From Poutine to Les Expos

O, Canada! I am so ready to stand on guard for thee. You’ve won me over, with your rolling hills, your Euro-style, your wide vistas, your old buildings, your two-dollar coins, and, yes–I mean oui–even your French.

Le Stade Olimpique, on the other hand. . . . Well, let’s just say if all baseball were played in such conditions, Jim and I might be on a trip to see 11 team handball games instead. Oh, it’s not as bad as it could be. Some good points: The Metro lets you off right under the stadium. Tickets from un homme out front were 10$, or about $.65 U.S. The seat location printed on those tickets was more a suggestion than a condition. The funny yellow seats that looked like they’d been recycled from Tomorrowland’s “Mission to Mars” were actually pretty comfortable. The poutine—which, because I do find myself on occasion eating meat gravy, at Thanksgiving, say, I decided I couldn’t quite bear to pass up—was as advertised. Youppi was slightly less annoying than your average mascot. When an Expo homered, the scoreboard flashed, “CIRCUIT!”

But there were, without a doubt, bad points. The main–all-encompassing, really–bad point was that we were watching baseball indoors. It’s just wrong and deeply unsatisfying to walk out of a pleasant, 25-degree night into an enclosed concrete bowl with a puffy roof. The turf–though more grasslike than the bright green nightmare that serves as the field at Skydome–is still far closer to carpet on the carpet/grass continuum. The outfield walls, though decorated with the retired numbers of Expo greats (Quick quiz: name three. Okay, time’s up. If you said three of Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Rusty Staub, Tim Raines, or–and this one isn’t really fair–Jackie Robinson, you win!), is still a tall, stadium-blue vinyl cushion thing. And the foul poles, like at Skydome, aren’t poles at all, just two-foot-wide netting painted yellow and strong from the top of the wall to the upper deck–although Stade Olimpique gets bonus points for continuing the foul poles with dotted lines painted across the appropriate part of the façade to the ceiling.

Jim and I were both pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd. The Dodgers were in town, and quite a few of those in attendance were wearing the blue, but the majority of attendees seemed to be Expos fans. The announced attendance of nearly 8,000 didn’t even seem all that inflated. Jim and I decided just before the first pitch that, being in Montreal, we would allow location to supersede Jim’s regional loyalties, so we cheered for Les Expos. As the team took the field, I learned that Expos third baseman Tony Batista (Who, you may remember from his days in Baltimore, has the silliest batting stance in baseball, sillier even than Craig Counsell. Really. Try it out yourself. Look in the mirror. Imagine the mirror is a pitcher. Take the stance that normal hitter would take, and you’ll see that your outside shoulder is faced towards the pitcher. Now, imagine you’re Tony Batista. Say “Hola, soy Tony Batista.” Take your left foot, the one closest to the pitcher, and step out of the box with it. You’ll notice that you’re now facing the pitcher. Take the bat off your shoulder and hold it with both hands directly in front of you, pointed up, like Ben Kenobi awaiting Darth Vader. Wait for your pitch.) runs out to his position at top speed just like Sammy Sosa. Only, as Batista is an infielder, he has to get moving and get stopped much more quickly. But the crowd loves it nonetheless.

The game itself was a good one for Expos fans–from the third pitch to Brad Wilkerson leading off the bottom of the first, Jose Lima had definitely set his watch to Lima Time. Only, he’d set it to Lima time circa 1999, when his propensity for the “balle de circuit!” forced him out of baseball. He threw “un balle de adios, mon ami” to Wilkerson, and later he served up “un balle de tristesse toujours san fin” to the aforementioned Tony Batista a few innings later. (Remember how silly you looked just now in the mirror? I don’t understand how it works, either.) Miixing it up a bit, Lima tossed the next batter, Juan Rivera, a “balle de Mercy!, merci.” In the sixth, Termel Sledge, who’s only mentioned here because of his great name, singled and scored when Lima threw his last pitch of the ballgame, “un balle de circuit de troix puntos.” The 6-3 lead that gave Les Expos would hold up, making the teams Jim and I are rooting for 5-0 on the trip. That in itself is almost worth our not getting to see Eric Gagne pitch in his homeland.

One last incident from the game deserves mention, and it involves the twice-mentioned Tony Batista. In the 7th, Batista dodged a wild pitch–“un mauvais balle”–that nearly hit his ankles. The next pitch was a fastball that hit him in the helmet. He went down, knocked out. The Dodgers pitcher was instantly ejected, unfairly, in my view, and the trainer and players gathered around Batista. It was scary, but within a minute or so, he was moving around. Then, within seconds of having been out cold, Batista pushed himself to his feet, turned and waved both hands at the cheering crowd, and, shrugging off assistance, sprinted to first. Though I expected him to be replaced in the game for precautionary reasons, he stayed in, and three pitches later, he stole second on the back end of a double steal. Surely he’s a fan favorite in Montreal.

Now we’re rolling up and down the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, on our way to Boston. When I turned the computer on, I misread the wireless network symbol and thought for a second that perhaps all of Vermont was an open wireless network. Sadly, no.

The examination at the border crossing back into the U.S. was a bit more strenuous than the one we endured to enter Canada (Here is the entry one in its entirety, as a one-act play: Customs guy (bored almost to the point of rudeness: You bringing anything in? Me: Nope. Fin.). The lady looked in our trunk, asked how we knew each other–explaining CRC set us behind schedule about two hours—and asked twice if we were bringing anything in. Later, we took a pleasant ferry ride across lovely Lake Champlain, and, minutes after I had expressed to Jim my general distaste for giant Recreational Vehicles like the pink one adjacent to us on the ferry, which was towing an SUV behind it–and seconds after I expressed my fears that it would smash our car attempting to drive off the ferry–said RV, in driving off the ferry, banged its long-ass back end into our right rear panel. Fortunately for us, only the trailer carrying the SUV suffered damage, a smashed taillight. Our Chevy Impala, apparently “increveable,” was unmarked. A ways down the road, as we passed the RV, I was able to shake my fist. I doubt the driver saw me, though, from his perch forty feet above the roadway.

