Archive for the ‘Ballparks’ Category

The Great Baseball Road Trip of 2009: Day One – June 25 – New York to Baltimore

Thirteen years of driving experience has taught me that it is never a good thing if you can look at your tire and see exposed steel.

The good news? It wasn’t my tire. The bad news? It happened in the middle of New Jersey, within shouting distance of Pennsylvania, and for a few awful minutes I thought the vacation I had been planning with my friends for months was over, almost before it had started.

Let’s start from the very beginning. That’s a very good place to start. The date was Thursday, June 25. My brother Tim and two of my friends, Chris and Billy, had left at 4:30 AM on an epic road trip that would take us through nine states, three major league ballparks, two sketchy hotels, countless highway rest stops, and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

citifieldBy eleven, we had arrived at our first destination – New York City, the borough of Queens – and parked in a lot less than a ten-minute walk from New Shea. We took pictures of the planes taking off from LaGuardia, donned our non-Mets gear (Sox hat for Billy, Sox visor for Tim, Notre Dame hat for Chris, and Natinals hat for me), and hoofed it over to the glistening, shiny new stadium. As it came into view, I realized that I had never really seen anything like this. Remember the scene in Gladiator where Russell Crowe and the rest of the small-town gladiators went to Rome and saw the Colosseum for the first time? “I didn’t know men could build such things,” Djimon Hounsou says. Before Thursday, I had only seen Fenway Park and Veterans Stadium; as soon as Citi Field came into view, overwhelming in its hugeness and beauty and modernity, I understood the feeling that Hounsou’s character was trying to convey.

Inside, we stopped off at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda to have our picture taken as a group. If I ever return to Citi Field, one reason will be to revisit this area and view it in greater detail. The interior of the stadium was so overwhelming at first that all I remember is the big number 42 that served as a backdrop for everyone’s photos; I know there was much more to it.

After this first stop we headed up to our seats in Section 533. I had bought them off at StubHub with the intention of keeping costs down; as we kept climbing higher and higher into the sky, however, past the 200s and 300s and 400s, we noticed that Chris was starting to look a bit perturbed. It was then that the truth came out: he is afraid of heights. (He had made a comment about it when I told him I was thinking about buying tickets in the 500s; I thought he was joking.) As you can imagine, this posed a slight problem in a the upper reaches of the stadium, where the seats basically rose skyward on an almost vertical plane. I needed a rope and a Sherpa to make it all the way the top.

If nothing else, our obscenely high location allowed Chris to sneak in a few of the better one-liners of the day:

“I am literally at eye level with the New York skyline.”
“I know the foul pole is about thirty feet high. We’re at least twenty feet above it. That can’t be good.”
“You know you’re high up when birds refuse to fly above you.”

And my personal favorite:

“If popups never go higher than where you’re sitting, can you still call them pop “ups”?”

Section 533 was also where we met the young fan Chris later dubbed “the Mets Historian.” In his early 20s, clad in a Johan Santana jersey, a beer in the cup holder in front of him, he first made his presence felt when we returned from an early game sojourn around the lower levels, commenting on the fact that none of us were wearing Mets gear. We ignored him and his extremely quiet friend until the top of the fourth, when he voiced his displeasure over a leadoff walk to Chris Carpenter. Billy, sitting several seats away, piped up (in full instigator mode), “But it was a good walk.” The Mets Historian looked over at him and said, “Hey, I’m on my way to getting drunk, so you may not want to mess with me.” Since it was not our goal to engage in fisticuffs, especially at this ridiculous height where Chris would surely be less effective, we stopped talking.

A couple innings later, the Mets Historian looked back at me and said, “I’m calling a double play right now. He hits into a double play, you owe me a beer.” After the batter singled, he turned around again and said, “Hey, you win. I would’ve owed you a beer – but we didn’t shake on it!” Thanks for the tease, Mets fan. By the time the seventh inning stretch rolled around, he was chatting amicably with Chris and Billy about random stuff (Chris took to calling himself a “Baseball Gandhi” for his ability to bring Red Sox fans and Mets fans together in perfect harmony). Apparently, he knew his stuff (including the reason why they used to take the caps off of soda bottles before giving them to fans), which led to the nickname.

