Joe's Baseball Road Trips

Joe's adventures and excursions to America's great baseball parks

Author: joeforish1 (Page 1 of 3)

Coming soon…. more ball game coverage and bonus sections

Please see the list of September games I’ll be attending under the menu section — these will be covered in posts once those games have been completed.

I’m also working on a “Lessons Learned and Tips for other Ball Park Chasers” which will be forthcoming soon.

Bonus section — The Best of Southwest Airlines

Nearly all of the flights during my August Baseball Road trip were on Southwest Airlines. Since I was originating and finishing the trip in Atlantic City, and that is not an airport served by Southwest – it was the notable exception. Southwest serves lots of destinations in the US and is now starting to serve some locations in Mexico and the Caribbean too.

Southwest has a different business model than other air carriers. I have become a true believer that they are better than the others, and love to fly them now. I wasn’t always a Southwest fan. Before I flew my first SWA flight, I observed their boarding procedure and thought it seemed like a “cattle-car” process. And since I understood they had no assigned seating, I imagined it to be chaotic and did not understand or appreciate the system and just how smoothly it tends to operate.

In addition, over the past 10 years, most airlines have instituted policies which are downright unfriendly to fliers – and have tacked-on fees, which in some cases are outrageous for baggage or flight changes. Southwest is different.

On Southwest bags fly free – not just your first bag but your second checked bag as well – and if you prefer to carry-on a bag, you are not charged for that either.

If you book a flight and have to change it, you don’t pay a change fee; and the full amount of your original ticket is credited to whatever new itinerary you choose. If the price of the new itinerary is higher, you’ll be charged the difference and if it’s lower, you receive a credit for the balance, good for up to a year from your original purchase date.

You can cancel a flight up to an hour or so prior to scheduled departure and still have this full amount credited. You can use “stored” credits from up to three flights to apply against a new flight.

If you book a flight, and the price then goes down, you can re-book it at the new, lower price and store the credit. Since SWA has fairly regular Fare Sales, this is not uncommon and can represent a considerable savings.

The boarding process is simple. When you book your flight, you can opt to buy what is called “early bird check-in”. It costs $15 additional for each flight segment. SWA opens the check-in process 24 hours before the flight is scheduled to depart. At that point, you (and everyone else on that flight) can log on to Southwest.com or use the SWA app on a smart phone to check-in. When you check-in on line, you are given a “boarding group” A, B or C and a number 1 thru 60. This signifies the order in which passengers line-up to board the flight. If you are quick with logging-in, right at the point that that flight opens for check-in, you’ll likely get a good boarding group – an “A” or a low “B”. If you spent the extra $15 and purchased early-bird check-in, you need not worry about logging-in immediately since the system will automatically check you in and you’ll get the best position available in the order in which you purchased the early-bird premium.

While SWA does not have a premium/ first class cabin – all seats are in one class of service – it also offers a “business select fare” which automatically carries a boarding group of A1-A15 and I believe it gets you a free drink on board and additional points for your purchase. You can also buy a fare which is a flexible fare at a premium. This allows you to change to a different flight on the same route on the same day without paying a difference in fare (if the actual new fare has changed). Southwest also celebrates select holidays — the 4th of July, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day to name a few — with a free alcoholic beverage for those who drink… Yep, on the house just for flying with them that particular day.

Flexibility is what it’s all about—and it works. SWA is one of the few, if not the only US-based airlines which is consistently profitable. And they do it without ripping you off by charging all those extra fees for baggage or for flight changes.

The boarding process actually enables them to be quicker and more efficient in loading the aircraft. If you want an aisle or a window and one is open, you pick it and get seated quickly. If you are in the “C” group on a full flight, you are bound to have a middle seat but you can at least pick who you want to sit with to avoid the large passenger in row 8 who may not allow you any elbow room. If you are the unfortunate last person boarding the plane, you will definitely be in that middle seat in row 8 so you will live with it…

Overall, though, it works and is a fairly smooth process.

Southwest Humor.

Beyond the above, what I truly enjoy the most about SWA are the flight attendants and the sense of humor they display. Believe it or not, Southwest hires with a profile which looks for outgoing, friendly and engaging personalities. Their process is pretty rigorous and I have heard it described by my counterpart who was the head of HR there as a key factor in developing the unique culture which they have. Several years ago, I hired a former Southwest HR person into my own HR department and they brought a lot of good skills in assessing people – no doubt gained from working in this environment.

Here are some sound-bites of Southwest flight attendant humor- just to give a flavor of the entertainment for those who may never have experienced it.

At the outset of a flight, FAA regulations require that safety procedures be explained and demonstrated. Southwest meets these requirements, but often they do it with a flair and an additional dose of humor which causes passengers to actually pay attention to the messages.

For example:

“In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, a mask will drop down from the overhead compartment. Even though the bag may not inflate, oxygen will be flowing into the mask. Please grab the mask, pull to extend the tubing, place the mask over your nose and mount and breathe normally. If you are traveling with small children or someone who needs assistance, please secure your mask first before assisting others.

(Ad lib addition) — Now you may ask – what if I am traveling with more than one child? Which one should I assist first? My suggestion is that you choose the one with the greatest potential and assist that one first… If you are traveling with a husband who does not do well listening to instructions, you may assist him like a child or if he’s got a lot of insurance, you can let the cards fall where they may…”

Normally passengers are roaring when these otherwise monotonous announcements are “improvised” by SWA crew members.

Here’s another which I heard on my recent trip:

“If you are seated in an exit row, you must be able to handle the functions noted on the card in your seat back pocket in order to assist the crew in the event of an emergency. If you cannot perform these functions, please advise a crew member and they will reseat you. If you choose not to perform these functions, please notify a crew member and they will reseat you. And if you simply do not give a function, please let the crew member know and they will reseat you too…”

And another from an earlier trip:

“In the event of a water landing, please remove the life vest which is stored in the pouch beneath your seat, place it over your head, loop the strap around your waste and snap it in the ring in the front of you.

Now since today’s flight path should not take us over any water whatsoever, if we have a water landing, we have bigger problems than how to put on your life vest… but that’s another story.”

And yet another:

“Please fasten your seat belt by putting the flat edge into the buckle and then pulling it low and tight across your lap – that’s right – just the way you like to wear them skinny jeans low and tight across your lap…”

On a recent SWA flight as the Flight Attendant was welcoming passengers aboard and making some preliminary announcements, she was (rudely but in I am sure a planned, humorous manner) interrupted by the Captain who said:

“Excuse me, excuse me, Susan, I am sorry to interrupt but Welcome aboard folks, this is your extremely handsome Captain speaking. I just want to tell you that you are very fortunate to be flying with us today on this flight. Not only is your Captain extremely handsome, but he is indeed one of the very best pilots in the entire Southwest fleet. In the event that you peeked into the cockpit when you boarded and saw just how extremely handsome your Captain is, I did not want you to think that he gets by just on his absolutely incredible good looks. He is in fact one of the best pilots in the fleet. However, if you are still concerned, I also want to let you know that all Southwest flights also have a co-pilot; in our case, Ted, who is with me up front. And in addition to your extremely handsome Captain who is one of the very best rated pilots, our co-pilot, Ted, is also highly qualified and fully capable of flying this plane as well. If you looked in the cockpit as you boarded the flight and caught a glimpse of Ted, you know that there is no way he’s gotten by on his looks – no way whatsoever – so please be assured that his proficiency as a co-pilot is rock solid and between Ted and your extremely handsome Captain, we will do our very best to provide you with a smooth flight and an on-time arrival at our destination. Thanks and with that, I will hand it back to Susan.”

Susan: “Thanks Captain, and let me add that all our passengers should be very grateful that they only have to fly one flight with our Captain today…”

On a flight landing in Minneapolis, a flight attendant actually serenaded the plane with a song she had written to the tune of the “Beverly Hillbillies theme” I wish I could remember the words but I was laughing so hard I can’t recall them.

On my flight from Seattle to Chicago – which was relatively long, the flight attendant came on the microphone as we were beginning our decent and in a very soft, gentle voice said the following:

“Now folks, it’s been a long flight and I am sure all of you will be happy once we’ve landed. You’ve been a great group of passengers and I appreciate that it’s been difficult to sit for all this time, so I want to go through some stretching exercises with you before we land. I’d like everyone to stop whatever you may be doing and put both your hands in the air above your head…. (pause) that’s right everyone, including you folks in the back – please put both hands in the air over your head. OK, now I want you to stretch and lean to the right side… that’s it – stretch it out… and now to the left side – there, doesn’t that feel good to stretch like this…. And now I want you to stretch out in front of you and reach into those seat back pockets and pull out any of the trash or junk that you are not otherwise going to take off this aircraft and give all of it to your flight attendants who will be passing thru the aisles to collect it shortly. Thank you.

 Just some samples of Southwest humor at its best… Ya gotta love it…

August Road Trip — Stop #12 – Texas Rangers

Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park, Arlington, TX – August 26

Of all the 12 match-ups on my August road trip, this was the one I had most anticipated as likely to be a battle of true contenders. Going into this game the visiting Cleveland Indians are leading the AL Central by 5 games over their nearest rival – the Detroit Tigers, and carry a record of 72-53. I had seen them already this season – against the Nationals in Cleveland during the July road trip with my brother, Rich, and they were an exciting team. On that particular night, they made up a 3 run deficit late in the game and won it on a walk-off win against Jonathan Papelbon and the Washington Nationals. I knew they would be bringing their “A” game to this contest.

The home team – Texas Rangers, meanwhile, have been dominating the AL West with the best record in the AL at 74-53 and they held a 6 ½ game lead over the second place Seattle Mariners. Indeed, it appeared to be a great matchup between contenders. As if it needed any more competitive juice in the mix, the other development involving these two clubs was the fact that the Rangers had successfully completed a trade just prior to the July 31st deadline which landed them All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers. A few days prior, Lucroy had vetoed a deal which would have sent him to Cleveland.

The prior evening, Texas had beaten the Indians by a score of 9-1. Our former Phillies Ace – Cole Hamels, pitched a real “gem” and folks in the stands were still talking about it when I got to my seats at the game for the 7:05 start. Cole pitched 8 shutout innings, holding the Tribe to only 2 hits while striking out 8 and improving his season record to 14-4. That’s the Cole Hamels who led the Phils to the 2008 World championship and pitched many a great game in the red and white pinstripes. They LOVE Cole in Texas – and why wouldn’t they??? The Rangers gave up some primo minor league prospects to the Phils in the trade for Cole and Jake Diekman. Time will only tell whether it was a great deal for either team (or both) but it was a necessary step for the Phils who sorely needed to rebuild with young talent; and the Rangers whose farm system was abundant with solid prospects and who needed a top-of-the-rotation arm like Cole’s got the best pitcher on the block at the trading deadline last year. Folks in Texas are concerned over whether they can re-sign Hamels after this season when his current contract expires – but from all indications, – Cole and his wife have settled into their new home and become very active in the community – just as they had done in Philadelphia. Again time will tell.

Somehow it seems strange to see "Hamels" across a blue jersey -- but they LOVE Cole in Texas.

Somehow it seems strange to see “Hamels” across a blue jersey — but they LOVE Cole in Texas.

My Southwest flight had landed at Love Field in Dallas on time and I picked up a rental car since the logistics of getting to Globe Life Park, the home of the Rangers, did not seem feasible via any other means of transportation. The stadium is in Arlington, TX about a 45 minute drive from Love Field. Additionally, since my flight home the next morning would be a very early (Oh Dark Hundred) one, a car was the most reasonable choice. I checked in to the Embassy Suites by Hilton close to the airport, rested for a bit, worked on my website posts, and then got myself set for the game.

When I checked in to the hotel, the desk clerk, noting my Phillies cap, told me that he was from originally from Pittsburgh and an ardent Pirates fan. I shared what positive impressions my brother and I had of PNC Park when we had visited there the prior month and told him we saw Gerrit Cole pitch a terrific complete game and pull off an acrobatic play in tandem with first baseman David Freese. And the desk clerk said – I remember that game, too – it was against the Mariners. He was correct! Great games like that seem somehow easy to remember in detail.

As I left the hotel for the ball park, the streets were still a bit wet from a late afternoon thunderstorm which had moved through the area a few hours before and the forecast was for “possible showers” so I had my poncho in my cargo pants pocket just in case it might be needed later in the evening. For now, it was dry and actually a bit cooler since the storm had passed through. It was certainly a more pleasant evening in the “Big D” than the prior night’s hot and muggy stillness in St. Louis.

I had not originally planned that Houston and Dallas would be pretty much the “bookends” for the start and end of my road trip (Houston actually turned out to be my second stop when I added a game in Tampa on the front end). As I modeled different scheduling alternatives however, this one gave me the best line-up of games and relatively better logistics overall. I made a mental note not to laugh if they sang “Deep in the Heart of Texas” at the 7th inning stretch, reminding myself I was again in a state where lots of folks had real guns…

Globe Life Park in Arlington TX - Home of Texas Rangers baseball

Globe Life Park in Arlington TX – Home of Texas Rangers baseball

I meandered around the stadium a bit before making my way to my seat. An usher, Fred, whose badge said he was from Grand Prairie, TX shared with me that he’d worked there for about 10 years and when I asked for advice about the stadium, he highlighted that I should try to walk through the Rangers Hall of Fame exhibit in the center field section of the Main Concourse and also directed me to the Team Store where I could get my MLB Passport stamped. I did a full circuit of the stadium and noted it was one of the largest of the parks I have visited. Then again, this is Texas… where everything seems a bit bigger.

As I walked the unusually wide concourse it seemed more like a State Fair than a Ball Park — complete with spinning wheel games and giveaways.  I’d received a rally-towel when I’d entered the gate (promoting an upcoming Walk for Alzheimer’s Awareness) but it seemed with every gate entrance I passed, another perky young lady from the Stadium staff was out to give me another set of rally towels. Maybe they thought I needed multiple reminders least I might forget the event…?

When I finally tallied them up, I had 7 rally towels. Little did I know that on this night, Rangers fans would do relatively little waving of towels and there were no major rallies to speak of. I took a photo with the bronze statue paying tribute to the great Nolan Ryan but my effort to enter the Rangers Hall of Fame were stopped short by a large sign which indicated that the room was closed due to a private function that evening. Bummer…

Nolan Ryan - one of the greatest pitchers of all time tips his cap to the Texas fans

Nolan Ryan – one of the greatest pitchers of all time tips his cap to the Texas fans

Several great players have worn the red, white and blues which Texas alternates in their home jersey motif. In addition to Nolan Ryan, Ferguson Jenkins, Charlie Hough and Buddy Bell were prominent Rangers players in their days on the diamond. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira also spent time playing for Texas before cashing in on big contracts with the NY Yankees.

The Rangers have fielded some very competitive teams in recent years, including 2010 when they went to the World Series led by Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler as well as a pitching staff which included C.J. Wilson and former Phil Cliff Lee. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Rangers and won the Championship in 6 games thanks to some timely hitting and incredible pitching. The Rangers returned to the World Series in 2011 but fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in a tight 7 game series which saw them initially lead 3 games to 2. However, St Louis won game 6 in extra innings and took game 7 in a nail-biter which left Texas fans feeling snake-bit for the second consecutive year. Close but no cigar…

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This is sure one big ball park!!!

