October means baseball…-related dreams

It was early in spring training, perhaps the very first day, for the Cubs. I was standing at about shortstop position, albeit in front of the infield dirt, fielding ground balls that were being softly hit to me.

I looked down to see that I was wearing a blue Cubs jersey and that my number was either 36 or 38. (You may note that the blue Cubs jerseys don’t actually have numbers on the front, and that both 36 and 38 are currently in use by actual Cubs players.)

I was slow getting to a ball, and by the time I reached it, someone had already thrown the pitcher a new ball. I kept trying to kick the ball away, but it only went a very short distance no matter how hard I kicked it.

Then they opened the gates of the stadium and I stood in a small group of players in the infield — one of whom was hanger-on Maura while a group of fans walked over to us. The first fan to reach us was a woman who shook everyone’s hand. Behind her was another woman to whom I said, “Happy new year!”, which made her giggle. (Now that I’ve thought about it, that is exactly what baseball players should say to fans at the beginning of spring training!)

At that point, the first woman turned back to me to say that she’d been looking for the song “Stand Up for Peoria” by either Jane Rogers or Jane Douglas. I mumbled something noncommittal. Once that woman went away, I reached down to get the notebook that was lying on the

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ground at my feet. I opened it and pointed out to Maura that I had it on my list of CDs I’d like to buy used. I started wondering how, even if I found that song, I was going to get a copy of it to that woman. (Peoria is home to a Cubs minor-league team. I am impressed by that association being in the dream.)

Then I woke up and it was about

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a half hour until my alarm was set to go off.

A troubling thing here is that, although the playoffs are about to begin — with my team in them — my

subconscious is already looking forward to spring training, and thinking about a non-playoff team.

Meeting the Mets

When I saw in hanger-on Dan’s photos of the Mets’ opening day that Shea Stadium’s replacement was already under construction, I decided I’d better hurry up and see a game there. Fortunately, a cousin had a wedding in the Philadelphia area on a Friday of a weekend when the Mets were in town, which made it relatively easy for me to get across New Jersey for a Sunday afternoon game. Better yet, hanger-on Maura and non-hanger-on Maggie were able to join me for the game, as you can see below (Maura left, me center, Maggie right)…

Shea Stadium as seen from the Willets Point-Shea Stadium elevated station platform. That’s the city parks department logo on the right. A boy behind me said, “The Mets are playing the Leaves today!”

Yes, the new Citi Field is further along than it was three months ago.

As it turned out after I’d taken the seat cushion all the way back to Philadelphia with me, it wouldn’t fit in the luggage I was carrying back to L.A. with me, so it now belongs to my cousin. (No, not the one who just got married, although that would have been a great wedding gift. Especially since he’s a Yankees fan.)

The view from our seats in the mezzanine level. Under cover, which was good, because it was raining off and on before the game, and then started raining again in the third inning.

The skyline atop the scoreboard, which either needs some light bulbs replaced, or they’ve got a nice effect going there.

Between innings, they showed my employer’s stock price on a scoreboard, and everybody laughed.

Ramon Castro hit a home run. Maura said she’s seen that apple-in-a-hat up close, and there’s a very thick layer of dust on it.

With the Mets ahead 5-0 in the bottom of the 5th, and the rain intensifying, it was time for the swarm of the guys in blue shirts.

The guys in blue shirts all worked in unison to roll out the tarp, and to avoid running over any straggling Nationals.

You’d think the Mets would have a blue tarp, but it’s white. Maybe the blue tarps are all (still) in the New Orleans area.

Maura, Maggie, and I walked around the stadium for a bit. They made a couple of announcements that the forecast was that the rain would continue for at least a couple more hours, but didn’t announce anything specific.

We eventually left, and found out via text message (from Dan at MLB.com) that the game had indeed been called. Mets 5, Nationals 0, in four and a half innings. It’s a complete game, so it counts, and I’ve now seen games at 18 of the 30 current MLB stadiums. Anyway, we ended up at a bar Maura knows in Manhattan. Actually, that’s redundant, because Maura knows every bar in Manhattan, or so it seems.

(P.S.: These Mr. Met exit signs are awesome.)

Pure good meets pure evil; hair cut, universe destroyed

Well, despite my unemployment, I’ve been feeling pretty good recently. Hmm, as long as I’m sitting here in front of my computer waiting for “Deal or No Deal” to accumulate on the TiVo, I’ll activate iChat. Why, I’ve got an instant message popping up already! It’s from hanger-on Maura. She usually has something interesting to say, often about baseball. I’ll just bring the message window to the front, and…OH, MY GOD, NO!

