2009 logo

August 5 - St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Mets, Citi Field
August 6 - Mahoning Valley Scrappers vs. Tri-City Valley Cats, Joseph Bruno Stadium
August 6 - Jamestown Jammers vs. Oneonta Tigers, Damaschke Field
August 9 - Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium

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Part One: It Doesn't Always Rain In Queens

2009 logo

We couldn't fit everything we did on the shirt this time.

When our Touch 'em All Tour ended on September 7, 2008 we had been to the current ballpark of every team in Major League Baseball. We held that distinction for all of 203 days. On March 31, 2009 the New York Mets played the first regular season game at their new home, Citi Field. Sixteen days later the New York Yankees opened the new Yankee Stadium.

So it was pretty easy to decide where we would go in 2009. As always, we tried to mix baseball with other cultural opportunities along the way. Over the course of five busy days we got to four baseball games, two museums, two concerts and took a short trip underground.

On August 5 we were up before dawn, leaving Bethesda, MD at 5:30 AM so we could make the noon starting time for the Mets game against the Cardinals. After weighing our transportation options, we decided that driving to northern New Jersey and taking the train into New York was easier than driving and parking in New York City.

Citi Field is located right next to the site of the Mets previous home, which was leveled in order to make a parking lot for the new ballpark. Shea Stadium was kind of a dump (for more on that, see The Big Apple Mini-Tour) so we felt they were now making much better use of that particular plot of land. Dave also noted that tearing down Shea resulted in an improvement in the weather. He'd been to Shea Stadium three times - it had poured every time. Still, there was some nostalgia for the Mets former home – we saw at least two people wearing shirts stating “I’m Still Calling It Shea.” Given the fact that many banks received a bailout from the government in 2009 and Citibank was paying millions for the naming rights to the new park, the resentment was natural.

One stark reminder that we were in New York was the announcement playing over loudspeakers as we approached the park that visitors must return all weapons to their cars before entering Citi Field. That was a first for both of us. But Citi Field is very nice, a huge step up from Shea. It’s a beautiful retro park. The Mets are playing up their connection to Long Island’s previous National League team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Citi Field’s brick walls and round entranceway are modeled after the Dodgers old home, Ebbets Field.

That link to the Dodgers is nowhere more apparent than the area where you first enter the ballpark. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda has quotes, pictures and engraving of words such as “Courage” and “Persistence” to honor the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. It’s a nice touch but kind of surprising that the Mets chose to connect to Brooklyn more so than their own history. While they don’t have the same rich tradition as the other current New York team, the Mets have won two World Series and had a number of fine players over the years. Those players are honored with large pictures of Mets greats hanging along the walls outside the park.

Citi entrance

Citi Field's exterior is similar to Ebbets Field

Citi entrance

The Jackie Robinson Rotunda

The Apple

The original Mets apple, brought over from Shea Stadium

Citi Field

Citi Field

Unlike the symetrical field at Shea, the playing field at Citi Field is irregularly shaped, with some unusual angles. The fence changes from 8 feet high to about 15 feet high in places. There are fewer seats than Shea had – everyone is much closer to the action. In the outfield there is a “bridge” styled to remind one of the many bridges into Manhattan, connecting the right field concourse to the center field concourse. The concession stands in right field have a New York skyline with the Mets logo on top. Another neat touch is a walkway behind the visitor’s bullpen that lets you get within about ten feet of the reliever taking his warm up tosses.

One annoying thing - there is a flagpole in the bleachers whose flag prevents people sitting on the first base side from seeing a good portion of the scoreboard where individual stats are shown. In a park that seems to be generally well designed, it's an odd slip up. One thing that hasn’t changed from Shea is the constant stream of low flying planes from nearby LaGuardia Airport – Dave stopped counting around 30 and that was before the game was halfway over.

A carry over tradition from Shea Stadium is the apple that rises when a Met homers. They got a newer, bigger one when they moved to Citi Field but the Shea Stadium apple is there, available for photo opportunities. You can see the new one peeking out of from where it waits for a Mets home run behind the wall in dead center field in the picture at left.

The game itself was boring. The Mets whipped St. Louis by a score of 9-0. The 2009 season for the Mets (with one of baseball’s highest payrolls) had been nothing short of a disaster to this point, with injuries decimating their starting lineup. That trend continued when Mets starting pitcher Jon Niese collapsed on the mound after tearing a hamstring while making a long stretch for a putout at first base. Leftfielder Gary Sheffield also left the game with a pulled hamstring.