On to Boston. Johnny Damon, we come for thee!

Original comments…

Jim’s mom: Mom says hi. Drive carefully and eat your vegetables.

Toby: Levi, If you didn’t get a picture of Lima’s wife, don’t bother coming back! Are you trying to say the tickets were 65 cents or is there a typo somewhere?

thatbob: That’s just Levi trying to make some of his patented “exchange rate” humor. It probably would have made a little more sense about 4 years ago, you know, before the US dollar went all to hell.

Eric Ritter: Poutine… mmmmm.

stacey: so what exactly is poutine?

Dan: When I went to Olympic Stadium in 1989, I thought it was a tremendous dump. Although I bet it was a terrific place to see the opening ceremonies of the ’76 Games.

sandor: Poutine is something like fries swimming in meat gravy. It’s much grosser than a pretty name like “poutine” would lead you to believe.

I’m curious to know if either Canadian ballpark served donairs. During our recent trip to Canadia, we were confused as all get-out to see them advertised at the same level and intesity as hamburgers and hot dogs, not having ever heard the term before. Turns out a donair is pretty much the exact same thing as a gyros. I guess they hate Greeks in Canadia, and needed to come up with something sufficiently anglo as a replacement.

stacey: It’s now 3:16 here in Chicago. I’ve just turned off WPRB after enjoying the radio show . . . but I’m surprised there’s not a new post yet. Isn’t Maura a wireless zone?

stacey: sorry to keep posting about the future and the past . . . but this reminded me of the bunny at the swing of the quad cities game:

Jason: The big question is: Did Jim eat any poutine?

Eric Ritter: Poutine is the national food of the part of Quebec that doesn’t object to it being the national food.

I loooove Poutine. But I understand the point of view of people who don’t want it to be the national food. It’s extremely yummy (to me, an avowed fan of fatty foods), but doesn’t achieve the culinary brilliance of certain other proletarian fatty foods, such as Southern fried chicken (of which I am the grandmaster, by the way. And which is much less fatty than you think.) A francophone nation can do better.


A Change of Sox

Toronto feels far more like London that I would have expected. When I was here two years ago for a conference, I didn’t notice that because I didn’t get out of the immediate downtown area much. We made it into town early enough yesterday, though, for me and Jim to wander around a bit through what seemed to be kind of the Belmont area of Toronto. The businesses all keep their doors open, like in London, and the crowd–young, stylish, multi-ethnic–feels much more international than a similar crowd in, say, Chicago, would. The weather was beautiful, as it was on my previous trip, leading me to suspect that perhaps the weather is always great in Canada, but is painted otherwise by Canadians in order to keep Yankee fans from retiring there en masse. When I went for a short run this morning, I noticed another similarity to London: it’s hard to run on the sidewalks in Toronto because there are too many pedestrians. I guess it was good practice for the slow-runner-dodging required in the marathon–although this was like the marathon would be if, say, everybody but me decided to walk the race, except for a couple of people on bicycles.

But on to the game: Red Sox Nation descended on Skydome in force last night. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised–the combination of Fenway’s astronomical prices and limited seating must make an eight-hour drive to Toronto seem reasonable. So when Jim and I reached the ballpark, delivered by the TTC subway, there were a couple thousand Sox fans waiting outside the gates. Various psychologists and counselors were making a fortune wandering the line and taking appointments from long-suffering Sox fans. Every once in a while, a Blue Jays fan would wander by, seeming out of place. The atmosphere wasn’t quite as overwhelmingly Sox-positive as the pro-Cubs crowd at Milwaukee creates, but I have no doubt the audience was more than half Sox fans.

From the outside, Skydome looks less like a ballpark than a convention center or hotel or parking garage, its utterly nondescript concrete exterior looking out of place topped by the retractable roof, which was rolled back for the game last night. Inside, the décor—concrete, neon, pastel railings, futuristic logos on the food stands–reminded us a bit of EPCOT Center, which I posit is the most-quickly out-of-date design in the history of the universe. The only way Skydome could have seemed more mid-80s would have been if the ushers had been decked out in Members Only windbreakers.

Our seats, way down the right-field line, 21 rows up, are seats that are pushed back out of service when Toronto’s Argonauts play arena football, which I hear resembles hockey or curling or something. Remembering the worshipful articles about the glories of Skydome that appeared in every U.S. newspaper when the Jays were good in the early 90s, I went in search of interesting vegetarian food, and I found some. There was sushi stand, advertising sushi “Made while you wait.” In Canada, “Made while you wait,” must mean, “Taken from a stack of containers of pre-made vegetarian sushi while you wait.” It wasn’t the best sushi I’ve ever had, but it was, hands-down, the best sushi I’ve ever had at a ballpark. I followed it up with a vegetarian burger, which, like most of its ilk, was predictably bland. Jim had pizza and a bag of popcorn so large that the usher made him go buy it a ticket.

From the start of the game, the Sox fans dominated the proceedings with their cheering. Even the many children seemed to pay attention to the game. Tim Wakefield threw his “balle de papillon” past several Blue Jays early on, although one pitch which failed to knuckle—making it a 120-kilometre-per-hour fastball—was deposited by Orlando Hudson in the right-field seats. But an inning later, Doug Mirabelli knocked a “balle de c’est la vie” from Miguel Batista into the second deck in left to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead. Chants of “Let’s go Red Sox!” swept the park. The game remained close, with Tim Wakefield, hoping to keep the crowd in the game, managed to load the bases with no one out in the 6th, forcing a reliever, former Blue Jay Mike Timlin–who wears a camouflage t-shirt under his jersey–to strike out the next two Blue Jays and get a groundout to preserve the lead.

