A new way to think about outfield defense

As pitchers and catchers are finally in camp, rather than hanging out at the Capitol trying to decide exactly how stupid Chris Shays is, I thought I should share the baseball-related dream I had the other night–from which I woke up laughing.

I was at Fenway, following David Letterman around on a videotaped tour, and I learned two things.

First, from where we were standing (in the press box?), I was able for the first time to see why Manny Ramirez is such a bad fielder. Turns out that outside the foul line in left, just off-camera, where you can’t ever see him either live or on the broadcasts, there’s a hobo who’s always standing there badgering Manny for money. And Manny’s too nice to have security get rid of him. Who knew?

Second, there’s a giant apple in a hat just outside the outfield wall. Letterman asked Baseball Related Program Activities Hanger-on (and MLB employee) Dan Rivkin, “So, I know the one at Shea, when it goes up, it’s because the Mets have hit a home run. What does this one mean?”

“Well, Dave,” said Dan. “This one’s about government. When it goes up in the air, everyone in, like, Congress, and the Vice President and President, they all have to resign. And then the 37 Amazing Dudes, who’ve been sitting patiently on the bench for like years and years, they take over.”

That’s when I laughed out loud and woke up. It made a tiny bit more sense in my dream. The 37 Amazing Dudes were presented as if they were just this ordinary group we all knew about.

Let’s play ball.

I read the articles so you don’t have to

The September issue of Playboy has an article about Jose Canseco’s ex-wife Jessica, to go along with some photographs of her in which she’s wearing ballet shoes but seems to have forgotten to put on her tutu, or her leotard, or anything else a ballerina might wear. Actually, I take that back — she’s wearing leg warmers in a couple of the photos.

Anyway, the article is chock full of fascinating facts. For example, Jose met her at a Hooters in Cleveland, where she was only in her third day on the job — and the very next night, Jose made blooper-reel history with the home-run-bouncing-off-his-head incident. She says he likes his women “meaty,” so he often encouraged her to eat more. Also, she claims to have had sex with him in Fenway Park. And, yes, she reports that there was a lot of steroid-related testicular shrinkage, but since he was also taking human growth hormone, the other part of the frank-‘n’-beans combo was larger than normal. (They did have a daughter together, so everything was apparently working well enough.)

Things went badly once she realized he was cheating on her; she found such items as Jose’s private cell phone (she cracked the voice mail password and found messages from four women) and a little black book in which Jose had made copious notes about physical descriptions of various women so he could remember who was who. Her last-ditch effort to save the relationship was a menage a trois involving her, Jose, and a friend of hers, but it didn’t work.

Elsewhere in this issue of Playboy, we learn that “when you’re Hef, every day is an adventure,” as we have been learning in Playboy for over 50 years now. (I mean the royal “we,” obviously.)

Actually, there was some useful information in this Playboy, although it’s not baseball-related: I learned of the existence of this upcoming Rhino box set, although I’m a little dubious about the August 30th date, since it’s listed on neither Amazon.com nor rhino.com (although rhino.com only lists their releases for the 16th and 23rd).

When I got the bleacher tickets for the Red Sox, I also registered for the opportunity to buy tickets atop the Green Monster. However, I got an e-mail tonight telling me that I was not among the chosen few. Maybe it’s a good thing, because I got an up-close look at the seats on one of the Pat Sajak shows, and they look potentially vertigo-inducing, being so high up and pretty much directly above that steep drop-off.

Since it’s late March, it must be time for plenty of baseball programming, even on non-sports channels. Tonight on the Travel Channel was, I swear, “Pat Sajak’s American League Ballpark Tour,” followed immediately by “Pat Sajak’s National League Ballpark Tour.” Each one highlighted what somebody decided were the five most unique stadiums in each league, including two of the parks set for this trip, Fenway Park and PNC Park.

The other four NL parks: Dodger Stadium, Coors Field, SBC Park, and Wrigley Field; the other four AL parks were Kauffman Stadium, Safeco Field, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and The Ballpark in Arlington. The SBC Park segments were taped last year, so Pat Sajak in his introductions had to point out several times that it was “formerly known as Pac Bell Park,” which is what everyone was calling it.

The best segment was the man who was redoing the 778 metal scoreboard number plates for Fenway Park, using paper stencils individually cut by hand, so that no two examples of the same number would look exactly the same.

Oh, by the way: it’s now 22 weeks until the first game on the itinerary.

Boston pictures

The Fenway Park grandstands and the .406 Club (behind the glass)…

There’s a monstrous wall in left field, mostly painted green…

Home team batting order, with Johnny Damon at the top…

Johnny Damon in the field in front of us…

The right field foul pole, just kind of in the middle of the stands, which are at a very shallow angle at that point…

Moon rising over Fenway Park…

I can’t get away from Amtrak…

The final line…

I assume the headline would make more sense if I’d spent more time in Boston…

Bowing at the Altar of Damon

Some thoughts on Fenway Park and the 3-1 Red Sox win we saw.