This is sure one big ball park!!!

After my loop around the Main concourse, I spotted an escalator and decided to take a ride up to the upper level so I could view the panorama while there was still plenty of sunlight to be had. The view from the top included the nearby amusement park – Six Flags over Texas complete with several twisty roller coasters and rides of every sort. On another side of the stadium, one could see AT&T Stadium – home of the Dallas Cowgirls — I mean Cowboys… My true Eagles fan nature kicked into gear and I hoped I wouldn’t have to sit next to anyone wearing Blue and White Cowboys gear. I was grateful that Globe Life Park was upwind of the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and all I could smell was the fresh scent of recent rain in the evening air. What a relief!!!

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View of neighboring Six Flags over Texas amusement park and AT&T Stadium- home of the Dallas Cowgirls

View of neighboring Six Flags over Texas amusement park and AT&T Stadium- home of the Dallas Cowgirls

I also decided to check out the food choices around the stadium before taking my seat. I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the selections in one concession called Texas sized 24 in the food court area close to home plate. This truly had gargantuan-sized offerings on the menu – most of which were between 3,000 and 4,000 Calories per order. And all had a lot of MEAT. The “Beltre Buster Burger” (named for Texas slugger Adrian Beltre) weighs in with 3,700 calories and another menu choice called “The Broomstick” is a two-foot long roll overstuffed with beef brisket BBQ. I actually saw one rather large gentleman carry one of these back to his seat in the section next to mine. It is packaged “to go” in what looks like a very long thinner version of a pizza box, open on the top with two sets of strong handles. I think the consumer got it in the 2nd inning and was still working it late into the game, so much so, that he couldn’t arise from his seat when the 7th inning stretch came along. Perhaps he could no longer pry himself out of his seat given the additional calories which by then had settled into his hips and hind quarters from all that beef and along with the jalapeno and cheese toppings on that huge loaf of bread. I only wondered if he would need to be helped out of the stadium as the cleaners made their way through the stands after the game – or whether he’s used his rally towel to wave surrender before eating the whole thing. I just don’t know.

Texas-sized food ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 calories per serving. Whoah... now that's a lot of beef...

Texas-sized food ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 calories per serving. Whoa… now that’s a lot of beef…

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Since it was my last night of ball park food (at least for a while…) I decided to go with the usher’s recommendation of the more modest-sized BBQ Brisket sandwich. While I felt like a piker next to those who bellied up to the counter and ordered the broomstick, the Beltre Buster Burger or even the more modest 18 inch “Kaboom Kabob”- it looked like more than enough for me. Thankfully, I also didn’t have the same huge bellies as some of these more voracious eaters!!!

As was the case with the game I’d attended a week prior in Seattle at Safeco Field, this night at Globe Life Park was “Star Wars Night” complete with post-game fireworks. While I saw far fewer fans decked out as Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Jedi Masters or Chewbacca, the Rangers Scoreboard artists did a great job of photo-shopping Star Wars themes to depict both Rangers and Indians players.

Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians players on Star Wars Night at Globe Life Stadium

Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians players on Star Wars Night at Globe Life Stadium

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Cleveland sent Corey Kluber with a record of 13-8 to the mound against the Rangers Martin Perez (8-9). As with the games I had seen each of the prior two nights, the home town crowd was taken out of the game relatively early when the visitors jumped out on top by scoring 1 run in the top of the 3rd off a Jason Kipnis double, and 2 more in the top of the 4th when former Ranger, Mike Napoli and Brandon Guyer scored on a double by Abraham Almonte.  The Tribe added 3 more in the 6th inning by stringing together three singles, a hit batsman and a double. It looked like Texas might rally when Adrian Beltre crushed a solo HR to LF (Number 436 in his outstanding career) but they could not build on this momentum. The bats and the fans were pretty quiet thereafter. After such a great game the prior evening by Cole Hamels, Texas starting pitcher, Martin Perez just could not hold the Indians at bay, while Corey Kluber for the Indians allowed only 5 hits and 1 run over 6 solid innings while striking out 7 Rangers.  This night belonged to the Tribe.

Action in the game between Cleveland and Texas

Action in the game between Cleveland and Texas

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There were quite a few Indians fans in the crowd and one set of the Cleveland faithful who were sitting a few rows below mine (in Section 13 Row 12) made a little ritual as they went up the aisle by calling out to another set of Indians fans in a higher Row (probably Row 18 or so) saying O -H which brought the retort I-O.

Probably the best part of the night for me came when I struck up a conversation with the Rangers fans who were sitting in front of me. This was occasioned when Mark – sitting directly in front of me – caught a foul ball. I was within inches of grabbing it but Mark clearly had better position on it, and his sure-handed catch made me think this was not his first time catching a baseball… Upon getting the ball, his son, Sam took a photo of the souvenir and then Mark quickly found a little kid – about 2 or 3 years old who was seated with his Mom and Dad a few seats farther down my row – and handed the ball to the Dad for the youngster who smiled and later said “thanks Mister”. Another great demonstration of making a kid’s day with a souvenir baseball reminiscent of my experience in Milwaukee several days before.

The littel guy at the end of my row to the right is the youngster who took home a souvenier baseball that night courtesy of Mark.

The littel guy at the end of the row to my right is the youngster who took home a souvenier baseball that night courtesy of Mark.

I leaned over to Mark afterwards and said “Good job, that was cool giving the ball to the kid” Mark and I began talking as he saw my Phillies cap and displayed natural curiosity about my presence at the Indians vs. Rangers game. We talked about my trip and baseball in general and he shared with me that he worked for a company in the medical supply business and that they were headquartered just outside of Philly in nearby King of Prussia. A few innings later when fans seated next to Mark and his 15-year old son, Sam, decided to make an early exit, I moved down so that Mark and Sam would not have to keep turning around as we conversed. I would have felt bad if I were distracting them from a great Rangers game but by this point, the Indians were cruising.

Mark on the right and his son Sam on the left - great baseball fans... Thankfully, we did not discuss Dallas football

Mark on the right and his son Sam on the left – great baseball fans… Thankfully, we did not discuss Dallas football

I provided my contact info and forwarded a copy of a selfie which Sam snapped of the 3 of us to Mark and hope that he will contact me as his work travels bring him to Philly. He said he had never visited the City of Brotherly Love and asked for some suggestions which I rapidly recommended – from the historical sights to the many museums to the best places for cheese steaks and the not to miss jaunt up the Art Museum steps to have a photo with the Rocky Balboa statue. I felt like I had done my best “Philadelphia Visitor’s Bureau” representation and invited him to call me if he had any questions or needed any further info. I also suggested if he got to Philly during a home stand to check out our own Citizen’s Bank Park. While I admit I am biased, I genuinely still believe it is in the top 5 of the ball park venues I have seen.

I also enjoyed talking with Sam, a super-polite young man who is a high school sophomore at a private school in the Dallas area. I could not believe how tall he was when he stood up. He’s already at 15 about 6’ 3” or 6’4” and probably not done growing yet. Sam told me he pitches and plays both corner infield and both corner outfield positions. He’s hoping to focus more on pitching moving forward and this past summer he attended a camp for pitchers at Texas A& M. Someday I hope to see Sam making a start in the College World Series and maybe I’ll be able to say… “I knew that kid when….”

Again, as with several of my other stadium experiences, meeting and talking baseball with Mark and Sam was a highlight of this stop. I was careful to steer clear of any discussion of football as I did not want to discover that they were die-hard Cowboys fans… It may have been a conversation-killer from that point on.

I noted some similarities and differences between the Rangers stadium and their neighbors to the south in Houston. While the Astros play under a dome, and the current Rangers park is open-aired, they do have similar foul poles. These may be the only foul poles in the major leagues which are specifically sponsored and in both instances by Chick-Fil-A.

The official Chick-Fil-A foul pole in Left field

The official Chick-Fil-A foul pole in Left field at Globe Life Park

The similarly sponsored Chick-Fil-A foul poles in left and right field at Minute Maid Park in Houston

The similarly sponsored Chick-Fil-A foul poles in left and right field at Minute Maid Park in Houston

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Both Ball Parks also play the unofficial anthem of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” but in Arlington they do so between the top and bottom of the 4th inning vs. as a sequel to “Take Me out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch. In Houston it is belted out like more like an edgy manifesto (which may be what made me irreverently laugh there) while in the Big D it’s much more casual – almost the way folks in the Delaware Valley or the Jersey Shore would sing Al Albert’s tune: “On the Way to Cape May”.

After the 7th inning stretch, they do have their own theme song — a toe-tapping rendition of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” to which some fans actually get up and do a two-step along with the music.

I also certainly found the fans friendlier in Arlington– and especially appreciated the chance to talk with Mark and Sam. By the time the game finished the Indians had won by a score of 12-1 and many of the Texas fans had already headed for the exits – except those who still remained for what was advertised as a spectacular fireworks display.

Since my flight was going to be so early the following morning, I decided to forego the fireworks and head on back to the hotel.

Next stop: Back to Sea Isle

Forthcoming posts:         The Best of Southwest Airlines Entertainment

Lessons learned for other “Ball Park Chasers”

And there’s more baseball to come:

Upcoming games in September:

  • Coors Field in Denver,
  • Camden Yards in Baltimore,
  • Fenway Park in Boston, and
  • Stadium #30 on my list – Yankee Stadium in NY (on 9-11)

Stay tuned and keep watching for the posts

August Road Trip — Stop #11 – St. Louis Cardinals

NY Mets vs. St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO – August 25

The flight from Minneapolis to St. Louis was smooth and uneventful. I received an email that morning from Russ, an insurance executive I had met the prior day on the Southwest flight into Minneapolis. When Russ saw that I was reading the “Ultimate Baseball Road Trip”, he surmised I was going to the Twins game. He indicated that he and his son-in-law, who’d been seated in the aisle across from him, were also headed to the game with some clients. Their seats had been in the 100 level, behind the plate – so they must be good clients… In any event, I was sorry I was not sitting with them or other folks who could have been more fun than Belching Beer Guy.

Upon landing in St. Louis, I took the light rail train which connects the airport with downtown. I had originally believed that my hotel that eve, the Hilton at the Ballpark, ran a complimentary shuttle service to & from the airport, but I was mistaken. The train took only about 30 minutes and proved to be a great way to get back and forth.

When one exits the station, Busch Stadium is literally right in front of you. I passed by a collection of bronze statues in what is known as the Plaza of Champions – which immortalize some of the many great players in St. Louis Cardinals history. Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Dizzy Dean, Enos Slaughter and Lou Brock are among the figures which stand at the corner of the ballpark in various action poses. There is also a statue paying tribute to a famous Negro Leagues player from the St. Louis Stars – Cool Papa Bell.

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Cool Papa Bell and Stan Musial are among the statues on the Plaza outside beautiful Busch Stadium in St. Louis

Cool Papa Bell and Stan Musial are among the statues on the Plaza outside beautiful Busch Stadium in St. Louis

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After a short walk I arrived at the Hilton. The front desk clerk who checked me in studied my driver’s license which I had provided along with my credit card as identification. He exclaimed – “Oh, Mr. Forish, I see you’re from Clearwater. I have relatives in Tampa and in St. Pete. That’s a beautiful area. I’d love to move there if I could find a job in the Tampa Bay area”. We exchanged contact info and I agreed to make some inquiries – both at the local Hilton property on Clearwater Beach and within other hospitality and sports venues in the area.  He thanked me and ungraded my room to one in the East tower with a stadium view and invited me to access the Executive Lounge on the top floor of the West Tower and also provided a voucher for complimentary breakfast in the 1st floor restaurant. He encouraged me to take breakfast there the following morning as the selection was much better than that which is provided in the Executive Lounge.

I thanked him and encouraged him to send me a resume. It always pays to be nice to hotel clerks and airport check-in agents. They can often provide special perks or upgrades and all too often travelers treat them shabbily. When Marie and I took our 40th Anniversary trip to Asia (10 cities in 35 days), we stayed at Hilton properties at almost every stop and I normally informed the desk personnel that we were on an Anniversary trip – staying at nearly all Hilton properties along the way. In nearly all instances, this little bit of “schmoozing” resulted in upgrades, Executive Lounge privileges, fruit, flowers, or chocolates being provided to us.

Conversely, I have seen some really bad behavior by other customers – which is pretty stupid when you consider that the representatives with whom you are talking have considerable capability to either help you or make your life more miserable if they wish to do so.

My favorite episode occurred several years ago when I was on an overseas business trip returning via Chicago. My onward flight to Boston had been cancelled and I was waiting in line at Customer Service to rebook a flight. The passenger in front of me had similar issues in his effort to return to NY, but he was giving the desk agent a really hard time, elevating his voice and indicating that her efforts were worthless since he couldn’t get on the exact alternative flight he wanted. She was so calm and professional in dealing with this jerk — it was amazing. Finally, after the guy went on and on about how crappy their airline was, she said the following: “Sir, I understand you are frustrated. However, at this very moment, there are really only two people in this airport who care one iota whether you get back to NY tonight or not…. And one of them is rapidly losing interest…”

That brought him some perspective. He apologized and was much more civil to the agent. When he left the counter, and I stepped up as the next customer, I told her I thought she handled the guy superbly. She said thanks and added; “If he had been calmer, he may have been in an aisle in the exit row seat I had available, but now he’ll just have to make due and enjoy his middle seat in the last row of the plane…” The morale is – always treat customer service folks as you’d want to be treated.

Here’s the view from my room which I got as a bonus…

View of the Stadium from my room at the HIlton at the Ball Park

View of the Stadium from my room at the HIlton at the Ball Park

I did not have a lot of time before the 6:15PM start time for the game, so I got organized and made my way up to the Executive Lounge at which they were serving “hors de oeuvres” from 5-7PM. The menu consisted of salad with all kinds of toppings and chicken fajitas – so I immediately decided this would be dinner vs. taking my chances with food at the ball park. Another bonus of this detour was the view of the famous Gateway Arch which it featured. After the tasty meal, I made the short walk over to the stadium

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

St. Louis fans really support their team – and the team often plays hard so as not to disappoint its fans- and they have a great winning tradition. Some of our friends in Florida are St. Louis folks and I had originally hoped that our neighbors right across the hall – Bill and Michele Jones – might join me at the game or meet for a drink before the game. However, Michele is still recovering from back surgery and Bill has been undergoing chemo and radiation treatments for a cancerous growth on his tonsils which he had removed last year. They were not able to come as Michele had a doctor’s visit that afternoon – but at least I got to chat with Bill and hope to see them back in Clearwater when we return in late September. Good people…

I met more good folks when I got to my seat in Section 131, Row 2 – very close to the Right Field foul pole with a great view straight down the 1st base line. The stadium was a sea of Cardinals red and white but I “sort of” blended-in with my white USA shirt and a red Phillies cap. If nothing else, I confused some passers-by when they saw the big “P” rather than their familiar “STL” on my hat. Seated in my row were Bill and Paulette – a couple about my age who indicated they’d driven 2 ½ hours from southern Illinois to come to the game for the 4th time this summer. They are committed Cardinals fans. Bill was decked out in his Red Birds Home jersey and Paulette had the full Cardinals ensemble – bright red Cardinals shirt, STL earrings, and a bracelet adorned with little red birds… True enthusiasts for their home team.

