A Grand Tour, in Nine Innings

A display of ballcaps relating to all nine stops on the tour. (via Shane Tourtellotte)

A display of ballcaps relating to all nine stops on the tour. (via Shane Tourtellotte)

Baseball is fertile ground for establishing traditions, and I have managed to create a baseball tradition of my own. Back in 2013, my friend and occasional collaborator Paul Golba went on a baseball tour, taking in four big-league ballparks, an experience I recounted at THT starting here.

We did the same in 2014, which I did not relate day-by-day, though I recounted our experience at the Field of Dreams here. Our 2015 trip included an all-day stop at Gettysburg, and contemplation of that battle likely influenced me in writing up my comparison of today’s ballplayers with Civil War generals later that year.

This year we did it again, and on the most ambitious scale yet. We began and ended in Asheville, N.C., taking in five major-league and four minor-league games in 10 days, along with a few side trips. Our games were in Asheville, Louisville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Arlington, Houston, Montgomery and Atlanta.

While I won’t cover the tour as minutely as I did in 2013, a couple of our stops deserved accounts, and they would come best in the context of the larger trip. So I am going to give you a gloss of a week-plus devoted to baseball and driving, not necessarily in that order.

I will leave the Single-A Asheville Tourists game from Friday, April 15 out of the narrative. It was so alike to the one that began our first Grand Tour—an extra-inning defeat for the home squad—that its account serves as a pretty close proxy. The rest of the tour, I will lay out day by day. But I’ll call the days “innings,” because that’s the type of goofiness that comes out of my brain after more than a week of gorging on baseball.

First Inning

Saturday, April 16, Louisville, Ky.
Toledo Mud Hens at Louisville Bats (Triple-A)

We made an early start on the road to Louisville, because we had more than a game to see. Play word association with your average baseball fan, and the word “Louisville” will almost certainly elicit the response “Slugger.” We embraced the link, and took the tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.

The museum, a fairly modest collection of displays and equipment, adjoins directly with the factory floor, not going full tilt that Saturday but still definitely in operation. We saw a demonstration of the old hand-lathing method of bat-making, alongside today’s computer-automated production system. They were making a batch for Evan Longoria that day, plus giveaway Alex Rodriguez bats for a Yankee Stadium promotion later this season.

At $14 apiece, it was maybe a little pricey, even considering the mini-bat souvenir you get to take home. Next door, though, there was a Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odd-itorium for our added enjoyment. (Robert L. Ripley was, among many other things, a baseball fan who put together his own team. There’s a video in the Louisville Slugger Museum involving him and Babe Ruth.) Some pleasantly bizarre stuff helped round out the experience, so no complaints.

Over at Louisville Slugger Field, Paul and I spied a statue outside the gates. One might have surmised it was on Pete Browning, the 19th-century heavy hitter who was the original Louisville slugger (and he is connected to the bat company). Except that the figure was captured in the act of fielding, and Browning’s fielding percentage was uncomfortably close to his batting average. Turned out it was Pee Wee Reese, local boy made good.

The opponent of the Louisville Bats (whose mascot is a bat of the winged mammal variety, swinging a bat of the wood variety) was the Toledo Mud Hens, Triple-A affiliate of Detroit. This brought me an unexpected windfall. Native to my hometown of Asheville is Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin, who suffered a broken hand in spring training. And here he was on a rehab assignment, leading off for the Mud Hens.

We didn’t set our schedule with this in mind: it just fell into my lap. So I had to do something with it, right? I summoned what little extroversion I possess, went to the first row behind the Mud Hens’ dugout as Maybin finished his outfield stretches, and called out to him as he came in. “We came out from Asheville to see you play,” I slightly lied as my conversation opener.

“That’s great. Enjoy the game.” Or words to that effect, as he disappeared inside.

