A Baseball Roadtrip

I do not have a bucket list but if I had one what I did last weekend would be near the top.For years my three sons and I have talked about a baseball road trip. Each of them played baseball, Little League and High School. I helped coach each in Little League. One of them continued and was a four year pitcher for Princeton. The other two went separate ways, playing and excelling in college at football and basketball. All three continue their love of baseball – and their loyalty to the Chicago Cubs.

On the occasion of my 75th birthday and my oldest son’s 50th, the time had come to get serious about the road trip. We had long ago adjusted our hopes to travel to most if not every Major League ballpark down to a manageable few. The 50 year old took charge, made all the arrangements: airline and train travel, overnight accommodations, tickets to two games back to back, Sunday night in Yankee Stadium and the next night at Fenway Park in Boston.

Sunday afternoon we converged and convened in midtown Manhattan, three sons and two of their buddies who I have known for years, both fine athletes and baseball players. We made our way to Yankee Stadium where the Yankees were hosting perennial rivals, the Boston Red Sox. The storied rivalry includes a long dry spell between World Series victories for the Red Sox – not as long as the Cubs, to be sure – and, of course, the infamous trade to New York of a good left handed pitcher and promising slugger by the name of George Herman Ruth. Boston, however, unlike our locals, has risen up and won three world championships recently, leaving the Cubs alone in their long pathos.

It was my first visit to the new Yankee Stadium – an over the top sports facility if there ever was one. It is huge, imposing, awesome even. A wide concourse inside the exterior wall of the stadium is a colorful, loud, gaudy marketplace with plenty of Yankee memorabilia – and the Yankees have a lot of it – an astonishing array of food choices, from fresh fruit to sushi. We made our way to our “Legends” seats a few rows behind home plate, through a huge restaurant buffet which accompanies these high end tickets. (I didn’t even ask the price.) At a dozen or so beautifully arranged food counters there were literally mountains of crab legs, lobster tails, shrimp, roast beef, pulled pork, plenty of healthy vegetable options, sushi of course and over in a corner, lowly hot dogs. My sons and buddies had arrived at this cornucopia a few minutes before me and I was astonished to see on the small round table they were gathered around a huge pile of seafood debris: crab, lobster shells and shrimp peelings maybe a foot and a half high. They did themselves proud and I was poignantly reminded of the days when I could, and happily did, eat everything and a lot of it.

The Red Sox won the game handily. We saw David Ortiz, the Red Sox slugger/fan favorite, hit a mammoth home run, the sound of it coming off the bat unforgettable. We saw Derek Jeter get two opposite field base hits and execute a breathtakingly graceful play at Shortstop. The inside of the Stadium is every bit as eye-popping as the outside: huge video screens, many, many signs and ads, the loudest sound system I have ever heard. There simply is no comparison to the 100 year old tired facility at Clark and Addison. A pretty waitress attended to our every food and drink need during the game and my companions continued to eat and drink, returning to the food stations for more roast beef, finishing up with a fine chili dog.

It was the ESPN Game of the Week so it started late and was slow moving because of all the breaks for television commercials, but it was barely noticeable because of all the flashy diversion in the stadium. The game ended at 11:30 and we arrived back at our very comfortable quarters at midnight. I retired promptly while my companions enjoyed a night cap and cigars on the balcony.

Next morning we made our way through Manhattan traffic – nothing like it in the world –  to Penn Station to catch the Acela, AMTRAK’s high speed train to Boston, a very pleasant three hour trip with time to talk about the game we saw, eat a pleasant breakfast and read the papers.
We checked into our hotel in Boston, rested for 30 minutes and headed for Fenway, stopping at a restaurant for lunch: fresh oysters and Cuban sandwiches. The boys had their first beer of the day, the first of many, needless to say. (Where do they put it all?!) It was also my first visit to Fenway, the oldest major league park, two years older than Wrigley, at 102. Red Sox management has arranged to shut down the street adjacent to the park, Yawkey Way- named after the long time owner of the team. The many concessions stands were not as elaborate as Yankee Stadium but light years ahead of Wrigley’s pathetic offerings. Hours before the game – Cubs vs. Boston, by the way, the street was full and the party was on.

The Princeton pitcher/trip planner had a contact in the Red Sox front office who arranged a VIP tour of Fenway, from the playing field to the very top of the “Green Monster”, Fenway’s  towering left field wall, from which we sat and watched the Cubs take infield and batting practice, a rare treat for any lover of the game. One of his former Princeton teammates is a Red Sox batting practice pitcher and gave us first hand descriptions of Boston players, clubhouse, traveling and the fascinating day-to-day operation of a major league team.

Legendary Fenway is much smaller than Yankee Stadium;  intimate – like Wrigley Field – but not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as our ball yard. Fenway appears to be patched together with no over-all symmetry. I am no fan of Wrigley Field with its deteriorating concrete, medieval restrooms, challenging exits, steep steps, and the absolute poorest concession arrangements in the world. But once you climb the endless, steep ramps which get steeper and longer every year, carefully descend the steep, narrow steps with no hand rail and find your seat, Wrigley is aesthetically far superior to Fenway. Of course, Cubs management has transformed the ball field into a tourist attraction, an icon, to divert our attention away from the consistently mediocre baseball played on it for more than a century and counting. The traditional organ music accoutrement to baseball is, at Fenway, deplorable, almost painful, the most miserable I have ever heard. Before the game it sounded for all the world like someone practicing mushy old Sunday School hymns. During the game the organ playing was lifeless, banal. At the seventh inning stretch “Take me Out the Ballgame” was listless, anything but rousing. They play better baseball at Fenway, but we have a better organist.

Again our seats were six rows behind home plate, a thrilling up-close experience of the game, its speed and strength and grace. Two superb pitchers, Jake Peavy and Jake Arietta locked in a classic pitcher’s duel, the Cubs’ Arietta throwing a no hitter until with two outs in the bottom of the eighth the Red Sox finally broke it up. Typically irascible Boston fans gave him a standing ovation and the Cubs won, 2-0.

The boys continued their impressive assault on Fenway beer and hotdog concessions. I dropped out altogether: the oysters and Cuban sandwich: ham, melted cheese and pickles, maybe three inches thick, were still very much with me.
We exited with the sell out crowd and walked several blocks while the trip planner called an Uber Car which materialized out of the traffic to take us back to our hotel.
We convened in the hotel bar for one more night cap and to rehash the great baseball we had seen and the whole priceless experience.I enjoyed every minute of it, every part of it. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep as soon as I sat down in row 10 of my 8:50am United flight back to Chicago.

Comments

  1. Pam Byers says:

    What a very happy weekend, John – what a great celebration for you and your sons to share! Your description makes it sound fascinating even to this non-baseball fan – thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

  2. Jerry Johnson says:

    What a dream trip, John. Such a wonderful description, too. Thx for sharing.

  3. Robin Fletcher Winter says:

    Happy for you and the boys to have so much fun together! But how did the youngest get to be 50 already. All 3 were such cute little boys I babysat for!

  4. Don Hunt says:

    John, what a terrific experience and story well told. To say, I am jealous is an understatement. Thanks for sharing.

  5. David Fletcher says:

    John, what a blessing, eh? Loved reading and imagining how you all so enjoyed it.

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