Remember these golden classics

Bet you weren’t expecting this at this late date! Courtesy of Mrs. Levi, we have some late additions to the pool of photographs of the 2004 trip. In Cleveland, here are Maura, Jim, Dan, and Dianne, and you may notice that Dan is eagerly showing off a Hostess Baseball:

And eight days before that, in St. Louis, standing in a location that doesn’t exist anymore, here are The Flash, Trainman, Cap’n Slap, and Bicycle Repairman (in their not-so-secret identities as Tony, Jim, Levi, and Luke):

The Motor City, etc.

I don’t think AAA would approve of staying in a hotel that has chunks of plaster all over the floor and pigeons roosting inside. But maybe I’m wrong. Their 2004 Tourbooks come out in April, so I’ll pick up the one for Michigan when I have the Triptik made and see how many “diamonds” they give the ol’ Book Cadillac.

While we’re on the subject of Detroit, just the other night, I watched an HBO documentary called “A City on Fire: The Story of the ’68 Detroit Tigers.” The part about the World Series might make Levi depressed and morose, but I enjoyed it. Our next baseball trip after this one needs to involve time travel.

It actually contained some content relevant to our National Anthem discussion: Mickey Lolich complaining about how long it took Jose Feliciano to get through “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the beginning of Game 5, and several other interviewees, including Ernie Harwell, talking about all the complaints received about this unique take on the anthem. It sounded fine to me, although they didn’t play the whole thing uninterrupted in the documentary, so I couldn’t tell exactly how long it went on for.

The birth of this blog prodded a couple of people to put their names into consideration as official hangers-on. Luke wants to go to Davenport and St. Louis, and Maura wants to join us in Pittsburgh in addition to Philadelphia, so I certainly hope she enjoys the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I have updated the itinerary with details of their attendance.

The first tangible sign of spring

Hey, the Phillies tickets showed up in the mail already! We’ll actually be meeting up with my aunt and uncle at the game and our mutual friend Maura, so I’m going to mail those people’s tickets to them ASAP.

On another note, I bought Padres tickets over the weekend for a May game against the Cubs. This isn’t directly relevant to the road trip, except that both the Padres and the Phillies are going to be playing in new stadiums in 2004, so it’ll be fun to do a comparison and contrast. The Padres’ stadium, Petco Park, already gets points for being named after something warm and fuzzy (well, as warm and fuzzy as a chain store can be, i.e., much warmer and fuzzier than Wal-Mart), whereas the Phillies’ stadium, Citizens Bank Park, loses points for being yet another stadium named after a cold, impersonal bank. Actually, at least it’s a bank that still has “bank” in its corporate name, unlike its baseball stadium naming rights counterpart across Pennsylvania, PNC.

Fort Pitt

The day began inauspiciously, with the Waffle House that had been used as bait to get Maura out of bed at 6:15 turning out to be a boarded-up derelict. But after that, everything looked up. We reset our breakfast sights on an Eat ‘n Park, a Pennsylvania favorite, then hit the road for Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is a beautiful city these days, at the confluence of three rivers and surrounded by high hills. We rolled into the swank Hilton–with wireless Internet in all rooms!–and within minutes, rain was pouring down. But our luck held out, the rain cleared off, and we had another beautiful, sunny day for a ballgame. We met up with Maura’s friend Alison from work, who besides being a Cardinals fan is good company. She had flown out for the series and was staying at our hotel, which seemed to be about half full of Cardinals fans. Being with two MLB employees meant that we got great seats without the hassle of pulling out or opening our wallets.

PNC Park is located just down the street from the old Three Rivers Stadium, but that’s about as close to the old ballpark as this one gets in any way. The old ballpark was the worst of the cookie-cutter dual-use 1960s stadiums, big and impersonal and mostly empty. PNC, like all the new parks we’ve been to on this trip, is very open, with lots of views from the outside of the inside and vice-versa. We were on the third-base side, just past the bag, about thirty-five rows up in the lower deck, and from there we had a view of the Roberto Clemente bridge and a bit of the Pittsburgh skyline. The out-of-town scoreboard is similar to the one in Philly, but in this case, I didn’t much care what was going on out of town, because the Cardinals were busy delivering yet another defeat to the Pirates. Albert Pujols sat out, which led to this conversation one row behind me. As I listened in, I couldn’t decide whether it was an ad for MLB, an ad for, say, “Spend time with your kids. A message from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” or, “Kids are counting on you. Don’t let them down. A message from the [see above].” You make the call:

Dad: Is that Albert Pujols?
Son: No, dad. That’s Scott Rolen.
Dad: I don’t think Pujols is even playing today.
Son: Yeah, I don’t think he is.
Dad: And he’s the main reason you wanted to come today.
Son: Yeah.
Dad: He was all you could talk about in the car on the way here.
Son: Yeah. . . . . But Scott Rolen’s pretty good, too.
Dad: Yeah. He sure is.