A neighbor of mine, who knows Maybin rather better, says he’s going to give Cameron a hard time over this little brush-off next time he meets him. We’ll see, Bill. We’ll see.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

I wasn’t really put off by this, of course: maybe if I’d been wearing my reporter’s fedora with a “Press” card stuck in the hatband. So I sat down to watch a ball game. Cameron doubled and walked in five appearances, scoring twice, and had several outfield chances that got adventurous but never hazardous. Toledo erupted for five in the seventh and held on for an 8-6 win.

I was one of the few in the ballpark pleased by this conclusion, and I had hopes of better still, a few days down the line.

Second Inning

Sunday, April 17, St. Louis, Mo.
Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals

A late-night post-game drive from Louisville to Evansville, Ind., left us with a reasonably short morning run to St. Louis. We needed the early arrival. It was the biggest promotion on our trip’s calendar: Yadier Molina Replica Jersey Day.

One may judge the attachment of Cardinals fans to Yadi by the huge crowds around Busch Stadium as the gates opened. A Sunday game for a perennial contender should bring plentiful fans, but not all of them two hours before first pitch. To make sure of getting their Molina jersey before stocks ran out, though, a lot of folks adjusted their Sunday plans.

One may also judge Cardinals fans’ attachment to Yadier Molina by the full-throated, almost stadium-shaking cheers Yadi got in the pre-game ceremony. Rawlings was presenting him with his Gold and Platinum Gloves from the 2015 season, his eighth and fourth respectively. From that reception, I would hazard that No. 4 is going to be retired in St. Louis in 10 years or so. Should the Cards make it to the Series again before Molina departs, you can make that a near-cinch.

There was one hitch about giving Molina his big day on Sunday: it was a weekend day game. It didn’t fall after a night game, but manager Mike Matheny made the standard lineup move anyway. Yadier Molina did not start on Yadier Molina Jersey Day.

That duty went instead to backup catcher Eric Fryer. Fryer had gotten just three previous plate appearances this young season, spelling Molina late in three blowout games. He singled his lone time up in all three games, thus carrying an unblemished 1.000/1.000/1.000 line into play.

Naturally, I hoped that would continue. Seeing a “1.000” on the scoreboard, however early in the season, however obviously small the sample size, speaks to something within me. It spoke to Paul, too, and probably a little louder. He was more vocal in calling on Fryer to maintain his perfection.

Fryer surely didn’t hear either of us. It didn’t matter.

His first time up in the home second, he drove Jon Moscot’s 2-2 pitch into the right-field corner, driving Greg Garcia home to put St. Louis up 2-1. Two innings later, he singled to center. Two innings after that, he worked a five-pitch walk. Two innings after that, with the game knotted at three, his two-out double to the left-center gap drove Aledmys Diaz in from first to push the Cardinals ahead 4-3.

No, Eric Fryer could not maintain his 1.000/1.000/1.000 line. He ended up at 1.000/1.000/1.333. He defied gravity the whole day, and it was glorious. And his reward for perfection and clutch hitting was a seat on the bench.

The top of the ninth saw several substitutions and shifts, but the important one was Yadi coming out to catch the (hopefully) final three outs. An already celebratory crowd poured out its cheers for him, a fine bookend for his day. One groundout and two Trevor Rosenthal Ks later, and the crowd went home happy.

Except for those, like us, not going home.

Third Inning

Monday, April 18, Olathe, Kan.

Having driven 14 hours in the first two days, Monday was a rest day for us. We hit KC Joe’s Barbecue, a favorite of Paul’s (he takes a lot of business trips to Kansas City), got in some sightseeing of various fountains, then went to have dinner with the friends of Paul who were graciously putting us up for three nights. Driving through Olathe on the way back after that dinner, I saw signage on a passing building that activated my baseball memory.

You could learn a lot from Dummy.

You could learn a lot from Dummy.

I recognized the name, I told Paul and our hosts. There was a pitcher for the Giants early in the 20th century named Luther Taylor. Could it be …? It quickly turned out that it was. The gymnasium was connected to the Kansas State School for the Deaf, and Luther “Dummy” Taylor was a deaf-mute who attended that very school.