1) It’s wonderful when something you’ve heard about all your life fully lives up to its billing. Fenway did. It’s a nearly perfect ballpark. Really, pharmacy there’s not a lot I could say about Fenway that’s not already been said elsewhere. Everything you’ve heard is true. It’s cozy enough that even from our seats 13 rows up in dead center, unhealthy we felt close to the action. The long rows and tight spaces discourage the sort of incessant milling around that the crowds at, say, Wrigley Field are prone to. And while the high walls and blocky upper deck block any view of the neighborhood, that means that once you’re in Fenway, everything is centered around the game. The ballpark maintains an enclosed, insular feeling such that even the drunk fans gave the impression of being at least somewhat attentive, and most fans were concentrating on every pitch. It was a wonderful place to see a ballgame.

2) The current ownership of the Red Sox, having decided that, rather than attempt to extort a replacement for Fenway from the city like the previous owners attempted to do, they would take advantage of having one of the best ballparks in baseball while still taking every chance they could to squeeze more money out of it. To that end, they’ve made some changes that I suppose might bother longtime Sox fans, but that I thought were actually pretty good. They added seats to the top of the Green Monster. They added some seats to the roof of the upper deck. They added (I think) another section of upper deck just past the end of the grandstand in right. And, to me the most surprising: they seem to have talked the city into letting them more or less take over Yawkey Way on game day. Turnstiles are set up in the middle of the street, and once you’re past them, you’re in the park. Towards the back of the outfield grandstands, it appears that they’ve actually moved the exterior walls of the park out onto what would have been the sidewalk, allowing the Sox to open up what had formerly been a cramped concourse under the stands. They’ve used the space to make navigating the park easier and to put up more of the things the contemporary fan is said to want: food stands, urinals, and more food stands. It’s a successful alteration, one that I think I wouldn’t even have noticed had I not been there on a non-game-day tour in 1993.

3) If I didn’t know that Paul Harvey is a Midwesterner, I would have thought he was working as the Red Sox public address announcer last night. The announcer had Harvey’s voice, inflections, tone, and cadences. Jim and I both expected him to end his announcements with “Good day.” Regardless, he was without a doubt the best PA announcer we’ve heard on the trip. Late in the game, with the crowd absolutely ecstatic singing along to “Sweet Caroline” between innings, he began to announce a pitching change for the Tigers. Noticing that the crowd was still shouting “Bump-ba-dah,” he paused, let the last notes of the song pass, and completed his announcement.

4) The guys behind us, four early twenty-somethings down from New York for their first Fenway game, were the sort of drunkies who tend to bug me a lot at Wrigley, in part because they’re always up and down and milling around. But these guys just didn’t bug me that much. They were loud, but a lot of their talk was about the game, and much of the time, when it was off-topic, it was fairly entertaining. Like when one guy was talking about Emeril, and another guy had never heard of Emeril, and the first guy spent ten minutes explaining who Emeril is, complete with a lot of: “You know–Bam! Bam! That guy–Bam!”

5) I do have one suggestion for PA operators at stadiums nationwide: just because a band records a song about your team/ballpark, you shouldn’t play it unless it also doesn’t suck. The only dissonant note in the whole night was the four minutes, pre-game, we had to spend listening to a terrible country (Country? In New England? Why?) song called “Having a Ball at Fenway.” It sucked more than the Blue Jays song; the only reason it wasn’t worse overall was that it wasn’t like spreading throw-up all over the seventh-inning stretch with a butter knife the way the Blue Jays song was.

That song aside, though, the organist and PA people were solid. The organist began the game with “Selections from Jim’s iPod,” which began with “Walk Away Renee” and went on to “Eight Days a Week” and “After the Gold Rush,” among others. Later, I–who usually am not excited all that much by stadium crowd singalongs–got a big kick out of hearing the crowd sing along to “Summer Wind,” then go absolutely brains-melting crazy over “Sweet Caroline.” It’s as big as “Hey Ya!”

It was odd for me to see Red Sox fans–who generally appear to be some of the most attentive fans in baseball–doing the wave and bouncing beach balls.

6) Everyone knows that the Red Sox are Yankee-obsessed. But Jesus, people. “Yankees suck!” chants cropped up without provocation, and anti-Yankee t-shirts were selling nearly as well as Johnny Damon shirts. It’s like the slacker kid in high school constantly writing mean things about the cool kids in his notebook. Sure, I’ve got sympathy, but at the end of the day, he keeps doing it, and he’s just using up space in his notebook he could be using to transcribe Violent Femmes lyrics.

7) The Red Sox scoreboard advertises a new service: if a fan feels his enjoyment of the game is being hindered by, say, drunk and rowdy fans nearby, he can, rather than wait for an usher to show up, call the security hotline on his phone. Not that I’m a fan of using the phone at games, but given that Wrigley Field ushers never seem to be around when drunks begin chucking peanuts at everyone in sight, I could imagine being able to phone security might be helpful. The trick would be avoiding getting a beer dumped on your head while you phoned.

8) And Johnny Damon got a couple of hits, stole a base, scored a run, made a couple of catches. And the Mike Timlin made another great appearance out of the Sox bullpen. And the Sox won, running me and Jim to 6-0 on the trip.