Boyce Cox (1925-2007)

First Baseman, 1943 Bristol Twins (New York Giants)
President and General Manager, Bristol Baseball, Inc.

When we first started the process of setting up these baseball road trips, it was a process of checking Baseball America’s Directory, various roadmaps, and other tour books trying to map out the ideal trip where we could see as many games as possible and as many tourist sites that we could squeeze it on the way to the next game. Once the trip was laid out, the next step was all the phone calls to make the reservations and buy the tickets. There weren’t that many websites and computer speeds to accurately and easily accomplish something other than e-mail was a major hindrance. Today, it is much easier to get everything accomplished; it takes hours now, when it use to take days. However, doing a good deal of the work via phone (and yes, we are talking about hard wired landlines), we got to talk to several characters.

One such character was Mr. Boyce Cox of Bristol Baseball Incorporated (BBI). BBI is the operating organization that oversees minor league baseball in the Greater Bristol, Virginia, and Tennessee area. At the time, the team was the Bristol Sox, the Advanced Rookie affiliate of the Chicago White Sox in the Appalachian League. As of 2014, they are an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

But in 2001, the Bristol Sox were on our list of teams to see and when Dan called their office to request two tickets “behind home plate as close as we can get,” he got the tickets, but he also got quite a surprise. When he called the number for the Bristol Sox, a man answered the phone and Dan asked for the ticket office as he usually does. The man who answered said in a fine Eastern Tennessee/Western Virginia drawl, “I’m it, what can I do for you.” Dan requested two tickets for the July 21st game against the Johnson City Cardinals; the man then informed Dan that he could get them at the box office prior to the game.

Dan was somewhat taken aback because this was the first time that he was not able to pre-order the tickets. He informed the man that we were coming all the way down from New York to watch the Sox play and we just wanted to be sure we could get seats. The gentleman said that since they didn’t take credit cards, they couldn’t sell advance tickets that way. Dan then asked how one could get tickets ahead of time, other than just showing up at the ticket office. The man said, “This was just the way we do it here.” Again, Dan pushed a little, explaining that since we were traveling so far, we didn’t want to find the game sold out.

With that the gentleman, just chuckled a bit and said, “Son, the game won’t be sold out, but if you get here and it is—but it won’t be—if it is, just ask for me, Boyce Cox, and you and your wife can sit with me in the press box!” With that, Dan smiled to himself, and said, “Okay, that is a deal.” Dan thanked Mr. Cox, hung up the phone and write out a note to remember that name, Boyce Cox. Then he checked the Directory and was surprised to see that the man he was talking to was the President of Bristol Baseball and was the PA announcer—all he could think was that he was talking to the president of the management organization and that this guy answered his own phone!

On game day, we got into Bristol in the afternoon after driving down from Pulaski, West Virginia, having seen the Pulaski Rangers take on and lose to the Burlington Indians the night before. We found the parking lot for the game without any problems, though locating DeVault Memorial Stadium was another matter. The park is back away from the parking area and we had to walk along a path in a park-like area past the local football field to get to the stadium. When we got there, we learned that the field was named Boyce Cox Field after the gentleman that Dan had spoken to and who as president of the organization answers his own phone. Boyce Cox Field is a nice little park (LF 325, CF 400, RF 310), seating about 2000, but very clean and neat. What stood out to us was everyone’s kindness and politeness. The fans even clapped when someone from the Johnson City Cardinals got a homerun. Also Dan’s main note about the place was that the Chilidogs were excellent! It started out as a nice warm sunny evening for baseball, but then during the game it started to rain, and rain hard. They finally called the game in the middle of the 7th giving the win to the Johnson City 6 to 3.

As we were leaving the park, we found ourselves walking past the Press Box. We stopped and Dan turned to look in the open door. Sitting there was an older gentleman looking at some papers. Dan just took a guess, and said, “Mr. Cox?” He turned, looked up and with a smile said, “Yes.” With that Dan, in his strange way of making friends with everyone, introduced himself as the stranger on the phone from New York who was so concerned that the game would be sold out. Again, Mr. Cox smiled, saying, “I told you there wouldn’t be a problem in getting seats!” Dan replied, “Yes, sir, but we were sort of looking forward to sitting up here in the press box with you; it would have been drier.” “Not by much,” nodding at the open window of the press box.” Dan thanked him for his kindness and Mr. Cox asked if we enjoyed the game—what there was of it or at least the dry parts. We certainly had. As we walked away, Dan said, “It’s the characters like him that makes these trips so great!”

A few years later Dan saw the news release that Mr. Boyce Cox had passed away. The article spoke of how he had saved professional baseball in Bristol, how the community had honored him by naming the ball field after him, how he had served as the president of the franchise, how he also had been the team’s general manager for numerous years besides being the PA announcer. No mention was made that he played first base with the Bristol team in 1943 prior to going into the Navy during WWII. Reading all of this, we realized that Mr. Cox was more than just the president, general manager, PA announcer or even a team player many years ago. He was one of us, a character who wholly loved baseball.