One highlight of the game was Niese’s replacement, Nelson Figueroa, launching a shot to center field and running the bases like he was a leadoff man, not a pitcher, ending up on third base with a 2 run triple.

It was beautiful day for baseball at Citi Field, the new home of the Mets. This was the first time Dave had ever been in Queens without getting rained on.

Part Two: A Day In the New York-Penn League

After the Mets game we made our way back to New Jersey and drove on up to Albany, NY. The next day was to be devoted to minor league baseball, specifically the short season Single A New York-Penn League.

The Tri-City Valley Cats play across the river from Albany, in nearby Troy, NY and on August 6 they were playing a game at the unusual time of 11:00 AM. We figured this game would be similar to the one we went to three years earlier in Burlington, IA , when a whopping 86 people were in attendance. How wrong we were - the place was packed! It was Camp Day and Senior Citizen’s Day and more than 5,000 people, young and old, attended the game.

Joesph Bruno Stadium is a nice little modern park on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College. There isn’t much to distinguish it from other recently built minor league parks except for a large inflatable Uncle Sam out by the scoreboard in left field. (The first use of Uncle Sam as a symbol of the U.S. government supposedly was by a Troy, NY meat seller during the War of 1812.)

The game was a quick paced pitcher’s duel. The visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers beat the Valley Cats 2-1.

Joe Bruno

Morning baseball, a first for us


On a warm day in Troy, the coolest seats in
the house were the ones under the scoreboard

Joe Bruno

Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY

After the game we drove for a couple of hours to Oneonta, NY, home of another New York-Penn League team, the Oneonta Tigers. DC's sister Jackie used to go to school in Oneonta and she tipped us off to a really good Italian restaurant – if you’re ever there, the Italian Kitchen on Church Street has excellent food at a reasonable price.

Oneonta is the smallest city in the country to have a Single-A team. Baseball has been played at the site of the current ballpark since the early 1900s. The current team is a Detroit Tigers affiliate but it used be a Yankee farm club. Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Don Mattingly and even John Elway during his short flirtation with baseball all played in Oneonta.

The Tigers play at Damaschke Field, which was originally built in 1940. The outer wall isn’t concrete or brick like most ballparks – it’s a tall wood fence. They have gotten new bleachers but the grandstand is old and dilapidated. The concessions are limited and the dugouts look like they were made for Little Leaguers.

It is also the ONLY dry ballpark in the country. No beer sold there.

But the park has a certain charm that was unmatched by any other we went to on this trip. The backdrop beyond the outfield walls is scenic mountains. Seeing a game at Damaschke is like being in a time warp back to the 1940s. The players probably don't care for the cramped quarters, but it’s a great place to see a game.

Our second game of the day matched the Tigers against the Jamestown Jammers. There weren’t many people there (attendance was around 500) but the Oneontans were very friendly. The ticket seller was a huge Mets fan and we spent some time talking to her about Citi Field – she was scheduled to make her first visit there the following week so she was happy to talk to people who’d been there. One of the Tiger coaches visited with people in the first rows by the field not only before, but during the game (he stole french fries from a fan sitting nearby and flirted with the woman sitting next to us.) By the time the Tigers finished mauling Jamestown by a score of 6-1, we were on a first name basis with the rowdy fans to our left, Bethany and Dave.

Damaschke Field

The entrance to Damaschke Field, home of the Oneonta Tigers

Damaschke Field

Damaschke Field - it lacks frills but it has charm.

Damaschke Field

The players leave their gloves on top of the dugout while their team is at bat.

Part Three: Cooperstown

Having seen three of them in thirty one hours, we took the next couple of days off from baseball games – but not from baseball. Oneonta is only 22 miles from Cooperstown, NY – home of The National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Friday morning we walked from our motel to the Hall. We had both been there before but never on a Two Guys trip. It’s a must-see for any baseball fan. Over 100 years of baseball history is covered in permanent and changing exhibits (this time there was one on Latino players), and the Hall itself where the plaques of all the inductees are on display. Add to that the fact that within blocks of the Hall are all the cheesy souvenir shops you could ever want. DC couldn’t pass up a pizza cutter that plays Yankee broadcaster John Sterling’s trademark call of “Theeeeeeeeee Yankees win!!”

