Monday, September 22, 2014

Third Time's a Charm, the Second Time Wasn't Too Shabby Either

Or, the 2014 New York-Penn and Eastern league all-star games in brief, with tasting notes, travelogue and sundry observations

Encouraged by Pharrell Williams to clap along if they felt "like a room without a roof", this Happy couple put their hands together at MCU Park, home to the 2014 NYPL all-star game and like most baseball stadiums, a room without a roof.

Despite my general antipathy towards all-star games, I completed a hat-trick begun in June by attending a match between the best players in the New York-Penn League. A month earlier, Melvin and I saw the Eastern League' game, which for reasons we never learned was called the all-star "stop." The High-A contest retained its claim to most enjoyable but all three games were pleasurable in their own right.

As was the case at all three events, I skipped the NYPL pre-game hoopla in Coney Island. There was inexplicably no draft beer and instead of the anemic pulled pork sandwich, I should have gotten the bacon on a stick from Pig Guy NYC. ZEPS! Sing its praises! "And it's manly."

The NYPL has three divisions but (for obvious reasons) the league was split in two, with a very interesting result. The North squad featured ten of the 15 players with the highest batting averages, ranging from .287 to .339. The South could claim only two.  (Three players weren't selected for the game.) The North also dominated the slugging percentage list.

Conversely, six of the 11 pitchers with an earned run average below 3.00 were on the South squad, with the North having a sole representative. Comparing WHIP with ERA finds the same seven players in different order. Fifty or more strikeouts? You get the picture.

Fans debate whether good pitching beats good hitting or the other way around. At this level of play, I believe, the pitchers are usually more polished than the batters, many of whom are making a transition from metal to wood bats.

Consistent with the stats, the North out-hit the South, 9-3, and if they hadn't let Los Sures score on an error, bragging rights might have been theirs. My third all-star game of the summer ended in a 1-1 tie because the exhibition was limited to nine innings.

No trip to MCU Park is complete without a photograph
of the Parachute Jump. How 'bout this arty rendition?

Almost all of the drama in the Eastern League all-star game, held a month earlier, came when RF Steven Moya hit a grand slam for the Western Division in the fifth inning. A top Detroit Tigers' prospect for his power and arm, Moya also played in the Futures Game four days earlier and has since earned a September call-up to the Motor City.

The short stops did the rest of the scoring. Derrik Gibson banged one out in the third to put the Eastern Division on the board first.  Alen Hanson tied it up later that inning, making the most out of a two-base error, ground out and a single. Gibson scored again in the eighth inning to make it 5-2 but Moya had already made it easy to name the player of the game.

Panhaas is Pennsylvania Dutch for "pan rabbit,"
an analogy I don't understand despite having eaten hase.

Melvin and I began July 16 at the J & M Grill in Hagerstown, where we saw a couple menu items we didn't recognize. Ponhause, we learned, is another name for scrapple, although the loaf at J & M had a higher grain-to-meat ratio than I had seen before. We were told many patrons ate it with syrup, which made sense given its composition.

Patrons reportedly also put syrup on the other dish we didn't recognize, pancakes and pudding. According to Jackie McAfee, pudding is "liver and other stuff" cooked into a stew. Melvin and I are adventurous eaters but neither of us could brave pudding. Perhaps it would help if it didn't look like gray vomit.

Fueled up, we headed off to explore an abandoned section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The 13-mile stretch of highway, between Breezewood and and Hustontown, was bypassed in 1968 as the more economical alternative to doubling the capacity of the Sideling Hill and Rays Hill tunnels. Originally built for the South Pennsylvania Railroad, the two-lane turnpike tunnels were badly congested by the late-50s, especially during summer weekends.

There's something spooky and surreal about the place, although how deep you want delve into it is up to you. How often can you experience an expensive piece of infrastructure that the government has walked away from? Used since then for training, the highway has rumble strips, raised pavement markers and other features installed at random without functional purpose.

