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 Lasted.net, 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.

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?

Ills of the Road

Being on the road for several days, or weeks, accidents or illness or both are bound to happen to even the most careful of travelers. And our baseball trips have been no different. In fact, you might even say that baseball travel certainly has its own dangers. Baseball parks, depending on where a fan sits, aren’t the safest places to be. If you’re brave enough to sit outside of the netting, you open yourself up to foul balls and the occasional flying bat (and we don’t mean the blood-sucking, hair-tangling type). Even sitting behind the net doesn’t always keep you safe.

In our years of attending baseball games, we have seen our fair share of injuries in the crowd by flying debris from the field. We’ve even been the victims once or twice. The most memorable was during a Cincinnati game (one of the very few major league games we’ve attended as a married couple). This was in 1994; Marge Schott was the owner and Deion Sanders, Barry Larkin, Reggie Sanders were all players and the team was coached by Davey Johnson. Dan’s brother, an attorney in Cincinnati, had given us tickets to the game for which we were very grateful. We have both been Reds’ fans since childhood, as Cincinnati is our hometown. On top of that, the seats were in the fourth row behind the dugout on the first base side—a mere three rows from Marge Schott herself.

We were in heaven! Until the fifth inning, when Deion Sanders hit a foul ball straight above us. It came careening down out of the sky. Ginny ducked under her scorecard, as if that would effectively protect her, and of course, Dan stretched out his arms as far as he could reach above his head, intending to catch the ball. The friendly couple sitting next to us who we had been chatting with, reacted in the same manner. She ducked down next to Ginny, while Ginny tried to cover her as well with the skimpy scorebook and he jumped up, reaching for the stars, as well. And he was actually the lucky one. The ball hurtled down right to Dan—right onto his middle finger and bounced to the seats behind us. In the process, the ball had hit Dan’s finger so badly that it swelled to the size of one of the famous Kahn’s brats sold at the concession stands. Afterwards, we discovered that on the back of the ticket was a disclaimer by the Reds organization that they were not responsible for any injuries incurred during a game. So Dan attempted to get Marge Schott to sign the back of his ticket just as a reinforcement of that rule. He thought it would be funny. In the end, all that Dan got was a trip to the emergency room—but AFTER the game. He certainly wouldn’t go during. The park emergency staff did get him a bag of ice to take down the swelling, but it was little comfort, considering that he didn’t even get to keep the offending ball.

Another danger to watch for on the road is food poisoning. We don’t like to think of such things spoiling our vacations, but these things happen, so be prepared. This has actually happened to Ginny. Actually, we suspect that it wasn’t poisoning per se; it may have been something she was allergic to. Either way, it was certainly unpleasant. But like a trouper, she didn’t let it interfere with her baseball. We were actually in San Juan Capistrano where we visited the mission then went to a very nice restaurant for lunch, so nice that it cost us $75 for two salads, an iced tea and a Coke. Given, Ginny’s salad had salmon and Dan’s had steak, but still…$75?!

Ginny didn’t quite finish hers and Dan had the remaining salmon. We then made a stop at an antiques shop before heading out to Lake Elsinore for the ball game. While in the shop, Ginny began to feel not quite right and on the trip to Lake Elsinore, things just got steadily worse. After getting to our hotel (which was the PITS in every sense of the word), Dan wanted to let her stay in bed and cancel going to the game. Actually, we should say Dan OFFERED to not go to the game. There’s no way he would WANT to not go. And, of course, the same goes for Ginny. She was determined to get there. She wasn’t coming all the way to California just to miss a ball game. She made it through the first three innings before having to run to the bathroom. And there she decided that we needed one more criterion by which to judge a ball park—barfability. How clean is a bathroom? Would you be willing to barf there? Luckily, the women’s bathroom at the Lake Elsinore Storms stadium was exceptionally clean and well prepared for such an emergency. After her epiphany, she returned to her seat and having relinquished the scorekeeping duties to Dan, she managed to use mind over matter to allow herself to stay until the end of the game. Talk about a trouper. A lesser woman, or even man, would have taken the car and gone back to the hotel where she could’ve suffered in a not-so-comfy bed. Not Ginny. She toughed it out for nine innings. Then, of course, she was sick all night at the hotel. However, by morning, she was much better; in fact, the following night we were at the High Desert Mavericks stadium and she was again eating park food (sometimes a dangerous adventure by itself). Because she slept through the two-hour ride, we missed seeing the Roy Rogers museum, which is no longer. She lives with the regret to this day.

