Baseball


Unless you are a Tigers or Giants fan, baseball season is sadly over. For my Rockies-and-Mariners-loving-self, the season has been over for nearly a month. It’s always a depressing time. April seems so far away, especially now that I live three states away from the spring training complexes in Peoria, Arizona.

So to cheer myself up, I’m reminiscing about my minor league vacation while half-heartedly listening to Game 2 of the World Series on mlb.com.

I’d been wanting to go to Tennessee for ages (there was a trip planned four years ago that went awry) to see the Jackson Generals AA baseball team – formerly the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. Why the need to see a random team in Tennessee? Because these ball playing fellows are just two steps away from being Seattle Mariners.

I’ve followed the Mariners minor leagues for years. I grew up cheering on the Everett Aquasox (the Mariners short season single A team) just north of Seattle. When I moved to Las Vegas, my favorite male travel companion and I would leave Sin City every summer weekend to instead hang out in the crappiest towns of Southern California. We would follow around the High Desert Mavericks (the Mariners long season single A team), cheering for them on in the fabulous cities of Victorville, Lake Elsinore, Bakersfield, and Lancaster. We had to be the only people LEAVING the excitement of Las Vegas to become Victorvillians for the weekend. But hey – baseball calls. We had things timed so Tom could pick me up from school on Friday and we’d pull into Stater Bros. Stadium in Adelanto just as the national anthem was starting. This mad dash unfortunately did not allow for a stop at The Mad Greek in Baker.

Anyways, after future Seattle Mariners are finished being Everett Aquasox and High Desert Mavericks, they move onto Tennessee to become Jackson Generals. (There is also a team in Clinton, Iowa, but I haven’t been there yet. Next year!) Therefore when my parents and I planning on visiting family in Baldwin, Wisconsin, I insisted that we “swing by” Jackson, Tennessee on the way back to Colorado. (Note to the geographically challenged: Jackson is NOT between Denver and Baldwin.) Luckily my parents are also diehard minor league fans, so convincing them to take a five-state detour was an easy task.  

We left Graceland in the afternoon and made the two hour drive to Jackson. I was humming Johnny Cash’s “We’re Going to Jackson,” for most of the drive, despite my mom gently suggesting that the song was most likely referring to the town in Mississippi. Unaffected, I sang on. My favorite part about driving through the south is singing all the country songs that are affiliated with various cities. I’ve made more than one travel companion despise the songs “Maybe it was Memphis” and “I’m a Little Past Little Rock (but a Long Way from Over You)” over the years. Come to think of it, that is probably why Tom killed the trip to Tennessee all those years ago.

Back to baseball: The Jackson Generals play in Pringles Park, right off of I-40 (you can see the park from the freeway). Being in Tennessee, the place was HOT. My mom claimed that she’d requested seats in the shade, but we were seated squarely in the sunshine. If you go to a game around 4:00, you’re going to want to sit in sections G – I in rows 15-22. Later in the evening, your back is to the sun if you are on the third base side sections A – F. Luckily, it was not very crowded, and so we abandoned our assigned seats and moved to the shade. It was a great game, even though the Huntsville Stars beat us in the 11th inning. If you are in the area, catch the game on the radio at 101.5 FM.

A few days later my mom and I found ourselves in Little Rock Arkansas for a day longer than expected (The Little Rock Nine Museum was just too cool. We couldn’t tear ourselves away after our allotted one hour had passed). How should we fill up an evening?

Baseball, of course! Right across the river from downtown Little Rock is the gorgeous Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers since 2007. While the stadium is relatively new (the gal checking us in at our hotel was reminiscing about watching the Travelers at Ray Winder Field. She rolled her eyes at the mention the “new” stadium), the team is certainly NOT. The Travelers have been around 1895! They are currently affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels.

The game was fun, full of typical minor league shenanigans: errors, ground rule doubles and a run scored due to consecutive wild pitches. It was apparently “paramedic night” at the ball park – the men in white made three trips to the field, the first incident involving a little leaguer who passed out during the national anthem (it WAS pretty hot). Luckily everyone made it through the nine innings without having to be transferred to the hospital.