Approximately 75 feet from the western end of the Rays Hill Tunnel.

You can experience the landscape at that level, satisfied to peek into the abandoned tunnels as were some people we saw, or you can walk or bike through them, with or without lights. The Rays Hill Tunnel is short (3,532'), straight and relatively flat, and Melvin and I walked it in the dark, the not-metaphorical light at the end always visible to guide us, even when the tunnel itself was cast entirely in darkness. (Lights are recommended for passage through the Sideling Hill Tunnel, at 6,782' once the longest on the turnpike.)

Or, if you need a more popular cultural association to give the place resonance, the abandoned highway was one of the locations used in John Hillcoat's adaptation of The RoadCormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel . Although the title of the short clip below ties the scene to the Rays Hill Tunnel, other sources state the Sideling Hill Tunnel was used in the movie. I will admit, each step closer to the opening was fraught with the expectation that the truck and its band of survivors would trundle out of the maw.

We continued down US 30, the (historic) backbone of the Lincoln Highway. Melvin and I compared the relative nostalgia America has for US 30, the first intercontinental highway across the United States with "The Mother Road, " Route 66, designated just 14 years later. America's collective nostalgia, it seems to me, is not for the highways themselves but for the roadside features, whether remembered personally or memorialized in media.

Once upon a time, there was a privately-owned amusement park known as
Storyland, with fairy tale figures. The Pied Piper is almost all that is left.

It appears cultural references to the Lincoln Highway petered out by the second world war. Route 66 has been transformed into a symbol, although of what is hard to say—Kmart has a line of clothes named for it. If you visit the former Storyland, bear in mind that Humpty Dumpty and the other statues behind the Country Originals Gift Shop are on private property.

We weren't sure if we would have time before the all-star game to visit the Johnstown Flood Museum. Housed in a sizable former Carnegie Library, the museum is small and we were able to view the exhibits in little time. We would have been done even sooner if not for a lengthy narration by a docent who managed to confuse us so badly we had to consult Wikipedia after we left.

Docent take-away: The Johnstown Flood was the fault of selfish rich people.
(It's a little more complicated than that.)

There's not much more to say about the all-star game itself. Melvin and I spent a fair amount of time discussing the horrible design of the parking structure out beyond left field. It must have been, but it is difficult to imagine that it is the work of a licensed professional. Or maybe it's the fault of meddling bureaucrats!

The Knickerbocker as it appeared in 1970.

Melvin and I had a late supper after the game at The Knickerbocker Tavern. We each had a Pittsburgh Specialty Sandwich, "Grilled steak tips and provolone cheese topped with coleslaw, lettuce, tomato, red onion and fresh cut French fries on grilled horseradish sourdough bread." It reminded me of a Primanti Brothers' sandwich I had at PNC Park four years ago, only far superior. Great draft beer selection too.

It was Melvin's turn for scrapple and I had chipped beef on toast.

Another day, another breakfast, this time at Tom and Joe's in Altoona. We read the Altoona Mirror, which reported attendance the night before was two-thirds the size of the record crowd for the 2006 exhibition. The banner headline on the front page declared, "Dog Attack Leaves Owner Critical". Melvin and I have been accused of same with no animals involved.

I saw several trains in short order when I went to Horseshoe Curve in 2008; I optimistically thought the return visit would be the same. Instead, Melvin and I saw as many trains as we did in April at the Folkston Funnel, which would be none if you haven't already guessed. Ah, well, we'll always have the Tehachapi Loop.

With Philadelphia and New York City respectively our ultimate destinations, Melvin and I drove hither and yon to John's Old School New Skool Barber Shop, in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. I could tell you about the place but why not let John speak for himself:

A destination indeed! It didn't seem right to just stop by to ogle the decor so I volunteered to get my hair cut. Shawn Burns does excellent work, but the haircut was so short I haven't needed another one in the two months since. Well, it is getting a little shaggy, as is this post.

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