Luther Taylor is, quietly, one of my favorite players. He was only a middling pitcher, but a great character. He constantly baited umpires, in pantomime, sign language, or silent speaking. He taught most of his Giants teammates the manual alphabet, which they then used to give baseball signs. The rest of the league didn’t catch on for years, helping to keep New York in the first division throughout the decade.

So the one day on our schedule that wasn’t a baseball day ended with a baseball connection after all.

Top of the Fourth Inning

Tuesday, April 19, Kansas City, Mo.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

We took an early lunch at Arthur Bryant’s, another famous KC barbecue joint. It was early because that was the one time we could meet up with Sean Dolinar of FanGraphs. Sean was conducting his own baseball tour, and our schedules meshed that day in Kansas City. We talked baseball as much as we could between mouthfuls, and had a good time.

Shane and Sean, in that order.

Shane and Sean, in that order.

Consensus reached by our group: Theo Epstein only has to win a pennant with the Cubs, not a World Series, to punch his ticket to Cooperstown. Ending 86-year and 71-year curses will suffice; the 108-year curse isn’t mandatory.

From Arthur Bryant’s it was just a few blocks to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. From day one, this had been a centerpiece of our tour plan. Paul had seen it before, but I had not. It’s closed Mondays, like a surprising amount of places in Kansas City, so it was today or never. Wisely, we picked today.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

(The museum has a policy of no photography inside. With regrets, I respected this, so this is the only image I can give you from the stop.)

The museum packs a lot into rather a confined space. There’s an introductory film narrated by James Earl Jones (who, for someone who doesn’t actually care much for baseball, has gotten roped into a lot of baseball work). A walking timeline takes visitors from the Civil War Era through to the vanishing of the Negro Leagues in the 1950s (with a remnant lasting even into the ‘80s). Near the end is a faux locker room, each glassed-in locker containing a replica plaque (plus replica uniform and cap where appropriate) for every Negro Leagues figure in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Display walls are thick with photos, news clippings, playbills and much else from the era. Game memorabilia isn’t as common as it might be at Cooperstown or similar places, but it’s plentiful enough. The material there is ample to raise smiles—and at times much grimmer expressions—from any baseball fan.

Here, though, is where I’m forced to level a strong criticism. The material may be excellent, but the presentation is shockingly lacking. Signage at the museum is borderline amateurish. There are frequent misspellings, going well beyond the usual its/it’s trip-ups. Words are mis-spaced: you can sometimes see a word broken in mid-syllable between lines, without even a hyphen. In one egregious case on the historical timeline running below the displays, the name of author Zora Neale Hurston is spelled Nora, with the ‘N’ crudely scratched out and replaced.

It is beneath this museum, beneath the aspirations it meets in so many other ways. It’s bad enough to feed old-time prejudices about black Americans as functionally illiterate. I don’t know when this signage was implemented, but it cannot be replaced fast enough.

I cannot let this be the last impression I leave, so I’ll talk about the centerpiece of the museum. In a small space done up as a ballpark stand 10 statues of Negro League superstars, all in their places. Satchel Paige, naturally, is pitching, with Josh Gibson catching; the infield is Ray Dandridge at third, Judy Johnson at short, Pop Lloyd at second and Buck Leonard at first; Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston and Leon Day have the outfield, left to right, and Martin Dihigo is batting.

It’s a wonderful display, even if I do have a beef on the positioning. Pop Lloyd was so great at shortstop he was called “the black Honus Wagner”—and Wagner, his contemporary, said he felt complimented by the comparison. And he gets bumped off short? I say move Dandridge from the hot corner to second (which he did play a fair amount), give Judy Johnson third base, and put Pop back at short where he belongs.

See, that is the type of argument the museum should be sparking, not about proofreading!

