A Baseball Road Trip

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


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Stealing Home in Colorado

“Baseball exemplifies a tension in the American mind, the constant pull between our atomistic individualism and our yearning for community.”   ~ George F. Will

Game 13.   Denver.   Rockies vs Astros.

We arrived in Denver Wednesday evening, and were immediately greeted on the motel elevator.

“You guys in town for the game?”

“We are.  We sure are,” we replied.

“So are we!  We’re from San Diego.  We’ll be rooting for the Astros.”

“Terrific.  Thanks for the help!”

We considered driving west out of Denver for the day, before the game, up into the Rocky Mountains, but, thinking we might stay up there too long and be late for the game, drove south instead to the Garden of the Gods.  Donated to the city of Colorado Springs by the Charles Perkins family in 1909, it is now a registered U. S. National Natural Landmark.  The hogback ridges and red spires and uplifts were once horizontal beds of limestone and sandstone that were, through many years of geological faulting, lifted vertically into the fanciful formations we see today.  (We watched the film in the Visitor Center.)

Pike’s Peak, at 14,115 feet, looms off to the west.  We had the thought of adding it to our day, but 50-plus mph winds at the top, and the blowing snow, had the last two miles of the summit road closed.  So we hang around amongst the fanciful uplifts.

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We stop at the McDonald’s in Colorado Springs for a smoothie, and ok, a couple of cookies to keep us alive until we get to the Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver.

“Are you guys going to the game tonight?”

I turn around.

“Yes, we are!”

“Me, too!” he grins.

He is from Louisiana, and Houston is his team, he tells us.  He is well-dressed, in his mid-20’s.  He has recently moved to Colorado.

“I see you’ve got the shirt with the new colors,” he says.  And he nods his approval.

He asks our names, tells us his, and offers his hand.

“It was nice meeting you,” he tells us both, as we start to leave.

We decide we should give Joel one of our cards with the blog address on it, and I go back inside, but he has left already.

Our plan is to be in the Blake Street Tavern an hour before the gates open at Coors Field, and we’re close to that schedule, if you don’t count the 20 minutes spent driving around the stadium looking for a parking lot BEFORE driving past it.  We finally accomplish that, and make the not-too-long walk to Blake Street, that runs along the 1st base side of the ballpark.  Blake Street Tavern is an old warehouse turned sportsbar, with lots of red brick, lofted and sloped ceilings, and exposed beams.  And 127 or so televisions.  I pick an area with pub tables and chairs, and the waitress walks us over.

In front of us is the one television in the house showing golf.  I wish for Tiger to miss his putt, but he doesn’t.

“I don’t think he’ll catch Jack,” I tell Vicki.

“Jack Who?”

“Don’t be funny.”

“Who is Jack?”

She’s not being funny.

“It is funny that we landed in front of the one television showing golf,” she says.

I tell her I picked this spot so we could engage the Rockies fans when they start pouring in.

“Uh huh.”

Only the Rockies fans don’t pour in.  At least not while we’re there.  But the Blake Street Nachos are delicious, and the pale ale and Fat Tire drafts are cold.  ESPN baseball highlights arrive finally on our tv, and we watch for awhile.

Blake Street Tavern is just one block north of the ballpark.  As we walk, we come to pre-game, roasted peanut street vendor.  He sees us, and stops hawking.

“Houston Astros?!” he calls out.

We grin back.

“They’re the worst team in baseball!”

“They might not be tonight,” I tell him.  He laughs.

“I don’t know how you can support those guys.”

We’re past him now.  “They’re my team,” I call back.

“You guys have fun,” he says.  And he’s back to selling roasted peanuts.

We walk to the home plate entrance to Coors Field, where there is a large bronze statue of an unnamed baseball player, simply called ‘The Player’.  It is a tribute to Branch Rickey, the groundbreaking president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who brought Jackie Robinson into major league baseball in 1947.   There is a Branch Rickey award presented each year to the player, coach or baseball executive whose contributions to society reflect the courage and generosity of spirit embodied by Mr. Rickey.

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There are two fans wearing old school Astro jerseys standing near the statue.

“Hey!” they sing out as we walk up.

We all shake hands.

“Astros!” they shout.  They are glad to see us.  We swap stories.

They travel somewhere to watch Houston play on the road every year.  It’s just something they do.  They are fired up about our story.

“Hey man, that’s awesome!”

We all shake hands again, and head inside.  Coors Field absolutely has the vintage look of an old ballpark, with red brick on the upper facade, and Colorado limestone below.  The home plate entrance is reminiscent of Ebbet’s Field.  There is a clock tower above the entrance, and dark green girders exposed at the upper levels.

Our ticket taker peers into Vicki’s bag, looking for explosive devices.  There is a lot of stuff in that bag.  Vicki offers the explanation that we are travelling.  When he hears our story, he stops rummaging, and looks up.

“Are you really.   That’s wonderful.”   Then, “Have you been to St. Louis?”

“That’s next.”

“You’ll love St. Louis,” he says.  “You won’t want to leave.”  He directs fans walking up to one of the other gates while he talks to us.  He tells us Todd Helton, longtime Rockie favorite, is in the lineup tonight.

“This is his last year.  He’s retiring.”

We start to leave.

“You folks enjoy the game.  And come back and talk to me later if you get restless.”

We go to the seats behind Houston’s dugout, to watch batting practice.  There’s a twenty-something fan already seated, watching.  He sees us.

“Hey!”  He lights up.

I kneel down in the aisle while we talk.  He is from Houston, and moved to Denver in the past year.  We talk about the team, the new owner, the new signs they should have never put up in Minute Maid Park because they block the view of the train, and out the giant window in left field.

He’s a better fan than I am.  He knows all the players’ names.  As Jason Castro heads to the dugout after batting practice, my new friend calls out to him.

“Hey, Mr. Castro, can I have your batting glove?”  Mr. Castro is pulling off his glove anyway, looks like he’s going to throw it to him, then doesn’t.

“No, man.  I need it.  Sorry.”

They exchange waves.

The fan asks Chris Carter for his glove a minute later, but gets the same sort of answer.  But he also gets the same sort of acknowledgement.  He is not discouraged.

