Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

Bus Leagues Road Trip: PNC Park, Part Deux

Just over two months after my first visit to western Pennsylvania with my brother Tim and two friends, I went back to the Keystone State, this time with my wife. Our anniversary was Friday, we both had a three-day weekend for Labor Day, and the free Pirates tickets I won in June were burning a hole in my pocket, so we each took a couple extra days off and planned a trip. She originally wanted to go to Amish country and see the sights, but I vetoed that plan as too expensive. So she opted for Plan B: two nights in Philadelphia, followed by a trip to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates.

Now, we try to keep it loose around here when it comes to the topics we cover. Generally, if something is even tangentially related to minor league baseball, it has a shot. But I’m pretty sure that there is no possible way to connect our time in the City of Brotherly Love, which was mostly spent touring historic sites, to the Bus Leagues. So I’m not going to bore you with those stories.

Okay, I’m not going to bore you much.

In fact, I’ll just do bullet points on some of the interesting stuff so we can get through this quickly and get to the Pirates stuff. I know that’s what you care about.

— We played it by ear in terms of a departure time and didn’t get on the road until about noon on Friday. Little did we realize at the time that our route, as planned by VZ Navigator, took us through the Bronx. We hit New York at about 4:30, just in time for bumper-to-bumper, Friday afternoon, rush hour traffic. Never again, I tell you. Never again.

— To get to our hotel in Philadelphia, we had to drive down a cobblestone road. My wife thought this was the coolest thing ever; all I could think of was the fact that parts were probably falling off the car from all the shaking.

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— I come from a small town of about 5,000 people and have never lived in a city with a population of more than 90,000. Let’s just say that Philadelphia (population 1.4 million, plus tourists) was just a bit overwhelming, even for a short stay.  Big city living is definitely not for me.

— We ate dinner at the Hard Rock Café on Saturday night and were served by a waiter who resembled, in spirit if not in looks, Vince from “Employee of the Month.” It’s like he watched the movie and decided, “You know, that dude has it together. I’m gonna act like that from now on.” I bet he drives an ’81 Honda.

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— If you go to Philly for the historic attractions, make sure to visit the National Constitution Center first, then move on to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. We did it the other way around, and while Independence Hall was amazing, the NCC was the place that really got me fired up with some good old-fashioned, “Proud to be an American” feelings. It would’ve been awesome to bring that patriotism into Independence Hall with me, rather than going in right off the street.

— I loved the interactive nature of the displays in the NCC, but two things rubbed me the wrong way: one, some of the information needed to be proofread: New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s first name was misspelled in one area, and another exhibit featured an apocryphal story about Muhammad Ali throwing his Olympic medal in the river after being denied service at a restaurant (pretty sure that story was made up at the time and has since been proven false); and two, no pictures allowed, which was too bad because there was an absolutely outstanding exhibit featuring statues of Declaration of Independence signers. (I did make my wife turn on the camera to snap the picture you see above; it was just too cool.)

— Didn’t get to see the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Second Bank of the United States (a pity, since it was right across the street from our hotel), or Citizens Bank Park. Maybe next time. I did, however, get pictures of the Rocky statue and the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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And that, friends, was Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania Pictures 174We left the Omni Hotel early on Sunday morning and proceeded west on I-76. The nice thing was that we were on 76 for 270 miles, which was good because I hate having to worry about changing roadways and which lane am I supposed to be in and that type of stuff. On the other hand, it sucked because we were on 76 for 270 miles. That’s almost five hours. And there were tunnels.

Pennsylvania Pictures 165(They have signs leading up to the tunnels to prepare travelers for entry. One of them said, “Remove Sunglasses,” which made sense to me because you don’t want drivers wearing shades inside a dark tunnel. My wife didn’t see it that way, instead taking it as a sign that the state of Pennsylvania was trying to impede here personal freedoms, which led to her yelling loudly at one point, “Stop telling me what to do, Pennsylvania!”)

We got to Pittsburgh at about noon, parked at our hotel right across the street from PNC Park, and walked over to take a look around before the 1:30 game. From reading up online, I realized that there were a bunch of things we had missed in June and I wanted to make sure I saw them on this trip. The highest priorities were the statues of Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner. We’d seen Roberto Clemente’s outside the centerfield gates, but had never crossed paths with Pops and Hans. Also, there was supposedly a statue of Ralph Kiner inside, just outside Section 135. This would have been really cool to see, if we could have found Section 135. Alas, Kiner was not meant to be.

What we did see as we came through the gate on the third base side was even Pennsylvania Pictures 208cooler.  We had been unable to find Stargell and Wagner right away, which was sort of disappointing.  Immediately inside the gate, however, was a statue of Josh Gibson.  Further investigation revealed more Negro League greats – Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Satchel Paige.  It was unexpected because nothing I had read had mentioned this area, but I wasn’t complaining.  Just one more thing that the people who designed PNC Park did right.

