Monday, May 23, 2011

Take me out to the ballpark

Delta Airlines sponsored the second annual Delta Dugout this weekend in Madison Square Park, a six-acre park in Manhattan.  Delta is the "official airline" of both the Yankees and the Mets, who played the first of their two yearly inter-league series on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

I watched game two in the park, which was preceded by a concert featuring former Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams and other opportunities to enjoy the best weather in a wet week.

The Delta Dugout was in place for the entire series, with the "Gaming Village" opening mid-day on Friday.  Met third baseman David Wright and Yankees first baseman Mark Teixiera cut the opening ribbon with swings of their mighty bats.

chyanne.g got a picture of the players as they worked the crowd.

There wasn't much to the Gaming Village, which was open for six to eight hours each day.  There was a batting cage, a fast pitch cage, a booth offering items for silent auction to benefit the David Wright Foundation and Harlem RBI.  "Plane-ko" appeared to be loosely based on pachinko but was not in operation when I was there Saturday.  I didn't see the Kids Corner or Dugout Trivia.

I was baffled by the steady stream of people eager to try out the "180° flat bed[s now in] service to London Heathrow."  Folks, you are sitting in an airplane seat under a tarp 100 feet from a major crosstown street in America's most populous city—how fantastic is that?  I did, however, really dig what came out of the digital photo booth.  I wish I did not feel constrained to post just one example.


At noon on Saturday the fast pitch booth played host to a clinic with Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain and despite hitting .205 so far this season, Mets catcher Josh Thole held a clinic in the batting cage.  That probably added some excitement to the ol' village.
Mr. Met, who I like as a cartoon but not a mascot, did a meet and greet at 3:00.

My biggest complaint about Delta Dugout is the fan who wants to, say, see both Joba and Mr. Met won't find enough to keep him or her occupied between the featured appearances and events.  But in fairness, what do I want for free?  —the county fair?

I timed my own arrival for the 5:15 pm concert by Bernie Williams, who also performed at last year's inaugural Delta Dugout.  His "all star band," which has to be an intentional pun, mostly played Latin-inflected, listener-friendly jazz, with the occasional cover.  Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" fit the event theme and Williams closed with an odd and melancholy solo instrumental version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Around 6:00 pm, the sky in the west became very dark.  The rapture did not commence but it did begin to rain about a half-hour later.  The precipitation only lasted 25 minutes but that cleared out most of the crowd.  Actually, I suspect very few people came to see both Bernie and the baseball game but the rain made it impossible to test this theory.

There were less than 200 people watching when the second game in the series started, but that may again reflect the weather.  I had envisioned a throng of fans—all those people who think both New York stadiums are too expensive yet still wanted a communal outdoor experience—but I ended up sitting right in front of the screen.  The boy above, watching (to Mets fans) series stand-out Justin Turner, looks like he was obstructing my view but that is only because I shot the picture from ground level.  The crowd filled out over the course of the game but never numbered more than 350 by my estimate.

kiosk in park
As I alluded, the Mets won the first game.  R.A. Dickey (1-5), the knuckle-baller and poet, re-discovered some of last year's magic and the B-squad came through with timely hits for the injury plagued Mets.  In the third, Teixiera hit one of those porch-jobs that would be an out anywhere else.  Justin Turner, filling in for Wright at third, tied the score in the next inning with an RBI line drive.  Daniel Murphy, filling in for Ike Davis at first, hit a solo shot in the sixth to win the game, 2-1.

The Mets scored first in game two and as late as the fifth inning were only down a run, 4-3.  Turner's run-scoring single in the first set a team record, seven straight RBI games by a rookie, surpassing Ron Swoboda's six-game streak in 1965.  But the Yankees added two runs in the sixth and another in the eighth, burying the Mets 7-3.

Mike Pelfrey, the Mets starter for the third game, gave up a solo home run to Curtis Granderson in the first.  But the Mets scored three in the top of the next inning and Pelf' held off the Yankees for five innings, giving Mets fans hope the team could win the series.  An eight-run seventh inning by the Yankees shattered that dream.

But this post isn't about the Mets-Yankees crosstown series.  I am predicting 70-75 wins and a fourth place finish for the Mets this year and the team will have to do more than it ever has before their fans can use the phrase "bragging rights."  This post is about a fresh way to see a baseball game in New York.

stewardesses and snacks:
salty or sweet?
I would go to Delta Dugout again but just for the game, so my complaint about there not being enough to do is moot.  I'd like to see stadium shots on the screen in the park and perhaps vice versa.  But a handful of friends, a picnic basket, lawn chairs would be a smart addition and, weather permitting, it could be good times.

painting (detail) in the
enclosed sidewalk cafe
Before I headed to Madison Square Park, I had breakfast with my mother at Tom's Restaurant, at Washington Avenue and Sterling Place in the Prospect Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn.  Mom and I eat there often—it's a couple blocks from her apartment—but it is also the kind of place Melvin and I might include in an itinerary so it seems appropriate to add the following comments.

The Vlahavas family took over the Lewnes ice cream parlor in the 1940s and it evolved into the present day luncheonette when Tom Vlahavas returned home from the Phillipines and World War II.  Tom's son Constantine, better known as Gus, ran the place with his wife Nonie (both right, below) for all the years I have eaten there.  You'll still find Tom's wife Stella (center front, with Borough President Marty Markowitz) some days at the cash register.

[Nota bene: Tom's Restaurant is not the inspiration for Suzanne Vega's late-80s hit, "Tom's Diner," although it is the basis for the Greek diner in Jeffrey Eugenides' Pulitizer Prize-winning novel, Middlesex.]

photograph courtesy of Kathryn Kirk, Brooklyn Borough President's Office

People debate (yelp) over the quality of the food but I say it is better and more varied than your typical coffee shop.  There aren't too many places where you can get grits, a perfect egg cream and "blueberry danish" pancakes, among other choices.  (Regarding the last, I've worked out the following rough proportions for preparation at home: a tablespoon of ricotta and a teaspoon of parmesean per pancake, blueberries to taste but not so many that you cannot flip them.)

Then there is the decor.  Eclectic to say the least, the above is one of the more sedate sections of wall.  None of the other photographs I took could capture the composition of stained glass, artifical flowers, Christmas lights, figurines, crockery, autographed head shots, framed testimonials, recommended specials, et cetera.

window display (detail)

The food is enjoyable and the decor unique but what you really go to Tom's for is the love.  The regulars are treated like family and the tourists and first-timers are, well, treated like family.  Gus, 72, turned the restaurant over to Vasilios ("Billy," on left above) and Jimmy (center rear) and their families a few months ago.  Some patrons were worried that it would not be the same and perhaps Gus was too, since he kept showing up to work.  (Or maybe Gus just didn't know what to do with himself after decades of waking up before dawn.)  Customers 20 years from now will know the hand on their shoulder as Billy's when the question is asked, "Everything alright here?"

As time passed, we saw less and less of Gus.  Last week we learned he and Nonie are moving out of state.  So Saturday wasn't just another breakfast at Tom's, but also a public ceremony giving the community the chance to return the love and say good-bye.  And what did the man of the day do at his own celebration?  Walked around offering free food to the crowd .

spicy cucumbers, which were preceded by chocolate chip
cookies, orange slices and five gallons of cherry lime rickey

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