Series.  It’s small, it’s wrinkled, and it looks a lot like the giant one they have in the centerfield concourse in San Francisco, come to think of it.  It looks nothing like the baskets they use today.  And Willie Mays, the Willie Mays, wore it, this glove in front of me.   And for just a moment, I can feel my hand in it, and I can feel the ball settling in the pocket as I then turn and tumble to the ground throwing it back to the infield.

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We wander through the exhibits until the museum’s 9:00 closing time.  I would mention the stuff in Houston’s display, the displays they have for every team, but you might not be as excited by it as I am.  Except maybe for the jersey worn by Chris Burke when he hit the walk off home run on Oct 9th, 2005, in Houston’s decisive game 4 victory over the Atlanta Braves.  In the 18th inning.  Ten innings after Lance Berkman’s 8th inning grand slam!  It is the longest post season game in major league baseball history.  I’m getting goose bumps right now, just telling you about it.

It’s dark when we step outside, and begin walking to our car.  We still need to find a place to stay.  And we have two new t-shirts to make room for.

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

“[Baseball] breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”  ~A. Bartlett Giamatti,

Tuesday, July 9.

I’ve realized that I’m not ready to say goodbye yet.  There are a couple of stories I forgot to mention.  Good ones.  And there are some road trip loose ends that need to be gathered together, if not tied.  And maybe, like Batman told me in Time Square, I’m enjoying my public I.D. too much to give it up.  I never saw that coming.  I think maybe I forgot to tell you about Batman.

Anyway, we are going to Cooperstown, to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I’m going to need to tell you about that, and another thing or two, then maybe I can stop.  Otherwise, what am I supposed to do with all these quotes?


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Touching Home in Toronto

“People will come, Ray…for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll watch the game, and it will be as if they’ve dipped themselves in magic waters.” ~ A Field of Dreams

Game 30. Toronto. Blue Jays vs. Twins.

“So where are you folks from?”

“Florida. And Texas.”

“Really.” He looks closely at the two of us.

“Yes.”

“How do you two know each other?”

“E-harmony.”

He looks up at Vicki, and says nothing.

“We’re dating,” she tries again.

“Uh huh. Where are you heading?”

“Toronto.”

“Is that right. Why Toronto?”

“Baseball. To see the Blue Jays.”

“Uh huh.” And he looks at us. Bends a little so he can see both of us, then straightens up. “Not good.”

“Pardon?”

“They’re not so good this year. No starting pitching.” He hands back our passports. “Have a good time in Toronto.”

A few minutes later, we’ve crossed the Niagara River–which flows for 35 miles, from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario–just downstream of Niagara Falls, and into Canada. I was here on a family vacation many years ago, but much has changed since then. The tourism industry has consumed nature’s attraction, or tried to. There are casinos, high rise hotels, a 775 foot viewing tower, and the required viewing tower restaurant, and a Ferris wheel–“the best way to view Niagara Falls”, the sign tells us. There is miniature golf, an IMAX theater, an indoor water park, and a fun house. There are many, many people in the town of Niagara Falls, finding many ways to keep themselves entertained. Some of them are looking at the waterfalls.

We park a few hundred yards above Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three falls, and which lies principally on the Canadian side, and hike back to the brink. The river is swift, green, and intimidating as it rushes over the edge, and crashes 173 feet to the rocks below, throwing up a mist that rises hundreds of feet above the falls. The roar is deafening. To say the falls are impressive doesn’t come close. We watch, in awe, from several vantage points. Below, down on the river, there are large two-decked boats chugging upstream, carrying poncho-clad passengers to the base of the falls, and into the mouth of the horseshoe.

“We should do that.”

“We should absolutely do that.”

A short while later, we are on the top deck of the Maid Of The Mist III, wearing our blue Maid of the Mist souvenir ponchos, heading upstream and passing in front of the smaller American and Bridal Veil Falls, toward Horseshoe Falls. As we near the base, and we can no longer talk over the roar of the crashing water, I notice our fellow passengers have the hoods of their ponchos secured tightly. Not us. We want to connect to the river. Like sitting in Shamu’s splash zone, we decide. As we reach inside the horseshoe, the Maid Of The Mist III’s diesel engines laboring now, the power of the falls, wrapping around us, is overwhelming. The mist begins to blow harder from the wind created by the falls, then turns quickly into rain, a momentarily heavy rain, and we are soaked in an instant, our hair plastered to our faces. We are all smiles. We have connected with the river.

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Back onshore, we walk back up along the river to our car, delighted with Niagara Falls. We stop at the brink.

“Let me take your picture.”

“How’s my hair look?”

“Wet.”

“You’re not even going to lie?”

“Might want to wear the hat.”

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It’s 129 km from Niagara Falls to Toronto. About 80 miles. And because we didn’t think to temporarily add international service to our smart phones, we don’t have a gps for the next two days. We did think to print directions to the hotel last night, though. And besides, we have the atlas. How big can Toronto be, anyway.

“How big is Toronto, anyway?”

“It’s 2.6 million.”

“You just happen to know that?”

“I saw the sign.”

“Oh. That’s in metric though.”

Vicki looks at me, narrows her eyes a moment, then looks back at Queen Elizabeth Way. She’s driving. I’m in charge of the maps.

We’ve wrestled, more than a little, with the reality that this is Game 30. The final game. And we’re a little stunned by this. A journey that seemed much too large to ever actually complete, and that therefore, like summer vacation, would last forever, is very nearly done. And though we’re worn some from the travelling, the realization that, after Toronto, there are no more baseball cities to drive into, or ball parks to see for the first time, or hat pins to buy or baseball tickets to print on our almost portable Walmart printer, has us feeling a little lost. We’re not dwelling on it, but we know it’s there. Maybe we are dwelling on it, a little.

We do find our way into Toronto easily enough, and to our hotel a few miles from downtown. We check in, then drive towards downtown Toronto, to the Harbour Front, and the ferries that, for $7, take locals and tourists alike out to Toronto Islands, a chain of small islands just offshore, in western Lake Ontario. The exchange rate is such that local businesses are happy to take U.S. currency. I think we’re losing four cents on the dollar. Something like that. Maybe I should look at that a little closer.