The Mets Historian eventually left and K-Rod entered the game with a 3-2 lead (I had never been in the ballpark when a marquee closer entered the game. His music caught me by surprise). He retired the first two batters before walking Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick. Yadier Molina came up, and I was sure that the stiff breeze that suddenly appeared, blowing out, was going to be a deciding factor in things. Molina couldn’t get the ball up high enough for it to make a difference, however, lining out to left to end things.

According to the box score there were 41,221 people in attendance that day, which made for an extremely enjoyable exit from the ballpark. We got out as fast as we could, getting back to the car just in time to sit and wait in traffic. Billy and I sat in the front, since we planned on switching off as soon as we were out of the city; I was going to drive the rest of the way to Baltimore. As we were sitting at the exit, waiting for the lot attendants to let us out, a car came flying up on our right, the driver yelling, “I’ve gotta get to work!” Fortunately, a third attendant was standing there, holding a red flag, an umbrella, and talking on her cell phone. Never before have I seen someone so clearly bad at her job. The guy in charge yelled at her, she fumbled everything around, and eventually managed to hold the flag out in front of us, prompting Billy to say, “Yeah, I know what I’m supposed to be doing.” Oh, and she was still talking on her phone. I kinda hope she got fired.

After awhile, we got back on the road. We hoped to make Baltimore by about eight and figure out what to do from there. It came down to catching a minor league game in Aberdeen, finding somewhere to watch the NBA Draft, or crashing at the hotel. The traffic in New York was pretty serious, but we eventually made it through and pulled into a rest stop to make the driving switch. Tim came up front while Billy went to the back to crash.

He was nervous about me taking the wheel, since nobody else had driven to that point. As I was backing out of the space, a car horn sounded, prompting him to shoot up in the back seat and shout, “Brian, what are you doing!” I assured him that nobody was honking at me, I was an experienced driver, and that everything was going to be fine.

We got back on the highway and everything was going great. I enjoy highway driving and told Tim that I could probably go for hours on this type of road. Everyone was relaxed.

All of a sudden, I heard a noise and the car started shaking. It sounded like we were driving over rumble strips, which would have been totally fine, except I was in the middle lane. Tim immediately yelled at me not to use the brakes (I was starting to slow and making sure to keep the wheel straight; there was nobody around us, which helped) and directed me to the right side of the road. Luckily, we found a grassy spot just past the guardrail. I eased off the highway and we got out to inspect the damage. You guessed it: tire shredded, steel exposed. Prognosis? Negative. (I wish I had a picture of it. Why didn’t I take a picture? Oh, right, because I was two seconds away from throwing a massive temper tantrum on the side of the Jersey Turnpike.)

I tried calling AAA to get some assistance, since we were, you know, stranded on the side of a major highway. It was hard to get through to them, partly because I was pretty angry with myself for causing this (even though it quickly became apparent that I hadn’t hit anything; the tire had just succumbed to the pressure of several hours of stop-and-go city traffic and highway travel) and partly because I wasn’t sure exactly where we were – I hadn’t noticed the number of the last exit we passed and the one sign we could see was just far enough away that we couldn’t be sure what it said. Eventually, we figured out that we were on the New Jersey Turnpike, which was bad news: AAA couldn’t help us because they weren’t allowed to service that stretch of road. While I was struggling to find all this out, Tim went ahead and called the police, who sent someone from the Department of Transportation to help us out.

Our Savior arrived in a yellow van with a flashing bar light on top. The spare was usable, but we couldn’t get far on it. We were still too far from Baltimore for that to be an option, and all the stores we tried calling were closed for the day. It was looking pretty dire when the Savior said, “You know, we may have a tire back at the shop.” One phone call later – “Yep, we do have one” – and he was on his way to get our new tire, with Chris as collateral. While we were waiting, Billy shocked the hell out of me when he looked at me and said, “So, are you still good to drive?” I figured I’d be tied to the luggage rack after what had happened. When they returned about 45 minutes later and put the tire on, however, I gladly took the keys and we got on the road again after a nice two-hour interlude.