New friends and avid Cardinals fans - Bill and Paulette from southern Illinois

New friends and avid Cardinals fans – Bill and Paulette from southern Illinois

The Cards opponents were the NY Mets and both teams are contending but are trailing their respective Division leaders. The Cubs in the NL Central are well ahead of the Cards and the Mets are behind both the Nationals and the Marlins in the NL East. Both teams had the incentive to win in this battle for a ticket to the post-season. Another similarity between the two team is the fact that both have been plagued by a ton of injuries this season with losses of key starting pitchers and several position players.

In fact, that very morning the feature story in the sports section of USA Today was an interview with Mets Manager, Terry Collins, who indicated that notwithstanding the losses thru the year of key players who had figured prominently in their trip to the World Series the prior year, the Mets never give up. The list of losses includes pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler as well as 3rd baseman David Wright, Lucas Duda, and even slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who had multiple trips to the DL during the season. The same could be said of the losses from the Cardinals lineup, yet in both instances, others on the bench have stepped-up to keep thier teams in the race.

I decided to do my loop around the stadium, and get my MLB Pass-port stamped,  hopeful to find some breeze since it was really hot and still. The sun was not yet down and the scoreboard thermometer read 91 degrees. And it was buggy. I hadn’t seen so many bugs since I’d left Florida in May. The usher suggested I head up to the 400 level and walk around the top rim of the park. The breezes were certainly better at this altitude and one vantage point gave a very good view of the Arch as well.

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A lone Phillies fan among all the Red Bird rooters at Busch Stadium

A lone Phillies fan among all the Red Birds rooters at Busch Stadium

Across the top of the scoreboards and throughout the stadium, the Cardinals proudly display a host of flags commemorating their various Divisional (13), National League(19) and World Championships (11).  They are one of the most wining franchises in all of baseball. The most recent World Series Championship for the Cards came in 2011 when they rose from being an underdog wild card team to take the NL Pennant and then beat the Texas Rangers in 7 games. In Game 6 of that series, the Cards twice were down by 2 runs and came back to eventually win it in a dramatic 11th inning comeback by a score of 10-9.

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I tried to look disappointed when the Cards wewre trailing the Mets... not sure it worked well...

I tried to look disappointed when the Cards were trailing the Mets; Not sure it worked that well…

During the game, I’d asked Bill and Paulette about their thoughts on food at Busch Stadium – since I was not going to sample it personally but have to be prepared for those who ask about it (right, Jim…). They said that it is pretty much your “usual” ballpark fare but that the BBQ was probably worth trying. Not for me… since I was still digesting my chicken fajitas.

The prior night, the Cards with a season record of 67-58 had beaten the Mets (63-63 on the year) by a score of 8-1 and they were hoping to further solidify their claim to a wild card spot. The crowd of over 40,000 was twice the size and generated about 10 times the noise volume of what I had seen the prior night in Minnesota.  Adam Wainwright was the starter for the Cards with his 9-7 record and 4.71 ERA – not typical of his more stellar record in recent years. He was facing Mets starter Seth Lugo – a recent call-up from the minors with a record of 0-2 and an ERA of 3.04.

After a scoreless 1st, the Mets plated 1 in the 2nd on a single by James Loney, a double by Curtis Granderson and a Sac fly off the bat of Wilmer Flores. The Mets got to Wainwright again in the 4th when Alejandro DeAza hit a single to score both Granderson and Flores, who had reached on an error and a double respectively. They added 4 more in the 5th with the big blow being a 3 run HR off the bat of DeAza following an untimely Cardinals error.  By the time the Cards managed to have 2 runs cross the plate in the bottom of the 6th on a single by Jeff Gyorko and a HR by Brandon Moss, the Mets had a relatively comfortable lead of 7 to 2.

Mets Right Fielder Curtis Granderson was pretty close to my section.

Mets Right Fielder Curtis Granderson was pretty close to my section.

One cool feature of this particular game was that my daughter Risa and son-in-law Jim (a big Mets fan) were watching the live broadcast of the game back at their home in Cooperstown, NY. Although it is probably a capital crime according to the Unofficial Phillies Fan Code to root for the Mets, I saw them as the lesser of 2 evil rivals on this particular night. True, the Phillies and the Mets are NL East Division foes; yet depending on the year, we beat the hell out of them or they kick our butts, so it’s more like brothers who squabble all the time.

I suppose I am still smarting from way too many sweeps which the Cardinals have enjoyed over the Phils, and the arrogance of some St. Louis fans who told me they were rooting for the Yankees – yeah the bloody Yankees, for God’s sake – when the Phils returned to the World Series in 2009 after winning it all in 2008. After catching some strange glances from Cards fans who saw the big “P” on my cap when I applauded a Curtis Granderson hit or a Lugo strike-out – I decided it was probably more sensible to simply text my cheers to Risa and Jim back in NY… After all, I was not sure about the gun laws in the State of Missouri and these were pretty rabid fans all around me. If things got testy I probably might have had both Cards fans and Mets fans trying to take it out on the lone Phillies fan in the place.

I asked Risa if she could see me when Brandon Moss hit his 2 run dinger off the right field foul pole, just a few feet from where I was sitting, and she said they had indeed watched the play, but it went by too quickly, and she had not been recording the game on her DVR. So without a slow-motion replay, I’m sure I just looked like any other of the thousands of guys in red and white.

Both starters – Lugo and Wainwright were out of the game after 5 innings but the Mets had a comfortable cushion, especially after adding an insurance run in the 8th and 2 more in the 9th. The Cards tried to battle back, scoring 2 runs in the 8th paced by a second HR from Brandon Moss and adding 2 more in the 9th off solo shots by Jeff Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty, but the rally fell short. This night belonged to the Mets and they walked away with the victory. Final score: Mets 10 – Cardinals 6

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I made the short walk back to the hotel and packed to ensure I was in good shape to depart early the following morning. My next destination would be my last on this trip before heading back home. It was a fun night of baseball, but I could do without the bugs and the muggy weather.

Next stop: Dallas, Texas

August Road Trip — Stop #10 – Minnesota Twins

Detroit Tigers vs. Minnesota Twins at Target Field, Minneapolis, MN – August 24

Actually, the best part of my next 24 hours happened even before I even left Chicago and even boarded the flight to Minneapolis.

I took the Orange Line from the Loop to Chicago’s Midway airport and fortunately, the Annoying Lawyer Lady who I encountered the evening before was nowhere to be seen. If she had showed, I was prepared for her with my own barrage of inappropriate questions which I was poised to fire-off at her like an Uzi… But thankfully, it was a calm ride to the airport.

After printing my boarding pass and checking my bag at the Southwest counter, I went thru the TSA Pre-check line and through the Security screening. Many travelers don’t give a second thought to the TSA screeners or even tend to give them a hard time; which I have never understood. Sure, as with anything, you can occasionally encounter disgruntled workers, but I appreciate the post-9/11 realities and what these folks are doing in the face of a world which has the ever-present threat of terrorism for air travelers. As a result, Marie and I often will say: “Thanks for keeping us safe” to under-appreciated TSA screeners to express our gratitude whenever we interact with them.

As I got through the expedited TSA-preferred screening, and was gathering my carry-on gear from the conveyor belt, I heard a voice which called out: “Hello, Joe”. Now, Joe is not an uncommon name; and while I do know some friends and former colleagues from Chicago, I was not expecting to see any of them at the airport. I figured it must be someone greeting “another Joe”, and my quick glance across the area did not immediately surface anyone who I’d recognized. Then my eyes caught the glance of a gentleman in a wheelchair who called out again: “Hello, Joe Forish”. As I approached the man, he said – Hey Joe- great to see you again; it’s Ronnie Dean”.

Ronnie Dean (L) and me at the Chicago Midway airport. It was great to reunite with an ex-colleague in such a serendipitous way...!

Ronnie Dean (L) and me at the Chicago Midway airport. It was great to reunite with an ex-Haemonetics colleague in such a serendipitous way…!

I then put the name with the face and recognized Ronnie, whom I had not seen in several years. We had worked together at Haemonetics in Boston. Ronnie had lost some weight, and was temporarily in a wheelchair, as I learned, due to some recent heart trouble which required surgery and the implantation of a stent. Ronnie was one of the Directors in our R&D group and I recalled he moved from Minneapolis to take the job in Boston. Ronnie introduced me to his lovely wife, Wanda and said to her: “Joe and I were almost “roomies” back in Braintree”. The back-story is worth a brief detour from my baseball journal and since – as you’ll see – I don’t have a lot of noteworthy baseball stories for my visit to the Twins stadium – I will spend the space to fill you in. If you’re only interested in my baseball account, just skip it, and pick up below where the Twins headline appears…

I spent 7+ years working for Haemonetics in Braintree, MA – on the south shore outside of Boston. These were some of the best times of my career. I was enticed to join them by Brad Nutter, the CEO at the time – who was a great boss and a wonderful guy. I’m actually scheduled to go to a ball game with Brad and his wife — life long Cubs fan, Loren, at Coors Field in Denver on Labor day. I am grateful to Brad that he invited me to join him at Haemonetics. We built a special culture there and it continued for a time under his successor, Brian Concannon. I’m also hoping to catch a game at Fenway with Brian — a life-long Red Sox in mid-September when I am in Boston for a consulting “gig”.

Marie and I decided not to make a move to Boston and after a year it became apparent that I could manage a commute – being in Massachusetts during the week in an apartment – and flying back and forth to Philly (or during the summers into Atlantic City). It was tough, but Marie and I managed it. I don’t recommend a commuting marriage for couples who have a shaky relationship or those with younger kids at home because it’s hard in any circumstances — but it can be fatal if either of these circumstances exist. As I’ve seen on this trip and long before – others manage difficult commuting relationships and frankly, Marie and I could do this better as empty-nesters. We would never have entertained it earlier, while our kids were younger.

For the first 3 years of my stay, I rented an apartment, for which I bought new furnishings to fit-out, and since it was only a mile from my office, it could not have been more convenient. After 3+ years, I recognized I didn’t really need a 1 bedroom + den apartment. When the management company of the complex notified me that my renewal rate would represent a steep increase, I starter to consider alternatives. Also, a few months prior to my lease renewal, my son Joe and his wife Rali, firmed-up their plans to relocate to Boston as Joe accepted a new job with an Engineering firm in Watertown, MA.

I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason, and this was one of those moments. By that time, between my business travel – which had me on the road, often traveling domestically or internationally for 5-10 days a month, and the commuting and normal working of about a week a month remotely, I was not getting full use of the apartment and the economics of renewal made no sense.

I gave up my lease, and arranged for movers to take virtually all of my furnishings to Joe and Rali’s newly-rented apartment in Watertown; and I decided to investigate alternative Boston-area accommodations.  (All of this is background to explain how Ronnie and I were almost “roomies”.)

For the first month, post-move, I paid for a hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express, just down the road from the Haemonetics offices in Braintree, and kept all of my clothes and other essentials in my car or in my office between check-out’s and check-in’s. It gave me new appreciation for the life of the migrant worker or homeless folks, but I learned to have less “stuff” than I’d otherwise been prone to accumulate.

In the first month, my 10 nights in the hotel caused me to reevaluate what might be a more sustainable living situation. I researched other apartment rentals and a colleague suggested I consider room rentals and recommended that I probe Craigslist — while having a “buyer beware” perspective. I investigated several listings and made site visits to a handful of these.

One was a house owned by a self-proclaimed “Doctor of Natural Medicines and Herbal Cures”. The good “Doctor” rented rooms to folks in his very large home as a way to supplement his other income, which was likely derived from both legal and illegal activity. I was convinced he grew weed based on scent of the rooms in the place and after he told me that both the yard and the basement were “strictly off-limits”. He also had a propensity to respond to every question I asked with the preface and/or the punctuation of: “Far out” “Groovy” or “Rad, man”…all of which made me think living there would be simply a very bad idea… I passed.

Another place investigated was nearly perfect – a woman in a town about 4 miles from my office had a ground-floor studio available with a separate outside entrance and off-street parking, but the asking price was pretty high and she did not want tenants to use any type of coffee-maker, microwave or a small refrigerator. So that was a “no-go” as well.

My third prospect was a winner… I met Bryan Nguyen – an investment banker – about the same age as my son, Joe, who was working in Boston. He owned a 2BR/ 2BA condo in a building just 3 miles from my office. Bryan had recently gotten married and his wife also owned a condo. The real estate market in greater Boston at that time was not ripe for them to sell his condo, and since hers was closer to their respective jobs in downtown Boston, they chose to live there and rent his place, if possible. I hit it off with Bryan instantly, and signed a lease for a year as a renter of 1 of his BRs and baths, with full kitchen privileges and assigned off-street parking and at a price he and I were both happy about. Jackpot… Bryan seemed relieved to have a stable professional staying at his place, who was not likely to tear it up or have wild parties, and I was happy not to have to go back to reconsider the pot-farming Doctor’s place.

I rented from Bryan for about two years; and we had the perfect landlord/ tenant relationship. I paid my monthly rent like clock-work and he rarely showed up at the condo, so I had it all to myself most of the time. At one point, for about 3 months I had a “roomie” who rented the other BR.  Wallace, like Bryan was  a Vietnamese 30-something guy. He came from California and needed to rent a place while he was in Boston to take a specialized course on medical technology. He had been a successful zone manager supervising 3 or 4 Walgreen’s stores in southern California, but was motivated to leave the world of retail and sought to make a career change. Wallace paid thousands of dollars out of pocket to attend a certification program in Boston to prepare him to be a radiology tech able to administer MRI’s and other imaging tests.

Unfortunately, his stay was cut short as he was summoned (under threat of imprisonment) to appear as a co-defendant in a civil trial back in LA. Apparently, a former employee sued Walgreen’s and Wallace for failure to make “reasonable accommodation” to enable her to work in the store given an allergy to cosmetics of any type. Now, you would think working at a store where cosmetics are sold when you’re allergic to them would be a “non-starter” and that courts would dismiss a suit of this type based on the ODF principle (Own Damn Fault). But, evidently in California she could, and did, pursue this action and she had insisted that all of the other Walgreens workers refrain from wearing lipstick, perfume, eye liner or any other cosmetics since they contained allergens which she found offensive. Wallace had to move back premature of completing his course, and he lost his tuition in the process. Sad — but true. Wallace was philosophical in accepting this set-back as a by product of living in the “land of fruits and nuts” which he affectionately had nicknamed California. I wonder if the Annoying Lawyer Lady could have helped him…?

Which – in a round-about way brings me back to Ronnie Dean.

Ronnie was a successful research leader at other companies, including Medtronic and Bell Labs and he was a very capable program leader with strong computer systems and medical device development skills. He was a good fit for Haemonetics, from both a competencies and cultural standpoint so he joined the company in 2011. The HR Business Partner who was involved in bringing Ronnie to the company told me he was looking for a temporary living set-up like mine, and asked if I would talk with Ronnie.