The ferry ride across Inner Harbour is quick. The skyline of Toronto is more attractive from the water than it seemed on shore. There is much construction going on downtown–new high rises–and you can’t make out the cranes from across the harbor. The ferry is full of tourists, like us, and locals bringing coolers, bicycles, swim wear, and roller hockey gear to the chain of small islands. We discuss how short this playful season must be for Canadians. On arriving at Centre Island, we are welcomed by a “Please Walk On The Grass” sign. And the red and white Canadian flag. Flower gardens bursting with color. Children, and adults on bikes, and in kayaks, navigating their way amongst the islands. A place that is covered in snow for much of the year is a green and verdant playground today. We stroll across islands and bridges to Lake Ontario, watch the kiddos playing at the beach there, then wander back to the dock, spend most of the ten dollars Canadian that we ended up with somehow on a couple of slurpees, then ride back to the mainland.

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Not too many blocks from the ferry, and next door to Rogers Centre, home of the Blue Jays, is 1,815 foot tall CN Tower, Toronto’s answer to Seattle’s Space Needle. Built in 1976 as a communications tower, it now hosts over two million international visitors a year. As we make our way to the elevators, there are videos playing on overhead monitors promoting ‘EdgeWalk’ , an opportunity to walk around the outdoor ledge of the 1,168 foot high main pod, hands free, tethered by an overhead rail system. The video shows the brave and windblown visitors looking like skydivers, standing on the edge, leaning back away from the tower, secured only by web straps, and the whims of a highly fickle and too frequently distracted Universe. I’m trying to come to terms with the DNA differences between myself and those in the video, when we learn that you have to book this adventure well in advance. That’s a shame. From the top, behind the wire screen, the views of Toronto are incredible.

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At various times earlier in our baseball road trip, we had written notes to the public relations departments of most of the baseball stadiums prior to our arrival at each of them, to fill them in on our adventure, and ask for tips on seeing their stadium. And, ok, to give them the opportunity to give us stuff. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks seemed to take notice of our quest, and treated us like royalty. I had decided later that stadiums must be besieged by requests for giveaways, and tried, at times unsuccessfully, not to be discouraged by the lack of replies. But just a couple of days before today’s Blue Jays’ game, eating an 11:00 breakfast at a diner in upstate New York, our game date in Toronto finally confirmed after some last minute New York schedule changes, and emotions beginning to thicken surrounding our awareness that this was to be our final game, I had written to the Toronto Blue Jays, explaining to them that our Baseball Road Trip was reaching its conclusion at their ballpark. The very next day, I received a reply from Matt Black, Supervisor of Guest Experiences, congratulating us on our journey, and requesting our seat location. I’m not sure what to expect, but I do have a few words prepared. Just in case. It’s not that long.

Next morning arrives, Sunday morning, and we put on our Tampa Rays and Houston Astros outfits, the cleanest ones, for the last game. Our hats are heavy now from the pins. And poke pretty hard when we bump into something. We mapquest directions from the hotel business center, and make the twenty minute drive into downtown Toronto. This is a 1:30 game, and cars are stacked up trying to get into the adjacent parking garage already, at 11:30. And despite the feelings of the customs agent, Toronto likes her Blue Jays.

Rogers Centre looks different from most American baseball parks. It is grey concrete, and glass, and a white retractable roof that brings to mind the UFO from ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’. The original one. And it brings to mind an ice hockey arena, even though I’m not exactly sure what that means. And it would be easy enough to be disappointed that it doesn’t look like a vintage Camden Yards, or even Houston’s limestone and arched brick Minute Maid Park. But this is Toronto’s ballpark, and is built in keeping with her traditions and her history–not America’s, and our love of early 1900’s ballparks–and her architectural leanings. Downtown Toronto is also a considerably more modern look than is Chicago’s, and, much to Toronto’s relief, we decide that that’s okay. The Blue Jays are three games under .500, trailing Boston by a ton, and need more starting pitching, but the concourse inside is jammed with baseball fans who love their ballpark, and the baseball team that plays here. An Ugly American might call out for bricks, and an arch, but we’ve decided we’re not going to do that.

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Today is J.P. Arencibia Bobblehead Day, honoring the Blue Jays’ catcher. Vicki makes room for them in the never quite full Mary Poppins bag, and we take our normal ballpark walk-around tour. Vicki and I both have a domed-stadium heritage, Tampa’s current Tropicana Field, and Houston’s former Astrodome home, so we’re comfortable with the look of a roof, and artificial turf. It’s nostalgic for me. Rogers Centre has its own hotel, and we can see the rooms peering at us from beyond center field. The Astrodome didn’t have a hotel, pretty sure. None that I knew about.

“We should eat,” I announce, after finishing our tour.

We haven’t had breakfast. Or anything that could be accused of being breakfast.

“I don’t want a hot dog.”

“You’re not over that? This is your last chance.”

“It’s too early for a hot dog.”

“We had Chicago dogs for breakfast in Chicago.”

“That was different.”

“How so?”

“It was twenty hot dogs ago.”

“You’ve counted?”

“I need a dairy product.”

I’m on a mission, and seek out the trademark grilled footlong. Vicki looks away while I eat. And no, she doesn’t want a bite.

We explore the other levels, checking out the baseball views. Vicki chooses a couple of ice cream bars.

“That’s it?”

“I need dairy.”

We head to our seats. We’re in our usual upper deck, but behind home location. It’s been our go-to location for most of the games. It’s the last home game before the All-Star break. The stands are packed. Fans are excited.

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Before the game starts, the predominantly Canadian crowd is asked to stand, for the two national anthems. There is an enthusiastic response to the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but an understandably louder, more energized one for ‘O Canada’, with cheers erupting spontaneously long before song’s end. The predominantly Canadian crowd is ready for baseball.

Sitting next to me is a young man appearing to be in his 30’s, and another gentleman nearer my age.

“Is this a normal crowd?” I ask.

“It’s a little larger than normal. It’s bobblehead day. And its Sunday. And its summer. Everybody’s out and doing things.”

“They’re fired up.”

“Is this your first time here?”

“It is.”

“Well, welcome to The Dome. And welcome to Toronto.”

His name is Ryan, and the gentleman next to him is Paul, his father-in-law. And for the next two and a half hours, they are our hosts. We talk about the Blue Jays, baseball and baseball stadiums, hockey, and America and Canada. While we take in a ballgame together. It is a great day for baseball.

Looking at the batting averages of the Twins’ and the Blue Jays’ starting lineups, Toronto looks to be a strong team, not a team struggling to reach .500.