On our way up to our seats, we saw the famous prize wheel that was really the reason we were there in the first place.  My wife wanted to take her chances at winning a visor, so of course we waited in line to spin it again.  She didn’t get what she wanted – it landed on a Willie Stargell plate (with a sticker on it that says it may be poisonous to food).  For my turn, I gave it a whirl…and ended up on the square for free tickets.  There’s no way I’m traveling from Pittsburgh to New Hampshire three times in less than three months, so…somebody else will get to enjoy a Pirates game this month.  Two’s my limit.

Our seats for this game were in the infield grandstand, on the 300-level, which provided an even better view than I could have imagined:

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If someone wants me to believe that this is not the most beautiful ballpark in America, they’re going to have to convince me.  Outstanding.

Also outstanding was the way St. Louis centerfielder Colby Rasmus covered all that ground out there.  I know ballpark crowds aren’t the best judge of fly ball depth, but there were at least three or four times where a batter hit one deep, a roar went up from the crowd, and Rasmus just cruised back and handled the play effortlessly.  He also came very close to throwing a runner out at the plate, playing a line drive in front of him and uncorking a great throw that was just a second or two late.

Rasmus’s counterpart and fellow top prospect-turned-rookie Andrew McCutchen had a good day as well, finishing 2-5 with two runs scored and coming about as close as Rasmus to gunning someone down at home.  He was also one of the players featured in a video Q&A on the scoreboard in between innings.  The question was, “What would you do if you were president?”  A few different players gave the usual answers – “lower taxes” is the one I remember – but McCutchen got on the screen and started laughing.  “Oh, man,” he said,” Can I just sit back in the Oval Office, put my hands back, be like, man, president.”

I think Andrew McCutchen might be awesome.

Oh, and one of those runs?  The game-winner, scored when he came around from second on Garrett Jones’ drive into the left-center field gap with one out in the bottom of the ninth, a ball that Rasmus wasn’t able to outrun.  McCutchen crossed the plate with the Pirates’ second run of the inning, erasing a lead the Cardinals had gained on a Rick Ankiel homer in the top half, and immediately impressed me again when he led the charge to meet and celebrate Jones near second base.

I think Andrew McCutchen might be one of my favorite players.

The Pirates had lost eight straight leading up to that game and were merely postponing the loss that would give them a record seventeenth consecutive losing season, but for that moment, they might as well have been Little Leaguers celebrating after a big, well-earned win.  It was nice to see them display such heart in a game that meant relatively nothing in the grand scheme of things.

A few other notes from the game: Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass started throwing hats from the booth into the stands late in the game – a lady in the row behind me dove for one, missed, and I had to catch her; Neil Walker picked up his first major league hit in the eighth inning; my wife got a sunburn – on one side of her body; I’ve seen the Pirates play twice this year, and Paul Maholm has started both games.

On our way out, I took a few more pictures of the Negro League statues (it had been too sunny earlier to get good ones) before we went out the left field gate to see the Willie Stargell statue.  It was just as impressive as Clemente (which we saw from a distance but didn’t visit up close):

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I tried to get a picture of just the statue, but it was a madhouse.  Even while these kids were posing, a father was getting ready to jump in and take a picture with his daughter.  So, I get a picture of Pops with a couple of random kids.

After I took my pictures, we walked the hundred yards back to our hotel to relax for awhile before going out for dinner and finding the Wagner statue.  We decided to go to Jerome Bettis Grille 36, mainly because it was within easy walking distance.

We had to wait for about fifteen minutes for a table, but it was well worth it.  The waiter was friendly, the food delicious, and the atmosphere good.  As my wife said, “I like that it’s Jerome Bettis’ place, but it’s not like, ‘Look at me, look at me.’  It’s not showy.”  And it was inexpensive, too, which was a big deal because cash was running low by that point.  The only thing I noticed that might be worth criticizing was the service – a table of six people next to us had their food brought out over a period of about ten minutes, so some people were eating while others sat and watched.  Our waiter said that when it gets really busy, the kitchen can have a hard time keeping up.  Really, though, the food was so good that it didn’t matter.  I would’ve waited.

On our way back to the hotel, we asked a guy at a valet booth about the remains of Three Rivers Stadium.  He pointed back in the direction from which we had come, where Heinz Field loomed, and said, “Well, there’s that parking lot over there, and they left up one of the gates.”  He went on to tell us a little bit about the demolition – Heinz Field was built so close that they had to take special precautions when Three Rivers came down – and answered a question I had about Forbes Field (home plate is still located in one of the buildings on Pitt’s campus), and we were on our way again.