My mom and I were especially glad to have had a fulfilling night of baseball when we returned to our hotel room to find that back in Seattle Ichiro had been traded to the damn Yankees. It’s a good thing I like farm teams, because that’s basically what my Mariners are – a farm team for the Yankees. Luckily this World Series game that I’m listening to right now does NOT involve the soul-sucking/money grabbing team that gets booed by their own fans in New York. Listening to Detroit shut them down a few weeks ago was glorious. Things aren’t looking so good for Detroit now, but its baseball…you never know what could happen. Maybe the Mariners will even make it to the play-offs someday.

I can’t wait for next April…

Since the Clinton Lumberkings (that would be the Seattle Mariners single-A farm team) was out of town when my parents and I were passing through Iowa, we opted for the next best baseball option in the area: The Field of Dreams movie set.

In case you haven’t seen the 1989 flick, the movie stars Kevin Costner as an Iowa farmer. He hears a voice that cryptically tells him to build a baseball field in the middle of his field and take a cross country trip to find a reclusive author. Back in Iowa, players’ long-dead (particularly Shoeless Joe Jackson and other White Sox accused of throwing the 1919 World Series) emerged from the cornfield to once again partake in their favorite pastime. The movie is based on the book Shoeless Joe, but the movie is better. Although to be honest, I only got through ½ the book and I’ve seen the movie dozens of times.

The baseball field is still in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, and it is free (Yes! Free!) to visitors. The couple who owns the property is (according to their website) committed to keeping the site from getting over-commercialized, and they’ve done a good job. There is a small shack of souvenirs and an information board about the field and movie, but that’s pretty much it. Families are free to run around the bases (much smaller than a regulation ball field), walk through the surrounding cornfields, take in the sites from wooden bleachers, play catch in the outfield, and take batting practice from home plate. Don’t forget to bring your own baseball gear.

The Field is scheduled to be sold in late 2012, but apparently the new owners are also committed to keeping the site as is and accessible to visitors. We will see. Presently, Field of Dream hours are 9am – 6pm, and the field is open daily from April 1st to November 30th. The Field is located at 28995 Lansing Road in Dyersville Iowa, which is in the middle of nowhere. You can check their website for a map (and other information, including movie trivia) and directions, although my GPS got us there with no problems.

This post contains affilitate links to Amazon.com. Purchasing a book or movie via these links will earn me a bit of money, so thank you!

I moved to Denver during the height of the Tim Tebow craze. And although I wasn’t a particular fan of Tebow or the Broncos or even football, I appreciated the blue and orange filled city. I loved the bars packed with enthusiastic fans and I hid smiles when my high school students would strike dramatic Tim-Tebow-on-one-knee poses when asked to do arduous tasks like write complete sentences.

I’ve missed sports. I’ve missed the way a city comes together during a playoff series. I took the Seahawks, Mariners, and SuperSonics for granted when I lived in Seattle. I didn’t even know that I’d found comfort in being part of a sea of blue and green clad people until I moved away.

Gambling being what it is in Vegas, no professional sports teams call the city home. Nevada residents have to cheer on L.A. teams if they have no other allegiances. Now that I’m in a decidedly un-sinful city (as long as you ignore the rampant marijuana use), I can be part of a fan base again. I can smile proudly when my students ask “miss, did you see the game last night?”

Although not a huge basketball fan, I found myself quite enjoying the Denver Nuggets a few months ago at the Pepsi Center. My basketball night involved parking by the capitol to avoid paying, taking the free 16th street mall ride up to the bars at LoDo, doing some drinking, and the finally picking up cheap scalper tickets sometime after the game started. Fun stuff. If you want to see the 2011-2012 Nuggets, you’d better hurry. They are working game-by-game to avoid elimination.

But all winter long, baseball was what I’d been waiting for. I’d been wanting to move to Denver even since watching Carlos Gonzalez hit for the cycle with a walk off home run a couple years ago. That 2010 game I’d seen was dubbed one of the most exiting major league game of the year, so I was afraid that my return to Coors Field would be anti-climatic.

Not so.

I’ve been to two game so far this year, both were great wins for the Colorado Rockies. The April 27th game I witnessed with my mom included an 11 run inning (for the Rockies), a grand slam (for the Rockies), six errors (for the Mets), AND a cycle (for the Mets). Most baseball fans are lucky to see one cycle in their lifetime. I’ve seen TWO in Denver. I think it’s a sign that this city is exactly where I need to be.

Next week my Seattle Mariners will be playing the Rockies in the Mile High City, and although I’ve decided to raise my daughter as a Rockies fan (she doesn’t have a name or a home yet, but I’ve got the important things figured out!), there is no way I can root against my Mariners. I’m excited to wear my blue and teal for the series, but I’ll be glad to bust out my newly acquired purple Dexter Fowler shirt for the rest of the season.

