Thursday, June 16, 2011

Long Footnote

Infinite Jest, by the late David Foster Wallace, came up con- versationally on our recent southwest trip.  Norton proposed the possibility of reading the novel but skipping the copious footnotes1.  Melvin and I replied immediately that was not possible.

A couple weeks ago I went on the "Quaker State Double Double-Header."2  It reminded me of two similar trips I took in 2008.  And back in April I recalled Melvin's and my trip that year to Texas.  So, this post is essentially a long compound footnote to those earlier ones, a "completeist" accounting of my short trips and local games three years ago.  Unlike the footnotes in Infinite Jest, however, the following may be skipped.

Other than the Texas trip, all of the baseball games I saw in 2008 were in New York or originated there.  The earliest road-trip was to see the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and then-Richmond3 Braves.  Lehigh Valley was also the first stop on my trip two weeks ago with Kevin, coincidentally against the same opponent, but in 2008 I took my teenage nephews to the opening weekend of the new Coca-Cola Park, home of the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate.

This was billed as the return of professional baseball to the region.  Most recently, the Allentown Cardinals, Chiefs and Red Sox4—Class A5 Eastern League teams— played at Breadon Field (below) 1948-1952 and 1954-1960 but baseball had been played in the area off-and-on since 1884.  The crowd didn't seem to be buying into the nostalgia but maybe by the Sunday game the excitement had worn off.  Or perhaps the mid-50s temperature, combined with a light breeze and rain, subdued the mood.

I wasn't necessarily trying to be a cool uncle but getting lost twice on the way to Allentown couldn't have impressed anyone.  In any case, we arrived late and missed a two-run Richmond homer in the first.  There wasn't any more scoring until the sixth inning, when the IronPigs tied it up.  The Braves made it 3-2 in the next frame and 6-2 in the eighth and everyone wondered what they sat through the chilly drizzle for.
Box Score

The lads slept on the way back to New York and since drawing them into conversation on the ride out had been challenging, I was in a way grateful.  Without the distraction, there were no detours.  Parents no doubt are used to uncommunicative teenagers; it was naive of me to think I would be granted some dispensation as an uncle6.

photograph by wallyg used through Creative Commons license

The next road-trip, all Pennsylvania teams like the recent trip, was over the Fourth of July weekend, taken with a work colleague.  I had made most of the arrangements but Ryan was shopping Craigslist for Independence Day tickets to the Phillies, the last of our four games.  We were heading to the Holland Tunnel when he got an overdue call from a guy with a block of tickets who could spare a couple when friends made other plans for the long weekend.  We circled downtown to Nevelson Plaza (above) and did the deal in traffic, through the window, like some other shady business, and then beat it out of town.

Our Thursday, July 3 game was between the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Williamsport Crosscutters, the New York-Penn League affiliates of the Mets and Phillies, respectively.  The woodsman play in Bowman Field, which opened in 1926 and claims the title of second oldest ballpark in minor league baseball7.  I found the historic features obscured by more recent renovations but the gabled grandstand still has plenty of charm (and bench seating).

The Cyclones pounded the home team with 15 hits.  The most memorable was a home run by the recently-signed and highly-touted Reese Havens that went over the scoreboard, which at the end of the game read 12-15-0 for the visitors, 3-7-4 for the Crosscutters.  Havens has been plagued by injuries and four years later has advanced only to the Double-A Binghamton Mets.
Box Score

Ryan and I stayed downtown at the Genetti Hotel, which opened in 1922, in part to be within walking distance of the Bullfrog Brewery.  Some rooms have plaques on the doors that honor guests who come every year to the Little League World Series, held in Williamsport.  Charged with a major initiative of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Ryan was working long hours like me and we skipped the brewery and crashed out after watching "Baseball Tonight."

The next morning we drove first to Jersey Shore8, Pennsylvania for breakfast at the Crest Restaurant, a recommendation from Chowhound.  I don't know when I last had chipped beef on toast and now that I mention it, haven't had it since.  American comfort food good enough to cause a wait for a table.

We continued on to Penn State, where the Nittnany Lions share "Medlar Field at Lubrano Park" with the State College Spikes9, the Pirates' New York-Penn League affiliate.  The compound name10 is the most ornate feature at the stadium, which is separated vertiginously from Mount Nittnany by a valley.  The Spikes' opponent for the one o'clock game was the Vermont Lake Monsters, who didn't actually present much opposition, mustering just two singles in the 12-0 shut-out.
Box Score

Our second game of the day—a double-header being one of the many similarities to my recent trip—was between the Altoona Curve and the Harrisburg Senators.  Blair County Ballpark is hulking and feels very expansive, bigger than its 7,210 seats.  The most unique feature is the Skyliner roller coaster just beyond the right field fence in the adjacent Lakemont [amusement] Park.  When we arrived for the game, Ryan and I were surprised as planners to see nearby homes had been condemned to widen a road.  Ryan and I get attacked anytime we eliminate a parking space.