When you meet Ronnie for the first time, you are immediately struck by what a genuinely likeable guy he is. Some folks in Research are not the most sociable in the world. Ronnie is an exception. He was the complete package – strong intellect, solid organizational skills and great with people. I described the living situation and invited Ronnie to come by and check it out. I also put him in direct contact with landlord Bryan so the two of them could talk without me getting in the middle of a transaction and I gave Ronnie a strong “thumbs-up” endorsement with Bryan.

Ronnie and Bryan spoke and I believe he and Wanda visited the place, but it was not as perfect a set-up for them as it was for my circumstance. I think they wanted a place which was a bit bigger and since Wanda might be spending more time there as well, it did not fit their needs in quite the same way as it did mine. So that’s the story on how Ronnie and I were “almost roomies”.

I had not seen Ronnie since I left Haemonetics in 2013. Ronnie also left there in 2014 in one of many restructurings which the company has been through in the past few years. That’s their loss. Ronnie still keeps in touch with some of the ex-Haemo crew, as do I. It is profoundly sad for me and for guys like Ronnie who were attracted to the company as much for its culture as for the business prospects it held – to see how much it has changed.

The morale and the culture of the organization are very different today. It is much more political than in the days when its 2 former CEO’s with whom I had the privilege to work set such a high bar for company values and conduct vs. what exists today. It’s a company which has tragically lost its soul.

And while I still have friends who work there, I know many others who were treated despicably by the current leaders and HR folks who work there now. When you retire from a company, you have no control relative to what will happen once you leave. You just hope that the culture will survive and that those you put in place will carry the standard. This is an unfortunate case where the changes happened very quickly and are a great sadness for me and many others who had the chance to work there in better times. The Executive Admin. Assistants with whom I had the privilege to work at Haemo were far and away some of the very best women with whom I ever had the opportunity to work. I am grateful to count them as ongoing friends.

So that’s the detour about Ronnie. He’s in a better place now. He’s living back in the Twin Cities and engaged in consulting work (as am I).  His wife Wanda, with whom I had a chance to talk at length while Ronnie jumped on a conference call as we waited to board our flight, is a lovely woman. Like me, Ronnie clearly “married-up”. Wanda talked at length about their children and 5 grandchildren, all of whom, except for one, live in Illinois. One is in Alaska. I am sure they are wonderful parents and grandparents. Wanda and I agreed wholeheartedly that the grand-parenting role is so much more fun than the being a parent. Tue that…

As we parted in baggage claim in the Minneapolis airport, I was grateful that fate and a common Southwest airlines flight had brought us back together.

So now for the Twin Cities and Baseball…

I had few pre-trip expectations or “intel” about what to expect of Target Field in Minneapolis – although Scott Levy, the Phils fan whom I’d met a few days prior on the train from Milwaukee, told me he had been to a game there and he ranked it near the top of the parks he’d visited. I caught up on my research about Target Field in the “Ultimate Baseball Road Trip” Guide and it too, had positive reviews for the Park.

Target Field in Minneapolis - nice park but not a "top ten" fan expereince overall.

Target Field in Minneapolis – nice park but not a “top ten” fan experience overall.

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Some are surprised that Minnesota does not have a domed stadium. Like other ball parks in cities which can be prone to harsh weather, it is not exactly warm in Minnesota in either April or September, but the good taxpayers of the North Star State were not inclined to shell out the premium to put a cap on their new ball park. Having opened in 2010, the designers had the chance to borrow good ideas and to avoid some of the pitfalls of the many other newer stadiums which had been built in the decade prior to theirs.

Target Field is truly a nice place for baseball. It is situated in a downtown location in what was mainly a warehouse district, and is a far better venue than either the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, MN or the more recent Metrodome which was home for many years to both Twins baseball and Vikings football. In those two venues, former Twins baseball greats like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, and pitchers Jim Kaat and Bert Blylevin were a force to be reckoned with in the American League. I don’t think today’s Twins line-up or pitching rotation creates the same trepidation for opposing teams.

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TYhe best thing about Target Field was .... Target Field

The best thing about Target Field was …. Target Field

As I walked into the park, I also remembered one of my favorite Twins players of all time – the inimitable Kirby Puckett, who played center field for the Twins in 12 seasons before his great career was cut short by the development of vision problems which caused him to retire from baseball at the age of 35. While my son, Joe and daughter, Risa — life-long baseball fans — rarely agreed on a lot, I think both of them treasured their respective Kirby Puckett baseball cards. He was like the Charles Barkley of baseball — just a loveable guy who played the game with gusto and intensity, yet with a great sense of humor and fun.

Puckett is the Twins’ all-time leader in career hits, runs, doubles and total bases. When he retired, his career batting average of .318 was the highest of any right handed batter in the AL since the great Joe DiMaggio. It was no surprise that he was elected to join the ranks of Hall of Famers in Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. Next time I visit the Hall, I will linger a bit longer in tribute to Kirby.

Since some of the glory days of the Twins noted above, Minnesota baseball fans have had less to cheer about. It is not a franchise which spends big bucks for free agents, and they maintain a payroll in the lower third of the pack when it comes to total dollars. They did post World Series championship victories in 1987 and 1991.

On the night of this particular game which I was attending, the program featured a look-back at Twins pitcher Jack Morris, whose pitching in the World Series 25 years ago made the big difference for the Twins on their way to the championship. Morris pitched 10 innings in the 7th game, winner-take-all showdown against the Atlanta Braves in a game against a powerful Braves lineup. He bested John Smoltz in a scoreless duel until the Twins mustered a single run in the bottom of the 10th for an exciting walk-off win.

The Twins of today field a lineup with some very good players like 1st baseman/DH Joe Mauer and second baseman Brian Dozier (who recently hit HR #30 of this year) – but other than these, you won’t find a lot of Twins listed among the league leaders in any category this year. Going into this game, the Twins had a record of 49-77 and were riding a 6-game losing streak. They faced-off against the Detroit Tigers with a record of 67- 59 who had won 3 in a row and are still contending for a wild-card ticket to the post-season.

Tyler Duffey with a record of 8-9 and a 5.93 ERA started for the Twins against the Tigers Matt Boyd, with a record of 4-2 and an ERA of 3.93. The Tigers got things started in the top of the 1st with a deep HR by their All -star slugger Miguel Cabrera. The scoreboard announced that no other active player has feasted on Twins pitching more than Cabrera. He ranks first among all visiting players in Hits, HR’s and RBIs against Minnesota – and may be the visiting player who most genuinely gets most excited about a trip to the Twin Cities.

The Twins tied it in the bottom of the 1st when lead-off hitter Brian Dozier singled, advanced to 2nd on a walk to the next batter, Robbie Grossman, hustled to 3rd on a sac fly by DH Miguel Sano and then scored on a single by 1st baseman Trevor Plouffe. That’s small-ball at its best. In the 3rd inning the Tigers exploded for 5 runs with the big blow coming on a 3 run HR off the bat of Justin Upton. In the home half of the 3rd, Minnesota’s Robbie Grossman tallied a run on a monstrous solo HR to the upper deck in left field.

The Twins added single runs in the 5th (on a Dozier solo HR) and the 8th , but the Tigers extended their lead with 4 singles and a wild pitch which resulted in 3 more runs in the top of the 8th and never were really threatened in the game.  Matt Boyd pitched 6 strong innings and a trio of Tigers relievers did the rest. Final score: Tigers 9 – Twins 4.

Target Field is not likely ot be a post-season venue anytime soon... but it is a very nice ball park

Target Field is not likely to be a post-season venue anytime soon… but it is a very nice ball park.

I got the park plenty early and took my normal pre-game walk-around while getting my MLB Pass-Port stamped and checking-in on the MLB Ballpark app. I also checked out the menu selections and decided this was a night to forego ballpark food entirely, and opted instead a late-night visit to whatever venue the folks at the hotel might recommend within walking distance of the hotel. There are some “local specialties” on the menu at Target Field but somehow I found the choices of “Pork on a Stick” or “Walleye on a Stick” and even snacks like the ever popular corn-dogs not particularly appealing.

Lots of menu choices -- but none that made me yearn for a night of this cusine. Anything that is served "on a stick" probably should be limited to State Fairs...

Lots of menu choices — but none that made me yearn for a night of this cuisine. Anything that is served “on a stick” probably should be limited to State Fairs…

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Sorry, Jim, you can eliminate Minneapolis from your list of ballparks with enticing food selections…

While the park was really nice, I found the fan experience – for me — at least on that particular night – totally underwhelming. The ushers in my section and nearby were probably college kids in their twenties who looked as bored with the game as many of the spectators. And when I had asked one of them about suggestions on what I should see or do, given that this was my first visit to their glorious Park, they simply shrugged and had no great insights to share, no inside tips on what not to miss, and no genuine enthusiasm for baseball. They were nice enough but not particularly helpful or engaging.

In fact, the ushers were a lot like the fans in my section. I had gotten a seat on Stub Hub a few weeks earlier which was heavily discounted vs. face value (no wonder…!!!). It was in the first row of section 212 right behind home plate in the second level which provided an excellent vantage point for the game. All of these seats probably belonged to season ticket holders who were already looking ahead to Vikings football rather than enduring more painful Twins baseball in an already woeful season. There were 3 fans immediately next to me on my left and nobody at all in the 4 seats to my right – or in any of the seats in the 2 rows behind me. While I tried to talk to the guy sitting next to me, he mostly grunted as he downed his beers in rapid succession and gave curt responses, (after prolonged pauses) during which he appeared to ruminate about my “not-so-deep” queries. I even tried some wide-open questions like:

” What do you like most about this ball park?” (Rasing his cup he proclaimed definitively: “Beer”), and

“Is there anything you’d recommend that a first-timer visiting Target Field make sure they see?” (Shaking his head he belched: “Nope”).

Before I left, I regretted that I couldn’t arrange for him to meet the Annoying Lawyer Lady from Chicago… I would have paid money, or even sold tickets to see that face-off. She would have eaten his lunch… and sent him belching all the way back to Bloomington.

I left the game at the top of the ninth feeling disappointed that this beautiful ballpark fell short of what I had hoped and was not nearly as good a fan experience as many others I’ve visited. I hope most of the 0ther 24,308 in attendance enjoyed it more than I did. I’m sure many of them are really nice Minnesota people, (like Ronnie and Wanda Dean). I just didn’t get to meet any of those good folks at the ball game that night.

Certainly the visiting Tigers fans seemed to enjoy it – they were the only ones cheering after the 3rd inning. A fair number of the Twins faithful may have been napping… and “beer-man” who had been sitting next to me was probably still belching.

I retreated to the hotel, a short 3 block walk from the ball park, and got a resounding recommendation from the front desk clerk to try the pizza at a sports bar called The Loop, just two blocks away. I was able to catch the MLB Network highlights of the Phillies victory over the Chicago White Sox as they rebounded from the embarrassing loss to the south siders the night before. YEAH!!! I was happy that some of my fellow Phillies fans who had made the trek to Chicago – particularly Scott and his 2 sons, Jack and Luke – saw a solid Phils victory over the White Sox to avenge the embarrassment of the prior night.

The pizza at The Loop was as good as advertised, and I retired to my hotel to write a bit to catch-up on my posts. Then I packed and prepared for the following city on my schedule — the land of the Red Birds…

Next stop: St Louis

August Road Trip — Stop #9 – Chicago White Sox

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago, IL – August 23.

Arriving back at Chicago’s Union Station, I made the now-familiar 10-minute trek over to the hotel – The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago’s Loop area. I had stayed there for one night the prior week when I’d gone to Wrigley Field. I tend to be both a “creature of habit” and what most market researchers would call a “brand loyalist”. When I find something I like for its quality and performance, I stick to it. I guess that’s why I’m now driving my 5th Subaru, fly principally on either Southwest or United whenever I can, and stay at Hilton’s or Marriott’s most of the time when I am on the road. The Palmer House Hilton tends to be my preference for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Since I had a bit more time at the front end of this visit, I actually lingered a while in the lobby noting some of the gorgeous architectural features it has and wanted to pass along a couple of these below.

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The intericate ceiling and beautiful Peacock doors are gret architectural features at the Plmer House HIlton.

The intricate ceiling and beautiful Peacock doors are great architectural features at the Plmer House HIlton.

After grabbing a quick lunch and catching a bit of rest, I made-up some ground on my blog postings. I then got organized for that night’s game at US Cellular field. In this road trip, it’s the only game I am attending which involves the Phillies so I wanted to get to the park reasonably early with the hopes of meeting some other Phillies fans.

As I have been to many other ballparks now, seeing lots of other visiting teams, I am amazed at how there is a tangible difference between the followings which some clubs have when their teams travel vs. others. Marie and I have observed this time and again when we took road trips to see the Phillies play in places like: Dodger Stadium in LA, AT &T Park in San Francisco, Petco Park in San Diego, Chase Field in Arizona, the Coliseum in Oakland, Citi Field in NY, Turner Field in Atlanta and Marlins Park in Miami – all of which we have been to for Phillies road games. Phillies fans travel a lot to support the team and often there will be a veritable sea of red in those visiting parks to cheer on the team.

Some other clubs have very active traveling fans – the Red Sox, Cardinals, Indians, and Tigers fans, for example, have all been out in force when I have observed them as visitors on games during this trip. Lots of the others stay home and watch on local TV. It is always great to run into fellow Phillies fans on these trips and here in Chicago as the Phils prepared to face the home town White Sox, it was no exception.

I took the southbound Red Line train to the 35th/Sox stop just adjacent to US Cellular Field – the home of the White Sox.  This stadium was opened in 1991 replacing the old Comisky Park, but was greeted by the south side faithful with a fairly mediocre response. Compared to other new ballparks of that same vintage “the Cell”, as it has come to be known, was not immediately embraced as a great place to watch a game. The upper decks are steep, expansive, and seem pretty far away from the action. They are also totally separated from the Main level of the Park, so if your ticket is for the upper reaches, you are not permitted in the downstairs section of the park. I had no trouble getting a discounted ticket on Stub Hub a few months ahead of time and chose a seat down the third base line, close to the field. At one point early in the season, the White Sox were thought to be legitimate contenders in the AL Central. A combination of some injuries and sub-par performance from other players has them at this stage more focused on next season and what changes they need to make rather than competing at this stage for a post-season spot.

Players like 3rd baseman Todd Frazier, acquired from Cincinnati and Chris Sale the ace at the top of their pitching rotation are the clear club leaders and they’ve got some other talent which – on paper – should make them highly competitive. But this is Chicago, and the team on the south side wearing the black and white will always be measured against their uptown rivals on the north side – and with the phenomenal year the Cubs are having, it’s no wonder the White Sox feel like “also ran’s”.

Many cities have cross-town rivalries. In NY you tend to be either a Mets (and Jets) fan or a Yankees (and Giants) fan. In central Pennsylvania, you’ll find people divided between rooting for the Pirates (and Steelers) or the Phillies (and Eagles). The baseball rivalry in Chicago between the Cubs and the White Sox, however takes on a turbo-charged level of intensity. Hate is not too strong a word to characterize the animosity of each camp towards the other. They don’t even tend to have home games on the same dates – almost like kids who have fought so much that their parents separate them so they won’t bicker constantly.

