Two Guys & a Map
The Big Apple Mini Tours
Part I: Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes It Rains
DC grew up on Long Island and over the years has made many trips to Yankee Stadium. Dave had been there a few times as well but we’d never been there on an organized Two Guys trip. We had planned on going there as part of the 1998 Two Guys and a Mapholder tour but couldn’t work it in that time and had never gotten around to it.
But in 2006 the Yankees broke ground on a new Yankee Stadium, to be built across the street from the existing stadium and scheduled to open in 2009. So when the 2008 season rolled around, we knew we had to get to the original. The New York Mets were also getting a new park in 2009, so we came up with a mini-trip that would get us to both Yankee Stadium and the Mets home, Shea Stadium. Since it has to be on an organized trip to count as a Two Guys visit, we decided to throw in Nationals Park, the new home of the Washington Nationals, which opened in March of 2008.
So, less than two weeks after we returned from the If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be The Giants Tour, we set out on the first of our two mini-trips for 2008. We’d spent a lot of time on airplanes on the earlier trip – this time we drove, starting out for New York before sunrise on May 8.
The trip got off to an unfortunate start – one of Dave’s co-workers, a huge baseball fan who had never been to Yankee Stadium, was scheduled to join us for our first game, then head home while we continued on. But a family emergency came up suddenly and at the last minute, he had to cancel.
We got up to New York and parked the car, then headed up to Yankee Stadium on the D Train. New York’s subway system may be old but it can take you anywhere you want to go in the city and get you there quickly. It’s a much better way to get around New York than driving.
The first thing we saw upon exiting the subway was the new Yankee Stadium rising up across the street. The Yankees have taken great care to make sure the new one incorporates many of the features that made the original Yankee Stadium unique.
We had hit the road so early because we wanted to have enough time to visit Monument Park, where the Yankee retired numbers and monuments to several key personnel (players, managers and executives) are located. Yankee Stadium has undergone several facelifts over the years. The left center field of Yankee Stadium used to be so deep that the monuments were actually on the field but in the early 1970s the fences were moved in, making balls that reached Monument Park home runs instead of very long outs or doubles.
We did manage to get in. It is indeed an impressive place and when you walk through there, you get a real sense of how historic this particular ballpark is.
At one point Dave heard snatches of a phone conversation from the person sitting behind him. The caller was comparing the New York subway with that of his hometown and mentioned the Ballston stop – which is on the Washington D.C. Metro system. Dave struck up a conversation with him and found that for the second time on a Two Guys trip, he had met a person in a ballpark from Arlington, VA, a town not far from his home in Springfield.
As we walked back after the show, we looked up at the Empire State Building, which was only a block from our hotel. Dave had never been up in it at night, so we decided to check it out. There was hardly any line so we were able to get up to the 86th floor observatory pretty quickly. Since we went on a whim, we didn’t have the camera with us so we don’t have any photos but take our word for it, the view was spectacular. It was a beautiful night and visibility was 25 miles. We made out several New York City landmarks (the Chrysler Building, Macy's, the Flatiron Building and more) and saw a fireworks display way below us near the Statue of Liberty.
The next morning we made our way out of the city onto Long Island and drove out to see DC's parents and sister. We spent much of the day visiting with them before heading for Shea Stadium to see the Mets play the Cincinnati Reds.
* ”Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains.” (Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh)
Ebby Calvin “Nook” LaLoosh is a character played by Tim Robbins and he uttered those words in the best baseball movie ever, 'Bull Durham.' In all our years of going on Two Guys trips, we’d been rained on a few times, but never rained out. It was drizzling Friday morning and that had turned into a shower by the afternoon but the weather report called for a window of no rain in the evening, right about the time the game was to be played. So we headed off to Shea Stadium, confident that we’d be seeing baseball.
We fought our way through traffic on the Long Island Expressway and made our way towards Shea Stadium. The first thing we saw upon arriving was Citi Field, the future home of the Mets, which was being built next door. The Mets play in Queens, right next to Brooklyn and Citi Field is not only a retro park a la Camden Yards, it’s an overt homage to Ebbetts Field where the Brooklyn Dodgers played before heading to Los Angeles.
The rain hadn’t stopped and since the game wasn’t going to start on time, we walked around inside Shea for awhile. It had opened in 1964 in the midst of the multi-purpose stadium boom. The New York Jets shared it with the Mets for several years before moving across the river to New Jersey in 1977. It was also used for concerts, the most famous of which was a show by The Beatles in 1965. The deciding game in each of the Mets' World Series victories took place at Shea. The first was in 1969, when the Amazing Mets won after years of futility. The second was in 1986, the year of the infamous boot by Bill Buckner of the Red Sox. DC had seen baseball at Shea before. His first game there, when he was eleven years old, was a beauty – Tom Seaver took a perfect game into the ninth inning before giving up a hit to the number eight hitter in the Cubs lineup.