Sun burns, laryngitis, colds, allergic reactions, sprained ankles—all these ailments have plagued us on trips, but we don’t stop. Well, we actually do stop: at CVS, Walgreen’s, K-Mart, Walmart, Sams, the local grocery store and, very occasionally, the urgent care facility. One year, we had to travel with Dan’s leg in a removable big black boot (used instead of a cast) because he had broken his leg just above the ankle. The mishap happened before we left on our baseball trip, but it was no less traumatic. And it was during one of the hottest years on record in Texas and Oklahoma. But he survived. And didn’t ever think of NOT going to baseball. The same thing happened to Ginny two years later, but not in the same way. She broke her foot missing the last step on the stairs and ended up in a boot as well. This time, though, we went to the west coast of Florida. It was quite warm, but not nearly as bad as Texas. The problem here was the rain, which would not stop. So she lived in fear of slipping on the wet ground. But, again, we never thought of NOT going!

So the moral of the story, as the cliché goes, hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. You never know what disasters await you. But think of the wonderful time you’ll have before and after. Baseball makes all things better.


Savannah: Bring Your Elastic Pants

In our last blog, “Opening Day 2013,” we expounded on the assets of the Savannah Sand Gnats ball park, historic Grayson Park. One outstanding aspect was some of the food items offered. Turns out that “food” happens to be a grand theme of the overall city of Savannah itself. During our recent visit there, we seemed to eat our way across the city, consuming more food than we had in a year! And, oh, how good it was!

First on the list: since Savannah is situated on a river next to an ocean, of course, seafood is ubiquitous. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a seafood restaurant. Moreover, the offerings are both similar and unique at the same time. For instance, the Shrimp Factory, a restaurant on the riverfront, serves scallops and crab, as many of the other restaurants do, but here the crab is deviled and served in a small tin about the size of a one cup measure. It looked small–being the appetizer portion–when the server set it on the table. But it was just the right amount once Ginny had eaten her salad. In fact, the server told us that the dinner entree portion was normally too much for most people. The scallops were wrapped in bacon and coated with sesame seeds. Dan had them gone before Ginny even took a bite of her deviled crab. Apparently, they were delicious. Down the road from the Shrimp Factory is Huey’s, one of the only places to get breakfast (and lunch and dinner). On their menu they had a seafood omelet, and a Creole omelet with shrimp. They also have beignets with an optional praline sauce. Those of you not from the South, or who have never traveled to the South, particularly around Louisiana, you have been deprived of this treat. Beignets are like a flat yeast donut with powdered sugar. At Huey’s they’ve added a side of praline sauce that will knock you down. We’ve had beignets at the most famous beignet place in the U.S.–Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans–and we have to say that Huey’s were better. Who doesn’t love a great sugary sauce over deep fried dough?

Second on the list: since Savannah is situated in the South, of course, there is Southern cooking. Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, biscuits…we can’t even finish the list without salivating. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to partake in two Southern cooking buffets during the time we were there. The first is quite famous and you MUST make a reservation if you want to get into the restaurant. The Lady and Sons restaurant on West Congress Street is owned by the queen of Southern cooking, Paula Dean. Thus, the wait to get a table. We actually called the day before to get a reservation for lunch and the earliest they could get us in was 3 p.m. So, ok, we had a later breakfast (at Huey’s), then walked all over town for several hours working up a healthy appetite and had our late lunch/early dinner. Thank goodness we walked! And we needed to walk more afterwards! The buffet at this restaurant had all things Southern, including fried chicken, ribs, mac and cheese, collard greens, biscuits, and desserts brought to your table. For those health conscious patrons, the buffet included baked chicken. There was also what Ginny described as the best lima beans dish she’s ever eaten. (Dan wouldn’t know because lima beans wouldn’t touch his lips for a million dollars.) The macaroni and cheese is of special note here. It came out from the kitchen with at least a quarter inch of extra melted cheese on the top. The two kinds of cheese made gooey strings on the spoon when it was dipped from the pan. (We didn’t see a defibrillator anywhere, although it should’ve been near by.) The desserts included Paula’s famous chocolate gooey butter cakes. By the time we got to that course, Dan couldn’t even look at the dessert. Ginny had a tiny space left in her stomach and just had to try the cake. Quite tasty. After that, we waddled our way around town, trying to digest our huge meal.

The next day, Sunday, friends took us to the Desoto Hotel where they served a champagne brunch. Despite the fact that the day before we had sworn off food forever, we were actually hungry again. Here, Ginny discovered that champagne’s not so bad with orange poured into it. The brunch buffet included the typical breakfast offerings, eggs, sausage, bacon, and grits (remember, we’re in the South) and biscuits. The buffet also included dinner items: baked fish, shrimp, fried and baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, salad. While the mac and cheese wasn’t quite as good as what we’d had the day before, the baked fish was superb. Ginny normally always asks for tartar sauce when eating fish (yes, she’s something of a Philistine), but she said that this fish was too delicious to ruin with anything like tartar sauce. The servers also kept filling our champagne (or Mimosa) glasses until the brunch was officially closed. Even then, as we lingered over desserts, they continued to fill water glasses or fill requests that we might have. We actually were the last people out of the restaurant that afternoon. The atmosphere was truly laid-back Southern hospitality.

