I thought I had seen it all …

Posted in Baseball Road Trip with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2008 by Troy Foster

By Troy Foster

MISSOULA, Mt. — I’ve been to a lot of places, and seen a lot of things.

My buddies and I covered 17,000 miles through 38 states, one Canadian province and the District of Columbia. 

I dipped my feet in the Pacific Ocean, the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico

I went to the top of the Sears Tower, the CN Tower and the Space Needle

I probably ate more than 50 hot dogs, hundreds of chicken wings and drank way too much beer.  

I saw countless base hits, home runs, strikeouts and even one ejection as I toured all 30 Major League ballparks.

But baseball statistics — and baseball in general — was often the last thing on my mind.

The three of us who conducted this cultural experiment we call BaseCrawl set out in search of many things, but what we found wasn’t always what we were looking for. 

One of those things was generosity. I know that sounds cliche, but I really mean it. People truly are generous at heart. And it didn’t take us the full 75 days to figure this out. 

We know this because we depended on a diverse cross-section of people to help us through the project. After all, how do you suppose you visit every Major League Baseball stadium in one season without going broke? Hitchhike? Sneak in without a ticket? Take a life insurance policy out on your significant other? 

A lot of people have asked, and I’m not embarrassed to divulge: We spent exactly $3,461.51 on gasoline — a good $961.51 over budget. It didn’t help that gas went from $3.06 a gallon to more than $4 in the time between writing the budget and Day 1. What’s even more frustrating is that I’m the proud owner of a gasoline-electric hybrid car that gets 70 miles per gallon. Problem is it only seats two, and we began our basecrawl with three.

So to offset our costs — gas, mostly — we leaned on many people who opened their homes and their hearts to us. Relatively speaking, we hardly spent anything on lodging. Friends and family gave us floors and couches to crash on, but we also were blessed by the generosity of some people who were, previously, total strangers. 

We never asked to be fed or entertained, but it wasn’t uncommon for us to arrive at a destination and find a 12-ounce steak on hot plate, or enough boos to cause cirrhosis of the liver. 

Our hosts were not necessarily the subjects of our documentary, but they made it possible, and this is something I don’t want to be lost on the project.

These kind folks reminded us that our basecrawl was more about people than sports, and more about the journey than the destination. 

I don’t think Daren, Nolan or I could ever fully repay our hosts for their generosity, at least not in dollars. The least I can do is thank them personally and publicly, as my traveling companion Daren has already done throughout his blogs.

To Al and Rochelle Blair of Redwood City, California:

Thank you for opening your beautiful home to three strangers. Without your help, the Bay Area would have been a nightmare for three novices struggling through the first steps of their fledgling project. You’re the coolest Mac users I’ve ever met, by the way. Thank you, Al, for tips on how to sneak a bottle of vodka into a baseball stadium. And thank you, Rochelle, for letting Al come out and play on that last night. We’re sorry we kept him out so late.
To Bryan Mansell and Jon Harmon of Los Angeles, California:

Bryan's Jordan's Collection

These guys have more pairs of shoes than your typical Valley Girl. Their apartment sits in “The Valley,” which I didn’t know was, like, totally, like, the name of a real place in L.A. To Bryan, who goes back with me to kindergarten: Remember when you showed me how to make home movies in middle school, and I showed you how to play guitar? Isn’t that weird, now that you think about it? Thanks for helping us solve our microphone problems (Bryan’s a sound engineer), introducing Nolan to your cats and introducing Daren to your medicine. But seriously, dude, do you, like, totally need that many shoes?
To Jack and Judy Roach of El Cajon, California:

Judy & Jack

I can’t explain in words how well you made us feel at home. We’d never met previously, but within minutes I felt like I was among family. Thanks for three relaxing nights, great dinners, great wine, great smiles and great stories. I can’t wait to see you again. 
To Lindsey Messinger and the entire Messinger Clan (Cheryl, Lance, Mandi and Zach) of Longmont, Colorado:

Messinger

Wow, thanks for putting Daren and I up in your incredible home for three nights, providing us our own beds, great cooking and teaching us a little something about the Rocky Mountain High. We didn’t know Nolan, Beth, Steve and Squeek were also going to crash the party, but your willingness to welcome not two, but SIX rowdy strangers into your home is a testament to your hospitality. Long live The Todds!
To Erica, Andrew and Dylan Venancio and Whitney Peterson of Liberty, Missouri:

Erica and Andrew

I never knew hanging out with second cousins and rooting for one of the worst teams in baseball could be so much fun. Thanks for the free tickets and those awesome seats with The Whit. It was nice watching a baseball game without getting a bloody nose for a change, and you truly gave us the Royal treatment. Also, thanks to Doris and Bob Peterson of Kearny, Missouri, for the steak dinner and planning the pool party we missed. We hadn’t seen each other in 14 years, but it felt just like yesterday. And Erica, if that crazy dog of yours ever gets on your nerves, I know Daren is looking for a new best friend.
To Will Sites of Sullivan, Missouri:

Daren and Will

One of my favorite former co-workers from my former life in the newspaper business. Dude, I never thought I would ever look a man in the eye and implore him to “Hand over the gun, slowly.” Then there was that one night with you, circa 2005. They say a good friend will come bail you out of jail, but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying, “Damn that was fun!” We had some wild times behind the scenes in Idaho. It was great continuing them in your old stomping ground, even if you have mellowed out a bit. The Sullivan Journal is consistently a great read, and it’s great to see someone trained in the old way of doing things find new ways to performing a civic duty. Our stay in your home was a turning point in our project, and we’ve been very appreciative of all your candid feedback, good and bad. Thanks for keeping us honest.
To Melanie Cota of Columbus, Ohio (formerly of Minn-e-soter):