Shea has a couple of distinguishing features – the stadium is painted blue, unlike virtually every other baseball park, which are usually simply the color of the materials used to build them. There is a large apple that rises out of a top hat whenever a Met hits a home run. But Shea has the same shortcomings as the other multi-purpose stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s – it’s big, round, symmetrical and somewhat lacking in character.
As we walked around, we kept an eye on the skies. The promised halt in the rain hadn’t happened yet – in fact, every time we looked out from under the stands, it seemed to be raining even harder. Then, at 8:15 PM, the announcement came that, for the first time ever, a Two Guys and a Map game had been rained out.
The game was to be made up the next night. We couldn’t stay for that – we had tickets for the Nationals game in Washington. Despite the fact that the game wasn’t played, we decided that Shea Stadium counts as a park visited by Two Guys and a Map. As Dave's friend Bill said "Rainouts are a part of the game and have been ever since Abner, or whoever really, invented the game." We had tickets, we showed up – there was a good faith effort on our part to see baseball at Shea. We did get to walk around most of the stadium (despite a very small crowd and the long rain delay, fans with upper deck seats were not allowed to walk around the lower bowl of the stadium) and make notes of its pros (few) and cons (many.) So we chalked it up as a park visited and headed for home.
The next evening we headed for the new home of the Washington Nationals. Corporate naming rights hadn’t been sold yet so it was named Nationals Park. After relocating from Montreal, the Nats had played their first three seasons in Washington at RFK Stadium, the first of the 1960s multi-purpose stadiums. Those stadiums simply aren’t good for baseball and part of the deal that brought the team to town was an agreement that a new stadium would be built.
The field itself is asymmetrical, partially in honor of Griffith Stadium, the home of the original Washington Senators (where part of the outfield had to come in and around a house outside the center field wall.) The Nationals insignia, a curly W, has been cut into the center field grass. The scoreboard is very nice – the huge high definition screen has great picture quality. We had been at Chase Field in Phoenix just a couple of weeks earlier, where the huge scoreboard showed a lot of information but the presentation was so busy that it was hard to read. Not so with the one at Nationals Park. A lot of statistical information is shown in a very clear, readable manner. The out of town scoreboard is built into the center field wall and it not only shows the score and inning, it lets you know which team is currently at bat, the number of outs and where the baserunners are.
The sightlines from the 41,000 seats are generally excellent. The Nats have done a pretty good job on pricing – basically, the really expensive seats in the lower bowl subsidize the upper deck, making prices up there fairly reasonable. At the time of this game, the most expensive seats were $330 each and not selling at all. This left the impression when one watched the game on TV that no one was there because those are the seats that are most visible on the standard TV shot of the batter taken from centerfield. On the other hand, there are excellent seats that can be had for around $20 each.
The game itself was a disaster for the Nats. On our Sunshine State Mini Tour the year before we had seen the Marlins destroy the Nationals. This game was even worse. Cody Ross of the Marlins hit the first pitch of the game for a home run. The Marlins scored not one, but two runs on wild pitches. They scored seven runs in the fourth inning. Four of those came on a grand slam by Dan Uggla, who had smashed two long home runs in the game the year before. The Nats managed only three hits and went down 11-0.
For the second year in a row, our Washington D.C. tickets had been provided to us by Dave’s friend Kevin. Despite the debacle happening on the field, we had fun sitting with Kevin and enjoying the beautiful night, which was a far cry from the awful weather we’d experienced the day before.
Part II: Leave No Doubt
July 9 - Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
July 9 - San Francisco Giants vs. New York Mets, Shea Stadium
We had been to Shea and considered it to have been visited by Two Guys... but still, we hadn't actually seen baseball played there. Besides, we had the rainchecks to use - so we checked the schedule and found one of those rare days where the Yankees and Mets both played at home. We were able to get tickets to the Yankees game and use our rainchecks from the May 9 game to get Mets tickets as well. So on the morning of July 9 we hopped on the train and rode from Washington to New York.
We checked into our hotel and headed on up to Yankee Stadium. If you'd told us before the season started that we'd see the first place team in the American League East playing in Yankee Stadium on July 9, we wouldn't have been surprised. If you'd told us it would be the Tampa Bay Rays who were in first place, we would have probably laughed. But that was indeed the case.
This was the final time we'd visit the old Yankee Stadium. To DC's delight, the last thing we saw there was Derek Jeter scoring from first base on a double by Bobby Abreu in the bottom of the tenth inning, giving the Yankees a 2-1 victory in a very well played game.
We then took the subway back downtown. The 161st Street station was packed with people after the game and we got to talking with two very nice couples from California, both of whom were in New York specifically to go to baseball games. They made the wait in the oppressive heat a little more tolerable.
The next morning, it was up early and back on the train. We headed to Washington and were both at work before noon.
And with that, the Two Guys and a Map Big Apple Tour(s) came to a close. We’d now been to all but two of the current Major League parks… but there was one more mini-trip scheduled for 2008.
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