Beyond these two restaurant experiences, there were other places that we thoroughly enjoyed, and places that we just didn’t have time to get to, or were so crowded with tourists that we chose to go elsewhere. One of those places was Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House, famous for its fried chicken, and famous for being in the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. When the taxi approached the restaurant, we saw that the line was out the door and down the street. No thanks to that. So we had the taxi drop us just three blocks away at Clary’s Cafe on Abercorn. It, too, was featured in the movie, but for some reason didn’t attract the attention as Mrs. Wilke’s, which is quite unfortunate. We found the food here to also be scrumptious. Ginny had Crab Cakes Benedict and Dan had the corn beef hash and eggs. They both came with a choice of grits or buttermilk biscuits. When in the South, do as Southerners do–we had the grits. This restaurant also has kosher food, which we’re sure is equally delicious.

We’re now back home in Rochester, NY, missing the warm weather and the flowers, but now on a necessary strict diet. We don’t want to have to wear those stretchy pants for too long!


Opening Day 2013

Happy opening day to all baseball fans! And this year we got to celebrate opening day at the Historical Grayson ball park in Savannah, Georgia. We were in town for business–a conference–and were able to attend the Sand Gnats vs. Rome Braves game. The game did not disappoint (unlike the weather) with back-and-forth scoring by both teams, with Rome finally winning the game–sorry, Savannah.

The food, likewise, did not disappoint. The ball park is old and small, and doesn’t have too much selection of eats, but it has one of the best sandwiches we’ve ever had in all the 143 parks we’ve been to so far. “The Godfather” consists of an Italian sausage on a hoagie roll with your choice of either Philly Steak or Chicken Philly meats. Then you can add mushrooms, grilled onions, peppers, or American cheese. They also used some kind of sauce while cooking the meats, that we didn’t identify. We ordered one each of the different kinds of meat sandwiches. After all, we needed to see how both tasted. They were fantastic! Yet, be prepared to get messy, especially with the Chicken Philly meat. The sauce tends to make the bun a bit soggy and the meat falls through the bottom. But that’s ok–what are fingers for anyway?

One other unique food item they offered was a hit with Dan, but not with Ginny. The “S’more Panini” is a dessert made with white bread stuffed with a concoction that needs to be seen to be believed: Nutella, marshmallow and broken pieces of graham cracker. All this is pressed in a panini press, slapped onto a paper plate, covered with powdered sugar and Hershey chocolate. When Dan brought that back to our seats, Ginny just stared at him like he was crazy. “What–is–that?” she stuttered. “A S’more Panini’,” Dan said triumphantly, then tried to eat it. The panini was cut into halves, but the crust on the top was still hanging together, so when he attempted to pick up one half, the other came along with it, trailing powdered sugar and chocolate precariously close to spilling down Dan’s black jacket. Finally, Dan managed to detach the two pieces and made a swift end to one of them, mumbling between bites, “This is good, you have to try it.” Ginny eyed it suspiciously. “You know I hate marshmallow,” she said. “But it really doesn’t taste like marshmallow. Here, try it.” Dan pushed the remaining half toward her. Finally, during the break in one inning to the next, Ginny tentatively took the plate and gingerly picked up the dessert. She took a bite, then a second and handed the plate back to Dan. Through a mouth full of panini, she asked, “What is that crunchy stuff in the middle? Were the marshmallows roasted?” Dan smiled strangely: “That’s the graham cracker. But first they spread Nutella on the bread.” Ginny grimaced: “Ugh! I just ate three things I hate! Nutella, marshmallow and Hershey’s chocolate! Ugh!” Dan, finishing the dessert, just shook his head, muttering that he couldn’t believe anyone would turn down marshmallow and Hershey’s.

The staff at the park also did not disappoint. They were incredibly friendly and helpful. We want to thank “Miss” Sarah and Hank, who pointed us in the direction of what unique food was at the park and all the others we spoke to about the team, the park and Savannah itself. The only disappointment was the weather. We had expected, being the South, that for opening day it would be warmer than Rochester, NY. How wrong we were. A wet, cold snap had come through the area, leaving things damp and chilling. In fact, Ginny had to use Dan’s extra fleece jacket to wrap her legs. The jeans just didn’t cut it keeping the cold out. At home, we’d have dressed in several layers, but in Savannah, we foolishly believed we’d be warm. We should have known better, considering that in 2007, we had to wear several layers during one of the coldest springs ever in Alabama and Mississippi.

On the other hand, Savannah–and the Sand Gnats ball park–is definitely worth the visit. Historic, quaint and curious, it’s welcoming and warm–at least the people are warm and when the sun’s out, so is the weather