Elmira Pioneers (New York)

Independent, Northeast League

Baseball has a long history in Elmira, New York, and many of the teams were known as the Pioneers. The team began play in 1865 as the Colonels in the New York State League, but two years later they became a charter member of the new New York-Penn League. The Pioneer name was first used in 1901. The name switched back and forth between the Colonels and Pioneers with the concurrent switching of leagues over several years. Then in 1932, the Colonels joined the St. Louis Cardinals organization and changed their name to the Red Wings. But it was back to the Pioneers for two unaffiliated seasons in 1935 and 1936. Except for a couple of short stints as something else (Royals, Suns, Red Sox) the Pioneers name seemed to stick through many years of different affiliations with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Florida Marlins (their last major league affiliation). Who didn’t they play for?

In 1995, the owner, Clyde Smoll, moved the team to Lowell, Massachusetts, leaving Elmira without a team. An independent team, with the Northeast League, took the name of Pioneers and began play in 1996. In 2005, the Pioneers joined the Canadian-American League, but only played one more season before being “phased out” of the league. The team now using the Elmira Pioneers name is a collegiate team, which has been playing since 2006.

One problem that the Pioneers faced had been the negative outcome of an experiment. In 2002, 51 percent of the ownership was sold to a Japanese corporation who wanted to use the team to help develop Japanese players. However, the experiment was “lackluster at best.” There were few Japanese players sent to the team, and there are very few Asian people in Elmira. Therefore, fans could not identify with the players. The worst problem was that the team had to deal with foreign players’ visa issues whenever they crossed the border into Canada. So the Japanese players were often left behind when the team had to play the powerhouse Quebec team. This all helped lead to the end of professional baseball in Elmira (Diane Janowski, New York History Review).

The collegiate Pioneers still play in Dunn Field, as did the minor league team. The park was built in 1939 on the site of a former football field, Maple Avenue Driving Park, which was the site of the very first professional football night game. The park is named after Edward Joseph Dunn who donated the land for the stadium (Janowski).

We have been to the Elmira field two times: once on a trip to see the stadium after we had moved to Rochester in 1998, and once to see Jason Tuttle, a player we had kept track of for a while (see “Meeting Mr. Tuttle”). The stadium was definitely in need of some extensive work. While it was a quaint old field, it was very uncomfortable. (Not as bad as a couple other stadiums we’ve been to, but close.)

While professional baseball no longer exists in Elmira, there is still baseball and sometimes the collegiate teams put on a better show than any professional team. We encourage you to check out some of these teams. They’re the future of baseball.

History adapted from Fun While It, except where noted.


Three Seasons, Three Weeks

In the spring of 2007, both of us were on sabbatical from our respective jobs and we had moved up to the cottage in Michigan to spend our time researching and writing. But sabbatical isn’t all about work; it’s a time to rest and rejuvenate, relax and think deep thoughts. And our deepest thoughts, of course, often concern baseball. So while on sabbatical we made two minor road trips: one to the upper Midwest during June/July and the other to the deep South, during a record cold spring.

The trip began ominously enough with us outrunning a snow storm that eventually dumped 14 inches of the white stuff on the cottage and its environs. We had heard the predictions for the storm and we decided that we would leave earlier than planned, outrunning the storm by two hours. But the cold didn’t stop with the North. As we wound our way down south, the temperatures did not moderate. Even Ginny’s pen for score keeping froze and she had to keep rolling it back and forth in her gloved hands to get it to work. In Birmingham, AL, we sat through one of the coldest games we’d ever experienced—and we live in Rochester, New York! The temperature read 32o. Of course, that’s really not too very bad for us; but the locals were freezing. The woman who sat behind us, Diane Johnson, had several layers of clothing on and FOUR blankets. She and her husband, Randy, had driven over from Skipperville to see the game and were troopers about the record cold spring. They explained that they were there because they always had to see baseball early since being deprived of it all winter. Diane asked us how we could tolerate the cold with only our two layers of clothing and one thin blanket each. We smiled and told her that up North in our neck of the woods, the Rochester Red Wings were trying to use a Zamboni to clear the outfield. (The baseball season at Frontier Field ended up starting two weeks late because of the snow and cold.) So we were happy to be in the balmy South, even at 32 degrees.

As we made our way south, the temperatures slowly began to moderate, and while it was still a little cooler than normal for the South, the beautiful bright days and the warming made the trip lovely. The scenery of lush green trees and grass was a treat for us, coming from the color-starved wintry North, and we marveled at how summer-like it looked already.

By the time we reached New Orleans—about ten days into the trip—the extreme cold had cleared out of the South and we were back into shorts, at least during the daylight hours. We had come to New Orleans to attend a College English Association national conference at which we were presenting a paper on the use of travel narratives in college writing classes (of course, we used memoirs from our baseball trips—some of which are now included here). NOLA (New Orleans, LA, for those of you who don’t know the shorthand) was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina that had hit there some year and a half before. But the resiliency of the city was also obvious. Clean up was taking place in many locations. Houses were being torn down and others were being put up. We marveled over the efforts of the city to spring back after such devastation. Still, we enjoyed the lovely summer-like weather as we strolled through the French Quarter and had beignets at Café Monde.

We made a trip to the Zephyr’s ball park a day early to make sure we knew where it was for the game the next day. While we were there, we went to the office to pick up our tickets. When we asked whether the team store was open yet, we were told it wasn’t because they were still putting out merchandise. However, the store manager offered to let us in, since we were from out of town. We chatted with him quite a bit while we looked around. We asked if there had been much damage to the park during the hurricane. He told us they had been lucky, that there was no real damage to the stadium, but it was used as a staging area for the National Guard. When the owner drove over to the park after the storm, members of the National Guard were wearing clothing they had raided from the team store—without permission. Not what we expect from those who are supposed to be guarding us.