When I visited Wrigley the prior week, in addition to Cubs T-shirts being sold along the streets approaching the park, the most frequent other slogans on shirts I saw was: “South Side Sucks”. And when I talked with a clerk inside the Cell as I was looking for a hat young Joe had asked me to pick up, it was apparent he had nothing good to say about the Cubbies other than that their yuppie fans would ultimately see the Cubs choke as they always do.

Since this particular store also had hats from opposing clubs in stock in the store, (including a Phillies cap which I bought), just to stir things up, I asked him where the Cubs hats were. The clerk glared at me and said with a deadpan expression: “We have no use for them. When we have to go to the head, we use the bathrooms and the only useful purpose a Cubs hat serves is as a portable toilet in an emergency”. I wanted to tell him to “try decaf” tomorrow – since he was obviously so tuned-up; but I realized this was one of those simply irrational emotional responses of team loyalty gone to extremes. Now I recognize that the word “fan” is short for “fanatic”. Perhaps folks like him should be called ”loonies” or “loons” as a short-hand for “lunatics”.

As I arrived at the park, sure enough, I ran into Phillies fans as soon as I stepped off the train. It’s always easy (and fun) to strike up conversations when you are in hostile territory with “homies”. Even when you say “Go Phils” in passing, you’re likely to elicit responses of “right on” or “you bet” and frequently a “high five”. As I circled around to the home plate gate at the Cell, I ran into more Phillies fans and sat down with a couple of guys who were seated awaiting the gates to open.

Phils fans Mickey (left) and son Bobby were in the house.

Phils fans Mickey (left) and son Bobby were in the house.

Mickey and Bob were fans who had made their way to Chicago for the sole purpose of seeing the game. They arrived that afternoon and were heading back to the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection) the following morning. Mickey is from Vorhees, NJ and Bobby from Northeast Philly. I was really surprised when Bobby revealed that Mick was his 83-year-old Dad. I made the mistake of saying – wow, Mick, I thought you were his brother. Bobby said: “Oh God, there will be no living with him if you tell him that”. I could have said that I thought Mick was the younger brother, but I spared Bob the further dig. They were not the first father/son combo I have run into on this trip and it’s great to see Dad’s and kids (both sons and daughters) still enjoying baseball together.

Welcome to US Cellular Field. .

Welcome to US Cellular Field.

 

When they asked me why I had come to the game, I told them of my bucket list travels which engendered both surprise and, I think, a bit of jealousy. They too asked about what the other parks were like and how the best of the rest compared to Citizen’s Bank Park. After chatting for a bit I told them to enjoy the game and I moved thru security and into the Cell.

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View from the 1st base side as Phils take batting practice

View from the 1st base side as Phils take batting practice

I found this to be a nice ball park – probably not a “top ten” choice, but certainly when sitting down low where I was, the view of the game was very good. I had secured a discounted ticket on Stub Hub which was in the 2nd row up from the field along the left filed line just above 3rd base. During warm-up’s Todd Frazier stopped right in front of my section and signed autographs or posed for selfies with fans.

Sox 3rd baseman Todd Frazier signs autographs just a few feet from my seat

Sox 3rd baseman Todd Frazier signs autographs just a few feet from my seat

I did my loop around the stadium and got my MLB Pass-Port validated and checked in on the MLB Ballpark app, which indicated I had won a free T-shirt – I presume due to the volume of check-ins I had registered over the prior week. I stopped to claim my reward and also obtained a “First time visitor” certificate to US Cellular Field at Customer Relations. As I walked, I had more encounters with fans showing their Phillies colors: –a young couple from Havertown, two 30-something women from Delaware, an older couple from Abington and a group of guys from Deptford, NJ, along with a current Chicagoan wearing a Joh Kruk jersey, who moved from the Germantown section of Philly to the Windy City many years ago.  Again, with Phillies fans it’s always easy to make new friends. Marie and I invariably meet a new group of Phillies fans at nearly every game we attend with our season tickets at Phillies Spring Training in Clearwater – and half the time, after 3 questions, she finds out they know someone in common.

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I took some photos from the many different vantage points which my walk-around permitted including some of the statues of White Sox greats from over the years. Some of the most famous were: Carlton Fisk, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Harold Baines and Frank Thomas.

Photo with statue of Carlton FIsk - great White Sox catcher

Photo with statue of Carlton Fisk – great White Sox catcher

 

The White Stockings, as they were originally dubbed, began play on Chicago’s south side as one of the original teams in the American League in 1901, and in fact, won the AL pennant that year. In 1906 they defeated their cross-town rivals, the Cubs in a 6 game World Series. A big setback for the franchise was the infamous scandal involving 8 members of the team who were tried for allegedly conspiring to fix the 1919 World Series, which the White Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds. While the 8 players were exonerated, the Baseball Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, banned all 8 players for life including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. This will always be a sad chapter in the history of the White Sox and all of baseball.

In more recent times, the White Sox won the American League title in 2005 and ultimately bested the Houston Astros (then part of the National League). Another high point came in 2009 when Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle tossed a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The menu options at the Cell are relatively standard ballpark fare with some special additions. I opted for the Italian Beef...

The menu options at the Cell are relatively standard ballpark fare with some special additions. I opted for the Italian Beef…

Where I come from, this was considered "soul food"

Where I come from, Polish Sausage (Kielbasa) and Pierogi  are considered “soul food”

I checked out the varied food options at the Cell and saw nothing all that distinctive – although I did finally find the elusive Italian Beef sandwich which Joe and I had sought days before in Detroit. I am happy to report that it is alive and well on the south side of Chicago — (and pretty tasty in fact).

As I passed the outfield section in right field, I saw some familiar faces – and I walked down to greet Scott, Jack and Luke – the guys with whom I had taken the train from Milwaukee that morning. Sure enough, they had gotten to the park when the gates opened and the two boys proudly showed me the two balls they had caught during batting practice. Bravo!!!

Jack told me that he’d read my blog and thought it was pretty good – high praise from a 13-year old, I thought!  Scott elaborated that he’d read every single posting. And the boys evidently were curious about whether I would include them in my write-up on Milwaukee or my blog on Chicago. Now they know the answer – they are referenced in 3 – Milwaukee’s, Chicago’s and a special one just about them which I sandwiched between the other two. I figured they were special Phillies fans who deserved extra-special treatment…   I told them to enjoy the game and to keep in touch and I hope they do so.

Next to me - L to R are Luke, Jack and Scott Levy -- great Phillies fans

Next to me – L to R are Luke, Jack and Scott Levy — great Phillies fans

Since it was getting closer to first pitch, having completed my entire pre-game checklist, I made my way back to my seat. The autograph-seekers who had overrun that section during the pre-game warm-ups had since vacated the real estate as the ushers swept the area to dispatch non-ticket holders back to their own sections. A short while after I took my seat, a set of White Sox fans took the 4 seats to my right. I said hello and they did their best to ignore me since I was sporting a Mike Schmidt throw-back Phillies jersey, and my newly procured Phillies cap. The seat to the left of me came to be occupied by a young Chinese guy who was busy taking photos at the start but became more and more engaging as the night went on.

Talking baseball with my new friend and fellow "Ball Park Chaser" ffrom Taiwan - Gio

Talking baseball with my new friend and fellow “Ball Park Chaser” from Taiwan – Gio

Two Ball Park Chasers

Two Ball Park Chasers

 

He asked if I was with other people, and when I said no, he seemed surprised. I told him I was visiting 12 ball parks in 12 days and – being a Phillies fan, made this particular game the one I wanted to see at the White Sox park. He became very excited upon hearing about my ball park excursion and immediately extended his hand to shake mine. He said: “Wow, you are just like me. We are both “ball-park chasers”. As I quickly learned, Gio (the closest Americanization of his Chinese name) is a baseball fan from Taiwan and was visiting the US for the expressed purpose of visiting ballparks. He too, shares the objective of visiting all 30 parks and is about a third of the way through. I found this remarkable for someone who lives over 10,000 miles away!

Gio was staying with a friend in the Chicago area as he completed a swing which included some west coast stop-overs – in the San Francisco Bay area on the front-end, and in southern California at the conclusion of his trip. In the middle, he was making his way to several of the ball parks in the mid-west. He was very baseball-savvy, and knew a lot about the game, the teams and the stadiums. He told me he became a baseball fan in Taiwan, but he always was intrigued about the roots of the game in the US and set the goal to come visit the MLB parks. I told him I was doing this as a “bucket-list” goal. The quizzical look on his face told me I needed to explain what a “bucket list” was, so I endeavored with some success to translate the meaning for him. I also had to distinguish it from a “death wish” since the concepts are entirely different even if the literal translation of the component words may be similar. Gio is a smart guy and he grasped the concept quickly. Marie and I have frequently entertained visitors from abroad, including some of my international colleagues from across Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. And we had a total of 10 Swedes and 3 Germans actually live with us as exchange students. We’ve loved the cross-cultural exposure which this provided to our kids and have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with people from other countries. It’s also been a source of inspiration to meet individuals who, like Gio travel extensively across the US during their holidays.

I told Gio I had actually visited Taiwan – which surprised and delighted him. My visit there was brief (less than 24 hours to interview a candidate for a key Asia-Pacific Regional role at my former company but I enjoyed the country and the people. I still keep in touch with 2 of my former colleagues who are Taiwanese – Meili Chen, who just moved back to the Philly area and Alice Liu who is in Taiwan. We talked a bit about Taiwan and about the US and he talked a bit about his job in the Taiwanese government working in the area of intellectual property and patent compliance – but mostly, we talked about baseball. Throughout my trip, the conversation about baseball has been a “great unifier” – cutting across cities, socio-economic backgrounds, and generations – providing a link in common to kindred-spirited fans. Now it was the same case bridging the distance on a global scale.

Gio snapped some photos of the players with his high-tech camera and we took a couple of selfies together. I look forward to staying in touch with him and maybe even catching a ball game if his next baseball journey brings him to either Tampa or Philly. After all, we are fellow “Ball Park Chasers”.

"Southpaw" the Sox mascot is no match for the Philly Phanatic

“Southpaw” the Sox mascot is no match for the Philly Phanatic

I have captured the highlights of my visit to US Cellular Field above, because on this night, there wasn’t much about the way the Phillies played to consider highlight-worthy.

The Phils sent rookie right hander Jake Thompson to the hill with his 1-2 record and an ERA of 8.79 – neither of which was to be improved upon as the White Sox seemed to feast on everything he threw. By the time the first inning ended, the White Sox led by 1-0 after a triple by lead-off hitter Adam Eaton and scored on an infield out.  After 3 innings the South-Siders were up by a score of 4-0.  By the end of the 6th they had extended their cushion with the big blows being back to back homers by Jose Abreau and Justin Morneau to 9 – 0. White Sox starter, left-hander Carlos Rodon, kept the Phils off-balance over his 6 1/3 shut-out innings, limiting them just 3 hits. Finally, in the top half of the 7th, Freddy Galvis connected for a solo HR off reliever ____ Beck, but it was too little, too late for the Phils who managed only 5 total hits on the night and left 7 men on base including 3 who were stranded in scoring position.  Offensively, the White Sox banged out a total of 11 hits on the night. Final score: White Sox 9 – Phils 1.

Not as much to cheer about as I had hoped...

Not as much to cheer about as I had hoped…

It was a good old-fashioned spanking as they say… and somewhat disappointing as the Phils looked lethargic and just never seemed to get it going. I felt sorry for the rest of the Phils faithful who had come to Chicago for just one game – like Mickey and Bob – that they spent so much to see so little from their home team. But, that’s baseball…. Some days the same line-up bangs the hell out of the ball and on other days it seems like they can’t buy a hit.  I could only hope for the sake of Scott and his 2 sons and the other Phillies fans who were going to the game the following night that a different Phillies team would show up to play and hopefully win…

"Southpaw" the Sox mascot is no match for the Philly Phanatic

“Southpaw” the Sox mascot is no match for the Philly Phanatic

After the game, Gio and I made our way to the Red Line train as we were both headed in the same direction. I sat next to another Chicagoan who was a transplanted Phillies fan and we lamented our team’s poor performance for the night. He dais he was going to see them the next night as well and I indicated I would be off to see a Twins game in Minneapolis the following morning.

After 2 stops a woman probably in her mid-60’s got on the train and asked the passenger seated next to me if he would give her his seat. I was engrossed in discussion with the former Philly guy or I may have been the lucky recipient of her request (which would have been a pleasure in retrospect). She turned out to be one of the more nosey and annoying people I’ve met. She’s probably never been to a baseball game. Upon taking the seat (to my immediate right), she proceeded to interrupt my discussion with the other Phillies fan and peppered me with questions one after the other in staccato fashion. I did not want to engage her in this process after about 45 seconds so I limited my responses while trying to ignore her (which was hard to maneuver): Her interrogation went like this and my responses were (as shown).

– Did you go to the game? (Yes)

– Are you a Phillies fan? (Do I look like a Phillies fan (DUH!!!)

– Do you live in Philly? (not presently)

– Where did you live? (center city)

– Did you ever live in Malvern (no)

– Is Malvern a wealthy area? (pretty much)

-Do any famous people live in Malvern? (I don’t know)

-Do you know any famous people? (not really)

-Where do you work? (I’m retired)

-What kind of work did you do? (HR)

-Who did you work for? (a few different companies)

– Why did you retire?  (That’s personal and you’re asking me too many questions, it’s my turn now…)

I went on the offensive, figuring 2 can play this game.

–          Why do you ask so many questions? (I am an attorney)

–          Where did you go to Law School? (Harvard)

–          Where did you do your undergrad? (Northwestern)

–          What kind of law did you practice? (mostly civil cases)

–          Did you make a lot of money? (Yes, I did quite well)

–          How well? (I guess you would say very well….)

–          Do you like baseball? (Not really)

–          Why not? (I think people become angry when you talk during the game.)

When I finally got her to pause, and reflect for 15 seconds to my last question, I decided to get up claiming it was almost my stop and quickly moved away, towards my friend, Gio. The poor Phillies fan who was to my left was dismayed since now she squarely had him targeted as her next victim…

–          Are you from Philadelphia too? (I was but now I live in Chicago)

–          Where are you getting off? (This is my stop too) – which was a fib, but he, too, sprang to his feet to get away from the firing line.

Seeking her next victim — lest she be forced to sit in silence, she turned to a woman across the way, in the seat facing her. As I moved further away, I could hear her continue:

– That’s a nice necklace. Where did you get it?

– How much did it cost?

– Do you have others by the same designer?

I was very happy to get back to my hotel and away from Annoying Lawyer Lady.  The game was bad but she was even worse…

Maybe I should have told her I worked for the IRS…

All in all, I hope I can stick to talking with baseball fans for the balance of the trip… they are much nicer.

Next stop: Minneapolis

August Road Trip — Stop #8.5 – Milwaukee to Chicago – Meeting other Phillies Fans

When I left Miller Park after the game, it was an easy trip back to the hotel on the complimentary shuttle provided by Mo’s Irish Pub. I ran into Adam from the UK again and he told me he enjoyed the game, although we did not have much of an opportunity to chat more extensively. I would have liked to hear more about his perspective on the ball park.