Bottom of the Fourth Inning

Tuesday, April 19, Kansas City, Mo.
Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

George Brett’s 3000th hit, ball and bat. Observe the extent of the pine tar: he spent the last decade of his career trolling the Yankees.

George Brett’s 3000th hit, ball and bat. Observe the extent of the pine tar: he spent the last decade of his career trolling the Yankees.

My anticipation of this game had been heightened for three days, ever since I saw Cameron Maybin’s name on the scoreboard in Louisville. If his rehab assignment ended quickly enough, he could be called up to the parent club and play in this game. I’d get to see him twice in four days, when I hadn’t been expecting to see him at all.

So much for my imaginative ideas. Maybin was still with Toledo. In fact, he’d still be with them four days later, when a diving catch aggravated an offseason shoulder injury. (Shoveling in Asheville is snow joke. You may commence booing.) His DL time got extended, and an unfortunate reputation for fragility was further cemented.

So instead I just got to watch a Royals game. I got to watch the fountains beyond the outfield fences; I got to hear long-enduring fans pour out love and appreciation for their champions; I got to see the defending World Series winners pile up a big lead that their vaunted bullpen was not quite able to hand away.

By the end, I was not missing Cameron Maybin at all. Possibly the Tigers, 8-6 losers, were.

Fifth Inning

Wednesday, April 20, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Memphis Redbirds at Oklahoma City Dodgers (Triple-A)

Perhaps the signature ornament of today’s major league ballparks is the baseball statue. Stars of the past cast in metal (or occasionally other materials), singly or in packs, grace a large majority of big league stadiums. Given the economics of the game, you’d expect rather fewer at minor-league venues. The one statue at Louisville Slugger Field seemed reasonable, if slightly disappointing.

The plate is Bench’s home. You’re just visiting it.

The plate is Bench’s home. You’re just visiting it.

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City sniffs at those limitations. Warren Spahn greets you outside the first-base gate, while Johnny Bench stands, aptly, outside home plate. To get to Mickey Mantle’s statue near the third-base entrance (on Mickey Mantle Drive), you walk past busts of other prominent Oklahoman ballplayers: the Waner Brothers, Carl Hubbell, Bullet Joe Rogan, and more. Ringing the Mantle statue are pavestones impressed with the handprints of many of his old Yankee teammates, reminiscent of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. (Turns out Yogi Berra had pretty small hands for a catcher.)

Oklahomans, it seems, are very proud of their native son ballplayers. Given the strength of the lineup, they have ample cause.

Inside the park wasn’t bad, either. A broad concourse, variety of concessions, plus a VIP club with an exterior graced by images of Dodgers, the L.A. and Brooklyn kinds. Kirk Gibson, Don Drysdale, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider … and Vin Scully to greet you at the door. It was surely for this reason that, through much of the game, I had a certain golden voice running through my head, calling the action.

This was good for two reasons, aside from it being Vin Scully. One was that it made a fairly lopsided game in the visiting Redbirds’ favor pass more pleasantly. The other is that it provided a counterweight to the hecklers who were near us in our seats, front row beyond third base.

They picked out two targets on the Memphis team. First was the third-base coach, Mike Shildt. The surname itself suggests some of the heckling content. Other portions were influenced by the capital D on the coach’s back being tough to distinguish from an O—at least for these folks.

The other was third baseman Matt Williams. Despite the same name and position as the former player and very former Nationals manager, he is apparently no relation. He was constantly warned by our voluble neighbors to be on his toes, despite (or due to) never being involved in a defensive play all night. They also got on a nervous habit he had of adjusting his belt. If Williams shed a few pounds in spring training, the move was backfiring on him that evening.

It was a relatively harmless display, with no true malice displayed. I admit to being entertained by it sometimes, though the lack of game tension helped produce that reaction. Reactions to the heckling did not extend to the field. Not once did coach or player make the slightest acknowledgment of the chatter being directed at them. Mr. Williams, Mr. Shildt, your heads were in the game, and I salute you for it.