It would be so nice if the story ended right there, with us overcoming this hiccup and charging into Baltimore two hours later as conquering heroes. (That’s not even foreshadowing. That’s just me telling you what’s up.) It was almost nine o’clock by this point, which put us in Baltimore around 11:30. With all the highway driving we had to do, I figured we could probably cut off a little of that time and get us there by eleven o’clock at the earliest.

Throughout much of trip, I kept a mental list of people I wanted to call on Monday morning and yell at. AAA made the list, as did the New Jersey DOT. There were others, I’m sure. Within a couple hours, the highway departments for both Delaware and Maryland had made it as well. Why? Because both states somehow thought it would be a good idea to take four lane roads – one of them a bridge – and close down all but one lane for “construction”. Making it even better was the fact that it didn’t look like there was any actual construction taking place – we eventually decided that Delaware was sick of being picked on by all the other states and chose to fight back by setting up cones to create a “construction zone”. Whatever the reason, we were stuck there for an hour.

The Maryland traffic was even worse because we had stopped in between and Billy had offered to pick up dinner for everyone, but we figured we’d grab something in Baltimore and turned him down. An hour later, we were sitting motionless in traffic, wondering how, exactly, we got to this point. (Some of my time was spent on such introspection; the rest was devoted to the car in front of us, which had a rack with three bikes on the back. I knew we could peddle out of there faster than we could drive, it was just a matter of who would be left behind.) Fortunately, Chris and his encyclopedic knowledge of useless stuff was in the passenger seat, in charge of keeping me awake (the only time I had slept all day was a twenty-minute nap on the way to New York. By 12:30, I was seeing purple unicorns). Somehow we got on the topic of Seinfeld, and for literally hours he went through every episode he could think of. He had me laughing so hard that while falling asleep was no longer a concern, driving off the road in a fit of glee certainly was. On the bright side, for the next three days, we recited this scene approximately 3,215 times:

It never got old.

As you might have guessed, we made it to Baltimore – five hours late, but we made it. We found our hotel, checked into our rooms, and immediately crashed.

So ended Day One.

Interview: College World Series organizer Jack Diesing, Jr.

I went to the College World Series for a couple of days this year. I might have mentioned that before.

The resulting article is up on ESPN’s SportsTravel page right now. One of the people I spoke to in Omaha who contributed a lot to my understanding of the event’s history and my appreciation of where the CWS is and where it’s going was Jack Diesing, Jr., who heads up the non-profit organizing committee College World Series of Omaha, Inc. I used three quotes from him in the article, but really wanted Bus Leagues readers to see what else he had to say.

This is technically my father’s day post, because we talked a lot about how Jack Diesing, Sr. helped build the Series.

Extra P: The CWS has been at Rosenblatt for 60 years. In 2011, it will be in the new stadium downtown. How do you even begin to pack for a move like that?

jackdiesingjrJack Diesing, Jr.: Having been somewhere for 60 years doesn’t make the process easy, but the overall idea is to make it as seamless as possible. Especially for season ticket holders who have been the backbone of the event over that time. Change is difficult, but change is good. You get people prepared for it, then you do it slowly but surely. You celebrate the past and you look forward to the future, and that’s what we’ll be doing for the next couple of years.

EP: Are there any treasures from earlier series hanging around Rosenblatt?

JD: There are a lot of plaques immortalizing past winners of the Series, some for past Most Outstanding Players, certainly plenty of photographs. There’s the “Road to Omaha” statue, of course. And most of those will, in one fashion or another, be moved to the new stadium.

EP: Will there be an auction of some of Rosenblatt’s effects? Seats, fixtures, signs?

JD: There aren’t any official plans for that at this point. But there will be discussions with the city of Omaha, because they might want to do something with the seats, and potentially some other artifacts. Anything unique to the Series will move to the new stadium, because this is about the history of the event, and it is about the College World Series, and about the NCAA DI baseball championship. We want to carry that tradition on to the future of college baseball.

EP: What will you miss about Rosenblatt?

