The Grand Tour, part four

Earlier installments of this series can be found here, here, and here.

Pennsylvania is not a very big state—nobody from Texas on west is going to be impressed by its size—but it’s a pretty broad state, especially for two people trying to drive across it in much less than one day. That meant a pretty early start, not much lingering for lunch, and not many extra-curriculars before we hit the ballpark. We weren’t actually rushed, but we were aware of time.

I did have another experience like the previous day’s: a ballfield by the highway, and a game under way. This one wasn’t professional, just a bunch of adults, some looking older, playing ball early on a Sunday afternoon. Blur out the clothing details, and it could almost have been a scene from a hundred years ago. Almost, because Sunday baseball was still banned in Pennsylvania back then. Or maybe that’s just if you charged admission.

We got to our hotel, out on Industrial Highway near the airport. Gotta economize somewhere. The room was about as far from the lobby as the dimensions of the building allowed. Maximum inconvenience, which wasn’t actually that inconvenient. At least the takeoff and landing vectors weren’t anywhere near us: I don’t think we heard an airplane all the time we were there.

There wasn’t time for outside sight-seeing, which suited me: I saw Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell a dozen years ago. It was straight to the ballpark, to be there when the gates opened. They let fans into the left-field stands early for batting practice, and Paul still had the ball-hawking itch.

It was here that our navigation program began letting us down. TomTom had been directing us between cities very well, but in the tangle of streets near Citizens Bank Park things got confused pretty fast. Put two turns very close together, and it doesn’t efficiently direct you to one over the other. This led to unexpected detours.

Paul began speaking back to the automated voice, called Samantha. (He had used Mr. Burns from The Simpsons early in the trip, but Burns doesn’t do street names, and that’s lousy for navigation.) His tone was that of a stern parent toward a wayward child, so he needed a middle name to deliver the full chiding effect. This is how our navigation software became Samantha Daisy TomTom.

Samantha Daisy did get us to our parking lot, one we had bypassed some minutes before. Now she would have several hours to sit by herself and think about it.

Game 4: April 21, 2013
St. Louis Cardinals at Philadelphia Phillies
Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Attendance: 35,115

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The one place where standing in front of a pitching Steve Carlton is a good idea.

Both of us had visited Citizens Bank Park before, years back. Then, we had seats in the right-field stands. Tonight, we were behind home plate. Not low enough that we’d be getting on ESPN (this was their Sunday night game), but still a very good central location. Paul did some great work getting our tickets.

We had a half-hour before left field opened, so Paul joined me on my statue-seeking circuit of the park. There’s one statue out in the parking lot of a generic batter, which didn’t do much for me. Specific players are way more fun. Take Steve Carlton over to the side. He’s rared back, scowling, looking ready to brain you with the ball he’s about to throw. What’s not to love?

It took easily half a counter-clockwise tour of the exterior to find our next statue, Robin Roberts. This one took an unusual twist: he was done in black and white. As he pitched in an era when almost all the video you would have of him came from monochrome newsreels or fuzzy little home TV’s that hadn’t discovered color yet, it makes a kind of sense. If you have this historical perspective, it’s a bold choice. If you’re a kid who doesn’t know 1950′s TV, it’s just going to be weird.

Next was Mike Schmidt, captured in full follow-through, the “20″ on his back stretched diagonally from the torque on his swing. Nice detail, that. His statue stood across the walkway from a 20-foot-tall inflated Phillie Phanatic. Why am I including a shot of the mascot rather than the Hall-of-Famer? Because one of them would figure prominently before the game began, and it wasn’t Mike.

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The Phillie Phanatic, or an inphlatable phacsimile thereoph.

Set off from the stadium, back toward the parking lot, I spied another statue, presumably moved over from Veterans Stadium and likely even Shibe Park. It was the Tall Tactician himself, Connie Mack. As Paul and I did the honors by taking our photos, someone came along to loudly opine on what an SOB Mack was. This can’t be a regular feature at the park, or there would have been someone else for at least Carlton. And maybe the Phanatic.

