People our age bonding with Jay Farrar and others on the road to five major league and three minor league parks in eight days. Join us.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Home Sweet Stinging Defeat

The official last stop on the trip was Yankee, where we saw the Yanks complete their sweep of the hapless and sinking Cubbies. Biggest and best surprise of the game was that Cubs fans represented in force: I'd say almost 25% of attendees were sporting Cubs gear of some sort (that includes a guy on our subway car in a Julian Tavarez jersey, believe it or not) for the northsiders' first visit to Yankee since 1938. Most predictable series of events happened on the field, where the Cubs played like a bunch of sick nuns. Oh, well. Another century won't kill us, except literally. - JF

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Eagles Have Landed

I greatly appreciate JF's adherence to my request that the blog be kept relatively family-friendly (or at least "my family"-friendly), but he does a disservice to our book idea when he truncates the title, which would be "Scary-Ass America." This much better captures the abject fear, which JF rightly notes was mostly misplaced.

Back in Brooklyn as I blog this, with JF on the Upper West Side. Separated after eight days!

Apologies that the camera ran out of juice before the final days of the trip, but we won't let it happen next year in Texas. No, sir.

We're threatening to keep this site running as a place for random posting of observations and perhaps funny photos, but we'll let you know; in the meantime, please visit Monday at least for a few more final thoughts on the trip and a recap of Sunday's Cubs-Yankees game, which, amazingly enough, JF and I are attending with his pop on Father's Day. It's been great keeping in touch with all of you during our travel. God bless the Internet -- or, as they call it in Toledo, Ohio: The Make-Believe. -JW

No camera

Bad planning meant I lacked my camera for the nicest minor league stadium we saw: Municipal Stadium, home of the Hagerstown Suns, who beat the West Virginia Power 3-2 on Friday night. As it happens, we attended the game on Faith Night (or, as JW aptly called it, "Leave Before They Find Out Fasman's a Jew Night" -- I think we actually had a few of those nights): fireworks and a Christian rock concert followed the game. Strangely, Holiday Inn Express sponsored a kissing contest on that same night, in which three alarmingly open couples engaged in gratuitous and frankly ghastly PDs of A along the third base line in order to see which of them "most needed to get a room." For all that, though, the stadium really was lovely, low, and charming, with advertising-covered outfield walls and a basic hand-operated scoreboard in front of which a cowboy danced to the ubiquitous techno version of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" between the third and fourth innings.

Hagerstown itself was pretty enough in a low-key sort of way, and the surrounding countryside, especially to the west toward Pittsburgh and the Alleghenies, was craggy, verdant, and seemed well worth exploring. We stopped for about an hour at a coffee shop downtown, and when we asked directions to the stadium ended up speaking over the phone to a friend of the owner's, after both the owner and her (present) friend apologized for being unable to direct us.

The trip has had twin themes, I think: one of them is best summarized in JW's idea for a book about the trip, which would be called "Scary America: On the Road and in Fear of Our Lives" -- this country encompasses some deeply worrisome places, especially for an east coast Jewboy like me. Fortunately, this theme is mostly of our own making, and the product of imagination more than circumstance: in actual fact, we found over and over -- in Gratiot, Lima, Hagerstown, as well as in Chicago (though I almost had my head chewed off for not stating outright that I preferred Chicago to New York) -- that people went out of their ways to be friendly. Not in one of those soppy, invite-you-into-their-home ways that travel writers rhapsodize over in hot places without toilets, but in a low-key manner just on the warm side of courtesy. As wanderlusty as I am, it's a terrific country to come home to. -JF

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Tally

Soon after christening this blog with its ridiculous but seaworthy name, I thought perhaps we should have called it 63 Innings, since that was how much baseball we set out to see. I now realize a more appropriate name would have been 147 Bags of Chex Mix.

In addition to downing approximately that amount of the salty party snack, we've put about 2,000 miles on the car, with about 300 to go (70 tonight from Hagerstwon, Maryland, to D.C., and another 230 tomorrow back to NYC). I've eaten three ballpark hot dogs, with a fourth to come; JF has eaten his body weight in convenience-store beef jerky. (I know: Yeesh.) We've made about 8,900 hillbilly jokes, used about the same number of different accents to make them, and become hopelessly addicted to the road atlas. (Columbus' population of 711,000 is the king of the mind-benders thus far; that makes it more populous than Atlanta, Austin, Miami, Seattle, and any number of higher-profile cities.)