“Sometimes they give ’em to you.”

Jose Altuve, Houston’s 5’5″ 2nd baseman, and their only star player so far this year, walks toward the dugout, with no batting glove.

“Mr. Altuve, will you sign this?”  And he holds out his ticket stub.  Altuve looks up and nods at him.  My friend heads down to the dugout, and tosses his pen and ticket stub across the dugout roof.  Immediately there are a half dozen (yes, I know that’s not very many) fans with Astro hats and shirts gathered at the dugout, tossing baseballs and various other things to Jose Altuve.

I think about my old Houston batting practice ball from the Astrodome, with the big black ‘H’ written on the cover, lying in the back seat of the car.  Fifteen minutes away.  I’ve never been interested in autographs, but right now, I’m wishing desperately that that ball was in my hand.

After bp, we head to our seats, still full from Blake Street Nachos.  The usher greets us at our section.

“Didn’t you get the memo?” she asks, looking at my blue and orange Astro stuff.  “It’s purple tonight.”

Nothing clever comes to me, so I just smile back.

Our seats are in the upper section, but on the 1st row, and directly behind home plate.  They are great seats.  The purple ‘Rockies’, and the mountain logo look good above the scoreboard in left center.  I don’t see the mountains beyond the outfield that I’ve heard so much about, so I tell Vicki I’m going exploring.  Back in the concourse, I head down the first base line, toward right field, then enter one of the sections there.  The usher greets me.  I tell him I’m just there to check out the view.

“Awesome, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I agree, though I’m not sure I mean it.  The mountains are actually fairly low on the horizon, and don’t dominate the landscape the way I expected.

“You from Houston?” he asks me.

I tell him I am.

“Me, too!”  And he very deliberately offers me his hand.  “Welcome to Coors Field.”  He has just moved to Denver from Houston.  It’s his first chance to see them play this year.

“They’ll get better,” he assures us both.

“Sure they will.”

He shakes my hand again.  “Glad you came tonight!”

I head back to our seats.  Our usher greets me again.

“I can’t find purple Astro shirts anywhere!” I tell her.  She laughs.

“I’ll see if I can’t find you one.”

Back in my seat, I no longer see the mountains.   But the ballpark still looks good, including the fountain and mountain landscaping just beyond centerfield.  The lush grass looks good in the afternoon sun.  And we watch baseball.

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Houston looks terrible.  Fielding errors.  Throwing errors.  Three in one inning.  A catcher’s throw on an attempted steal of 3rd to an uncovered third base, the 3rd baseman making a leaping catch from deep behind the bag to keep the ball from rolling to the left field wall.  Lucas Harrell, Houston’s starting pitcher, manages to limit the damage, and Colorado scores a single run in each of the first three innings.  But, I’m becoming resigned, telling myself it’s great to be here.  And it is.

The fourth inning finds me in Famous Dave’s Barbecue line, waiting for my Manhandler.  I peek over the line, and see Jason Castro’s lead off double.  I’m still in line when he scores on a double play.  Vicki arrives with her footlong Rockie Dog.

“Hey, that’s the way they come,” she explains.  She also has hot chocolate.  It’s getting chilly in Denver.

My Manhandler arrives, and we return to our seats.

We didn’t see the Houston 6-run 6th inning coming.  Neither did the Rockies.  Four straight hits, a couple of runs, then a 3-run Chris Carter homerun, followed by a Matt Dominguez solo shot, and it’s 7 – 3 Houston.  It’s simple, really.

This is an awesome night for baseball, I quickly decide.

But it’s Colorado, where balls fly out eagerly, and it’s a Houston bullpen that is supportive of that sort of thing, so I don’t assume anything until the end.  Houston wins 7 – 5.

There are not many Rockies fans left to see the end.  We’ve had no conversations with Rockies fans today, we realize.  Just Houston fans, and very friendly Coors Field staffers.  Our Coors Field usher, decked in purple, high fives us as we leave.  I think back to the Detroit fan I spoke to in Houston before that game, and his delight in seeing me again inside the stadium.

But outside, two more Astros fans, strangers to me, offer high fives as they walk by.   It feels like I’ve been greeted by each and every one of them tonight.


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A Different Ball Game

“A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz.”  ~ Humphrey Bogart

I forgot to mention this earlier.  Sorry.  Back in Missoula, Montana, we came across billboards, along the interstate highway, inviting one and all to the Montana State Society Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival,  known locally as, and proclaimed in the largest of letters on the billboards as, the  9th Annual Testicle Festival.  This year’s theme is “A Royal Ball”.  Last year’s festival was themed “Legends of the Ball”, and established new records in pounds consumed–110 pounds of bull and bison testicles (I’m thinking you get a dozen per pound, something like that)–and beverages needed to wash it all down–1500 cans of beer.  Billboards alerted you to the dates of the testy fest in 2014, 2015 and 2016.  For vacation planning.

I believe they are battered and fried.  And there’s a band.


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Our Game

“Baseball is continuous, like nothing else among American things, an endless game of repeated summers, joining the long generations of all the fathers and all the sons.”  ~ Donald Hall

If you haven’t noticed, we have posted our Baseball Roadtrip Playlist.  Vicki worked hard on this.  I know this because I heard, and recognized, the sounds of working hard.  I don’t know how she did it.  Truly I don’t.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together.  I should probably mention that we see this as a fluid list.  Changes are likely.  The list will probably grow longer.  It’s a diverse collection, and I like that.  I’m going to resist adding ‘Route 66’, but I don’t know how long I’ll hold out.

On another note, my brother Ken just forwarded to me a digital copy of the photo our father took inside the Houston Astrodome, in 1965.  This was the day I saw my first professional baseball game, and my first time inside the Astrodome, the day I recalled in this journal’s initial post.  My parents and my brother Ken, perhaps recognizing the significance of the occasion, also made the drive to Houston, and saw baseball indoors that day.  My father took this photo of the astronaut-clad grounds crew doing the customary pre-game grooming.  I could have found other photos of this on the internet, but sharing, here, the one my father took is surprisingly meaningful to me.

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I suppose the photo may strike some as comical, but I don’t see it that way.  Not at all.  The space program was profoundly significant to America in the 1960’s.  And despite the ease with which today’s critics disparage indoor baseball, taken in the context of the day, it was a stunning accomplishment.  We were awestruck.  Everyone was.  A baseball field indoors.  This was not possible.  And yet there it was.  I could not believe what I was seeing in front of me.

And as I attempt to understand why I felt compelled to see a baseball game in every major league stadium, and why I’m delighting in every ballpark visit, this photo seems to somehow be part of the explanation.  Baseball connects us, it seems, with our childhood.  With our parents’ and grandparents’ childhood.  Americans have played this game for a very long time.  There were neighborhood community teams.  There were company teams, and town teams.  And then there were travelling teams, with a game that seemed to be played at an artistic and athletic level that made people stop what they were doing, and watch.  It was our game, before we became distracted, and hungry for something faster.  Seeing the cities and the ballparks where it is played, crossing the country, and having conversations with those we encounter, just makes the connection that much stronger.

So perhaps baseball takes me back to my childhood, or to a romanticized recollection of my childhood.  Much as the attention we pay, and the revered status we give to Honus Wagner, and Cy Young, and Babe Ruth lets us recall a younger America, and nostalgically recall it as a more innocent, slower paced place.

Baseball is history.  Living history.  But it is more than that.  It is a seemingly calm, slow moving game, that is filled with tension and the potential for explosions.  If you know where to look.  Because baseball is subtle, and thoughtful, and quick when it needs to be.  It is played at least partly in the minds of  pitchers staring down batters, and batters trying to give the appearance of knowing pitchers, while coaches move fielders as the ball and strike count changes.

Baseball is America.  It is our game.  It is part of our history.  Baseball is your grandfather.  And though I would lie on the floor in front of the television on Sundays as a twelve year old, and write down each of Don Meredith’s pass attempts and completions, football is still your cousin from out of town.  And in the 7th inning, we all stand, together, and sing.  And we have done this for a long time.


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People and other Wildlife on the Way

“After I hit a home run I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases.”  ~ Mickey Mantle

I know it might not look like it, but we really are heading to Denver.  Honest.  It’s just that Denver is a long way, and several states, from Seattle.  And the Rockies are busy beating up on the Astros in Houston right now anyway.  Just another day or two.  Really.

We left Missoula with the idea of spending a day in Bozeman, Montana–a not-too-large, charming, historic city just north of Yellowstone.  We had visited there last winter, and thought it would be nice to see what it looked like without the snow.  We took the green, low mountained scenic route (we always do) up to Helena, where we stopped for groceries (that would be more fruit pies and noodle cups, and chips), and lunch.  The heavily tattooed young man sitting  in the corner inside Subway, who had graciously sought out our sandwich artist to tell her we were there (leaving her wondering out loud where her coworker was), was working on a sketch, it appeared, while we ate.   He was carefully and attentively drawing, and smudging.  I drifted his direction on our way out, and peeked at his drawing.  It appeared to be a skull, with flowers entwined.  It was very good.

“That’s nice,” I told him.

“Hey, thanks.”

“Are you in school?”

“Nah.  I’m a tattoo artist.  It’s sort of what I do.”

I nodded.

“This one’s for her,” he said, smiling boyishly,and nodding toward the pretty sandwich artist loading up the chip rack.  “I hope,” he added.  She looked our way and smiled for just a moment, then went back to the chips.

“Good luck.”

“Hey, thanks.”

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We arrived in Bozeman mid-afternoon, and walked the historic Main Street.  Just as we noticed on our winter visit, people in Bozeman seem to always be smiling, and walking their dogs with them wherever they go.   There are benches, and water bowls for the dogs, in front of many of the stores on Main.  We like Bozeman.  It was a warm (for Montana) spring day, so we ate outside, at The Garage and Soup Shack, a cafe set in an old corner gas station, with the menus on old Montana license plates.

We ordered a 454 burger, ‘turbocharged’  with bacon, and a Camaro Cobb salad.  And a Moose Drool brown ale, a Montana favorite, and a Harvest Moon Beltian White, also brewed in Montana.  We like Montana.

There was a large, ash colored golden retriever tied to the railing around the Garage’s patio dining, that we wanted to say hi to.

“Oh, that’s Rebel,” another waitress told us.  “You can pet him.  Everybody loves Rebel.  He belongs to one of our regulars, who comes here mostly to drink.  Rebel is great.  Which is more than I can say for his owner.”

So we introduced ourselves to Rebel.  Rebel shook hands with his mammoth paw, and buried his muzzle in my arms.  We returned to our table, and worked on the particulars for swapping the ice chest in the back seat of our Mustang for one very large, very affectionate dog.   We already had the Puppy Chow, we figured.  It would have worked, except for the waitresses, who stopped and chatted with Rebel too frequently for the swap to go unnoticed.

Our waitress, and the couple sitting nearby, advised us on where we might camp for the night in the mountains just south of town.  So we headed up the Hyalite River, to a tent site at the Langohr Campsite.  The wood was too wet for the campfire to happen (that’s always my explanation), so we settled in the tent, and I was able to read some more in ‘Eight Men Out’, the story of the World Series fix in 1919.

See.  It is too still a baseball blog.

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The next day, we drove back into Bozeman, to the Chocolate Moose Soda Shoppe, for the Huckleberry Shake we had promised each other.  Then we headed for Wyoming, by way of Yellowstone National Park, whose roads had just opened for the season.  A female elk trotted up on a small hill, and posed, as we arrived.  Yellowstone was newly green, and breathtaking.  There were buffalo, more elk, ospreys on nests, more buffalo,and wildlife photographers with very large lenses gathered up where rumors of the most recent bear sightings had lead them.

“What were you after?” I asked one photographer parked on the side of the road.

“Bear,” he said.  “Black bear.”  He didn’t look at me, just loaded up his equipment.  “Gone now.”

Another photographer headed to his truck, on the other side of the road.

“Can I ask you where you’re going next?” my guy asked his fellow photographer.

“Sure.  You can ask.”

They stared at each other.

“Ok.  Fine.  That’s the last time I’m telling you anything.”  He got in his car and drove away.

Wildlife photographers are like fishermen, turns out.

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We exited Yellowstone at its Northeast Entrance, and drove toward Cody, Wyoming.   Our route took us along the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, every bit as stunning as Yellowstone, with lush hills, then mountains, then canyons, along a road full of twisting switchbacks.  It was misting rain, and the afternoon was growing dark, so we decided to take the curves at the recommended speed.  Just this once.

As we were nearing the end of the Chief Joseph highway, we came around a curve and spotted a bear not too far from the road, near the edge of the trees.  A black bear.

“Bear!  Bear!  Bear! Bear!” I exclaimed.  And pointed.  I got a little excited.

We stopped, and Vicki grabbed the camera, but our friend scampered into the trees.  He was gone.

“See, right there,” Vicki said, and held the camera up for me to see.  “That small black spot there.  That’s the bear!”

It was a great day.

We’re one day from Denver.  This will be our only time on our baseball road trip to see either of our home teams on the road.  I’m not going to be able to root, root, root for the home team this time.  I just can’t.


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Montana in the Spring

“The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.”  ~ Norman Maclean,  ‘A River Runs Through It’

As we left Seattle, heading to Denver by way of Bozeman, Montana, we realized we had been hanging around the Pacific Ocean for one day shy of two weeks, chasing down baseball on America’s far left coast.  I feel like that’s significant, though I don’t know exactly why.  It did seem noteworthy though that we were finally turning inland.  It may have something to do with knowing how much baseball, and how much of the country,  awaits us between this place we’ve wandered into and the right coast, nearly 3000 miles away.  It is as intimidating as it is exhilarating.

We have a few days to play with before the Rockies get back in town, so we drove southeast out of Seattle to Mt. Rainier National Park.   There were a number of park roads still closed for winter, but we did manage to get to the southeast part of the park, to the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center.  Except it was closed.  For the entire year.  The Park staffer who was doing maintenance on the facility (changing light bulbs in the still-open restrooms, it appeared), had less than kind things to say about government cutbacks, but happily pointed us in the direction of the Silver Falls trail.  Which was a wonderful,  3-mile loop along the Ohanapecosh River, up to the dramatic falls, to a wooden bridge which crossed the river and its boulder-carved canyon, then back down the other side of the river.   The water was green and clear and deep around the boulders at the base of the falls.   You could look down from the bridge and see the pebbles at the bottom, nearly 20 feet deep.  Back at the trailhead, we had a late lunch at the campground host’s  picnic table, since that position was as closed as the visitor center.

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An hour down the road, in Yakima, Washington, there was a state baseball tournament.  Sadly, though we didn’t see any baseball in Yakima.  We only learned about it the next day, having had trouble finding a place to stay the night before.  At the gas station the next morning,  as we were headed out of town towards Idaho, a man asked me about gas prices in Texas.   Then he told me about the Memorial Day weekend baseball.

“You have family playing?” I asked him.

“Yep.  My grandson.  At least his age group is getting to play.  Some of them got rained out.  Drove all the way from  Walla Walla, and had their tents set up.  No baseball for them.”

“Ouch.”

“You said it.  Ouch for them.”

Yakima needs a retractable roof, I decided.

As we drove east across the Idaho panhandle, and into western Montana, the lush mountains gave way to lower, barren ones, then to green, and irrigated farm land, then back to green, forested hills, with green grassed meadows.  It was all attractive to us, even the low shrubbed stretch that looked like a tumbleweed farm, if for no other reason than it was all a  hilltop, a valley, a bend in the road we had never before seen.

We worked on our baseball roadtrip playlist as we drove along.

“America demands it,” Vicki said.

“Right,” I said.  “Of course they do.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“Ok.  But nothing too obvious.  They need to be subtle, and clever.  Quirky, maybe.”

“So ‘Ramblin’ Man’ is out?”

“No, it stays.”

“Right.  And ‘End of the World’ stays, too?  It’s not exactly a road song.”

“I know.  I know.  But I think it should stay.”

“I think so, too,” Vicki said.

We drove, and planned, and listened.  And admired Montana.

Though I’m guessing it’s white for much of the year, Missoula is a green, cool, hilly, and inviting place in late May.  I asked the desk clerk at the motel if we could play catch in the showy, soft,  northern grass entrance to the motel.

“Absolutely,” she said.

She asked about my hat, and all the pins.  On hearing the story, she quickly looked up the schedule of the Missoula Ospreys, the Advance Rookie minor league farm team of the Diamondbacks, but they weren’t scheduled to start play for a few more weeks.  She seemed disappointed.

“Maybe we should come back then,” I said.

“Absolutely,” she agreed.  “You should.”

And so, at the base of her green and inviting hills, we played catch in Montana.

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Baseball in Seattle

“I need to enter the intense, artificial, pastoral universe of the game, where conflict never conceals itself, where the issues are clear and the outcome uncertain.  I enter an alien place, or the child in me does, and the child plays for a little while.”  ~  Donald Hall, from ‘Fathers Playing Catch with Sons’, on display at Safeco Field, Seattle

Game 12.   Seattle.   Mariners vs Rangers

I know it’s a tourist destination, and I don’t have much to say in my defense, but it wasn’t going to feel right to come to Seattle, and not see the Space Needle.  So first thing Friday morning, or what qualifies for first thing, and for morning anymore, we plunged into downtown, worked our way through construction detours and gps reroutings too many to mention, and found a place to park.  Not a free one.  The other kind.

The Needle sits in the heart of Seattle Center, a park, arts and entertainment complex near downtown.  It’s a nice setting.  They were setting up for a Memorial weekend folklife festival there, but didn’t seem ready for company that Friday morning.  There was a street musician in the park, playing solo electric guitar.  Bluesy stuff.  He was pretty good, and it was nice that he was there, I thought.  Not to bore you with details, but the Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair,  is 605 feet tall.  The elevator ride to the top takes 41 seconds.  Ok, you probably didn’t need to know that.  I will say, though, that it looks very cool as a landmark, and as part of the Seattle skyline.  And the views from the top, of Puget Sound, and of that skyline (minus the Needle, of course) are incredible.

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We decided to explore downtown Seattle, and, later, Safeco Field, on foot, and so left our parked car and started walking.  A mile or so from Seattle Center, near the Waterfront area, is Pike Place Market, a public market in operation since 1907. Originally a farmers’ market, it has since been joined by merchants and craftspeople, though the biggest attraction still seems to be the fresh produce, and fresh seafood.  Pike Place had the feel of a genuine marketplace frequented by the locals.  Seafood was in high demand.  Prawns were $22.99 a pound, I noticed.  Which seems a little high, but since I’ve never bought prawns, I probably wouldn’t know.   The peach slice from one of the produce stands was free, and very juicy.

Located in the Pike Place Market, on Pike Street, is the original Starbucks.  Wikipedia suggests that the very first site was actually on nearby Western Street, and relocated to the Pike Street location a few years later, but I suppose it still qualifies as the original Starbucks.

A street musician sat just outside, playing a banjo and singing.  He was very good.  A  4-yr old girl stood a few feet away and watched, and danced, a little embarrassed, but not enough to stop.

The grad-student aged young man behind the counter, seeing our hats, asked if we were Mariners fans, then started to point at the door, waiting for our answer.

“Of course.  We are tonight.”

“All right, then,” and he lowered his arm.

Vicki ordered an Earl Grey latte.  He looked at me.

“I don’t actually care much for coffee,” I told him.  And he pointed at the door again.

We settled on a mango-banana smoothie for me, and a couple of souvenir mugs, and he stopped pointing.

We left Starbucks, and wandered through the market awhile longer, then headed down the hill to Waterfront Park.  The s’mores pop tarts had worn off, and we were hungry.  At the base of the new (2012) giant Ferris wheel located at the edge of the pier, is Fisherman’s Restaurant, with all the colorful carved statues of old fishermen to give it the feel you want your dock-side seafood restaurants to have.  We had prawns (boiled and fried) and clam chowder, while we watched the Seattle Great Wheel make its spins just outside our window.

“Excuse me,” the man across from us said.   “How did a Tampa fan and a Houston fan get together?”  He was wearing a L.A. Rams sweatshirt.  He seemed very friendly.  He appeared to be on a first date with his companion, who never spoke, but smiled a lot.

Vicki gave him the short version, then told him about our trip.

“Oh, that’s terrific!” he said.  “I’ve been to all but seven.  But it’s taken me 15 years,” he grinned.  He went on to tell us how lucky he had been.  He had seen Randy Johnson as a Diamondback, throw his perfect game against the Braves in 2004, and then saw Phillip Humber, while a member of the White Sox, do the same against the home town Mariners, at Safeco Field, in 2012.  He wasn’t at all boastful about this.  We all agreed it was incredible.

He shook his head.  “One would be amazing.  But two?”  He shook his head.  “I’ve been very lucky.”

Then I remembered that Phillip Humber is now, or was at the start of the season anyway, a Houston Astro.  My team.  I mentioned this, and his 0 – 8 start, and his nine-plus ERA, and his demotion down to AAA.

“Yeah, it’s a funny game,” he said.

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The attendant at The Great Wheel showed us the red, ‘I want to get off NOW button’, told us to enjoy ourselves, and shut the gondola door.   We did.  The Great Wheel is 175 feet tall, and extends 40 feet out past the dock, over Elliot Bay.  The views of the city skyline, now up close and personal, were dramatic, as were the looks down along the waterfront area.

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We strolled through historic Pioneer Square, then stopped in Sluggers, the sports bar on 1st Street, not too far from Safeco, just before the stadium gates opened.  Unlike Ferg’s in Tampa, and Alice Cooperstown in Phoenix, Sluggers was quiet, with very little in the way of Mariners hats or jerseys, or chatter.  There were cool Mariners photos on the walls, but little else.  Most of the tv’s were showing NCAA softball.  Which was fun to watch.   Our waitress was wearing a black, Sluggers tank top, with baseball bats forming the basepaths on the front.   But no, they didn’t sell them.  Which was unfortunate.

Safeco is not the traditional retractable roof stadium, in that it’s roof, when in place, covers the field and stands, but does not enclose the stadium.  So it’s like playing baseball on a large, grassy patio.  But Seattle weather was grand today, and the roof was pulled back.  It’s one of the more attractive stadiums, we’re thinking, with plenty of  red brick, retro arches, and early-stadium-construction exposed green girders visible throughout.  The arched ‘Safeco Field’ above the scoreboard looked like it had been there for a hundred years.

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As we were leaving the Team Store with our newest hat pins, we spotted a very large framed, signed, color photo of Nolan Ryan, while a Texas Ranger.  On the mound, and set to pitch.  Blood dripping from his lip, and staining his jersey.  It was very striking.  The salesman walked over to us.

“That’ll get your testosterone pumping, won’t it?”

“It’s an amazing photo.”

He knew the story.  It was Sept 8, 1990, and Bo Jackson had hit a comebacker, which caught Ryan in the mouth.  Trainers and coaches insisted he leave the game, to be tended to.  Nolan said no, thanks, and had enough no-no’s by then to make it stick.  He did stay in, and he did win the game.

I miss him.

They’ve done a number of things right at Safeco.  There is an endearing, life-sized statue in the centerfield concourse, honoring long time announcer Dave Niehaus, and depicting him at the microphone he sat in front of for 33 years.  There’s an empty chair next to Dave, and fans line up to sit there beside him.   The rotunda near the home plate entrance is inspired by the rotunda at historic Ebbets Field, and overhead is a giant chandelier comprised of clear baseball bats.  I know that might sound like a bit much, but it looks good.  And in the concourse behind home plate, inscribed in the floor,  are baseball quotes by historians, writers, and poets.  I really enjoyed that.

Baseball eats tonight consisted of an Ivar’s Fish Dog, clam and chips, and, of course, more clam chowder.  In the 6th inning, I went back for Grounders Garlic Fries.  This is another stadium grub decision I probably need to revisit.

Former Astro star Lance Berkman is the DH for the visiting Texas Rangers, so even though I was pulling for the home team, I was ok with his hitting a 3-run homer in the 3rd.  No one knew how conflicted I was, except Vicki.  Have I mentioned how badly I wish he was still our DH?  Ok.  I thought I might have.  I’ll try to stop.

In the 7th, after ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’, they play the 60’s rock hit “Louie, Louie”.  Mostly, I think, because it’s by a band from the northwest (Portland)–The Kingsmen.  We’re liking it when ballparks have signature songs, and the crowd has  fun singing along.  Can’t wait for Boston.

I had a conversation with my brother Ken recently about the baseball expression, ‘a can of corn’.  So when a Ranger batter hit a fly ball out to center, and fans around me were moaning, fearing the worst,  I had to giggle when I heard a woman sitting amongst them say, matter-of-factly,  “…a can of corn…”,  as the centerfielder settled under it.

There were too many clutch Rangers hits tonight, and despite scoring single runs in the first three innings, the Mariners found themselves down 6 – 3 after 4, and 9 – 3 after 7.  It had been a quiet, detached crowd most of the night, and there weren’t many left at the end.  The Mariners rallied with 2 in the 9th, with two men still on base, when the rally abruptly died.  Which is generally how they die, I guess.

One of the most enthusiastic fan moments came in the middle of the 8th inning, when the Fan Cam landed on a guy with a fake beard, a leftover from some past Safeco giveaway, it seems, who got up and began dancing.  I mean really dancing.  With moonwalking, and other moves I don’t know and can’t describe.  The crowd howled with delight.  Fan Cam would leave him a moment, show some other fans with their embarrassingly inadequate moves, then return to the guy with the beard.  Fans would howl even louder, and bearded dancing guy would not disappoint.  You could distinctly hear female voices responding, with enthusiasm.  I think there was gushing.  Kids gathered around him.  He  began to move along as he danced.  The kids, mesmerized, followed him, and tried to imitate him.  He encouraged them, while he continued to dance in ways the rest of us cannot.  Then the music lowered.  The stadium deflated noticeably when baseball resumed.

We were walking along 1st Street after the game, heading back to our long-ago parked car, when we came upon a large, artistic and animated silhouetted sculpture of a man actively hammering, as in building something.   I thought I recognized it.   I turned to the Mariners fans walking along behind us.

“Wasn’t this part of the montage of Seattle scenes they would play on the scoreboard tonight?”

“Yep,” a young woman said.  “During the player intro’s, when they would come up to bat.”

“He’s called The Hammering Man,” the young man said.  We were in front of the Seattle Art Museum.

He’s 48 feet tall, and hammers 4 times a minute.  Except on Labor Day, they explained, when he rests.

“His name is Sam,” the young man said, and grinned.  And he ran to catch up with his friends.

I figured it out a little bit later.

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Mile Marker 142

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”  ~Paul Theroux

“Who is that?” I ask.

“Herman’s Hermits,” Vicki answers.

“Really.”  I listen some more.  “Why did they do that?”

She doesn’t say anything.  She’s listening.

“I’ve never heard that version.”

“Ok,” she says finally.  “Who’s supposed to be singing this one?”

“Skeeter Davis.  No one else should have bothered.”

“Really.  Who did it first?”

So then we have to look it up.  This is one of the essential functions of smart phones.  Turns out lots of people bothered.  Skeeter recorded the original version of “The End of the World” in 1962, we learn.  Herman and his pals not until 1965.  In between, a hundred or so others took their turns.   The only thing that bothers me about all this is learning that there is a Claudine Longet version out there somewhere.

We’re in Oregon, driving north towards Seattle, the third of our four corners of American baseball.  Oregon is gorgeous, and I-5 is considerably more scenic than I imagined it would be.   The heavily forested hills give way frequently to green, and sometimes golden grassed meadows, on the otherwise tree covered hill tops, and in the valleys, and the highway rises and falls and turns through all of it.  You can look out to the distant fields and imagine your dairy farm nestled there, or yourself, riding a horse over the horizon.  You can imagine a lot of stuff.

We pass the Seven Feathers Casino, and learn that Tony Orlando is playing there.   This is almost a problem, but we already have the Seattle tickets, so we drive on.

We stop at the Cabin Creek rest area for ham sandwiches.  And chips.  One of my yogurts has not quite expired, so I have that too.   It’s a beautiful day, about 60 degrees.  We take our time eating, then work the ice chest back into its spot in the back seat, and the food bags beside it.

Then we get out our gloves.

“Try taking your little finger off of the ball.”  I was pretty sure that was a good thing to suggest.

I had looked up baseball grips while Vicki was driving, and was thinking about trying to throw a circle change, just like a real professional major league baseball pitcher.    But then I had the idea to step off ninety feet, and throw from there.   That distracted me awhile, and had Vicki running down the hill chasing down our Official Little League ball.   We’ll work on changeups another day.

We are 331 miles from Seattle.

 

 

 


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Where the Girls are Warm

“Not all those who wander are lost.”   ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

We missed breakfast again.  We actually haven’t made breakfast in awhile now.  And the kindly motel proprietor had said the muffins would be homemade!    We stay up late, reading, chronicling, talking, so that when the alarm goes off, we thank it for the reminder, and sleep some more.  So this morning we shared a quart of chocolate milk and a couple of Little Debbie pies from the gas station.  Vicki wasn’t accustomed to drinking from the carton, but she caught on alright.

Just above Ft. Bragg, forests begin to make their way down from the rolling hills, and Hwy 1 sometimes turns away from the Pacific and heads up into deep woods, the road canopied by avenues of cypress trees.  Only to then turn out of the trees once again and drop steeply back to the shore, dropping at times so low it seems a high tide would surely cover it, at least a little.  And so it winds, dipping down close to shore, ducking back into tunnels of cypress, then occasionally emerging on a high oceanside cliff, with waves crashing and into large dark rocks a hundred feet offshore, sending white spray high into the air.   We stopped at one cliff, and looked down at the rocky shore a hundred feet below us, and watched seals playing in calm, protected waters.   I think they were playing.  They seemed happy enough.

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Hwy 1 turns away from the ocean, and rejoins Hwy 101, following the south fork of the Eel River.   There were rapids often enough, and long gravel beds almost continuously, so that it invited notions of camping and rafting.  I’m becoming convinced that California must be one of our prettiest states.  I like California, I’ve decided.

Hwy 101 returns to the ocean, or the ocean actually returns to it, and we continue north toward Redwood National Park.  Towns are scarce, and restaurants are closed, though we aren’t sure why.  Too early in the season, we decide.   Or maybe we just missed the open ones.  At any rate, lunch is orange juice, and a custom trail mix Vicki refers to as Puppy Chow, while we drive.   And we agree that’s ok.  The Steve Miller Band is rocking in northern California, and in between handfuls of Puppy Chow, we decide we need a Baseball Road Trip Playlist.

In the park, we hike to Trillium Falls,  a loop of just under three miles, through a forest of mature redwoods.   The forest is deep and dark, the trees unnaturally, almost humorously large.   We find ourselves pointing and smiling a lot.  It’s cool, and very green in these woods, which seem old, and from another time.  The ferns that spill from the forest floor out into our path seem very happy.  It’s a fun hike.  It’s good to be here, we decide.

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We’re two days from baseball in Seattle.


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Highway One North

“Going up the country, tell me if you want to go.”   Canned Heat 

Against our will, it was time for us to leave San Francisco, and get started on the drive north to Seattle.  We could get on I-5, and make it in two days, but where would be the fun in that?  The Mariners aren’t in town until Friday, so we have time to wander.   But we realized there were a couple of things we wanted to do yet, before we left town.

So we made our way to the De Young Museum to see The Girl With the Pearl Earring.  The Johannes Vermeer painting, not the movie.  We had seen its showing advertised throughout the city, and were excited for the opportunity to see this significant work of art, described by some as the Dutch Mona Lisa, along with the Rembrandts also on exhibit at the De Young.  There were the moments when I felt like a character from a Woody Allen movie, as I watched those around me whisper and nod knowingly, but I always have those moments in art museums.

We didn’t feel like we had had enough interaction with San Francisco’s most famous landmark, so we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, parked, and hiked back across, southward, back into the city.  We were not alone.  In fact, it was a little crowded, with other walkers, and rental bikers.  But that was ok.  It was the Golden Gate Bridge.  The bridge itself is an amazing site, as is the view across the bay to San Francisco, perched up on its many different hills.  We had layered up for the walk, which was good, because it was windy and chilly.  On the south side, we snacked on croissants and organic drinks from the cafe, took more pictures, and walked back across–about 3.4 miles round trip.  Then as our final act, we drove up the hill on the north side, to the viewpoints looking down on both the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city of San Francisco.  This was stunning, really.

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It was 4:00 pm when we jumped off of Hwy 101, just north of the city, and onto coastal Hwy 1.  Considerably later than we had envisioned, but  it was San Francisco.  We liked it there, and it was hard to leave.   People write songs about it.

Hwy 1, north of San Francisco, is different from its Big Sur relative further south.  North, the road winds and twists severely, with high rolling hills and meadows and dairy farmland immediately to the inland side.  It is actually prettier, I think.  And slower.   The Mustang enjoyed the trip, though.  We took the curve ahead signs, and the accompanying speed limits, as recommendations only.   As starting points for our consideration.  Then it was Vicki’s turn, which she absolutely wanted, and absolutely took advantage of.  Tires squealed.  Corners were hugged.  Roadside cliffs held their breath and sucked in their tummies.  Then we came across a straight stretch with a 25 mph sign, glaring at her.  The tires stopped squealing, and I returned books and potato chip bags and articles of clothing to their rightful places, the ones I could find.   The printer didn’t show up till later.

Driving in a straight line now, Vicki looked lost.

“This goes against your nature, doesn’t it.”

“Every bit of it.”

We arrived in Ft. Bragg, California around 9:00 pm, grateful for the Denny’s.  There’s not much to eat on Hwy 1.   The red, white and blue pancake special was wonderful.

As we were leaving for the motel we had price-lined from the Denny’s booth, we spotted a black and white photograph near the door, a team photograph.  A baseball team photograph of men in their 30’s.  It was the 1926 Fort Bragg Loggers, it said.  This made  us smile.

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A Boat, A Bus, and a Ballgame

“They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays.”  ~ Ted Williams

Game 11.   San Francisco.   Giants vs Nationals.

When we were first getting serious with the planning of this trip,  San Francisco was one of the cities we knew we would want to linger in.   Not to see and do everything, but to hang around long enough to feel like we had experienced the city.    We drove into the Fisherman’s Wharf area yesterday, after the A’s game, where we were reminded how treasured a place to park can be in big cities.  That small chore taken care of, we explored on foot awhile, climbing the steps up Lombard Street while we watched cars zig zag their way down.  We walked around Pier 39, and checked on the sea lions.  They were doing well.  Kids love to imitate sea lions, by the way.   I think I probably knew that.

We finished off the evening at the Franciscan Crab Restaurant, with its tiered seating that gives everyone a great view of San Francisco Bay.   Our waiter said he could tell I was from Texas, but  he just got lucky.  Pretty sure.  He told us how much we were going to like AT&T Park.

It was 9:00, and we still didn’t have a place lay our weary heads, as my Dad used to say.  So since it was dark out on the bay,  and our vanilla custard had yet to arrive, we started price-lining with great enthusiasm, and with some sense of urgency, right there in the Franciscan.   Turns out lodging in San Francisco is on the same pricing schedule as parking in San Francisco.    So, Oakland it is.  It was cool, and the sun long since down, as we walked from the restaurant to our car.  Coit Tower, atop Telegraph Hill, was bathed in a midnight-blue light.  San Francisco is an attractive city.

We have one problem to address before calling it a night.  Turns out not all one star motels have business centers, or computer printers.  Who knew this.  And since the tickets we’re ordering on line every couple of days have to be printed,  we’ve come to realize that we need a printer.   So on the drive into Oakland across the bay, we google map our way to the nearest WalMart for a cheap printer.  And printer cable.  And paper.   The Mustang’s back seat is starting to get a little crowded.  Ok, it’s a Mustang back seat.  It started it’s life crowded.

We were back in San Francisco the next morning, sitting on our Escape From the Rock cruise boat, with a giant pretzel and a churro for breakfast.   We sailed out to, and under the Golden Gate Bridge, then circled around Alcatraz a couple of times while we listened to recorded accounts by actual Alcatraz inmates, as they spoke of life on ‘the rock’.   The Golden Gate Bridge is stunning, and incredibly large approaching it by water, and looking up at it from underneath.  And the view of the city from the water is equally stunning.

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Back on shore, we make the short hike to Alioto’s Crab Stand for clam chowder and shrimp sandwiches.  Mr Alioto (ok, I’m guessing here), a large, dark-haired no-nonsense kind of guy, was having to re-direct one of his seafood staffers.  He was having to do this frequently, it seemed.

“How’s your day going?” I asked him.

“Don’t ask,” he said.  “You DON’T want to know.”

Then he handed us our lunch.  “You folks have a good day,” he said somewhat gruffly.  But only somewhat.   He began to sing as we walked toward the tables in the courtyard.

Pigeons had rested on these tables, many times.  Pretty sure.  Don’t ask.  You don’t want to know.

The chowder, and shrimp sandwiches were delicious.  We’re thinking we like San Francisco.  Then we headed across the street for a double-decker bus tour of San Francisco.   It was a good tour.  It was pleasantly cool up on top.  Our guide was funny, but I can’t seem to remember any of his jokes right now.  Maybe later.  I’m pretty sure he was funny, though.

AT&T Park, which opened in 2000, is situated near downtown San Francisco, nestled beautifully against San Francisco Bay.  We parked in one of the remote, independent lots, like most Giants fans do, it seems, and had no trouble finding the ballpark, only having to follow the trail of Giants jerseys and hats the half dozen blocks to the stadium.  Two World Series championships in three years, and a gorgeous new place to play, has Giants fans filling up the stadium every game.

We approached the stadium by way of Willie Mays Plaza, which had us liking AT&T before we ever got inside.  I took several pictures of the Willie Mays statue out front, of course.  Once  inside, the stadium lives up to its rave reviews.  The view beyond the outfield fences of San Francisco Bay, and the Bay Bridge, are beyond compare.   It would be a great place to spend an evening, even without a ball game to watch.  We walked the mid-level concourse around the entire stadium.  There were three kayakers out in McCovey Cove already, just beyond right field, hoping for a batting practice home run ball.  There’s a giant inclined Coke bottle above the left field fence, with tubed body slides inside for kids to play in.   The right field wall is arched and bricked, helping us feel like we’re in a ballpark.   In left center is one of the most unique and remarkable designer touches in baseball stadiums today–a giant sized, vintage 4-fingered glove reproduced by computer imaging with every wrinkle and curled glove lace vividly in place.  It is very, very cool.  And exactly 518 feet from home plate.  Inside the ramped walkways are memorable baseball quotes stenciled on the walls, and old Giants jerseys on display, even from their days in New York.

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As we tour the stadium, taking it all in, someone selling something–not sure what, actually–called out to us.

“Hey, Rays and Astros!  Hey, Evan Longoria and Chris Carter!”  We looked  back, and grinned.  And kept walking.

“….is Chris Carter an Astro?” I quietly asked Vicki, once we were out of earshot.

“Yes,” she said.  “I think you’re supposed to know that.”

“That guy’s pretty good.”

And then there was the food.   Gilroy’s Garlic Fries, for starters.  And the “Say Hey! Sausages”.   And there was so much more.  We need another game.

The two Giants fans sitting beside us were part of a 7-way season ticket pool, which is a great idea.  They were very knowledgeable about baseball, and their Giants.  It was fun watching the game with them.

“So, who’s the fan favorite?” I asked.

“Posey, for sure.”  (Buster Posey, their young catcher.)

“Everybody loves the Panda, too,” our other neighbor said.

“Kung Fu Panda?”  (Pablo Sandoval)

“We just call him Panda.”

Later in the game, I asked if either of them ever went to the tourist areas in town.  Like Fisherman’s Wharf.

“I can’t remember the last time I went there,” said one.

“Never,” said the other.  “Unless it’s to pick up some fresh crabs, for a party.”

I started to mention Alioto’s Crab Stand, but decided against it.

They were very interested in our trip.

“So what’s been the highlight, so far?” one asked.

“Here, tonight, probably.”

“Awwww.  Thanks.”

“And the low point?”

“I hate to keep saying this,” I said, “but probably Dodger stadium.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that.  Things were a little tense for awhile between us and the Dodgers, after that ugliness in 2011.  It’s not a problem now, but no one’s forgotten about it, either.”

Tonight’s game was not close, but the Giants’ 17 hits were entertaining, as they beat the Nats 8 – 0.  Giants starting pitcher  Ryan Vogelsong pitched well, limiting Washington to just 3 hits for his  5  innings, which was the good news for Vogelsong, who entered the game with the highest ERA of any National League starter.  The bad news came when he was batting in the bottom of the 5th, and was hit on the hand by a pitch he was swinging at, fracturing bones in his little finger.  Not good.

Somewhere around the 8th inning, seagulls began to circle near the outfield fences, and over near the 1st and 3rd base line seats.  Lots of them.

“The seagulls are getting restless,” one of our neighbors said.

“Yep,” the other agreed.  “They think it’s time for this one to be over.”

“They show up near the end of every game,” the first neighbor told me.  “They want the leftover stadium food.  They’re waiting for us to leave.”

“That’s pretty cool,” I said.

“Yes, it is.  It really is.  It’s fascinating that they have a clock set somehow.”

I offered each of them one of our Road Trip cards at the end of the game.  They said they would follow us the rest of the way, which was nice to hear.

Back in Oakland, the hotel concierge greeted us by our respective team names as we walked in.   Which is also nice to hear.