Three singles and a couple stolen bases put the home team up 2-0 after one inning.  In six more innings of work, Jordan Zimmerman, who would debut less than a year later for the Nationals, the Senators parent club, allowed only a single and a double.  Altoona starter Kyle Bloom struggled through five innings but held Harrisburg to one run.  The bullpen, however, was lit up11 for 11 runs in the last four innings.
Box Score

The Curve take their name from the horseshoe curve in the rail road constructed in nearby Kitanning Gap, and of course the baseball pitch.  Constructed in 1854 as an alternative to a tunnel through the Allegheny Mountains, the tracks circumnavigate a 220° curve.  The Railroaders Memorial Museum operates an observation area April-October and Ryan and I began July 5 by watching the trains go by, including one hopper emblazoned with the graffiti, "WHITE卐POWER."  On the Fourth of July holiday, God bless America.

We then hightailed it across Pennsylvania, getting to Philadelphia with some time to spare but not enough to really do anything.  We walked through the Italian market, largely closed on a holiday Saturday evening, before heading to Citizens Bank Ballpark.  A true cosmopolite, Ryan bought some cheese and olives.

It is hard enough some times to just get the itineraries of these baseball road-trips to lock in place; it is almost impossible to get choosy about the match-ups.  However, on this trip Ryan and I saw the hometown Cyclones play in Williamsport at the beginning of the trip and our last game had the Mets up against the Phillies.

There were lots of Mets fans in the stadium so we were able to openly wear "licensed team apparel" and root for our team without much comment12 . Our rooting was rewarded.  The Mets scored in the top of the first and expanded their lead in the fourth.  Ryan Howard tied it up in the bottom half with a three-run blast and the Phils took the lead in the seventh.  However, the Mets fans did not give up and neither did the object of their affection.  The game ended with a pair of three-run rallies by the Mets that were very exciting to watch.
Box Score

As a Mets fan, the win has to be put in a larger context.  Before the 2007 season, Phillies short-stop Jimmy Rollins declared his team was the one to beat in the National League East.  That seemed like trash talk until the Mets, who held a seven-game lead on September 12 lost 12 of their last 17 games in a collapse of historical proportions and missed post-season.  (The Phillies lost the division series to the Colorado Rockies, the wild card, who would win the National League Championship but get swept in the World Series by the Boston Red Sox.)

Meanwhile, back in July, the Mets went on to win again the next two days, taking three games of the four-game series against their division rivals.  Sweeter still, the July 5 win was the first in what became a ten-game streak.  The 2007 season was starting to feel like an tragically unfortunate fluke.

Five weeks later I made another trip, this one a two-day, three-game affair structured around getting to Nationals Park for its inaugural season.  I was going to go solo but a regular at my local watering hole asked if he could come to.  Why not?  The trip started on Tuesday, August 12, with the a visit to Alfred W. Perdue13 Stadium, the Salisbury, Maryland, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds.

The Charleston RiverDogs were in town and the teams looked evenly matched until the canine corner infielders muscled up on a couple balls.  Two runs came home on third baseman Brandon Laird's sixth inning dinger and another pair scored in the seventh on first baseman Bradley Suttle's triple, making the final score 5-2.
Box Score

The win satisfied my traveling companion, a Yankee fan, who wore to the game the "interlocking N and Y"14 of the RiverDogs' parent.  The Shorebirds are the taxonomically consistent South Atlantic League affiliate of the Orioles.  I should have foreseen my companion wanting to go out after the game but had not.  By instinct we homed in on a bar with a deck on some body of water, although I wasn't sure we would ever find the motel again.

We successfully retraced our route back to the motel, where we woke to a fine continental breakfast, another similarity to the recent Quaker State trip15.  We drove across the Delmarva peninsula, crossed the Chesapeake and southwest to Woodbridge, Virginia, a suburb of the nation's capital.  G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium is a municipality-owned stadium located behind a government office complex.  What character the ballpark has is derived from it being devoid of any attempt to make it attractive in any way.

Pfitzner Stadium is home to the Potomac Nationals, who on Wednesday played a nooner against the Frederick Keys, the Carolina League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  What I remember most is the sun beat down on us unrelentingly and there was a whole section of player wives and girlfriends, with the older ones dispensing sisterly advice.  I had to put a leash on my traveling companion, a notorious horndog.  A check of the box score finds all sorts of crooked numbers16 with the game ending 8-6 in favor of the Keys.
Box Score

From the Potomac Nationals we went to the Washington Nationals.  Similar to the trip five weeks earlier, I was able to see the Mets and again they won, this time decisively, shutting out the home team 12-0.  The Mets had 13 hits, including three doubles and a couple home runs, and 11 walks.  The third inning was the big one: 13 batters came to the plate and eight of them crossed it again later.  If the July game, and games that followed, showed the Mets could compete in the National League East, this game proved they had—the team was in first place17.
Box Score

Unfortunately, this trip will also be remembered for what happened after we got home.  More experienced in planning baseball itineraries, I bought all the tickets and made the motel reservation.  Once we were underway, my traveling companion bought gas and paid tolls but spent far less than I.  When presented with the accounting, he moaned and groaned that it was too much money.  Too much or too little, it was what the trip cost.

