A Tale of Two Ball Parks

The Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones organizations were both surprises to us. And they were complete opposites.

When we were visiting New York City in the summer of 2004 we saw the Staten Island Yankees the second day we were in town. We were both excited about the trip. Neither of us had ever ridden the ferry and probably acted like every other tourist that’s ever seen a boat and water. Ginny took pictures (her primary responsibility) while Dan tried to play it cool. When we deboarded, all we needed to do was turn right up a small hill and we were at the park. The stadium was fairly new, having been opened only three years before (2001) and is so conveniently placed that anyone could find it: “Take the ferry to Staten Island, then turn right.”

The staff were friendly and eager to help us find what we needed, from our seats to New York style food to the right sized hat for our friend. But the most impressive and memorable event is, when they sing the Star Spangled Banner, the fans are looking out over the water at the Statue of Liberty. Just writing this, we still get goosebumps. That particular evening, Taylor John, the son of the team’s coach and former major league pitcher Tommy John, sung the national anthem, which made our visit even more memorable.

Then we have our trip to the Brooklyn Cyclones. It seemed to begin well, with a great subway ride out to Coney Island and a stroll along the beachfront down to the amusement park area. But when got into the park and to our seats, the disappointment began. You must know that, when possible, we always sit directly behind home plate. Dan admires the profession of the umpire. So much so that at one time he wanted to use his sabbatical from work to attend umpire school. And Ginny just likes to be safe behind the mesh. It is definitely a unique view of the game. However, here we were out on the furthest edge of the seats passed third base. As we trudged our way out to this desolate land, Dan grumbled that he had specifically asked for the closest seats to home plate. At some sold-out parks, this might just be the closest. But here we were with NOBODY around us. There was no way that the park was sold out. Besides being out in the back of beyond, the whole area around us was filthy. It looked like the day after soccer hooligans had been there: peanut shells everywhere, hot dog wrappers strewn up and down the steps, empty beer cups thrown under seats, and a melted nutty banana prominently situated at our feet—at least, we hoped it was a nutty banana. If it wasn’t, sitting in the sun as it did, it would soon be emanating a smell that would reflect the looks of the trashed area.

Dan handed Ginny his purchases from the team store and went back to Will Call to complain. Meanwhile, Ginny sat down with a sigh, a few seats away from the questionable banana, to set up her scorebook. Twenty minutes later, he returned, his mood even more sour. It seems that the Brooklyn club’s sales were handled by the parent club—the NY Mets—and those people had never seen the stadium. They had no idea where the seats closest to home plate were even located! Brooklyn couldn’t exchange tickets either because—according to them—there were no seats available. And all this information was delivered to Dan with a condescending, snotty attitude to boot. Dan described the people at the ticket counters and in the front office as unwilling to help anyone, even if we were from out of town and here to specifically see their team. They didn’t care. This was added to the fact that later, during the game, when we surveyed the area behind home plate, we saw that it was almost completely empty.

It was a sad disappointment that a Yankee organization had outshone the Mets’. We thought, well, maybe money really does buy happiness. At least it hired friendlier people.

Combining Culture and Sports

As the title implies, you can combine culture and sports, which we have done in the past. Those who love baseball are already exceedingly refined in their tastes. After all, baseball consists of all the best aspects of a civilized society: nine people working in unison, played in a pasture, scoring runs (not goals or points), and, of course, coming home. This is in stark contrast to football which consists of the two worst things in America society: violence followed by committee meetings. (Thanks to the late George Carlin for first pointing out this contrast to us.)

Thus, in 2004, we found ourselves planning a trip that combined several of our interests and kept us close to home. Due to extended family concerns we also needed to keep our trip quite short. But the state of New York is blessed with several minor league teams and New York City has two of them. Besides baseball, though, we both enjoy the theater—and what better place to be for its vast selection of plays and musicals than New York City.

Through the Baseball America’s Directory, Dan found dates when both the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees were playing at home in the same week. Ginny then found a great online deal for a combination flight and hotel for six days. The hotel is located in Hell’s Kitchen (which is NOT what it sounds like) and is only a short walk to the theater district. Next, we foraged through the list of theaters and came up with three plays that we were interested in seeing where we could get tickets not costing the proverbial arm and leg (or more likely, TWO arms and TWO legs!).