“What do you need?” I ask. “What’s missing?”

“We need another starter,” Paul says.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that.”

“It’s all about the pitching, eh?”

I tell them about the rumors that Houston might be looking to trade starting pitcher Bud Norris, not wanting to pay what he’s expected to command next season. An issue that would not be an issue for some teams.

“It’s a terrible thing, what they’ve done to your team,” Paul says.

I like Paul.

“So you’re from Houston?” Ryan asks. We tell them about our trip. I’m not sure if seeing 29 baseball stadiums in America, and one in Canada, will mean much to them, but they are very excited by the trip.

“Maybe they’ll put your names on the big screen, eh?” Paul says.

The Blue Jays’ Todd Redmond, a recent call up from AAA, is making his 2nd career start today. Since turning pro in 2005, he has thrown 1,200 innings of minor league ball, and eleven innings in the majors. And things don’t start out well for him today. He walks the Twins’ lead-off batter Brian Dozier, who then makes it to second on a stolen base, and to third on the throw down to 2nd that ends up in center field. Man on third, nobody out, in his 12th inning of major league ball. But Redmond strikes out the Twins’ leading hitter Joe Mauer, then induces back to back pop-ups. And breathes again.

The Twins are starting Scott Diamond today, an Ontario native. There is a red maple leaf beside his name on the scoreboard. The Blue Jays get a one-out double from Jose Bautista, followed by a walk for Edwin Encarnacion. Adam Lind then hits the ball on a line, to the Twins’ second baseman, who flips to second for the inning-ending double play.

“He hit that hard,” I offer.

“I know, right?” Ryan says.

I tell Ryan and Paul that we were originally planning on seeing last Monday’s game game, on July 1st.

“Yeah, Canada Day!” Ryan says. “That would have been awesome! It’s like your July 4th, your celebration of your Revolution. We learn all about American history in school.”

“We’re probably not as good about learning other countries’ histories. Except the history majors.”

“We love America, though,” he tells me. And he tells me about July 1, 1867, when the three British colonies that then comprised Canada were combined into a sovereign nation.

If you’re reading this, Ryan and Paul, I did look up Canada Day, and learned about The Constitution Act of 1867, and the nation-wide celebration that ensued, “with the ringing of the bells at the Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto and bonfires, fireworks and illuminations, excursions, military displays and musical and other entertainments”. And I apologize for taking this long.

In the middle of the 2nd inning, I hear my name from someone in the row behind us. We turn around, and meet Josh and Jess, Toronto Blue Jay staffers, who welcome us to Toronto Blue Jays baseball, and congratulate us on our 30-stadium baseball journey. We hear the fans behind us murmur their approval.

“They’ve seen all the stadiums!” we hear someone say.

“That is so cool,” someone we never got a chance to meet replies.

Josh begins bringing out gifts from his Bluejays’ backpack: A handwritten note, celebrating our quest; a couple of Blue Jays’ lanyards, a pair of red Canada Day ball caps; and a commemorative, encased, piece of Astroturf from the 1993 Toronto World Series victory. And for a few moments, at least, we are Section 525 celebrities. Strangers are patting us on the shoulder, and talking among themselves about us. The woman behind us offers to take our picture for us.

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“You got the Canada Day caps!” Ryan tells me. “That is awesome! I wanted one of those, but they ran out!”

We are still basking in the glow, when the Blue Jays’ Colby Rasmus hits a two-run home run in the bottom of the 4th, for a 2-0 Toronto lead. And it’s about this time that we notice Todd Redmond has not allowed a hit. We only mumble a little something about it, that’s all. We only mumbled.

But mumbling was enough, I guess, as Minnesota’s Aaron Hicks hits a home run in the top of the 5th, following a Clete Thomas walk. One hit, two runs. Game tied.

We had noticed the high home run totals for Toronto’s batters earlier in the game. We notice them more in the bottom of the 5th, when Jose Reyes opens with a solo home run, followed by a three-run shot later in the inning by Rajai Davis. And just like that, it’s 6-2, Toronto. We’re all on our feet, cheering the accomplishments of the home team.

“We can score runs!” Ryan says, as we all sit finally.

“If we had better pitching…,” Paul says.

“Remember the name, Bud Norris,” I remind them.

We talk about hockey, Canada’s sport. We talk about a salary cap, and how difficult it is for Toronto to compete with New York and Boston without one. We talk about the prospect of replacing the artificial turf in Rogers Centre with grass, the popularity of baseball in Canada, the school and neighborhood baseball fields we’ve seen in our short stay here, the between-innings fun stuff we’ve seen in the other stadiums, and the occasional difficulty and anonymity of being the only Canadian major league baseball team in America’s game. And whether or not the short left field in Fenway is a good thing. They are engaging, enthusiastic, and welcoming. And they know baseball.

In the middle of the 7th, the team’s official rock song, “Ok, Blue Jays”, written by the local group, ‘The Bat Boys’, has the stadium rocking, warming everyone up for ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’. I had wondered if they would do that one.

Toronto adds to their lead in the bottom of the 7th, scoring 4 runs on two walks, a single, a double, and a triple, making the score 11-3. The home crowd of over 43,000 is very happy with all of this, and roars their approval with every hit, and every run.

We reach the top of the 8th.

“We’re down to nine outs, more than likely,” I tell Vicki.

“I don’t like that,” she says.

Minnesota’s Ryan Doumit swings and misses on a 1 and 2 sinker.

“Eight outs.”

“Don’t.”

The Twins prolong the game for us awhile, with a walk and a Trevor Plouffe two-run homer, but two more strike outs later, and our 30-game baseball odyssey is down to six outs. I don’t count down the outs any more. I don’t like the way it feels.

“So what’s next?” Paul asks. “What do you do now?”

“I don’t know. I never thought about the trip ending.”

The Blue Jays go quietly in the bottom of the 8th.

It’s not a save situation, but Toronto brings on their closer Casey Janssen in the top of the 9th.

“He needs the work,” Paul tells us.

There’s a ground out to short. One away. Then a ground out to 2nd. Two away. Vicki and I look at each other.

The count goes to 2 and 2 against Vicki’s favorite twin, Joe Mauer. We’re all on our feet. The crowd wants the game to end. We’re pretty sure we don’t. Joe obliges us with a double in the gap. The next batter, Ryan Doumit hits a grounder to shortstop Jose Reyes, who throws to first baseman Mark DeRosa. Out three. Game over.