Hall of Fame

The National Baseball Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame

Every day they post the scores from the day before.
The Yankees win, theeeeeee Yankees win!

Hall of Fame

Checking out the plaques in The Hall of Fame.

We encountered another friendly person when DC’s camera battery died. We couldn’t find a replacement anywhere in town but did find a battery charger at the local Radio Shack. Instead of making us shell out $50 to buy it, Ken, the proprieter, took one out of its package and charged the dead battery for us overnight. After leaving Ken, we headed eight miles south of Cooperstown. Our destination was Milford, NY, where we took in all the sights there are to see - a restaurant, a micro brewery and the train.

The Cooperstown Brewing Company makes six different beers, most of which have baseball themed names. Our tour guide was in a bad mood but our $3 got us the tour and some generous sized samples of the company’s products so we weren’t complaining.

On Friday and Saturday nights during the summer The Cooperstown Blues Express runs from Milford to Cooperstown and back. As you might guess from the name, what makes this train ride different is the presence of a live blues band. On this night a pretty good band called The Parlor Cats was playing Chicago blues. The railroad car is open, with waist high walls and it's wide enough for a pretty good crowd of people to comfortably dance or hang out while listening to the music. The beer flowed, the weather was nice and the crowd was happy. Riding an open train car through the New York countryside was a lot of fun.

We were cut off from any sort of televison, radio or Internet contact with the outside world while riding the rails. Normally, that wouldn't bother us too much but that night DC’s beloved New York Yankees were playing their arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox. That's when "Team Two Guys" swung into action. We were able to keep track of what was happening in what turned out to be a thrilling ballgame (Alex Rodriguez broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the 15th inning with a walk-off two run homer) thanks to a frequent stream of text messages from Mary Beth and Kevin. There's a reason those two are enshrined in The Two Guys and a Map Hall of Fame!

The next morning we headed off through the New York countryside. Our destination was Woodstock, NY but we made a stop along the way for a tour of Howe Caverns, which is (oddly enough) a set of caverns discovered by a man named Lester Howe. With a constant temperature of 52 degrees and many stalagmite and stalactite formations, it’s an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

Blues Express

The Parlor Cats rock the rails.

Howe Caverns

156 feet below ground in Howe Caverns

Part Four: Woodstock and Back To The Big Apple

The reason we were going to Woodstock was to attend Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble. Levon Helm is a Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame inductee as a member of the great group The Band. He’s lived in Woodstock for many years and has a barn with a recording studio on his property there. Levon had some health problems a number of years back including a bout with throat cancer that had inhibited to some degree his ability to travel. A few years back he hit on the idea of the Midnight Rambles – instead of him going out on tour, he would have fans come to him. He began playing shows at his recording studio and the idea really caught on. They are very fun affairs with a nice, congenial atmosphere. Everyone brings a dish and there is a big pot luck supper before the show, which takes place in a really nice, warm wood room in the studio.

The Band gained some of its fame by acting as Bob Dylan’s backup band when he first “went electric”. Dylan also lived in Woodstock in the late 1960s and they all jammed in the basement of the distinctive pink house three members of The Band shared. The Band’s first album was titled 'Music From Big Pink' in its honor. While that album wasn’t actually recorded in the house, The Band’s collaboration with Bob Dylan called 'The Basement Tapes' was.

Big Pink is located deep in the woods between Saugerites, NY and Woodstock. Dave had stumbled across its address a few years back and decided to surprise DC with an unscheduled stop on our way to the hotel. He navigated while DC drove. As the roads became increasingly more difficult to maneuver, DC began to wonder about exactly what sort of place it was that Dave had booked for our stay that night. But after a few seconds of confusion when Dave told him to stop the car, he realized what he was looking at and got a big kick out of it.

Big Pink is still a private residence. The owners don’t want people walking across the property but they don’t mind if you take a picture. The fact that the house is still pink underscores that fact. If the owners didn’t want people there, we’re sure it would be Big Blue by now. So we pulled up, took a picture and moved on.