We've also gotten, between us, about 9 hours of quality sleep, but we're having such a blast that another trip is being planned for the spring. This one, we think, will take us around Texas. There are big-league teams in Dallas and Houston, and minor-league teams in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. It would be a much more leisurely trip, and it would provide us with a lot of company, since I know friends or family in all those cities. We spent our time in Chicago with JF's brother, sister, and her boyfriend, and the non-baseball time we spent with them was one of the trip's highlights. Start submitting names for next year's blog now... We'll post a couple more entries to this one when we get to D.C., to wrap things up. Until then--JW

Thursday: The Travelingest Day of the Week

We did our best (details below), but Thursday became the first day without baseball on the trip. The plan was to head to Cincinnati from Chicago, but after running a JF family errand north of the city, which we finished with around 2:00 Eastern time (one of the hurdles was losing an hour going from Chicago to Cincinnati), we headed back south to find crippling traffic. By the time we got through Chi-town, it was 3:30 (EST), and making a 7:20 game in Cincinnati wasn't going to happen.

We headed east towards Cleveland, thinking we'd stop in Toledo on the way to see if a minor league game was scheduled. We pulled in around 7:20, and the town's stadium was quiet. They call their park Fifth Third Field, and neither of us can figure out why they didn't just name it Fifteenth Field.

Amherst, Ohio, was our home for the night, about 30 miles west of Cleveland. We stayed at a Days Inn (the last hotel of the trip) and managed to watch some of the Pistons-Spurs game before passing out. With about nine hours of road time, including the travel around Chicago, it was an exhausting day. The rural parts of Ohio again impressed us with their beauty, but the state can't seem to get its cities right. Toledo, like every other city in the state, is neither big enough to seem like much fun nor small enough to be quaint and inviting. We've come up with a new state motto for Ohio: "Ohio." --JW

Home sweet home

Home sweet home
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Despite the Cubs' recently superpar (not to say excellent, or even successful) performance, on Wednesday we watched them lose 15-5: just like old times, and an especially fitting reintroduction to Wrigley, where I had not seen a game for 16 years. Not surprisingly, it looked exacctly the same, which is to say beautiful. Fans turned out in surprising force for a midweek day game, and were in characteristically good spirits throughout. I don't want to take issue with JW's championing of Yankees fans, because, in his way, he's right: Yankee fans are far more into the game than Cub fans. At times it felt like we stumbled into a 30,000-person party taking place near a baseball game.

But Yankees fans manage to suck all the fun out of winning: they are so spoiled, so intolerant of failure -- and most of baseball is failure, as any .300 hitter can tell you -- so mean-spirited, noisy, violent, and sour (JW not included) that they make attending a baseball game just as stressful and trying as anything else in New York. I suppose Red Sox fans would be the natural analogue for us (Cub fans), but they seem tortured by their losses in a way that we're not: when they chant "Yankees Suck", they put an alarming amount of their heart and soul into it: they seem defined by their hatred of the Yankees. Cub fans, on the other hand, are the best-natured fans in the league. Sure, this means we've endured a dry century, but we also take off work and get to go to Wrigley Field -- WRIGLEY FIELD -- to watch the boys play, and then hang out in Chicago afterward. Winning would just be gilding the lily.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Approaching Mecca

Approaching Mecca
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

This is the place to be.

Yes, PNC Park in Pittsburgh had me quite impressed on Sunday, and I'll stand by the fact that it's the best stadium of recent vintage that I've seen (pending another entrant in Cincinnati tomorrow). But Wrigley Field is just unbeatable on several levels. First of all, it's completely integrated into a neighborhood. Unlike Philadelphia's stadium, in the absolute middle of nowhere (much like the Rangers' beautiful stadium in Arlington, Texas), or Pittsburgh's park, which has a stunning view of downtown but is across the river from real street life, Wrigley is tucked in among the homes and pubs of the city.

As comfortable as many new parks are, Wrigley also displays the benefits of being old-school. Granted, some aspects of the stadium's age are less than appealing -- including the p.a. system, which doesn't seem to have been updated since the Great Depression. Its tinny static was often overbearing from our seats (though it didn't ruin the national anthem sung by a man named LeRoy Ellzey, which was one of the most moving renditions I've ever heard, and certainly the best ever delivered by a man in a mustard-colored velour jumpsuit). But the rough sound and the cramped seating is made up for by the fact that Wrigley is an increasing rarity -- a stadium built before sporting events began catering primarily to children and ADD-suffering adults. Pittsburgh's stadium, inviting as it is, features a giant screen that broadcasts a wide variety of useless garbage before and during the game, from a talking cartoon pirate to a series of finger-colored paintings that each player had made of their name. Wrigley has a very thin strip of a screen underneath the center-field scoreboard, but the visual assault is minimal.