Besides which, they won, so who had the last laugh?

Sixth Inning

Thursday, April 21, Arlington, Texas
Houston Astros at Texas Rangers

The theme of this day was “free.” It began with our pre-game diversion, to fill the hours not taken up by the fairly short drive south. And I thought Texas was supposed to be big.

With not very much to do in the Dallas/Ft. Worth/Arlington area, and the Texas Schoolbook Depository feeling ghoulish, we went to take the tour at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. That’s where the U.S. government prints roughly half its paper money, but charges you none to come visit. (They do their extracting at the gift shop.) It’s a lot more interesting and edifying than you would expect—but the security is exactly what you’d expect. No devices that can take pictures, and you go through the scanning machines in a different building before you’re driven over to where the printing happens.

If there’s ever a remake of Goldfinger, it’s happening here instead of Fort Knox.

For the game, Paul had gotten us first-row seats in the right-field home run porch. The price of admission also got us access to an all-you-can-eat buffet indoors, a good steep climb from our seats. It was nothing fancy—wieners and chicken sandwiches, popcorn and peanuts—but for travelers who had missed lunch to look at more money than even ballclub owners will ever have, it suited us just fine.

Before that, though, came the big freebie. We were alone in our section as batting practice was ending. Just before departing the field, one of the Houston Astros in the outfield looked up and behind him, spied Paul, asked if he wanted the ball, and tossed it up. It went over Paul’s head, hitting a seat, and Paul promptly caught the ricochet. Granted, it was a spring training ball—they wouldn’t use the brand-new ones in BP—but it was still the first baseball he had ever gotten at a professional game. (He had too many chances in college for that to count.)

I won’t say he lorded it over me the rest of the game. That would not quite be accurate.

The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by a man you’ve never heard of: Cleatus Lebow. This ancient gentleman, wheeled onto the field, was a survivor of the sinking of USS Indianapolis at the end of World War II. (If you don’t know the terrible tale of the Indianapolis, read something about it here. Or a hundred other places. Or watch Jaws for a slightly embellished telling.) Fewer than two dozen of the 317 survivors are still alive, the youngest pushing 90. Lebow could barely rise from his wheelchair to lob the baseball a few feet. He still got tremendous cheers: I wasn’t remotely the only one there who knew the story.

A couple minutes later, the national anthem played. Mr. Lebow stood up straight for that.

The balls we were hoping to get, the true game balls, never came our way. The game had four homers, but nothing to our porch. Houston’s Colby Rasmus had two in a losing cause, and I got to watch Adrian Beltre take one deep, his third hit of the night. The Hall of Fame is on his horizon, and I got to watch him take a few strides its way. That’s worth the price of admission. That and free hot dogs.

Texas roughed up Dallas Keuchel for six runs in six innings. Keuchel actually had better FIP stats than Rangers starter A.J. Griffin, a better grounder/fly ratio, and way more swinging strikes, but batted balls dropped to the tune of 13 hits against him. Keuchel’s had a rough start, but the deeper numbers give Astros fans some legitimate hope that he’ll right the ship.

I wrote that on April 28. I hope he’s proven me right since then. If not, oh well. My opinion was worth the price you paid for it: free.

Seventh Inning

Friday, April 22, Houston, Texas
Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

About an hour north of Houston, in Huntsville, Texas, you will find the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. Deciding not to visit the crumbling Astrodome or to shell out heavily for the Johnson Space Center, Paul and I made this our tourist stop of the day. It was a good experience for the five bucks apiece, and probably the only place you’ll ever get to see General Santa Anna’s silver chamberpot. (When enemy soldiers take you prisoner, they take everything.)