I opted not to go into Mo’s and to go back to the hotel since I am still catching up on my posts, and the next day meant a return train ride to Chicago. When I got to my room at the Hilton Garden Inn, I had a pleasant surprise awaiting me. The registration clerk who had been so helpful when I checked-in sent up a plate of fruit and cookies along with the note below

 

Fruit, cookies and a nice note from the staff at the Hilton Garden Inn - Milwaukee

Fruit, cookies and a nice note from the staff at the Hilton Garden Inn – Milwaukee

One of the reasons I like to stay at Hilton properties is that they tend to show guests (particularly their Gold and Platinum Honors members) such extra courtesies. If you’ve ever been a “road warrior”, you can readily appreciate how this extra effort means a lot. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but the extra jolt of sugar helped me stay up long enough to do some catching-up on my blog posts and then I turned in.

After breakfast, I walked back to the Milwaukee train station to await my train for the 90-minute return ride to Chicago. As I approached the waiting area – to my surprise – were a guy and 2 kids dressed in Phillies/ Eagles gear. They were the same group I had seen briefly at Miller Park the prior evening but had not been able to meet. I went up and greeted them saying: “It’s great to see some other Phillies fans. I noticed you guys at the game last night but could not connect with you then.”

Scott Levy and his two sons, Jack (13) and Luke (11) had indeed been at the game the previous night. I was not sure if they were transplanted Philly folks who now lived in the mid-west or whether they were simply visiting like me. It turned out they were in the latter category.

Scott Levy with his sons Jack and Luke. Awesome Phillies fans.

Scott Levy with his sons Jack and Luke. Awesome Phillies fans.

Scott and his guys are die-hard Philly sports fans and each year they try to hit the road for at least a few Phillies or Eagles pre-season games. Scott grew up in Northeast Philly but now lives in northern NJ 0 in Glen Rock – not too far from Joe and Rali. He commutes into NY for work when he’s not traveling, which he does a fair amount. He works on client assignments of varying durations with start-ups or early stage companies providing general management, revenue-generation or operational leadership. He is a “fix-it and run-it right” expert. More importantly, however, I sense that he is a great Dad to Jack and Luke.

While I did not pry or get into the particulars which are none of my business, he did share that he and the boys Mom divorced and they co-parent these two extremely bright and well-behaved young men. It must be a struggle to share custody and all the responsibilities to make sure kids get through their busy schedules with school, sports and other extra-curricular activities, but my sense is that for Scott this is “Job 1”. His guys are articulate, sociable and well-mannered – behaving the way we all would want our own kids to when in public. It’s no wonder that he’s taken them to several ball parks across the country already – normally to root on the Phils when they visit other opponents. He also shared photos of them in London and Paris and it looks like they have a blast together.

This trio travels light – each with only a mid-sized backpack (including Scott) and they’ve been able to digitize all of their tickets and travel documents making them a paperless trio of travelers. I was amazed to learn that they just moved to a new home just the prior week – and still made this trip notwithstanding boxes being unpacked, and a long punch list of items for the contractor who undertook their renovations have not yet completed.

They were heading back to Chicago to see the Phillies at the Chicago White Sox that evening – as was I – and staying for the game the following night (when I was off to my next stop in Minneapolis). Scott told me they normally get to the park as soon as the gates open and the boys try to shag home run balls in the outfield seats. They also have the social skills to charm some of the big-leaguers into tossing up a ball to them every now and then (and we know how much that makes a kid’s day). Since they were not yet unpacked from their move, they only found one older glove to bring on this trip – and they remembered that literally as they were nearly out the door before leaving on this trip. Their usual mitts were somewhere in those unpacked moving boxes. So here they were, two brothers sharing a glove to indulge in their normal pre-game ritual. It appeared to be working, they each left Miller Park with a souvenir ball the night before and I was sure they’d get a pair that evening prior to the Phils game at US Cellular Field.

Both Scott and the boys had lots of questions about my baseball journey and all of them quizzed me on various ball parks and what were the coolest things I’d seen. I showed them some photos from my phone and provided them the URL to check out my website. By the time we pulled into Union Station, I think Jack had already read several of the posts. And, since I was talking with Scott, across the aisle from where the boys were sitting, I passed them my “Ultimate Baseball Road Trip” book so they could check out some of the write-ups on various parks themselves. I will send the book to Jack and Luke once I finish this road trip since they will have more use for it going forward than I will.

Scott shared with me that it is really challenging for the three of them to see all the ballparks but they are certainly trying. Since they normally can only travel like this when the boys are out of school and their own baseball schedules keep them from traveling much until their respective seasons are completed, it’s hard for them to do major road trips until August.

Scott and I talked about various destinations they still want to visit – like Colorado, Seattle, Arizona and the 2 ball parks in Texas – and I shared my “lessons learned” regarding logistical realities and tips on these particular destinations. Since it’s only a matter of a few years before these 2 guys are drawn to other interests, Scott knows he is “on the clock” to make the most of these next few years with his sons. Somehow, however, I suspect the three of them will want to stick together since it is so blatantly obvious that they genuinely enjoy each other and their time together—and doing it as Phillies fans in “hostile territory” does not phase them one bit.

I hope they read this post and keep in touch. It’s good to meet Phillies fans anywhere. It’s awesome to meet fans as great as these 3 when you least expect it…

Go Phillies…

August Road Trip — Stop #8 – Milwaukee

Colorado Rockies vs. Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, Milwaukee, WI – August 22

This was a travel day which could be sub-titled: “trains, planes and automobiles” but it was far less crazy than the film of the same name, and thankfully had none of the more (I guess you could say) “uncomfortable” moments between John Candy and Steve Martin in the film.

For me it began with a very early wake up call, and a short drive to Dayton International Airport to return my one-way rental car. I am not sure which flights (if any) from Dayton travel to international destinations, but I found it a relatively accessible, easy airport to utilize. And given its proximity- less than an hour from Cincinnati where I had been the day before, it was the closest airport at which I could take a Southwest flight. All of my flights between ball park destinations on this trip are on Southwest and they have largely been smooth and even at times, very entertaining experiences. The flight this morning was no exception.

I still felt fortified by the excellent dinner of the prior night, and the stay at the Hampton Inn, close to the airport, had given me access to laundry facilities where I threw in a load of laundry to ensure I was in good shape for the rest of my trip. As Marie and I had experienced on our 40th Anniversary trip to Asia (to 10 cities over 35 days) one must plan ahead for access to laundry facilities unless you plan to take huge suitcases or want to risk alienating those around you towards the end of your journey…

Direct flights from Cincinnati or Dayton on any carrier to a relatively smaller city like Milwaukee were more expensive and infrequent so I had decided in my master plan to travel back to Chicago and simply take a train or bus from there the 90 miles north to Milwaukee, WI. As I did further research and talked to the concierge at the Palmer House Hilton several days earlier, I decided the Amtrak train was the best alternative. After another Southwest on-time arrival at Chicago’s Midway airport, I claimed my bag and boarded the Orange Line subway train from the airport station bound for the Loop in downtown Chicago. I got off at the Quincy stop and walked a few short blocks to Chicago’s Union Station with time to spare before my scheduled train to Milwaukee. Amtrak service tends to be comfortable, reliable and relatively inexpensive compared to flights which are quicker but subject you to greater security and more advance time in terms of end-to-end travel. Moreover, since central train stations are normally downtown, they also eliminate the need for an additional shuttle or Uber ride as is the case with most airport transfers.

Upon arrival at the downtown Milwaukee Intermodal Train Station, I verified that the walk to my hotel would take only 10 to 15 minutes and it was a beautiful day to stretch my legs a bit. I had never been to Milwaukee before, so this was a completely new destination for me. My immediate impressions of the city were very positive. It was clean and interspersed with parks and green areas. As I got closer to the hotel, I crossed over the river which winds through the city and has its own adjacent Riverwalk dotted with cafes and shops.

downtown MIlwaukee and the Riverwalk

downtown MIlwaukee and the Riverwalk

Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers is not a downtown ball park. In fact, it is a bit of a drive from anything, including proximate hotels. As I later discovered, the reason for this is that fans in Milwaukee — like their die-hard Packer football neighbors in Green Bay — embrace a “tailgating culture”; therefore, with good-sized parking lots, driving seems to be the preferred way to access the stadium. For those without cars, as I discovered, there are other good options. Miller Park has an entire lot devoted to allowing Uber vehicles to easily discharge and pick-up passengers, and a host of shuttle vans operate between establishments from downtown. So the good taxpayers of Milwaukee have seen no need to invest in more expensive light rail or subway projects to whisk visitors to and from the ball park. It “ain’t broke” so they are not apt to fix it.

The downtown hotel I had selected for my Milwaukee stay was the Hilton Garden Inn – a well-located property right downtown, with a fascinating history, as I later learned.

In 1883 a hotel – the Newhall House, once stood on this site. When a fire in 1886 destroyed the 300-room structure, the site was purchased by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company where they erected an office complex known as The Loyalty Building. It was anything but a sterile office building. It was designed in a Romanesque style and includes a tremendous atrium, capped by a huge ornamental iron and glass skylight. Long after NW Mutual stopped using it as their Home Office in 1914, it continued to operate as a commercial structure. It was extensively renovated (while preserving much of its original beauty) in 1986 on its 100-year anniversary, and then purchased by a hospitality developer who recognized the potential it might hold as a hotel in 2011. It is really an architectural gem – and I have included some photos to capture a glimpse of it. Those who want to see more can go to: www.hgimilwaukee.com

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Elevator, staircase and atrium at the beautiful  HIlton Garden Inn Milwaukee

Elevator, staircase and atrium at the beautiful Hilton Garden Inn Milwaukee

At check-in Alyssa, the front desk representative greeted me as if I was their favorite Hilton HHonors Gold Member. She asked if I was here on business, and when I told her about my baseball road trip, she was genuinely interested. Alyssa is a strong Brewers fan and was extremely helpful when I asked about options to get to the game that evening. Her suggestion was to go just around the corner to one of the many local eating and drinking establishments which offer patrons (broadly defined as anyone who buys any food or beverage item before the game), with free direct shuttle service to and from the ball park. She recommended Mo’s Irish Pub as one of the best local places for a drink or a pre or post-game bite to eat. Thanks Alyssa, this was a great tip!!!!

After settling into a wonderful room I decided on a quick power-nap followed by some time to try catching-up on my bog postings. So many interesting airplane conversations had put me behind so I needed to focus on my write-ups. Recognizing that I wanted to get to the Ball Park reasonably early to explore the stadium, I made my way to Mo’s relatively early. Night games at Miller Park generally start at 6:20PM rather than 7:10 as is the case more commonly. As I later discovered, the reason for this is to promote more families bring kids to a night game – since the correspondingly earlier end-time often means younger fans aren’t up to outrageously late hours after a game. This was but one of many family-friendly features of Miller Park.

MO's Irish Pub and Adam from the UK

MO’s Irish Pub and Adam from the UK

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I easily found Mo’s and got a seat at the bar where I ordered an item from the happy hour half-priced appetizer selections. Having skipped lunch, I was a bit ready to eat before the game lest I be confronted with another set of heartburn inducements like so many other stadiums. I went with the “Reuben Shillelaghs”. A few minutes later another guy took the seat next to me and we began to converse. I found out his name was Adam (just like my seat-neighbor at the Reds game the prior day) but he was a 30-something traveler from London who was on holiday traveling around the Midwestern part of the U.S. Adam, like many Brits, love America and enjoy trips to the US either when the Pound Sterling is particularly strong vs. the US Dollar or when they have exhausted the list of the more common European vacation spots and want something different. As I could see that Adam had a Brewer’s cap in hand, I assumed (rightly) that he was also going to the ball game.

Most Brits are either unfamiliar with baseball or prefer their native cricket, rugby or European Football (what we call soccer) to traditional American sports but Adam was a bit of an exception. I quickly found out he is an extremely passionate European Football fan and he has visited nearly every football venue in the UK (more than 80 I believe he said). It made me think that my goal of 30 ball parks was modest by comparison. However, Adam clarified that few of these are as elaborate as many US baseball stadiums.

As we talked, I learned that Adam lived on the outskirts of London and I shared that I had traveled quite frequently to London during the decade that I worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb. I told him I normally stayed at one of the many hotels close to Heathrow Airport since our office was in Ickenham in Uxbridge. Adam was astounded — since he actually lives in Ickenham – which is more of a village than a larger community. When I recounted that the European Regional offices of my division (ConvaTec) were in an old mansion (reputed to have its own ghost) called Swakeley’s House, Adam nearly fell off his bar stool. It turns out that ConvaTec (spun-off some years ago and no longer part of BMS) exited the property and it is now occupied by the company for which Adam works. His office is in a building I have been to many times… Don’t tell me it’s not a really small world.

I finished my appetizer – which is very similar to a dish called Reuben Egg Rolls which Marie and I have had at a Clearwater area sports bar called the Brown Boxer on those occasions when we want to catch an Eagles game and face no better game-day selections on our local Tampa TV channels. The corned beef and thousand island dipping sauce on the deep-fried (Shillelagh) was outstanding. I almost decided to forego ball park selections for the evening and was tempted to order a second, but I wanted to leave open the prospect that there might be something at Miller Park worth the calories – and on a road trip like this, the last thing you want to do is over-eat.

As it was about an hour before game-time, Adam and I both paid our respective tabs and went outside where we boarded the first Mo’s shuttle to the ball game. Apparently a lot of Milwaukee area establishments also offer this type of round-trip shuttle service to the park as a way of attracting the pre-game and post- game crowd for home games. It seems to be working and I was grateful to the marketing geniuses who enabled me to take such easy advantage of it – and enabled me to meet another new friend along the journey.

Miller Park is about a 15-minute ride from Mo’s. I learned that Adam had not yet purchased a ticket for the game, so I offered some of the advice I’d read in my “Ultimate Baseball Road trip” guide and on-line at the Brewers website. Since it was a Monday, Miller Park was offering “Miller Mondays”.  Basically, for $6 you can get a seat in the 400 Level – a steep section high above the playing field (much like the 500 level “nose-bleed” seats in which my brother, Rich and I sat in Toronto’s Rogers Center a month ago. A second option is to simply walk-up and ask for a $1 “Uecker seat”. Named for the legendary former Milwaukee player and sports announcer, Bob Uecker (who’s most famous quote was: “I must have the best seat in the house” or “I Must be in the front row”); these seats are the very worst which Miller Park has to offer – most with partially obstructed views which can give you a stiff neck or blurred vision after a few innings. I also told him that while I understood scalping per se is not permitted, they do have a specifically designated section of the parking lot in which fans with excess tickets are permitted to re-sell them but must do so at less than the face value of the ticket. I had purchased my ticket already on Stub Hub so I was all set with a great seat in row 3, just past the infield down the shallow right-field line in prime foul ball territory. And I got it at a super-bargain basement price.  Adam went his way to investigate his seating alternatives and I went inside to explore Miller Park.

I was pleasantly surprised by what is really a beautiful place to watch a baseball game. The grass is meticulously manicured and while the park is huge – some might say “cavernous” when you are up in the steeper reaches of the top deck – the lower levels keep you very close to the action. The two video boards provide a great assortment of game stats and replays interspersed with fun shots of the fans (e.g. the “kiss cam”, most spirited fan and best dancers) along with the typical “guess which hat the ball is under” and of course, a few ads for local sponsors. Miller Park is also fitted with a terrific retractable roof – to be closed when the weather turns crappy. On this particular night it was in the 77-degree range and a beautiful night to play baseball in the open air.