After the conference was over, we made our way along the Mississippi River, northwest to Arkansas, where summer firmly established itself. The game in Little Rock began at 10 in the morning and it was sunny. We were slathering on the sunscreen and trying not to bake too much, even though it was only about 65 degrees.

After Arkansas we made our way back across Mississippi and Alabama to Tennessee where we saw the Chattanooga Lookouts play the Tennessee Smokies. The weather had been lovely as we traveled across the south, although we ran into rain in some areas. Then we headed back north. The temperatures slowly dropped as we went through Kentucky, Ohio and eventually Michigan. It was certainly cooler when we arrived back at the cottage, but winter had gone and the area was full into spring. We had been gone for three weeks, but it had been enough for Ol’ Man Winter to blow himself out, leaving behind green shoots, crocuses, and lilacs. Perfect.

Rochester Red Wings

Rochester Red Wings (New York)
Triple A affiliate of Minnesota Twins, International League

This is the team we have lived with since we moved to Rochester in 1998. (Well, not literally, but we know this stadium very well!) The Red Wings have played at Frontier Field since 1997 and have been a great source of pleasure for us when we’re not on our road trips. Before 1997, the Wings played at Silver Stadium, named for the man who “saved baseball” in Rochester.

The Red Wings are famous and unique among ball clubs, first because the team has been playing in Rochester in the International League since 1885. Only five other professional sports teams have played for the same league in the same city uninterrupted since the 1800s: Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals (Brei).

The second reason Rochester is unique is that they are famously loyal to parent clubs. In the almost 140 years of the team’s existence, they have belonged to only three teams. They became the affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1929. In 1960 they moved on to the Baltimore Orioles, which ended in 2003, when they joined the Minnesota Twins organization.

Another unique aspect of the Red Wings is that they are publicly owned. When the Cardinals wanted to sell the team and the stadium in 1956, the “72 Day Miracle” occurred. A local businessman, Morrie Silver, organized Rochester Community Baseball, Inc. (RCB), then publicly sold shares in the organization in order to raise money to buy the team and stadium. In 72 days enough money was raised and since RCB still owns and operates the club, the Red Wings are one of the few professional sports teams owned by its fans and investors. Naomi Silver, Morrie’s daughter, is now the CEO of the organization and she carries on the family tradition quite well.

Then there is the longest game in professional baseball when Rochester played the Pawtucket Red Sox for 33 innings—eight hours and 23 minutes. The game lasted over the course of three days. It started at 7:05 pm April 18, 1981, was called at 4 am the next morning, then completed on June 23 when the Red Sox won 3-2. Calvin Ripkin was playing for Rochester at the time and Wade Boggs played for the Red Sox, both of them future hall-of-famers.

We also have to state that Frontier Field offers the largest food variety of all the parks we have seen. A sample of the offerings include shaved beef sandwiches, BBQ pork and chicken, sub sandwiches made to order, salads, wraps, macaroni and cheese, angus beef hamburgers and Philly cheesesteaks, gourmet desserts, handmade potato chips, and a booth offering several delectable Italian items. We have never seen such a variety at any other minor league club. So if baseball AND food are your thing, you need to get to Rochester.

The park also offers one item that the city of Rochester is noted for: the “garbage plate.” This began as a menu item at a diner called Nick Tahoes. The dish begins with fried potatoes, macaroni salad and a choice of hot dogs or hamburger patties. Then all this is covered with a spicy meat sauce. And, yes, many, many people in Rochester eat this. Ginny has had one of these offerings only once since we’ve lived here. Dan has had several—maybe one a year at the ball park. If you’re adventurous, you may want to give this a try.

The couple of downfalls of this stadium are that there is no hot water in the bathrooms (and they only get about a 5 out of 10 rating anyway—not very appealing decor), but there are a LOT of them. The other is that some of the stadium seats are a bit small and you need to actually see them to tell if that’s a row you really want to sit in. However, if you’ve never been there before, you can’t tell which ones you want. It’s a catch-22. And it doesn’t help to ask the ticket sellers. They have no idea which seats are smaller and less confortable. We think the sizes have something to do with the configuration of the stadium and how many seats will fit in a row.

Most importantly, though, the people who run the Red Wings are quite friendly and will help out with whatever question or problem that you have.

In you go, parking in the evenings is in the old Kodak parking lot. A day game during the week will force you to park much further away and either walk or take a free shuttle. Prices are similar to other triple A teams. You can buy tickets online, by phone or at the gate.

Information for some of this history was adapted from Red Wings programs, their website, and sports historian Douglas Brei.



The Land of Lincoln

Our second baseball trip in 2007 took us through the heart of Illinois. We were coming from seeing the Burlington Bees (Iowa) beat the Clinton Lumber Kings (Iowa) 10-7 on our way to see the Joliet Jackhammers (Illinois) play the Gary Southshore Railcats (Indiana). But we had given ourselves extra time to do some sightseeing. And Springfield, IL, is a great place to do that.