One historical fact I picked up there involved the start of Texas’ war of independence against Mexico. Mexican forces advanced on the town of Gonzales, with orders to confiscate a small cannon the settlers had. When push came fully to shove, the Texans unfurled a battle flag: a lone star over a silhouette of the cannon in dispute, and underneath the words “Come and Take It.” The Mexicans soon withdrew, and the flag became legend.

Replica of the Gonzales flag, complete with replica damage. (via Daniel Mayer)

Replica of the Gonzales flag, complete with replica damage. (via Daniel Mayer)

I was on the way to forgetting this nugget of trivia until the middle of the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were getting pasted, 6-1, by the Red Sox, but hopeless odds just have a way of getting Texans madder. (C.f. the Alamo.) Among other rallying gestures brought out was the flag carried around the diamond by Astros mascot Orbit. It was the Astros’ logo—an H upon a star—over a silhouette of a baseball bat that looked awfully similar to a certain old cannon. And yes, “Come and Take It” was printed beneath, even though I don’t believe a victorious team has ever confiscated the losers’ bats.

Half a day before, I would have had no idea what that flag was all about. Thanks to our afternoon detour, I did. But while Houston did manage to get the tying run on deck, Craig Kimbrel entered to record the final out, and Houston’s early skid continued.

It was a rough night overall for the Astros. With the David Ortiz farewell tour rolling into town, the stands had a thick leavening of Boston fans. Several “Let’s Go Red Sox” chants arose that evening, without getting decisively drowned out by the hometown folks.

For the record, Ortiz’s farewell gift from Houston was a genuine black Stetson. Far be it from a Yankees fan like me to compliment any Red Sox, ever, but I must admit Big Papi looked wick-ad good in that hat.

Also for the record, we were in home run territory again: the famous Crawford Boxes in left. Again, no longballs sought us out. Or anybody else: it was a homerless game.

There were fireworks after the game, but we saw them only from a distance, walking back to our parking garage. We had a long way to go, and a short time to get there.

Eighth Inning

Saturday, April 23, Montgomery, Ala.
Jacksonville Suns at Montgomery Biscuits (Double-A)

This was the “Cannonball Run” portion of our trip: getting from a Friday night game in Houston to a Sunday afternoon game in Atlanta, preferably with a game somewhere in between. Montgomery was the best locale that had a game that day, but that city is something like nine hours driving away from Houston. Our best solution was to drive an hour west to Beaumont after the Astros game, wake up early, and hope nothing went wrong along the way.

Not only did nothing go wrong, we beat our pre-trip estimate. We were able to check into our Montgomery hotel and get a few minutes of rest before going to Riverwalk Stadium. My insistence on an extra-early start didn’t do much but deprive us of a little shut-eye. Sorry about that.

Riverwalk Stadium, as far as I saw, is not close by a river. (Perhaps I didn’t walk far enough.) It is by railroad tracks, both working, as several passing trains during the game demonstrated, and abandoned, such as those running through the lot where we parked. Part of the stadium itself (the first-base side) is built into an old train shed. This was done by the famed HOK architectural firm that designed most of the modern wave of big-league parks, from Camden Yards onward.

(They are known as Populous now, because when your name becomes synonymous with creative excellence, you can’t get rid of the connection fast enough.)

I have no idea how the Montgomery team got called the Biscuits. Yes, I could look it up, but that would be cheating. I can confirm that you can buy biscuits at the ballpark, alone or with sausage or chicken. They’ll do, but I’ll remember the fresh-squeezed limeade more fondly.

The game was great fun. Multiple homers (including one caught on the concourse ringing the park); back-and-forth scoring; a crazy rundown; the visiting manager arguing one play on and on until he just had to be ejected; a late Montgomery rally to pull ahead followed by a Jacksonville reply in the ninth that kept the game exciting until the final out.

We even had fireworks afterward, which this time we got to watch, once two passing trains had cleared the tracks. Good, but just good. Maybe playing kids’ TV theme songs during the show hurt my impression. I understand the thinking, but fireworks are for everyone, not just children. Or perhaps the pyrotechnics during the game put those overhead in the shade.