The concourse is a throwback, paved with brick and looking nothing like the soulless mall that surrounds most new stadiums and basketball arenas.

The park is a gem, but the fans are a stranger story. The game was sold out on a Wednesday afternoon, which means the fans are loyal and willing to burn vacation days (or call in sick) for baseball. To be applauded, for sure. Still, there was something odd about the collective behavior of the crowd. Early on, before the game turned into a blowout (Chicago fell behind 15-0, eventually losing 15-5), there was almost no reaction to anything happening on the field. Greg Maddux, the Cubs' pitcher, would get two strikes on a hitter during a jam, and the nearly 40,000 in attendance kept completely quiet. Chicagoans clearly know the sport, many of them stayed for the duration despite the cold weather and the uncompetitive game, and they enthusiastically stood to sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch, but it seemed like the ritual of being a Cubs Fan meant more to them than the particular game they were watching. That's why, in my admittedly biased opinion, Yankees fans are still the best I've seen -- but I'll let JF, a Cubs fan, defend his side in the morning. For now, it's time for bed. Today was the first day without driving on the trip, and I fear it's spoiled us -- the next two days will be spent mostly on the highway. Wish our weary old bodies luck... More on Chicago itself (sans baseball, I promise) and other subjects tomorrow. --JW

Us and Ten of Our Closest Friends

Nighttime at the Cove
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

The South Bend-Dayton game Tuesday night marked the first time we left a game early. There were several reasons for this, two of them primary: 1) The pitchers for both teams were making it hard to tell whether batting practice had ended, and at the rate runs were being scored, the game might have ended around 3 a.m.; 2) Spending the better part of two days in Columbus and South Bend had started to make Chicago seem like Oz, and it beckoned.

The crowd was slightly more human than the one in Columbus, though much more sparse (something we didn't think possible). Isn't minor league baseball supposed to be flourishing? Doesn't Sports Illustrated write a charming story about this every couple of years, about the small-town fervor and the crazy gimmicks meant to put butts in seats (fans milking cows between innings, etc.)? Based on our experiences Monday and Tuesday night, I was tempted to agree with Jeff MacGregor, who, in his excellent new book about Nascar, writes that -- and I might be paraphrasing here -- baseball has "crawled up under the house to die."

Fortunately, that bleak impression was obliterated on Wednesday afternoon in Chicago, but more on that soon.... --JW

Touchdown Jesus

Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Columbus left us softened up to be impressed by almost anything South Bend had to offer, but the home of Notre Dame couldn't come through. After expressing disappointment with both towns to my father, he said: "They call it the Rust Belt for a reason." Indeed.

I figured the university would at least make S.B. the hub of college-like venues and activities, but our search for quaint, bookish areas went unrewarded. The campus itself seems alarmingly small based on our admittedly quick drive around it. We did stop to see ol' TD Jesus, who is pictured above. But even the quad and football stadium he overlooks were a bit underwhelming on this day.

We stopped at a cafe for some dinner before the game, and the waiter told us we had just beat the "4:30 traffic jam." Sure enough, five minutes later we gazed out the window to see five cars lined up at the stop light. Whew. Another travel bullet dodged.

After our entree salads (ordered with the intent to cleanse our systems of ballpark damage), we strolled over to a magic store. How this store, or really South Bend in general, stays open, we can't say. --JW

Not quite ballpark food

Not quite ballpark food
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

The night before the Cubs' game, having spent the past night in Columbus OH and all day in rural Ohio and Indiana, I celebrated my return to civilization (arrived in Chicago around 10.45) by diving more or less head first into a bottle of Maker's Mark and a leftover pack of Camel Lights. Hence the pathetic remedy you see before you. I would say I'm too old to travel and abuse my body like this, if a) I weren't having such a good time, and b) I suspect I probably would have said the same thing at 6. -JF

Fifty cent beauty

Fifty cent beauty
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

It may not be the weirdest food in and of itself, but it certainly is the weirdest offering we've seen yet: six items from the bottom, see "Bacon, $.50." Would have been a good way to spend $5. -JF

