Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Few of Our Favorite Things from Ballparks Around the Country by Abby & Jesse Mendelson

A trip to the ballpark isn't all about balls and strikes, hits and runs.  We've been around the horn a couple of times—to every major-league ballpark save the new Atlanta—and have collected not a few baseball memories. Saw some great games, sure, and real clunkers. We've collected plenty of memories that fuel two fans' lives.
Some on the field, some off, here, in alphabetical order by city, are our favorites:

Arizona Diamondbacks/Bank One Ballpark
Heat. Heat and more heat. One hundred-degree heat. And an airplane hangar of a ballpark.
Did we say heat?

Atlanta Braves/Turner Field
Driving on deadline from St. Louis, snarled in late-afternoon rush-hour traffic, we had no chance to stop anywhere and eat. Exhausted, starving, we called a Georgia peach who met us at our seats with salami sandwiches. The Braves game that night is lost to history, but—mustard and rye and Hebrew National—we never forgot the taste of that dinner!

Baltimore Orioles/Memorial Stadium
Way back in '83, when Jesse was a wee shaver, we saw Oriole ace Storm Davis start perfect, then fall apart, cr-ushed by the Big Bash Twinkies—Bruno 'n' Herbie, Ward 'n' Gaetti. But neither Davis nor the Eddie Murray/Rick Dempsey Birds ever lost their composure. We saw a strong team, including a fabulous young shortstop named Ripken, picked 'em as champeens, and were right!

Baltimore Orioles/Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Same team, new park, and the place is packed.  With the throwback baseball stadium era underway, Camden Yards was the leader, and to this day arguably still the best, with Eutaw Street, the warehouse, the cavernous concourses. We loved nothing more than that outfield, led by Mike Devereaux and heartthrob Brady Anderson, who made a sensational catch to erase a home run. But this was 1994, two years before he crashed 50 homers, when he was just a scrappy centerfielder with sideburns right out of 90210.

Boston Red Sox/Fenway Park
Led by our brave companion and faithful guide the Red Rover, we made our first pilgrimage to the fabled Fenway, 1982. Oh, we had been Red Sox fans forever, never more so than in '75 when we watched the Classic on TV and gyrated along with Carlton Fisk in Game Six. Stay fair! But by '82, there had been many changes. El Tiante and Freddie Lynn were both gone, and there, squatting behind the dish with the visiting White Sox, wearing some truly dreadful togs, was Pudge. Carlton Fisk as the enemy.  Ron Kittle and Harold Baines…and Pudge. Not even seeing Rice 'n' Yaz 'n' Dewey in their natural habitat made up for that insult. Like seeing your ice cream scoop fall out of the cone and plop! onto the sidewalk, we just sat and stared.

Chicago Cubs/Wrigley Field
The throwback park before there were throwback parks! We fell forever in love way before the Cubs game, when, sitting in a neighboring tavern, two perfect strangers from Oklahoma treated us to pre-game beers. And it only got better from there, as once we went inside, seeing Lake Michigan from the not-so-upper deck seats. Just gorgeous!
Chicago White Sox/New Comiskey
OK, we admit it. We made a mistake. We didn't listen to Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown": On the South Side of Chicago, in the baddest part of town...

We took the train to the park. And then saw that it was one park too early for its era. Nice-enough, sure, but without taste or class or, well, anything interesting. We pined for Camden.

Cincinnati Reds/Riverfront Stadium
It was a memorable Labor Day outing, 1987, a trip to Riverfront to see the Reds take on the Dodgers, followed by the greatest fireworks display these fans have ever seen. By sheer chance, we stayed in the same hotel as the visiting Angelinos, and so happened to meet manager Tommy Lasorda (big, blustery) and announcer Vin Scully (humane, humble) in the elevator. For Jesse, still but a lad, it was truly memorable.
For his dad, the moment came in the park, when then-Reds rightfielder Paul O'Neill butchered a fly ball.  Walking back to his position, O'Neill kept his head down.
"You better hang your head, boy!" a little old apple-cheeked granny bellowed out.
Hmm, we said, seems they take their baseball very seriously here in farm country.