Ninth Inning

Sunday, April 24, Atlanta, Ga.
New York Mets at Atlanta Braves

As we were set to attend this game, the backdrop was very clearly the decision by the Braves to move to Cobb County, something which our own Chris Gigley detailed here a week ago. I myself was nonplussed at a team abandoning a facility just 20 years old, and rather grouchy at Cobb County for ponying up so much taxpayer money to expedite the move. I held back from the more sinister interpretations, however. I wasn’t close enough to the matter to go that far. On April 24, I did get closer.

I splurged this day for excellent seats behind home plate, which came with admission to the 755 Club that looms over left field. The 755 is pretty snazzy, much more so than our Rangers’ Globe Life buffet, and thankfully cool and shaded on a warm and sunny day. Paul and I had lunch on the long outside porch—and here we’ll chip in on Eno Sarris’s recent compilation of food reviews across the majors. The Kevin Rathbun steak sandwich is, if anything, better than its reputation.

Not long into our 755 sojourn, it struck me: all the employees there, I think without exception, were black. Later, down in our almost-on-TV seats, most of the ushers I saw working the aisles were also black. Had I not been too well fed to cruise the concession stands, I think I would have found much the same thing.

I am not given to crying “racism.” It is too potent an accusation to fling loosely, and I will not do it here. But I could not help thinking of this workplace raising stakes and moving away from these folks, many of whom may not be able to follow it. It’s a disservice to them, and if some people are calling it more, I see more clearly now how they reached that conclusion.

On the other hand … Paul and I departed after a post-game concert, for which a third to a half of the game’s 32,000 attendees stayed. (Paul was the interested party. I lost my taste for current music sometime in my mid-20s, and never mind how long ago that was.) Traffic leaving the lots was very slow, but surely nothing our on-board GPS navigator couldn’t handle. Except that, after a number of diversions from blocked-off streets, the voice giving us directions couldn’t handle it.

“Make a …”
“Keep …”
“In …”
Until it just gave up for a while.

Paul and I have been in ballgame jams before: Yankee Stadium more than once; Sunday Night Baseball at Citizens Bank Park. There wasn’t one worse, or lasting longer, than this. Mind you, this came with a majority of the well-below-sellout crowd having left 90 minutes earlier, into Sunday evening traffic which generally isn’t heavy to begin with.

One of the main lines of argument that Atlanta management gave for the move was the difficulty in getting to and from the urban ballpark. If this is the kind of traffic snarl the Braves regularly experience at Turner Field, I see more clearly now why a new park a county or so away would seem so desirable.

So my day in Atlanta got me to see both sides more clearly, leading me to sympathize more with … both of them. It doesn’t help me choose sides in the argument. It just makes me regret more that there had to be such a clash of interests, and wish some solution that benefited both sides could have been reached—if there was such a solution.

As for the game itself, the Mets weren’t trying at full strength. Yoenis Cespedes was day-to-day and not playing, David Wright had the day off, and so did primary catcher Travis d’Arnaud (this was before his rotator cuff strain). And it almost cost them.

Atlanta pulled even after five, but after falling behind 3-1 in the sixth didn’t show much the next three frames. In the home ninth, though, against closer Jeurys Familia, they got the stadium rocking. Kelly Johnson’s leadoff hit was followed by two outs, but then Jeff Francoeur, butt of so many sabermetricians’ jokes, grounded a hit to pull his team within one. Nick Markakis’s dinky infield grounder, that Asdrubal Cabrera couldn’t do anything with, put the winning run on base.

No, Daniel Castro didn’t deliver anything but a groundout to second. That was okay. We had gotten our nail-biter finish, to the game and to the tour. Even after a surfeit of baseball over a week-plus that left us wobbly, a game involving the worst team in the majors had given it a memorable exclamation point.

A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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6 years ago

Wish I could have gone with you.