Ryan and Paul offer their hands, and wish us well on our trip home.

“We enjoyed sharing this one with you,” Paul tells us.

“Toronto treated you guys well, eh?” Ryan says.

“Absolutely.”

We shake hands a second time, and they head out.

We watch them leave, then sit in our seats a minute longer. The players have left the field, and the grounds crew has taken their place. I think about adding up the outs, but decide not to. There will be time spent thinking about what we have done, and why we have done it, I’m pretty sure. Because I don’t know the answers yet.

“We should go to Cooperstown,” I tell Vicki.

“We have to.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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New York City, Part Two

“The more self-centered and egotistical a guy is, the better ballplayer he’s going to be. You take a team with twenty-five assholes and I’ll show you a pennant. I’ll show you the New York Yankees.”   ~Bill Lee, Red Sox pitcher

Game 29.   New York.   Yankees  vs.  Orioles.

It’s 11:00 a.m., and we’re checking out of our hotel in downtown Boston, our sleep schedule still completely in sync with that of a big league ball player.  We have a game tonight, in another city.  Our plan is to make the four and a half hour drive to somewhere outside New York, we don’t know exactly where yet, and take the train into the Bronx, to Yankee Stadium, for tonight’s 7:05 game.  We don’t know exactly what train, either.  It’s a good plan.

We’ve gotten very skilled at hauling most of our gear—clothing, books, lap top, more books, a nearly destroyed 2009 road atlas—in one  trip.  Unless we’re hauling food, too.  That requires an extra trip, at least.  But this morning, we’re checking out in one trip.  We printed Yankees tickets a couple of days ago, so we’re not carrying the printer, whose box straps have long ago broken.  I don’t think it was intended to be hauled around that way.  This morning, the printer is in the back seat of the car.  Somewhere.

The first elevator stops, and the doors open.  A large number of faces blankly look at us from inside the car.

“Have a nice trip,” I tell them.  They smile, probably because they don’t have to make room for us, and I hear giggling as the doors close.

A few minutes later, the second elevator stops, and its doors open.  The new collection of passengers stares out at us with a look of apprehension, afraid that we might try to squeeze in.  I might have imagined that part.  But they do seem relieved when I just wave at them as the doors close.

The first elevator reappears, with just three other passengers, and we clamber in.  It’s not as big as movie elevators.  Inside is a Mom, and her son, looking to be around twelve years old and wearing a new Red Sox cap, and a young man in his early 20’s.

We ride in silence and quickly reach the lobby, the big red L lighting up.  We all shift our bodies in anticipation of our next move,  but the doors don’t open.  We wait for a few moments, and the doors still don’t open.

“Shouldn’t the doors be opening?” the son says.

“Probably so,” the young man politely agrees.

But they don’t open.  We try to go back to the 2nd floor, but that doesn’t work.  The floor display goes blank now, probably to remind us not to try that again, I’m thinking, then the ‘L’ reappears.   And the doors remain closed.

Mom presses the alarm, and someone speaks to us through the intercom, then assures us that they’ll have us out in just a moment.

“Aren’t these bigger in the movies?” I ask.

“Yes,” the young man says.  “A lot bigger.”  He looks around.  “At least there aren’t any babies.”

“Anyone here about to HAVE a baby?” I ask.

We hear  voices outside, and then clanging.  And then more voices.  We all get quiet, and listen.  The young man presses his ear to the door.

“They’re contacting the elevator company,” he announces.  We are only a little relieved by this.

Vicki looks up.  “I think we’re supposed to do something with the ceiling.”

There is a murmuring of agreement.

“That’s it,” I say.  “The smallest one of us has to do something with the ceiling.  It’s the only way.”

Our twelve year old grins, and shifts a little deeper into the corner.

“Or maybe the oldest,” he says, still grinning.  Ok, I realize.  He’s that kind of twelve year old.

There are more noises outside, and more voices.  The young man, standing near the door, listens closely.

“The elevator company is sending their guy over,” he translates.  We all nod.

The clanging stops for awhile, so it’s just us.  One by one, we all share our stories.  The young man is here for a wedding.  His wife has already left for the church, to help the bride.  He looks at his watch.

“I’m ok.  It’s not for several hours.”

The Mom and her son were at the Red Sox game yesterday, same as we were.  And they were at the fireworks show also.  Their schedule is complicated.  There are dance competitions for his sisters, though I think that’s already happened.  There is a trip to New Jersey included in there somewhere.  Right away, actually.  And then there’s a summer camp that he has to get back home to St. Louis for.

And we’re on a baseball trip.  We’re supposed to be at an unknown train station in New York City in, I look at my watch, four hours.

There are more escaping from an elevator jokes.  We wonder how Tom Cruise would handle this.  We wonder how frantic hotel management is by now.

There are more noises outside, then silence, then voices.  Then the voices stop once again.

Our twelve year old slides down to the floor, in the corner.

“That’s how it starts,” I tell him.  “Social collapse.  We’ll be yelling and pounding on the doors soon.”

“I’ll get back up for that,” he promises.

We talk some more, about weddings, baseball games, college campuses, and summer camps.

Noises outside resume, then the doors start to open.  They are forcing them open from outside.  Just enough to see out at first, then a little bit more, then they’re all the way open.  A small crowd has gathered outside.  Ok, maybe not a crowd.  There were at least three people watching.  The elevator car has stopped about eight inches too soon.  We all step down, into the lobby, and face one another, feeling the need for a farewell.  We wish each other well, telling each other how much we’ve enjoyed being stuck on an elevator together.  It was fun, really.  They were good people to be trapped with.

I would tell you we were stuck for several hours, but then some of you would do the math, and realize we would have missed the Yankees game, so I won’t bother trying that.  I might have, otherwise.  It was only 45 minutes, and as far as I know, the young man made the wedding, and as far as I know the Mom and her son, or was it just her son, made it to New Jersey.  The pretty part we never drove through, I hope.  But the hotel manager does want to have a word with us before we leave.

I drive us out of Boston, while Vicki navigates, and searches for a train stop, with parking, that will take us to Yankee Stadium.  An hour down the road, she finds it.  Tarrytown, just a half hour train ride north of The Bronx.  Another 9th inning save for Vicki.  Other teams that need a closer are starting to look at her stats.

