Archive for July 7th, 2009

The Great Baseball Road Trip of 2009: Harrisburg to Cooperstown to Home

I’m not going to write a whole lot about Cooperstown. Yes, it as an awesome visit – it’s always an awesome visit – but nothing out of the ordinary happened there. We saw a lot of cool stuff at the Hall (Tim took a ton of pictures, some of which I’ll post below), ate at the Doubleday Café (where we watched the United States take a 2-0 halftime lead on Brazil), visited my favorite book store and card shop, bought gifts for the wife and girlfriends, and left town (where we found out that the United States had blown that 2-0 halftime lead and lost, 3-2).

In a way, it was our best day. We were all exhausted, but the promise of home was within reach; we knew that the next time we slept, it would be in our own beds. Tim was finally feeling better after being sick as a dog all weekend; he and Chris and Billy were cracking jokes the whole way home. I was the only one having a tough time – I had sat with the driver for three consecutive legs of the trip and no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I would be fine until we got home, it wasn’t true. Being able to stay awake for long stretches of time has always been a badge of honor for me. I may not be smarter than most people or tougher than most people, but I can certainly outlast most people. Not this time, my friends. This time, I began nodding off in Vermont and continued fighting it most of the way home.

Ah, home. We pulled up outside my apartment and made sure Tim and I had all our stuff out of the back. It was raining, so we said some quick goodbyes and headed inside while Billy got behind the wheel to go drop Chris off. Tim and I walked up my front steps and opened the door to best thing I’d seen all weekend.

vicki and joey

My wife smiled at us and said, “Joey, Daddy’s home!” My son looked up at me, looked past me to my brother, his godfather…and burst into tears.

And so ended the great Baseball Road Trip of 2009.

Chris thanks the man who got us through those long days and nights on the road

Chris thanks the man who got us through those long days and nights on the road

I could barely believe it, but Billy didn't know who Buck O'Neil was.

I could barely believe it, but Billy didn't know who Buck O'Neil was.

They had an excellent new exhibit on Hank Aaron.

They had an excellent new exhibit on Hank Aaron.

Chris and I wanted to know what it felt like to chase Hammerin' Hank around the bases.

Chris and I wanted to know what it felt like to chase Hammerin' Hank around the bases.

A good picture, except for the fact that we're all shadowy and stuff.

A good picture, except for the fact that we're all shadowy and stuff.

There, much better.  Now we just look tired.

There, much better. Now we just look tired.

The Great Baseball Road Trip of 2009: Day Three – June 27 – Baltimore to Pittsburgh to Harrisburg

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a joke as a baseball team and an organization (and that hurts to say, seeing as Amherst, New Hampshire’s own Neal Huntington is the general manager), but this must be said: I could see a game in every ballpark, major and minor, in the world and I’m not sure I would ever find another one as beautiful as Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. From the exterior view (where you’re driving down the street, come to a traffic light at the foot of the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and BOOM, ballpark at ten o’clock) to the interior view (with multiple gold-colored bridges rising up in the background), it’s just a fantastic place to enjoy visually.

pittsburgh bridges

My biggest regret about our road trip is that we didn’t get into Pittsburgh early enough to see any of the sights around the city. I would have liked to see where Three Rivers Stadium used to be, or visit Carnegie Mellon University (where the home plate from Forbes Field still resides). It was a hit-and-run visit, however; we left Baltimore around eleven, got to Pittsburgh just in time to check out the ballpark and see the game, and burned rubber for our hotel outside Harrisburg right after the game.

roberto clemente statueWe parked near the ballpark and walked over, crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which was closed to automobile traffic. There’s something strange about walking down the middle of the street in broad daylight. I kept waiting for a car horn to sound behind me and obscenities to be sent in my direction. When we made it to the other side, we were greeted by an awesome sight: a huge statue of Roberto Clemente as he was completing his swing and preparing to run to first. Milestones from his life and career were engraved into the base; a miniature baseball diamond was set up around his feet, with each “base” housing a sample of earth from someplace close to Clemente: his birthplace of Carolina, Puerto Rico and his two major league homes with the Pirates, Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium.

Before entering the ballpark, we separated for the first time on the colon warming uptrip. Billy, an avid outdoorsman, wanted to kayak down the mighty Alleghany River, so he broke off for an hour or so and went off on his own little adventure (he went as far as Heinz Field) while we went inside to watch batting practice. The first thing I noticed was that when you walk inside, the bullpens are RIGHT THERE. I hope Roman Colon likes an audience while he’s getting his work in, because he certainly had a sizeable one. We then ventured into the left-center field bleachers, which was being peppered with batting practice homeruns. Chris looked like he could’ve stayed there all day, but unfortunately we were in direct sunlight and I could feel myself baking, so I suggested we walk around and check out the rest of the place.

Some team employees were running a game under the bleachers where you spun a wheel and won some sort of prize. Chris and I signed up. He went first and won a hat that we had to walk clear across to the other side of the ballpark to retrieve. I followed and won a coupon for two free tickets to a Sunday-Thursday game of my choosing. My first thought was to give it away as a prize to one of our loyal Bus Leagues readers, but it will probably turn into a nice Labor Day road trip for my wife and I. Don’t worry, I gots other stuff for you people. We’ll get to that some other time.

After we walked to the other side of the ballpark for Chris’s hat, Billy caught up with us and we just soaked in the beauty of the place for a few minutes. Someone suggested moving closer to the field to take some pictures – batting practice was still going on – so we walked the main concourse until we were parallel to the dugouts and made our move.