The Pirates scoreboard opened the game with a lengthy animation in which the Pirates’ ship sank the ships of the other NL Central teams. Later, it featured the animated beginning to what turned into an on-field Pierogi race. In this race, the Pittsburgh Parrot mascot, taking his cue from Randall Simon, decked three of the pierogi in order to assist the female pierogi, Hannah Jalapeno, who had fallen at the finish line. The Parrot carried her over, to much applause.

Pierogi without legs or gender were available at the concession stands, and they came in a close second to the Comerica Park veggie pita in the vegetarian ballpark food rankings. The reason they didn’t rank more highly was that, as I think Bob can vouch, you can either eat not enough pierogi–the problem with a serving at PNC–or way too many pierogi–the problem if you eat them at home. There’s no middle ground, and PNC, perhaps sensibly, chose to go with too few rather than have groaning patrons unable to leave their seats at game’s end.

The Cardinals got a three-run homer in the second from Reggie Sanders and a solo homer the next inning from Jim Edmonds, his third of the weekend, to give them a 5-0 lead. In the third inning, Larry Walker threw out Jose Castillo at the plate as he tried to score on a single to right. Yadier Molina took the throw and just had time to turn towards Castillo when Castillo, traveling about 75 mph, knocked him into about the twelfth row. But Yadier held on, got his brain put back in the right direction, and stayed in the game. That was a good thing, because the next inning also ended, following a patented Matt Morris semi-meltdown, with the tying run thrown out at the plate trying to score on a single to Jim Edmonds. Edmonds makes that play several times a year, running in hard to field a single and coming up throwing a strike to the plate. A few times a year, he overruns the ball and looks extremely silly, but the outs at the plate more than make up for that.

The Cardinals held on, matching their win total from all of last year and running us to 8-0 on the trip. Tomorrow, we’re on to Cleveland, where we meet up with Dan (and, presumably, get in for free again) and, I think, root for the Indians. As far as the trip goes, despite the threat of thunderstorms today, we’re into the home stretch; it feels kind of like it’s the 9th, we’re Eric Gagne, and we’re about to face Rey Ordonez, Neifi Perez, and Tom Goodwin. Our perfect record, however, is in more danger than ever: none of the remaining three games presents us with a clear favorite team to root for, and any one seems as likely to win as any other one. I have faith. 11-0, here we come.

Oh, and there are two newspaper notes. First,a demonstration of my political commitment: Despite the lead story–accompanied by a photo–being about how bunnies are thriving in Pittsburgh this year because of the wet weather, I did not buy the right-wing rag the Tribune-Review. And the Post-Gazette, which Jim did buy, included today the phrase “a throbbing mass of roaches.”

Original comments…

Nancy Boland: Glad you saw a great game and advanced to an 8-0 record! Enjoyed having you for your short stay in Philly!

Toby: It was actually Ty Wigginton on the collision.

Did you guys go over the bridge where the opening scene in “Flashdance” was shot? I visited Pittsburgh with Levi’s sister and some other friends in January 2003 and we went over it. How nostalgic…

thatbob: What a feeling!

Hey, I don’t understand why Jim was rooting for the Cardinals over Pittsburgh this game. I’m going to consider his record to be at 7-1 until he explains himself.

thatbob: I imagine it would be very easy, but really, really mean, for a pirate ship to sink a ship full of bear cubs. And it would seem against a pirate’s own interests to sink a ship full of brewers. That doesn’t even make sense.

Toby: Neither do most of the personnel moves the Pirates have made the past 12 years.

Philadelphia pictures

The view from our seats in the upper deck. It’s not that apparent from the photo, but if I had any complaint about Citizens Bank Park, it’s that there was too much stuff to look at during the game, although I guess that has a lot to do with how high up our seats were…

The Philadelphia skyline, due north of the stadium…

The Philly Phanatic…

Maura thought this was a cute sign…

Jim buying The Schmitter…

Jim eating the Schmitter, and his Uncle Jim, who perhaps wisely opted for a hot dog…

Levi eating a salad, and Maura and Jim not eating anything…

Levi, Maura, Jim, and Jim after the game…

The final line…

The “Liberty Bell” ringing to celebrate the Phillies win…

Bonus pictures from Princeton et al.