My friend and former, I never thought an ultra left-wing feminist could have such stunning curves until I met you. It was great seeing you again and spending two nights on your couch, even if I sometimes annoy the hell out of you. To this day I still refer to someone who fishes as a fisherperson, rather than a fisherman — even though spellcheck tells me it’s wrong. I think it’s just the man trying to hold us down. Thanks for the Fig Newtons, the care package and a positive temperment. You’re the best, man! Text ya’ later.
To Karen Wayman of Charlottesville, Virginia:

Mother dearest

The mother of my main traveling companion put us up not once, but on two separate occasions during our basecrawl. I never knew such a beautiful woman could give birth to such an ugly kid. But he turned out alright, and it didn’t take me long to see why after meeting you. Thanks, also, for the kind of advice only a female can give, not to mention the awesome seats with Ava Bagby at Camden Yards. Sorry about the black widow I caught and let go. I don’t think it’ll come back to bite you, because that would be bad karma. 

To Ruth, Floyd and Dana Many of Hobart, New York:

Dinner with Gramps

My entire time in Upstate New York felt like a journey into a Norman Rockwell painting. And the people I found in there were everything I expected and more. Like I told Daren’s mother, it’s easy to see why he grew up to be such a good guy, even if he was a dork during the years you molded him. To Barbara Van Etten: we’re sorry we kept Dana up so late on that first night. To Dana: thanks for allowing me to fiddle around in your rehearsal space and fantasize about the career I never had as a rock star. To Floyd and Ruth: thank you so much for the meals and the love you showed me during our time at your farm. I really felt like I was a part of your family for those three days. And it felt great.
To Becky McTavish of Brooklyn, New York:

Baseball Road Trip Blog

I never thought I’d ever set foot in an authentic Brooklyn apartment, or have the courage to drive a car in New York City. Thank you for being such a gracious host, guiding us through those crazy streets and explaining how to use the subway system. You’re the best lawn bowler I’ve ever met (maybe, even, the only lawn bowler I’ve ever met). I also need to say thanks to Jennifer Nelson, my old college pal, for showing us New York, too. I never knew someone from Oregon could ever become so sophisticated, and nobody believes me when I tell them we made out once eight years ago (but I won’t tell). Keep up the good fight, girls, and don’t let the Mets leave Shea Stadium without taking “The Apple” with them.

To Cory Lunde and Scott Magill of Helena, Montana:

Baseball Road Trip Blog

Thanks, guys, for coordinating plans, getting us sweet Fenway seats and saving our bacon when our sleeping arrangements in Boston fell through. It was great spending time with two hilarious guys from Big Sky Country, and I’ve never been so comfortable — or entertained — sleeping on a hard floor. Thanks for letting us crash in your hotel room without asking for a penny. Hope your four-game basecrawl was as fun as ours. Cory, I’ll chalk up the fact that you wore both a Yankees jersey and a Notre Dame hat to your color blindness. But it was great having two guys from Montana along for part of the ride, and I hope to see you again at some Griz games this fall.
To Mark Augenstein of Richmond, Virginia:

Photobucket

Man, you met us at possibly our worst BaseCrawl moment. We’d practically been up all night, we’d driven all day and we were in a foul mood when we reached Pittsburgh just in time for the game. But you greeted us with a smile, free tickets and an awesome view of the infield, not to mention the place to stay. That had to be the most interesting game of the 31 we saw, and I’m glad it was with you. It was great chatting into the wee hours of the morning, drinking an authentic Pittsburgh brew and comparing notes on the joys of being super loyal to a favorite band. If Pearl Jam and Rush ever decide to tour together, I’ll see you there.
To Rena and Scott Davis of Ashburn, Virginia:

Aunt Rena and Uncle Scott

Thanks for three great nights at your home, even though we weren’t there one of those nights (because Homeland Security impounded our vehicle and stranded us in D.C.) You have a great home, you cook great food and you have great, well-mannered kids. Thanks also, Scott, for your service to this country — even if you’re a Ditto Head. I’m sorry to see you retire at such a young age, because you would have made a great soldier under President Obama.
To Emily Rice of Asheville, North Carolina:

Is that Jack ...

It’s great to see that our MBA social chairwoman hasn’t let the end of graduate school mark the end of her partying days. We miss you back here in Missoula, but it was a pleasure spending a night with you in North Carolina, plus another four days after you decided to become an impromptu member of our baseball roadtrip. I guess it was an easy decision, though, since that MBA hasn’t helped you land a job yet. But at least you saved our Atlanta pod and added a love story to the documentary.
To Marshall, Maureen and Jake Rice of Dahlonega, Georgia:

Photobucket

I don’t know whether to thank you or ask for an apology. Two nights in the party barn were among the most memorable of our basecrawl, but I could have done without the moonshine that Marshall kept making me kiss. All kidding aside, your hospitality toward two previous strangers was amazing. I’ll never forget the dance party, the funny hats and Maureen’s southern home-cookin. I wish we could have taken you with us, but I’ll settle for your daughter.
To Nicole Cobb and Kevin Ellery of St. Petersburg, Florida:

Nicole and Kevin

Tropicana Field was not the coolest ballpark I visited, but your company made up for the fact that I couldn’t see the sunlight that supposedly shines down on your “Rays.” Thanks for the grilled chicken dinner at your condo, and thanks for tolerating us in the KFC drive-thru later that very same night. When I have chicken wings on the brain, I demand no fewer than 10. Gobbles! It was incredible of you to welcome two “handsome and chiseled” men into your home on one days’ notice. I’m not sure I made a favorable impression on you, but you certainly did on me.
To Lori and Rich Sommer of Austin, Texas:            Daren and Laurie
Thanks for redeeming my views of winged mammals by showing us the biggest urban bat colony in North America under that bridge in Austin. Just days before that, Daren and I took a break from baseball and saw the latest Batman movie — another pathetic superhero flick with more suckage than the Rise of the Silver Surfer, Iron Man and all three Spidermans combined. But I digress. I admire the fact that you live without television. It taught us that you can still find happiness without “Baseball Tonight” for 72 hours. The meals were great and I’m still ashamed you wouldn’t let us pick up the tab when we went out for Mexican. Thanks for letting us stay an extra night as Daren was trying to plan his future beyond BaseCrawl. Thanks, also, for introducing us to your friends Jim and Sylvia Newman. We were tired and worn out when we reached Austin, but three days of rest and relaxation with the four of you rejuvenated us for the last leg of our journey.
And to my family: Judy, Eldon and Todd Foster of Portland, Oregon:                 Todd: Thanks for letting us share your hotel room in Seattle and holding your little brother’s hand during those extremely nervous first two days (and agreeing to wear the exact same clothes for two days as we tried to pull off our first video pod). Remember, you might be older and wiser, but I’m taller now. And to Mom: Thanks for dinner and two peaceful nights at the old Portland homestead, not to mention that baseball card Halloween costume you made for me when I was just 7. It was the best costume at the school that year and everybody knew it. Also, thanks for preserving my loft after all these years in the exact state I left it 12 years ago. It’s a museum to my childhood, and spending another two nights in it this summer was surreal. And to Dad, for coming out and spending three days with us in your old stomping ground of Chicago, letting us crash at your hotel and buying us tickets. You gave me a glimpse into your own baseball pastime, and I want you to know how glad I am that you helped shape mine. I’ll never forget all those summers you took me up to the Kingdome to see the A’s beat up on the Mariners. The baseball games we watched together are some of my fondest childhood memories, and I’m glad we got in a few more this summer. Mom, Dad, Todd: I don’t say this enough, but I hope you know I love you.

 

As Daren, Nolan and I left every home we tried to take a little piece of our hosts with us. We had each of them sign a baseball that now sits at the workstation where I’m busy editing together our documentary. The baseball is a constant reminder of how we pulled this off on a tiny budget, and the people who made it possible.

They provided us couches, air mattresses and floors. None of them ever asked for a dollar in return, just a small window into our lives, and we were blessed with a small window into theirs.

Traveling was all I knew for 75 days this summer. Seemingly every night was a new adventure in a new town, with new people and a new place to sleep. On the final day of our basecrawl, I gave my buddy Daren a hug goodbye as he headed toward Colorado and the next chapter of his life. I then spent one last night with Nolan at his home in Twin Falls, Idaho. 

Nolan offered me a bed in his guest room, but I chose to sleep on his couch instead.

It just felt so much more comfortable there.

(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com.)

The business card that changed everything

Posted in Baseball Road Trip with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by Troy Foster

 

By Troy Foster

AUSTIN, Texas — Twenty-three years ago, a grey-haired man handed me a business card and made a tacit promise.

“Son, call me in 11 years and I’ll come out to see if you’re good enough to play in the Majors.”

With these words, my childhood was forever changed. The man was a scout for the Oakland A’s. I was just 7 at the time. Not only did he hand me a small, 2-by-3.5-inch card, he handed me a dream. When I turned 18 he was going to come out to watch me play.

He was going to give me a shot at being an Oakland A.

This event is legendary within my family, but time has a funny way of affecting the way we all remember it, as is often the case with legends.

As I recall it, this man gave me the business card in an aisle at Fred Meyer in Portland, Oregon, while my father and I were shopping for a new baseball bat. He saw me looking at bats and struck up a friendly conversation with an aspiring baseball player.

As my father recalls it, the man gave me the business card in the checkout line of Fred Meyer, a few minutes after befriending us in the sporting goods section. There are minor differences in our recollections, but it’s still the same story.

As my brother recalls it, this exchange took place at an entirely different store in an entirely different town. Dad and I don’t even remember my brother being there, but Todd claims to remember the expression on my face as the scout handed me the card.

“Yeah, he was an Italian guy and it was at G.I. Joe’s in Beaverton,” my brother said as we were discussing this story at the dinner table two months ago.

No matter the exact circumstances, this event did occur — one way or another. I know this because I found that business card tucked away in my dad’s office all these years later. We passed through Portland on May 27 — at the very beginning of our basecrawl — and after sifting through Dad’s stacks of dusty business cards in an office cabinet I found one from an employee of the “Oakland Athletics Baseball Company.”

“Fred Rocco Granato, Scout.”

Italian guy? Maybe my brother isn’t crazy.

After verifying the existence of the Oakland scout’s business card, I decided to call the number on it to see if he’d answer all these years later. But the number was dead, and as I set the phone down I noticed my hand was shaking.