JD: That’s an intriguing question. Mostly, for me, I’ll miss reliving the memories of some of the great games that were played there. There have been a lot of last-minute heroics. A lot of people have been touched by the College World Series over the years, starting with my father, then Rod Dedeaux, coaches, players, the people of Omaha who’ve contributed so much. The underlying theme, for me, is that Rosenblatt Stadium, for 60 years, has been the foundation of the success of the CWS, and it’s leading us into the future at least for the next 26 years. That’s a memory in and of itself.

We’ve gone through four different additions to the stadium.

EP: Which proposed features of the new stadium are you most interested in?

JD: The new stadium is going to be very, very fan friendly. There will be a 360 degree concourse going around the stadium so people can enjoy getting up, walking around, buying food, and visiting with people while still having a view of the action, and also not blocking anybody else’s view. The seats are going to be wider, with more legroom. The sight lines will be better than they are now, even though I don’t think there’s a bad seat in Rosenblatt, but it’ll be that much better. I think the overall experience will be something that people really enjoy.

EP: Fans are very attached to Rosenblatt, but do you get the sense that participating teams are excited about the new facility?

JD: I think the overall sense from those who are involved is that building the future of the CWS, making it fan-friendly, and also a place that offers a first-rate experience for student-athletes is good. It’s about creating something that will last long into the future that satisfies those criteria. For the players and the coaches, it’s going to be a great field with a wonderful atmosphere. Batting cages, locker rooms, the field itself – It’ll all be state of the art. We’re creating something that will allow the Series to live on in Omaha far into the future, and giving everyone a lifetime experience. Fans will have a new place to come and enjoy the greatest show on dirt. It IS all about the event. History is great, but the idea is also to continue to take the CWS to the next level for everyone involved. And the vision we create here is going to do that.

EP: Omaha has had an unprecedented run as the sole host city for this event. Is Omaha just fertile ground for baseball lovers, or did the love of baseball grow stronger because the series was always there?

JD: We’ve had AAA baseball in Omaha for a long time. But I think as the Series stayed here, people here took ownership of the CWS. Residents have been able to see this event basically from birth and watch it grow, expand, and improve. At the same time, the festival atmosphere that was created has been pretty affordable. We have a two-week event that allows people to come in, see old friends and watch kids playing baseball for the love of the game, since most of them won’t be able to go pro. The local participation and volunteerism is great. But we also have people from all over the world who have formed love affairs with the CWS, and that’s what it’s really all about. It’s not just the college kids, either. There are a lot of junior baseball tournaments played in town around this time as well.

EP: It’s a pretty big part of the identity of Omaha at this point, isn’t it?

JD: We have a belief that the sports initiative is a very important ingredient in the success of Omaha in terms of economic impact and the image of the city – the quality of life. The track record of success that we’ve built over the years has provided a solid foundation for developing credibility when we look at expanding the sports initiative. It has big economic impact in the community, it has a national image-building capacity for the community, and it’s also helped us build a reputation around the country for knowing how to host amateur sporting events, and we are aggressively expanding our sports presence in the city.

EP: The MOP trophy is named after your father. How did your family come to be involved with the CWS?

JD: That’s an interesting story. Way back when they came here, they were looking for local business leaders to run the show. So they found a local guy who owned the largest retail store here, and he did it for a while.

Then he passed away in 1963, and they convinced my father – who at first said “No way, I don’t want to do this – to take on the role of being the organizer of the event. And he also became the creator of the local organizing committee – CWS of Omaha, Inc. – which is a totally volunteer operation. He had never played baseball in his life, didn’t really want to do it, but it’s like the story we talked about a minute ago – he fell in love with the event, and the people who come here every year, and was actively involved for 27 years overall.

EP: Are you already planning farewell events for next year’s final series in Rosenblatt?

JD: Yeah, we are, but we don’t have any specific plans yet. We want to make sure it’s a celebration that would be fitting for the home of the CWS for the last 60 years, and we want to celebrate what Rosenblatt has meant to college baseball, and the enjoyment of the event by fans and players. We’re not far down the road with a lot of specificity, but it’s on our to-do list.

EP: That’s going to be a tough ticket to get!

JD: Every year’s a tough ticket to get. But it’ll be even more fun next year.