First, Springfield is the capital of Illinois, so they have all the grand buildings that house the politics and legal accouterment needed to run a state. Other museums and sites in the city include a restored prairie-style home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a natural history museum, a water park and a zoo. And, of course, Lincoln memorabilia and monuments abound here. The original state capitol building, his home and neighborhood, the Presidential library and museum, and, certainly, Lincoln’s tomb are just a few of the sights spread across Springfield.

One of the more interesting tours is the Lincoln home and neighborhood. This is the only house that he ever owned. The family lived there from 1844 until his election to the presidency, when they left for Washington in 1861. The entire four-block neighborhood is registered as a historic sight, not just the Lincoln house, and is a slice of the 19th century. Several restored houses provide exhibits that portray Lincoln’s life as a family man, lawyer and neighbor. It was our misfortune to be visiting the week that they were making repairs to the Lincoln house, so we didn’t get to go inside, but we got some nice pictures of the painters hanging off of ladders.

The Lincoln Presidential Library is also a historian’s dream, with its 12 million artifacts and the most pre-presidential material in the country. However, the Presidential Museum caters best to families with its special effects theater, the gallery with priceless artifacts, special interpretive areas for children and the grand Holavision, providing special insight into Lincoln’s time through talking ghosts of those who were there.

By far, though, the most impact comes from visiting the Lincoln tomb in Oak Ridge cemetery. At the time of his death, the president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, remembered that they both had loved the setting of this cemetery and she insisted that he be buried there. The monument atop the tomb sits on a rise and can be seen through the trees as you drive into the cemetery. It is an imposing , solemn sight and if you can only see one thing in Springfield, this is the one.

The story of the President’s entombment is bizarre to say the least. His body was moved 17 times before it came to rest in its steel reinforced concrete crypt. After the assassination on April 15, 1865, Lincoln’s body traveled by train to Springfield, first stopping at 10 cities along the way in order that thousands of mourners could pay their respects. Along with the President’s remains were also the remains of his son Willie who had died in 1862 and had been buried in Washington D.C. At Oak Ridge cemetery, on May 4, the two caskets were placed into the public receiving vault. At the same time, a temporary vault was being constructed, intended for the President’s sarcophagus until the permanent National Monument could be designed and built. After verifying that the body was truly Lincoln’s, the casket along with Willie’s and another son, Eddie, were moved into the temporary vault.

After major fundraising by the National Lincoln Monument Association tasked to plan and develop the monument and tomb, in 1868 chose the designer, Larkin G. Mead of Vermont to produce the exterior statuary and a local contractor, W. D. Richardson, to construct the monument. By 1871, the tomb was completed enough to accept internment. But that was not the President. Instead, his son Tad died of a fever after returning from Europe. His remains became the first interned in the new tomb. Two months later, the President and his other two sons were moved. In addition, the Association decided to remove Lincoln’s remains from the original wooden casket to a metallic casket that could be better sealed.

Efforts continued by the Association to raise funds for the completion of the monument and tomb. In 1874, to prepare for the dedication of the monument and tomb, the President’s body was once again removed from its metal casket, verified as his remains and placed into a lead-lined, red cedar casket which was then placed into a marble sarcophagus. On the day of dedication, amongst speeches, much fanfare, and music, the Lincoln statue on a pedestal in front of the obelisk was unveiled. The Association’s Vice President, the Honorable Jesse K. Dubois, expressed the hopes of all Lincoln’s family, supporters and fellow Americans when he said, “There may he rest in peace.” This was not to be. Two years after the dedication, a plot to steal Lincoln’s body was devised.

In 1876, an engraver for a Chicago Irish counterfeiter’s ring, Benjamin Boyd, was sentenced to 10 years in Joliet Penitentiary. Big Jim Kennally, boss of the gang, hatched a plot to take the body, bury it in a sand dune on Lake Michigan and ransom it for Boyd’s release and $200,000. After all, the tomb was behind a simple padlocked gate and the seal on the sarcophagus was only plaster of Paris. How hard could it be to steal it?

Kennally recruited Terence Mullen, a saloonkeeper, and Jack Hughes, a counterfeiter of nickels, to do the job. They in turn recruited Lewis Swegles, whom they thought was a grave robber; after all, they knew nothing about robbing graves. But the surprise was on them. Swegles was a paid informant for the Secret Service and he ratted them out, giving up all the details as they were being planned.

When the actual theft was attempted, it was more a matter of how inept could criminals get. First, they didn’t know how to pick the gate lock, so they had to saw through it. Then when they attempted to take the sarcophagus, they couldn’t lift it from its platform. When a detective’s pistol accidentally discharged outside the tomb, the would-be robbers ran for it, but not effectively. They ran back to their saloon in Chicago, where they were picked up by the Secret Service a few days later.

The custodian of the tomb, John Carroll Power, in the meantime, was concerned that if inept criminals could get that close to the casket, what damage professional grave robbers could do. Thus, he and a small group of trusted friends hid the body in the basement of the crypt under a pile of detritus left over from the construction. It simply looked like a wood pile. Two years later, they managed to bury it under a few inches of dirt. The small group of confidants were eventually named “Lincoln Guard of Honor,” and told to never divulge the whereabouts of the casket.

The only person outside of the group of confidants who knew of its location was the President’s only living son, Robert Todd Lincoln. When his mother passed away in 1882, he told the Guard of Honor to bury her with his father. In 1887, the remains of both the Lincolns were encased in a brick vault. Beforehand, the Guard of Honor once again opened the casket to verify the remains as the President’s.