When the seventh-inning stretch rolled around, the mostly-annoying P.A. announcer—who seemed to take his vocal stylings and enthusiasm from former “Double Dare” host Marc Summers—shouted to the assembled, “It’s seventh-inning stretch time, and you all know what that means!” Fool that I am, I thought I did. Instead of one of the two acceptable songs for this moment (I allow “Roll out the Barrel”), the Jays began playing some hideous song that mixed loud guitars and processed drums and banal lyrics about the Jays, the Skydome, the baseball, and how we’re all going to enjoy a day at the ballgame. It even referred to “the umpire’s call” as an element we might have been looking forward to, which I suppose we might, in the same sense in which we might look forward to hearing that our cancer is benign. It was a nasty little song–but I was given pause when I looked around and saw that the audience was kind of into it. They were making some kind of lazy gestures that were being encouraged by the Jays’ cheerleaders (yes, that’s another abomination that we won’t discuss) atop the dugouts. Maybe I was wrong? Maybe this was a good song, beloved by Jays fans? But then I remembered that half the audience were Red Sox fans, and we all know that Red Sox fans prefer pain and suffering to pleasure and happiness. They probably play the long version of “Feels So Good” at Fenway in the seventh. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was played following “Sucky Jays Baseball Song” so I guess no permanent harm was done. But the whole thing did nothing to lessen my feeling of being stuck back in the 1988-1991 period, a dark era if ever there was one.
The game was the longest we’ve seen on the trip so far, but it stayed close–5-4 Sox–to the end, so we didn’t mind. And, unlike the Sox fans who left–rushing back to their hotels to catch the latest medal count update?–in the 8th, we didn’t have anywhere we needed to be. When Keith Foulke struck out Eric Hinske to deliver the W for the Sox, a rousing cheer went up from the Hub fans, and, for one night at least, all was well in Red Sox Nation—though the situation among the Sox fans still didn’t feel quite healthy. After all, midway through the game, apropos of nothing, a chant of “Yankees suck!” made the rounds. Obsession is an ugly thing, as are festering inferiority complexes.

Oh, and Johnny Damon? He played a solid centre field, though one ball went over his head. Walk, groundout, single (complete with a stolen base and an advancement to third on a throwing error), strikeout. Sadly for everyone involved, neither his helmet or his cap ever left his head. If I assume that that’s Bud Selig’s fault (Maybe Selig ordered Damon to get some toques that fit?), is that a sign that my Selig hatred is becoming unhealthy?

Oh, well, on to Montreal! Oui, Monsieur!

Original comments…

thatbob: I was going to say that Marc Summers might be Canadian, but a little research shows that he’s a Hoosier. Still, there’s no reason the announcer couldn’t have been Marc Summers. What else is he doing?

Speaking of parallel universe song choices, did you sing along with “O! Canada! before the game at the top of your lungs? That’s *my* favorite thing about Blue Jays games. You have no idea how loudly I can sing “O! Canada!” No idea.

stacey: 1. marc summers is hosting a show on the food network. it only occasionally involves slime.

2. the version of “o, canada!” i hear most often is the hidden track on the end of cub’s “mauler” – and the words go, “o, canada! what’s wrong with you?” this is problematic for singing along at the ballpark.

Tiger Town

This morning, we bageled up at the Stahl household, then left my parents–as well as two cats, the stinky dog, some fish, a hummingbird, and an owl that went “whoo-oo-oo” all night long–behind and hit the road bright and early, counting on Jim’s playlist of #1 hits to carry us through. And carry us through an uneventful morning they did. We dropped Stacey and Luke at the University Park Metra station a full ten minutes before their standing train was due to depart. They left us with good wishes and the remaining dozen Hostess Baseballs.

We passed through the Slough of Despond, or northern Indiana. We crossed into Michigan, where, like the welcome center in Florida that gives travelers free orange juice, they were giving out paper cups of motor oil. In Michigan, a pattern developed: road construction followed by light rain followed by heavy rain followed by traffic being slowed to a crawl by a wreck ahead. Like a driver’s ed class following a Troy McClure film, we took heed and drove with caution.

Yet we arrived in Detroit right on time. Jim took us into the city on Michigan Avenue, so that we would go by Tiger Stadium. The old ballpark looks a bit run down, but it’s still impressive–huge and boxy and white. A ticket booth remains right on the corner, but there are no tickets to be had.

Detroit itself, meanwhile, is as depressing and hard to believe as I imagined. Street after street is deserted, storefronts are boarded up, windows are broken. A few businesses here and there are hanging on–the Refrigerator King, a few liquor stores, a surprising number of antique-looking antique stores–but even the extant businesses appear to be holding on only by cutting costs to the bone, deferring even the most basic maintenance, from painting to repairing broken signs. (Side note: one thing that was odd for me, simply because Chicago’s truly poor neighborhoods are so segregated: the people on the street were about an even mix of white, black, and Latino.) Once we entered downtown, the picture went from sad to surreal, as abandoned storefronts were replaced by abandoned deco skyscrapers. Across from our hotel is a derelict twenty-story building with detailed stonework and statues of knights at about the tenth floor. And downtown seems to be like that just about everywhere; I saw a sign on a building that said, “Building available,” and I thought it was awfully optimistic.

The ballpark, on the other hand, is surprisingly pleasant. Sitting in the 18th row just on the first-base side of home, we were a bit spoiled. The upper deck–my usual haunt at a ballpark–does look like it might be all the way back in the Central Time Zone, so I can’t fully vouch for the ballpark, but it was a great place to watch a game from the high-roller area. The stadium is very open, with a view of downtown and a lot of sky, a silly fountain (The General Motors Fountain) beyond center field, and statues of Tiger Hall-of-Famers on the concourse in left. I was even able to get a reasonably good vegetarian pita with rice pudding for dinner, which saved me from the wrath of Little Caesar’s, the house pizza. Jim supped on a Kowalski kielbasa–and, as we learned later, “Kowalski means Ko-wality!”