Cleveland Indians/Municipal Stadium
Drab July day, 1987, the Mistake by the Lake. Remembering the great line of that erain Cleveland pennant fever is a 48-hour virusthe Indians are wallowing in another lost season, a full 30 games under .500. What more could go wrong, you ask? Oh, you ain't seen nothin' yet! The Rangers put us through a seven-run, 45-minute third inning, that’s what. Pete Incaviglia, Larry Parrish, and the hits just kept on comin’!
We never went back.

Colorado Rockies/Coors Field
With vendors yowling pistachyos outside the ballpark, we dizzily found our seats, a full mile above sea level. In that rarified air, the ball really motors. We witnessed a Marquis Grissom tater, which flew faster than the speed of sound and landed, we believe, somewhere east of Nebraska. After the game, wishing we had brought oxygen, we gingerly climbed our way back down.

Detroit Tigers/Tiger Stadium
With the Tigers hosting the fabled Stormin' Gorman Thomas/Cecil Cooper BrewCrew, we saw the visiting Milwaukees bang back-to-back homers. Not to be outdone, Detroit slugger Champ Summers walloped his own four-bagger off the facade in right.

Houston Astros/Enron Field
A line entered our lexicon on an '00 trip to soupy, swampy Houston. Taking our seats before the game, we gazed out at the field—the sloping outfield reminiscent of this ballpark, the in-play flagpole reminiscent of that ballpark, the jutting stands reminiscent of the other ballpark, the home run choo-choo train reminiscent of Lionel. Jesse, who is, ah, minimally patient with wretched excess, sat and looked, and looked, and looked. Finally, steam rising from his ears, fed up with myriad self-indulgent design features that add nothing to the game, he snarled, "just play the damn game!"
Which to this day has been our rallying cry for anything that gets in the way of the pure baseball experience.

Kansas City Royals/Kaufman Stadium
It was a beautiful Midwest Sunday in baseball's most beautiful modernist ballpark. With the A's in town, and the famous fountains gurgling, we saw the visiting Oaklandersled by MVP Miguel Tejada and the juiced-up Jason Giambipound out 21 runs on 21 hits, an all-time record for us.

Los Angeles Angels/Anaheim Stadium
When the arthritic, re-tred Angels—Bob Boone and Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson all way past their prime—gave visiting Mariner Jack Perconte a gift triple on a catchable ball in right, well, we kind of lost interest. In the top of the first.

Los Angeles Dodgers/Dodgers Stadium
A beautiful ballpark, a beautiful night, a beat-up, below-.500 ballclub—Pedro Guererro and five guys named Moe.
Next time, we vowed, we're bringing crossword puzzles.

Miami Marlins/Pro Player Park
We were havin' a heat wave, a tropical heat wave, one steamy Sunday afternoon in Miami. Wilting in the summer heat we counted 52 empty sections of seats.  An all-time non-attendance record, at least for us. After that, who could remember the game?

Milwaukee Brewers/County Stadium
It was nearly the new century, and the visiting Mets were bound for glory. Heading for the playoffs, and the Classic the following year, we picked them early as a team of destiny. And our night in Milwaukee hardly proved us wrong.
In old, decrepit County Stadium, the New Yorkers came out smokin'. Mike Piazza pounded one out of the park. Benny Agbayani, all 225-pounds of Flyin' Hawaiian, made a fabulous all-out diving catch in left. And to top off the game, on a ball hit up the middle, which we tallied as a certain Brewer base hit, Met second sacker Edgardo Alfonso ranged far to his right to stop the ballworth a “!” in our scorebooks.
But no-o-o! as the late John Belushi would say. With all-everything shortstop Rey Ordonez cutting in front of him across the infield, Alfonso flipped Ordonez the ball, who chucked it on to first for the put-out.

It was our firstand to date onlyphantom double play, worth the first-ever, and still only, three stars in our scorebooks.

Milwaukee Brewers/Miller Park
Same team, new park, but this time it completed our first of two ballpark cycles. Driving I-94 to Milwaukee, knowing that a stormand a domeawaited us, the exuberant Jesse hollered, "I don’t care if there's hail with fire in it, we’re going to see this game!"

