Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cold in April

Going to see baseball in April is a recent development for us and the destinations to date have been in the south; Texas in 2008 (more on that shortly) and last year Montgomery, Jackson, Miss., New Orleans and Mobile (Melvin, me).  We saw the Boston Red Sox last Monday and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats three days earlier.  It was cold at times in New England, and it wasn't just the air temperature.

ICA, with large mound of dirty snow in foreground

It wasn't that cold at Fenway, 64° at game time.  Nevertheless the Red Sox have been on a cold streak, with a 2-8 record after Monday's loss.  Justin Pedroia (.368), J.D. Drew (.308), Adrian Gonzalez (.297) and David Ortiz (.282) have been hitting but the other bats have been cold.  Boston got ten hits Monday but left 11 on base, six in scoring position.

At the end of the night, Tampa Bay's record was no better than Boston's but they were on fire on Monday: 20 hits including three doubles, a triple and two home runs.  Of special note was Sam Fuld of Durham, New Hampshire, also Melvin's hometown.  Fuld, who the Chicago Cubs kept sending down to the minors, essentially hit for the cycle except he was so hot, he hit two doubles and no single.  Fuld could have stopped at first on his ninth inning double but that's just not done, even in a 16-5 blow-out.
Box Score

Among the struggling Red Sox players is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who left after a seemingly interminable two innings and seven runs, all earned, elevating his ERA to 12.86.  The first hit off Dice-K was a first-pitch solo home run by Johnny Damon.  The former Boston center fielder was booed every at bat but went three-for-five.  There were signs in the stands that read, "WHERE'S MANNY," referring to Manny Ramirez, Damon's teammate in Boston and Tampa Bay this year, until Ramirez retired last week after failing another drug test.  Damon was quoted, "Hopefully one day they'll retire his number up here."  Shortly before his induction  in Cooperstown, no doubt.

From our Upper Bleacher seats, right field,
where Manny once imitated an outfielder

The Red Sox were the first team my Granite State companion rooted for and this was my third trip to Fenway. However, this was the first time I had a chance to explore the stadium. The low ceilings, nooks and crannies and narrow walkways—little more than catwalks in some cases—are the opposite of how contemporary stadiums are designed yet it all works.  And not in a nostalgic way either, but with a genuine appeal I think would be impossible to imitate.

It was downright cold three nights earlier in Manchester, New Hampshire. An almost manageable 51° at game time, the temperature dropped another nine degrees by the end of the 3:23 game.  The official attendance was 2,690 but the stadium was empty.  We were seated in the third row, looking down the first base line, and a guy in front of us remarked that fans stayed away the night before even though it was the season opener.

Starting with its name, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium has little appeal.  It has one of the worst scoreboards we have ever seen, providing almost no information.  The ballpark has a hotel beyond the outfield, somewhat like the Rogers Center where the Blue Jays, the parent club, play beneath the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel.

Melvin’s dad joined us, which was a pleasure.  We swapped stories about games we had seen.  The Professor recalled a game in Indianapolis, then an Indians affiliate, when Gene Conley started for the Toledo Sox, a Boston Braves farm team, against Herb Score, who would go on to be the 1955 American League rookie of the year.  Conley has the distinction of being the only person to win championships in two major American sports, a World Series ring in 1957 with the Milwaukee Braves and NBA titles with the 1959-61 Boston Celtics.

Given the temperature, Melvin and I could not help but recount a four-hour, 13-inning, 1-0 game we saw in Portland, Maine over Labor Day weekend in 2006.  A comfortable 59° at game time, I had a light jacket and Melvin was wearing only a dress shirt over a t-shirt.  By the time the Fisher Cats (as it so happens) had beaten the Sea Dogs, we were frozen.  When last week's game against the Trenton Thunder was tied 5-5 in the fifth, and 7-7 for most of the last four innings, we worried about having a similar experience.  (The teams were also tied with three errors apiece.)  In the bottom of the ninth, John Tolisano hit a two-out RBI single and we were able to say we stayed until the end of the game.
Box Score
After noting that is lightening,
not thunder, being wielded above,
Melvin nickname this character
"The Electrified Turd Muppet."
Game Recap

Tolisano, incidentally, got his hit off Pat Venditte, the Yankees prospect best known for being ambidextrous.  We saw Venditte pitch to three right-handed batters and a couple switch-hitters and I didn't see, which is not to say it didn't happen, his unique talent in action.  We also saw Kei Igawa, who the Yankees paid $46 million to sign, toiling for the Double-A Thunder in the final year of his five-year contract.  Igawa walked home two inherited runners to let the Cats tie the game in the sixth.  Also of note was the endless heckling of Corban Joseph by some ass in a suite above us, which so rattled the 22-year-old he went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a couple RBIs.