Oh, and the game! I had decided beforehand that since the Sox are doomed, I was free to root, root, root for the home team. It was a good night for it, as Jeremy Bonderman, apparently leaving his 6.07 E.R.A. at home with the wife and kids, absolutely baffled the Sox. He threw mostly inside curves and slowwwwwwwww changeups. Then, when the hitters would start looking for the slowwwwwwwww changeup, he’d throw an even slower one. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen this many major league hitters look this foolish. Paul Konerko in the 9th was so far out in front of strike three that the ump nearly called it against the next batter. The Tigers, meanwhile, kept drawing walks after walk after walk off Jose Contreras, and the game wasn’t in doubt for long. Jeremy Bonderman struck out Joe Borchard for his personal-best 14th strikeout to end the game, and the Tigers won, 7-0.

Now I will wrap this up and get to bed. Jim’s somehow managed to get our TV stuck while he tried to order the Garfield movie.

Original comments…

Dan: Old Tiger Stadium was awesome. Just had to share.

Jason: ‘Slough of Despond’? I would be offended if it wasn’t true.

"If anyone asks, you’re two adults and two children."

First of all, yes, the trip is going as scheduled so far. Even though it’s going to say this was posted by Jim, this is actually a collaborative post, more or less, because for the first time both of us are sitting next to the same computer. This may be how we do things for the rest of the trip, or maybe not — we’ll have to see. We’re at Levi’s parents’ house in Carmi, Illinois, right now, using their computer, and we have to get up early to get on the road, but we wanted to get a little something down.

The car we ended up with from Hertz is a 2005 Chevrolet Impala. It has a CD player but no tape deck, so we’re using Vince’s iTrip, which is working okay so far. Everyone in the car seemed to enjoy Jim’s baseball song playlist and Luke’s baseball song-and-Red-Barber-recollection playlist. Now we’re working our way through Jim’s “Number Ones” playlist, which is every song he owns that hit #1 on the Billboard playlist. (Playing it was Levi’s request; Jim probably would have chosen something with more radio station jingles.)

On to the games. Saturday’s game at John O’Donnell Stadium in Davenport is the only minor-league game on the trip. That meant it was the only game at which we could walk up and get box seats and still get change from a $20 after buying two. We bought four, so we got change from a $40. We sat 10 rows up, right behind home, in front of a row of screaming children. (You know how you hear sometimes how great the laughter of children sounds? In reality, it’s shrill.)

Levi tried both vegetarian food options at the ballpark. Neither the nachos nor the fries were particularly distinguished.

The mascots, on the other hand, were almost the Famous Chicken level. The Swing’s actual mascot is a man in a monkey suit who, when he’s wearing the monkey suit, is known as Clyde. Clyde has a sidekick, a 4’10” man in a green-and-yellow superhero costume, complete with cape, named, of course, Banana Man. He runs around, occasionally stopping to stand heroically with arms akimbo, and occasionally stopping to throw bananas into the crowd. No explanation is offered.

The game itself was a brisk affair. The Swing center and right fielders should possibly have been players of the game due to the following incident late in the game with the Swing up by 1: with the tying run at first, a ball was hit to the wall in center. We couldn’t quite see if the Swing center fielder bobbled it or not, but whatever was going on out there, it eventually ended with the outfielders’ arms upraised in the universal symbol of “where the hell is the ball,” most commonly seen in the major leagues at Wrigley Field when a ball gets lost in the ivy. We, being cynical city folk, doubted their story, but the umpire bought it hook, line, and sinker, the hook being the tying run being sent back to third. You can guess what the line is — the go-ahead run being stuck at second. The sinker: a 1-0 Swing win.

Distracting everyone late in the game was a rabbit that had somehow wandered onto the field. First he was out in left field minding his own business, but somehow in all the commotion, he ended up in foul territory near home. He would sit around for a few minutes, then scamper off about 30 feet. At one point, perhaps thinking he had been called in to pitch, he sat between home and the pitcher’s mound between innings. The umpire appeared to be consulting his mental rule book, but surprisingly, the Midwest League doesn’t seem to have an official policy on rabbits taking up residence in the infield, so he decided it was somebody else’s problem and ignored the little guy. No, not Banana Man, the rabbit. Banana Man was clearly the umpire’s problem.

Eventually, the rabbit took off for parts unknown. Meanwhile, it seems that whenever a rabbit gets loose on the field, Section 5 gets handed free Blue Bunny bomb pops, or whatever they’re called now that you can’t say “bomb.” Perhaps Tom Ridge pops. Anyway, we got to enjoy our tri-color quiescently frozen confections for the last couple of innings, with no real explanation as to how we got them.

After some interesting wandering on two-lane roads in Illinois, through Saturday night rodeo traffic, we spent a too-short night at the Country Inn and Suites in Galesburg. Bright and early Sunday, we got up and Levi spilled tea on his feet, which meant it was time to leave for St. Louis. We met up with hanger-on Tony for lunch before the game, and then met up with the various other hangers-on at the Stan Musial statue outside Busch Stadium. Inside, Jim met the final hanger-on of this busy hanger-on day, Jay, of “Jeopardy!” message board fame, who managed to get a seat right behind the main group.