I would see him at the bar and some times I would mention the debt, other times not.  After three weeks I made him an offer he quickly accepted: eighty cents on the dollar.  He was never really a friend, at least as I use the term.  He was one of the regulars at the neighborhood place, someone I probably felt a little closer to because I had worked with his brother, but given the choice between a couple of Hamiltons and my respect, he chose the former.  The funny thing is he doesn't know that I have written him off; every once in a while he will ask, completely serious, when we are going to hit the road again.18

In addition to the above and the earlier trip to Texas, I also saw games at Yankee and Shea stadiums, both in their final seasons.  New stadiums for both New York teams had been bantered about for years and now that it was happening—Shea Stadium to the left, below, and Citifield under construction on the right—the anticipation was so intense it co-opted the year before.  Excited to buy ticket packages at the new stadiums, fans and quasi-fans bought 2008 plans to become eligible, resulting in a lot of competitively-priced tickets on the secondary market.

Despite some positive signs during the season, the Mets could not sustain their lead, finishing three games behind the Phillies and one back of the wild-card Brewers.  A malaise that began in the last at bat of Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series—down by two runs but with the bases loaded, Carlos Betran took a called third strike—continued.

1.  Although I have imitated the form, I have not attempted to do so as brilliantly as Wallace.
2.  I elected not to provide a link to "Quaker State Double Double-Header" since it was the immediately previous post.
3.  The R-Braves, as they were known colloquially, began playing in Richmond, Virginia, in 1966 when the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta. The team moved to suburban Atlanta in 2009, specifically Lawrenceville in Gwinnett County, and are now known as the Gwinnett Braves.
4.  I am not opposed to creative team names but given the choice between "Cardinals, Chiefs and Red Sox" and IronPigs, especially with punctuation that only marketing people can love, I prefer the traditional.
5.  Under the minor league classification system in place 1946-1962, the Eastern League was one level lower than it is now.
6.  One of Melvin's many aliases is "Uncle Fun," although his nephews are not teenagers.  See: "Take Me Out to the What Now?.
7.  There is little consensus about what criteria must be met to be considered one of the oldest ballparks in minor league baseball.  Different people exclude stadiums if they were not originally built for minor league baseball (e.g.: Centennial Field in Burlington, Vermont; 1906—below), are only used for showcase games (e.g.: Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama; 1910) or not currently used by a team in affiliated baseball (e.g.: Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana; 1915).  Further muddying the issue is the degree to which a stadium has been renovated, perhaps rendering the year of construction meaningless.

8.  Although originally named Waynesburg by town fathers Reuben and Jeremiah Manning, the community on the east side of the West Branch Susquehanna River became known for the state where the Mannings came from.  The town is a couple hundred miles from the place most people think of when they hear the term, "Jersey Shore."
9.  Wikipedia has deconstructed the team name.
"The name 'Spikes' has a threefold meaning. The club's official logo depicts a young white-tailed deer, for whom a 'spike' is an undeveloped antler, symbolic of a young team member who may develop into a Major League Baseball player. The name also refers to a railroad spike, similar to the way the name 'Altoona Curve' commemorates the famous Horseshoe Curve on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Finally, baseball players have long worn shoes with spikes.
Just a tad over-wrought, don't you think?
10.  I had cynically thought someone had come up with a way to solicit two "naming" donations but in fact Anthony Lubrano, a 1982 alumnus of the Penn State Smeal College of Business and a former Penn State baseball player, donated $2.5 million dollars for the construction of the stadium and chose the name "Medlar Field at Lubrano Park" to honor Coach Charles "Chuck" Medlar, the head college baseball coach from 1963 to 1981.
11.  Writing the next day for the Altoona Mirror, Tyler Long compared the way the relievers were lit up with the post-game fireworks. "Senators light up Curve's bullpen,"
July 5, 2008; p. B3.

12.  We had the entire row to ourselves.  None of the other tickets bought by the guy who sold us our two got used.
13.  As part of the 2011 South Atlantic League All-Star game later this month, Frank Perdue will be inducted into the league hall of fame.  According to the team press release, "Frank Perdue is the single biggest reason why Arthur W. Perdue Stadium was constructed in the mid-1990's."  The packaged chicken purveyor donated 39 acres and $4 million so the ballpark, named for his father, could be constructed.

14.  When sportscaster Michael Kaye was a radio announcer for the Yankees, he would use this phrase as he described the team's uniform, a throw-back to earlier days in broadcasting.
15.  Now in our 11th year of travel together, I do not think Melvin and I have once partaken in a continental breakfast.
16.  One player who stands out in the box score is Michael Martinez, now a second baseman with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Martinez went three-for-three with a walk, scored twice and knocked in a run.  He also committed two errors at short-stop in the Keys' five-run eighth inning, from which the Nationals never recovered.

17.  The teams resurgence came after the firing of manager Willie Randolph and pitching coach Rick Peterson.
18.  A couple weeks ago I learned my traveling companion makes 75 percent more than I do.  Three years ago his salary was probably more than twice what I earned then.

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