Parking around Coors Field is between $5 and $20. For a great slice of pizza before the game, bead to  the Wazee Supper Club on 15th and Wazee. Cheap seats start at $4, but for a view of the Rockies (the mountains, not the players), sit up high on the 1st base side.

Two summers ago I drove from Las Vegas to Albuquerque to Denver. It was around Father’s Day, so my parents flew in to the Mile High City to spend a few days with me. This was extra cool because they paid for a downtown hotel room. I was already really liking Colorado. The drive up from New Mexico was all red and blue and pretty. I ran a race in Evergreen, this cute town in the mountains. White water rafting in Cañon City was a bit scary, but (like all scary things are) very fun. Rocky Mountain National Park of course had great hiking. I didn’t even notice any altitude changes.

But Denver! Or my goodness, Denver was amazing. I usually connect more with small towns than big cities when I travel, but Denver was different. Colorado’s capital had exactly what I like in a downtown area – tons of great restaurants, a main thoroughfare set aside just for pedestrians, painted pianos set up randomly, a system of bike rentals that made navigating the town easy, a revitalized Lower Downtown area (LoDo) which was beyond adorable (in a rugged, outdoorsy sort of way), and the Platte River was brimming with families outside playing and picnicking. Everyone I met was into running, hiking, camping, skiing, and other things that I like. So of course I loved Denver immediately. But I wasn’t thinking about moving here. Not yet.

Then we went to a Rockies game. I’d bought my parents tickets (good tickets) to a Cubs vs. Rockies game. Being from Seattle, we are American League fans, but decided to root for the Rockies. It was a good decision.

Carlos Gonzalez’s first at-bat was a line drive that landed him on 3rd base. I filled in three-fourths of the diamond on my scorecard and snuck a hopeful look at Dad, who was doing the same thing on his scorecard. He gave me a warning look to keep my mouth shut. Verbalizing what I was thinking would be bad luck.

For all you non-baseball fans, I was thinking about the cycle. A cycle is when a batter gets a single, double, triple, and home run all in the same game. It happens very rarely. I’m not positive, but I think the Seattle Mariners (as a team) have had three players hit for the cycle in the 20+ years that I’ve been a fan. I’d never seen one in person.

Of all the four required hits, the triple is usually the hardest for a player to secure. This is why I’d given Dad a sidelong glance after that first triple. 

I’m unwilling to find my scorecard for fact checking purposes, but I remember that the game was an exciting one. It was back and fourth the whole night, with the Cubs pulling ahead and then the Rockies fighting back. Meanwhile, Carlos was busily getting his single and his double. At this point, cautious whispers throughout the stadium began quietly verbalizing what I’d been thinking six innings ago. By the ninth inning the game was tied (as it had been a few times previously). I don’t remember if it was the bottom of the ninth or the bottom of the tenth, but Carlos came up to bat. All he needed was a homerun to win the game and complete the cycle.

The stadium was screaming, but I felt doubt creep in. There was no way he was going to get a good pitch. That Cubbies pitcher had to know that Carlos would be trigger happy…ready to swing at anything.

He got his pitch.

Carlos slammed a walk off homerun and completed the cycle at Coors Field that night. In the midst of screaming, jumping up and down, texting this guy who’d been watching the game at home with me, doing more screaming, filling in a homerun on my scorecard, and jumping up and down some more, I decided that I needed to move to Denver. It was a sign.

So I went home and immediately applied for my Colorado Teaching License. And now here I am. I can’t wait for baseball season to start.

It was gray and rainy in Philly as we headed into the Eastern State Penitentiary. This used-to-be-jailhouse known for its often copied spoke-wheel design is apparently one of the spookiest places in the City of Brotherly Love. I don’t believe in ghosts, but my two traveling companions do.

An audio guide is included with the price of admission.

“I don’t know if I want to wear this,” Chris says, looking dubiously at the headset.

He was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to sense presence from the other side if he was caught up in listening to a tour guide. It turned out not to matter anyways because he sensed the first possible ghost in the Porta-Potties outside of cellblock one. (No audio narration was available for this stop in the tour). He dragged us out to the bathrooms and demonstrated how a piece of the soap dispenser randomly fell off during his initial visit.

Yup. Ghosts.