How to rescue a bad night in Indiana

How to rescue a bad night in Indiana
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

I do not think this means what Fred thinks this means. -JF

Monday, June 13, 2005

Almost ballpark food

Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

You can't read the sign, but it says: Classic Denny's. This was in greater Zanesville, OH (JW: "Yeesh. I'd hate to see lesser Zanesville".) It took us a while to get seated: JW had to see a man about a horse, and as for me, well, I haven't shaved in a week or so, giving me a sort of "minority look", always dangerous at a Denny's, esp a Classic Denny's. But we eventually got a seat in the smoking section (she seated JW once he came back, and I followed), and found the food good enough, in a road-trip sort of way. If you pressed your ears shut after the meal, you could hear the rhythmic, insistent crackle of closing arteries.

Like Philip Roth said...

Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

...Goodbye, Columbus. Let me second JW's post below here, and say: I yield to nobody in romanticising places I've never been, especially, during the better part of the last ten years that I've spent in the UK, the Midwest. This frightens and disturbs my beautiful wife, the bravest and finest person I know, perhaps the only person I have ever met completely free of racial, ethnic, religious, or regional prejudice, who nonetheless fears that one day I'll move us en famille to Cincy or Pittsburgh or Sandusky.

That won't happen, of course, but it especially won't happen in Columbus. I'm sure there are some nice people here, interesting places, history, neighborhoods, restaurants, bars, stories, etc, but I can't really say I'm desperate to find them. If I spent my time in Pittsburgh thinking how much I'd like to explore the place, I spent my time in Columbus thrilled I live in New York. In fact, I would encourage Ohio to open a tourist bureau in New York, selling inexpensive long weekends to frazzled, disgruntled New Yorkers: "Rekindle your love affair with New York: come to Columbus." - JF

Do I sound a little hoarse?

Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Here an innocuous looking mascot wields a sprayer full of anthrax. And here, in Columbus, I inhale deeply.

Columbus, Ohio: Autopsy

Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Wanderlust, meet Columbus.

At the close of tonight's game -- which Columbus won 3-2 with a hit in the bottom of the ninth, re-establishing our karma for the home teams after a speed bump in Pittsburgh yesterday -- the loudspeakers started blaring "New York, New York." Columbus is the AAA affiliate of the Yankees, and the song plays in the Bronx after every win. Still, the irony was not lost on us, since we decided that Columbus is the converse of the song's lyric: If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere.

It's not that Columbus is unsightly. We passed through Wheeling, West Virginia, today, so we know from unsightly. The city has a decent skyline, a big university, and twice as many people as Pittsburgh (after learning of this fact from our trusty road atlas, JF asked, "Where are they all?" and walked to the hotel window, as if expecting to see 700,000 gathered in the parking lot.)

But still, Columbus has a ways to go in the First Impression Department. It has the affect of a city during war-time that has tragically turned to rationing chromosomes. It's possible that everyone at Cooper Stadium on Monday night doesn't accurately represent the broader populace, but that seems extraordinarily unlikely.

I spend a good deal of my time defending places from their worst stereotypes, but it's difficult to muster the energy to do that for Columbus. Thoroughly average-looking women here are like beauty queens; the beauty queens are hallucinations. When a normal-looking family of four walked by us at the stadium, it was all I could do not to leap out of my seat and follow them back to the mothership before it was too late.

People here are fond of T-shirts with text. One scrappy feller walked by with this dictum printed across his chest: "If I gave a crap, you'd be the first person I'd give it to." He was holding a toddler whose future I stopped thinking about immediately, in order to go on.

Today's been fun, like every day on the trip, but we leave for South Bend tomorrow morning, and not a moment too soon. --JW

On the Road Again

Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Some of you have been asking for more travel details, and even photos. Be careful what you wish for. Here's a shot of rural Ohio (rural being somewhat redundant, based on what we've seen) from the window of our car. It's much prettier in person, but it's not very eventful.

Today, JF asked me to pull over for a rest stop, and we ended up on a small farm road in Ohio. Without any A-list gas stations or fast-food restaurants around, JF pointed to a white clapboard house that had been converted into a Post Office and Grocery Store: "Stop there," he said, bravely.