We settled down on line outside the gate—where I got my first and only security pat-down of the tour. I don’t care if this might have been standing policy before the Boston Marathon: I’m still blaming the Tsarnaevs.

Paul headed to the left-field stands, and I ended up following. Here I had my second pleasant revelation of the trip. All our previous games had been under overcast skies, any sun that peeked through diminished by approaching dusk. This was the first time I had seen one of the fields bathed in sunlight. The grass was perfect, cross-hatched by the passage of the mowers, bright and green and superbly maintained. Players talked and shagged flies, at home in their natural environment.

I had needed that sight.

Paul picked himself a spot, and I found one for myself, in the aisle a few rows behind the fence. Not too much was reaching us, but some dingers were going to right field, and staff in Philadelphia livery who were the only ones allowed there. One shot went well to Paul’s left, and he had no real chance. I stayed loose, eyeing the space between the rows of seats, keeping lateral mobility in mind.

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Spring officially arrives. (Offer not valid in Colorado or Minnesota.)

Another long shot came in, directly in line with me. Gloveless, I had my Phillies cap off as a makeshift, but I was feeling defenseless, about to freeze. The crisis didn’t quite arrive: the ball thumped into the planter just below the first row of seats, and someone from the families lining the edge claimed it.

Not long after, another ball headed for the seats, close to the pole. Lateral mobility! I moved between rows, not fast enough to reach it on the fly. But it looked likely to ricochet, and if it went the right way, I could have an easy cap-trap.

It went one of the many other ways. Soon after, Cardinals were in the outfield, and Phillies BP broke up. We had lost the lottery for the day.

I had briefly explored Ashburn Alley behind the outfield at Citizens Bank Park in my previous visit, and was even more pleased the second time. It’s named after Phillies star player and broadcaster Richie Ashburn, who naturally has a statue of himself running through a base, presumably beating out an infield hit. Another standout attraction there is Memory Lane, three long photo-collages of Philadelphia baseball history, generously including the Athletics and the Negro Leagues. The history stops in 2003, their last year at Veterans Stadium. Too bad: they’ve made some nice history since then.

Beyond left field stands Harry the K’s Broadcast Bar & Grille, after the recently departed broadcaster Harry Kalas. He gets his own statue, too: leaning on a bat, microphone in hand, beaming a smile. You’re missed, Harry.

The corner of the Alley past right field has The Games of Baseball area. There’s a trivia game, and Phanatic races, getting your color of mascot around the bases first. Centered there is something a little less for the kids: Bull’s BBQ, named after Greg “The Bull” Luzinski. If you remember how beefy he was, you can imagine the stuff they sell.

Paul went for Bull’s right away. I, both trying to conserve money and stick with my plan, went for something more conventional.

Comparing Wieners: Hatfield Phillie Franks Jumbo Hot Dog ($5.75)
This was like my hot dog in Pittsburgh, only more so: pricier, bigger, juicier, and stayed warmer longer. A solid entry, though Asheville’s footlong still held the lead. For his part, Paul got himself a “Bull Dog,” which was really a bratwurst in a bun. That wouldn’t have been a fair fight, so I’m glad I refrained. (Though Paul still said the Asheville dog came out ahead. Adopted hometown, represent!)

I did my standard tour of the concourse. Very broad, very high-ceilinged, more open to the field but less to the outside. Trash can location was better here than elsewhere: I found some on the inner perimeter rather than midway or beyond. I also appreciated the restrooms being very clearly marked.

It was on the concourse that I deduced that something unusual was afoot. Off to one side were about half a dozen people, mostly women, dressed in Tudor-style royal outfits. They seemed to be ignoring the guy wearing the giant Jack Nicholson head. Not long afterward, I happened across a trio of cavemen.