And then, finally, Honus Wagner.  He was literally parked right in front of the main entrance to the ballpark, smaller than the other two but higher because he is on a pedestal.  The picture came out a little darker than I would’ve liked, but tell me this doesn’t look cool:

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With that, the sightseeing portion of our trip essentially came to a close.  We went back to the hotel, passed out by 9:30, and slept for about nine hours in preparation for the ten hour drive home on Monday.  It was a long drive, fortunately light on traffic (we specifically avoided New York City and its traffic), and absolutely nothing of note happened.

The end.

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The Great Baseball Road Trip – Extra P in your seat.

I’m not going to rehash the story Brian has already told so well. I’m just going to add in the photos I took, along with some captions, since I was only there for the Baltimore portion of the trip.

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Camden as viewed from OMDQ’s seats. The seat I actually paid for would be right in front of the railing all the way to the left. This marks the first time I’ve ever been forcibly moved to a better seat in a ballpark in my life.

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Here’s OMDQ with two friends and his brother. I thoroughly enjoyed all of their company, but if I don’t write down a name or say it fifty times in my head, I forget it almost immediately. Including my own.

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Here’s the mean old usher who made us all move. In his defense, a near-sellout at Camden these days qualifies as a PRETTY BIG DAMN DEAL. Sadly, I suspect it was more for the post-game fireworks than for the team.

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Now, don’t think I wasn’t having any fun after I moved back down to my solitary seat. The people-watching was excellent from my vantage point on the causeway. This lady was like the female Homer Simpson, with her giant orange beer fist and chef’s cap.

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I still can’t really explain this one. The game was D.C. vs. Baltimore. Why were we graced with the presence of a squadron of boozed-up Phillies fans? Do they really need to lord their championship over other long-suffering fans like this?

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What is it about the Young Men’s Christian Association that sports fans love so much? These young ladies seem to believe that it might be fun to be there.

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The guy on the left was so drunk he looked like he had suffered a stroke. (I’m going to feel really bad if he had, but he DID maintain a death-grip on a succession of bottled beers throughout the game). The lady on the right thrilled me with her neck tattoo.

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This guy’s title confused me a bit. Is he in charge of alcohol *rules* compliance? Because god help him if he is. On the other hand, if he’s just in charge of getting people to comply with alcohol, he’s got the easiest job on earth.

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Brian did come down and chat with me after my row cleared out a bit (the massive scoring binge by the O’s in the 6th took care of that). One reason he was probably glad he didn’t sit near me the whole time: he only had to endure one of these dumbass self-portrait attempts.

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It just doesn’t get any better than this. Seriously.

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This was how the evening ended. Sort of a warmup act for Independence Day. A huge portion of the crowd stayed for this, but the traffic leaving the stadium still wasn’t too bad. Which I was extremely grateful for, since I had run my gas tank almost empty trying to get there in time for the first pitch. I asked a cop where the nearest gas station was and booked it over with a few drops to spare.

Yeah, I got home late. And yeah, I felt it the next day, but I don’t care. It was worth it.

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

Bus Leagues in Baltimore

I went to a major-league game in Baltimore this Sunday. Rangers at Orioles, with a few of our old Z-meter regulars playing, like Felix Pie and Elvis Andrus. But my real Bus Leagues surprise came when I took the advice of an usher and visited the Sports Museum that was recently built next to Camden Yards. I was wandering around in the rather gloomy basement display area and found this:

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This bus was actually a display showing the travel conditions of Maryland’s Negro Leagues players. I liked it – I thought it was an innovative use of the space they had, even though it was a sort of creepy cellar. The upstairs was given over to the old Baltimore Colts and the Orioles. Everything else was downstairs.

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I was amused by the caption on this poster. “Why the Minor Leagues?” A question OMDQ and I ask ourselves every day. Kidding! We love the Bus Leagues. Pictured here are uniforms from Maryland’s entries into the minor league system: the Aberdeen IronBirds (Short Season NY-Penn League), Bowie Baysox (AA Eastern League), Frederick Keys (A+ Carolina League), Delmarva Shorebirds (A South Atlantic League), and Hagerstown Suns (A South Atlantic League). The Suns belong to the Nats organization. The rest are all variations on the Orioles.

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Just kind of a cool map. It shows all of the minor-league teams to call Maryland home, even ones that are now defunct. That hole where they listed the teams is actually where Delaware belongs!

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Another perspective on starting out small and making it to the bigs.

At first, I thought it kind of sucked that all of these great items were stuck in the basement. Then I saw this:

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Dude wins a kajillion Olympic gold medals and all he gets is a crummy alcove and a bare lightbulb.

So, it was kind of cool to see this stuff when I only thought I’d be seeing a MLB game. Still, not sure it was worth ten bucks. But how would I know unless I tried?

Potomac Nationals at Lynchburg Hillcats – 4/10/2009

My son was on spring break last week, so it was a perfect time for us to take in our first game of the season. Since the Braves flew the coop in Richmond, Lynchburg is the nearest minor-league town to ours, and we go there often. This time out, I was excited to see the Pirates’ top new prospect, former Vanderbilt star Pedro Alvarez.