We’ve been traveling all over this great nation in search of unique stories on baseball and the way it shapes our culture. On a personal level, I’m trying to reconnect with my own pastime, so I made an effort earlier in our trip to locate this Fred Rocco Granato.

My obsession for the Oakland A's manifested itself in this baseball card Halloween costume my mother made for me, circa 1985.

My obsession for the Oakland A's manifested itself in this baseball card Halloween costume my mother made for me, circa 1985.

I wanted to tell him how important baseball had been to my childhood, and how his kind gesture had shaped it.

After meeting Mr. Granato in that aisle in Fred Meyer — or maybe it was G.I. Joe’s in Beaverton — I spent the next six or seven years obsessing over baseball in general and the Oakland A’s in particular. My whole psyche was framed around the dream of one day playing in the Major Leagues. I collected baseball cards, memorized starting lineups, and covered my room with A’s paraphernalia.

Every night, I went to bed dreaming of Oakland. Every morning, I spread the sports page across our living room floor to check the A’s box score and study the stats before breakfast.

My parents supported my childhood dreams. Sometime in the mid-1980s, Mom made me a life-sized Oakland A’s baseball card that served as a Halloween costume. Dad started taking me to the Kingdome every year to see a series between the A’s and the Mariners (the A’s always won, and I think the Mariners got so tired of losing there that they decided to tear down the Kingdome). One year Dad even took me down to Oakland Coliseum to see the A’s beat up on the Brewers.

I worshiped guys like Jose Canseco, Carney Lansford, Mickey Tettleton and Rickey Henderson. I studied the windups of pitchers like Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart, then mimicked their moves on the playground.

I had heroes, and I had a dream.

As the years passed by, my chance encounter with the A’s scout was constantly on my mind.

I don't think I took this A's hat off once in five years. Here I am with Dad at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York.

I don't think I took this A's hat off once in five years. Here I am with Dad at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York.

I told all my friends that I had a personal tryout waiting for me when I turned 18, and I counted down the years until then. On my 8th birthday I was well aware that I only had 10 more years to go. When I turned 12 it was down to six.

Only there was one problem: I wasn’t very good at baseball.

Actually, I was a pretty damn good catcher for a Little Leaguer, but as boys became men and the pitches kept increasing in speed, so did the frequency of my strikeouts.

My obsession with baseball came to a grinding halt sometime in the first half of the 1990s. That’s when I realized I had a better chance of winning a beauty pageant than playing for the Oakland A’s. Add in a player’s strike, puberty, girls and a budding interest in music — my interest in baseball faded.

I think I even came to loathe baseball.

I stopped believing in Santa Claus sometime around second grade, but I continued believing that Mr. Granato was really going to keep his promise and come watch me play when I was 18. I believed this right up until my last game of Babe Ruth ball, the day I realized I was too awful to continue playing. I was 13, I think.

My interest in baseball has only recently returned. When I watched my alma matter, Oregon State, cruise to two consecutive NCAA national titles in 2006 and 2007, it was like being reintroduced to a friend I hadn’t seen in 15 years. When Daren, Nolan and I began cooking up plans for this basecrawl, my memories of the A’s scout returned.

I attempted to contact the Athletics organization on our way to the Bay Area. I related this story in an e-mail, but left out a small detail.

“What is the scout’s name? You have his card, but you didn’t mention his name,” an Oakland employee named Debbie responded in an e-mail.

I promptly responded with the name, but that was the last I heard from the A’s office, even after I tried to follow up with a few phone calls on the day of our game there. But I’m not here to complain. Debbie noted in her e-mail that their organization was in “full, pre-draft mode” and the draft was just a week away.

I’ve also tried to Google “Fred Rocco Granato,” but I find absolutely nothing. There’s only one Granato listed in the Portland phone book, and it isn’t Fred.

I put finding Mr. Granato on the back burner as I got caught up in the other things we’re doing for our project. But I’ve kept his business card in my wallet throughout our journey, and as I watched my former favorite team kick the devil out of the Rays in Tampa Bay a week ago, I decided it was time to give this another shot.

We’re heading West again and I’m visiting A’s message boards to see if anyone out there knows what became of Mr. Fred Rocco Granato. Please send me an e-mail if you do.

I’m not even sure if Mr. Granato is around anymore, but if he is I want to meet him, or at least tell him that he’s still on my mind all these years later. I wonder whether I was the only little boy Mr. Granato gave a business card to, or if he repeated this gesture numerous times. Maybe he created hundreds of A’s fans like me.

There’s something else, too. Daren and I have been playing catch, shagging balls and swinging the bat on our basecrawl whenever we find an empty field and some free time. I just turned 30, which means I’m still of playing age.

I’m feeling pretty good about my swing lately, and I’ve noticed the A’s could use a little help.

(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com.)

Southern Hospitality and my date with Moonshine

Posted in Baseball Road Trip with tags , , , , , , , on July 26, 2008 by Troy Foster

By Troy Foster

DAHLONEGA, Ga. — There are a lot of things about southerners I didn’t know.

We connected with my close friend Emily in Asheville, North Carolina. Emily and I were classmates this past year at the University of Montana, where I’m getting a master’s degree in business administration.

Emily has now joined us for several days of this baseball road trip, and that’s fine by me. We lost our third crew member, Nolan Rice, earlier in the trip, and she has picked up where the other Rice left off. Only this Rice is much more attractive.