We park at Tarrytown City Hall’s parking lot, pay the $10 for ‘event parking’ there, then walk across the street to the train station.  There may have been free parking across the street, we figure out later, but time is getting a little tight.  We buy our round trip tickets from the ticket machine, and head up the steps to the track.

There is a little bit of doubt as to which side of track our train will arrive on.  There are three Yankees fans on the platform.

“You guys going to the game?” I ask.

“Yes,” one of them says.  “Our train will be on this side,” he adds, anticipating my next question.  We are taking the Hudson North Line towards Grand Central Station.  Except we’re getting off at Yankee Stadium/57th Street.

Not a problem.

A conductor passes through, punching holes in every one’s ticket.  It feels very vintage.  The train is air conditioned, and quiet and clean inside.  We like public transportation.

When we think we’ve reached our stop, we look back at the three Yankees fans from the platform.  They nod at us, and we follow them out of the car, and down the platform steps, until we’re looking across at the house that Steinbrenner built.

It is the palace of baseball.  Though it perhaps seems more palace than baseball.  The regal, seven-story exterior of limestone and granite, with its multi-story tall arched windows, does create a very majestic appearance.  I’m probably letting my not being a fan of the team that attempts to buy a World Series title each year color my impressions, but I think Yankee Stadium looks much less like a baseball park than, say, Atlanta’s Turner Field or Camden Yards or Pittsburgh’s PNC.  There are no statues honoring Hall of Fame players, no giant baseballs outside, no giant plastic batting helmets.  Nothing that has you feeling like you’re heading into a ball park.  Just a palace.  But, to be fair, a very grand palace.  And it does look a great deal like the original Yankee Stadium, the one Ruth built.

We’ve managed to arrive a few minutes before the stadium opens, so we check out the Yankee Stadium neighborhood.  It is very much a working class neighborhood.  There are local bars, and delis, and no jugglers or street musicians.  It is a long way from the Bronx to Time Square.  We walk across the street to the local sports bar, The Dugout.  There are Oriole fans inside, getting along amiably with Yankee fans.  So I guess that does happen.  We slip in, have our drink, and slip back out completely unnoticed.  I’m going to try not to let that color my evening at the ball park.  Even though no one talked to us.  No one at all.

The grand entrance at Yankee Stadium extends from behind the home plate area, out toward right field.  Known as The Great Hall, it is a seven story high plaza, featuring massive banners of former Yankee greats, including Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.  The Great Hall is a spectacular stadium entrance.  The sheer scope of it alone is breathtaking.

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One of the attractions of Yankee Stadium, an interior collection of statues and other tributes to the players and history of the franchise, is tucked away in Monument Park, along the first level concourse, and is open only for the 45 minute window between the gates opening, and 45 minutes prior to first pitch.  The line appears to be a two hour wait.  Ok, I’m not going to dwell on this, I promised myself I wouldn’t, other than to say I don’t understand the decision to limit the accessibility of these pieces of baseball, and Yankee history.

We say no to the Monument Park line, and explore the stadium instead.  Inside the ballpark, Yankee Stadium is gorgeous.  Decorative steel filigreed arches encircle the entire upper deck, which very much seems to be a nod to earlier vintage ballparks, and to old Yankee Stadium itself.  Being in the Bronx, there isn’t much of a skyline view beyond the outfield fences, but maybe we should give the Yankees credit for staying in the Bronx, where their history lives.

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We check out Yankee Stadium eats as we tour the concourse, of course.  NYY, the very upscale and just as expensive steak house located inside the park, also has concession areas throughout, featuring strip steak and fries, with a way too liberal quantity of strip steak, and loads of jus, lathered on top of a bed of fries I know I’ll never finish.  It feels very wrong to not get a stadium dog, but this looks too enticing.  I figured it’s just as likely to shave months off my life as another foot long, so that d0es make me feel better.

Vicki seems to have hit a stadium dog wall.  Her eyes glaze over at the mention of, and the aroma emanating from, fresh grilled meat, or meat-like products.  I don’t understand it, and attempt to reason with her.

“They just grilled them!  See?”

“I’m just not in the mood for meat.”

“Huh?”

“I want something healthy.”

“We’re at a baseball game.”

“Exactly.”

“There’s Italian sausage out in centerfield,” I offer.

“I don’t guess.”

“Maybe we can find a bacon-wrapped Yankee Dog.”

“I’d like some fruit.  Think they have any fruit?”

“Huh?”

She opts for noodles.  I think they might have had a clever baseball name, but I can’t remember what it was.

The Yankees are playing the Orioles tonight.  We watched these same two teams play each other in Baltimore, exactly one week ago.  The Orioles won that night, and went on to sweep the series from New York, so we expect the intensity level to be high for this game.  But the crowd seems subdued.  I remember what the Orioles fan in Baltimore said to me, that these games, this rivalry, seems to be much more important to the Orioles fans than it does the Yankees fans, as if Yankees fans don’t take the Orioles all that seriously.  That was his take on it, anyway, and this game, at least early on, seems to support that.

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Before the game starts, we are asked to rise for the National Anthem, of course.  A recorded playing of the National Anthem ensues.  At Yankee Stadium.  A canned version.  Like at high school games.  This is our next to last major league baseball game, and is the FIRST one to not have a live performance of The Star-Spangled Banner.  I’m not sure what to make of that.  Maybe it’s not actually that important.  I’m trying not to judge.  But it is the Yankees, so my trying not to judge isn’t going well.

The Yankees are starting a young Ivan Nova on the mound tonight, pressed into service because of injuries to scheduled starter Hisoki Kuroda.  He gets through the top of the first easily enough, though.

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New York’s lead-off batter Brett Gardner opens with a double in the bottom of the first.  There was applause, but no roars.   He’s still at second when the 1st inning ends.

In the top of the second, Nova hits a batter, then gives up a two-run home run to Baltimore’s Matt Wieters.  And Yankee Stadium grows a little bit quieter.  Except for the woman directly behind us.  I turn around, and find a family of four—he with a Yankees hat, she with one with an Oriole on it.  Their teenage daughter is wearing all things Oriole, while the younger son has the same Yankees’ hat as his Dad.

“We’re a divided family,” the Mom confesses, still applauding the home run.

“We are,” her husband agrees.

“I see that.”

She grew up in Baltimore, he in New York, they explain.  I tell her we were at Camden Yards just last week.