By 1900, the original tomb was in need of repair and Robert Lincoln was unhappy with the disposition of his parents’ remains. He wanted a permanent crypt built. Therefore, in 1901, after major reconstruction had been done on the tomb, the President’s body was once more exhumed and the casket opened for one last viewing.

According to reports, Lincoln still looked like himself in life. His face had a tan complexion from the shooting, but his hair, beard and mole were all the same. Thirty years in the grave had done little to change his visage. Some 23 people were present at the final viewing. Then the President’s casket was placed in a steel cage 10 feet deep and encased in concrete in the floor of the tomb. The empty white marble sarcophagus was placed over top of the location.

A second renovation of the tomb took place in 1930-31, reconfiguring the entrance to the tomb to accommodate more visitors. A red granite sarcophagus replaced the white marble one because, during the reconstruction, the white sarcophagus was placed outside the tomb to make room for the workers and eager souvenir hunters destroyed it.

All of the Lincoln immediate family, except Robert, are buried in the Oak Ridge crypt. Robert and his family are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. In the Presidential crypt, names are engraved in the walls over the location of each family member. Lincoln’s sarcophagus stands in the middle of the room. Behind it is a small window, above which are the words of Secretary of War Stanton at the moment of the President’s death: “Now He Belongs To The Ages.” And safely, too.

If you make the trip to the Land of Lincoln, a good place to start with your planning (besides your Baseball American Directory!) is the Looking for Lincoln website <>. This is a coalition of central Illinois historic sites that tell the stories of President Lincoln. It is well worth the telling.

Information about the Lincoln crypt came from:
“A Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Body,”
“Lincoln’s Tomb,” Museum of Funeral Customs leaflet
“Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site” pamphlet
Lincoln Tomb docents

Things to Know

If anyone is keeping up with our travels through this blog, you’ll know we’ve been pretty much silent for quite a few months. Except for a couple of entries spaced a distance apart, we have been very neglectful of our blog. But it’s a new year—opening day has come and gone, and we’re full into a new season. And we’ve rededicated ourselves to entertaining our fans! So we’d like to go back to when we were first starting this blog and revisit the idea of things to keep in mind when doing these baseball trips.

Beyond the idea of good planning, there are some things that the baseball traveler needs to know, or take into consideration while on the trip. Thus, this entry serves as a reminder (or an introduction) to some of those considerations, like navigating and/or negotiating while in the car. These are some of the things that will make a trip much more enjoyable. And usually, it’s all about treating each other with politeness, something many of us have forgotten.

Navigating, Notetaking and Those Pesky Negotiations

With the advent of GPS devices, the task of navigating has taken a back seat, sort of speak. Yet, you can’t always trust those new-fangled machines, as our grandparents might say. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to take a map along and have your traveling companion (if you’ve got one) keep an eye on just what road you’re really on. When driving the back roads, especially back, back roads, there ‘s always a greater chance of being off the GPS grid. (However, we have found it ever more difficult to find paper maps. Gas stations used to be the main purveyors, but no longer. You can still get them at AAA and many bookstores. But the day is coming, sadly, that we see them going away. How much fun is it to watch someone else try to refold those car-sized maps, anyway?)

The navigator also becomes the notetaker, since it is easier to take notes when not driving. Many of you will not end up writing about your adventures, but it’s still a good idea to keep track of where you’ve been so you can at least remember what you took pictures of. Otherwise, those slideshows will be nothing more than pretty pictures of “I-don’t-know-where-that-is” subjects.

Negotiations between the driver and navigator (and other traveling companions if there are any) are, likewise, vital in the success of any baseball trip. “Should we stop here?” “What do you want for lunch?” “Isn’t that a pretty place? Let’s take pictures!” “No, don’t turn that way!” “We’re not stopping!” Yes, the simplest of trips can get tense when the travelers don’t agree. To begin, people should know who they are comfortable with on a trip. If you know you can’t travel with a person, then you certainly don’t want to embark on a long car trip with them. Imagine being locked up for hours at a time with your nemesis. Cage-fighting has nothing on that match-up in the car! But, even with your dearest friend, or with your true love, travel can be tense and polite negotiations are the answer. Remember, the other person is probably as sick of you as you are of them. Take a deep breath, relax for a few minutes and start over. Of course, by that time you’ve probably missed your turn and will have to back-track. But you’re with your loved one(s) and are on a baseball adventure! What’s better than that?

Avoid Those Sketchy Roads

Navigator, this one’s for you: avoid any roads that look too faulty because they may get you killed, or worse—late for the game. Roads that go straight up over mountains, roads that end “up a tree,” roads that are jammed 24/7, roads that dead-end in a body of water, these roads will cause no end of trouble. Some of them are enticing with the unknown, but be very careful. They can take you far out of your way, get you lost in dangerous places or simply make you so frustrated, you just want to go home. A good idea to try to avoid some hassles is again to visit your local AAA either online or in person to find out about hazards, construction, or general problems with roadways. Remember all the problems some GPS or electronic maps have had with getting people to where they DON’T want to go. Again, that paper map can be a good backup.