I stayed in the car, but after just a minute or so, during which several burly men entered and exited the store, I noticed a sign on the flapping screen door: "Sorry, No Public Restroom." Then what was JF doing if not being abducted?? I briefly considered calling 911, but soon JF bounded out and, upon entering the car, said: "They're just the nicest people in there." This is what passes for eventful, so I guess that's a good thing. --JW

Sunday, June 12, 2005

More Baseball

We're probably already writing too much about the actual sport of baseball for many of you (there have been fervent cries for tales of adventure from the road, but when you're driving on interstates, most of the adventure comes in the form of deciding which Iron & Wine track to play next. We're trying to remedy this, we promise).

But I thought I would share a few more thoughts from these last two games:

--The Nationals have now won 10 in a row (we saw the ninth in the streak). I applaud the achievement, but with a cautionary note: The Devil Rays won 13 in a row during one stretch last year. Remember how much excitement they provided in September? Oh. Me neither.

--I failed to foresee the reality of traveling around the northeast in mid-June, which feels less like relaxing than being slowly cooked. Last night, the humidity also seemed to plunge us into a wormhole, depositing us in 1987. In the stadium last night -- suited up and playing, no less -- were Jamie Moyer, Pat Borders, Wil Cordero, and Carlos Baerga, whose combined age is 379. (Well, 378, but Baerga turns 104 in August.) I only slightly exaggerate when I say that the announcement of Baerga's presence over the p.a. system stopped my heart.

--The Pirates are a scrappy team, nowhere near as bad as the Devil Rays, despite Sunday's loss. But they're the only team I can remember that consists solely of platoon players. It seemed that everyone who stepped to the plate had 102 at-bats on the year. Humberto Cota, one of sixteen Pirates I had never heard of, tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a solo home run off the end of his bat that had no business leaving the park. But it did, and I thought for a moment that our karma was once again working for the home team. Alas, the Devil Rays scored two in the 13th to win it. We saw 31 innings of baseball in just over 48 hours. Barring any more extra-inning games, we've got 45 to go... --JW

My Wanderlust Problem

City on a hill
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Like most people who aren't suffering from dementia, I never thought I would utter the following words during an enjoyable vacation: "We better get up at 7 if we want to make it to Pittsburgh on time."

Turns out, Pittsburgh is a great town, and this is part of a larger problem I have.

I'm notorious among my friends for a lack of adventurousness, and I'm conscious of several reasons why I lack it. For instance, JF was describing to me today how the Chinese pride themselves on eating extraordinary things, and how one of his friends, while there, was slowly served everything BUT the meat of a particular animal. This experience and the electric chair would be a toss-up for me.

So that's why China isn't at the top of my list. But even within the States, I don't travel a great deal, and I got a glimpse of a potential subconscious reason today. I tend to fall in love with most places I visit. Pittsburgh is no different.

The picture above might not be the clearest representation, but the city is surrounded by hilly terrain, perched on top of which are charming homes, churches, and (as on most hills) trees. Famously, three rivers converge downtown. The baseball stadium is, objectively speaking, the best I've ever seen. The area around Carnegie Mellon is a bit like areas of Brooklyn, though presumably with fewer subscribers to n+1. What's not to like?

Now, though, I have to add Pittsburgh to the list of places that I would like to live in for an extended period of time, but which offer me no reason to do so. I have to stumble around heartsick for Pittsburgh. What kind of a life is that??

This theory of my infatuation with places will be severely tested as we make our way to Columbus and South Bend over the next two days, but I'll keep you posted. That's what blogs are for. --JW

Daddy's a Moron

I've sat in front of, behind, and immediately next to some incredible blowhards at the approximately 8,000 baseball games I've attended, but the man behind me at Sunday's Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game takes the cake. He was with three girls (who I assumed were his children) and a woman (who I assumed to be his wife), but JF suggested after the game that he had the demeanor of someone who was dating the woman and getting to know her children. Either scenario is grim. If the couple is indeed married, and factoring in the age of the children, the wife is the longest-suffering human being on Earth, bar none. If they are not married, the children were forced to endure an excruciating rite of passage (the 13-inning game lasted nearly five hours), and the woman, if sane, will not only deny any future meetings, but will immediately change her phone number, and perhaps the locks as well.