Minnesota Twins/Humphrey Metrodome
We dubbed it the Foam Dome, looming like a big cup of beer on the 10,000 Lakes.
In town for the '87 World Series, we saw Kirbo 'n' Herbie 'n' the Man from Glad beat up on the Cardinals. Oh, the billowing white roof. Oh, the white homer hankies!

Montreal Expos/Olympic Stadium
In a hall right out of a Star Trek nightmare, the Expos and D'Backs beat at each other for ten innings. Finally, in the bottom of the tenth, apparently tiring of the proceedings, Vladimir Guerrero took matters in hand by simply parking a low, inside pitch.
As in, I've had enough of this.

As in, time to go home.
As in, damn! did he belt it.

New York Mets/Shea Stadium
A beautiful August Sunday. Mets taking on the visiting Cubs. Bases loaded.  Mel Hall jacks one into the left field seats. Then proceeds to take his victory lap around the bases, his batting gloves flapping out of his back pockets. Goodbye!
At that moment, Jesse decided that for his batting-glove ta-ta, Mel Hall was the absolute King of Cool, a player worthy of emulation. So for the next, oh, 15,000 years Jesse always played ball with something flapping out of his back pockets so he could wave goodbye like Mel Hall.
Jesse's dad is mightily happy that Jesse has outgrown it.

The scene switches to Opening Day 2003. The year the Mets cratered to 66 wins and we knew it.  The Cubsa full six months before all-time interloper Steve Bartman’s name entered our consciousnesshung 15 on the hapless Mets in the single coldest baseball game we’ve ever attended. Brr!

New York Yankees/Yankee Stadium
Abby pulls rank here, and shows his age.
Abby, 14, finally convinced his civilian (i.e., non-fan) father to take him to the Bronx. Yankees hosted the execrable Washington Senators, whose biggest star was 38-year-old Gene Woodling.

Undeterred by such raw talent, Mickey Mantle belted two home runs.
Abby still has the scorecard.

Decades later, night game in the House that Ruth, Lou Piniella hit a sac fly, bottom of the first against the Pale Hose. Sox starter Britt Burns struck out 11, Yankee Dave Righetti, then a starter, struck out seven, while the Pinstripers made the 1-0 score stand up. One of the most exciting games we've ever seen.

Oakland A's/Oakland-Alameda County Stadium
This was a night we saw a near-murder.
Foul ball near us. Ball bounces, rolls, comes to a stop. Little kid just about has the ball. Jersey-wearing adult fan snatches it away from the child.
We thought the crowd would kill the guy. Indeed, as an angry growl began to whip around the stands, harsh words were said, names were called, and, finally, before the fur really began to fly, the miscreant skulked out.
We were glad to see him leave without bloodshed.

Philadelphia Phillies/Veterans Stadium
July, 1986, burning hot Sunday, sitting near the top of another '70s-era concrete ashtray, baking in the heat, barely able to see a blessed thing forty stories below us, we thought, time for ballparks like this to go.

Less than a decade later, when the world caught up with us, we hoisted a victory beer to celebrate.

Pittsburgh Pirates/Three Rivers Stadium
Because Pittsburgh is our home base, we saw many memorable things. Pirate pitcher John Tudor notching two hits in an inning. Cub Dave Kingman stealing a base. Bobby Bonilla belting one into the upper deck, the highest hit we've ever seen. The return of playoff baseball to Pittsburgh in 1990. And so on.

Perhaps our all-time memorable moment came against the Cardinals in '91, when pre-PED Barry Bonds hit an extra-inning, walk-off bomb off a Lee Smith 900 MPH fastball.  We have the sneaking suspicion that ball is still flying somewhere.

Close second: Reds first baseman Pete Rose absolutely killed himself to catch a pop foul. The Reds weren’t going anywhere, and Rose had already done everything a man could do, but Charlie Hustle went for that ball full tilt, crashing into the photographer's box at the edge of the field.
The capper came when Rose, who made the out, returned to make sure the photographer was all right.

Pittsburgh Pirates/PNC Park
The Black Out.
After 20 consecutive years of losing seasons, 1993-2012, the Pirates finally broke .500, and given a revised and generous playoff schedule, steamed into the post-season.
For the one-game Wild Card, manager Clint Hurdle asked the fans to dress entirely in black.
Which the sell-out crowd did.
Relentlessly chanting Cue-to!  Cue-to! at the totally clueless Reds moundsman, the fans loved seeing the Andrew McCutchen/Russell Martin Bucs beat the Reds. The Pirates’ first post-season victory since the team's heartbreaking loss to the Braves in '92.
Arguably the most exciting baseball game of our lives.