Emily took us to the Atlanta game to watch her favorite team get blown away 16-5 and her favorite manager get thrown out for the 141st time, but that’s not what I’m here to write about. 

To us, Emily’s way of talking might be described as “straight out of the woods,” to borrow a term my traveling companion often says. She has a southern drawl that I’m certain has strengthened since I last saw her three months ago. It might be because she’s returned to the South, or maybe because her father has been making her practice it again. He’s been on her case about the way it’s been watered down living West. 

Our basecrawl would not be possible without the generosity and hospitality so many people have provided. Our time in the south has underscored this. After spending one night in North Carolina, Emily escorted us to her parents house in Dahlonega, Georgia, where Marshall and Maureen Rice put us up at “Rice Ridge” for two nights, handed over the keys to their party barn and taught us a few things about Southern hospitality.

Not only have we learned new dialect, I’ve been told my way of speaking is off, YA’ALL!

For instance, when I told the people around me “dinner’s ready,” Emily’s PAPA told me in no uncertain terms: “It’s not dinner, Troy, it’s SUPPER!”

When Emily speaks to her father, she says “Yes sir.” It’s “Yes ma’am” for mom.

Emily’s mom and dad have a pool here, too. But if you enunciate the “l” in pool, you’re not welcome to get in it. As Marshal says: “It’s poou …” 

And then there’s this whole Coke thing. The word “Coke” is synonymous with soda, even if it’s 7-Up or Mountain Dew. You say, “Can I have a Coke,” and southerners in this part of Georgia respond, “What kind?”

There are a lot of other things about the deep south that weird me out. One is the size of the bugs. I saw the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in my life and will never sleep well again. Not two minutes later I got clobbered in the back by a moth that was as big as a bird.

Then there’s the whole curse of Mr. Littlefield. He haunts a nearby house on Rice Ridge, and that’s all I can tell you now until our video pod on Atlanta comes out. We were stretching.

Dancing is a spectacle all to its own. You have to wear a silly hat … at least when you’re dancing in the Party Barn on Rice Ridge. You can be a Rahsta Man, you can wear a dairy hat, a horse head or you can be captain of the Love Boat. You can even pretend you’re a golfer from Ireland.

And then there’s this thing called Moonshine. If you’re not paying close attention, we’ve occasionally had a beer or two on this basecrawl, but we met our match in Dahlonega. I’d like to think I’m not a stupid, slobbering fool when I’ve had a drink or two. I don’t pass out and I don’t throw up.

But Marshall made us “kiss” this corn-liquor thing they call Moonshine. I’ve been slapped before, but YA’ALL need to listen carefully to what I’m about to say:

This is the first time I’ve ever attempted a kiss and been punched in the face.

(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com.)

I’d proudly wear an Oriole on my shoulder

Posted in Baseball Road Trip with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2008 by Troy Foster

By Troy Foster

BALTIMORE — I have nine shirts with me.

I began this baseball road trip with six, but along the way I picked up a “Revive 1985” T-shirt from a bootlegger in Kansas City and a brown “Cedar Lake Motel & Pub” shirt that clashes with my shorts. I also picked up the replica jersey I wore to our recent game in Baltimore.

It’s a Tigers jersey, and when I put it on I had no idea the Orioles were hosting Detroit that day at Camden Yards. I learned this in the car on my way to game No. 24 of our basecrawl. We were headed there with Daren’s mom, Karen, and her friend, Eva, who treated us to the best seats we’ve had so far.  

“I’m totally going to catch crap today,” I announced to our party. 

I had good reason to believe this. 

Our buddy Nolan, who accompanied us for the first seven games before getting homesick and going home, wore a Boston jersey to each game. He caught hell at all of them, regardless of whether the Red Sox were playing.

Nolan rejoined us for three games on the East Coast, and you can imagine the insults hurled his way as he tried to find his seat at Yankee Stadium. Daren, not coincidentally, walked into Yankee Stadium wearing his Mets jersey.

“There were a lot of #&%$-slingers after us,” Daren says. 

But Daren and I both agree that Yankees fans — who we intentionally provoked — were mild compared to the baseball hooligans we encountered in Chicago.

The White Sox were hosting the Cubs on June 27 in a cross-town rivalry that divided next-door neighbors, fathers from their sons and husbands from their mistresses. While a majority of fans were well-behaved, there was an extra level of vitriol present at this game.

baseball documentaryI was amazed by some of the signs and T-shirts. This wasn’t “White Sox rule, Cubs drool,” it was “Hey Cubs, F%@& You.” And the feeling was mutual. There were T-shirts that said “FUK-U-THOME” (an insult directed at a Sox player as a play on “Fukudome,” the name of the Cubs’ right fielder). And I took a picture of a Cubs fan holding a sign with a drawing of a guy pissing on the White Sox logo

We saw this kind of stuff everywhere. It was like there was something in the water making everyone mean, including the undercover Chicago Police who busted Daren in a scalping sting (if you haven’t heard that story yet, you can read about it here and here).

I didn’t have a dog in this fight between the Cubbies and White Sox, or so I thought. In my mind I was a neutral observer. But the moment I arrived in the parking lot at U.S. Cellular Field, I began catching hell.

“F#%& the Tigers!”

“Wrong game, a-hole!”

“Detroit sucks!”