What inspires such ill will in me? I admit that some of it stems from his sheer ignorance of baseball. As the game stretched into extra innings, he kept insisting that the longest major league game was 21 innings, though it was 26. He also kept loudly teaching the kids -- as if they could care about anything less -- that baseball players are "super-superstitious," and this is why no pitcher will ever wear any number between 0 and 9. This is despite two facts that spring to mind: Boston's David Wells, a pitcher, once wore No. 3 in honor of his hero, Babe Ruth. And Pittsburgh's own Rick White wears No. 00. When White appeared in this very game and one of the younger daughters -- whose IQ must be an order of magnitude higher than that of her father/stepdad/problem -- suggested that this left his theory in tatters, he adamantly defended himself by saying that 00 is technically two digits, not one. Normally, I might be tempted to agree with him, but two things: 1. He was so thoroughly idiotic about every other subject; and 2. He was vehemently arguing to save face with a child.

But it wasn't just baseball ignorance, it was the worst kind of empty baseball piety. The first inning alone brought these gems, shouted in the direction of the helpless females in his company: "Statistically, it's very bad to walk the lead-off man;" "Pitcher is a very psychological position;" and "Catchers tend to know a lot about baseball." That's funny, because I thought walking a lead-off man was statistically negligible, pitchers were robots, and professional second baseman knew a little bit about baseball, too. It went on like this for hours. And I normally wouldn't mention it, but I know that a few friends reading this -- notably, JW and BB -- will appreciate it, and that the rest of you are interested in my rage more generally. --JW

On Mascots

Armed Mascot 2
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

No player, stadium, or city has gained more respect from me on this trip than the Philly Fanatic. Yes, he or she is probably an underpaid college student in a green-feathered costume with a Phillies hat stapled to its head, but he or she is great.

I began to understand this in Philly on Friday night, because in person the Fanatic's antics -- particularly its ability to convincingly portray several different emotions despite a never-changing rictus, and its freely tearing around the outfield on a four-wheeler -- are far more enlivening than can be ascertained on television. But my impression of the bird/alien/muppet's greatness was doubled, and then tripled, over the next two days.

In D.C., the Nationals are cheered on by "Screech," presumably a foam eagle, but really a mascot so uninspiring and poorly built that he didn't even warrant our wasting a photo on him. Pittsburgh tried a bit harder, but still came up well short. The Pirates are cheered on by a mascot that can only be described as a drunk parakeet. He is pictured above, wielding a bazooka, out of which he was launching hot dogs into a pleading crowd (no, not T-shirts; not rally towels; not Pirates caps. Hot dogs. Out of a bazooka.) But putting aside the ridiculous tasks he's asked to perform by the Pirates' front office, he's not worth his weight in bird feed.

The Fanatic, on the other hand, is the Ernest Hemingway of baseball mascots: He does a specific thing very effectively and makes it seem very simple. This perceived simplicity inspires countless imitators, and they invariably end up looking like jackasses. --JW

Ballpark lunch, day 3

Ballpark dinner, day 3
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Great and manifold were PNC's food offerings -- they included a seafood stand with the haimishe name of Benkovitz's, and the frighteningly named "Quaker Steak and Lube" [home of the Porterhouse a la Crude Oil?] -- but given that it was an afternoon game in heat so intense I was recreating the conditions of primordial life inside my jeans, and given that my ballpark diet is giving me an Elvis-dyin'-on-the-throne sort of look, I opted for the simple fare you see before you. Which prompts a question: how is it possible that hot pretzels bought on the street in New York can be so good, and ballpark pretzels, the simplest of all foods, can be so mediocre (especially in a fancy new stadium like this)? How can stadiums get away with this? I suppose it's because salt-licking jackasses like me will buy them, but still, once I had polished off this pretzel, licked the salt from the wax paper, and seriously considered buying another one, I was disappointed. --JF

View from PNC

View from PNC
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Here's another view from our seats: the low outfield walls with the city visible behind them are a beautiful touch. Pittsburgh is a gem of a city -- as it happens, we saw most of it while hunting for a hotel room -- and the stadium shows it off well.

Inside PNC

Inside PNC
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Only because we're heading to Wrigley on Wednesday will I hold off on calling this the best park of the trip, but boy oh boy is PNC a gem. Intimate, beautiful, and comfortable, it's like Camden's cute little sister. We circumnavigated the stadium before and after our game, and couldn't find a bad seat (this picture was taken from our seats) in the whole park. Sightlines were great and seats were comfy. Fortunately, ours were just under an overhang; by the second inning, most fans with seats in the sun were watching from the concourse (and they STILL had better views than from box seats at most parks). While we couldn't find a bad seat, we had no trouble finding two bad baseball teams; they were playing right in front of us. The Pirates, in fairness, have some solid young players: Lawton, Bay, Mackowiak, Castillo. But the Devil Rays would lose to a good college team; you could trade the starting 9 for whoever's starting for their AAA team with no loss of quality. By the end of the game (it went 13 innings), JW and I were taking bets on the likelihood of finding Lou Piniella drowning his sorrows at the Outback Steakhouse in the outfield. --JF