Season-Ticket Holders as Community

Once you’ve made it to the game, usually one of the best aspects of a baseball game is the community that has been built by the season ticket holders. Many of them are congregated in certain areas of the ball park where they make up their own “neighborhood,” and like a neighborhood, they all know one another, if not by name, at least by sight. They exchange pleasantries and often ask how the children are, or how the job is going, or share the latest gossip, just as if they are talking over the back fence in their yards. If you are lucky enough to get seats in one of these areas, it is often a very rewarding experience. These fans, for the most part, are usually very friendly and welcome you into their neighborhood. We have learned about the backgrounds of the players, about the history of the park, the best places to eat in town, the must-see local sights and on and on. Yes, there has been the occasional unfriendly neighborhood, but out of the many, many ballparks we’ve visited, only a small handful have not left us feeling welcome. So if you really want to learn the 411 of the area, ask for seats amongst the season ticket holders.

Baseball Etiquette

This entry will make us sound as old as dirt and even less in touch with current attitudes. But here goes anyway (just think of us as the parents you never had).

Baseball has its own etiquette. No, not Miss Manners, or Emily Post (for those of you old enough to remember Em). But they all have something in common: politeness. Common sense and some common politeness can go a long way towards an enjoyable game. (Ok, our age is really showing here, we know.)

First, don’t swear; this is a family affair and younger children really don’t need to hear adults shouting obscenities that parents will have to explain later. Even if it’s becoming more common to use profane words in public (particularly the “f” bomb), there’s a time and place for everything and the ballpark is neither the time nor the place.

Second, don’t fight a kid for a foul ball. Let the kid have it. Don’t you remember being young and the excitement of diving after that dinger up in the peanut gallery? Besides, do you really want to be that adult on the jumbotron making a kid cry? What would your mother say?

Next, if you have to leave your seat at any time, wait for a break in the action, like the end of an inning or the switch of the batters. It is completely rude to block other people’s view of the action. The same goes for when you return. Wait at the top of the steps until there is a break, then make your way back to your seat. A related pet peeve of ours is people cutting in front of us when we’re trying to watch the game. At one park we attended, this happened continuously through the game, no less by the players who were not playing that evening! Of all people who should have known better. (We’ll discuss this incident later.) We also just saw this happen to some other people at a game in Rochester. The photographer crossed in front of the first seat of fans just to climb over a wall into the field egress area. If you’re going to block someone’s view of the game, make sure there isn’t any action happening on the field.

Then there are the incessant conversationalists who don’t know when to stop talking. A certain amount of conversation is expected during a game. It’s not church (although some people may say it is a religion), but a non-stop chat-fest is so annoying that we have actually taken notes on what was being said in order to write about it later (which you’ll see in subsequent chapters). And standing in the aisles talking isn’t any better. One, you’re blocking people’s view of the game and second, nobody wants to hear the 45 minute description of how your prostate surgery went.

Cheering and jeering can also lead us down an impolite path. We want to support the team, give them encouragement and cheers are our natural response to a good play. However, our enthusiasm can turn to jeers, the ugly side of cheers. The players and the umpires are taught to ignore these jibes from the stands (or their own dugouts!), but it can become annoying for people to listen to those with such a negative attitude. Just remember others are trying to enjoy the game and the jeering (or even incessant cheering) can really interfere with that enjoyment.

Rain is another chance at being polite. Of course, nobody wants to get wet (unless it’s Dallas in August when we’re all dying of heat exhaustion). So what do we ordinarily do when it rains? Use an umbrella! And if the game hasn’t been called yet, nobody can see around the umbrella! Instead, bring a rain poncho, which actually can cover much more of you much better. Or make sure that nobody is sitting behind you for several rows before that umbrella goes up. In actuality, some ball parks do not allow umbrellas, so it’s better to be prepared with other cover-ups just in case.

Other small polite actions to think about include making sure you don’t take over the cupholder of the person sitting next to you and putting your empty food trash under someone else’s seat.

All of these aspects of etiquette are simply common sense politeness. If we take a moment and think about how we should respect others and their property, we’ll know how to act appropriately.


Florida Food

Our favorite subject, other than baseball itself, is food, as anyone who’s read any of our blogs will know. We do spend a great deal of time sampling local—and not so local—fare, both at that ball park and on the road. And our trip to Florida was no exception.

First, you need to know that a great many people from the Cincinnati region have retired/relocated to the area between Clearwater and Naples and have brought the local Cincy favorite fare with them. So we were delighted to be able to indulge in the food from our youth. (We haven’t lived in the Cincinnati region for 38 years.) When we weren’t enjoying the unusual ball park food, we were in search of Skyline Chili restaurants and pints of Graeter’s ice cream from Publix grocery stores.

Cincinnati-style chili is unique and it seems people either love it or hate it. For those of us raised on the stuff, it’s an addiction. And it can’t be found in many places outside of Ohio. This delicious meal consists of a layer of spaghetti, topped with a chili sauce based on a Greek-style dish. The sauce is tomato-based, made of boiled hamburger and either chocolate or cinnamon, depending on the brand. (There are about 260 chili parlors in Cincinnati, each with its own variation of the original sauce.) The next layer is of pinto beans, then a layer of onions, all topped with thin-shred mild cheddar cheese. If you order all these layers, you’re having a 5-way; one less layer is a 4-way; two less layers is a 3-way down to just chili and spaghetti, a 2-way. We found a Skyline in Clearwater, one in Ft. Myers and one in Naples (although we didn’t travel that far south). We were lucky enough to imbibe in our favorite meal three times while on this trip, loving every morsel of it!