Levi nearly used up a whole pencil filling in the boxes on the Cardinals’ side of the scorecard today, after he finally figured out which side was supposed to be the Cardinals’ side of the scorecard. He had to fill in box after box after box as the Cards scored run after run after run, as usual this season. Luke, in his Cubs shirt and cap, looked awestruck. Behind him, the fans wearing Cardinal red looked on with pity. Particularly noteworthy plays were Edgar Renteria’s 13-pitch first-inning at-bat that ended in a 3-run homer; Larry Walker’s grand slam; and, best of all (only best because the Cardinals were already leading by nearly a touchdown at this point), Reggie Sanders leaping high against the wall, coming down with his glove closed to cheers from the audience, and the scoreboard operator immediately putting up “HR RBI.” The scoreboard operator was the only one in the stadium not fooled by Reggie’s act — well, we guess the umpires weren’t fooled either; there was no joy in Gloveville, the ball had gone right out.

Immediately after the game, we found the ramp to I-64 East that hadn’t been torn down for new Cardinals ballpark construction and hightailed it to Levi’s hometown, Carmi, Illinois. At Levi’s parents’ house, we were visited by frequent commentator Toby, as well as Levi’s grandparents (non-commentators).

The title quote for this post was said to Jim by the desk clerk at the Country Inn and Suites in Galesburg, explaining how he could qualify for the rate he was quoted on the AAA web site. No one asked.

All right, now we’re going to bed, probably two hours later than we should have. See you in Detroit, assuming we can find an abandoned building that still has an Internet connection up and running.

Original comments…

sandor: When those buildings were abandoned, it was still callled DARPAnet, which means you’re going to have to enter in your post using punchcards. I think they still sell blank ones down at the A&P.

Where are the links? I assumed Levi would gladly trade in sleep for the chance to hyperlink all possible words in this post. I was particularly looking forward to the interpretation of the words “Banana Man” as well as “Levi’s grandparents.”

You are playing the license plate game, right? Who’s winning?

Congrats on keeping up your schedule. Keep the posts coming!

stacey: i think the lack of links was due to the late hour, combined with the fact that the internet connection at the stahl chalet is VERY slow. this is more than made up for by their amazing hospitality, though. i’m still full of delicious pasta, fresh fruit, and great company. the commute from carmi to chicago is a drag, though.

Luke, hanger-on: To flesh out the image of how this post came to be, I should note that Jim and Levi wrote together at the family computer in Levi’s brother’s room. Jim did the typing, employing his closed-captioning skills to take dictation from Levi, who reclined on a bean bag with a cigar and glass of port, pausing now and then to re-read that Sunday’s Post-Dispatch story about the Cardinals and the clubhouse iPod.

I, meanwhile, dosed a few doors down in Levi’s old bedroom, which I found impressively well-preserved. The Smithsonian should scoop it up for its exhibit on “Halcyon Childhoods of America: 1980-1989.” Not surprisingly, the room betrays fascinations with Star Wars, classic rock and mullets. I could have stayed forever.

Jim: Yes, we will go back after the trip and add links, additional stuff we may have forgotten to write about, and especially photos. Or at least I will. Levi may choose to wash his hands of the whole thing, for all I know.

Guest post by Luke, links by me

Says Hanger-on Luke, referring to yesterday’s Cubs/Dodgers game:

If I had a baseball blog I’d write about the fan I sat in front oftoday. He was a real piece of work, a young man clearly mentally disabled but both in love with and enraged by his Cubs, sort of a Rain Man with amean streak and Cubby-blue blood.

When I got to my seat he was already ranting–to nobody in particular–about Corey Patterson and how he’s not a lead-off batter. Then he was going off on how Aramis Ramirez should be starting: “Dusty, you are nota doctor! Aramis is not hurt!” Once the umps took the field, he started yelling at them, reciting from memory the rule book’s description ofthe strike zone.

All this from Aisle 534.

He kept a tally of questionable balls and strikes. With each one –more than 20 of them — he’d explode: “This is ridiculous! We’re going toreplace you with a computer! With QuesTec, Fox Box AND! OR! a fifthumpire in the booth AND! OR! instant replay! And we’re sending you to the eyedoctor! And we’re sending you back to umpiring school. AND WE’RE GOING TO CALL THE COMMISSIONER! 1414! 225! 3900!”

Every. Single. Time. After the fifth time the entire section could mouth along with him, as not a single word — nor his intense volume — would deviate over the course of the game.

He also was very displeased that the Commissioner was not there asscheduled for Greg Maddux Day, as he had a few things he needed to tell Bud. He expressed dismay that Jim Hendry never wants to talk to him.

Another screed: “Dusty is the stupidest manager ever. Why doesn’t he want to win? I have an IQ of 120 — I am smarter than Dusty! We will always hate you, Dusty! WE WILL ALWAYS HATE YOU!”

And you should have seen him go nuts when Farnsworth came in and proceeded to implode.

Since he wasn’t swearing or threatening fans, there wasn’t really anything security could do, other than try to get him to calm down. He would not.

It gets better: When he wasn’t yelling at the umps or Dusty, he was calling up ESPN radio and other sports media on his cell phone and leaving long messages calmly describing Dusty’s many felonies — occasionally pausing to scream toward the field. It seemed, however, that every time he did this, the Cubs would proceed to do something good. Thus, Monday morning some schlub at ESPN is going to have to listen to all these messages, and as he listens to this fan moan about Corey Patterson, he will hear in the background Corey Patterson rapping a single to center. As he listens to a rant about the bullpen, he will hear in the backgroundKent Mercker getting a strikeout to end the inning.

It was nothing short of amazing. I think I was the only one in my section who appreciated him, even though he was yelling right into my ear. I had to concede he was one of the best-informed fans in the stadium. Much better him than some drunk frat boy yelling “You suck, Pujols!”


Original comments…

Jim: Much better than the guy Matt Bailey and I encountered on L.A.’s Red Line on Sunday who heard us comparing the L.A. subway system with the Chicago ‘L’, the D.C. Metro, and Atlanta’s MARTA, and proceeded to semi-coherently mumble something about taking the subway to other countries. He was speaking quietly, though, and ended up getting off the train at Vermont & Sunset.