The slow and steady decay of RFK

The slow and steady decay of RFK
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Day 2 of the trip: watched the Nats win their 9th straight. More importantly: watched DC acting like a real sports town - the crowd was as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as any I've seen. The Nats pulled out a win in the bottom of the 8th, and, unusually for DC, almost nobody left early to "beat the rush", even though it was, by a conservative estimate, 138 degrees with 90% humidity. If you've ever wondered what it's like to watch a baseball game while being waterboarded, seek no further. And if you've ever wondered who Manager of the Year should be, seek no further: how Frank Robinson is keeping his team of rejects, limpers, losers, noodle-arms, knuckleheads, moon-howlers, lunatics, and nutcases from killing each other and a few unlucky fans every night -- much less crafting them into a winning team -- is beyond me. I suspect it's Benzedrine + hypnotism, but I don't know.

I yield to no DC native in cheering baseball's return; I hope the Nats lay waste to the NL East before going down in flames to the Cubbies. That said, RFK is a stinking hellhole, and the sooner it's torn down the better. If nothing else, it helps you appreciate just how wrong Daniel Snyder got the new Redskins stadium; how anyone could produce nostalgia for this creaky, cavernous monstrosity by the Anacostia is beyond me. It combines the ambience of a bus station men's room, the hygiene of, well, a bus station men's room, and the comfort of -- yes, again -- a bus station men's room to produce what has to be the worst stadium in the majors.

You will notice I omitted Ballpark Dinner tonight. I ate a greasy, horsemeat-stuffed condom (they claim it was a hot dog; I have parasite tests that say otherwise) and spent the rest of the evening on a rocking boat in a storm. Pack your own dinner.

My kvetching aside, do go see a Nats game; if you're reading this, you're a hardier soul than I, and they are in fact a good team, and it's great to see baseball back in the D of C. - JF

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Friday's travel was largely uneventful. We did have to maneuver, in downtown Philly, past a wheelchair-bound man on our left and a young man who looked like an extra from Mad Max riding a moped on the right. No harm done, thanks to JF's deft driving; but luckily, we have insurance that relieves us of responsibility for not only damage to, but "loss of," the car.

We passed the time listening to music that mostly fits the category a particular friend of mine might call "plhearnican," for Plaintive, Heart-Achey, Earnest, American music.

There's been a slight change of plans, so now's a good time to post our itinerary (some of you have asked, believe it or not). There was going to be one day without baseball, but no longer:

Saturday: Washington, D.C.
Sunday: Pittsburgh, Penn.
Monday: Columbus, Ohio
Tuesday: South Bend, Ind.
Wednesday: Chicago, Ill.
Thursday: Cincinnati, Ohio
Friday: Hagerstown (I don't know -- Maryland? Virginia? Puerto Rico?)

Saturday we drive from D.C. to New York sans baseball, unless we accidentally stumble into the bleachers at a Little League game out of habit. --JW

Before the bloodbath

Phanatics Gone Wild 6
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Here the Phanatic prepares to club this woman to death before sucking out her brains through the top of her head.

Happy Phan

Happy Phan
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

The Marlins' mascot is a fish. The Orioles' mascot is an oriole. Most mascots have something to do with their team. But what's the Phanatic? Some tubby green alien - what does that have to do with Philadelphia? As I was watching him, though, I figured it out.

Before the game, the Phanatic got in the faces of stretching Brewers players, and started doing one-armed pushups in front of them. When he got up, he did a little limp-wristed, skirt-twirling dance, and pointed at them. When he came to our section, as you see here, he first nearly molested a cutie a few rows over, grabbing her and repeatedly sticking out his Phanatic fake-tongue at her. Then he grabbed a couple of beers from a passing beer man, shook them up, covered the beer man's eyes and shoved them back into his cooler, ensuring a drenching for some poor fan.

That's when it hit me: the Phanatic is a total prick. What other city had a branch of the District Court in the stadium's basement (as the Vet had) to quickly process drunk & disorderlies? What other fans are so quick to boo and throw stuff onto the field? If they only gave the fanatic a blond mullet and a scraggly, Prefontaine mustache, he'd be perfect.