I couldn’t understand why these people were yelling at me. Then Daren, BaseCrawl’s resident MLB expert, informed me that the White Sox and Tigers both play in the American League Central Division. 

I don’t even like the Detroit Tigers. No, let me clarify that. I don’t even know the Detroit Tigers. I don’t know if they’re any good, I don’t know what place they’re in and I don’t know anyone who plays on their team, except for Gary Sheffield (whose rookie card I collected 20 years ago).

And guess what? I bought the Detroit jersey for the worst reason possible: I just liked the way it looked. I have no association with the Tigers.

Yet several times during this game I sensed that many White Sox fans despised me more than the guys in blue and red.

At one point in the parking lot, as Daren and I were walking against the crowd, heading back to our vehicle to drop off our main camera, I was on the wrong end of a string of obscenities. Suddenly I began trying to explain myself, telling passersby that I wasn’t really a Detroit fan.

“Dude, just stand your ground and defend yourself,” Daren said. “Act like you’re a Tigers fan and throw it back in their face.”  

Throw it? We saw plenty of that, too, but in a different way. Late in the game we saw quite the battle in the upper deck of U.S. Cellular as some Cubs and Sox fans began hurling beer bottles at each other (which we caught on film). Several ejections ensued.

After the game, the battles continued in the parking lot. Everyone wanted blood. A lot of foot traffic was passing by our vehicle, and a Cubs fan walked by me and said “I hope you kick their #&$&.”

I thought about telling him that I’m not actually a Detroit player, let alone a fan, but I just smiled and nodded. 

Then — and I am NOT making this up — a woman wearing a White Sox shirt walked by me and said “Boston sucks!”

“This isn’t a ‘B,’ it’s a ‘D,'” I responded, pointing to my jersey, then pushing my arms out in a hopeless gesture.

Not three minutes later — I swear I am still NOT making this up — another inebriated woman looked at me and shouted: “Dodgers suck!”

“I KNOW!” I said.

My day at U.S. Cellular Field in a Detroit jersey was fresh in my mind as we entered the gates of Camden Yards. “Throw it back in their face,” Daren had said. I tried to prepare myself with a few comebacks for Baltimore fans.

“Oh yeah, well at least I don’t root for a bird.”

“Hey I just got a call on my cell phone. It was the Devil Rays and they asked for last place back.”

Nice baseball card, f#%& face!

Surprisingly, though, not an ill word was said to me as I walked in. I didn’t even sense any dirty glances.

Daren and I went through a stretch where we were running thin on angles for our video pods, so we were really stretching once again at this game. I decided to have an artist paint me to add something — anything! — to this pod.

I had to sit still in a chair as the artist studied my features. Meanwhile, three tough-looking Baltimore fans walked up and started watching my caricature take shape. I expected one of them to tell me I was ugly, but they smiled and one of them told me it looked great. (So great, in fact, that when I eventually saw the finished product I thought it looked better than me).

These three guys turned out to be from South Africa. One of them was a U.S. resident and rugby-turned-Orioles fan. The other two were visiting cousins, and their host had taken them out to the ball game. As we’ve continued to observe on this basecrawl, going out to the ball game isn’t so much about the ball game as it is having a good time with friends and loved ones. It’s a social event where having a hot dog, drinking a beer and catching up on old times can sometimes be more entertaining than the action on the field. 

The Tigers went on to win this game, but nobody ever said a derogatory word toward me. I cheered every time Detroit scored a run, and I even clapped when Jay Payton robbed Sheffield of a home run with one of those spectacular, leaping catches above the outfield wall. I’m not sure I have ever seen a play like that in person.

Although I was surprised not to catch any grief, Daren pointed out that Baltimore and Detroit are not natural rivals. They’re in different divisions of the American League. 

But I left the game wanting to believe that there’s something different about Orioles fans, that there’s an inherent goodness in their character. I wanted to believe that they were glad to see me at their game, wearing my Tigers jersey. I wanted to believe that they possess the true spirit of sportsmanship.

Or maybe it’s just that most White Sox fans are morons.

(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com.)

Exercising our rights

Posted in Baseball Road Trip with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2008 by Troy Foster

All 30 ballparks in One Season

By Troy Foster

WASHINGTON, D.C — Daren and I have seen a lot of baseball games this summer. And as each game goes by, our list of grievances grows.

It just so happened that game 23 of our baseball road trip brought us to the nation’s capitol. We realized this was the perfect place to exercise our rights as Americans, so after watching the hometown Nationals get piss-pounded by Houston, Daren and I decided to take our message to the streets. 

We’re not going to take this sitting down.

Our first stop was the U.S. Supreme Court. I’ve been witness to many protests over the years, but I’ve never participated in one, and neither has Daren.

We were both very nervous, but felt morally obligated to speak out.

Daren was the first to go. He walked up to the base of the steps of our hightest court, opened his bag and raised his protest sign. 

Save the Apple!

Apparently protesting comes with a few guidelines, because the Homeland Security goons were all over Daren like Larry Craig on a guy in a bathroom.

I heard a loud voice shout an order behind me. Daren kept his sign up, but whispered: “Here they come.”

Two officers confronted us. One ordered Daren to put away his sign and walk away from the court building. I thought about showing him the First Amendment, but he was tall, buff and intimidating. And I didn’t want to get thrown in GITMO for seven years.

Instead I asked him a simple question: “Why?”

“Because it’s not allowed,” he retorted.

