Footnote to the 2004 trip

The Hilton Pittsburgh, where we stayed during the 2004 trip, had its franchise pulled, so it’s no longer a Hilton.

At this hotel, we got to check in at about 11:30 A.M., but were given a room that hadn’t been cleaned yet (understandable), and it took several requests to the front desk before they finally got around to delivering a rollaway bed (slightly less understandable). Also, Levi was surprised to see that they sold porn — okay, Playboy “special editions” — in their gift shop. (I stayed at the Hilton LAX the night before I left for the 2010 trip, but didn’t check their gift shop. Last week, I stayed at a nice new Hilton in Asheville, NC, and they didn’t even have a gift shop.)

All-Stars and more

You see, every time we do a baseball trip, something happens that hasn’t happened in a long time. In 2004, it was the Red Sox winning the World Series. In 2010, it’s the National League winning the All-Star Game (because it’s looking like it’s not going to be the Cubs winning the World Series, or even the NL pennant).

All my photos from the trip have been uploaded to Flickr, and they’re in this set.

I’m going to be at an event in the South Bay area of California this weekend, and decided to attend the Giants-Mets game Saturday evening. It’s Tim Lincecum bobblehead night! Sadly, San Jose Mercury News reporter (and friend of Andrew Baggarly won’t be around — since he worked the All-Star Game, the newspaper is giving him the Mets series off.

“Apres BRPA, le deluge!”

The final game of Baseball Related Programming Activities 2010 lasted an hour and seven minutes; the tarp rolled onto the field with two outs and two on in the third, never to come off. At that point, the Kansas City T-Bones led 3-2, and they’ll lead 3-2 when the game is resumed sometime later this summer.

It had been a good, if slow, game to that point. The T-Bones had jumped on top with a double, triple, and groundout in the first, only to see the visiting Argo-Morehead Redhawks tie it with a two-run homer in the second, an inning that also featured an impressive, sprawling catch of a foul pop-up by T-Bones first baseman Ryan Fox.

But then the rains came, and stayed. So did a lot of the crowd. I lent Jim my New Yorker so that he could read the profile of Steve Carrell, while I read the newsletter of the Anthony Powell Society. Jim was willing to bet that I was the only person in the ballpark–I might have said in Kansas–reading that periodical at that moment; he wasn’t willing to go that far when I turned to reading Batman #700.

Alas, the end that seemed inevitable arrived, and at 10:10, not quite two hours after the rain started, the game was suspended for the night. Unexpectedly, however, the fireworks went on regardless! So we stood in the rain and squinted through the rain at colorful explosions.

To end the trip, a note for the holiday: Tonight, as I found myself part of the unexpectedly cheerful crowd huddled under the roof of the grandstand, having just watched a half-dozen soaked summer interns dance the macarena on the field for our (and their) amusement as the second hour of the rain delay drew near its close, Ray Charles began to sing “America the Beautiful” over the PA and I tracked silent fireworks in the distance, tiny eruptions from another celebration. They cut through the rain and rose just above the top row of the empty bleachers before subsiding in sparks, and, well, as Fozzie put it, patriotism swelled in the heart of the American bear.

Happy Fourth of July, folks. Hope you can join us for a leg of the next BRPA.

A doubleheader post

A lack of Internet access the past two days has forced me to combine wrap-ups for Friday and Saturday’s games into one post. July 2 Friday found us back in the majors, at Minneapolis’s new Target Field. Years ago I went to a game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, and as we left the stale, mall-like air of the game to find sun and cool breezes, I couldn’t believe that anyone would choose to squander the precious moments of perfection that are a North Woods summer by sitting under that dome for more than one or two games per year. Now they no longer have to make that choice, as Target Field is open to the skies . . . which also means, in April and September, being open to the less-hospitable cousin of the Friday night’s pleasant summer breeze. But Minnesotans are good at bundling up, right? The ballpark itself is lovely, looking like it’s not just sponsored by Target, but maybe designed by Target, too, full of buffed metal and sharp angles and surprising swoopy lines. The outfield seating is particularly nice to look at, with the right-field bleachers rising to a dramatic point in right-center that ends in a row of just two or three seats. Everything is spacious and open, as in most of the newest parks, but unlike a lot of those ballparks–Philly’s comes to mind–it doesn’t feel too large; rather, it seems of appropriate scale, both for the crowds and for its place in the relatively modest skyline of Minneapolis. Oh, and transit nuts should take note: the park is built next to a new light-rail stop. The Twins won, 2-1, behind a strong seven innings by Scott Baker, while the Rays’ David Price was nearly as good, holding the Twins hitless until the fifth and not giving up a run until he started to visibly tire in the seventh. Ben Zobrist and Carl Crawford both made eye-popping catches for the Rays, Zobrist’s involving a