San Diego Padres/Jack Murphy Stadium
When the car died in the parking lot before the game we knew we were going to have trouble.
We called for a tow, got the car to a garage, got Mom and Jesse's baby brother to a hotel, and took a taxi back to see a memorable close to an unmitigated fiasco.
Right next to usright therePhillie Mike Schmidt hit a meteor of a foul ball, which caused a nearby fan, in his haste to get to the ball, to tear up his hand.
Great. Busted car. Stranded in San Diego. And now some guy bleeding all over the seats.
In a great walk-off, eight-time batting champ Tony Gwynn whacked a game-winning triple, and the Padres reigned triumphant.
We even found discarded scorecards to cap the night.

San Francisco Giants/Candlestick Park
It was a sunny July doubleheader and we were dressed for it. Wearing heavy shirts, sweaters, and lined raincoats, we settled in for what seemed like a long Northern California winter.
Then, unexpectedly, the wind died down, the clouds departed, and we did a slow striptease, shedding our thirty-seven snowsuits in the bright afternoon sun.
Then, Sandy Frisco being Sandy Frisco, the weather turned right around, and we quickly retrieved all our clothes.
We think the Cardinals dropped both ends of the doubleheader, but our teeth were chattering too loudly to talk, and our fingers were too numb to keep score.

Seattle Mariners/Safeco Field
Back in '01, it was Ichiro mania all over Seattle and for good cause. He fielded like a demon and belted the pelota at a .350 clip to cop the batting title, won Rookie of the Year and MVP honors, and led the Mariners to a record 116 wins.
For our game in Seattle's dreary, dark, dank dungeon of a ballpark, Ichiro beat out an infield single in the first inning to score the game's only run.

St. Louis Cardinals/Busch Stadium
In '00, the heyday of the wink-and-nod PED era, 40,000 fans showed up in red Cardinals T-shirts to watch Giant Barry Bonds take on Mark McGwire in a batting practice home run derby. As Bonds literally smashed scoreboard lights, sending cascades of glass into the rightfield seats, McGwire hit balls into the fourth deck in left.  It was a display of raw power we have never seen equaled.

Sure, since then both players, and others, have excoriated this pair for their obvious PED useand their continued evasions about it. Our take? It was how the game was played back then, and everybody enjoyed the show. The current spate of revisionism has hardly dampened our memories of that special night.

Tampa Bay Rays/Tropicana Field
Before the big changes, back when the team was the Devil Rays, and the best they could offer was an aging Fred McGriff, we went one night—and, after a pre-game visit to their cigar bar—felt distinctly as if we were in a warehouse, waiting for a guy on a forklift to change the bases, and to be asked to turn the lights off when we left.

Texas Rangers/The Ballpark at Arlington
Big, Texas-style ballpark. Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and the Baja Marimba Band. They went on to win a whopping 71 games that year.
Waiting for some action, we saw DH David Segui hit a home run into the right field seats and score it as such.
Then there's an on-field conference. The umpires decide it was wasn't a homer. It was just a loud foul ball that everyone miss-saw.
We hate replay. And cried for replay.
Can't anybody here umpire this game?

Toronto Blue Jays/Skydome
Skydome, Sunday, in the shadow of the CN Tower. Roger Clemens' 2,000th K, a milestone if ever there were one.

Washington Nationals/Nationals Park
Is there a greater thrill than seeing your son on the ballfield?

OK, while Jesse is no player, he did spend a season as a volunteer groundskeeper. [Hope to read more about this someday. Next issue?] Wearing the red shirt, spraying the infield, collecting every stray ball he could, no ever had a better time.
Except his dad.

Abby Mendelson is a writer and educator in Pittsburgh whose books include histories of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh neighborhoods and houses of worship, among others. Jesse Mendelson, his son, is an executive in Washington, D.C., skilled baseball historian like his dad, and highly successful fantasy baseball player.

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