“Oh, you saw the first game of the sweep!”

He just shrugs.  She points out that their kids are divided, too.  Both her children grin at this.  The parents notice our hats, and the stadium pins, and are very excited to hear about our trip.  Through the rest of the game, she leans forward and tells us key information about her Orioles.  He’s enjoying the game, and her enthusiasm, but mostly just shrugs.  And I think again about what the fan in Baltimore had to say about this sort of thing.  I find myself celebrating Baltimore moments tonight, and realize I’m not following our agreement to root, almost always, for the home team.

The Yankees pick up a run in the fourth.  The woman behind us shakes her head.  Her husband shrugs.

In the 5th inning, the stadium grounds crew jogs out to do the normal infield grooming.  The P.A. starts to play ‘YMCA’.  At the conclusion of the song’s instrumental intro, as the famous vocals are about to begin, the grounds crew members, in unison, drop their infield dragging thingies, do a 360, clap their hands, and pick up their thingies once again.  At Yankee Stadium.  I couldn’t stop giggling.  They danced, and spelled, their way around the infield, while they raked.  At Yankee Stadium.  It was very funny.

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In the bottom of the 7th, the Yankees P.A. system plays ‘God Bless America’.  A recorded version.

The score remains 2-1 Baltimore, going into the 9th inning.  The Orioles go down quietly in the top half, and bring on their closer, Jim Johnson, to face the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th.  The Yankees’ starter,Ivan Nova has pitched a complete game, the first in his young career, but is poised to lose the game.

There is a stadium-wide murmering now.  The crowd is stirring, and you can feel their anticipation, their expectation even, that their Yankees will now pull this out.  Like this is what they do, their team.  And this is what the fans have been waiting for.  The Yankees do have that reputation.  I look back at the Oriole supporter behind us.

“Our closer has problems, sometimes.”  She is visibly nervous.  Her hands are clasped.

Her closer gives up a lead-off single.  The Yankee Stadium crowd erupts.  I look back at her.  She grimly shakes her head.

The next batter lays down a sacrifice bunt, which the Orioles’ troubled closer mishandles.  And has no throw.  There are now runners on first and second, with nobody out.  I look back.  She has her hand over her face.

A successful sac bunt by Ichiro Suzuki moves the base runners to 2nd and 3rd.  One away.  It is deafening in Yankee Stadium now.  The crowd is on their feet.  The Orioles intentionally walk the Yankees’ best hitter, Robinson Cano, to set up a double play, or at least a force at any base.  The home crowd boos heartily, of course.  That is what is required at these kind of moments.  The bases are now loaded.  The Yankees’ Travis Hafner steps up.  No place to put him, I can imagine the broadcasters saying.  The game is on the line.  Yankee Stadium is alive, and loud!  Yankees fans chant.  The Orioles’ beleaguered closer then throws four straight pitches outside the strike zone to Hafner, walking in the tying run.  Yankees fans roar, and then chant.  I look back, and the the woman behind us shakes her head, smiles painfully, and mouths the word, ‘wow’.  It is too loud now for any kind of conversation.

So the game is now tied, and Yankee fans remain on their feet, yelling like it’s Game Seven.  There is pandemonium.  The Orioles manager comes out to the mound, calling in all the infielders, talking over how they will approach the next Yankees batter, Vernon Wells, and under what conditions they’ll throw home on a ground ball, and under what conditions they’ll try to turn a double play.  Stuff like that.  And probably asking Jim Johnson to throw a strike, how about it.

And he does.  Several of them.  The third one Vernon Wells hits on a line to left, for a single.  A bases loaded, game-winning, walk-off single.  Yankee Stadium explodes.  After the runner from third steps on home, and the other two advance and step on their base, and Vernon Wells steps on first, the Yankees bench swarms first base, and gives Wells the back-pounding, life-threatening approval reserved for these walk-off moments.  He protects himself, and relishes the moment.

The woman behind us leans forward.

“At least you got to see a good game,” she tells us.  She seems ok.  Resigned, perhaps, but ok.  “It’s his birthday,” and she indicates her son, with his Yankees hat.  “So I’m happy for him.”  And she seems to be.

“Happy Birthday,” I holler to him.   He’s all smiles.

‘New York, New York’ starts to play on the stadium P.A..  It’s a great walk-off song.  And for just a moment, Ol’ Blue Eyes has me feeling good for the home team.  But I get over it about the time the song finishes.

We make our way outside, and check out Yankee Stadium at night, then walk to the train station, just a few hundred yards away.  There’s a young couple wearing Yankees jerseys standing beside us as we start to board the train.

“Those are amazing hats!” he tells us.

“Thanks.”

“You’ve been to all those?”

“Yes.”

“Sweet.  So what’s your favorite?  And you don’t have to say Yankee Stadium.”

“Pittsburgh,” I tell him.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that.  It was a good game tonight, though, right?”

And he’s right.  It was a good game tonight.  Damn Yankees.

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Boston, You’re My Home

“Do they leave it there during the game?”  ~Boston pitcher Bill Lee, upon seeing the Green Monster for the first time

Game 28.   Boston.   Red Sox  vs.  Padres.

I think, to some extent, that this has always been about Fenway.  And Wrigley.  It is the history of the game that fascinates me.  It is knowing that baseball was once played in black and white, and watched by a public that arrived by Model T, or walked, and who sat on the grass at the edge of the outfield before they thought of fences, that makes my eyes grow misty and has me longing for, something, as I imagine baseball in an earlier time.  And our smaller towns and cities, and our country in an earlier, simpler, and more innocent, I pretend, time.  Maybe it has something to do with being twelve years old, and wanting to be Mickey Mantle.  It’s why I’ve watched The Natural more times than I want to own up to.  And wanting to hold tight to all of that, to what’s been lost or misplaced, has at least something to do with why we’ve chased baseball since late April.

This ballpark in front of me is where that history breathed.  We treasure the photographs, and splintered bats, and those incredible old gloves, but in Fenway and Wrigley, we have the hallowed ground before us where the great ones strolled about, playing catch and laughing and calling each other names and spitting in the grass and playing ball.  This was their stage.  If we close our eyes, they’re here still.  Babe Ruth hit them out here, briefly, at this very place, over that fence.  And before they knew just how well he could do that, the Babe stood on that mound and pitched, wonderfully, here.  Shoeless Joe rounded these bases, and Ty Cobb stole them.  He may have stolen home here–I must look into that.  I’m pretty sure he glared at someone here.  And later, Ted Williams hit so many home runs into right, into the fence-shortening bullpen area, that they nicknamed it Williamsburg.  And Mick hit ‘em out here, too, come to think of it.