Alvarez went 0-5, but knocked in a couple of RBIs. The Hillcats beat the Potomac Nationals 14-7 to start their season undefeated. Here’s what it looked like from where I was sitting.

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Jester-dude who made balloon animals/hats/stuff. My son was very skeptical of his schtick.

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Jack with the innovative new Lynchburg Hillcats foam claw. He’ll never go back to the plain old foam finger now.

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This young lady was the hottest concessions worker I’ve ever seen, but she messed up my order bad. That’ll teach me – always buy snacks from the old guy who’s been there a thousand years.

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Fans are always welcome to chat or nab a signature. We sat along the third base line, right next to the home dugout.

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National Anthem time. Even on cloudy days, like this one, the sun always seems to come out at this moment.

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Alvarez at third. He made a couple of fielding errors, but he’s a rook, so we’ll forgive him.

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Alvarez at the plate. He’s not the most patient hitter I’ve ever seen, but then again, it was his second pro game ever.

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I bought a funnel cake at this stand. I hadn’t had one since my grandparents took me to Silver Dollar City when I was a kid. I figured, if it’s good enough for the cop, it’s good enough for me. Of course, I ended up with powdered sugar all over my clothes when the chilly wind kicked up.

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With our apologies to Dippin’ Dots, Jack and I happen to believe that the simple sno-kone is the ice cream of the past, present, and future.

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Southpaw dancing on the dugout. We got a new appreciation for the dangers of mascotting when he slipped in a rain puddle and went down. But he was a trooper, and he finished his set.

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As night fell, it got colder, though the temperature never fell below 65 degrees. The wind was pretty cutting, though, so I bought jack a Hillcats-model blanket to cover up with. For those of you about to call social services, his lips were blue from the sno-kone, not the temperatures.

That’s our first trip. Very soon, I hope to make it to Salem, VA, where they’ve recently become affiliated with the Red Sox. They’ve stashed some great prospects there, including Ryan Kalish and Che-Hsuan Lin, and I want to get there before one of them is called up.

Peter Gammons: Bringin’ The Awesome

This is the picture of Peter Gammons that Eric referenced in his post on our visit to the Hall of Fame, the picture that will stand for all eternity to commemorate Gammons’ entry into the writers wing of that hallowed institution.  The photo Eric took didn’t come out so well; fortunately, the Hall’s Web site came through in the clutch.

Bring it back, Peter. Bring that awesome ‘stache back.

Hall Monitors, Volume 1

OK, I’ve been back from the trip to Cooperstown for a couple of days now, but this is the first time the house has been quiet and empty, so now is the time to share the photos and stories.

As mentioned in a previous piece, Brian (OMDQ) and I (Extra P) had a long-standing plan to meet at the Hall of Fame at the end of this baseball season. We managed to make that a reality last Friday. As an added bonus, Brian, a former Hall intern, had arranged a tour of the Giamatti Research Center, where all of baseball’s important documents are stored.

The Hall opens at 9am, and we were to meet Brian’s former supervisor at 10, so we took advantage of the quiet morning hour to look at the plaque gallery. First, however, we posed with our hero Buck O’Neil, whose statue is one of the first things one sees upon entering the Hall hall.


Eric, Buck, Brian, and Joey

For the first hour we were there, I was under the misapprehension that I should not use my flash, based on the hardline stance taken by all of the historical sites in my area of central Virginia. This resulted in some of these darkish photos I’ll be sharing. Fortunately, Brian cleared that up for me later.

First, we walked through the exhibit on “The Art of Baseball”, meaning paintings, statues, etc. that depict the game.


The steely (bronzy?) gaze of Christy Matthewson


Cool Papa Bell started the pink hat trend. Who knew?


Casey Stengel. Rumors that his likeness will be used in the upcoming film of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit are greatly exaggerated.


This exhibit puzzled me. Perhaps it’s a piece of pop art dedicated to reliable relief pitchers?


Cool Papa with the pink cap, and Honus Wagner with the popped collar? These guys aren’t going into the fashion hall of fame, I can tell you that much.


The plaque gallery, with tons of beautiful morning sunlight streaming in.


George Brett. This is as good as it gets for a guy who grew up in the KC area in the late 80’s. Though I don’t remember him having such goofy-looking teeth. He looks like Han Solo frozen in carbonite.


I just loved the way the light was hitting this one. It looks like Waner is ready to open his mouth and say something.


Brian and I derived great amusement from the fact that Harry Caray went into the Hall shirtless and bellowing. Sadly, my photo of Peter Gammons’ epic 70s moustache didn’t come out so well.

That’s enough photos for one post. Check back for the second half in a day or two.