I could tell this conversation had been repeated hundreds of times, and the officer was tired of explaining this stuff … kind of like the way I felt when Sage asked me to explain football. 

After he was done posturing — and maybe after he saw the message on Daren’s sign — he eased up a little. He told us we could say anything we wanted. We just had to move back to the sidewalk to exercise our rights.

We followed these instructions without further incident.

Daren pulled out another sign: “Stealing Second is Illegal.”

Then I pulled out the message I have been saying since the beginning of our basecrawl: “Bring back the Kingdome.”

The only thing more ridiculous than the signs we were holding were the reactions on people’s faces. As Daren reintroduced his “Save the Apple!” sign, a nervous anxiety washed over many of the tourists around us.

People gasped and pointed. 

“Oh my God, look!” 

“There’s a guy protesting!” 

“What does he want?”

“What’s the apple?”

We also took our protest to the front steps of Congress. We didn’t want a repeat of our confrontation with the armed lawmen, so instead of busting out the signs we approached a Capitol Police officer to tell him what we were about to do. We also wanted to know whether exercising our rights would be considered a threat to national security.

He looked at Daren’s hat. “If you’re going to pull out a ‘Go Mets’ sign you can’t be anywhere near here.” 

This guy was Homeland Security by day, Phillies fan by night. And Daren had the perfect response: “Say Yes to Contraction,” which included anti-Philadelphia epithet.   

I also delivered this message to our congressman: “Impeach the DH.” I mean, seriously, pitchers are such babies. Batter up, you wussies! 

baseball road tripI’ve always felt that if pitchers don’t have to hit, then “Batters deserve at least four strikes,” and I made as much clear at the Washington Monument. I say this because I batted around .100 during my last year of competitive baseball. This was sometime in the early 1990s, and if I just had one more swing available I think I could have boosted it to .250.

OK, so we were being Major League A-holes at the nation’s capitol. 

Daren and I even felt a tinge of guilt as we held our signs near some pro-life demonstrators at the high court. They were much more serious about their cause.

One tourist who was watching Daren with a confused look turned to me and asked: “What are you guys protesting?”

“We’re just having fun with democracy,” I told him, “because we can.”

As we toured all of D.C.’s memorials, we were reminded of this and all the sacrifices that have been made so Daren and I could march around and make fools of ourselves. We also were reminded of the wrong choices our leaders have made, and as I looked at the thousands of names etched into the Vietnam Memorial, I told Daren: “It’s amazing that we keep repeating the same mistakes.”

All of our “protest” signs were attempts at humor, except for one. I was somewhat reluctant to hold this one up at first, because it veered from the light-hearted nature of our video pod.

But as the sun was setting on this chapter of BaseCrawl, I decided to pull it out (and rather than explain it, you can view it here). The first person who saw my sign was a jogger, but he breezed on by. I knew this sign wasn’t going to change the world.

A moment later, however, the jogger turned around and headed back toward me. I wasn’t sure what he wanted, but when he reached me he extended a sweaty arm and asked if I would shake his hand.

(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com).

Exploring a different kind of pastime

Posted in Baseball Road Trip with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2008 by Troy Foster

By Troy Foster

HOBART, N.Y. — “Baseball, like no other sport, is a pastime built on nostalgia.”

I saw these words at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They resonated with me, because, like I’ve said so many times before, it’s not the game of baseball that fascinates me, it’s the culture. The history.

We recently paid a visit to Cooperstown to immerse ourselves in baseball lore. This small town in Upstate New York is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and if you don’t believe me look at the effect it had on Daren. (You have to click on that link to know what I’m talking about). 

Cooperstown hasn’t been our only brush with baseball nostalgia. 

A week ago we got a personal tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory by a very genteel man named Bill. We were interested in learning a little more about the emerging maple bat controversy, and in the process learned a lot about how this factory cranks out 3,000 bats per day, which players get them and who’s entitled to a personalized signature.

Biggest Bat EverThis museum also is home to the largest baseball bat in the world — a 120-foot replica of Babe Ruth’s model R43. We just crossed the halfway point on our basecrawl, so I decided to knock on wood for good luck. I also wanted to see if it was made out of maple or ash. Turned out to be 68,000 pounds of carbon steel, thank you very much.

In Kansas City, we were fortunate to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. You might be tempted to think of the negro leagues as a sad symbol of segregation — a shameful side of our pastime. While that’s certainly part of the angle, their legacy would be shortchanged if it were that limited. 

The various negro leagues were a spectacle all to their own. They deserve to be celebrated for their rich, colorful history and a cast of characters that went by names like TurkeyJelly or Cool Papa Bell. Some of the greatest baseball players of all time — Major League or otherwise — played in these leagues; guys like Satchel Paige (55 career no-hitters), Josh Gibson (nearly 800-lifetime homers; 69 in 1934 alone) and Jackie Robinson.

What you also might not know is that the players and owners that comprised these teams were innovators. The Kansas City Monarchs pioneered modern-day night games, beginning them in 1930 — five years before the first Major League night game took place in Cincinnati. And the first professional women baseball players participated alongside men in the negro leagues. 

This is no longer lost upon the Hall of Fame. Thirty-five of its inductees played exclusively in the negro leagues.

As I toured the museum in Cooperstown, I was reminded of this and the recent events that re-introduced me to a sport I had seemingly forgotten. 