Likewise, we also had the opportunity to delight in our favorite ice cream, Graeter’s. It’s made of something like 27% milk-fat and begins to melt as soon as it touches the bowl or a spoon, leaving a lovely tasteful coating on your tongue. A few years ago, Oprah announced on her show that it’s her favorite ice cream and their website crashed that afternoon due to the overload of orders. Yes, it’s that good!

Beyond our hometown foods, though, was the unique ball park fare that we came across. Since several of the games we attended were Gulf Coast League (one of the instructional leagues), there were no concessions at all. (We were lucky if there were bathrooms of some sort!) And other games often only had the bare necessities of ball park food—hot dogs, hamburgers, peanuts, pop and beer. However, we did come across a few very interesting, and often quite tasty, food treats. The Port Charlotte Stone Crabs had crab cake sandwiches that were yummy and fantastic French fries (coated and crispy!). They also sold a passable Cuban sandwich. Of course, being great aficionados of Cuban sandwiches, we did spend much of our time in Florida looking for a bad one; this one was fine.

In Dunedin, the Blue Jays actually had food trucks (all the rage everywhere now) in their parking lot outside the gates. Here we could get hot food—Mexican, BBQ, Asian, and “fried everything.” The samples we had (the BBQ and the Mexican) were quite good. Inside the park, the concessions only sold non-heated items, peanuts, candy, ice cream, etc., and drinks. They didn’t want to compete with the trucks.

At the Threshers stadium in Clearwater, the food wasn’t noteworthy, but they had a “Beers of the World” stand that truly was beers of the world. They had so many choices, it would be difficult for any beer fan to choose what they’d like.

By far, the most unique food we had was at the Ft. Myers Miracles park. Specifically, they had two sandwiches that are absolutely worth trying if you’re in the neighborhood. First, the Carolina dog would please most all BBQ fans with a hankering for a whole meal on a bun. The sandwich consisted of a hot dog smothered in pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw. At first, Ginny was skeptical of having her whole meal at once, but a couple of bites convinced her it was a worthy choice. However, the coup de grace was most definitely the Richard Simmons burger. Just the name made us curious. Was this an ounce of such lean ground steak that it would be paper dry? Or a chicken breast the size of a walnut? Oh no. The name is sarcasm at its best (or worst, depending on your outlook). The sandwich was layered with a hamburger patty, a chicken breast, a sausage (split in half), bacon and cheese slices between each layer. The diameter was a normal size for a burger, but was about five inches tall. We had to eat it from around the sides in hunks because we couldn’t get our mouths open wide enough for the thing! While it was very messy, it was quite the tasty adventure. Who knew all that meat at once could taste that good? On top of serving these great sandwiches, the park offered an all-you-can-eat deal for just $10. It’s certainly worth it. But bring your appetite and your stretch pants!


Hot and Rainy = Florida

Looks like our sabbatical from our blog is now over, as is our summer break—almost. So we need to catch up on all the events of the summer months, including our annual baseball trip.

This year we chose the Gulf Coast of Florida as our touring area and we were not disappointed with the baseball we got to see. That is, what we DID get to see. It was so rainy in Florida that even the residents were surprised. Those we spoke to continually tried to defend Florida’s weather, saying that usually it only rains a bit in the afternoon, then clears up and all is well. Our experience told us differently. We were in the Sunshine State (ironic as best) for 12 days and it rained every single day. Some days more than others—else we would not have seen any baseball at all. Most of the days it rained buckets! We were becoming prunes from the wet. As a result of the weather, we were rained out of an historic amount of games—historic at least for us. We missed one complete game because the field was too wet to even begin a game, then two other games were called due to rain after their beginning. A couple of games were in jeopardy of being played due to wet fields and threatening storms, but the brave and efficient grounds crews kept things going.

Add to the rain the extreme heat and we felt like lobsters ready to be taken out of the hot pot, steamed through. Of course, we expected the heat to be prevalent—after all, it’s Florida in the summer. However, after having lived the last 20 plus years around the Great Lakes, our blood has thickened and we don’t tolerate heat and humidity like we use to. (That could be due to age, as well, but we won’t go there.)

We did get to see some interesting baseball, though: six Florida State League games and four Gulf Coast League (GCL) games. The GCL is a rookie instructional league, something we had not seen before. We didn’t know what to expect. Would the coaches stop the game and come out to tell the players what they were doing wrong? Would the players have notebooks to take notes on what was happenings? Did the coaches lecture? Being academics ourselves, of course, our thoughts turn directly to class habits. But, no, that’s not how it works. The teams play a regular game—nine innings—and nobody interrupts the game to correct anything (except the normal pitcher’s mound meetings). What distinguishes these games from others is that they’re mostly all played on practice fields surrounding the stadiums used for Spring Training and very few people attend the games, which are free. There are no concessions, as well, and often, no bathrooms. So, you need to bring your own food and drink, and not too much drink because you’re going to have to run off to the local McDonald’s or Mobil station in the middle of the game. We were lucky at one doubleheader (a regular game and a continuation of a game called for rain—go figure!) that tournaments for Little League were being played on fields next to us and there was both unlocked bathrooms AND a food truck! We were in hog heaven that day!