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From any angle, Miller Park is a gorgeous site for baseball

From any angle, Miller Park is a gorgeous site for baseball

As has become my habit, I found the validation station for my MLB Passport to be stamped and obtained a “First time visitor to Miller Park” certificate from Guest Relations, and then headed to my Section-109 to access any “Usher wisdom” I could find. I hit the jackpot. Wayne is a terrific guy who has been an usher at Miller Park for 16 years – since it opened in 2001. He was more than willing to help a Phillies fan get to know the stadium of which he was so obviously proud. He explained a bit about the dimensions and suggested a walk around the main deck, followed by a trip to the Loge (200) level to catch a movie called: “the Bud Selig Experience” and finally a ride up to the top deck to see the perspective of the Park from that vantage point. He retrieved a well-worn copy of a “Guide to Miller Park” leaflet and was going to give it to me, when I indicated I would instead stop back at Guest Services to get one and would pick-up a new one for him to replace the disintegrating one which he had. He also recommended that I try sampling the brats, for which the Park is best known.

Wayne - one of Miller Park's finest ushers who has been there since the Park opened 16 yrs. ago

Wayne – one of Miller Park’s finest ushers who has been there since the Park opened 16 yrs. ago

Almost as an after-thought as I was thanking him for his help, Wayne shared with me that it was his 83rd birthday that very day. I shook his hand and wished him a hearty happy birthday. Guys like Wayne are amazing to me, and I can only hope I am as active as he is when (or if) I reach that age. He drives 4o miles round-trip to work every home game and you can tell he loves baseball, the Brewers and Miller Park. Wayne’s positive disposition really reminds me of Vito Prudenti, one of the residents in our condo in FL. Vito is now 97 and still drives, shoots pool every night except Sunday, plays music, and is more spry and active than many of the 50-year-olds I know. Guys like Vito and my new friend, Wayne, are great role models for how to age with grace and purpose.

I followed Wayne’s suggestion to the letter and enjoyed the multiple views of the park which were to be had. I was particularly happy that he suggested seeing the “Bud Selig Experience” which is a 15-minute film that tells the story of Milwaukee’s initial major league baseball team -the Milwaukee Braves (for which the likes of Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Eddie Matthews starred) and told of the devastating emotional blow which the community and the fan-base experienced when the Braves were moved to Atlanta. Bud Selig, a successful owner of auto dealerships in Milwaukee formed a group and focused on bringing Major League Baseball back to his beloved city. After a potential deal to bring the Chicago White Sox to town failed, Selig’s persistence ultimately resulted in the ability to buy the then-bankrupt Seattle Pilots – who had only been operating for a single season but had dismal attendance and lacked strong financial backing. Selig was able to put the economics together and convinced the MLB powers to resume playing ball in Milwaukee in 1970. Early games were played in Milwaukee’s County Stadium and games in the harsh April weather were occasionally prone to cancellation due to snow, sleet or freezing rain.

Ultimately, Selig spearheaded the funding push to build a new stadium and he was able to garner the legislative support to make the public portion of its financing a reality. The Bud Selig experience tells this story and depicts him as a passionate baseball fan and dedicated supporter of Milwaukee.  Days earlier, I had heard him vilified by Mariners fans as the guy who “stole” the Seattle Pilots and took baseball away from Seattle until the next expansion returned it in the form of the Mariners. It’s fascinating how the same facts can be colored so differently depending on which jersey you are wearing, and where your fan allegiances lie.

A gallery featuring the stars of the former Milwaukee Braves franchise.

A gallery featuring the stars of the former Milwaukee Braves franchise.

The Brewers have enjoyed some success over the years with Robin Yount being especially noteworthy among its former stars. Yount was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee who had 3,142 career hits and led the Brewers to the World Series in 1982. After Selig became Baseball Commissioner, he realigned the divisional structure which shifted the Brewers from the AL East to the NL Central Division as part of the shift to a 3 division structure with the added concept of wild-card berths in the post-season.

Entering this game, the Brewers had a record of 54-70 and were generally regarded as starting a rebuilding for the future. Indeed, they do have some exciting young players like Chris Carter who is among the league-leaders in Home Runs with 29; Keon Broxton, a very promising outfield prospect, and 3rd baseman Jonathan Villar who is second only to the Reds’ Billy Hamilton with stolen bases. And then there’s Ryan Braun, an established piece in the Brewers line-up who is among the batting leaders in the NL with a .315 average. Recently, before the July trading deadline, the Brewers dealt all-star catcher, Jonathan Lucroy to the Texas Rangers in exchange for a number of great minor league prospects which they believe will transform their farm system into one of the strongest for the future. We’ll see if it pans out that way…

Tonight the Brewers were facing the Colorado Rockies – another team with good young talent including Nelson Arenado, who leads the NL in Home runs and Trevor Story who is not far behind, as well as DJ LeMahiue who is currently leading the NL in batting average. Both clubs have had their pitching woes which is why neither is likely to advance to the post-season this year. Jimmy Nelson, who I’d seen pitch already on this trip brought his 6-13 record into the game as the starter for the Brew Crew, facing Chad Bettis for the Rockies with a 10-6 record.

A Brewers runner leads off 1st in early action vs. the Rockies

A Brewers runner leads off 1st in early action vs. the Rockies

Right out of the box, the game started with some scoring as the Rockies posted a run in the first. David Dahl singled, stole 2nd, advanced to third on a SF and scored on a wild pitch. In their half of the 1st the Brewers scored 3 runs on only 2 hits as Bettis walked two and an untimely error resulted in an extended inning for the Brewers. The Rockies could do little against Nelson over the first 6 except for a lone run they put together in the top of the 5th. The Brewers added a run in the 3rd when Chris Carter lined a HR to left field (his 30th). That was it for the scoring and a trio of Brewers relievers held Colorado scoreless. Tyler Thornburg notched his 6th Save of the year.  Final score: Brewers 4- Rockies 2

All in all, it was a good game and it moved relatively quickly. While the scoreboard announced the paid attendance as 20,458 – I would be shocked if there were more than 10,000 actual patrons in the seats for the game so they must count no-shows who bought season tix. Milwaukee is a relatively small market since the total population in of its metro area is less than 1.5 Million people. I am sure it’s only due to a lot of strong corporate and community support that they are able to sustain a viable operation – so long as they maintain a sensible payroll and mange other expenses prudently.

Another happy fan at MIller Park

Another happy fan at Miller Park

Back to Wayne. I followed his advice and got a brat which was tasty and about as much ballpark food as I wanted after my earlier appetizer. Additionally, as I made my way around the upper level, I noted that one of the unique features of Miller Park is a set of tables, staffed by a ballpark employee and sponsored by Kohl’s, which provides large pieces of poster-board and multi-colored markers so that kids can create their own signs cheering on their team and their favorite players or announcing this to be their first Brewers game or some other momentous occasion – like a birthday. I know my granddaughter Reagan would spend a lot of time at this activity, especially if the game got boring, given her love of art.

Art at the Ballpark - Kohl's set-up to encourge kids to make posters

Art at the Ballpark – Kohl’s set-up to encourage kids to make posters

As I made my way back to my seat after a mid-game bathroom break, I noticed a young lady sporting one of these colorful posters along with her Mom. Her sign read: “It’s my 8th birthday”. Being unable to resist, I immediately asked Wayne if he would come to see something and brought him over to the youngster and her Mom and introduced the two of them. I told Anna, the 8-year-old, that she shared the same B-day as Wayne – he was just 75 years ahead of her. They laughed and allowed me to take a photo.

Anna on her 8th birthday and Wayne celebratign his 83rd.

Anna on her 8th birthday and Wayne celebratign his 83rd.

Before getting back to my seat I decided I needed to do something more to acknowledge Wayne for his help and the kindness he showed to young Anna and everyone I observed him encounter. I went to the Brewers Team Store and picked up a small gift – a Brewers koozie – had them stamp it with the official park stamp used for the MLB Pass-Port validations and wrote him a brief happy birthday note. I also provided him with my contact info and the web address for my blog and invited him to contact me should he make it to Clearwater or Philly. He was genuinely touched when I presented it to him and wished him a Happy Birthday. I also wrote out a commendation at Guest Services to acknowledge Wayne and I hope the Miller Park management takes the time to do so. It will probably mean a lot to him.

In other parks I have written about the variations of character races that they sponsor to entertain the fans between innings. Miller Park’s unique version of this is about as good as the Pierogis racing at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. In Milwaukee, it’s sausage races and the decorated sausages are complete with ethnic-oriented costumes or hats representing the Polish, Italian, German and Jalapeno/ Mexican variations available at the ball park. I know it’s pretty hoakie, but the kids, especially and even some adults, get into it cheering for their favorite to win. On this night, I think the Italian hot outran the German Brat for an upset.

Contestants from the hard-fought sausage races. I think Italian Hot won...

Contestants from the hard-fought sausage races. I think Italian Hot won…

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If there is one distinguishing characteristic of Miller park beyond the design and the retractable dome making baseball in the northland of Wisconsin more practical in April, it’s the sheer entertainment focus of the entire place which resonates the most.

As the ninth inning started there were still nearly as many fans in the stands as in the second inning. Although less than half-full they cheered for their Brewers to finish off a tough opponent in a close game. Wayne came down to my row and sat immediately behind me in a vacant seat. He told me it was great to meet a Phillies fan and to hear about my road trip. He thanked me for the birthday gift and told me he wanted to send me home with a souvenir of Miller Park. Then he handed me a baseball. I thanked him sincerely and told him my photos and memories would be the best remembrance I could want. I asked him if it would be OK with him if I gave the ball to a youngster — knowing that for a kid to leave a ball game with an authentic baseball is about as good as it gets. I still remember my first foul ball from Connie Mack Stadium, and how I wished I had saved it instead of decimating it on the cinders of the outfield (yes cinders, not grass) at the local recreation center where we played ball. Wayne said he was totally fine with whatever I wanted to do with the baseball – and that he just wanted me to have it.

I was seated on the end of a row down the right field foul line and thru the entire game a family consisting of a Dad and Mom and two girls were attentively watching the game. Every time a foul ball came anywhere nearby, the girls were on their feet – even when the balls were way out of range. Whenever the ball girl, who sat about 20 feet from them, fielded a foul ball and turned to deliver it to a fan in one of the neighboring sections they stood and waved to get her attention — but none were tossed in that direction.

I walked over to the Dad, introduced myself and told him that the usher had graciously given me a ball as a souvenir and I asked if he thought one of his daughters might like to have it. His response was – “Are you kidding – my Hanna would LOVE it”. So I nonchalantly slipped him the ball and said: “Here – why don’t you give it to her.”

I retreated to my seat and could see the father hand the ball to his daughter, whose eyes got huge and I could see her ask her Dad “Where did this come from?” As she turned around to say thanks, the father motioned me to come over, and he introduced me to Hannah who was now clutching the ball with both hands. She said thanks again, and I asked if I could take a photo of the family with Hannah holding the baseball. They agreed, and I got to capture the pure joy of a kid going home with that most treasured ball park souvenir of any. My parting words to her were: “Hannah just keep watching baseball…”

Nothing better than a souvenir baseball for a kid at a ball game. Keep watching baseball, Hannah

Nothing better than a souvenir baseball for a kid at a ball game. Keep watching baseball, Hannah

I also felt like a kid again… as I headed up the stairs and out to the pick-up point for the shuttle back to Mo’s Irish Pub.

During an earlier inning, I had spotted another Dad with two boys going up the stairs in my section. I didn’t really see where they’d been sitting or exactly where they moved to but what struck me was that one of the boys wore a green Philadelphia Eagles hoodie and the other had on a Phillies Cap and shirt. Now, since the Rockies and Brewers were playing, I was surprised to see any hometown Philly gear in this spot.  I looked around and could not spot the suspected Philly transplants and chalked it up to a missed opportunity.

Little did I know that I would see them the next day and the mystery would be solved on the train back to Chicago.

 

To be continued…

August Road Trip — Stop #7 – Cincinnati

LA Dodgers vs. Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH – August 21

Most of the stops on my trip have involved a similar cadence of activity; consisting of a morning flight, checking into a hotel near the stadium, and then going to a night game. This day was a bit different. The economics of flying from Detroit to Cincinnati and then an onwards journey from there to my next stop in Milwaukee did not make sense, and the fact of this being a Sunday afternoon game necessitated a different strategy due to the timing of the game.

Young Joe drove me to the Detroit airport early on Sunday AM. I picked up my own rental car and proceeded on the 250-mile drive from Detroit to Cincy for the 1:10PM game between the visiting LA Dodgers and the home town Reds. I hit virtually no traffic congestion and pulled into the parking lot near the stadium a bit before Noon.

Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003, is set in downtown Cincinnati along the river, adjacent to the football stadium which is home to the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s a beautiful backdrop for baseball and, in contrast to the soggy prior night in Detroit, this was turning out to be a bright, sunny day with just some big puffy clouds in the sky. It was a great day for baseball!!!

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Even before you enter Great American Park, you can sense a strong family atmosphere. Greeters dressed in colorful costumes on stilts welcome visitors, paying special attention to families with youngsters, posing for photos and thanking them for coming to the game. Within the stadium, red, white and blue abounds in a patriotic backdrop reminiscent of the type of July 4th parade you’d find in thousands of small towns across America.

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Fans get a warm and patriotic welcome to Great American Ball Park

Fans get a warm and patriotic welcome to Great American Ball Park

The Park is spacious and well-maintained. And while the Reds of today are not exactly the “Big Red Machine” of yesteryear which I watched (often painfully in the 70’s and 80’s), they have generally been competitive. They certainly seem to give my home-town Phillies a hard time every time we match up with them.

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It's a great day for baseball...

It’s a great day for baseball…

The Reds do have some very fine players – veterans like 1st baseman Joey Votto and 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips and emerging stars like Billy Hamilton, an absolutely electrifying speedster often seen on Sports Center making seemingly impossible catches in center field (he’s also leading the league in stolen bases), and Adam Duvall – a slugger with 28 HR’s going into this game. On this sunny afternoon the Reds sent Anthony DeSclefani to the mound to face-off against the Dodgers starter, left-hander Julio Urias.

The leadoff hitter for the Dodgers is none other than Chase Utley. The former long-time Phillies second baseman is having a great year, and if the Dodgers continue to stay ahead of the San Francisco Giants, Utley should have another well-deserved trip to the post-season. Chase is a class act, and just last week when the Dodgers visited Philadelphia, the fans (who are often maligned as first class boo-birds, gave Utley a standing ovation which lasted for several minutes. Utley, who normally doesn’t even talk to the media, acknowledged that he was genuinely touched by the acknowledgement of the Phillies fans. When someone plays the game as hard as Chase does, whether he’s in Phillies pin-stripes or Dodger blue, the fans applaud a player who gives 110% — and Chase certainly does.