Luckily, I had the two to put together with this two. The night was already promoted as the Phillie Phanatic’s birthday, and somewhere around Ashburn Alley I had spotted something about the imminent release of a DVD called Time Travelin’ Phanatic. I suspected embarrassing promotion was on the way, and boy, was I ever right.

The birthday party was set up as a Hollywood premiere (which would explain the red carpet I spotted near Mike Schmidt’s statue: another piece of the puzzle!). The various characters out of time were from the movie itself, and it turned out the royalty was meant to be Queen Elizabeth I and her court. There was another queen along for the ride, Cleopatra, whom Paul noted due to her strong nose more closely resembled the genuine article than most women portraying her.

Big-headed Jack was there as well, along with a few other faux stars. The big-head represented as Marilyn Monroe looked more to me like Dolly Parton, and looked more to Paul like Phyllis Diller masquerading as Dolly Parton. Lacking the giant artificial head was some palooka in a gray sweatsuit and black woolen cap who was being passed off as Rocky Balboa, and actually being accepted by the crowd as such.

I swear I am not making this up. I write science fiction, but crazy stuff like this is beyond me.

There was cake and singing and highlights from Time Travelin’ Phanatic, but I won’t go into more detail because my brain is already reeling. (Well, okay: he taught the cavemen baseball.) Suffice it to say that for one night, the Phillies’ ballpark was cornier than Ray Kinsella’s.

Baseball, in 2013 only

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First pitch. Wacky fact: batter Jon Jay’s nickname is “The Federalist.” Checking … nope, Josh Hamilton‘s middle name is not “Alexander.”

St. Louis attacked starter Kyle Kendrick early. Matt Carpenter‘s homer lined into right was only part of it. Cardinals batters worked Kendrick deep, making him throw 33 pitches to only five batters in the first.

Jake Westbrook opened the game on the hill for the Cardinals, his record at 1-1 with a 0.00 ERA. Jimmy Rollins greeted this incongruity with a gapper to left-center, sliding under a high throw for a triple. He’s been studying under Shin-Soo Choo! John Mayberry walked, and Chase Utley grounded one through the hole where Matt Adams was holding Mayberry on. Tie score, runners at the corners, none down, and Westbrook’s ERA no longer clashed with his won-lost record.

Ryan Howard boomed a fly to center, 20 feet short of the 401′ marker, advancing both runners and pushing Philly ahead. Michael Young flied out to left, for the easy 7-4 double play. Easy, because Utley apparently lost track of the outs (or less likely the ball) and ran full-tilt through third for home. If he’s lucky, that’ll cost Chase 20 bucks in kangaroo court. If he’s not, they’ll make him screen Time Travelin’ Phanatic in its entirety.

Keeping with one pattern for our trip, it was very cool again. Keeping with the other pattern, I felt a couple drops from the sky. Not more rain! But there was no more, and Paul hypothesized that someone had spilled a little beer from the upper deck. Not likely: it’s set too far back.

Down past our section, in the seats you get to see on TV, there were some big-screen TVs showing the ESPN broadcast of our game. It was running several seconds behind the live events, which I guess helps if you missed something. I recall the bleachers at new Yankee Stadium having their big-screens out there, where they might actually help fans see some action better. If you’re in the first row behind the plate, and need video assistance to follow the game, I think you have overpaid for your ticket.

The scoring settled down, even if the game didn’t. St. Louis put their first two aboard in the second, and while they didn’t tally, they did get Kendrick’s pitch count up to 53. Kyle got back in control in the third, retiring the Birds in order on just 10 pitches. In the home third, Mayberry grounded a single past Westbrook’s attempted skate save, and stole second without a throw. Utley fanned on a full count, though, to strand him.

Again in the fourth, St. Louis got their first two on. The second was on an Adams bloop that fell in front of Domonic Brown, who played the ball at less than full speed. The boos poured down upon him, something like what Paul thought happened with my “rain.” Kendrick froze Freese for a K, then induced a fly to left. Brown caught it, to cheers of derisory long length. Kendrick escaped, but now he had thrown 83 over four.