Ballpark dinner

Ballpark dinner
Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

A friend once described Mumbai as "a city of 15,000,000 people, all of whom are on the same street at the same time as you." This occurred to me when I got hungry at the ballpark and saw a branch of Tony Luke's, a cheesesteak place, in the outfield. Sadly, I think all 24,000 people attending the game saw it a few minutes before I did: I couldn't face the scrum. I settled for the dinner you see before you. The pen was merely a means to an end: the kid in front of me had a roast pork sandwich, and I tried to shank him for it with a ballpoint pen, but he was a slippery little maggot. - JF

He Is Who He Says He Is; If He Wasn't, Then Why Would He Say He Is?

Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

Is it a good touch or a strange one to have the organist so publicly displayed? Here he is, Paul Richardson, to all appearances a happy man (though the professionally happy inevitably produce visions of off-hours despair: mismatched socks beneath the Sansabelt slacks; crusted, whiskey-scented coffee mugs, etc). The stadium designers apparently decided to forgo even the pretense of majesty or old-timeyness in the organ department, setting Paul and his surprisingly dinky keyboard between beer and peanut stands. A quirky touch that I guess I should find regrettable, but can't. -JF

Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia

Originally uploaded by Butch Wynegar.

It's hard not to respect a stadium that features Greg Luzinski, a beefy slugger from the 1980s, offering free autographs on the outfield concourse next to his eponymous barbecue stand. Citizens Bank Park -- seen here immediately after we entered, about an hour and a half before game time -- is a terrific venue, despite being located in the middle of an asphalt wasteland well south of charming downtown Philadelphia. (We drove through several blocks of the city that were quaint and beautiful, but closer to the stadium the landscape slowly changed until it seemed our trip had taken an unexpected turn to an abandoned airfield in El Paso.)

The outfield concourse features a walking-mall experience like most new stadiums, packed with the typical fare: Luzinksi's bbq, stores of Phillies apparel, a wall of memorable moments in the team's history, and a statue of Richie Ashburn. But it's wider than similar areas of stadiums like those in Baltimore and Arlington, which makes it a more pleasant stroll. The outfield seats, as you can see here, are all actual seats, rather than bleachers, and there are a nice variety of heights and angles out there.

I mentioned at one point that the corporate name of the stadium could be made more appealing by just eliminating the middle word and making it Citizens Park. JF countered that the new name would bring to mind an athletic facility in North Korea -- something like The Citizens' Democratic Park of the People. JF further clarifies: "My general rule is that the more a state insists in its official name that it is democratic, the less it will actually be so in practice."

Overall grade from me: B+, though it might look like an A++ after tonight's experience at RFK, decaying former home of the Redskins and currently host to the Nationals while their new digs are being built. JW

Phillies 5, Brewers 2

PHILADELPHIA -- We're good luck for the home team so far. At our first game last night, at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies third baseman David Bell hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to stretch the team's winning streak to four games. Milwaukee had jumped to a 1-0 lead early, when Jeff Cirillo hit a home run to left off Brett Myers in the top of the first. Down 2-0 in the fourth, the Phillies got a two-run blast from Jim Thome to tie the game.

The first half of the game was a Jekyll & Hyde experience. Myers works in a satisfying, quick rhythm: pitch, get it back, toe the rubber, pitch. Brewers' starter Victor Santos pitches in a rhythm that suggests he's going to be executed promptly at game's end: pitch, stroll toward the catcher, kick the grass, stare at the sky, tug at pants, etc.

It stayed tied, and eventually moved briskly on both sides, until the last frame, when Milwaukee reliever Matt Wise walked Thome and then became preoccupied with his pinch-runner, Endy Chavez. Wise walked Chase Utley, and then Bell finished things off with what looked like a routine fly to left -- but the ball carried out for the win. A dramatic, well-played, and well-paced first game.

The walk back to the car, around 9:45, was accompanied by the heartening sight of the same fans who had been tail-gating and drinking at 5:30 starting a garbage-can fire over which to grill more meat. -JW

Thursday, June 09, 2005


If you're visiting this site on Thursday or Friday, you're a bit early. Starting over the weekend (Saturday, with any luck) this site's intrepid travelers will be posting dispatches (and, with even more luck, photos) from a seven-city tour of baseball parks, roadside attractions, and hospitable lodgings. If we manage to see and review the new Brangelina vehicle or Batman Begins while we're at it, well, we're all the luckier.