Levi, in a hotel room, doing what he did a third of the time, writing an entry for this site…

Levi, in a hotel room, doing what he did another third of the time, reading Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy (sorry, I don’t have any pictures of Levi drinking iced coffee, which is what he did the third third of the time)…

Princeton University (free!) parking pass…

Levi and Maura in the WPRB studio, talking baseball…

Original comments…

maura: as the 9-year-old me would have said to the 29-year-old me, ‘nice face!’

“It’s nice to hear the fans in Philly boo the opposing players rather than their own guys.”

Today’s headline is a statement made by Maura as Brewers pitcher Victor Santos issued an intentional walk to Jim Thome, eliciting boos from the 40,000-strong Citizen Bank Ballpark crowd. Maura joined us midafternoon, meeting us at WPRB’s fancy new studios–complete with functional headphones–in a fancy new dorm on the campus of Princeton University. Maura graciously allowed us to take over her weekly radio show for a couple of hours, playing songs and clips from Jim’s baseball playlist and talking about some of the things we’ve seen on the trip. Three different callers who had never before heard Steve Goodman’s “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request” called to find out what it was.

Following the radio show, we met Jim’s aunt and uncle and followed them to the ballpark. Their presence–combined with Maura’s Phillyphilia and everyone’s hatred of Bud Selig–overrode my regional loyalties and caused us to choose to root for the Phillies. It was a good choice, too, because it allowed us to spiritually join the Padilla Flotilla that was out with their banner in deep right. Vicente Padilla did them proud, throwing 8 shutout innings. Victor Santos of the Brewers fared less well, starting strong but absolutely falling apart in a 6-run fifth inning that forced me, for the first time in two years of keeping score, to shift my inning over a column as the Phillies sent twelve men to the plate. Walks will haunt, indeed. The Padilla Flotilla was ecstatic.

Citizens Bank Ballpark was surprisingly pleasant, especially if contrasted with what I’ve heard about Veterans Stadium, recollections of which tend to not be suitable for a family publication like BRPA 2004. It’s a big, new ballpark kind of like all the others, but I like the angularity of its design: the upper decks all have sharp edges and clean breaks between angled sections; the outfield walls run at odd angles to each other rather than curves, and access to the upper decks is via squared-off staircases rather than ramps. Like seemingly all the new parks, the upper deck–where we sat, right behind home–is too far from the plate, but because each of the four decks is only about twenty-five rows high, you’re able to avoid Comiskey-style vertigo.

Citizens Bank Ballpark definitely the biggest footprint of any non-Skydome park we’ve been to, and unlike Skydome, it doesn’t have a hotel inside. Land in way-south Philly must not have been in great demand, because what the team has done (with much, much public money) is build a fairly normal-sized ballpark, then put a large shell around it of wide concourses, staircases, escalators, food stands, a walk of fame, games and such for the easily distracted younger set, and more food stands. Spoiled by Wrigley, I dislike any park where you have to walk a Harold-Washington-library’s-inside-length distance to get to the entrance, but this ballpark didn’t bother me that much, maybe because the concourses felt, perhaps unintentionally, almost separate from the grandstand and field.

There were two other great things in the ballpark that I’d never seen before. On the brick façade just inside the gate, they post the home team’s starting lineup in ten-foot high baseball card photos. And the out of town scoreboard along the low right-field wall was the best I’ve ever seen. It was an old-style (which is the new style) light-bulb scoreboard. The wonderful innovation the Phils feature is to display for each out-of-town game, the current on-base situation (represented by tiny lights on a diamond) and the number of outs in the current inning. For someone like me who spends half the game tracking, say, the Cardinals game, it’s a source of alternating joy and worry.

Following the game, we drove with Maura to a dinky motel off the interstate in Harrisburg to stay the night. Soon after we’d gone to bed, Marvin’s sister-in-law called, twice. First she called and asked for Marvin without identifying herself. Confident that we were Marvin-less, Jim told her she had the wrong number. Minutes later, she called back, at which point Jim politely convinced her that the number Marvin had given her two days ago was the number of a hotel room, and that we, not Marvin, were its rightful occupants. Sleep followed.

We’re 7-0 now and heading to Pittsburgh to see the Cardinals attempt to match last season’s victory total, with 32 games still to go.

Original comments…

Jon Solomon: I was only able to hijack the first 90 minutes of Maura’s show before RealPlayer lost the feed, but I can turn this file into an edited mp3 and upload it somewhere. If FTP codes can be provided, I can even put it on baseballrelated.com! Let me know. Go Cats.