We had six glorious days in the Big Apple with two baseball games and our choice of plays, with the many sites of the city beckoning. We saw the Cloisters, a fascinating place that we didn’t know existed until reading a tourist reference in our hotel room. It is actually a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—although located in Upper Manhattan—and houses a medieval collection that includes paintings, statues, tapestries and stained glass windows, most all of which are associated in some way with religion during the middle ages in Europe. The museum consists of lavish gardens, a Romanesque chapel and five French cloisters, hence the name. One of the main attractions at The Cloisters is the Hunt for the Unicorn tapestries, many of which are now represented as posters and pop art. Most people would recognize having seen them somewhere. According to the explanations provided by the museum, the tapestries were woven in Belgium in the late 1500s most likely for a wedding. Their religious connotations are hard to miss. Most experts believe that the Unicorn represents Jesus Christ who is hunted down, killed, then resurrected through love. The tapestries originally hung on the walls of a castle in France until the Revolution, after which they were used to cover a farmer’s fruit trees during inclement weather. In the 1850s, the family of the original owner reclaimed them, but major damage had been done. Today, the tapestries hang in a room designed as a European nobleman’s hall in the mid-17th century.

Later in the week, we made out way up to St. John the Divine, the largest cathedral in the world. This Episcopal church has a massive presence and is worth the time to tour. Begun in 1892, the building is still not complete. According to the cathedral’s welcome pamphlet, the 601-foot cathedral was dedicated in 1941, one week before Pearl Harbor. When the war commenced, construction was ceased and did not begin again until 1979. It was again suspended in 1994 because efforts were needed for site improvements and preservation instead of new construction. In December of 2001, fire broke out, destroying the North Transept and causing extensive smoke damage to the interior. Restoration wasn’t begun until 2003. We managed to view much of the fire damage to the transept, but the smoke damage luckily had been cleaned away. The $3 entrance fee for tourists is well worth the donation. Unfortunately, due to the fire parts of the church were closed. We did get a close up look, however, of the outside of the burned out transept. They were lucky to have saved the rest of the church.

We continued our trek north and toured the campus of Columbia University. Because we are such bibliophiles, we checked out their library (something we do often when traveling). Then worked our way north along the Hudson River, where we found General Grant National Memorial. After all the years of hearing that bad joke about “who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?”, we discovered the truth: a woman named Julia. OK, so it is General Grant’s wife along side of him. The sarcophagi are quite impressive, made of Wisconsin red granite and weighing eight and a half tons each (according to the docents). Despite the joke, this is a solemn and honorable site to see.

The Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, another great museum we toured, was only a couple of blocks south of our hotel. How could we pass up such a chance? The decommissioned World War II-Vietnam era aircraft carrier houses artifacts in four different halls: Intrepid Hall, Pioneers Hall, Technologies Hall and U.S. Navy Hall. Between its time as a war ship and then as a museum, the Intrepid spent time as a space recovery ship. In fact, the first space shuttle orbiter, the Enterprise, will soon join other space memorabilia at the museum. Imagine, the Enterprise ON the Intrepid. Does boggle the mind!

The day of the Brooklyn game, we arrived early in order to walk over to Coney Island, which is next door to the stadium. While there, we had a hot dog at Nathan’s—the site of the infamous 4th of July hot dog eating contest. Because we were so early, the crowd was just beginning to form around the staging area. Luckily, we were also early enough to grab a hot dog at the stand before the insanity truly began. A lot can be said about kosher, natural casing hot dogs, but one word comes to mind: delicious!

For the next installment here, we’ll talk about the Brooklyn and Staten Island stadiums—what a world of difference! Stay tuned.


The Baseball Symposium

Some people would be surprised to know that there are actual academic conferences about baseball. Many of them concentrate on literature that uses baseball as a theme, or investigating the portrayal of players in films. The preeminent international conference on baseball, though, is the one held annually at Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This symposium, “Baseball and American Culture,” is co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and attracts attendees from around the world. According to their website, the purpose of the symposium is to “examine the impact of baseball on American culture from interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary perspectives.”