It was not surprising when he greeted the Reds by launching a home run to give the Dodgers an immediate lead. Then, in the third inning, he lined a single to RF, scoring Andrew Toles and alertly reached second when the throw went to home. A few pitches later, Utley hustled to score on a line single by Dodgers SS Corey Seager. After 3 innings, the Dodgers were up 3-0 and then added another insurance run in the 6th. Cincinnati struggled and simply were not able to capitalize on opportunities despite the fact that they out-hit LA 9 to 8 and stranded 7 baserunners over the 9 innings.  Dodgers starter Julio Urias left after pitching 6 strong innings and a trio of LA relievers finished off the shutout.

Final score: Dodgers 4- Reds 0.

Recognizing that my son-in-law, Jim will ask: – “What about the food?” I can say that the offerings of Great American are fairly typical of ball park food, with just a few more unusual offerings. While I didn’t sample it, the pulled pork smelled really good. I noted it is prepared by the Montgomery Inn – a nearby restaurant across the river in Kentucky which is renowned for some of the best ribs in the mid-west. There were quite a few menu offerings featuring pork in varied forms… and some “all you can eat” options. However, this is the only ball park I have been to thus far which appears to have sponsors from antacid companies who sponsor napkin holders at the condiment stations… What does that suggest?

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Pork-a-rama and All-U-Can-Eat options abound... along with "how do you spell relief???"

Pork-a-Rama and All-U-Can-Eat options abound… along with: “How do you spell relief???”

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The very best thing about my visit to Great American Ball Park was having the chance to sit next to a high school junior named Adam, and some of his buddies. These are serious baseball fans – very knowledgeable about the game and loyal to the Reds even though I sense it is getting exceedingly frustrating as they see their home team fail to turn the corner and go thru the successive cycle of developing a few really talented players and then sputtering and trading off established stars to restock their fame system. I sensed profound sadness about the loss of some former Reds like Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce who they would love to still see in Reds jerseys on that field. I can relate to how challenging rebuilding is for a club and all its fans – but when you’re 16 or 17 and really into baseball it’s somehow more emotional. These are guys who can spout off batting average, RBI’s, stolen bases and ERA’s from the top of the Reds lineup to the bottom and they regaled me with some stories about the players they admire and were unreserved about trashing the ones who they don’t respect.

He and his friends also play ball in high school. Adam pitches and plays the outfield and I venture the guess that he plays with all of the intensity he exhibits as a Reds fan – and then some. At a time when lots of folks are questioning the attractiveness of baseball to the next generation of fans, it was great for me to meet these guys and see that they love the game every bit as much as I did when I was their age – maybe even more. It also reinforced the fact that baseball is a unique bridge across generations and people of all backgrounds. It was cool…

L to R next to me are: Adam and his buddies Derrick and Gavin. Great guys and true baseball fans.

L to R next to me are: Adam and his buddies Derrick and Gavin. Great guys and true baseball fans.

Adam and his friends seemed intrigued with my baseball road trip and asked questions about the Hall of Fame and which stadiums I thought were the best and the worst. I could tell it sparked an interest in chasing the dream to visit every MLB Park for them as they get a bit older. Adam may even prevail upon his Mom to start the process with him sooner rather than later. I provided him with the link for this website and hope he reads this posting and stays in touch.

Adam – if you and your buddies ever make it to Philly or Tampa, I hope you will let me know. It would be fun to catch another game and talk baseball with a true fan of the game like you. If nothing else, I will learn more about Billy Hamilton and other future Reds stars than I will ever get from ESPN or the MLB network.

After the game, I drove to Dayton to stay overnight at a hotel close to the Dayton airport. Again, this was a departure from my routine due to it being an afternoon game. The major benefit of this however, was the fact that I finally did not have to eat ball park food for dinner… I found a real restaurant, and ate a nice fresh salad, a good steak and grilled asparagus – sitting down at a real table with actual silverware. What a treat!!!! I enjoyed every last bite and slept like a baby.

Next stop Milwaukee

August Road Trip — Stop #6 –Detroit

Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, Detroit, MI – August 20

When I finally got to Detroit, it was great to be arriving at a destination where I would have someone else to join me in attending a game. My son, Joe, was able to get away for the weekend and he was awaiting me with a rental car when I arrived in Detroit. Joe flew from Newark the prior evening, arriving late on Friday and staying in a hotel by the airport. On Saturday morning, he picked up a car, went into the city and took a Motown River Cruise. Joe and Risa will tell you that they learned about great music from their parents who subjected them – at times against their will – to a steady diet or Motown and Rock and Roll from an early age. To this day, both can sing an amazing number of tunes from that genre verse by verse to the astonishment of their friends.

On the cruise, Joe of course, managed to get up to the bridge to meet the Captain and some of the crew members and to compare notes on the ship and how it compared to some of the vessels he has experienced in recent times as an active member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

We made our way from the airport downtown to our hotel – the Hilton Doubletree – Downtown/Ft Shelby – which again proved to be a great location offering good proximity to the ballpark for the game that night.

As a city, Detroit has been through a lot — and certainly still has a way to go, but the residents with whom we spoke have a genuine sense of optimism about the city and its prospects to come back. Detroiters are a gritty, tough group to which Philly folks can relate. While their downtown streets are virtually deserted at night – which is downright eerie compared with Philly – we have more in common when it comes to the love of sports than we have in terms of differences.  Two of our Vail friends – John Milligan and Tony King are Detroit guys and they have the same “down to earth” nature and love of their team that you’d find in the best Phillies fans.

It was easy to walk 2 blocks from our hotel to board a monorail service which runs on a constant loop around the downtown Detroit area for just 75 cents per ride. A few short stops later we disembarked a block from the home of the Tigers – Comerica Park.

Joe and I arriving at Comerica Park to see the Red Sox vs. the Tigers

Joe and I arriving at Comerica Park to see the Red Sox vs. the Tigers

Built in 2000, Comerica opened the very same year as Citizens Bank Park in Philly and in many regards they are similar in layout and dimensions. Having replaced the old Tigers Stadium, it has been a welcomed addition for all of the baseball fans in the state of Michigan. The park is well-designed and most seats offer a great view of the game. The playing field is actually submerged — dug out below the street level upon which you enter. 

Two other passengers on the monorail asked if we needed tickets, but I had already secured really good seats along the right field line, just above first base, so we declined. They indicated they had seats right behind the home dugout and told us we could sell ours and upgrade to these for just $50 each. Having researched that reselling or scalping tickets in Detroit is a crime, I declined. In addition, since the weather was very “iffy” and I saw no benefit to being on top of the Tigers dugout, we thanked them and sent them on their way upon our arrival at the park. I was born at night — but not last night…

Joe and I inside the park. Catch his new white on white Tigers cap... pretty cool.

Joe and I inside the park. Catch his new white on white Tigers cap… pretty cool.

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The skies remaining overcast and it started to drizzle a bit as we began to make our way around the ballpark. Joe had not eaten in at least two hours, which meant we had to find some sustenance, and someone had suggested to him that he try the “Italian Beef” sandwich at Comerica. We found the location of our seats and asked the usher where we could Italian beef. His quizzical look and shrug suggested we might need to consult someone in Guest Services so we began to circumnavigate the park during which time Joe got an official Detroit Tigers white on white baseball cap to add to his collection, and I got my MLB Pass-port validated.

At Guest Services, they claimed no knowledge of any concession in the park with the alleged Italian beef so we ditched that idea and sought a back-up plan. That’s when it started to rain more heavily. The tarp was already on the field and rapidly filling as the buckets of rain poured down from the heavens. Since the park has virtually no areas for sit-down eating, and even the standing-room was packed with other drenched fans like us. At last, we settled on splitting an order of soft tacos to at least hold us over. We devoured them standing under a narrow overhang where we could at least the flat top over a trash can as our make-shift table… Not fun…

The weather app on Joe’s phone showed a lot of orange and red and my back was starting to tighten as we continued to hop-scotch around the covered areas to find a place to keep dry. Finally, we confirmed that we could leave and re-enter so long as our tickets were stamped, so made our way back to the monorail. About 15 minutes later our 75 cents each brought us back to our hotel where I was able to stretch out and get in a power-nap while Joe monitored the progress on the rain-delay and channel surfed. After an hour, Joe told me the game was finally starting so we made our way back to the stadium.

Along the first baseline after the first rain delay

Along the first baseline after the first rain delay

We made our way to the seats — which were excellent –  just 11 rows up from the field above the first base line and we arrived in the third inning, which fortuitously is when most of the action in the game started. The Red Sox drew first blood when 3 straight singles resulted in a run in the top of the inning, but the Tigers fought back and tied it in the bottom of the inning on a solo HR off the bat of James McCann. After a quiet 4th inning (with the notable exception of Joe’s relentless heckling of Boston’s first base coach – none other than Reuben Amaro, Jr.), the Red Sox again cranked-up their offense again. David Ortiz, who is having an MVP-caliber season hit a 2 run shot over the right field fence – barely inside the foul pole but fair by enough to create a margin for the Sox which would be all the scoring they needed. With these 2 RBI’s Ortiz became the third member of the Sox to reach 1,500 RBI’s – a feat accomplished only by Sox Hall of Famer members Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. Ortiz is amazing and I look forward to the day when he is among the greats in Cooperstown as well.  In addition to being a great ballplayer – even now at over 40 years old – he is additionally a terrific human being – always stopping to talk with fans, sign autographs or – as he did on this night – taking selfies with youngsters gathered along the railing.

David Ortiz crosses home plate after his 2 run HR gives the Red Sox the lead

David Ortiz crosses home plate after his 2 run HR gives the Red Sox the lead

The rains came again at the close of the 5th and the forecast was for another hour or more of rain according to Joe’s weather app. We were soaked through and through so we decided to head back to the hotel to catch the rest of the game on TV after getting some drier clothes on… a good move since the second rain delay lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

After play resumed, the Tigers added another run on a solo HR off the bat of J.D. Martinez in the home 7th and actually threatened in the bottom of the 9th when Justin Upton lofted a deep fly to center. He may have thought it was out of the park because he slowed down rather than running full throttle and the result was a double rather than what could have been a triple if he had been in high gear out of the box. Jackie Bradley almost made a terrific catch on the ball but in the end, Upton was stranded at second as the Sox closer, Craig Kimbrel shut down the Tigers for a save – his 22nd of the season. Final score: Red Sox 3 – Tigers 2.

Sorry John and Tony – as much as cheered for the home team, Big Papi and the Red Sox were just too much for the Tigers on this night.

Joe and I were seated next to a couple of Tigers fans to whom we introduced ourselves. Mike – a recent retiree from General Motors who worked most of his 40 years at GM on the Buick Division assembly line and Mike’s dad, Gerry, who is sharp as a tack with a very quick sense of humor. When I asked Gerry how young he was, he replied that he just turned 84 and quipped that it only took his son 84 years to treat him to a ball game. Two great guys who follow their Tigers – win or lose…

Two Dads and their sons -- R to L - 84 year old Gerry and his son MIke and my son Joe and I

Two Dads and their sons — R to L – 84 year old Gerry and his son Mike and my son Joe and I.

 Before the game, the Tigers gave a special tribute to David Ortiz in recognition of his impending retirement. They provided him a huge plaque which commemorated his appearance at the 2005 All Star game which was hosted at Comerica Park- featuring two photos of Big Papi in action in that game as well as some dirt from the infield. Even the partisan Tigers crowd – victims of the big bat of Big Papi more than a few times, saluted Ortiz with thunderous applause.

We took a moment to pause for a photo with the giant Victor Martinez bobble-head before leaving Comerica after the second rain delay

We took a moment to pause for a photo with the giant Victor Martinez bobble-head before leaving Comerica after the second rain delay

Comerica Park also has a great collection of monuments to some of the best Tigers to play the game – folks like: Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Al Kaline and the great Ty Cobb. Unfortunately due to the rains, we never had the chance to explore the sculpture garden. If I get back to Comerica, that will certainly be on my list. 

After Joe and I changed and looked a bit less like drenched rats, we went down to the lobby to see if we could grab a bite at the bar/ restaurant there. To our surprise, they were already well past “last call” even though it was still relatively early according to our watches… but a staff member from the hotel suggested we go right around the corner to the Anchor bar—which he described as a “locals” place with good food. We walked around the corner and entered the Anchor which had all of about 6 patrons sitting at the bar and the dozen or so tables around the room. And the seat we grabbed gave us — most importantly, the TV coverage of the rest of the ball game. History buffs who want to learn more about the rather colorful history of this establishment may want to take two minutes to read about it at: http://www.anchorbar.com/history

Outside the Anchor Bar in downtown Detroit

Outside the Anchor Bar in downtown Detroit

After no more than 5 minutes, about 35 patrons came into the place. It seemed like a bus must have pulled up and we were really concerned that the one barmaid on duty might be overwhelmed and that we’d better get our food order in. We flagged down the barmaid and asked for wings and another dish that Joe described as “sort of like nachos over tater tots”. Fortunately, our order got to the kitchen before the new influx of customers and came out in only 10 minutes or so. The wings were outstanding – almost as good as Uncle Rich’s wings – tangy but crispy and with just enough bite to them. We thoroughly enjoyed inhaling these and our other appetizer.

That’s when Bruce showed up… Now Bruce is an uninvited guest who just shows up at various baseball venues. He is sort of like “Flat Stanley” always wanting to be photographed and looking for the spotlight. Except he’s not as cute as Flat Stanley and is in fact on the ugly side. He wears a San Francisco Giant cap, has a salt & pepper beard and hair and can’t stop shaking he head around. His body is nothing to speak of – in fact it is shaped like a cork stopper. Bobble head cork stopper Bruce bellied up to the bar and promptly got hammered. He was then hitting on some of the customers around us until his little bobble head hit the bar. He was out for the count. I sincerely hope he doesn’t follow me around to some of the other stadiums but who knows.

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Bruce before and after getting flagged at the Anchor...

Bruce before and after getting flagged at the Anchor…

We made our way back to the hotel shortly after mid-night. The streets in downtown Detroit were still deserted but the rain had stopped. In spite of the rain, I had enjoyed a night of baseball with my son, and we checked another stadium off the list.

The next morning, I had to drive to Cincinnati, and young Joe made plans to attend church at the Mariner’s Cathedral in Detroit and to attend the Sunday afternoon game between the Red Sox and the Tigers before his flight back to Newark. After dropping me at the airport to pick up my own rental car, Joe attended the church which is a 174-year-old institution in Detroit (for more info go to: http://marinerschurchofdetroit.org/) and had a great (and much drier) experience in the Sunday afternoon matchup between the Sox and the Tigers. That game was a 10-5 victory for the Tigers. However, he was informed around 5PM that his 7PM flight to Newark had been cancelled. In fact, most flights to the northeast – including LaGuardia, JFK and Philly were all cancelled due to storms in the metro NY/NJ/PHL area.

We worked to get him alternative arrangements. By this time, most of the alternatives on Monday AM were gone and the best his initial carrier could do was promise to confirm him on a flight late Monday afternoon. After some creative exploration of other options, we found him a morning flight from Detroit to Atlantic City on Spirit Airlines. He booked a room at the airport in Detroit and a one-way rental car from AC to Newark and was able to minimize his late arrival to a half day of missed work. And his manager was very understanding of the factors which were outside of his control.

Meanwhile, I was off to Cincinnati that morning and will fill you in on that in the next post.

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