EP: If someone is planning to make their first trip to the CWS, where would you suggest they go?

JD: The first thing people usually want to do is get their picture taken in front of the “Road to Omaha” statue. It’s become the icon of the DI men’s baseball championship. You can do that right out in front of the stadium.

If you get here the Friday before the event and go up, down, and around the stadium, you’ll find all kinds of things going on. There’s the NCAA fan fest hosted by the event’s corporate partners. There are various retail establishments up and down 13th street, and there’s a local eatery called Zesto’s which is a place most people don’t want to miss. You can go in there and get a banana shake or something.

The Doorly Zoo, we think is the best zoo in the country, and from an attendance standpoint, it’s #2 in the country, and it’s right there. About four blocks away is Lauritzen Gardens, which is a botanical park. The Old Market is the downtown development which is in the older buildings downtown, and our convention center and arena is there. The Space Museum has aviation displays, and it’s not too far from downtown.

There’s a lot of things within three miles of the stadium that keep people busy for the time they’re here, but the one thing a first-timer should do is buy a general admission ticket and sit in the bleachers. That’s probably the most fun place to be for a game.

We’re out of time to visit this year’s series, but there’s always next year, and the 25 years after that… Thanks to Mr. Diesing for chatting with me.

More Rosenblatt Memories

I went to the College World Series to write about Rosenblatt Stadium for ESPN.com. Even though you’ve seen my massive, hard-drive crushing photo display already, here’s the more polished words I wrote there:

A Year Long Swan Song

OK, self-promotion over. Off to work on the next Z-Meter.

Bus Leagues Road Trip: The 2009 College World Series, Part 1

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I’ll be honest here: I find it rather a daunting task to attempt to describe my whirlwind two-day visit to Omaha. Fortunately, I remembered that a picture is worth 1,000 words, so I’ll be letting my camera do the talking for part of this recap.
I have always wanted to go to Omaha for the Series, and stupidly did not do so when I lived a couple of hours away in NE Kansas. Fortunately, fate allowed me another chance, as my recent freelance association with ESPN.com’s Sports Travel page gave me an in.
I had already planned to travel to New York for Blogs With Balls 1.0, so I just added in a connecting flight to Kansas City, where I met up with my dad. He was hauling his travel trailer, so we’d have a cheap and portable place to stay while we were in Omaha.
We rolled in before the 1pm game. Since I had press credentials, my dad had no way to enter Rosenblatt with me. Being a marvelous and supportive father, he was quite happy to let me work while he explored the other sights in Omaha, of which there are many. His decision was invaluable, as I needed time to interview fans and officials and never made it to the nearby zoo. My dad did, and he gave me all the pertinent details. He also had the tough job of having to eat at the awesome diners around the stadium. Poor guy.
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I was pretty eager to get inside, as the 1:00 game between UNC and Arizona State was already underway. Rosenblatt, despite being built in 1947, has an excellent seating diagram. The diamond was completely visible from every vantage point I explored.
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I did some pre-interviews by phone before I arrived, and one of the event’s organizers highly recommended the bleacher experience for first-time visitors. It was packed in the outfield, with fans spilling out into the walkways. The vibe of happy rivalry was really enjoyable.
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I call the second photo here “Mona Lisa of Tempe”, because I clicked the shutter just as she began to smile. Gives her more of an air of mystery, no?

Coming Up: Rosenblatt, part 2

Let the Road Trip Begin – Part 1

meatbeach

OK, so it’s not really a road trip. I’ll be flying a lot, and I believe there are plans to go on a ferry as well. But the fact remains that I’m going on the road, which always means one of you might see me out and about in your town.

First of all, I’m flying up to Philadelphia to meet up with my basketball season partner, Marco. I’m going to laze around the museum and look at the Rocky statue on Friday. On Saturday, Marco and I will journey a bit farther northward to take part in Blogs with Balls, so if any of you bloggers are  planning to be there, look for the big guy with a black-and-white beard. I’m sure I’ll have a nametag of some sort, and it will say Eric Angevine.