basketball-like leap; the Twins fielders didn’t really have to do much, as their pitching staff struck out ten. While we watched, Jim ate a pork chop on a stick, which our friend and hanger-on Peter Bodensteiner called a “state fair food.” Said Peter, “You have no idea how big a deal the state fair is in Minnesota.” After the game, the Twins put on the first-ever fireworks display at Target Field, which, fortunately, didn’t lead to the first-ever thousands-dead fireworks disaster at Target Field, despite the strong winds. These were major-league fireworks, much showier than the ones we’d enjoyed in Iowa City the night before. And they didn’t play Lee Greenwood. July 3 Last night we were in Cedar Rapids, at Perfect Game Field, where, it hardly needs to be said, we did not see a perfect game. The Cedar Rapids Kernels are an Angels affiliate, but the lasting effects of the decades-long dominance of the Cardinals radio network throughout the Midwest was evident in the large number of Cardinals t-shirts and caps in the stands. The Kernels put a beating on the Clinton Lumberkings,13-3, scoring early and often. Walks, my friends, will haunt, and the Kernels received eight of them, while Kernels starter Ariel Pena allowed only one in his seven innings, striking out eight. Seated down the right-field line, we were in a perfect position to see the difference between the majors and A ball, as demonstrated by the ball that bounced right off the heel of the right fielder’s glove and led to two runs. There was also a failure to cover first in the midst of a complicated, multi-base rundown, a misjudged carom that nearly led to an inside-the-park home run in left field, and, oh, yes, the aforementioned eight walks. Another highlight: each side featured a player named Jose Jimenez, one a pitcher and one a designated hitter. We did not, however, see both on the field at once, as the one time Jimenez would have batted against Jimenez, he was pinch-hit for. Pinch-hitting for the DH is unusual enough that it made us wonder: maybe there was really only one Jose Jimenez after all? After the game, there were the obligatory fireworks, along with the obligatory “God Bless the U.S.A.” The fireworks were pretty low-key, suitable for A ball–as was the poor aim that caused a dozen or so flaming, bright-colored balls of fire to hit the light standard in right and carom off in scary, groundward directions. Ah, the minors! Tonight we wrap it all up with a visit to the home of the Kansas City T-Bones, in Kansas City, Kansas. Here’s hoping the threatened rain stays away!

In which we are sent down to the minors

It’s a short trip–and, sadly, a relatively small drop in talent–from the Kansas City Royals to the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines, but the change in the atmosphere of the game is substantial.

Principal Field, the home of the Iowa Cubs, while a pleasant place to see a game, looks more like a high school or a recently built prison than a ballpark. The PA announcer rattled off sponsorships and announcements and greetings not just between innings, but between pitches. The players all look like they’re about fourteen, which makes Ryne Sandberg look like he was probably teammates with Wee Willie Keeler and Billy Sunday. The team showcased not one, not two,

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but three different methods of propelling objects (hot dogs, t-shirts) into the stands: a hot dog-shaped bazooka, a bat-shaped bazooka (with, oddly enough, a Royals logo on it), and the trusty ol’ human arm. A race among three grease-laden products that can be purchased at your local QT mart–a hot dog, a brat, and a taquito–involved much tripping and a headfirst slide. Meanwhile, some poor sucker encased in a giant, partially inflated vinyl slice of pizza wandered the aisles waving at people and trying to seem like his presence is a good reason for them to later buy a pizza at their local Casey’s. It’s minor-league baseball, and it was goofy and fun.

High points of the game itself:

* Iowa Cubs shortstop Darwin Barney has the best at-bat music I’ve ever heard: a smoothly funky bit from the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark.” If the Cubs organization factors at-bat music into personnel decisions, you should look for Barney at Wrigley Field any day now.