Later, a friend of Matt’s who was in Chicago called him, and told a tale of woe about his companions who bought tickets to the Cubs game from a scalper for $80…and soon discovered the tickets to be counterfeit.

Levi: According to a couple of reverse directories online, the phone number the guy was shouting doesn’t exist. Or if it does, it doesn’t turn up a listing.

I suppose I could test by calling it, but Bud Selig might answer the phone, and I wouldn’t like to have to be responsible for my behavior in that situation.

Luke, hanger-on: Whoops, I misremembered the phone number, which is remarkable considering how many times it was bellowed into my ear: It’s in fact (414) 225-8900.

Steve: Quien es mas retarded? The guy described in the above post or the dudes who bought $80 counterfit tickets?

Levi: Mas retarded? Kyle Farnsworth. Hands down.

Or is that mas estoned?

Cards/Cubs notes

I’m only here at the office half a day today, so all I’ve got today is a few quick notes from last night’s game:

1) Wendell Kim has failed to master any of the three elements of a third-base coach’s job. As I see it, those elements are knowing the speed of the runners on your team, knowing the quality of the throwing arm of the opposing outfielders, and knowing, at the very least, how many outs have been made already in an inning. Breaking down last night’s Wavin’ Wendell moment, we see that Kim sent a slightly hobbled runner, Aramis Ramirez (Element 1), against the great arm of Reggie Sanders (Element 2) when there were no outs in the inning (Element 3). Hilarity ensued.

Kim was apologetic after the game.

2) In the 4th inning, after Jim Edmonds deposited a ball onto Sheffield, he admired his shot too long for Carlos Zambrano’s taste. Now, my seatmate, Michelle, and I didn’t notice anything, and even as we watched the slow-motion replay on the TV hanging above our heads, we didn’t think Edmonds had been out of line. Zambrano thought differently, so he yelled at him, almost precipitated a brawl, and then in the 8th, after giving up another home run, this one to Rolen, he hit Edmonds. I agree with Phil Rogers today (Wow. That’s the first time that’s happened that I know of. And I thought it was weird when I found myself agreeing with something Pat Buchanan said recently. These are strange days indeed.) in the Tribune: if you’re pitching for a team whose superstar does a wiggly little hop every time he homers, you should probably keep quiet about demonstrations by your opponents.

3) Zambrano was ejected immediately after hitting Edmonds–who, to his credit took his base in manly, “I’m above this shit–and we’re about to have a 9-game lead” fashion, singlehandedly preventing a brawl–which led Michelle and me to consider the rules. Zambrano knew he would be ejected for hitting Edmonds, as both benches had been warned earlier. Because there was no one getting ready in the bullpen, Mike Remlinger, when called upon, was given all the time he needed to get warmed up.

Michelle and I agreed that that’s an understandable policy. After all, it’s not in anyone’s interest to have pitchers getting injured because they only got eight warm-up tosses. But we also agreed that such a policy could lead to abuse by managers: in this case, Zambrano had just given up the lead. He wasn’t going to be lifted from the game, but it’s easy to imagine a circumstance in which the manager, his pitcher suddenly falling apart on the mound, has him get ejected from the game in order to avoid having to keep him out there for another batter or two while the reliever gets ready.

But I came up with a solution to this problem. The reliever who enters following an ejection gets all the time he needs to warm up . . . but the opposing manager gets to pick who that reliever is. Jeff Fassero, are you hiding down there behind the tarp? Come on down! Mel Rojas, are you in the clubhouse wrapped in a towel? Tony LaRussa would like to see you!

Next time I harangue the Commish in a dream, I’ll suggest that change in the rules.

4) And a quick note on selectivity and patience at the plate. I was tracking pitches while keeping score last night. Cubs leadoff man Mark Grudzielanek saw only eight pitches while making four outs. Meanwhile, Cardinals leadoff man Tony Womack, in the course of going 0-3 with two walks, used up 21 pitches. That lack of patience has dogged nearly all the Cubs all year long, and it goes a long way towards explaining how Chris Carpenter was able to get through eight innings last night on only 97 pitches and four earned runs despite giving up 12 hits. Well, that and point #1 above.

What just happened?

Saturday at Wrigley Field, I saw Greg Maddux throw a shutout in 2:05, which I think is the shortest game I’ve ever seen. If the Cubs hadn’t scored some runs in the 8th and thereby forced a pictching change, it would have been around 1:45.

If all the games we see on our trip move that quickly, Jim and I might have to find some nearby minor-league games, just to keep busy. How does 21 games in 11 cities in 10 days sound, Jim?

Original comments…

Jon Solomon: I went to a Yankees game on opening day in the late 1980s. Yanks won 2-0. Game was over in +/- 1:50. Rafael Santana hit into an around-the-horn triple play to end the 8th.

Jim: It could be 21 games in 21 cities with the minor-league games added. Now, some are close — the Clearwater Phillies and Tampa Yankees aren’t too far from St. Petersburg, home of the Devil Rays; and I think you know about the locations of the minor-league teams in the Chicago area — but as far as I know, the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees are the only minor-league teams to be in the same city limits as a major-league team.

Jon Solomon: I am proud to report that there are FOURTEEN minor league teams within 2.5 hours of my home in Lawrenceville, NJ. Trenton. Camden. Lakewood. Montclair. Reading. Wilkes-Barre. Harrisburg. Wilmington. Atlantic City. Somerset. Newark. Augusta. Brooklyn. Staten Island. Woo!