Ryan Howard had been driving balls the opposite way to left field in BP. He did it again here on a 2-0 pitch, missing just foul. He adjusted and singled to right, but Michael Young‘s DP erased him.

In the fifth, Kendrick reasserted control with a 10-pitch frame. The home half began with Erik Kratz getting a big rise out of the crowd with a deep fly to right-center, but it was an out all the way. I wasn’t one of the cheerers: I was finally training myself to follow outfielders rather than the ball on flies. Rollins squeezed one through the hole to right, but Mayberry looked hacky striking out. Still 2-1 Phillies through five.

Allen Craig opened the sixth with a base hit, and the bullpen started working. Yadier Molina went down looking, but Adams inside-outed a dunker double down the left-field line. No shame in Brown not getting that one. Freese’s grounder to third tied it at two.

Then Pete Kozma singled to right, and the madness began. Mayberry threw to cutoff man Howard who, once he saw Adams wasn’t going home, threw to second to try to get Kozma. They couldn’t do it, but they then threw on to third, hoping to nab Adams off the bag. They couldn’t do it. After that, Jake Westbrook, batting for himself, tried to get on with a bunt. There were two outs, so I am hoping he was bunting for a hit. A nice try, but it didn’t quite work.

Between innings, the scoreboard screen showed various patrons. One of them was a rotund man with white hair and a full white beard, dressed in red and white. He got a sustained round of cheers from the fans. I, of course, know my Philadelphia sports history. “That can’t be Santa Claus,” I told Paul. “They’re not booing him.”

For the home sixth, Utley got an even bigger response than Not Santa with a ground-rule double to center. Howard’s grounder moved him over. Westbrook walked the next two, as the bullpen got going. Then Ben Revere grounded into the 6-3 twin killing. Rally dies; crowd boos. Welcome back to Philadelphia.

The Phillie Phanatic was joined atop the home dugout by QEI and her court. I will just note for the record Paul’s observation that Good Queen Bess and company can really boogie down, and leave it at that.

Kendrick was finally gone after six, and everybody’s favorite naughty-surnamed reliever, Antonio Bastardo, came in. Chase Utley greeted his teammate by throwing a grounder to the wall for a two-base error. Carpenter bunted Jon Jay over, Carlos Beltran walked, and we got to see Chad Durbin instead. The dirty language probably continued, as Allen Craig got the go-ahead hit through the 5.5 hole and Molina walked to pack the sacks. Durbin dug out of the hole, as Adams struck out looking and Freese’s liner found Howard’s glove.

Get up and stretch! That is, stretch “God Bless America” into the longest, most self-indulgent rendition I have ever weathered. That woman’s going to be at McCormick Field the next time I’m at a Tourists game, I can tell. Then we got “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and I felt better.

Kratz began the seventh with a single that Westbrook again tried, again unsuccessfully, to skate-save. With lefty Laynce Nix pinch-hitting, Westbrook gave way to Martin Brodeur Fernando Salas. Who is likewise a righty. Mike Matheny is not slavishly following Tony LaRussa‘s playbook—and here it cost him. On the 10th pitch, Nix shot one to the left-field gap for two bases and the tying RBI. Salas and Randy Choate shut down the rally there, but we were 3-3, with two—or more—to play.

St. Louis couldn’t do anything against Mike Adams in the eighth, and they sent Mitchell Boggs to the mound for the Phillies half. Paul expressed his lack of full confidence in Boggs, but to be fair, he did get one out before the deluge. Michael Young grounded one off Boggs’ glove that Carpenter couldn’t run down in time. Delmon Brown lined one to center, and Ben Revere went up the middle, past Boggs’ upraised glove, to plate Young.

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Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for Erik Kratz.