Billy went down the steps first. For some reason, Chris and Tim were lagging behind. As I approached the steps, an usher popped out of nowhere and gruffly asked, “Something I can help you with?”

My first thought was, “Oh, no, not again.” What I actually said was, “No, we’re just looking to head down closer to the field and take some pictures before the game.”

PNC viewWithout another word, the usher gave an “Alright then son, go get ‘em” smack on the arm and walked away. I started laughing and continued down the steps. Billy had seen the usher and I talking and waited for me – he joined my laughter and we came to a sort of wordless agreement that the staff here blew the other two places out of the water. When we got to the bottom, I asked another usher about the seating capacity. He told me it was 38,000+ and they were close to a sellout tonight, with the fireworks and all (fireworks! Nobody said anything about fireworks!). If there was one area of this trip where we got just plain unlucky (besides, you know, the whole tire blowout on Day One), it was that we somehow chose games that featured two of the biggest crowds Camden Yards and PNC Park will see this season.

Our seats, then, ended up being in the general admission area in the left field bleachers. Decent seats with reasonable potential for homerun balls, but since they were general admission we lost the opportunity to get up and move around, for fear of losing the seats we had. Still, a small price to pay for a decent view of a surprisingly decent game. It was also a throwback night, with the Pirates dressed in Homestead Grays uniforms and the visiting Royals in Kansas City Monarchs gear. It was fitting, as my comment to Chris before the game was, “You know, this would be an outstanding matchup…if the year was 1979.”

homestead grays unis

(You may have noticed that with the exception of the first game, we somehow chose to see four of the worst teams in major league baseball. I have no idea how this happened.)

The saving grace of this game was supposed to be Zack Greinke. I had read that the Royals were sending Kyle Davies down and going with a four-man rotation, which meant Greinke’s turn would come on our Saturday. On Friday, though, Billy checked and saw that the Royals starter was still TBA. Coupled with rumors I had read that Bruce Chen would be getting a call-up, that seemed like bad news. “I’ll bet they’re waiting until after the game to make a roster move,” I said at the time. I’m not right often. I was right that time. We got Bruce Chen.

In the first inning, Nyjer Morgan reached base. Chen threw over once with a pickoff move that didn’t seem all that impressive. Next thing we knew, he was throwing over again…and Morgan was racing toward second. He was out by a mile. Later in the game, the same thing happened – Morgan reached base, Chen threw over, Morgan was already off to the races and out by a mile. For whatever reason, as Chris said, he just wasn’t picking up the move.

In the fourth, Chris made a bold prediction: we still hadn’t seen a homerun in almost two and a half games – Delwyn “Don’t Call Me Delmon” Young (also known as Delwyn “I’ve Never Thrown A Bat At An Umpire” Young) was going deep. At this point, Delwyn Young had four career homeruns…so of course you know that no sooner were the words out of Chris’s mouth than Young jacked the fifth homer of his career to dead center. It was just that kind of weekend.

group pic with clemente

Yadda yadda yadda, the game ended, the fireworks show was awesome, we got a group shot in front of the Clemente statue, Chris took the wheel and got us out of Pittsburgh. Our plan was to drive to Harrisburg, crash for a few hours, and head up to Cooperstown in the morning. This time, I kept Chris awake with inane conversation and approximately 352 renditions of “Once, twice, three times – ahh, ahh, ahh, oh, the humanity!” And it was a good thing, too, because there is nothing to see on the highways that cut through western and central Pennsylvania. Nothing. There were a lot of tunnels, however, which served no better purpose than to completely mess up Chris’s mind.

(For the sake of comparison, here are the videos my brother took of the fireworks in Baltimore and the fireworks in Pittsburgh. I think the latter show was better, but that’s just my opinion.)

Things started to go wrong as we approached Harrisburg, or whatever suburb of Harrisburg our hotel was in. The exit that we were supposed to take wasn’t there, so Chris got off the highway and found a convenience store where I could ask for directions. The young lady who helped us out was quite drunk and wearing a dress that left little to the imagination, but she was very pleasant and her directions for the street we were looking for were perfect. Unfortunately, we didn’t exactly follow them and had to call the hotel for help. When we got to the hotel, we were informed that there was an error in the system: since we were arriving after midnight, the system had marked us as a no-show and released our room. We still HAD a room, but the night desk clerk was new and couldn’t figure out how to get us checked in without double charging.

Chris was ready to sleep in the car by the time everything got squared away. We headed up to the room that the clerk had put us in for the few hours we would be there, opened the door, and immediately noticed that it had not been cleaned. There was trash lying around, the bed was unmade, the lights were on. It looked like somebody was still staying there. I went back to the office, got another key (for the room next door), opened it up, inspected it, and reported back with what I deemed to be the most pertinent information: “Well, there’s no dead hookers in the bathtub.” Billy and Tim grabbed the beds, Chris and I found space on the floor, and we proceeded to sleep for approximately 150 minutes before hitting the road for beautiful Cooperstown, New York.

So ended Day Three.

Jamie McOwen Is A Machine; Hitting Streak At 43 Games

Jamie McOwen started tonight’s game against Visalia 0-for-2 before hammering a homerun to right field leading off the fifth inning. The roundtripper extended his hitting streak to 43 games, tying Brandon Watson for the longest streak since 1961.

One more game will tie him with Pete Rose for the tenth longest professional hitting streak all-time and the longest minor league streak since 1954. McOwen should beware, however, the dangers of the number 43: four streaks, including Watson’s 2007 mark and Howie Bedell’s 1961 run, ended at 43 games.

High Desert third baseman Alex Liddi homered the inning before McOwen, his twentieth of the year.