More bites from the Big Apple

One of my stops while I was in New York last week was the New York Transit Museum, which is in an old subway station in Brooklyn. Many of the old subway and elevated cars that are normally parked on the lower level had been moved out to run on fan trips all summer (this being the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first subway line in New York), so instead they brought in some not-so-old cars that have only recently been retired from the system. Including this one:

Yes, there’s a Yankees logo on the other end of the car, but the platform wasn’t wide enough for me to get a picture of the entire car. Besides, I would see plenty of Yankees logos at Yankee Stadium.

When I arrived at the stadium from the subway, wearing my Devil Rays shirt and cap, I ended up walking around the stadium the “wrong” way looking for the ticket booths. At the press/game personnel entrance, one of New York’s finest stopped me and said, “You look like a big fan,” then asked me who Paul Olden was, since he had just come in. I eventually remembered he was their radio play-by-play announcer. He was the TV broadcaster for the Yankees in the mid-1990s, but perhaps the cop was actually a Mets fan in disguise.

At any rate, there were plenty of good seats left for this game, now that the Devil Rays were no longer the hottest team in baseball. Here’s the view I had:

Yes, you can smell the history at Yankee Stadium, or maybe that was just in the men’s room. I completely forgot about going to Monument Park on my way in, so I had to settle for taking pictures from across the field. Also, I guess Adidas has enough money that they can print up a different bullpen awning for every visiting team:

Now, here’s the sacrilegious part: because certain people had to work Thursday night, I was at the game alone; when I’m at a game alone, I try to keep up my scorekeeping skills. At Yankee Stadium, you had to buy the $7.00 magazine to get a scorecard, which I expected because of their evilness. (Surprisingly, though, they serve good and pure Coca-Cola instead of evil Pepsi.) One of the articles, written by Keith Olbermann, was about how no one can remember who the P.A. announcer for Yankees was before Bob Sheppard took over in 1951, not even Bob Sheppard himself. These days, he doesn’t even do the between-inning promotions, just announces the starting lineups and does some of the other announcements at the beginning of the game, and then announces the players during the game. Problem is, I found him a little bit hard to hear and understand, especially his first announcement of each half-inning where he was usually talking over music. It’s probably a combination of the P.A. speakers all being in center field, plus his 136-year-old voice. Vin Scully, who is almost as old, has the benefit of going through radio and/or TV audio engineering.

Also at the game, by the way, were former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms (who got a lot of applause) and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden (who got no applause because they showed him briefly on the Diamond Vision screen but didn’t put his name on the scoreboard, so I may have been the only person who noticed him and recognized him). I saw only two other people wearing Devil Rays merchandise. I was asked a couple of times if I was from Florida. “Originally,” I said both times. The man sitting next to me asked if I knew why Fred McGriff only had two home runs for the season, so I attempted to explain the whole sordid story.

Anyway, here, have some more pictures. Anyone want to translate the orange-and-white ad here, which I assume is for the benefit of people in Japan watching Hideki Matsui?

And anyone want to translate the “F” and “G,” or perhaps “FG,” on the out-of-town scoreboard? It’s hard to see because I didn’t take this picture until after dark, but there is a column of single-digit numbers available under each letter, which weren’t used at any point. Until I hear differently, I’m going to assume it stands for “Faraway Games.”

They still make the groundskeepers do “YMCA”!

The Number 4 wins the subway race!

Speaking of which, this isn’t necessarily a baseball-related story, but people who know me may find it amusing: on the way back from the game, I had to change trains at 59th Street-Columbus Circle. So picture me, wearing a Devil Rays shirt and cap, on a subway platform with dozens of people wearing Yankees shirts and/or caps, so I perhaps looked less like a New Yorker than every other person there. Nevertheless, two people came up to me and asked about getting to Penn Station. I’m beginning to think my reputation is preceding me. (Yes, I did know the right answer, more or less. I didn’t realize it was as late as it was, so I told them they could either take the local C on the outside track or the express A on the inside track, whichever came first, but in the late-night hours, the A runs local instead of the C, so what showed up first was an A on the outside track. The people I had helped had wandered off, so I didn’t see if they managed to figure it out or not. Yes, the New York subway is somewhat more complicated than, for example, the Chicago ‘L’.)

Later, waiting for the light to change at the corner of 48th Street and 8th Avenue, a man asked me if I knew where the strip clubs were. But that’s another story.

The final line, on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard (and note that, although they have enough money to make a “Tampa Bay Devil Rays” awning, they don’t have enough money to put in a scoreboard with enough characters available to allow a space between “Tampa” and “Bay”):

Here’s the headline from the Daily News. Really, the difference in the game was that Victor Zambrano was shaky at the beginning, and Jose Contreras wasn’t.

And the front page. I wonder how many people know what that thing between “Daily” and “News” is supposed to be, now that they’re “New York’s Hometown Newspaper” instead of “New York’s Picture Newspaper.” Why, they don’t even own WPIX-TV anymore. But the good news is that, since both New York teams have baseball-shaped logos, it makes for a nice layout balance.

Later, in Connecticut, I saw The Ballpark at Harbor Yard, home of the Bridgeport Bluefish. You get a very nice long view into the stadium as you’re on a train that’s decelerating into the Bridgeport train station, it turns out, but there wasn’t a game going on as I was preparing to detrain in Bridgeport.

Original comments…

Dan: I believe I read somewhere it’s an ad for a Japanese newspaper (Yomiuri Shimbun?)

Luke: FG = First game?

Levi: I bet the guy who asked you about the strip clubs had been hoping to run into Mo Vaughn, but in Vaughn’s absence, he turned to you.

Steve: I find it hard to believe nobody knew who Jon Gruden was. During the football season they cut over to him on the sidelines more than any other coach.

maura: victor, not carlos, zambrano. but don’t worry, people make that mistake all the time.

Jim: Well, Carlos Zambrano would have been shaky at the beginning, too, if he’d been there.

maura: a handy mnemonic: the ‘v’ in victor stands for ‘get out of the way, because there’s a good chance he’ll hit you.’