We wandered around the town of Woodstock for a bit and then headed for Levon Helm’s house. (By the way, the famous 1969 music festival, whose logo we borrowed for our t-shirts, actually took place in Bethel, about 50 miles from Woodstock.) We spent quite a bit of time before the show talking to a very nice couple, Pete and Francine along with their son, Jerry. They had all come up from New York City for the Ramble.

Big Pink

Big Pink

Levon Helm Studios

Levon Helm Studios, site of the Midnight Ramble

Dave at Levon's

Dave heartily endorses Levon's new album!

Then the show started. We had read that Levon would be playing drums but not singing that night – he’d overtaxed his voice during recent concerts – but he has a crack band that normally does much of the singing anyway. They stepped up big time and it was a great show – kind of a trip up the Mississippi River, incorporating rock 'n' roll, New Orleans jazz and R‘n’B, Memphis soul and rockabilly and Chicago blues. Highlights included Levon’s daughter Amy’s soulful take on the Stax Records classic ‘Everybody Loves a Winner’ and a crowd sing-a-long at the end on The Band’s most well known song ‘The Weight’. Jazz singer Cassandra Wilson (one of DC’s favorites) was there and she chimed in on that one too.

Levon Helm Studios

Levon Helm Studios, where the Midnight Ramble takes place
Photo by Paul LaRaia, courtesy of www.levonhelm.com

Levon Helm Studios

Click here to see a video from a Midnight Ramble (not the one we attended.)
Photo by Paul LaRaia, courtesy of www.levonhelm.com

The next day was Sunday August 9. It had been three days since we’d been to a baseball game – time to get back to it. We drove from Woodstock down to New Jersey and once again took the train into New York City. We had managed to get tickets for the last game of the Yankees-Red Sox series at the new Yankee Stadium. At the time we’d bought them the game was scheduled for 1:00 PM but a couple of weeks earlier the start time was changed to 8:00 PM when ESPN decided that the Yankees vs. Red Sox would make for good national TV. Our original plan had been to drive from Woodstock to New York, see the game, then drive home. With the game time change, we decided to spend the night in the city. When we checked into the New Yorker Hotel, we found that it was meant to be for a Two Guys trip through New York – Joe DiMaggio used to stay at the New Yorker when the Yankees were playing at home.

So we had some time to kill. We decided to check out the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame's New York Annex. (We had visited the main site of The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on our Two Guys and a Mapholder Tour in 1998.) The New York Annex had opened recently with an emphasis on New York City’s role in rock‘n’roll history. It's a very non-descript building, typical of its Soho neighborhood, but there is lots of interesting memorabilia inside. As one might expect when comparing Cleveland real estate with New York, it's smaller, yet more expensive than its Cleveland relative.

Empire State Building

We could see the Empire State Building from our hotel

R'n'R <BR> Hall Annex

The only photo we have of the Rock'n'Roll Hall
of Fame Annex. You can't take pictures inside.

Part Five: The New Yankee Stadium

And then, the moment true blue Yankee fan DC had been waiting for. We headed out for the acme, the peak, the apex, the Mecca, the Piece de Resistance of the Two Guys and a Map Empire State Tour – the new Yankee Stadium.

We got off the subway at 161st Street and saw the sad sight of the old Yankee Stadium, which had hosted Yankees games for 85 years, stripped of all its distinguishing character and covered by scaffolding. After a somber moment of reflection, we turned towards its gleaming new $1.4 billion replacement.

Original Yankee Stadium

The original Yankee Stadium

new Yankee Stadium

DC, ready to go into the new Yankee Stadium for the first time.

Monument Park, where the Yankees display plaques honoring their greatest players, managers and executives, is a carryover from the original Yankee Stadium. In addition, the new stadium has a Yankees Museum. We had timed things so we would get to the ballpark more than two hours before game time, figuring that would give us plenty of time to take in all the sights. WRONG! The line to Monument Park had already been shut down. The line for the museum was incredibly long and there was little chance we could get in there before the game started. We couldn’t even get into the gift shop. The place was a mob scene.

But there was still plenty to see. In stark contrast to the Mets linking themselves to the Dodgers, Yankee Stadium is all about the Yankees – and deservedly so. Like ‘em (DC) or not (Dave), there is no denying this is one of the great franchises in all of sports with a long, glorious history. No team in any sport can match the 26 World Championships the Yankees had won through 2008. No team in baseball is remotely close. In addition to the Yankee Museum and Monument Park, Yankee history is on display everywhere throughout the stadium. Probably the most impressive thing is The Great Hall, located between an exterior wall and the interior of the Stadium. It’s a huge, airy walkway filled with large hanging pictures of Yankees greats from Babe Ruth to the present day and was packed with specialty vendors and fans.