The next day, I fly out of Philly to Kansas City, meet up with my dad, and drive a couple of hours northward to Omaha to catch a couple of days of the College World Series. I was already excited to see Rosenblatt Stadium and do a little reporting and picture taking, but then it turns out that my hometown Virginia Cavaliers will be there as well. Bonus. I’ll be there writing a story abou the demise of Rosenblatt for ESPN.com, so again, if you see me, you can surreptitiously check my nametag to make sure it’s me before you accost a stranger.

Since my story for ESPN’s travel section will only use a fraction of the information I gather on my field trip, Bus Leagues readers can look forward to full interviews and photos when I get back.

Also, I call this part 1, because later this month, OMDQ and I will be meeting in a city on the Atlantic seaboard to watch some baseball together. But that’s his road trip, and he’s going many other places during it, so I’ll let him tell you about it when he’s ready.

Hope to see some of you in Philly, NY, or Omaha!

MiLB is Renting Dodgertown

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Odds are, you’ve heard of Dodgertown. Maybe you’ve even been there. It’s the famous Florida spring training facility of the Los Angeles Dodgers; or, at least, it was. After 61 years of training in Dodgertown, The west-coast based franchise decided that traveling to Glendale, Arizona suited them much better than a cross-country voyage every year. They’ll keep the rights to the trademarked name when they move.

So what becomes of the original Dodgertown? Well, MiLB, which is headquartered in Florida, has stepped in to sign a five-year-lease to manage the facility. They’re currently negotiating with the Dodgers to retain the name in some fashion, possibly “Historic Dodgertown”. They’re going to continue multi-use applications for the facility, allowing the county to stage events there and generally trying to keep the facility up and running. The ultimate goal is to attract another spring training resident.

Here are some provisions of the deal:

Similar to the Dodgers agreement, the MiLB lease provides the county with 10 days a year to use the facility, in addition to the Harvest Festival, an annual fundraising event for St. Helen Catholic School.

The lease charges MiLB a token rent of $1 a year and allows it to keep the proceeds from ticket and concession sales. But that’s no giveaway, County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said.

“They get all the revenue, but they also get all the expenses,” he said.

Also:

• MiLB will have restricted access to a $2 million capital reserve account for improvements to the facility.

• MiLB will include Vero Beach and the county in its advertising of sporting events and receive at least $50,000 annually from tourist tax revenue for this.

• Field lights will be added to two existing playing fields this year and two additional playing fields in 2010. Vero Beach will provide up to $126,000 in tourist tax or local optional sales tax money toward the project

[TCPalm.com]

Sounds like a pretty sensible arrangement for everyone involved. As often as we see historic structures torn down, this should be a perfect interim arrangement until Dodgertown can find its ultimate future use, either as a history theme park, a home for a new team, or both.

Never Been to Rosenblatt? Act Quickly.

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I have a friend from my college days in Kansas named Dave. He and I have been friends for about 20 years, and the basis of our relationship has gone through many phases. In college, enormous gin and tonics served in 32-oz. Big Gulp cups were the start of our bond. Later, food ruled the day, as we experimented with various “food highs” brought on by the overconsumption of ribs, pizza, hot dogs, or whatever we could find lying around. More recently, we share stories about our kids and our more moderate habits are on display.

Throughout that entire time, there has been one enduring constant – baseball. One of our big dreams is to take a buddy trip to the College World Series in Omaha. We never did it while we lived in the midwest and it would have been easy, so now we will have to work a little harder, as Dave would have to come from Denver, and I would have to travel from Virginia.

rosenblatt_statueBut the dream is still there, and the timetable is a bit accelerated now. Seems the Omaha Royals are building a new downtown stadium (who isn’t?) and the mayor of Omaha isn’t willing to keep venerable Rosenblatt stadium around just for the Series. Which makes sense – keeping something that big around for an event that happens one month out of the year is not economically sensible. But many, many people will miss the friendly confines of Rosenblatt.

So if, like Dave and I, you’ve always dreamed of taking in the CWS in its original glory, make your travel plans right now. I’m sure the new place will be nice, but Rosenblatt was built in 1948 and has a ton of history behind it. This is one of those things you don’t want to regret having never done.