A Baseball Road Trip

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

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Chapter 9: Share Fries

We sleep in, miss breakfast, and afterwards have the thought that we should see a little more of Atlanta before we leave.  So we are going to the Five Points area of downtown, to Atlanta Underground, the shopping and entertainment area, and, in theory, tourist attraction.  We mention this to the desk clerk, who looks at us, then from somewhere behind the counter finds a couple of packaged banana nut muffins that would have been breakfast and hands them to us.  Atlanta Underground has had an up and down career, he tells us.  And we may have caught it at a bad time.

It reopened in 1989, then was severely damaged, both physically and in the public’s eye, by the rioting that followed the 1992 Rodney King trial. And though there was a resurgence in popularity of sorts from the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta Underground was near closing once again in 2004, its second Bad Time, when the city rescued it by extending the hours its clubs and bars could remain open, to ninety minutes later than the clubs and bars throughout the rest of the city. Which might have worked, except it mostly didn’t, and anchor stores continued to pull out, and after-dark safety in the Five Points area continued to be a concern, and the people of Atlanta and those just passing through continued to not show up. It is open today, or at least the doors are unlocked and no one tries to stop us, but Atlanta Underground, with its briefly glorious past, has come to have something of a cloudy future.

Not knowing most of this, we park in the garage, hike down and across the ramps, and head underground. It’s just before noon, and the energy the night life possibly brings, what there is of that, won’t arrive till after dark. Which we’ll miss. What we see instead is something that looks like it might have been a shopping mall once, just a dark and dreary and low ceilinged and lightly attended one. The underground charm is here, but people, and open for business store fronts are not. The banana muffins have worn off, and it’s food we’re wanting, but we’ve snuck in at a bad time, and someone should be yelling at us soon.
At one end, though, near the windowed and therefore not so dark, staired entrance or exit that will take you either down into or upward out of the Underground, is a Johnny Rockets. It is our clean, well-lighted and shiny and open place, where they are happy to see us, and where we have burgers and fries and vanilla malts and root beer floats, and play, from our at-your-table juke box, ‘Layla’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’. And, before I can stop her, ‘Build Me up Buttercup’. (They give you free tokens to get you started, and have given us one too many.) The juke box selecting thing at our table does not have ‘Satisfaction’. You cannot get that here, the funny one of us says.

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Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta

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Savannah Downtown


We are driving north out of Miami, heading towards Jacksonville. The Atlantic Ocean sighs and heaves off to our right, but we seldom see it. Houses are in the way. Expensive ones, and those that would not be if not for their Florida State Road A1A location, are in the way.

“What are you going to do with the cups?” Vicki asks.

“I’m not sure.”

“But you’re going to get one from every park?”

“I’m thinking I will.”

“That’ll be nice.”

“I have an empty china cabinet.”

“Of course you do.”

We are to hold up in Jacksonville for a day or two, at the home of Vicki’s daughter and pseudo son-in-law, as she calls him with great affection, waiting on the Braves to come home. There has been talk of a drive into Savannah, and as we have each recently read ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’, which takes place there, and as it will make us feel clever and well-read, going there, we likely will.

“I like your hat pins,” I say, and she picks up her Tampa hat. I ask if she is going to get one of those from every park, and she says that she is.

“That will be my souvenir.”

And at this she lays her head on my shoulder. We remain this way for a minute, Vicki eventually sitting up and reading Doris Kearns Goodwin, while I drive.

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Touch ’em All Chapter 8 : What It Is, Is Badass

Touch ’em All Chapter 8 : What It Is, Is Badass

GAME THREE.    APRIL 29, 2013.    ATLANTA.

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We’re standing for the final out—because you’re supposed to do that—which is a popup to a first baseman who has been catching popups since he was seven and therefore never misses them, after which the Braves players line up in the infield for their high fives and fist bumps, and we join the happy crowd—happy that tonight was their night—making their way to the Centerfield Plaza. Where there is a Team Store, and a hat pin rack. And where there is a giant, snow white baseball, with the Braves’ red tomahawk painted across its middle, near the store’s exit. Someone passing by offers to take our picture in front of the baseball, which is why it’s there, and we are still standing near the ball, putting our Atlanta Braves pins on our Tampa and Houston hats, when a young black couple, dressed in Atlanta white and red, walks up to the ball, and asks if we will take their picture. Actually, just the girl, whose very white Atlanta jersey looks to be very expensive, and very new, asks. The guy backs away a step or two, muttering something, possibly about our being Rays and Astros, though there are other things he may have been muttering. He is in any event not sure he wants to do that, he says. And he is not joking.