My alma mater, Oregon State, was well-represented in the Hall. One display noted their status as baseball’s 2007 College World Series Champions — an amazing story of overcoming inherent disadvantages that can’t be matched by anyone, except maybe the team that won it the year before

Another display featured the baseball bat Jacoby Ellsbury used in the 2007 World Series. Jacoby grew up in a small Central Oregon town where he dominated the headlines of a newspaper called The Madras Pioneer, my first employer out of college.

Now that I think of it, Jacoby and I have a lot in common. We both lived in Madras, we both went to Oregon State and now he plays for the Boston Red Sox. He also has a World Series ring and a million dollar contract coming.

Meanwhile, I play for … and have … and … uh … well, nevermind. 

My parents knew Cooperstown was on our basecrawl itinerary, and after our visit Mom sent me an e-mail that said: “Just wanted to know if you jumped the fence and ran the bases today?”

baseball documentaryJust like that, an old memory was dusted off and brought down from the shelf. My dad had jumped the fence at Doubleday Field 18 years earlier and ran the bases, despite signs and other indicators that insisted otherwise. He lamented my 12-year-old self for not immediately following, and I finally joined him in sheer terror. We made it around the bases without getting caught. At least that’s how I remember it.

That was back in the fall of 1990, back when the Oakland A’s were gods and baseball was the center of my universe. All these years later, I was delighted — and surprised — to see one of my childhood heroes, Dennis Eckersley, immortalized at the Hall. 

But it’s memories of dad running the bases at Doubleday Field and another kind of pastime that’s caught my attention lately.

baseball roadtripJust an hour from Cooperstown is a small hamlet called Hobart. This is your picturesque Upstate town, with locally owned businesses, funny idiosyncrasies and typical town squabbles. This also is the place where my good friend and traveling companion grew up.

In the past five days I’ve met Daren’s motherfather (again), his incredibly sweet grandparents and a few of his childhood friends. I’ve seen the Little League field he played on and the secret places he used to sneak away to drink beer.

From the beginning, Daren has insisted there’s more to this basecrawl than cold beer, couches or a game that’s played on a field. 

I think he’s onto something. Because here in his old stomping ground, I have experienced a different kind of nostalgia. I have explored a different kind of pastime. I’ve met a unique family. I’ve felt love.

And I like it here.

(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com.)

A final word on how hard it is to be us

Posted in Baseball Road Trip with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2008 by Troy Foster

By Troy Foster

CINCINNATI — We should stop feeling sorry for ourselves.

We’ve both made a few passing references to it lately. I also promised two blogs ago that I would say a word about what, until recently, had been slowing us down.

As Daren and I were standing at “Club Red” in Cincinnati tonight, taking in the view of the game from center field on Day 40 of this baseball road trip, my traveling companion said something that really hit home.

“A year from now, we’ll look back and say that this was the greatest trip of all time,” he said.

He’s got to be right. We’ll scoff at all the trivial things that have been bothering us lately. Since we saw the Detroit Tigers lose at home eight days ago, we went through a rough stretch of fatigue and lethargy that neither of us have ever felt before.

We recently attended four games in as many days — two in Chicago, one in Cleveland and one in a foreign country. During the Toronto Blue Jays game, I saw Daren do something I never thought I’d ever see in my life. He fell asleep. DURING THE GAME!

Sure, it’s a baseball game, but this is Daren — the penultimate baseball FREAK. When he gets cut, chalk from the first-base line pours out of the wound, and when he’s stressed he sweats hotdog mustard.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you might have already heard my thoughts on the principle of marginal utility. So I was reluctant to even write about this subject tonight, because the last thing anyone should feel is pity for two guys going to every Major League Baseball stadium in North America.

But we spent most of our time in Toronto sleeping. After the daytime Blue Jays game, we checked into a youth hostel (and thankfully didn’t get carded) at a run-down dormitory on the campus of Toronto University. I took one of those woozy, mid-day naps that last several hours and got up around 7 p.m. — right after Daren started his own nap, which ended around midnight. He was screwed.

Weird things are happening to our bodies. I’ve basically written off exercise until this thing is over, and if I’m not careful I’m going to need Jared’s old pants. Daren, on the other hand, has been LOSING weight and is starting to look like Skeletor.

We don’t really know what’s going on. But the fatigue I felt in Toronto was tantamount to the way I felt during the summer of ’06, when I spent much of June and July in bed and was convinced I was dying until a nurse practitioner told me I had mono.

So as we were standing on a ledge in center field tonight, watching the Reds get hammered by the Pirates in their own Great American Ball Park, three guys next to us initiated a friendly conversation. They asked us where we had been, and where we were going. Like many people before, they expressed their admiration for the chance we were taking.

We said something to the effect of being burned out lately, and I might have mentioned — again — something about the principle of marginal utility.

But, really, it’s time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Because these wonderful gentlemen were excited to hear all about our travels. They gave us some words of encouragement, and one of the guys said, “You’ll get your second wind in as you enter the final leg.”

Daren and I agreed tonight to stop complaining about how hard our lives are, and this will be the final word about fatigue that you hear from me. We got two good nights of sleep in Columbus at the apartment of my friend and former, who was incredibly gracious and sweet to two Major League Assholes. Now we’re ready to put our game faces back on.

After all, Daren said doing a BaseCrawl is like being a rock star on tour — you know, with the traveling and all.

The only difference is Daren can’t sing, I’m horrible at guitar, and when we arrive at these incredible ballparks, nobody cares.

(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com).

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