Last spring, 2012, we took a long shot at proposing a possible presentation at the conference about our travels around the country in search of baseball and interesting sites. When our acceptance came, we were shocked and delighted. We were going to speak at a conference held in the baseball hall of fame! After the happy dance, reality set in–we had to actually speak in front of people about baseball, people who probably knew statistics and memorized players for teams in the 1920s. We’d have to actually write something interesting and entertaining and smart. Gulp!

As it turned out, Ginny wrote an academic piece about the metaphors of traveler versus tourist (a traveler leaves home to experience the world and a tourist leaves home to escape the world–thank you, Rolf Potts). We talked about how we are a hybrid of the traveler and tourist, and how our experiences of traveling to see baseball enrich our lives through education about our country and its inhabitants. Then we shared two of our stories about the sites we’ve seen and people we’ve met on our annual journeys to see baseball. Afterwards, we had several people compliment us on our presentation and we were delighted. We even received an invitation to be guest speakers at the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

The most exciting event of the symposium was the welcome dinner held in the Plaque Room. This is the room where hang all the memorial plaques of players who have been inducted into the hall of fame. It felt as though we were eating with history.

So, why write about this now? It seems that we thought we’d try our luck again this year and proposed another possible presentation–this time about fan-speak. That is, we want to analyze how fans cheer and jeer at baseball games. Yesterday our acceptance letter came. We’re going back to the hall of fame. The excitement in our house is palpable (it doesn’t take much to thrill us!). It’s a great feeling–until we realize, once again, we’ve got to write the darn thing!

If you are a true fan of baseball, we highly recommend the Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. It is educational, entertaining and, as Dan says, just way cool. There are few things better than to have a pass into the Hall of Fame—going in and out as an academician and attending presentations and discussions on the history, psychology, legal issues, gender issues and even personal aspects of baseball and American society—and then during breaks wandering through the Plaque Room or rest of the museum reading and soaking in all of the history of baseball. We go to academic conferences all the time and they are enlightening, interesting and fun for a variety of reasons, but this conference is special—just because it’s about baseball.

And if you’re never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame, then it’s time you come! The symposium this year is May 29-31. You can find more information about the conference at the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame website. Even if you don’t attend the symposium, the Hall of Fame is a MUST on any fan’s list.

Baseball in the Cold

In the spring of 2007, both of us were on sabbatical from our respective jobs and we had moved up to the cottage in the northern part of the lower peninsula of 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. We stopped in our hometown of Cincinnati to visit with family and found it almost as cold and snowy as Michigan. Then, as we wound our way down south, the temperatures did not moderate. In Birmingham, AL, we sat through one of the coldest games we’d ever experienced—and we live in Rochester, NY! The temperature read 32o. Of course, that’s really not too very bad for us; but the locals were freezing. One very nice couple, Diane and Randy Johnson, who sat behind us had driven down from Albertville (some 80 miles northwest) to see the game and were troopers about the record cold spring, although Diane had several layers of clothing on and FOUR blankets. They explained that they were there because Randy is a sportswriter and Diane likes baseball, although the weather was testing her loyalty. She 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 ended up starting two weeks late because of the snow and cold.) So we were happy to be in the balmy South.

Slowly, the temperatures did begin 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. 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. We came 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).

On our way back north, we traveled through Arkansas, then headed east, back across Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and north once more through Kentucky, Ohio (stopping again for family) and finally back to the cottage. Over the course of this three week trip, we saw Civil War sites, museums, cemeteries, Episcopal churches, state parks, preserved mansions (including our first plantation), the world’s smallest library (run on the honor system), homes of famous writers, hurricane damage, innumerable roadside historical markers, fabulous (and not so fabulous) restaurants and seven new ball parks. Dan even got a haircut at the Chattanooga Lookouts stadium! And we never guessed that we’d fall in love with the state of Mississippi, despite the fact that it was cold and gray for much of the time we were there. This was (and still is) the longest trip we’ve taken during our years of baseball travel, even with its inauspicious frigid first half. Baseball trips can truly be educational experiences, given the time and a little bit of planning. See the country, meet the people and watch baseball–what can be better in America?