* The game featured three plays at the plate. In the first, Cubs right fielder Brad Snyder was safe at home by a step, but later that inning left fielder Ty Wright was out easily, as was third baseman Marquez Smith in the fourth. I don’t think the third base coach was Wendell Kim, but the guy’s gotta be coaching somewhere, right?

* Speaking of base running, we saw two mistakes made by runners at second on balls hit to the pitcher. In the first case, the runner mistakenly broke for third and was out easily; in the second, he broke for third, but then the pitcher made his own mistake, tossing the ball to the third baseman rather than running at the runner to make him commit to a base. The runner got back to second safely, and we were reminded yet again that this wasn’t the majors.

* Omaha Royals first baseman Kila Ka’Aihue, who both has a great name and is an actual prospect, hit a long home run in the second inning, but it was dwarfed by the home run hit by Royals DH Jai Miller in the 9th, which disappeared into the night while still rising. The fireworks downtown started soon after that, and I can only assume that the ball, aflame from its fall back through the atmosphere, was responsible.

* The fireworks at the ballpark itself were brief, but solid, despite opening with Lee Greenwood’s godawful “God Bless the U.S.A.” A few songs later, they started playing “Born in the U.S.A.”, and just after I turned to Jim to point out that, yet again, someone planning a patriotic program had failed to actually listen to that song, the finale erupted, drowning out all other sound. Clearly, they had suddenly figured out their mistake.

Royals won, 6-3, and now we’re off to Minneapolis!

It turns out that some things are not up to date in Kansas City after all.

Like the arrangements for getting cars out of the parking lot after baseball games. Those are still very much stuck in midcentury, shrugged-shoulders, “whaddaya gonna do?” mode. Which is why this recap of another relatively brisk–two-and-a-half hours–game is coming so late.

The game itself, early on, looked like it was going to replicate the last time Jim and I saw Zack Greinke pitch, when he lost to Joe Saunders in Anaheim 1-0 in one of the best-pitched ballgames I’ve ever seen. He and Jake Peavy held the offenses to one run apiece through five innings, making it look easy along the way. But then the Royals broke through for two in the fifth, then absolutely unloaded on the hapless Sox bullpen in the sixth: by the time the Sox recorded their first out of that inning, the Royals had scored four runs and sent two relievers to the showers.

All that time the Royals were scoring, however, Greinke was sitting. And sitting. And maybe playing a little Nintendo DS. Whatever he was doing, it wasn’t communing with the spirit of Saberhagen, because when he took the mound for the seventh, he promptly got knocked all over the yard. Hit after hit after hit. We’re talking Charlie Brown with the socks flying. He’d entered the inning with a six-run lead, and only a great catch against the wall by Jose Guillen (who had earlier been booed for letting a ball drop right in front of him) allowed Greinke to get out of the inning up by one. Enter Joakim Soria, the Mexicutioner, and all was well in Kauffman Kingdom.

Other notes on the day:

* Judging by the smell, Arthur Bryant’s barbecue is as good as advertised. Jim ate about forty pounds of burnt tips and drank a Red Creme soda, while I slathered fries with three varieties of barbecue sauce.

* The Negro Leagues Museum would have been worth the trip for the life-sized statues alone: they’re arrayed about a ballfield in the final room of the museum, and they do a great job of giving you, for a moment, the sense of what it might have been like to stand on a field with Satchel Paige, or Josh Gibson, or Martin Dihigo. The museum was full of interesting materials, from old uniforms to player bios and league information to fascinating old footage of Goose Tatum of the Indianapolis Clowns performing a goofy, Globetrotters-style routine on the field before a game.

* The Royals Hall of Fame, at Kauffman Stadium, was also impressive, much more so than I’d expected. We watched a brief video about the 1985 ALCS, but Jim

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made me leave before we got to the disaster (for Cardinals fans) of that World Series. The most unexpected and interesting part for me was seeing a brochure for the team’s short-lived Royals Baseball Academy experiment: the brochure looked like any ordinary junior-college brochure, only it said on the front something like, “Full college credit and thorough training in professional baseball skills.”

* It was ’80s Night at Kauffman Stadium, which meant . . . a little bit of ’80s trivia, a few relatively uninspired costumes, and some ’80s music. Between innings late in the game, the stadium’s 70-foot scoreboard played “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and Jim immediately pointed out the blown opportunity: what better chance to Rickroll a crowd than to have it vote for an ’80s music video to be played the next inning, and then . . .