“We have a story!” Vicki says, and he backs away further, shaking his head. It’s not clear why he’s backing away.

“It’s a good story,” Vicki says. And she tells them. Or she tells the girl.

“Oh, that sounds nice,” the girl says. She says this politely.

The guy stops backing away, but doesn’t say anything. Vicki smiles anyway.

“There’s a great many of them, aren’t there?” the girl asks. And Vicki tells her that yes, there are a great many of them.

“How nice,” the girl says again.

“For fucking real?” the guy says now.

“That should be fun,” the girl says.

“For fucking real?” he says. The girl is handing Vicki her phone.

“That’s bad ass,” he says, coming a little closer now.

“It is,” Vicki says.

“I would do that for football,” he says. And here he makes a sniffing sound, one that is very nearly a snorting sound. “That would be fucking cool for real if it was football,” he says.

But we take their picture anyway.

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And when someone else takes your photo, you can’t really complain that it’s blurry.

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Reluctant Tourists

HTC (9)“We should see something in every baseball city,” one of us says.

“Like a tourist something?” the other asks.

“Yes, except now you’ve ruined it.”


South Beach is the glamorous—this is not a positive attribute—neighborhood on the southern portion of Miami Beach, itself a thriving tourist city—also not a positive attribute—located on a series of natural and man-made barrier islands, with various causeways connecting it to the portion of southeast Florida where they keep Miami.  It is where everyone goes, and it is where the old Jackie Gleason television show came from, they always told you, as we, the audience, would rapidly approach the twinkling Miami skyline, scooting across the water by boat, or by plane, maybe, as the enthusiastic off-camera voice would announce that what you were about to see was coming to you live, and was coming to you from Miami Beach, the sun and fun capital of the world, with the last part thrown in so we would all wish we were there.  Jackie Gleason was a major star of course, and seeing signs now for The Jackie Gleason Theater seem nice, in a nostalgic, big deal celebrity kind of way, though Jackie Gleason himself always seemed like something of an asshole who was lucky Art Carney liked him.

We then spend a half hour trying to find a place to park, South Beach being a happening place, then walk through blocks of neighborhoods of boxy but colorfully attractive apartment buildings and small shops until we reach the cleverly named Ocean Drive.  We are in the heart of the historic Art Deco district, which is why the hotels and shops and apartment buildings here, most of them built in the 30’s and 40’s, are colorful and playful.  Which, if you look up Art Deco, is how it’s defined, along with its being exotic, and of geometric motifs.  The Empire State Building is considered Art Deco, if that helps you any, which must mean that colorful and playful are both optional.





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Touch ’em All Chapter 5: Gloom Over Miami excerpt


Gloom Over Miami


Marlins Park, baseball’s newest stadium, sits back on the mainland, two miles from downtown Miami, in the neighborhood known locally as Little Havana. It is new, and shiny, while Little Havana is not. The Fish, as they are affectionately known by those feeling any of that, played their earlier seasons at the over-sized—for baseball—Joe Robbie Stadium, home of professional football’s Dolphins, and the Florida Marlins have the distinction of having won their two World Series titles in their first eleven years in the league. Which is amazing, and pretty much unprecedented. Their story, and their road to their first title, is pretty well known by baseball fans, the short version being that in 1997, large amounts of Marlin money was spent, and star players brought in. The stars played well, the Marlins got into the playoffs as that season’s Wild Card team, then went on to win the World Series, beating the Cleveland Indians on a game seven, bottom of the eleventh single by Edgar Renteria, bringing the baseball title to Miami in only their fifth season. Which pretty much stunned the Baseball community, but went largely ignored in south Florida. Then in a fire sale that has since come to define the term, and that royally pissed off what few Marlins fans there were, those star players were promptly sold off by team owner H. Wayne Huizenga, with the Marlins losing 108 games the following season, which is the worst ever performance by a defending World Series champion. And which left what Marlins fans there were feeling betrayed, saying horrible things about owners, and staying home. In droves, they stayed home.


Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins