“So we bought a pack of cigarettes, and Mrs. Wagner pies, and walked off to look for America.” — Simon and Garfunkel
“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.
GAME TWO. APRIL 25, 2013. 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.
“My nephew, whom I once took to meet Craig Biggio, has thanked me for that by suggesting that I blog about our journey.
“Of course people will read it,” he tells me. “Some will,” he says. After which he pauses. “I won’t,” he then says, clarifying things, which is awkward and explains the pause, “but there are people who will. Just thirty minutes after the game. Tops.”
To which Vicki, who is fluent in Blog, says, “I’ll take care of it. I’ll set it up,” she says. “You’ll just have to type,” she says. May they both rot in hell.
Vicki is asleep when I finish the first blog post, which is sometime after 3:00 a.m. It is awful, and I wish I had not written most of it. And I need to learn to write poorly faster.”
“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game–the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” — Walt Whitman
CHAPTER 4 – LIVING THE LIFE
“We right away take on the sleep schedule and most other habits of a ball player. We can’t possibly know this, neither of us having ever been one of those, neither knowing what those habits are, but we tell ourselves we do, and that we have, and just do make it to the motel lobby in time for breakfast.
We have at this point only the vaguest understanding of the number of road trip meals in front of us, but a free breakfast seems to be something we should not miss. We are quite wrong about this, are the last ones attempting breakfast here, and there are three muffins remaining on the plastic plate. There’s no hot water for Vicki’s tea, and the orange juice dispensing thing is dispensing something that has no chance of having ever been orange juice, but a much better one of being somebody’s intestinal disorder. I tell the young lady behind the desk about the color of the orange juice, and she thanks me politely, comes from behind the desk, and hangs an ‘out of order’ sign over it. And sees me looking cheerlessly at the sign.”
Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in St. Petersburg, Florida GAME 1
“Our plan, now that we’re here in our first ballpark, is to take a walking tour of the stadium, select our first course of stadium food, then sit, and eat, and watch batting practice. It’s what one does. But before we get started with any of that, there is a line of people heading up some short stairs to our right, and in our excitement we join them. It’s not that we’re mindless, exactly, but it is a line, and might therefore lead to something, like Tropicana’s Trademark Food, maybe, which would be a first rate reason for a line. So we approach the stairs and head up, walking past the guy who now suddenly looks like a theatre usher, one who is now hooking his velvety usher rope across in front of the line of people feeding in from the side.
“I think we just broke in front of those guys,” Vicki says.
“Great,” I say. “We’re going to get the shit kicked out of us before our first game.”
“Just be glad we’re not in Los Angeles,” she says. “And don’t look back.”
At the top of the stairs, a friendly young lady in a blue Tropicana outfit is telling everyone gathered around her that if we put our hands down in the water and wait, they will come to us. And that we should not try to hold on to them, and that we should at all times refrain from sudden movements. And food packets are available, if we would like to feed them.
And just to our left, situated as it is just beyond right center, on the second level—a baseball field spilling out now below and beyond it—is the Touch Tank, the ten thousand gallon home of the Rays’ former namesakes. We join the others in our group—they limit the numbers, hence the usher, and his usher’s rope—and are then reaching over the side and into the cool water and touching the cownose rays as they swim by. And swim by they will, once they realize you haven’t laid out the five dollars for a package of Ray Food. They’re smaller than devil rays, fit better in a 10,000 gallon above ground swimming pool, and are soft, and feel like rubber, and on the baseball field below us the New York Yankees are taking batting practice, and we look at each other, our hands still in cool ray water, while we wait for the next one to come by.”
Touch ‘em All Chapter 2 The Schedule excerpt:
“You should know, up front, and would have figured it out on your own soon enough, that we are not intending to do this in thirty days, as is the fashion, and I’m right away feeling a need to apologize for this. There are those who have done that, and doing it that way does seem to draw a lot of attention to the whole thing, which I get, and the adventurer in me—and he is in there—perks up at the idea, feels challenged by it even. But afterwards the perking subsides, and later goes away entirely and neither of us has any real interest in going about it that way. Things would be missed. Mountains and corn fields and entire innings, maybe.”
“So with a somewhat fuzzy Miami to Boston looping route in mind, I sit down late one night to look at a possible schedule. Glossing over a few details for the moment, we are to route ourselves from the newest ballpark to the oldest, and will span one hundred years of baseball theaters in doing it. And will end in Boston on the 4th of July. The poetry of all this is stunning, and Vicki loves the schedule, because she loves the Red Sox, who spring train near her home town.”
Chapter One: Our Game excerpt
“And because I was ten years old, I was on a baseball team. I was on this team in my home town of Orange, which is also in Texas though just barely, waiting as it is on the next named storm to send it sliding off the banks of the Sabine into Louisiana. Which had not yet happened in 1965, which meant I was on a team, where someone had the idea to take a large white van full of Cubs, with several large parents along to see to it we didn’t hurl one another out any of the white van’s windows, across one hundred miles of southeast Texas rice fields and refineries to Houston, to see a Major League baseball game in this very new baseball stadium of a place they had decided to name the Astrodome and which was bright and shiny silver and sparkled brilliantly in the sun, and we shouted when we first saw it, and cool air rushed at you from its darkened interior, where an impossibly large and impossibly indoor baseball field waited, and our little kid hearts beat fast that day. We were kids. We didn’t know any better.”
Cover Photo: Lewis Hines 1909 Cover Design: Vicki Snyder Clark 2016
It’s spring and the wait is finally over! Touch ‘Em All: A Baseball Journey, based upon the epic road trip described in the 2013 entries of this blog, has been released as a Kindle Edition eBook. And you can buy a copy of your very own by following the link below.
Touch ‘Em All is the story (mostly accurate) of our epic baseball road trip encompassing 30 stadiums, 60 hotdogs and 80 days. Take the trip across America (and a tiny bit of Canada) with us and share the adventure. Oh, what a grand adventure it was!
Photo: Don Fields
We suffered no rainouts or other misfortunes, but the real miracle is that we are on speaking terms today (it was a long trip and a little car).
Thus, I have commandeered email, social media and author blogs, as the Don is practically oblivious to social media and will do nothing to tout the tale that some of us have been eagerly awaiting, and any baseball fan will enjoy (pass the word, folks).
So, buy the book, read the book and follow along for photos and other interesting bits that will enhance your touching ’em all experience.
May your own team have a wonderful 2016 season,
Vicki, Navigator & Traveling Companion Extraordinaire
Contact us: Touch ‘em All – Don Fields: email@example.com