In all honesty, the whole place was a bit on the creepy side, especially when you step in some of the claustrophic former jail cells. ESP was known for its dedication to solitary confinement. Inmates could go their entire jailhouse stay without ever seeing another human being. At the time (1829) this was thought by many (including Benjamin Rush and Franklin) to be the human way of forcing individuals to contemplate their actions and repent. Charles Dickens (who visited the place in 1842) was one of the first to disagree with the humanity of such isolation, saying that “…solitary confinement, and I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong…”

Eastern State Penitentiary is located in a castle looking building above the city at 2027 Fairmount Avenue. Admission is $12 and street parking was readily available.

After ESP, the four of us (three humans, one Porta-Potty ghost) headed downtown for what would be my favorite Philadelphia moment: Driving towards City Hall on Market Street. This is one cool city hall. The statues were so striking that I felt the need to continually grab my friend’s camera and take pictures of it out my rolled down window. (Obviously, blending in with locals wasn’t the main concern here). City Hall was built in 1901 and was the tallest building in of its time, at 548 feet. This includes the 15 foot statue of William Penn, Philadelphia’s famous city planner.

There is a curse attached to this building however. In reference to good ole’ Bill, City Hall was supposed to be forever the tallest building in Philadelphia. And until 1987 it was.

Then Liberty Place went up. At 945 feet, it was just a tad taller. William Penn is said to have exacted his revenge by cursing all four sports teams. The Philadelphia Phillies, Eagles, 76ers, and Flyers all went many, many disappointing seasons. Philadelphia was the only city to have four major sports teams that produced no championship victories for 20+ years.

In 2005, construction began on the Comcast Center building, soon to be the new tallest peak in William Penn’s city. The architects (who I’m guessing doubled as frustrated sports fans) tacked a one foot statue of Penn atop the roof and hoped for the best. The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series the next year.

I think Billy Penn went pretty easy on his city. This “statue” wouldn’t have cut it for me. You can’t even see it on top of that Comcast Building. Then again my baseball team has never even BEEN to the World Series, so perhaps I’m a little bitter.

But I digress. In between Philly cheesesteaks (Geno’s was way better than Pat’s, by the way) my friends and I took the Spirits of ’76 Haunted Tour. Again, fitting in with locals was not our number one goal. Actually, many of Philadelphia’s fine citizens mocked us with supposedly creepy sounding “woooo” noises as we traipsed around Independence Square, but whatever. I like wearing glow sticks and asking tour guides annoying questions.

The scariest story from the tour was at Holy Trinity Church which began as an orphanage for children whose parents had died of the Yellow Fever. In the summer of 1793, one-fifth of the city died from the disease. Not having the proper knowledge of germs and how they spread, the orphanage doubled as a burial ground for all the children who caught the disease here and died. They continue to haunt this place today.

Ghosts are creepy enough, but children ghosts are truly terrifying. For more on the topic, check out Fever, written by YA genius Laurie Halse Anderson.

Not that we saw any ghosts on the tour – children or otherwise. If only there had been a Porta-Potty along the way.   

Catch the Spirits of ’76 tour outside Cosi coffee shop nightly at 7:30. Tickets are $17. And have a happy Halloween next week, whether you are in Philadelphia or elsewhere.

The Kansas City tourist trifecta is generally considered to be barbeque, jazz, and fountains. And don’t get me wrong – I enthusiastically ate, listened and viewed. But for me, Kansas City was also about sports. Whether I was cheering on the Royals, running a 5K, or learning about Negro League Baseball, Kansas City sports reflects that perfect American combination of patriotism, diversity, and enthusiasm.

And often that enthusiasm is for the under-dog. As a Seattle Mariners fan, I can understand this. One of my first KC activities was to watch the Royals lose a baseball game, which they did in spectacular fashion against the Cleveland Indians. When the whole stadium joined in on singing Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,” I turned and asked the season ticket holders sitting next to me if the song was only played when the Royals were losing. They just laughed, joking that it had been so long since the Royals won they couldn’t even answer the question. But seriously, the Garth sing-along takes place every night.

At least Ned Yost’s boys lose their games in a nice stadium. Although Kauffman Stadium is out in the middle of nowhere, it’s a nice looking stadium, with fountains cascading across the outfield, a Hall of Fame museum above the left field wall and statues dotting the outfield concessions. Once you’re at Kauffman Stadium, parking is essentially only available there. Have your ten dollar bill ready. In case you aren’t there during baseball season, the Kansas City Chiefs play at Arrowhead Stadium, which is right next to the baseball field.