Then Erik Kratz rang the bell! Down the left-field line, a three-run home run. The giant Liberty Bell past right-center swung and tolled twice in celebration. (They should have it ring once for every run the tater drives in. Or would that be rubbing it in?)

That was effectively the end. As Paul was observing, “They should play more day games in April,” the Phillies did get a couple more hits off Mark Rzepczynski without another tally. Jonathan Papelbon came on for the non-save. “Umpire’s cold,” Paul observed after a dubious strike call. Yadier finally ended it with a swinging strikeout. It was the widest margin of victory so far on our tour, four runs, but still the best game that didn’t involve between-inning underwear races.

We got out of the parking lot, and into a heated car, in good order. As for the rest—Samantha Daisy Tomtom! Another miscommunication between two nearby turns, and almost before we knew it we were across the Delaware and in New Jersey. My old home state. I thought I might never set foot in New Jersey again.

Still haven’t. Getting out of our car in an unknown Philadelphia suburb in the dead of night is not on our lists of warranted risks. We made it back to our hotel without much further misadventure, another good game under our belts. One more to go, this one in the godfather of all modern ballparks: Camden Yards.

Tomorrow: The only fitting way we could end this tour.

Note: The concluding installment will be/is available at this link.

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Comments

  1. Erich said...

    Umm, Delmon Young hadn’t been called up yet. So its unlikely you saw him fly into a double play. Perhaps that was Michael Young.

  2. Greg Simons said...

    Erich – Thanks for pointing this out.  It was Michael Young, not Delmon Young, and the error has been corrected.

  3. Paul G. said...

    The other thing notable about the hotel was the interior décor seemed to have been designed by someone in the 1970s, or by someone so high that he thought it was the 1970s, who also had a deep obsession with brown.  Now, I’m not sure if it was Jim Lileks Interior Desecrations worthy or simply an also ran in the world of bad wallpaper, but walking down the hallway on our floor was somewhat analogous to exploring the colon of a hippie.  Despite this the hotel was actually quite nice, plus it was next to a Denny’s so we could get our bacon awesomeness requirement for the next day’s breakfast.

    Also present at the movie premiere: Jack Sparrow.  The lookalike they found for him actually looked like Jack, including the mannerisms, but when they had him talk he didn’t sound like the good pirate captain at all.  In contrast the Rocky Balboa imitator sounded a bit more like the real thing – if “real thing” even makes sense – but otherwise was a walking cliché that somehow thought wearing a hoodie, raising his arms in the “V” formation, and randomly spitting out “YO!  ADRIAN!” was sufficient for the part.  Now if you wanted to see someone doing some real acting, look no further than the cavemen.  I was in the concourse when they made their formal entry into the stadium and they remained in character, grunting at those all around while they half-walked, half-knuckle dragged to the elevators.  One of them armed with a wiffle ball bat actually climbed on top of one of the food concession counters in search of victuals and frightened the female vendor half to death.  Now that is acting!

    And for those of you not familiar with New Jersey, directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia is the City of Camden.  Camden boasts the state aquarium, the battleship USS New Jersey, and a minor league ballpark.  Outside of that three block riverfront you do not want to be in the city during the day, much less at night.  (Seriously, a police officer advised my brother that if he ever got lost in Camden that he should run the red lights and get out of there ASAP.)  So needless to say I was just a bit nervous with our wrong turn.  Fortunately we ended up in nearby Brooklawn and beat a hasty retreat.  On the way back we ended up on a bridge under construction – half of Philly appeared to be under construction – that was limited to one lane with about 3 inches of clearance from the barriers on either side and was going up on a steep angle like the initial climb of a roller coaster.  We nicknamed it the trench run.  Hey, if you are going to get lost at least get an amusing story out of it, I say.

    • said...

      Im pleased as punch I made it into your “also present…” addendum.
      You shoulda joined us this past monday when our brethren from Pittsburgh plundered one from the phillies (Sept 8th, 2014).
      What a beautiful sight it was to behold. Nary brought a tear to me eye!

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