And so this is why we’re here, in Boston, on the 4th of July.  We had it in mind to end here, at baseball’s oldest park, the one that shared its opening week in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic.  But schedules and out of town games, and the All Star break, have had something to say about that.  But none of that matters.  We’re at Fenway.  And they’re playing a baseball game here today.

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Arriving yesterday afternoon, we did the thing most of us would do with one afternoon in Boston, the thing I watched my own mother do many years ago–we hiked to the historic sites of Revolutionary Boston, like students in an 8th grade civics class.  Known now as the Freedom Trail, we followed a path that led us to the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, site of the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, and of course The Old North Church, the one that had my mother wiping her eyes as she walked away.

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Wanting to dine in some place historic, we came across the Bell In Hand Tavern, a rounded front, red-bricked tavern in a cobble-stoned historic area of Boston, claiming to be the oldest tavern in America.  Founded by Boston’s town crier Jimmy Wilson in 1795, the Bell in Hand moved around some, settling in its current location in 1844.  Though parts are now functioning as a local hot spot, we sat in the quiet and historic dining area, in the snub-nosed rounded street front end of the building.  We could almost reach across from our large table-side windows, open to the street, to the one on the opposite wall.  A breeze drifted through the building, in one open window and out the other.  People clopping down the cobblestoned street would stop at our window, and peer inside.

“How’s the food tonight?” one gentleman asked, standing in the street, and very near our table.  He could have sat on the window sill, and joined us.

“It’s wonderful.”

“Yep,” he nodded.  “Usually is.”  And he strolled away.

Tonight we dined on Baked Scrod (it’s a fish) and Lobster Macaroni and Cheese.  And New England Clam Chowder, and Samuel Adams Bell in Hand Ale, brewed in Boston.

“This is amazing,” Vicki tells me.  “Want to try some?”

“It’s mac and cheese.”

“It’s wonderful!”

“I can only hope the lobster never finds out he gave it up for mac and cheese.”

“Eat your scrod.”

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Next morning is game day.  We’re excited.

“We’re going to Fenway.”

“We absolutely are.  The one in Boston.”

It’s 10:30 when we walk out of our hotel, and up Tremont Street a couple of blocks, to the metro stop.  It’s a 1:35 game, and we want to be there early.   The Green Line is full of Sox fans.

“Have you guys been to all of those?” a young woman asks us, hanging on to the support bars, and looking at our hats.

“We have.”  And we tell them about our baseball trip.

“Oh, how fun is that!” one of her friends says.

“Which one is your favorite?” the third asks.

We tell them Pittsburgh.  They ask us if we liked San Diego, their home town.   We did, and tell them that.

“Yeah, Petco is nice,” they nod.

“How about L.A.?” one of them asks us.

“Not so much.”  And I do my routine, by now, whining about Dodger Stadium.

“Yeah, that’s L.A.,” they all agree.

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The subway drops us off a few blocks from the ballpark, and we only have to follow the crowd down the street.  Street vendors are out, offering hot dogs, bottled water and Red Sox gear.  It’s hot, and water sales are brisk.

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Fenway Park, much like Wrigley Field in Chicago, sits snugly amongst the other buildings and streets of the neighborhood,  just as it has for 101 years.  It, and Wrigley, are the consummate neighborhood ballparks.  We come to Lansdowne Street, which runs just beyond the left field wall at Fenway, and begin taking pictures.  Of everything.  Lansdowne street is a party.  There are vendors, street musicians, and then more vendors.  Fans of Boston, and of baseball, are everywhere.  And they’re excited.  It’s the Fourth of July, and it’s Boston, after all.  Or maybe it’s like this every day.

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We circle the stadium, taking pictures as we go, until we come to Yawkey Way, the street named after Tom Yawkey, Red Sox owner from 1933-1976, and which becomes a pedestrian only, extension of the stadium walls on game days.  You have your ticket scanned to enter Yawkey Way, and it becomes part of the party.  The ballpark is not open yet, and there is a line of fans waiting at the street’s entrance.  A hawkers just outside the street entrance calls out his price for ice cold bottled water, and the price inside.

“Do the math, folks!” he says.

I do the math.  It’s hot, and I get a water from him.  He grabs one, decides it’s not cold enough, and reaches down into the ice and water for another.

Back in line, I ask the couple behind us what time they open the street.

“12:05,” he says.  “Ninety minutes before the game.”

“Is it ninety?  Even today?” she asks him.

“Ninety.  It’s always ninety.  Every day.  Ninety.”

“Ok.  Fine.  You always know.”

He looks off and shrugs, while she points at him and shakes her head.

“First time to Fenway?” she asks.

I think she can tell.  They’re about our age, and look like they spend a lot of time outside.  They both talk fast.

“Yes.  First time.”

“It’s pretty special, huh?” she says.

“That’s a lot of pins,” he says.

“Yeah, it is.  Twenty-eight.”

“You been to all those?”

“Yes.  Started in April.”

He stops moving around, and looks straight at me, his eyes wide.

“Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  This season?  You been to all those parks THIS SEASON?”  He looks away a moment, then looks back at me.  “Are you kidding me?”  He covers his eyes a moment, looks at her, then back at me.  “Are you KIDDING ME?”

“This isn’t good,” she says.

We tell them about our trip.  He’s looking at me intensely while I tell him about our route, and about motels and last minute tickets, and our Walmart printer.  She puts her hands over his ears, sings, then gives up, and looks at me.

“Now you’ve done it,” she tells me.  “I won’t hear the end of this.”  He grins, just a little, and she pokes him.

They come to a lot of games.  And they always come early.  They love their Sox.

“And last night, we’re watching a movie, and I can tell he wants to be watching the game on tv.”  And she pokes him again.

“So you missed the walk-off home run?” I ask him.

“See?” he turns to her.

She looks at me.  “I don’t know why I’m still talking to you!” she says to me.

“He did watch the movie.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she says.  “So what do you guys think of Boston?  Huh?  We’re not all bad, right?”

“It’s all been great.”

“Not like you heard, right?”