Our ballpark destinations last April and again this year were determined by the site of an annual conference.  For Melvin, this is work, just not in an office, and our time together on this trip was largely limited to the two ball games.  Last year I attended the conference through the generosity of my employer but skipped it this time.  The following is how I spent the other four days of the trip, which could perhaps have been omitted.

215 Dutton Street, Lowell
Before Friday's Fisher Cats game, I picked up Melvin at Logan International Airport in Boston. We made a cursory tour of Lowell, the 19th century mill town we will need to revisit to see the Spinners.  We couldn't include the team in this itinerary because the New York-Penn League doesn't begin play for another two-and-a-half months, in part a concession to the cold temperatures at the beginning of the season.

Before I met Melvin at Logan, I visited my niece at Smith College on Thursday. KT gave me a tour of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed campus, remarkably dense for a non-urban college, including the excellent Campus Center by Weiss/Manfredi, a sinuously linked collection of gathering spaces, each unique but related—like cousins who summer together. Most of the afternoon was spent at the college museum of art, which was gracious of KT since she had already seen the current exhibitions. Small encyclopedic museums some times have a cobbled-together quality but the permanent collection at Smith is well assembled. The current special exhibition was “More Than You Know, Works by Whitfield Lovell,” a selection of skillful conté crayon and charcoal portraits of individuals of African descent. Many of the portraits are paired with an object to create an evocative resonance.

April 2006 photograph by Andrew Russeth, taken at Murray Guy gallery

My favorite piece was 16 Photographs from Paris (2009), by Moyra Davey, a new acquisition by the museum. Each of the intimate still-lifes was folded in half, then in thirds, and mailed. The creases, address labels, postage and other stickers become a part of the composition.  KT and I snuck each other into the “artist-designed restrooms" on the lower level, a novelty but an enjoyable one.

Sandy Skoglund, Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams (2003)

KT and I ended our day together at India House.  Cold, hot, spicy?—requested, but not.  Breakfast Friday at The Green Bean was more satisfying.  The "Huevos Green Beanos" included black beans and kale. I then drove to Logan, Lowell, and Manchester.

Saturday morning, Melvin and I had breakfast at Cafe Vachon, “Famous for Poutine.” That was Melvin’s order, with a couple poached eggs; I had the moussaka-like pork pie and scrambled eggs. I hope kale the day before compensates for a half-pound of ground pork.  Ephemera on display was evidence the French-Canadien restaurant is a must-stop during the early presidential primary.

Upon arrival in Boston, I dropped Melvin off at the hotel and continued on to the Institute of Contemporary Art, which seems now to be known not just conversationally but always as "ICA." The main show was “Gabriel Kurti: Nobody Needs to Know the Price of Your Saab.” There were some interesting pieces commenting on consumption but in this vein I appreciated more Christian Jankowski’s 1:11 video The Hunt (1992/1997), included in a selection from the permanent collection. The protagonist enters a supermarket where he proceeds to shoot with bow and arrow the products he will purchase, still impaled as the cashier scans the prices.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro were the architects for the new-ish (2006) museum.  When I first visited ICA almost 30 years ago, it was located in an 1886 former police station in the Back Bay that was designed by the City Architect—think about that concept for a second—Arthur H. Vinal. The new building is handsome but less so in person then in many of the photographs and renderings of it. The central stairwell is unquestionably striking.

While I was ... where?  North South Boston?  With the creation of the Fort Point Channel Landmark District in 2009, I guess it is reasonable to call that collection of late-19th and early-20th century industrial loft buildings "Fort Point."  And it appears "Seaport District" refers to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the World Trade Center and whatever other post-industrial land north of the Reserved Channel is redeveloped.  (Or will be; much of it is surface parking now.)  Anyway, while I was there, I walked around, including part of the Harborwalk along the Fort Point Channel and Boston Harbor. With the exception of the area in front of the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, the design was weak, although I credit the designers who found ways to continue the path where buildings were constructed right on the channel.