Kansas City hasn’t always been the home of baseball underdogs though. In the 1920’s, ‘30’s and ‘40’s, the Kansas City Monarchs dominated the league. With ten pennant victories, every boy in American grew up wanting to play for the Monarchs. Every black boy, that is, as Jackie Robinson didn’t break the color barrier in major league baseball until 1947.

 

Sandwiched in between jazz clubs, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum sits on 18th and Vine just east of downtown. The museum is a nostalgic, poignant, and sometimes tear-jerking celebration of the black baseball league that started in Kansas City in the 1920’s. This VERY well laid out museum includes media clips, memorabilia, stories, and scorecards that showcase the Negro leagues. I’m not really a museum person, but two hours flew by there. If you can’t make it to Kansas City, learn about Negro Leagues baseball history by checking out the oh-so-gorgeous picture book “We are the Ship,” illustrated by the oh-so-gorgeous Kadir Nelson.  

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is at 1616 East 18th Street. From downtown Kansas City, take 18th street east for a few miles. Street parking is free and easy to find. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from nine to six, and Sunday from noon to six. It is closed Mondays. Tickets are $8 for adults, $3 for children under twelve, and free for kids under five.   

Watching and learning about baseball was great, but sooner or later I needed to participate in some sporting activity. My batting average probably sucks and I can’t catch a pop fly to save my life, so I opted to run a race instead of join a softball team.

My race of choice was the Leawood Labor Day 5K. The Kansas City suburb is about twenty miles south of the city center, and by the looks of the houses I drove past, life is good in Leawood. My 500 race opponents and I sang the National Anthem before the race (a pre-race ritual I’ve never experienced before, but rather enjoyed) and dashed off on a flat out-and-back three mile race. Before the race was even finished, initial printouts of results were taped up and Lions club members were firing up the grill for a pancake breakfast. They are efficient here in Leawood, although Lion Bruce was lamenting the fact that the pancakes were sticking to the grill. Apparently last year the flipping process was smoother. They tasted great anyways.

 

Between eating pancakes with runners, groaning with fans as the Royals left the bases loaded, and silently listening to Buck O’Neil talk about Jackie Robinson, I started to feel an affinity towards Kansas City that sinks a little deeper than ribs and barbeque sauce.

Before heading off to China I was lucky enough to bask in a perfect (although cloudy) Seattle day: a run around Bellevue Park, brunch at Z’ Tejas, a jaunt through Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, and a Mariners game. My friends had their cousin in town so I tagged along on the tourist trail.  

 My oh-so-eastside friend hadn’t even crossed the I-90 bridge before embarking on her usual diatribe about dirty, grungy, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing Seattle and the “bus smell” that permeates Pike Place Market.

“Ugh! This is exactly what I’m talking about!” She exclaimed upon crossing Pioneer Square to discover what I’m going to call tree-sleeves.

Fiber artist Suzanne Tidwell was not wearing Birkenstocks as she sat on a bench weaving décor for her next tree. “I’m just trying to heightened awareness,” she commented. She’s not alone. Yarn bombing has exploded worldwide from Bali to Paris to Denver. TIME Magazine even reported that firefighters in Vancouver were adding knit blossoms to cherry trees.   

 We soldiered on past the Harbor Steps to Pike Place Market wherein we joined the masses to watch people catching fish (“Good enough to wear, good enough to eat,” chanted the rubber-overall-wearing salesmen when a flying fish smacked a young tourist in her face.) before heading to Le Panier for a quick French pastry.

Heading back to Safeco Field we participated in pre-game festivities (i.e. eating clam chowder and drinking beer) at Pyramid Alehouse. Right across the street from the field, this is the hangout spot for Mariner fans before and after home games.

Safeco Field added a patio dining area (The Bullpen Market) this spring to the space behind left-center field and Le Creperie has been getting rave reviews. Seeing as I’d already consumed food for three days I just said hi to my favorite bartender (Jay, my hirsute brother) and then hightailed it back to my seat before I missed any more action. Dustin Ackley had hit a triple while I was wandering around and I needed to make sure my stand-in scorekeeper was doing his job right.

 He did just fine, as did the Mariners that night who won in extra innings. A perfect send off as I prepare to head off to a country that has (…dum, dum, dum…) no baseball.

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