“Exactly.”

She nods.  “We’re all right.  Most of us are all right,” she says.  “Just takes us awhile sometimes.”

He chuckles at this.

“So did you pahk your cahr?” she says.

“Uh, no.  We rode the metro.”

“I figured that,” she says.  “I was just poking fun of our accent.  Some people think we have an accent.”

Yawkey Way opens, and we all head inside.  Our friends from Boston wish us well, and we go exploring.  There are jugglers, an Uncle Sam on stilts, and meat cooking on grills.  And a small band.  It’s a carnival.

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We walk along Yawkey Way a few minutes, the smell of the Italian sausage on the grill making me wonder why I thought I should wait till we get inside to eat.  Then we go inside the ballpark, to see the Green Monster—Fenway’s thirty-seven foot high outfield wall in it’s very short left field.  It is one of the eccentricities of an old park, forced to fit in a neighborhood, back in the day.  It is one of Fenway’s most endearing features, and our biggest reminder of the charm and nostalgia of those old baseball parks.  Seats were added to the top of the wall in 2002.  Expensive seats.  Many early arriving fans have gathered near the top of the Green Monster today, posing.  We do that too, then explore some more.

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We walk around to right field, then to the upper deck for pictures from up there.  The lower seats out from under the grandstand are red, which I guess I didn’t know.  The remaining grandstand seats, and those in the upper deck, are green.  It’s all very striking, maybe because we know where we are.  We head back down below for our Fenway food–an Italian sausage for me, and something called Fried Dough for Vicki.  Great name.  It looks like an empty pie, sort of.

While looking on line for tickets at Fenway, I learned about obstructed view seats, the ones behind, or at least partially behind the support columns needed in 1912 for supporting the upper decks.  There are web sites dedicated to this, so I managed to get lower level seats just in front of those columns.  This seemed like the time and place for spending a little more on tickets, and I did a good job of that.

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The Green Monster is draped with the American Flag for the pre-game July 4th ceremonies, and is very striking.  All five military branches are represented in a simultaneous 5-person ceremonial first pitch.  As the first pitch nears, I look around the grandstands, at the fans sitting among the support columns, and am struck here, as in Wrigley, by what a vintage, historic look that is.

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The Padres go quietly in the top of the first, but the Red Sox do not in their half.  An opening single by Jacoby Ellsbury, then back to back doubles by Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia, and the Sox are up quickly, 2-0.  I giggled when one of the doubles was a Green Monster double, hitting high up on the wall, and bouncing back to the left fielder.  I realized at that moment that I would have been disappointed had there not been some wall clanging today.

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Sitting to our right is a gentleman, who later introduces himself as Aaron, very knowledgeable on all things Red Sox.  We chat off and on throughout the game, and it’s a delight sharing the game with a Sox fan.  He knows the players and their stats the way I think I once did.  He tells me about the Fenway renovations, including the Green Monster seats, that have been carried off with the utmost sensitivity to the vintage character of major league baseball’s oldest park.

In the bottom of the third, Shane Victorino hits a line drive that hits the upper portion of the left field wall, caroms back quickly to the Padres left fielder, who then fires to 2nd.  And so a ball that likely would have been a home run in most parks, is a single at Fenway.

“Wonder how many times that’s happened here in 101 years?” I throw out.

“Plenty.  It’s Fenway.  That’s the beauty of it.”

The subject of the absence of a salary cap in baseball comes up later.  Ok, I think I brought it up.

“It wouldn’t make that much difference,” Aaron says.  “There are no guarantees in baseball.  The guy with the big contract won’t necessarily hit.  Or throw strikes.”

“There are no guarantees, but there are tendencies.  I think it would make a difference.”

So we don’t agree on this, which is completely ok.  The conversation, all the conversations with Aaron were a delight.  It occurs to me later that we weren’t likely to agree on the salary cap issue, our teams’ payrolls being as far apart as they are.

Somewhere in all this, I’m reminded how aware he is of all things baseball, including my home team.

“No one is under the illusion that Houston is a one or two year project,” he says at one point.  Which of course is sadly true.

The Red Sox are entertaining today, hitting and scoring frequently.  It’s 5-2 Boston until the bottom of the 6th, when local favorite David Ortiz–known with the utmost affection as Big Papi–drives in two with a bases loaded single, making it 7-2 Boston.  Red Sox Nation erupts, and it is infectious.  I could be a Red Sox fan.

The bottom of the 7th arrives, and noted tenor Ronan Tynan performs ‘God Bless America’.  It is very stirring, and helps remind me how fortunate we are to have landed at Fenway today.

One of the Fenway traditions, that I only learned of after the bombing tragedy at this year’s running of the Boston Marathon (because other ballparks emulated it, in Boston’s honor), is the 8th inning playing of Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’.  When I first learned about the tradition, I wondered about the connection between the hit song and the Red Sox.  Turns out the song was initially played when a family in the Red Sox control room had a baby named Caroline.  The song turned out to be an inspirational and uplifting one to Sox fans, and became an every day favorite–initially only under certain game situations, but eventually at all games.  When the song plays, and the crowd sings and chants along as one, Red Sox Nation feels very embracing.

Other than a lone double, the Padres go quietly in the top of the 9th.  And just like that, our much anticipated day at Fenway Park comes to a close.

The stadium P.A. system starts its traditional playing of the Standells ’60’s classic, ‘Dirty Water’, which has come to be seen as a song celebrating Boston.  The fans love it.  We give our neighbor Aaron one of our blog cards, and he introduces himself as Aaron Goldstein, a contributor to American Spectator.  He promises an American Spectator blog about our sharing the fourth of July, and the Red Sox, together, and by the next day delivers.  He is a professional, after all.  I’m running a little behind that schedule, but it was a delight sharing Fenway with Aaron.

But wait, there’s more.  It is the 4th of July.  And we are in Boston.  Which means fire works.  Large numbers of them.  And the Boston Pops Symphony, playing the 1812 Overture.  And though the crowd was astoundingly large, and only a select few got to SEE the Boston Pops, we did get to listen, and stand shoulder to shoulder, and cheek to cheek, with every man, woman and child in the city, pretty sure, and watch the biggest, most incredible fireworks show imaginable.

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And, after the fireworks, there was the couple from Kansas City who were delighted when we showed them that, yes, we did have KC pins on our hats.  We are performing a public service here, you see.

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