I boarded the relatively new (2004) Silver Line, which operates as a subterranean bus transitway from the Seaport to South Station, where I changed to the Red Line to Davis Square. There I visited one of the three galleries of the Museum of Bad Art, in the basement of the 1914 Somerville Theater, now primarily a cinema. Back in the day, Jane Cullen and I would go through the drying racks in the college painting studio and install on every easel a painting too very bad to ever leave the building. Our exhibition would greet our classmates when they arrived, bleary-eyed, for eight o’clock studio.  There were no doubt some hurt feelings and all these years later, I apologize.

Blue Face - Green Pepper
Naomi Palmer
18" X 18", oil on canvas
"A mythical blue figure is depicted gazing at, and perhaps
conversing with, a dream-like chili pepper dragon."—Julia Fleet

Afterwards, I crossed the street to Johnny D's for a showcase of students enrolled at The Real School of Music, a school-of-rock but without Jack Black. I went to see my high school friend Paul, his wife Lori, and on blues guitar, their son Len. None of the student musicians performed poorly but some couldn't stray from their sheet music and just play. Some of the repertoire required singers to affect more worldliness than their tender years had imprinted on them.  Len conjured enough soulfulness to observe, "it's hard to tell when all your love's in vain."  Don't I know it.

I met Melvin back in town at Cheer’s, where he had attended an industry party, before grabbing a night-cap together at the Bukowski Tavern. While it may be “a perfect place to sample more than 100 kinds of beer,” as the lonely planet guide reported, it is hardly a “dive bar.” It’s around the corner from the convention center, so how probable is that? Melvin had the Brooklyn Main Engine Start, "a burnished gold ale in the rare 'Abbey Singel' style" and the first beer out of Brooklyn Brewery's new federally-financed (shovel-ready baby!) brewhouse. I had the cask-conditioned stout, whatever that was.

Sunday morning I took the Green Line—the most heavily used light rail line in American that operates downtown in the oldest subway tunnel in North America, a fine complement to my ride on the Silver Line—to Cleveland Circle.  My destination was the newly-opened Waterworks Museum, the restored High Street Pumping Station designed (also) by Arthur H. Vinal and completed in 1888. Only an engineer could spend more than an hour or so here but it is a pleasant hour. I returned to lunch at The Lower Depths, another “beer bar” listed in the lonely planet guide. I counted over 140 beers on the bottle list, including five 40s, which is a shamelessly tacky first.  I washed down the not very tasty King of Kenmore chicken sandwich with a couple drafts, a Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot and a Wychwood Hobgoblin. Neither did it for me—the Hobgoblin is maltier than I care for—but did lead to an enjoyable nap.

On re-awakening, I toured the Mapparium in the Mary Baker Eddy Library. (Tibet is a sovereign country.)  I also walked over to Northeastern University to see the home plate memorializing the Huntington Avenue Grounds, the first home of the Boston Red Sox. Cy Young pitched for the Boston Americans in the inaugural game, on May 8, 1901, a 12-4 win over the Philadelphia Athletics. And it was there, almost exactly three years later, where Young threw the first perfect game in American League history. The A’s were again the losers, 3-0. A statue of Young stands in the bushes roughly 60 feet from the memorial home plate. The home plate memorializing Metropolitan Stadium was more perversely entertaining and photogenic.

I left the car all weekend in the Seaport District, with its aforementioned parking lots and ample free Sunday parking, and returned there Monday to move it. While there, I walked the rest of Harborwalk. I also checked out the current show in the fpac gallery in the Fort Point Artist Community, a live/work building at 300 Summer Street. Of the five artists in Parallel Play: A Kinship, I found most appealing the drawings by Edward Monovich, which while different made me think of Henry Darger, and the heartfelt woodblock prints by Katie Baldwin.  The text on Baldwin's Finding Different Places to Call Home (2010), above, reads:
"if life here were more simple
we could lead a life less sinful
less obvious
and more meaningful
we all look for different places
to call home"
I walked over the channel to have lunch at Chacarero downtown.  En route I came across a compositionally interesting photograph of what turned out to be the back of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Long story short, I was asked to “try not to take any more pictures of the security installations.” I have made promises I knew I would not keep.  This was the first time I refused to make a promise I was prepared to honor, even though I wanted to re-shoot the picture to get the composition right. Unbeknown to me, Chacarero had relocated from Province Street to Arch Street, so I did not get a chance to try the traditional Chilean sandwich, steamed green beans and all.

I returned to the hotel room.  I read; I napped; I worked on the Texas 2008 post—without regret I did a fair amount of all three on this trip. Later, Melvin and I saw the Tampa Bay Rays give the Red Sox a drubbing, but that is where this report began.

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