The Yankees have made a concerted effort to bring as much of the history and look of the old Stadium as possible across the street to the new one. The field dimensions are the same. The gap in right field that allowed fans to see the elevated subway train going by has been replicated. Monument Park has been moved from it's left center location in the old stadium to center field but is fundamentally the same (at least it appeared that way from a distance.) In some cases, wrongs inflicted on the original stadium have been corrected – for example, the famous façade goes around the infield at the new Stadium. That's how it was when the original Yankee Stadium was built but when it was refurbished in the 1970s, they moved it to the outfield.

Dave has mixed feelings about this – he loves tradition in ballparks but at the same time, in Yankee Stadium the effect is kind of jarring. Dave calls the new ballpark "Yankee Stadium Land - it’s almost like you’re at an amusement park - “Come see our stunning recreation of Yankee Stadium!” DC accepts that aspect of it. He figures that for a significant portion of people going to baseball games in the 21st Century, the game itself is not enough. They want the experience to be like going to an amusement park. His response to Dave's misgivings was "They are Yankee fans - let them eat steak!"

The Great Hall

The Great Hall


The facade, back where it belongs


DC in heaven

It is a nice place to see a ballgame. The sight lines are good. While the whole building, with its restaurants, museums etc., is bigger than the original, the new Yankee Stadium’s seating capacity is smaller so the highest seats aren’t quite as far up as they were across the street. (Dave’s wife Bobbi had once remarked that they were ascending to heaven while climbing to their next-to-last row seats in the old stadium – and that wasn’t because she thought being in Yankee Stadium was a religious experience!)

A few quibbles – the scoreboard is uncluttered but not nearly as informative as those at other stadiums. While the board showing pictures of the players is huge, the one with the lineups and other statistics is a bit difficult to read for middle aged eyes. We were kind of surprised at the disappearance of one tradition – at the old Yankee Stadium, in the top of the first inning the fans used to chant the name of each fielder until he acknowledged them. On this night only Derek Jeter got that treatment and it happened the first time he came to bat. A tradition that did carry over was the grounds crew's choreographed sweep of the infield accompanied by The Village People's 'YMCA'.

Yankee Stadium

The House That Steinbrenner Built.
Even though we were pretty high up, we had really good seats, near home plate in the 400 level.

There is no greater rivalry in sports than the Yankees vs. the Red Sox and on this night the Yankees were riding high – they had won the first three games in the series and a sweep would give them a 6-1/2 game lead in the division race over the hated Bosox. Andy Pettitte gave a gutsy performance, shutting out the Red Sox for seven innings, although none was easy.

But John Lester of the Sox matched him until Alex Rodriguez homered in the bottom of the seventh to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. That was the 574th home run of his career, putting him ahead of Harmon Killebrew for ninth place on the all time list. (For you statistics geeks out there, that home run, along with the one he’d hit two nights earlier, made A-Rod "the first person in baseball history to hit a home run that broke up a scoreless tie in the seventh inning or later twice in the same series." Someone actually researches this stuff.)

The Red Sox responded with two runs of their own in the eighth to take the lead. The Yankees made two quick outs to start the bottom of the eighth but then The Empire struck back. Johnny Damon homered to tie the game. Literally seconds after he touched the plate Mark Texeria blasted another home run into the upper deck in right field. Two more runs were scored after that and the Yankees finished off the 5-2 victory with a save by the great Mariano Rivera. It was a very sweet weekend for Yankee fans.

As the Yankee fans celebrated their sweep, we headed for the subway. After the last game we'd been to at the old Yankee Stadium we spent over an hour sweltering in the subway station just trying to get through the turnstiles. This time, thanks in part to a Good Samaritan who used his own card to pay DC’s fare when his card failed, we miraculously were on the subway in minutes and on our way back to our hotel.

So once again, we had been to the current ballpark of every team in Major League Baseball. The next morning we took the train out to New Jersey, hopped in the car and drove home. With the scheduled opening of a new ballpark in Minnesota, plans were already underway for 2010. The journey continues...

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