These games, though, are a great chance to see the future players. And many of them are very young. There was one player we saw pitch a great game who is only 17. These are the kids of the future and here’s a chance to see how they are being cultivated. One player in particular, who we remember well, we didn’t even see him play, but we remember him because he has the same first two names of Dan: Daniel McGrath. He is a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox organization and we’ll be checking on his progress, simply because his name is family.


Graceland vs. Civil Rights Museum

United States culture is wonderful and strange and, at times, disappointing. As a people, we are inviting, caring, helpful, friendly to not only family and friends, but also those we don’t know. But we as a people can also be dismissive, ignorant, unkind and uncaring. Case in point: one of our baseball trips when we visited Memphis, Tennessee, the location of both Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum.

Graceland is the home of Elvis Presley (we use the present tense here because he is buried there and some folks believe he still haunts the place). The National Civil Rights Museum is housed in the Lorraine Motel, the location of the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These two places seem to be the bookends of our US heritage and culture.

We were in Memphis to see the Redbirds, the AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, and as usual wanted to see the sights we thought were most important, or at least the most intriguing to us. Since Dan really likes Elvis and Graceland is a wildly important piece of music heritage, Ginny agreed, although she is no Presley fan. Both of us, though, agreed that we needed to see the National Civil Rights Museum, an even more vastly important piece of US heritage. So, in the morning, we showed up early to Graceland, bought our tickets and stood in the cue for the bus to take us across the street to the house. While we waded patiently through the snaked line, we heard people speaking in excited, almost whispered tones, recounting Elvis’ life and exploits and how much they loved this song or that movie. One woman behind us actually gasped out that this was her 37th time at Graceland. We looked at one another with horror: 37 times? Had she no life? Halfway through the line, the exploiters—we mean, the operators of the tours had set up a photo opportunity for everyone coming for the tour. A life-size picture of the gates of Graceland had been stretched over one whole wall of the waiting area. When we had made our way up to the wall, we were asked if we’d like our pictures taken at the gates (the gates to heaven, as it seemed some people were thinking). We could later buy our pictures for a “reasonable” price after returning to the tour headquarters. Of course, we said yes. After all, we’d had our picture taken with an alligator in Florida. This wasn’t much different.

While we stood in line, as if waiting for the next roller coaster ride, we counted the number of people sharing our wait. We extrapolated to the amount of tours given in a day and came up with the estimated number of people going through the place: 3000 a day. Of course, this was summer, the height of the tourist season. Numbers would be smaller in the off-season. But still—that’s a lot of people (500,000-600,000 a year, according to their official website).

The tour itself was interesting. Even Ginny admitted it kept her attention, although she groused about the cost. We had a personal audio-guided tour (that’s the recording and headphones) through the first floor of the house, maintained exactly like it was when Elvis died (the second floor is off limits) and the back part of the structure containing a museum of artifacts from his recording and performing days. Several of his wild costumes from his later years round out the displays. Finally, several yards away at the side of the house are the burial plots of Elvis, his mother, father and grandmother. It is a beautiful area, peaceful and solemn, as any cemetery should be. Tourists milled about, taking pictures, speaking softly, or sitting on the stone benches on the other side of the water fountain that adorns the area.

Afterwards, we boarded the bus and returned to the headquarters, where we could conveniently browse the gift shop. All sorts of Elvis paraphernalia can be had there, at a price. But no trip is complete without a purchase for friends or relatives. We bought a beach towel with Elvis’s likeness for friends. We also availed ourselves of one of the many Graceland restaurants, where we had sandwiches and got to watch the (then) newest music videos featuring Lisa Marie, Elvis’ daughter. Ginny was not impressed.

Then we were off to find the National Civil Rights Museum. Earlier in the day when we were headed for Graceland, there was no way anyone could miss the exits and turns for that place. Huge signs on the interstate and at intersections made things so easy, a first grader who could read could find the place. Not so with the Civil Rights Museum. We thought that it being so very important to our national history, signs would abound pointing the way. Were we wrong. We had a map of sorts, the kind that comes with a motel room, one advertising all the local restaurants, merchants and sites that the printers think might be interesting to tourists. They aren’t the most reliable and this one lived up to those standards. It pointed us in the general direction and then we had to rely on signs, of which there were very few and far between. When we did manage to find the museum, we drove into a parking lot that was almost totally deserted. Inside the museum, we saw that we were only two of about ten people there. But this is the museum that gave us chills, that celebrates the life and times of a truly great man, that outlines a cowardly act of assassination. Here we stood in the rooms where Martin Luther King spent his last days. We viewed the balcony on which he was killed. Then we went to the boarding house across the street to see where the assassin fired his rifle through the bathroom window. But this museum is so much more than just about King’s life. It follows the fight for civil rights in our nation with interactive videos, displays and many, many pictures.

And the sad thing? We shared all this with very few people. This museum was enlightening, educational and heart-wrenching. But there were 3,000 people over at the Elvis museum and twelve people at the National Civil Rights Museum. What is wrong with this picture?

Both museums exist to commemorate two men who had a great impact on our US heritage. Yet, one man was a singer who lived in a mansion and died of a drug overdose. The other led the fight against racial discrimination and was killed for it. Our culture certainly has strange priorities. Given the choice, shouldn’t we be visiting a museum to commemorate our civil rights 37 times instead of the other way around?