DrBear: Yup, FG is for first game. You kids may be too young, but us old-timers remember when teams used to play two games in one day! The old scoreboard at County Stadium in Milwaukee had the same thing as G1, even including it at the end of the linescore for the Braves/Brewers game.

Good day, bad mom

Any day that the Cardinals and Cubs both have off is a bad day. Not as bad as a day when the Cardinals lose, but pretty lousy.

In part to make up for those teams having an off-day yesterday, I sneaked out of work at noon with my coworker, Peter, an Angels fan, to go see the Sox play the Angels. It was an exciting game on a beautiful day. When the Sox got runners at the corners with one out, the Angels called Jose Guillen in to play at the second base position while they shifted the second baseman to the left side to join the shortstop; Guillen went to the dugout to borrow someone’s infield glove. When you have five infielders and they’re all playing up on the grass, it looks like a wall of fielders. So Juan Uribe hit it over them, way over them and off the left-center-field wall for a long game-winning single.

Around the third inning, a couple of women showed up with about ten kids in tow, ranging in age from about 5 to 9. Each kid had a plastic cup of some particularly noxious-looking red slush. They sat a few rows behind us and watched the game. Then, in the 8th inning, with the Sox down 8-5, I heard the lead mom say, “OK. It’s time to go. Put down your cups [of particularly noxious-looking red stuff] and come along.”

Just as I was about to turn and give the mom the glare I usually reserve for SUV drivers who run red lights while talking to their broker on two phones, I heard a boy pipe up, Oliver-like, “But the game’s not over.”

It wasn’t an exclamation; it was more a combination of clear statement of fact and implied question. “Exactly!” I thought. “That kid gets it. That kid is going to go far. Reserve the Oval Office, because I’m ready to vote for that straight-talking kid as soon as he hits 35.”

But the kid might as well have been Helen Thomas in the briefing room, the way the mom Ari-Fleischered him. She ignored him. He might as well have spoken in Ancient Assyrian. She didn’t even pretend there was a legitimate answer to his statement. The kids filed out, the Sox tied the game, then won it, and everyone got back to Rolling Forest Meadowsville Park Hills half an hour earlier.

My only hope is that the boy’s clarity of thought, his sharpness of understanding, are not damaged in coming years by his mother’s obvious lack of same. I have little hope, though. We all know that the sins of the fathers have a habit of redounding unto the seventh generation; can the sins of the mothers be any less malevolent?

Original comments…

Toby: My only hope is that word of this post doesn’t get back to the mom, who, in turn, sues Levi for the emotional pain it has inflicted on her.

Jason: Levi could always countersue her for the emotional pain *he* had to suffer because she took her kids home early.

He could even try pinning child endangerment on her, as well.

Becky S: Sheesh, what kind of values are people teaching their kids these days? My brother once dumped a woman because she wanted to leave a Phillies game during extra innings. He’s gonna make a great dad!

Levi: Should I have called DCFS? I don’t have a phone, but I bet I could have borrowed one for the sake of the child.

Down on the farm

Honorary hanger-on Jason Kaifesh called me Sunday afternoon and asked if I wanted to go to a minor-league game. Of course I said yes. The California League-leading Lancaster Jethawks were playing the Inland Empire 66ers (San Bernardino) in a game with a strange 6:00 start time, perhaps because the temperature can get quite high up in the Antelope Valley. First, the best of my attempts at an action shot. Note the ball seemingly frozen…

Since Lancaster is near Edwards Air Force Base, they have two space shuttles on either side of the message board, albeit space shuttles that look more like NASCAR vehicles, with the advertising. Hmm, didn’t the idea of having NASA raise money by selling advertising space come up at some point during the Reagan administration?…

Speaking of which, note the flags, and the fact that the wind was blowing very strong towards right field throughout the game, although there was only one home run hit in that direction (quite a few fly balls to the warning track, though). Is there some kind of mailing list you can subscribe to, if you have a flagpole, to let you know when you’re supposed to have your flags at half-mast?…

This being the minor leagues, they let a kid race the mascot around the bases while the game is in progress (I mean, between innings, but still…). I can provide witnesses to corroborate the fact that Kaboom the Jethawk took a dive, by the way, in case any federal prosecutors interested in a RICO case are reading this…

Lancaster Municipal Stadium, a.k.a. The Hangar, is fairly new, which means they have a manual scoreboard. Yes, that is a ridiculous contradiction, but we live in ridiculous times. At least the manual scoreboard’s numbers are readable (when they remember to put them up), unlike certain electrically-operated numbers that are hard to read when the sun is shining directly on them and a third of the light bulbs are burned out…

Final score: 66ers 7, Jethawks 3. One of the best things about the game, by the way, was the noise the crowd made when the P.A. announcer announced that the Lakers had lost Game 1 of the finals to the Detroit Pistons. It was the noise of several thousand people simultaneously making a noise that meant, “But the local media has been leading us to believe that the Lakers are the team of destiny for months now!” I know, I know, that’s not really baseball-related.

Now I’m headed to Vegas for a few days. Unfortunately, the Las Vegas 51’s won’t be in town while I’m there, so I guess I’ll have to find something to do other than watching minor-league baseball.

Original comments…

Levi: I’m surprised, Jim, to see you refer to the flag as being at half-staff.

As this site shows, lowered flags on ships are at half-mast, but lowered flags on land are at half-staff.

There recently was a story in the Tribune about a woman who contacted the head office of McDonald’s to inform them that they were not, by flag codes, allowed to lower the flags at their restaurants in tribute to their CEO, who had died suddenly. According to her, a government directive had to go out. She was backed up by the reporter and by a government official, whose name and position I’ve forgotten.

Anyway, it’s the first I’d heard about it. Anyone know anything more about these rules?

And were the flags down for Reagan, or for the Lakers?