* Jim was asked by strangers to take their picture for the second night in a row. Apparently he looks more trustworthy than I do.

* One of the symbols of Kauffman Stadium is the spiral ramp that leads to the upper deck, and as we neared the bottom on our way out of the park, we noticed that it continued below ground level, not, as I first assumed, to a hellmouth, but to storage and waste disposal and such. As we watched, a kid working for the Royals was walking briskly down the ramp a level below ground, keeping one eye on the oversized rolling trash bin that he’d set free to rumble its way excitedly down the ramp alongside him. It looked like easily the most fun he’d had all night.

To Des Moines tomorrow!

And we’re off! Sort of.

Baseball Related Program Activities for 2010 have begun!

And what better way to kick things off than with a 3-1 Cubs win over the Pirates at Wrigley Field that is best described as “crisp”? Both teams played solid defense, both teams pitched well (or, perhaps more likely, given these two teams, hit poorly), and in a mere 2:23 we were out of there and into the car . . . I mean, onto bicycles and L cars for the ten-minute trip back to my house.

Notes from the game:

* Stacey came along, thus taking the honorable position of our first official BRPA 2010 hanger-on.

* The game wasn’t the only thing that was crisp: a game-time temperature of 65 degrees combined with a constant breeze to keep the upper deck just cooler than cool, and convince me to pack some jeans for the trip. Maybe mittens, too: we are, after all, going to Minneapolis.

* Some fans two rows behind us, seeing Stacey taking our photo, correctly guessed that we were on a road trip. We didn’t really try to explain that while, yes, we were on a road trip, I have been sitting in that very seat for a dozen years. (Our caps may also have clued them in: I was, as usual, wearing my Cardinals cap, while Jim was wearing what must have been a Time Bandits cap–it said “TB” on the front, and I have a hard time believing that he was rooting for tuberculosis.)

* Alfonso Soriano apparently ate all his Home Run Crunch before the game, as he hit two absolute bombs.

* I’ll be surprised if anyone even comes close to taking the title of Best Shoes of BRPA 2010 from Lastings Milledge. I can’t believe that all his teammates haven’t followed his lead and started wearing yellow-trimmed cleats. Dude looks sharp.

* Jim didn’t vomit on the usher until after the fourth bag of cotton candy. Wait, no: he didn’t vomit on the usher at all, because he refused my offer to buy all his meals on the entire trip if he would eat only cotton candy at the ballpark every night.

And now to bed–tomorrow at this time, we’ll be in Kansas City!

Ticket talk

After paying a high price for Twins-Rays tickets on StubHub, I decided I should check on ticket availability for the other games, just in case. I was actually most worried about Iowa Cubs tickets, since the downtown Des Moines hotels I tried were all sold out for July 1st (that’s why we have reservations at a Hampton Inn in Ankeny, which is north of town).

So I dutifully went to the Iowa Cubs website and started the ticket-buying process. I selected two Field Box seats, which are sections AA through B — then the Club Box seats, which are $2 more, in the middle — and then X through ZZ.

The system gave me Section X, Row 1, Seats 1 and 2.

I am no longer worried about Iowa Cubs tickets.

7 days to go

It’s Saturday morning; a week from now, I’ll be on a plane headed for Chicago to begin my portion of the trip, although the baseball-related program activities then don’t begin for another few days after that.

We’ve got the Twins tickets via StubHub, and I think showing up at the box office will be sufficient for the rest of the games. Actually, I might think about taking a trip to the T-Bones box office when we first get into Kansas City, five days in advance of that game: it being a 4th of July game, I’m worried about the entire population of KCK deciding to go to the game because of the fireworks afterward. They love their institutional firework displays in the Midwest!

Another change from 2004 to 2010. Remember this?

In 2010, I have a GPS. Therefore, it’s not necessary for me to acquire, and bring, maps and travel guides from AAA.

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This would have completely saved the planet if not for the BP disaster. (Speaking of which, my inclination is not to boycott BP on the trip — such a thing hurts independent station owners a lot more than it hurts BP — but not to go out of my way to stop at one. In other words, to treat BP the same as I’m treating every other gas station brand.)